Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Looking for some good books to curl up with on the couch during those cold winter evenings?  Maybe you like adventure stories.  Or is it history you like?  How about drama or romance?  Maybe philosophy, psychology, or inspirational writings appeal to you.

Whatever your preferences, let me recommend one volume that has it all:  The Bible. 

The Bible has been called God’s “Unfolding Drama of Redemption,” and that it is.  The Bible reveals the nature of God and his plan for mankind progressively through the ages.  The remarkable thing is that God used a broad variety of literary forms and authors to accomplish that task.  Here are some of the literary forms and subjects represented in the Bible:

Drama :           Job, Song of Solomon, Jonah
Romance:        Song of Solomon, Ruth
History:           Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, portions of                                 Isaiah and Jeremiah, Acts
Narrative:       Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Ruth, Esther, the Gospels, Acts
Poetry:            Psalms, selected passages from the Song of Solomon and the prophets
Prophecy:        The major and minor prophets, portions of the Gospels and Epistles, Revelation
Letters:           Epistles to churches, General Epistles, personal letters of Paul and John
Journals:         Ezra, Nehemiah, parts of Acts
Philosophy:     Ecclesiastes, Proverbs
Psychology:    Proverbs
Inspirational:  Psalms
Fiction:           (Yes, fiction, used to illustrate spiritual lessons) The Parables of Jesus and of                         some Old Testament prophets. 
In the Bible you will find literature that will keep you on the edge of your seat, stir up your indignation, or move you to tears.  I always get a lump in my throat when I read of Jacob’s reunion with his brother Esau (Genesis 33:1-4).  Ruth’s deep, unwavering devotion to her mother-in-law Naomi, and Boaz’s love for Ruth make that book an incomparable classic. 

When I want to reflect on life, to be challenged concerning my values, Solomon always comes through in his philosophical work, Ecclesiastes, and in his book of wisdom, Proverbs.  David and other psalmists give my heart and spirit a voice of prayer and praise, and Job helps me understand God and the reasons for suffering.

The Old Testament prophets inveigh against the same evils that plague our society today, and they offer hope of a new kingdom of righteousness through Messiah. That new hope is unveiled in the Gospels that tell of Messiah Jesus, and in the Epistles that illuminate the deep spiritual meaning of new life in Christ.  God’s plan is consummated in the Book of Revelation, which concludes with a stunning and highly symbolic description of the New Heaven and the New Earth.

It’s safe to say that you won’t find more compelling reading between two covers than you’ll find in the Bible.  I suggest that you read through it in 2014.  Get a translation that is “essentially literal,” that is, one that seeks to be faithful to the original words of Scripture.  Some essentially literal translations are the following:  The New American Standard Bible, the English Standard Version, the New King James Version, and (for those who can handle 17th century English) the King James Version (still considered the most literary translation ever made).  I must also mention that the Geneva Bible is still in print, and it predates the King James Version.

I would also recommend that you read a few chapters in the Old Testament and one in the New every day.  That way you get a breath of grace to relieve some of the heaviness of the Old Covenant and the people’s constant waywardness and sin.

Let’s get into the adventure!  Start today!

Monday, October 21, 2013


The title question should be addressed to those Calvinists who in past centuries preached the gospel fearlessly and steadfastly in the face of ridicule and persecution. To those who carried the gospel to hostile lands and persevered in spite of trials that modern American Christians can scarcely imagine.

Can a Calvinist evangelize?

Let’s ask John Bunyan , the author of The Pilgrim's Progress and Grace Abounding to The Chief of Sinners. Bunyan was a tinker by trade, and therefore the established Church of England forbid him to preach. He preached anyway, and a small congregation of faithful believers was formed. For his persistence, Bunyan was repeatedly thrown into the Bedford Jail where he spent a total of twelve years! During one of those imprisonments John Bunyan penned his classic allegory of the Christian life that we know as The Pilgrim's Progress.

What is less known is that Bunyan’s prolific writing fills three thick, oversized volumes of tracts, poetry, books, stories, and Bible expositions. Throughout these works he expounds clearly and fully his Calvinistic theology.

How many of us have languished in prison for preaching the gospel?

Can a Calvinist evangelize?

 Now let’s ask George Whitefield, the 18th century evangelist whose open-air meetings attracted countless thousands of listeners both in England and America. Some estimate the converts from Whitefield’s ministry at nearly one million souls!

Whitefield’s open-air meetings often attracted hecklers and worse. Thugs would throw fruit, vegetables, and sometimes stones. One malicious fellow climbed a tree above where the evangelist was preaching and urinated on him.

How many of us would endure such opposition and keep on preaching?

Yet Whitefield made no secret of his Calvinistic convictions. Because of them, his once good friend, John Wesley, attacked his views in sermons and in print. Whitefield answered Wesley in an open letter entitled, “Why I Preach Electing Grace.” Whitefield correctly observed, “This letter no doubt will lose me many friends.”

So, can a Calvinist evangelize?

 Along with the intrepid George Whitfield, another staunchly Calvinistic preacher was used of God to spark the Great Awakening of the 1740s:
Jonathan Edwards. Edwards also wrote volumes of theological works and is considered by Christian and secular scholars alike to be one of America’s keenest thinkers.

Before delivering his monumental sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Edwards prayed and fasted for three days. He was overheard crying out in prayer, “God give me New England!” The sovereign God of heaven and earth answered that prayer and revival broke out that changed the course of American history for over a century.

Can a Calvinist evangelize?

Ask William Carey who sailed off with his frail wife and young children to India without financial support. He settled on the disease invested banks of the Hooghli River.

His colleague, a medical doctor who could have contributed to the financial needs of the team, took off for Calcutta leaving Carey in the lurch.

But William Carey believed in a sovereign God, and that faith strengthened him to press on in spite of all obstacles. “Expect great things from God,” he wrote later, “and attempt great things for God.” For Carey, the order was clear: we must look to God before we can do anything for Him.

Dorothy Carey’s mental and emotional state steadily deteriorated until she had to be confined. Still Carey pressed on, opening new stations, publishing more literature, winning more souls.

Carey’s Calvinism, far from hindering his work, emboldened him to attempt every means at this disposal to further the gospel in India. He translated the Scriptures into many Eastern dialects, taught both college and grammar school, preached, printed tracts, books, and Scriptures, and published the first European-style newspaper in the Bengali language.

Carey’s multi-faceted ministry earned him the title, “Father of Modern Missions” and an honorary doctorate from Brown University in Rhode Island, even though he had never visited the United States!

Can Calvinists evangelize? 

Finally, we should ask the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul? How could he be a Calvinist? Well, because Calvin, like Augustine centuries before him, took his doctrine from Paul’s epistles. Paul's letter to the Romans, Chapter 9, expresses boldly the Apostle's conviction that a person's salvation does not depend upon human will, but upon God's sovereign mercy: "I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy," He says.

Jesus Himself made it very clear in John 6:44 –

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

Can a Calvinist evangelize?

It is the assurance that God is sovereignly working to draw people to His Son that emboldens the evangelist to persevere in the face of all opposition.*

* (See Acts 18:9-10)

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Jones

Thursday, October 3, 2013


I’m sure you’ve known people whom you could identify solely by certain features of their speech.  When I enrolled in my senior high school English class, a former student of the teacher said, “Don’t let him utilize you.”  I thought that was a strange remark until, during a rather warm spring class period, that teacher looked at me and said, “Mr. Jones, could I utilize you to open a window?” I’ll always remember Mr. Daly by that word – utilize.

Certain authors are especially skilled at developing characters by their speech patterns.  John Grisham is one.  Those authors can record pages of dialog without a dialogue tag and we know just who is talking.  Bible writers have their peculiar expressions, too.  When the Holy Spirit moved upon the writers of Scripture, he guaranteed the result without destroying the writers’ style.  Yet that rich expression of individuality is all but obliterated in most modern translations because the translators (more accurately paraphrasers) felt they had to explain the meaning of the texts rather than faithfully convey the text itself with all the original authors’ stylistic words and phrases.

One important example is the Apostle Paul’s use of the Greek word for “flesh,” sarx, especially in the phrase “according to [the] flesh.”[1]  This is a common phrase in Paul’s writings; in fact, the exact phrase that Paul uses, kata sarka, “according to flesh,” is only found in Paul’s epistles.[2]  But the NIV translators seem to be repulsed by the word “flesh,” as though it were a cross in the face of a vampire! Using their license called “dynamic equivalency,” the translators interpret for the reader what they think Paul meant by the phrase “according to flesh” in its various contexts.  Here’s how they render it:

“as to his (Christ’s) human nature”  (Romans 1:3)
“according to the sinful nature” (Romans 8:4, 5, 12, 13)
“of my own race” (Romans 9:3)
“the human ancestry” (Romans 9:5)
“by human standards” (1 Corinthians 1:26)
“in a worldly manner” (2 Corinthians 1:17)
“from a worldly point of view” and “in this way” (2 Corinthians 5:16)
“by standards of this world” (2 Corinthians 10:2)
“as the world does” (2 Corinthians 10:3)
“in the way the world does” (2 Corinthians 11:18)
“in the ordinary way” (Galatians 4:23, 29)
“earthly” (Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22)

How would anyone guess that these “translations” were of the same phrase in the original Greek? Not only do the translators completely obliterate this characteristic of Paul’s writing, but in so doing, they obscure some important biblical truths.  I am amused when I see advertisements for “exegetical” commentaries “based on the NIV”.  That seems to be akin to a literary analysis of Shakespeare’s Hamlet based on Cliff’s Notes! 

It’s time to end the dictatorship of the NIV and get back to what God actually said! Essentially literal translations, like the NKJV, ESV, and NASB, those that seek to be faithful to the words and expressions of the biblical authors, give us a window through which we may interact with God's Word as He inspired it. I urge everyone to procure one.[3]

[1] Paul’s phrase is actually “according to flesh” in the Greek, but it is translated “according to the flesh” in essentially literal translations.
[2] Late manuscripts include the phrase in Acts 2:30, with variations, but that reading does not appear to be the original reading.  Even if it were to be accepted as original, the would be understandable that Paul’s companion, Luke, who wrote Acts would use the phrase.
[3]For an excellent discussion of the difference between Dynamic Equivalent and Essentially Literal translations I recommend the following: Choosing a Bible by Leland Ryken and the longer book, The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation by Leland Ryken.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


The genuine child of God, reborn by God’s Spirit through faith in God’s Son, is a new person inside.  That’s the truth the Apostle Paul has been emphasizing from Romans 5 through Romans 8.  So why do those believers still have a problem with sin?  One reason is that, although our spirits have been made alive and our souls redeemed, there is one part of us that is not yet redeemed and is still under the effects of sin: our bodies.

            Throughout Romans 6-8, the New International Version obscures the physical root of the sin problem by translating the Greek word sarx as “sin nature,” instead of “flesh”.  Even many commentators make “flesh” to mean “sin nature,” a nebulous concept, and Albert Barnes even states – amazingly – that the “body” Paul mentions in Romans 7:24 refers to the soul!  The word “body” here”, he wrote, “is probably used as equivalent to flesh, denoting the corrupt and evil propensities of the soul.”  [Emphasis mine]  If “flesh” is “soul,” we are hopelessly confused!

               I strongly suspect that these commentators and translators were trying to avoid any hint of the Gnostic heresy that all of the material creation is imperfect and corrupt in essence, and therefore the human body is in itself corrupt. That, of course, is not what Paul was saying.  The human body in its essence – the flesh (sarx) --  is not corrupt; otherwise we could not “present … [our] members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:13).  And we must remember that our Lord Jesus Christ, The Word, “became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14),” and He had no sin or corruption whatsoever.  But if “the flesh” is equal to “the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:23) as some commentators contend, how can we understand Romans 7:25 when it states, “… but with the flesh [I serve] the law of sin”? They are clearly distinguished in that verse.

               Even the great Martyn Lloyd-Jones confused this matter (though most of his exposition of Romans 6-8 is very helpful).  Pastor Charles Leiter correctly states what I also have believed for many years:

The Christian has an on-going battle with sin because there is one aspect of his personality that has not yet been redeemed – the flesh. The flesh is the unredeemed physical body viewed as the place where sin still tries to assert itself. Sin still tries to “reign” in the Christian’s mortal body.” [Emphasis his.)

Leiter goes on to make clear that the body is not sinful in itself, that the body of the Christian is “for the Lord” (1 Corinthians 6:13), as opposed to the Greek idea that the body is “the prison house of the soul.”  Still, Leiter goes on to say:

As Christians, we are still waiting for the redemption of our bodies at the coming of the Lord.  When this takes place, we will be completely delivered from all sin.  [Emphasis his.]

Paul described his indwelling sin as a “body of death,” his body being the vessel and the instrument through which “all manner of evil desire” worked (Rom. 7:8 NKJV).  The Roman writer Virgil described a gruesome method of execution practiced by the Etrurian tyrant Mezentius, a practice known in some ancient tribes:

What tongue can such barbarities record,
Or count the slaughters of his ruthless sword?
‘Twas not enough the good, the guiltless bled,
Still worse, he bound the living to the dead:
These, limb to limb, and face to face, he joined;
O! monstrous crime, of unexampled kind!
Till choked with stench, the lingering wretches lay,
And, in the loathed embraces, died away!
Aeneid, Book VIII: Pitt.

The condemned was chained to a corpse and was slowly, horrifyingly poisoned and wasted to death. This is what Paul says indwelling sin was doing to him, and he cried out: “Who shall deliver me from this body of death!”  His answer came quickly: “I thank God – through my Lord Jesus Christ!” Christ delivers us from this “body of sin” in two ways: (1) He delivers us now from the power of sin, and (2) He will deliver us completely from the presence of sin when He comes and gives us new, glorified bodies.

This latter deliverance is what Paul is referring to in 1 Corinthians 15:51-57:

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— (52)  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  (53)  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.  (54)  So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY."  (55)  "O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING? O HADES, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY?"  (56)  The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.  (57)  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Doesn’t that final doxology sound a lot like Romans 7:25a?  First Corinthians 15 is all about bodily resurrection.  After proclaiming and supporting the truth of Christ’s resurrection, Paul goes on to describe the glorious nature of the believer’s resurrection body. 

If we are horrified by indwelling sin, the sin we carry about like a rotting corpse, we will welcome the putting off of this old body and the assurance of our new “spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44) that will be free from sin and in perfect fellowship with God!