Apocrawho?

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by Sean Perron

Apocrawho?

For all those who are curious about the Apocrypha (Perhaps you don’t care about the apocrypha. No worries – you will live and should skip this post) I recently read the book of Enoch and 4 Ezra (often called 2 Esdras) which are not a part of the Protestant Scriptures. This was my first time reading through these books and will probably be my last. My assessment of these Apocryphal books is that they are unnecessary and ultimately dangerous. As I read, I jotted down notes and here are my conclusions.

How many Ezras are there?

There is only one Ezra and he didn’t write this book. Nevertheless, the book of 4 Ezra is an attempt to use the clout behind Ezra’s name to answer profound religious and philosophical questions. The author is portrayed as Ezra and the story is comprised of visions which answer questions posed by the inquisitive prophet. The setting of the book is during the time of Ezra despite the fact that the book was composed sometime between A.D. 70 and the third century.

While I do not address the issue of using a pseudonym (This author is using another person’s name to establish your credibility) in this post, it cannot be fully ignored in the final assessment. Given the reality that so much material is dependent upon the book of Revelation and that 4 Ezra was written after the death of the apostles, there appears to be insurmountable evidence making this book unconvincing and dubious in its message and motivation. Will the real Ezra please stand up?

Pros:

Before giving a critical evaluation of 4 Ezra, it is important to point out several commendable and noteworthy aspects of the book.

1) Literary Features

4 Ezra has several passages that offer vivid imagery and memorable phrases. The book includes well written parables and intricate visions that engage the mind and cause the reader to think critically. Examples of well crafted writing include phrases such as “blood shall trickle out of the wood” (7:19) and “a wave is greater than a drop of water.” (9:16) Perhaps one of the most memorable visions is in chapter 13 which describes the powerful return of the Messiah. The Messiah effortlessly destroys his enemies and the gathers his people by his side. He consumes his foes with fire and lightning and them warmly welcomes all those who have obeyed his commands. This imagery draws the reader in and can make a lasting impression.

2) Real Questions

The book of 4 Ezra is not for shallow thinkers. The narrative is carried along by questions that Ezra asks of God and the angelic beings. Each question is intense and laden with emotion. These questions are helpful in that they relate to real inquiries posed by countless people throughout history. He is concerned about why so many people go to hell and the problem of evil appears to be heavy upon Ezra’s mind. Another one of the most pervasive questions concerns the destruction of the Jewish temple and the concern that God has forsaken his chosen people. These questions are near to the human heart and will continue to exist until the end of time. But the real question is does 4 Ezra answer them correctly?

3) Some Accuracy

4 Ezra contains a handful of theological nuggets that should be commended. In 7:98, the angel states that the highlight of heaven will be beholding the face of God. “The seventh order, which is greater than all those what have been mentioned, is that they will exult boldly, and that they will trust confidently, and rejoice fearlessly, for they hasten to see the face of him who they served in life…” This resonates accurately with the Christian experience and is confirmed by 1 Peter 1:18 and Revelation 22:4. Consequently, the worst aspect of hell will be the glory of God in wrathful judgment. This is pointed out in 7:87 which reads, “they will waste away in shame and be consumed in disgrace, and wither with fear, at seeing the glory of the Most High before whom they sinned while they lived…” 4 Ezra rightly places the emphasis on God’s presence in heaven and hell. Heaven is wonderful because God’s glorious joy is always present and hell is terrible because God’s glorious wrath never leaves.

Related to this issue is the correct teaching that God’s judgment is final. In 7:105 it says, “The Day of Judgment is final and shows to all the stamp of truth.” 4 Ezra does not teach a third afterlife destination or holding place such as purgatory. This aligns correctly with Hebrews 9:27 which teaches that judgment immediately follows death.

Cons:

1) Depends on the Bible

For the avid reader of the Protestant Scriptures, it does not take long to realize that 4 Ezra borrows a lot from the Bible. Verse after verse alludes to the Torah and the book of Job (6:49; 10:33). There are multiple allusions to the Apocalypse of John and the book of Daniel. Several passages in 4 Ezra appear to be snapshots of the book of Revelation with only minute modifications. It was sort of like looking at familiar photos through a sepia filter. Phrases from Revelation such as “Sovereign Lord” and “How Long?” are used repeatedly in the book of Ezra (4:33, 38; 5:23; 6:11, 59; 7:17). Images such as multitudes sealed by God with white robes around the presence of the Lord singing songs with crowns on their heads are clearly adapted straight from Revelation chapters 4-6 (3:36-48). There are also allusions to Jesus’ words from the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24.

It is curious that 4 Ezra never directly references any of these biblical authors. Only on one occasion in 12:11 is the writer Daniel mentioned but it is not in relation to a quotation. While many biblical authors make allusions to other biblical passages, 4 Ezra is markedly different. 4 Ezra borrows but never gives back. The New Testament authors make allusions while also repeatedly referencing other biblical authors.

2) Differs from the Bible

4 Ezra differs from the Bible in several ways. For instance, the interactions between Ezra and the divine beings are unusual when compared to inspired apocalyptic literature. 4 Ezra focuses on the names of angels and limits Ezra’s interaction with God (4:36). The angels are commanding, harsh and abrasive (7:19). They rebuke Ezra and even deem him worthy or unworthy of revelation. This seems to give them more authority to angels than is appropriate (7:103). It is also concerning that the divine beings make Ezra work for special revelation. On multiple occasions throughout the narrative, the divine beings withhold information from Ezra until he fasts for a certain amount of time or until he completes a task they have requested (6:30; 9:23). These factors are not characteristic of either Old Testament or New Testament apocalyptic literature within the Protestant Scriptures. These factors lend a substantial amount of evidence showing that 4 Ezra does not align with inspired writings.

3) Distorts the Bible

The fact that 4 Ezra borrows from the Bible is not necessarily a flaw by itself. Yet problems arise when 4 Ezra goes beyond what the Bible teaches and even misrepresents historic Christian doctrines. In addition to the unusual interaction with angelic beings, the issue of salvation is very unclear in the book of Ezra.

It appears that the major focus of the book is salvation by works. There are references to the mercy of God and to fearing the Lord, but these are heavily overshadowed by commands and statements of righteousness by works. For instance, the angelic being encourages Ezra that he will be saved “for you have a treasure of works laid up with the Most High, but it will not be shown to you until the last times.” (7:77). Again in the same chapter, the angel says those will be saved who have “carefully served the Most High, though they were in danger every hour, so as to keep the Law of the Lawgiver perfectly.” (7:90) These statements are not balanced out by the saving grace of God (7:167-70; 9:8; 14:34).

An important exchange takes place between Ezra and a being (unknown entity which is either God or an angel). Ezra eventually pleads with the Lord for grace for mankind. In 8:35-36, he states, “For in truth there is no one among those who have grown up who has not sinned. For in this, Lord, your uprightness and goodness will be declared, if you have mercy on those who have no stock of good deeds.” He truly understands the truth of Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

This is part of a deep seated plea for grace and forgiveness for sin. However the response from God is calloused and cold. God responds by saying, “For indeed I will not think about the forming of those who have sinned, or their death or judgment or destruction, but I will rejoice over the fashioning of the upright, over their pilgrimage also, and their salvation and the reward they will receive.” (8:37-40). This response from the divine being in 4 Ezra is not the response of the God from the true Scriptures.

God is just but he also shows unfathomable grace to sinners. There is no salvation apart from his grace alone. 4 Ezra is markedly different than the apocalyptic literature found in the book of Revelation. Revelation 22:17 offers the water of eternal life without price. The multitudes in Revelation gather around the one who has freed them by his own blood and was slain before the foundation of the world. Those who endure to the end in the Revelation 12:11 are only those who place total confidence in the finished work of Jesus.

Final Remarks:

An astute reader will soon realize that 4 Ezra really has nothing to offer. There is nothing groundbreaking that is not found in other passages in the protestant canon. There is nothing new under the sun and there is certainly nothing new in the book of 4 Ezra. This shows the unoriginality of the author and his need to build off inspired Scripture.

The places 4 Ezra deviates from the Scriptures are in more detailed descriptions, intricate visions and distorted doctrine. While there are some positive aspects of 4 Ezra, the ultimate verdict is that it is dangerous. The theology found in this work is unclear at best and heretical at worst.

4 Ezra has some commendable passages that engage the reader to think critically but it has several significant flaws. To put it mildly, the book is unnecessary. To put it bluntly, the book is blasphemous. Renee Jarrett helpfully pointed this out and brought to my mind the passage in Revelation 22:18. “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book…” Although unintentional by the mysterious author, the benefit of reading 4 Ezra is seeing its shortcomings and realizing the sufficiency of the Scripture.

 

How to Study the Bible

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by Sean Perron

I took a hiatus from blogging the past few months and instead have been working through a series on How to Study the Bible. Here is a list of blogs and audio sessions that were given at the Emmaus Student Ministry at Crossing Church. The series concluded last week and covered a wide range of genres and interpretive issues. I have categorized them here in this blog post and hope they can serve you this new year.

How to Study the Bible:

The Hidden Sin

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

Christian leaders can sometimes seem perfect. With the use of social media and internet, a blog or video can go viral overnight. A large church with thousands of members can admire and love a preacher from afar. When we look at someone’s life from a distance, things can look rather picturesque. We can forget that they are human. We can forget that they struggle with sin. Upon closer examination we can see cracks, faults, chips, and scuffs.

How should we respond when a Christian leader is found having an affair? Or when a pastor has been embezzling the tithe? What if we are currently preparing to go into a public ministry? How can we avoid these things?

Exodus 4:21- 27 is an unusual text that we must pay attention to. God threatened to kill Moses’ son Gershom because he was not circumcised. Moses was leading with the staff of God yet did not even have the sign of the covenant on his son. Only a few knew about this hidden sin.

When we read this story about how God almost put Moses’ son to death, and then we read the story about where God did put his own Son to death – we realize that God is serious about every sin – even the most private sins – especially among the leaders of His people.

Listen to the full audio

Suicidal Gossip

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    by Sean Perron
  • I love him very much. I really respect him. But I’m very concerned about one of our pastors… He was seen at the church with a woman. I heard they were alone after hours for “counseling.”

  • I am really frustrated… I was not invited. They never invite me to anything anymore. I think it is because she was going too far with her boyfriend and didn’t like it when I called her out on it.

Gossip.

Perhaps you have heard conversations like these before, or perhaps you have been a part of them. Forbes magazine said the number one way to destroy a company was to let gossip run rampant. Gossip can divide families, cripple friendships, and split a church overnight. A reputation can be ruined in less than one minute. It only takes one domino to start a series of catastrophic conversations. It is a kudzu that spreads and covers it’s victims until it suffocates them. Gossip is like a cut left unattended which can slowly bleed the life out of someone.

Proverbs 18:7-8 says,

A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.

What is gossip?

Gossip is talking about a person to someone who is not a part of the problem nor a part of the solution.

This is not a watertight definition, but I do believe it is helpful.

The Bible gives credence for confronting someone spreading gossip. This would be an example of talking to someone who is a part of the problem. But what do I mean by talking to someone who is a part of the solution? It can be helpful in some circumstances to seek outside help on an issue for the purpose of bringing peace. Matthew 18:15-20 would be a good example of two going to talk with someone who is in sin. I also see the Biblical possibility about seeking wisdom from a more mature Christian to give insight in a scenario (Matthew 18:21-22). This would be talking to someone who is a part of the solution and can be done in a way that maintains the honor of the person being discussed.

But my purpose here is not to define gossip and all its gritty facets. Instead, I want to quickly point out an effect of gossip that is often overlooked.

We all know that slander can destroy our neighbors, but we do not realize it destroys us.  Gossip ruins the gossiper.

Proverbs 18:7-8 says,

“A fool’s mouth is his ruin,

and his lips are a snare to his soul.”

A fool’s mouth is his ruin. It does not just say, “destroys his neighbor”. Rather, the Proverbs make it clear that gossip destroys the gossiper. Gossip does not merely scorch someone else, it burns us as well. The gossiper is like the arsonist who intentionally sets the forest on fire, but accidently sets ablaze every exit of the forest and finds himself trapped.

Gossip not only ruins the reputation of others, it ruins the reputation of the gossiper. The slanderer is someone working with a terrorist organization who does not know the slander has signed him up to be a suicide bomber. The gossiper is unaware that when he is detonating a bomb to destroy the reputation of others, that bomb is actually strapped to his back.

How can this be?  The moment we gossip, we destroy our reputation.  The moment we gossip is the moment we lose all credibility. The gossiper automatically deems himself untrustworthy.

Proverbs 25:9-10 says,

Argue your case with your neighbor himself,

  and do not reveal another’s secret,

lest he who hears you bring shame upon you,

  and your ill repute have no end.

The New Living translation says “you will never regain your reputation.”

Think about it. You cannot trust someone who shares the secrets of others. The way they talk about others is the way they will talk about you. The moment you share someone else’s secret with someone, that person can no longer trust you with their secrets.

Rest assured, the fool who gossips and slanders, brings ruin upon himself. We have all done this. We have all hurt others with our words and wounded ourselves in the process. We need a Savior who can forgive us of sin and save us from its devastating effects.

This is adapted from the sermon “Gossip and the Gospel

Letters to a Young Engaged Man: A Multitude of Voices

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

Dear Young Engaged Man,

Opinions are like armpits, most stink and everyone has two of them. And sometimes the odor can be suffocating.

One of the trends I began to notice while being engaged was everyone has a story. Every couple has an experience to tell or a word to give. You may be noticing that every person who has ever thought about being married has something to help you prepare for the rough days ahead.

Most of the advice you will receive is good, but some of it is not. From your last letter, it sounds like you are drowning in “advice”. Friends, family and even strangers have taken it upon themselves to tell you everything someone else told them. Horror honeymoon tales, scary identity crisis catastrophes, and terrible toothpaste/toilet seat fiascos.
The multitude of voices you are hearing are not inside your head. You may be right; they may actually be the crazy ones.

To be frank, I heard some of the worst advice as a young engaged man. Well-meaning, good people practically paralyzed my fiancee with their overcooked nuggets of wisdom. One person told us to beware of the second week of marriage, “The first week is great, but just you wait… week number two gets awful.” Another person said the second week was fine, but we had better watch out for that second month. Then things get really wooly.

We figured we should start ignoring these people when another couple warned us of the dreaded six month mark. Thats when the wildebeests come out and devour all the happy marriages of the world.

I’ve only mentioned the tip of the iceberg. I would be ashamed to write to you some of the counsel we were given; nevertheless, I must also tell you that I received some of the best advice as a young engaged man. Some of the most precious counsel I have recieved was in pre-marriage counseling. I received wonderful encouragement from particular people that almost brings me to tears when I think about them.

So how can you tell the difference between bad counsel and good counsel? My main suggestion is to know the source. Know the well from which you are seeking water and don’t drink from every running brook.

It is true that “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22. Take note when the Scripture says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 11:14

We should be people who seek the safety of many ropes. However, let us be careful not to be strangled among them. The Proverbs also say, “Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly.” Proverbs 16:22
For there to be safety among counselors, there must be sturdy ropes. Unraveling ropes will not help but only harm. It is possible to unwittingly surround yourself with fools.

I suggest the best place to find counselors is in the local church. Particularly pick the brains of your pastors. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Hebrews 13:17

The Author of Wisdom can only be found in one place – the Bible. Take heed to those who spend their lives in the Scriptures. Value their opinions and compare what they say to what you read in the Bible. Starting this habit now will create a great pattern for your future marriage. Prepare now for a lifetime of seeking the Scriptures and rappelling with those who know them well.

May the Scriptures tune our ears to receive good counsel. Whether we receive advice from our parents, pastors, or peers, let us make sure we have ears to hear.

Until then,
Sean

 

The content for this post has been expanded into Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing. 

Babies and Bathwater

by Spencer Harmon

Baptism is a big deal.  When someone becomes a Christian, they are not merely subscribing to a local club that meets on Sundays; rather, a supernatural work of God has taken place.  Christians believe that when someone puts their trust in Jesus their old “self” – with its selfish desires, rebellious disposition toward God, and cold heart – dies, and a new “self” – with a heart inclined to obey God, love his Word, and pursue righteousness – is born.  It is this reality that baptism declares.  Baptism is symbolic – it talks to us and reminds us of these transcendent truths.  It screams out that just as this person is plunged down into these waters that envelop them so their old self has been plunged down into death with Christ; just as they rise out of the water and gasp for air, so their new self has arisen with Christ.

For Protestant Christians, there have been two views as to who should be baptized:  1) those who have professed faith in Christ (credo baptists); and 2) those who have professed faith in Christ and their children (paedo baptists).  I’m a credo baptist.  I don’t think you should baptize babies.

One of the strongest arguments for believer’s baptism can be made from an Old Testament passage:  Jeremiah 31:31-34.  It is here that God Himself delineates through His prophet Jeremiah his “new covenant”  This is God’s new agreement with his people that binds him to treat them in a certain way so long as they keep their end of the bargain.  However, the problem with God’s people over history is that they have never been able to keep their end of the bargain.  They always worship the idol; they always complain in the desert.  But God has a plan – a new covenant.  The newness of this covenant is found in that fact that God promises to give his people a heart that actually wants to keep the law (verse 33).  God promises that everyone will know him in a saving way, and that all of their sins will be forgiven.  God says that this new covenant will not be like “the covenant that I made with [your] fathers” (verse 32).  The newness of the new covenant is found in the fundamental difference between the people of God before and after the coming of Jesus.  Before Christ, the covenant members were those who were born into the people of God – this means that there where people who really loved God in the community, and those that just were among the group, but did not really know the Lord.  After Christ, God’s covenant members are only those who have been regenerated (i.e. given a new heart that truly loves God).

If Jeremiah is interpreted as an announcement of a regenerated covenant community, those who support baptizing infants need to reconsider their view.  For if the covenant community is only those who have been regenerated, then it follows that the mark of the covenant community – baptism – should be limited to this specific group of people.  The new covenant has a new sign and it is reserved for people who have new hearts.

Some Practical Concerns

  1.   It seems inconsistent for a paedo baptist not to include infants in the Lord’s Supper.  If they are seeking to emphasize the continuity of God’s dealings with his people in one overarching covenant, it would seem consistent to include the children of the God’s people in this rite as well.  However, this would pose problems.  First, if children participate in the Lord’s Supper, it seems like this would say something that is not true.  When I take the Lord’s Supper, my pastors say to me, “Spencer, this is the body of Christ broken for you; This is the blood of Christ poured out for you”  But we can’t honestly say this to babies until they make a profession of faith.  Second, babies are incapable of examining their conscience, or confessing sin (one of the things baptism should push a believer towards), so why should they participate in the Lord’s Supper?  Yet infant baptism seems to lead to this.
  2.   Another concern is that church discipline seems to lose its relevance.  If children are included in the people of God by baptism, how do you determine if they are ever not a part of the true covenant community?  If the church is constantly a mixed community of both believers and unbelievers, why would any church discipline a non-Christian from their midst if it has embraced a mixed church?  Some may object that if a paedo baptist church knew that there was an unbeliever in their midst, they would most certainly discipline them.  Yet, for every baby that is baptized, an unbeliever is added to their community.  Why the inconsistency in church discipline?

Conclusion

Baptism is a secondary issue, but not a small issue.  Baptism is the sign of salvation, and how the church understands this sign of salvation matter immensely.  To misunderstand the issue of baptism is to run the risk of false assurance to those baptized as children, and a distortion of a beautiful portrayal of salvation.  Although evangelical Christians ought to keep the main thing the main thing, we ought to openly acknowledge our disagreements over these important issues.  So, let there continue to be conferences; let pastors be together for the gospel, and let evangelicals make coalitions; nevertheless, let there be an open and plain acknowledgement of these distinctive beliefs that make whole denominations form.  For these issues are exceptionally important, and ought to be treated like it.  So, keep the baby, but throw out the bathwater.

 

The Heart: to Guard or Guide?

Guest Post by Renee Jarrett.

Doors slamming, people screaming, bridges burning. All in an attempt to…guard your heart?

So many relationships have been broken in the name of self-defense. In order to protect, you shut out; it could be friends, a loved one, advice, or relationships all together. Possibly saddest of all is that many think there is a biblical basis for such reactions.

It seems that some verses in the Bible have been commandeered for specific situations, such as putting up a proverbial barrier between your heart and the world. One such verse would be Proverbs 4:23. More than taking it out of context, this verse has somehow come to represent a cause it doesn’t stand for.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

Now, insert comment about being careful in a dating relationship. I remember reading this verse in my early teen years and envisioning building a stone wall around my heart. Complete with a moat and devoid of a drawbridge for extra security. How misguided I was!

Just a few verses before, we read, “My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.” What follows is this admonition to “guard your heart with all vigilance”. It could have just as easily been said to “guard my sayings with all vigilance.” Solomon wants his son’s heart protected to keep wisdom in, not block something out. He knows that his son’s only chance to “put away crooked speech, and…let your eyes look directly forward” comes from the overflow of a wise heart, not the guardianship of a selfish one.

Jeremiah saw the true condition of our fallen hearts: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9. In light of the wicked tendency of our hearts, how on earth does it fly that the heart is something to fawn over, “listen to”, and protect from the enemy? It very easily can be the enemy. We ought to be praying fervently every day that Jesus would pour out his grace and compassion to convict our hearts of sinfulness. While they are made new after salvation in Christ, they are still in need of guidance. That means that our hearts need to be open to correction, rebuke, exhortation, and words of wisdom; just like the ones Solomon was trying to teach to his son.

If emotional protection is what you seek from a verse like Proverbs 4:23, learn from David and commit your spirit to the Lord. There is no greater protection for your soul than to entrust it to the founder and perfecter of our faith. In so doing you will fill your heart with wisdom and Christ-found joy. Even if you have to take down walls from your heart brick by brick, I promise you that what is on the inside surface of the wall is uglier and more hurtful than what has been thrown against it.

If you have been through a painful relationship, the root of bitterness grown deep in your heart is more harmful than the temporary rejection of someone else. You can move on from rejection. But bitterness only strengthens its hold on your heart and worms its way into every relationship you lay claim to. So remove the wall and welcome the wisdom.

[Guest post by Renee Jarrett. Renee is a reader, writer, and lover of Christ. She is currently majoring in Biblical counseling at Boyce College.]