Pastoral Do’s and Don’ts in Your First Year at a New Church

One of the most frequent calls I get in my church consulting role is from pastors in new positions and within their first year they are in serious trouble. The board, congregation, key families (or any combination of the above) are becoming critical or even hostile. They are seemingly in danger of becoming a pastoral casualty.  Problems in churches are unavoidable, but in 25 years of consulting I’ve identified some particular Do’s and Don’ts that some of my readers here might find helpful.

Graduation Season is upon us and across the country a new crop of seminary graduates is about to depart the classroom and enter into some sort of ministry.  One of the “urban myths” about new seminary graduates is that they tend to have “short and problematic” pastorates, especially in their first church. The survey data doesn’t substantiate that. In the United States senior pastors currently enjoy a tenure of about 2.3 years. Here are the results for one seminary’s graduates (who are senior or preaching pastors):

  • One year or less: 58%
  • Two to Five Years: 56%
  • Five to Ten Years: 67%
  • More than Ten Years: 19%

This means that roughly 43% of this seminary’s graduates have been in the same church for more than five years. In comparison to national averages that is really exceptional. Nearly 67% of their graduates also followed a stable pastor who had served for five years or more.

But, that still means that 57% of their grads stayed at their church for less than five years, and the overwhelming majority of those entered an unstable situation where the previous pastor had served less than five years. Even a good church and a good pastor do not necessarily make for a good ministerial marriage; but a desperate church taking on an equally desperate candidate is almost certain to fail. Regardless of the stability of the previous pastor and that ministry, often new men fail because of what they did or didn’t do in their first year at a church.[1]

What to Do:

  • Learn everything you can about the history of the church. Who started it? Why was it started? What is their heritage? What are their traditions?
  • Learn everything you can about the neighborhood demographics and trends.
  • Learn who your key leaders are in the church. Understand the difference between “paper” leaders and “real” leaders. They may not always be the same.
  • If there are former pastors in your congregation find out who they are and why they are no longer in full time ministry. Get to know them very well.
  • Prioritize the essential areas to address in terms of change or emphasis shift, do the research, and understand the history of why something is being done the way it is.
  • Thoroughly learn all of the ministries in the church. Observe them all in action if possible.
  • Preach in a manner that people get to know you and your preaching style gradually. If the church is used to a 30-minute sermon don’t start at 50 minutes.


What Not to Do:

  • Avoid, if possible, doing anything major on anything. Research shows that a pastor who has to undertake a major change or major problem in a church in their first year 70% of the time they will leave that ministry within two years.
    • This doesn’t mean not to take head on major issues of discipline or other problems just to save yourself, but if that happens understand you may be, in reality, simply an interim pastor (and if you leave the church in a better position, that’s not a bad thing).
  • Don’t preach a long series through a difficult book of the Bible. Let the people get used to you and your preaching style with shorter series or book studies.
  • Don’t even suggest or even hint that you are going to seek to change the church polity or leadership model or the doctrinal statement.
  • Don’t bash or say unkind things about former pastors or people who have left the church.
  • Note: reaching out to people who have recently left the church before you arrived may seem like a good thing to do, but don’t. Remember the old saying, “be careful what you wish for.” Reaching out to folks who have left is akin to reclaiming problems that are not yours.
  • Remember the difference between your personal preferences and biblical imperatives and make sure the biblical imperative really is biblical and imperative.
  • Do not make promises about any current staff you may inherit, to anyone.


Planning for Your Future: Making Ministry Model Decisions Now to Avoid Future Disaster

Churches (and thusly their pastors) often fail by running into a wall or falling off a cliff. These issues are almost always avoidable with prior planning or having a ministry philosophy for the church that answers various contingencies. Remember not planning is a plan, it just happens to be a really bad plan.

Planning Issue #1:      Church Growth

  • Who is more spiritual?
    • Church Planting vs. Continued Enlargement: neither is more or less biblical, neither is more or less spiritual, neither is more or less effective. BUT, a church needs to pick one path or another and plan for it.
    • Absent a plan a church will often go through repeated periods of growth, problems related to dealing with growth, decline, new pastor, growth, and so on. One church that comes to mind has gone through this cycle at least three times and seems doomed to a fourth.
  • Growth benchmarks for any church.
    • There are benchmark numbers that a church must consider (for both facilities and staff) which are fairly simple: 100, 250, 500, 750, 1,000.
  • Buildings and stuff are important.
    • The church facilities and all that goes with them are actually important. A church needs to pay attention to these issues.
    • The “church that meets in the school” statistically has a life span of only 7–10 years (and after five years if the church has no plan to acquire its own facility a church will typically begin to see plateau and key people, especially those with young families will start leaving).
    • A church may also be in a location that will ultimately doom their growth. Location and facilities are important.
    • Churches, for whatever reason, typically will stop growing once they begin to reach 75-80% of their sanctuary capacity.

Planning Issue #2:      Church Staff

  • What do you need?
    • Not every church needs the same type of pastoral and support staff in the same order. Again, facilities and personnel are often intertwined. Often a church cannot add needed staff because there is no place for them to work.
  • Who do you need?
    • A church MUST build staff, both support and pastoral, to work around the strengths and weaknesses of their senior pastor. Churches often sputter or fail when they have a lot of pastoral staff who have the same skill set.
    • Remember: There are different types of senior pastors; they have different skill sets and different abilities. Some well-known, successful pastors are really terrible at important aspects of church ministry. They NEED the proper support to be successful.
    • Most of us will do what we enjoy doing and are good at and will not spend time on doing things we don’t like, no matter how important those things are.
    • A church is usually best served by operating on the principle of “strength based leadership.” However, you cannot avoid necessary things, even if no one is good at doing them.
  • When do you need them?
    • Generally a church must add pastoral and support staff as it grows and hits certain benchmarks. For ease of discussion, typical growth marks are 100, 250, 500, 750, and 1000.
    • Every church will be slightly different, if they are unsure how to proceed, getting outside consulting assistance is a very good idea.

Planning Issue #3:      Church Transitions

  • Transitioning ministries.
    • Typically any church will benefit from having an interim pastor between full-time senior pastors.
    • Statistically, if a pastor follows someone who has had a ministry of more than 20 years, unless there is an interim pastor (ideally for about a year) then the next pastor will last for less than five years (often unhappy years). This drops to about three years if the retiring pastor stays at the church.
    • There have been notable exceptions (J. Vernon McGee had a long ministry after Louis Talbot’s long ministry at the Church of the Open Door and W. A. Criswell had a long ministry at First Baptist of Dallas after the long tenure of George W. Truitt) but eventually it catches up (in both of these cases there were significant struggles in both churches after the retirements of McGee and Criswell).
  • Transitioning staff and leadership
    • A Senior Pastor, regardless of structure or polity, needs to be able craft his own staff. If he doesn’t or can’t the church is likely to struggle. As I noted above, never make unconditional promises about staff before you arrive. It is my personal view that the staff works for the senior pastor. I advise candidates to be very careful going into a situation where their ability to change the staff is limited.
    • Transitioning staff is always difficult. Typically it is better to do what must be done quickly; however, it is important that it been done “decently and in order.”
  • Transitioning Yourself
    • It is often difficult to know when it’s time to move on. Generally, you will know. Warren Wiersbe, in his autobiography Be Myself (Victor Books, 1994), has a helpful discussion of his experience in this area.
    • The biggest problem with pastors is NOT knowing when to retire (see the above note on Transitioning Ministries). There is simply no hard and fast rule (For instance in my opinion McGee retired too early and Criswell retired too late).
    • When you follow a pastor who has had a long and successful ministry it is a near statistical certainty that if he remains in the church “as just a member” or “pastor emeritus” you will experience significant struggles and probably a short tenure.

Naturally many will offer ancedotal illustrations of how the above points don’t apply. “We never had any plans and the Lord carried us through” or “We’ve been meeting in a school for 15 years and things are going great.” I’ve heard all of these “exceptions” and generally when I dig into it a little I discover there is more to the story. Obviously fidelity to biblical principles and reliance on the power of the Lord are foundational to any successful ministry. But trusting things to serendipity on one hand or making Pharisaical requirements on the other are simply recipes for disaster, discouragement, and even defeat. Plan, pray and perform is a formulae more likely to allow you and your ministry to raise the averages in the right direction.



[1] I have often heard men that have left (or worse split) a church say things like, “the people wouldn’t obey the Word” or “weren’t willing to submit to the Word.” I have personally investigated that type of claim well over a dozen times and have never found it to be the foundational reason for a failed pastorate.



Titus: The First Consulting Pastor

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is perhaps the most well-known fictional character not only the history of English literature, but perhaps, in all of the world’s literature. In the first of the stories, A Study in Scarlet, Holmes is explaining to his new friend and flat mate, Dr. John Watson, exactly what he does for a living. “Well, I have a trade of my own. I suppose I am the only one in the world. I am a consulting detective.”  I’d like to borrow the term and apply it to pastoral ministry, instead of the idea of the traditional “Interim Pastor” I would like to propose the concept of the “Consulting Pastor.”  This is a person who works to solve problems in local churches who need help but lack the experience, practical knowledge or trained leaders to actually solve them.

While the overall Biblical mandate for pastors, elders, deacons, and church leaders is to “care for the flock” (1 Pet 5:1–4) and the exacting qualifications required to attain to those positions (1 Tim 3; Tit 1) has not changed; defining those roles within the larger realm of pastoral ministry has clearly evolved over the history of the church. Pastoral specialization, particularly among multi-staff churches, was essentially unknown prior to the early 20th Century.[1] Pastoral specialization, while foreign to the New Testament in terms of an exacting discussion, is still present in at least a nascent form as 1 Timothy 5:17 would indicate. In discussing the ideals of the Consulting Pastor we believe that there is a fascinating New Testament personality, which exemplifies the character and work, involved in this role.

Of the non-apostolic personalities in the early church, Titus stands out as one of the few individuals, relatively speaking, for whom there is a significant amount of information is presented. Although far from comprehensive, we know and can infer a good deal about him as a person and as a church leader and the ideal “template” for the Consulting Pastor.

Titus: An Overview of His Life from Scripture and Tradition

Titus was a Gentile by birth and apparently was saved under the Apostle Paul’s ministry (Gal 2:3; Tit 1:4).[2]   He quickly became an important associate of Paul and was utilized as an emissary to perhaps two of the most difficult ministry situations we see in Paul’s epistles: the near collapse of the Corinthian Church and the completion of the establishment of churches in Crete. One writer characterized Titus as “Paul’s strong right arm.”[3]

As the church began to grow it rapidly began to expand beyond its initially exclusive Jewish constituency. Beginning with the conversion of Cornelius and his household in Acts 10, and then continuing with the ministry of Paul, the inevitability that, “there would be more Gentile Christians than Jewish Christians in the world.”[4] Paul had forcefully declared his intentions for Gentile evangelism in Acts 18:6, “From now on I shall go to the Gentiles.” This was particularly troubling to the Jewish believers because of the pagan lifestyle the Gentiles were coming out of and the fear of a “weakening of the church’s moral standards.”[5] And, as Bruce notes, “the evidence of Paul’s letters shows that their misgivings were not unfounded.”[6]

In Acts 15 the issue comes to a head with a Jewish/Christian faction declaring that salvation for Gentiles was only possible if “you are circumcised according the custom of Moses” (Acts 15:1). Paul and Barnabus argued at length against this interpolation of Old Covenant practice and ritual into the New Covenant era. The result was that the church at Antioch decided that Paul and Barnabus (and others) should go to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles and elders and get instruction and direction as to how to proceed with this matter. It is at this juncture that in Galatians 2 we are introduced to Titus where he is named as being taken to this Jerusalem meeting by Paul and Barnabus.[7] This occurred in the fall of A. D. 49.[8]

In much the same manner that Branch Rickey, the general manager and president of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team, in 1947 hand picked Jackie Robinson to be the individual player that would break the color line in baseball[9]; so it seems clear that Paul carefully selected the Gentile convert Titus to be the test case in the Jerusalem Council. In Galatians 2:1 the phrase, συμπαραλαβὼν καὶ Τίτον· (“taking Titus also”) indicates a particular selection. As Fung notes, “The singular participle ‘taking’ suggests that his inclusion in the present party was due to the initiative of Paul, who wished to bring him along as a representative of Gentile Christians.”[10]

In the larger affair of the Jerusalem Council, Titus would be under intense scrutiny and pressure. Any waffling, misstep, misstatement, or slightest offense to the Jews at this council, would be disastrous to the cause of Jewish-Gentile integration in the church. The desire to encumber Gentiles with circumcision and other aspects of the Mosaic economy in order to secure salvation was not limited to a few in Antioch, but also was represented in Jerusalem itself (Acts 15:5). While Luke only gives narratives of the speeches of Peter and James at the council and only summary statements about the testimony of Paul and Barnabus,[11] it is clear that Titus passed the test, as Paul notes in Galatians 2:3, “not even Titus who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.”

Titus continued to be a close traveling companion with the Apostle Paul and was his personal envoy and mediator of last resort in the tense situation at the Corinthian Church (2 Cor 2:12–13; 7:2–8:6). Titus was also the individual that Paul appointed as the leader of a group of three delegates to carry out the collection from the gentile churches for the relief of the poverty–stricken Jewish believers in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:6–9:1; 1 Cor 16:1–4). In the context of 2 Cor 8:18–22 it is noteworthy that only Titus is actually named despite the fact that the other two delegates are described as, “the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches” (vs. 18); and “our brother, whom we have often tested and found diligent in many things” (vs. 22). The mention of Titus first in this discussion by Paul and the fact that he is the only one named, despite the impressive credentials of the others, indicates that “Titus was the preeminent member of Paul’s delegation.”[12]

After Paul’s release from his first Roman imprisonment, which Harnack refers to as a “certain fact of history,”[13] He makes a trip through Philippi (Phil 1:25) and then on to Asia Minor (Philem 22). After this it is thought that he made his planned trip to Spain (Rom 15:24, 28) and that it seems likely that Titus, as a Gentile, would have been his main assistant if this trip became a reality. As Paul’s ministry and life was nearing an end, he traveled with Titus to the large island of Crete to minister and plant churches in a very difficult locale. While Paul had on Crete previously (Acts 27:7–13) it is unlikely that any significant evangelistic activity was undertaken during the brief stay.[14] It is most reasonable to assume that this trip to Crete came after the travels to Spain.[15] Christianity, or at least the rudimentary details of the faith had, in all probability, already reached Crete prior to the ministry of Paul and Titus. Jews from Crete are listed among those who were present at the Pentecostal event in Jerusalem at the birth of the Church (Acts 2:11). However, the state of whatever church they did find there was apparently quite poor.

After ministering there for some short length of time, Paul apparently was compelled to leave Crete with the work still incomplete, a highly unusual event in the apostle’s ministry; but an exception he was willing to make because Titus was to remain to “set in order what remains” (Titus 1:5). In Titus 3:12, Paul tells Titus that he will be replaced in Crete with the coming of Artemis or Tychicus and that he should meet Paul in Nicopolis where he would be spending the winter. Strong tradition holds that Paul was arrested again in the area of Nicopolis, returned to Rome for his final trial, and ultimately his execution.[16]

In Titus 3:12 Paul requests Titus to join him back on the continent at Nicopolis, where he was wintering. As Smith notes:

It was in the winter of 66/67 that Paul spent in Nicopolis; and while it was a season of much needed repose, it would be no season of inactivity. ‘Wintering’ was a military phrase; and, like a wise general, he would prepare in winter quarters for the summer campaign.[17]

Certainly one of the important things Titus learned from Paul and one which the Consulting Pastor must learn early in his ministry how to evaluate a situation and plan a strategy. The endings of several Pauline epistles, often lightly passed over or even ignored by both commentators and preachers, contain lists of names and seeming personal information is a treasure of practical information of planning and execution of plans for ministry.[18] The ending of the Epistle to Titus; with details of Paul’s associates coming and going, from place to place, the need for provisioning, and the instructions for Titus himself, being one of the most striking examples of such details.

Titus apparently traveled to Nicopolis and was with Paul to strategize what would be his last concerted missionary effort. apostle-paul-fifth-missionary-journey-large-mapWhat had undoubtedly been viewed as a year of ministry before the next winter was cut short as Paul was arrested once again and taken to Rome, this time not under house arrest, but as the full prisoner in the worst of conditions. His judge, the now thoroughly insane Nero (who by this time himself only had a tenuous hold on the Imperial reigns), would have him executed, in probably one of his last official acts before he himself was deposed by the Praetorian, fled Rome, and committed suicide in April of 68.[19] Apparently, at some time prior to Paul’s arrest Titus had once again been dispatched on a difficult assignment.[20]

The last mention of Titus comes at the very end of Paul’s life in 2 Timothy 4:10–11. As Smith notes, unlike Demas, who is declared in 2 Tim 4:10 as having “deserted Paul,” Titus’ travels were undoubtedly done with Paul’s blessing or, more probably, at his direction.[21] Knight notes that grammatically the departure of Titus’ is not connected with “the earlier statement about desertion”[22] applied to Demas. Paul states that Titus had traveled to Dalmatia in the province of Illyricum (cf. 2 Tim 4:10; Rom 15:19) to do the same work there that he had done in Crete; that is, “following up on Paul’s missionary endeavors.”[23]

Located in the region of modern day Bosnia, Serbia, and Montenegro; Dalmatia, after Palestine, was perhaps the single most difficult region in the empire for the Romans to manage. The inhabitants of Dalmatia rebelled against Rome on several occasions and it was described by writers of the day as being “a haven for refugees and enemies of Rome.”[24] As the New Testament record of Titus ends, he is seen where he usually was, in the most formidable and challenging of situations for advancing the Gospel.

There is no reliable information regarding Titus after this, The Acts of Titus notwithstanding. The tradition is unanimous though in stating that sometime after Paul’s execution he returned to Crete, became the first bishop of the island, and unlike the fate of most of the early Christian leaders, apparently lived to an old age.[25] On the island of Crete, Titus is considered the “Patron Saint” and the sixth century Basilica Agios Titos (Church of Saint Titus) in Gortys, now an archaeological site, still has flowers and other decorations left regularly by Greek Orthodox Christians on the island and others who come to privately worship there.[26]

Titus: As a Model for the Biblical Consulting Pastor

Even thought the concept of an interim or Consulting Pastor is not addressed directly; Titus nonetheless serves as an ideal role model for such a position. The New Testament presents him as an individual of not only sterling character but also one who possessed a real pastoral heart, immense personal courage, and great skill. The Apostle Paul, as one writer noted, “sought out men for places not places for men,”[27] and Titus was a man for the difficult places.

In discussing pastoral leadership Thom Rainer discusses six levesl of leadership from the first seven chapters of the Book of Acts. The highest level and the one his research found the fewest of he called “The Legacy Leader”[28] from Acts 6–7. Rainer called this highest level of leadership a “Legacy Leader” because,

These leaders, such as the Twelve mentioned in Acts 6:1–7, are quick to give ministry to others and let them take the credit for their work. Indeed, they desire to deflect recognition to others. They are quick to praise others and equally quick to accept responsibility for anything that may go wrong.[29]

While Rainer is speaking mainly about regular pastors in local churches, the idea fits the model of the Consulting Pastor more singularly than even the senior pastor. The Consulting Pastor’s main duty is to help the local church with whom he is working solve problems or focus their direction so that there can be the possibility of a legacy in the future.

This role also requires a singular dedication to this model in that the Consulting Pastor is unlikely to be around to see a church achieve “breakout” or even significant advance. In most instances he will probably be forgotten as the church grows under the ministry of the new pastor.[30] The now proverbial expression of John the Baptist in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” is well applied to the Consulting Pastor in relation to the new full-time pastor.

The Consulting Pastor, like Titus, will always be going from one place to the next; not as an evangelist, but an itinerant pastor dealing with different situations, different issues, and different personalities; seeking to guide struggling churches through their difficulties and setting the stage for a new pastor to come; with the goal of beginning a long, biblically thriving, ministry. The successful Consulting Pastor in many ways will be the “legacy leader” who never experiences the fruit of that legacy in his own span of ministry. Like Titus, the Consulting Pastor will have a legacy spread around a number of assemblies.

The Book of Titus itself acts as something of a “check list” for the Consulting Pastor. As will be demonstrated, the local churches in Crete were in something of a state of arrested development; and from their halting beginning sometime after Pentecost (ca., AD 33) to the arrival of Paul and Titus (ca. AD 66), they had not advanced to even a rudimentary status as individual churches. A brief outline of Titus, with the work of a Consulting Pastor in mind, presents a thorough checklist of what he will encounter in one form or another in virtually every church he will minister in.


A.   The Commission of the Consulting Pastor: “Setting in Order” 1:1–5a

B.   The First Priority: Godly Leadership 1:5b–9

1.The Biblical Requirements 1:6–8
2.The Reason for Godly Leaders 1:9

C.   The Consulting Pastor’s Check List

1.Identifying Internal Issues 1:10–16

a.Description of Disruptive People 1:10, 12–16
b.  with Disruptive People 1:11

2.Intra-Church Relations: Demographics and Economics 2:1–10

a.The Role of Older Men and Women 2:1–5
b.The Role of Younger Women and Men 2:6–8
c.The Role of Christians in the Work Place 2:9–10

3.Investigating the Church’s Focus: Is It on Christ and His Return? 2:11–15

4.Inter-Church Relations 3:1–7

a.The Church and Local Government 3:1–2
b.The Church and Community of Unbelievers 3:3–7

5.Instruction for the Church 3:8–11

a.Focus on Things that are Profitable 3:8
b.Reject Things that are Unprofitable 3:9–11

6.Intervention by the Church 3:12–15

a.Outward Focus on Missionary Endeavors 3:12–13
b.Outward Focus on Good Works 3:14–15


In many respects this outline and check list follows even the order of priority in helping a church reach a point where they can consider calling a pastor. A church cannot move forward on any project or goal of substance unless Biblically qualified and competent leadership is in place. D. A. Carson notes on the point of leadership as well that:

So what we must recognize, both from 1 Timothy 3 and from 1 Corinthians 4, is that the demands of Christian leadership, in the first instance, do not set a Christian apart into exclusive and elitist categories where certain new rules and privileges obtain. Rather, Christian leadership demands a focus on the kinds of characteristics and virtues that ought to be present in Christians everywhere. That is precisely what makes it possible for Christian leaders to serve as models, as well as teachers, in the church of God.[31]

It is only when that leadership is functioning in a Biblical manner can the process of dealing with internal problems can begin. Dealing with divisive people, of whatever sort or motive, is the role of leadership. Very often in local churches it is the lack of decisive leadership in the initial stages of problematic issues that either allow, or actually cause, those issues to spiral out of control; very often claiming the pastor along the way. It is particularly vital that the leadership is skilled in handling the Word of God so that they can both “exhort” and “refute” (Titus 1:9).

In his excellent work, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine, Thiselton interacts with Carl Jung and Clifford Brown making the following observation:

In his study of Jung’s Hermeneutics of Doctrine, Clifford Brown identifies connections between habitus, stability, and integration of the human person. Jung, Brown argues, developed and retained a regard for Christian doctrine as offering an “enduring stability” that served “the need of safeguarding and nourishing a consciousness which was still young, fragile, and which remained in constant danger of disintegration [italics by Thiselton]. Jung perceives the role of habit, trainings habituation, and stable regularity as integrating and shaping character, will, and desires as a coherent, well-ordered healthy whole. The allusion to “sound doctrine” (AV/RJV) or “sound teaching” (NRSV, REB, NJB) in 1 Timothy 1:10 (Greek ὑγιαινούσῃ διδασκαλίᾳ hugiainousa didaskalia) uses an adjective cognate with the verb ὑγιαινw (hugiano), to be in good health Mounce comments, “an elder must be able to teach healthy teaching” (Titus 1:5; cf. 1 Tim. 5:17).[32]

What the Consulting Pastor has to be able to do in his work is bring the local church leadership to a point where they are healthy, so that they can in turn impart right doctrine to their assembly that will bring health to the whole body. The goal of the Consulting Pastor is to strive to bring that “enduring stability” to the assembly. It remains largely true that a local church will not rise above the level of its leadership.

Once issues of leadership and immediate problems are under control the Consulting Pastor can begin to examine and evaluate the intra-church functioning. Are all of the different demographic groups within the church working in harmony? What is the current focus of the church? Is it on Christ, His Kingdom, and His purposes? As our research will demonstrate, a large percentage of churches do not have an agreed upon and published philosophy of ministry. After assisting in establishing solid leadership the most important assistance a Consulting Pastor can provide is assisting a church develop a Biblically coherent philosophy of ministry for the church. These issues need to be addressed before a church should consider looking for a new pastor.

A local church will hardly be “perfect” before a new pastor comes; but a successful work by a Consulting Pastor can make the entrance of a new pastor more smooth and allow him to begin focusing on the depth of ministry. Pastors who go into a new church and unnecessarily rush into major changes within their first year of ministry often find that they will not have a second year at that church. Speaking of his book, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, Dever states:

I fear that some may read this book and may immediately go into their churches impatient for radical change. But with a little wisdom, patience, prayer, careful instruction, and love we might be surprised how far we can get with our churches. The story of the persistent tortoise and the hurrying hare becomes a parable for pastors.[34]

In the same vein when a new pastor is forced to deal with major issues to which he may not have been even aware of before coming in his first year, he often will not see a second year.

The Consulting Pastor can help to create a smooth transition for a new pastor and ensure that he enters the new ministry fully informed and prepared. This may be the most effective means to stem or even reverse the growing trend of short-term pastorates in many churches.


Titus in Crete: Focusing the Local Church for the Future

As detailed previously, Paul and Titus had traveled to the island of Crete, apparently planted some churches and worked with some that perhaps already existed. However, Paul was compelled to leave before the work had been brought to the level of maturity and stability that Paul was accustomed to. Paul left Titus behind to complete the work of preparing the churches to move forward on their own.

Like Corinth, Crete was a melting pot for religion. Crete is the largest of the Mediterranean islands, a little more than 400 miles east to west and 60 miles from north to south at the widest point. Crete has a long history, and for many centuries a prosperous one, dating back to the pre-classical era.[35] However, by the New Testament era the glories of the former Minoan Civilization (ca. 2500–1400 BC) were a long distant memories. The residents of the island had remained fiercely independent and it was a haven and recruiting ground for mercenary soldiers and pirates.[36] In an effort to eliminate the pirate threat in the Mediterranean, Crete had been conquered and occupied by Rome in 67 BC.[37] By the time of the New Testament it was administered as a province along with Cyrene on the northern coast of Africa, with the governor being stationed in the city of Gortyne on Crete (Creta et Cyrenae).[38]   Along with the rather large and politically powerful Jewish population on the island,[39] virtually every religion in the Mediterranean basin had some presence in Crete. Even the ancient religion of the Egyptians apparently had some adherents in Crete. The only two sarcophagi, decorated with all the Egyptian gods, have ever been discovered outside of Egypt, with one of those being unearthed in Crete.[40]

saint-paul-and-titus-holding-creteWith these prevailing conditions, ruling Crete required a strong hand and the empire normally had strong governors with a history of successful military campaigns. Although Caesar Augustus had established it as a Senatorial Province, nonetheless the successful military commander, Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, the Syrian governor mentioned in Luke 2:2, was also Procurator of Crete for a time. Quirinius was apparently something of an “Imperial Troubleshooter” for the empire and in his career held several difficult posts which he handled with significant success.[41] Regarding his leadership in Crete, it was Quirinius’ first posting as a Praetor and “this was not ordinarily an important appointment, but in this case it appears that there was serious trouble in the area.”[42] Quirinius effectively brought the Pax Romanica to the island, eliminating the operations and threat of the Mediterranean pirates.

As was previously noted, it is not entirely clear when Christianity was introduced to Crete. There were Jews from Crete at Peter’s sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:11) and it is most likely that the faith, in perhaps a rudimentary or imprecise form, was taken back to the island at that time.[43] In their classic work on the life of Paul, Conybeare and Howson state:

It can scarcely be supposed that the Christian Church of Crete was first founded during this visit of St. Paul; on the contrary, many indications in the Epistle of Titus show that there had already lasted for a considerable time. But they were troubled by false teachers, and probably had never yet been properly organized, having originated, perhaps in the private efforts of individual Christians, who would have been supplied with a centre of operations and nucleus of Churches by the numerous colonies of Jews established in the island.[44]

Paul was on Crete for a brief time during his voyage to Rome (Acts 27:7–9), but certainly there was no opportunity at this juncture for Paul to do any evangelistic work. There is no other record or mention of an organized Christian mission or evangelism effort coming to the island prior to the arrival of Paul and Titus. It is most likely that Christianity was introduced by the pilgrims returning from Pentecost, but because of the isolation of the island the growth of the faith had been slow and obviously prone to fall into different types of errors.

As Kelly notes, the, “church in Crete is evidently in a pretty disorganized state.”[45] Titus had been left in Crete to “set in order what remains” [NASB] or perhaps better, to “put right anything that was defective” [NEB] (1:5). Knight notes the full implication of this phrase as he states:

Literally ἵνα τὰ λείποντα ἐπιδιορθώσῃ καὶ καταστήσῃς means “that you might set right the things lacking.” TEV has perhaps best captured the phrase in an English idiom with “put in order that things that still needed doing.” That this is the proper sense is verified by the next clause, which indicates one thing that needed to be done.[46]

The translation varies because the key word, ἐπιδιορθώσῃ (1st aor subj mid of ) occurs only here in the New Testament and is not widely attested in the secular literature of the day. The idea is to “set right or correct in addition (to what has already been corrected);”[47] that is, Paul and Titus had begun to correct some of the significant deficiencies in the Cretan assemblies, but much more effort was required to bring the task to completion; and Paul, unable to remain in Crete, delegated this significant task to Titus.

The structure of the epistle to Titus is interesting in several regards as it relates to his task. As Lenski notes, outside the Book of Romans, “the greeting of this little letter to Titus is longer than those used in Paul’s other epistles.”[48] Certainly the letter and its instructions were not primarily for the benefit of Titus; he had traveled and ministered with and on behalf of Paul for too many years to imagine anything contained in this epistle was new or unique information. As Mounce notes, “the epistle is not so much for Titus as it is for the church.”[49] Marshall echoes this position stating,

Titus has the fullest salutation of the three pastorals. As typical in the Pauline letters, this section sets the tone and introduces the concerns that the letter will later address. Its formality and fullness of content suggest that it is meant not only for Titus but also for the church for which he is responsible.[50]

The letter forms what might be called an “apostolic commission” given to Titus. The churches in Crete needed to know that Titus was acting with apostolic authority in his organizational and instructional endeavors on the island. Even as Quirinius had governed the civil affairs of the island with the authority of the Empire behind him; Titus was “setting in order” the spiritual matters of the church as an apostolic legate with the full force that such an office implied behind him. As Mitchell demonstrates, this type of activity as an “envoy” is well attested in the New Testament era with these individuals having, “the significant power and authority to speak for those who sent them in accordance with their instructions.”[51] Also, as Stirewalt notes, “Paul created letters eminently suitable for the needs of the young Gentile churches. There was a need for order and organization amid the disorder accompanying the revolution, the turning of the world upside down.”[52]

The word used by Paul, katasthses is normally translated “ordain” or “appoint” in the English versions. It also carries the idea of “arrange” or to “give orders for.” Paul used the same word in First Corinthians, “and thus I direct in all the churches” (7:17); “and the remaining matters I will arrange when I come” (11:34); and “as I directed the churches in Galatia” (16:1). As Delling notes this prerogative to arrange, appoint, or ordain, “is obviously part of the apostolic office.”[53] Paul was granting to Titus the authority to act on his behalf in the matter of appointing qualified leadership. The idea of “elder leadership” was one thoroughly familiar to the Jewish and even non-jewish culture of the Ancient Near East. As Keener notes:

In the Old Testament, cities were ruled and judged by their “elders,” those with the greatest wisdom and experience in the community. By the New Testament period, prominent older men in the synagogues were called “elders.” Paul followed the convenient, conventional forms of synagogue leadership in his culture rather than instituting entirely foreign leadership structures. “In every city” meant that the different house churches in each city would have their own leaders. Much like old Greece, Crete has long been known for intercity rivalry.[54]

The major change that Paul did introduce was the qualifications for elders. Age and experience, while important, were not the single most important qualities. Paul, instructed Titus that those chosen must be men of Biblical character and ability.

This is a singular function of the church in the Apostolic age when the newness of the faith required “appointment” of qualified leaders. Titus’ responsibility was certainly more than bidding “him to preside as a moderator, at the elections [of elders]” as Calvin suggests.[55] The epistolary introduction makes this clear to the independent minded Cretans. “An emissary’s presence [in this case Titus] and presentation gave opportunity for free exchange concerning the sender’s intent and the recipient’s response.”[56] Marshall again notes that, “the phrase [“common faith” in 1:4] may then be pressed to indicate the full agreement in doctrine between Paul and Titus, and so to authenticate Titus to the church and indicate that he is to receive the same respect and obedience as Paul.”[57] It also serves the purpose of assuring Titus regarding “his position in the eyes of Paul.”[58]

Clearly the key thing that the church in Crete was missing from its immediate post–Pentecostal inception was biblically qualified leadership. As Oden notes, “a church lacking duly constituted leaders would be defective,”[59] and defective at the most foundational and fundamental level. It is a significant question as to whether a simple assembly of believers, lacking qualified Biblical leadership, actually constitutes a legitimate New Testament Church.

In contrast to Paul’s instruction to Timothy who was ministering in Ephesus (1 Tim 5:17–20), Titus is not dealing with the issue of correcting an existing set of elders; but rather, creating a cadre of leadership from the bottom up.[60] Perhaps because of the brevity of Paul’s stay, beyond whatever evangelistic work that had been accomplished, he and Titus were only able to complete little more than an assessment of the situation and develop an overall plan for Titus to subsequently carry out.[61] Paul makes that clear with the first imperative in his instructions to Titus. As Beyer notes, to have Biblically qualified leadership in place is “the way to ensure the continued life of the churches once the missionaries had gone.”[62] As Wiersbe also states:

One reason Paul had left Titus on the island of Crete was that he might organize the local assemblies and “set in order” the things that were lacking. That phrase is a medical term it was applied to the setting of a crooked limb. Titus was not the spiritual dictator of the land, but he was Paul’s official apostolic representative with authority to the work. It had been Paul’s policy to ordain elders in the churches he had established (Acts 14:23), but he had not been able to stay in Crete long enough to accomplish this task.[63]

The key issue for appropriate church leadership was to guard the church, as Paul would state, from false doctrine. As Zahn states, “he considered the chief hindrance to the vigorous growth and good order of the life of the Church to be certain persons who persist in teaching doctrine which is unprofitable, unsound, and positively harmful.”[64] Titus had to deal with internal distractions from those whose teachers were having a decidedly harmful effect on the life of the church. Proper leadership in a local church is a necessity, “for the sake of order.”[65] As opposed to the instruction Paul gives to Timothy about the requirements for elders (1 Tim 3), there is a subtle but important difference to be noted.

Church polity often comes down to whether the main leadership board of a local church will be comprised of “elders” or “deacons.” The only real distinction between elders and deacons is found in 1 Tim 3:2 in the last phrase where elders are to be “able to teach.” This is an unusual word (only used again in 2 Tim 2:24). The idea is more than a person who can teach, practically anyone can teach something at some level; it is rather someone who is actually good at it. This distinction is the key difference between the two lists. In Titus not only is the word not used, there is no reference to teaching at all. In Titus 1:9elders only need to be able to “exhort” and “refute.” They aren’t called particularly to teach, but rather to “hold fast” the word, which is in accordance with “the teaching.” Most likely this refers to the teaching of Paul while on the island as well as the expansion on those themes by Titus. In this case elders aren’t expected to do “original” teaching so much as to be able to discern the difference between true and false.

The question is why the difference? If the key issue for elders is to be able to teach, why isn’t that required in the qualifications Paul gives to Titus? The answer is to be discovered in the other difference between the two lists: their preambles. In 1 Tim 3:1 Paul notes that if a person “aspires to the office of overseer” he seeks to do a good thing. However, in Titus 1:6 Titus isn’t looking for people who “aspire” or volunteers at all, he is to “appoint” elders.

The difference here is not a question of polity[3], but rather a difference in the depth of the candidate pool. In writing to Timothy, Paul is dealing with the well-established church in Ephesus, a large metropolitan center. The church at Ephesus was well on its way to being the flagship church of not only Asia Minor but really all of Christendom at the time. The Ephesian church had been the center of Paul’s operations for nearly three years. Not only Timothy was working there, but strong church tradition states that the Apostle John would later make Ephesus his base. In his list of elder requirements for Timothy he could require skillful teaching as a requirement because they were able to provide such men. mirabello_agios-nikolaos_560For Titus, the pool was not only shallow in many ways it was a mirage. Crete was the home of pirates and mercenaries. It was a populated by those Paul called “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (1:10). While Christians had likely been on the island since shortly after Pentecost, there was still only a church that still had to be “set in order” (1:5). Paul could hardly require skillful teachers in his qualification list to Titus, since beyond him they likely didn’t exist.

It appears that the primary source of turmoil in the church was the interposing Old Testament law in some degree on the Cretan churches. However, this teaching seems to be distinctly different than that of the Judaizers who had plagued Paul’s ministry on the European continent. Sumney agrees with this position as he states, “Our investigation of the opponents of Titus indicates that Jewish Christians have raised questions about observing at least some of the purity laws of the Mosaic Code.”[67] He also notes, this was likely not part of the larger problem of the Judaizers who hindered Paul’s earlier ministry, but rather “a local Cretan phenomena.”[68]

The disruption being caused by the false teachers that Paul notes in 1:10, οἵτινες ὅλους οἴκους ἀνατρέπουσιν (“upsetting whole families,” or perhaps better, “subverting whole households”), was not only an important issue within the church, but it was vital that this activity be stopped before it affected the outside world’s view and reaction to the church. As Keener notes one of the main complaints against Christians was that this new religion, “subverted traditional family values.”[69] The family unit was vitally important within Roman society and was viewed as the stabilizing foundation. “Households were defined in terms of hierarchy and dependence (e.g. slaves to masters or clients to patrons) rather than strictly in terms of blood relationship.[70] The false teachers, in “subverting whole households” were doing double damage to the church; causing disruption within the assembly and bringing suspicion onto the assembly from without.

In his instruction Paul gives detailed instructions as to how these “households” are to function within the church (2:1–10) and how the church is to then relate to the whole of society (3:1–11). The Consulting Pastor, when working to strengthen the leadership of a local church must always remember this double task. Disruption in the assembly will invariably bring examination from the surrounding culture which will impede the mission of the church in the world.

While the New Testament does not give us an exact indication as to the success of Titus in this “setting in order” effort; church history indicates that he was largely successful and laid a foundation for the subsequent work of either Artemas or Tychicus (Tit 3:12). The indication of the ongoing reverence of Titus on the island of Crete is also a significant testimony as to his efforts. While his ministry on Crete detailed in Titus probably lasted for no more than 12–18 months; the legacy of his work continued for many generations.


Titus in Corinth: Resolving Present Church Conflict for the Future Growth

The city of Corinth, as one writer notes, “was at once the New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas of the ancient world.”[71] Like Ephesus, the Corinthian church was typical of Paul’s evangelistic strategy of establishing churches in the large important cities and allowing Christianity to spread from there.[72]

There can be no doubt that the early missionaries were influenced by the strategic importance of certain towns and areas, and made these their first goal in the wider context of preaching the gospel to the whole world.[73] Corinth was such a city. It was a central metropolis with an important harbor and important commercial trade routes passing through it. The original Greek city had fallen into ruin and abandonment after being largely destroyed by the Roman general Leucius Mummius in 146 BC; Mummius destroyed the city after they had abused the Roman ambassador who was on a mission to there.[74] The actual destruction of the city was effective, but not total, as Horrell and Adams note:

Ancient testimony that the city was utterly destroyed by Mummius and lay in a state of complete abandonment until its reestablishment has often been taken at face value by scholars, but the archaeological data show that the destruction was far from total; many building survived fairly intact. There is also archaeological evidence pointing to the inhabitation of Corinth from 146–44 BCE Moreover, Cicero, in the only extant account by someone with firsthand knowledge of Corinth during this period, indicates that when he visited the city in his youth, about 79–77 BCE, people were living among the ruins. But clearly there was no formal political life in Corinth between its destruction and refounding.[75]

However, after a century of relative desolation, in 44 BC the new Roman leader, Julius Caesar, recognizing the strategic importance of the Greek Isthmus, had the city rebuilt and re–inhabited with Roman citizens from around the emerging empire, as a Roman colony.[76] As Murphy-O’Connor notes, “there were in fact two Corinths, one Greek and the other Roman, each with its distinctive institutions and ethos.”[77]

The population of the Roman Corinth of the New Testament era was “mobile (sailors, businessmen, government officials, et al.) and was therefore cut off from the inhibitions of a settled society.”[78] By the time of the Paul’s ministry there, the city was effectively less than 100 years old. The result of Julius’ initiative and the importance that the emerging Roman Empire placed on the Corinthian Isthmus; both commercially and militarily (demonstrated by continued favor and building) was such that Corinth, as Strabo in his Geography demonstrates, had, within a very short time, once again become a cosmopolitan center of wealth, power, and privilege.[79]

In both of its incarnations; the older Greek Corinth and the Roman Corinth of the New Testament era, the city was notorious for vice. The city’s nature as a seaport and transportation hub, the overall prosperity, and often unwholesome religious pluralism, all led to an overall ethical and physical immorality in the city. So imbedded was the attachment to this pluralism that there remains evidence that the polytheistic and pagan cultic centers remained a vital part of the city’s life well into the sixth century.[80] “Polytheism survived [in Corinth] for several centuries despite the removal of economic support, illegalization, and strong pressure from the Christians.”[81]

This was particularly evident in the older Greek manifestation of the city where the name Corinth was verbified by Aristophanes (ca. 450–385 B.C.) into korinqiazw (“to act like a Corinthian, that is, to commit fornication”).[82] Plato used the term Korinqian korhn (“Corinthian girl”) in reference to a prostitute.[83]   As Fee notes though, “this aspect of Corinthian life, however, has tended to be overplayed by most NT scholars.”[84] “Sexual sin undoubtedly was in abundance; but it would have been of the same kind that one would expect in any seaport where money flowed freely and women and men were available.”[85] Strabo’s assertion of 3,000 temple prostitutes in the city, as Fee notes, is “almost certainly too high,” and more likely reflects the older Greek temples, not the Roman.[86] In comparison to other major cities of the New Testament Roman world, especially when one examines the sexually explicit graffiti in Pompeii and other sites, Corinth at the time of Paul and Titus’ ministry was probably no more notorious than other large metropolitan cities. However, Corinth, or as it was originally known before 146 BC, “The City of Aphrodite,” had a wide and ongoing reputation as a “centre for sexual promiscuity.”[87]

Although sexual indiscretion and deviation was certainly an aspect of the overall problem in the church of Corinth (e.g. 1 Cor 5:1–2) and remains in large measure central in some popular preaching; it was in reality the divisions created by the “cult of personality” that was of paramount concern to Paul. In 1 Corinthians 1:12 Paul details that the church was divided into at least four groups: “I am of Paul, I of Apollos, I of Cephas, and I of Christ.”. However, as Fee notes, it was not so much that four groups existed, or that the supposed figure heads of those groups were being extolled or elevated as such; but rather, that there were three groups, “decidedly over against Paul at the same time.”[88] These groups, operating within the cultural milieu of the city instead of the virtues inherent within the Christian life, were more concerned about their own “cults of personality” rather than truth. As Seneca (who was well acquainted with Cornith) noted, regarding the typical orator of that era, “Cupit enim se approbare, non causam” (“Your aim is to win approval for yourself rather than for the case”).[89]

This issue was the most serious in terms of Paul’s concern for the church. It was not an ego-driven desire to be recognized or revered by the church; but rather, he understood that it was vital that for the long term health of the church that his apostolic authority was acknowledged and recognized. While Paul’s earlier letter (First Corinthians, carried by Timothy) apparently had some effect in controlling these factious tendencies, word soon reached Paul that the situation remained unstable and was being further exacerbated by the introduction of a Judaizing influence by some claiming to be “apostles.”[90] This group was, as Schnabel states, a faction “who casts doubts on Paul’s apostolic authority and proclamation and who influence people by emphasizing miracles, states of ecstasy, visions and electrifying rhetoric.”[91]

This situation led Paul to make a personal trip back to Corinth to confront the situation personally. Instead of exercising his apostolic authority directly,[93] he instead withdrew to allow the Corinthians time to consider and repent. As Allen notes, “the Apostle recognized that he possessed a power upon which he could fall back in case of necessity,” but it was a power that he used “sparingly.”[94]

The situation in Corinth was critical and clearly the most severe internal challenge Paul faced in any of the churches recorded in the New Testament or even hinted at in history. If the opposition to Paul’s authority and the subsequent heretical teaching that this opposition spawned was allowed to continue; because of the central location of Corinth and its position as a hub of commerce and communication; along with the transitory nature of its population, the entire region could soon be adversely affected, particularly the westward expansion of Christianity.

The severity of the affair is demonstrated by one of the most forceful warnings we see anywhere in the New Testament, 2 Cor 13:2. The full implication of Paul’s statement,  “when I come again I will not spare anyone,” is often overlooked by commentators.[95] Despite being translated “if” in many English versions, the word here carries no room for doubt as to Paul’s intentions; “when I come” or “since I am now coming,” conveys the factual force and intent of the phrase more correctly.[96] Paul warns of the severest possible consequences to the false apostles continued rebellion. Regarding “to spare”, as Rogers and Rogers note, “it primarily means to spare in battle, not to kill when the opportunity to do so exists”[97] (cf. 1 Pet 2:4). Interestingly, Paul does not supply a direct object to feisomai allowing the readers to “supply it and thus he makes them conscious of the fact that they cannot ignore flagrant sin in their midst.”[98] If the Corinthian church and their leadership, which had repented once after the ministry of Timothy and was now reported as doing the same after the work of Titus, again wavered and allowed false brethren to publicly oppose Paul (and the truth), he would not again stay his hand and the harshest of penalty would be visited upon them.

When Paul had been confronted by these false apostles he had both the means (apostolic authority and power) and the opportunity to pronounce definitive judgment (cf. Acts 13:11). But, at that time he chose to stay his hand and exercise patience (cf. 2 Cor 1:13), even though he suffered personal attacks and humiliation in the process. Paul’s opponents took this as weakness on his part and as evidence of their own superiority (2 Cor 10:7–18).

However, for the integrity of the Gospel and the ultimate health of the Corinthian assembly, that patience had a limit which would soon be reached. This was a church situation that Timothy was apparently not well suited to tackle (cf. 1 Tim 1:5; 4:12, 14; 5:23). Instead, he sent the “severe letter” by the hand of his trusted ally, Titus, with the hopes of repentance and reconciliation. It is not known whether or not Titus had any previous contact with the Corinthian church, but clearly his reputation as Paul’s “strong right arm”[99] had preceded him. Paul notes that they received Titus with “fear and trembling” (2 Cor 7:15). Barnett suggests that “the letter—whose impact may have been intensified by the ministry of the bearer, Titus (v. 15)—has produced a dramatic and instant effect.”[100] It may well be that Titus’ physical presence and speech were more than impressive and it was eminently clear to all the parties within the Corinthian church that he and Paul were entirely of one mind in the matter of these false apostles.[101]

As Plummer noted Titus was sent, “to deal with the difficulty and reduce the rebellious person to submission.”[102] However, as previously detailed, Titus was in reality being sent on a “life and death” mission. “It appears that until the arrival of Titus and the ‘Severe Letter’ the Corinthians had not understood how serious the matter was from Paul’s perspective.”[103] The message of this letter was clearly pointed and left no room to doubt what Paul expected from the Corinthian church in regard to the individuals whom had resisted him. It caused him “anguish of heart” and “many tears” (2 Cor 2:4). He was grieved in his heart that the situation had now reached the point of no return. Paul reflects on the criticism of his opponents in Corinth who claimed, “his letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive, and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor 10:10). It was a cause for the highest concern in Paul that the leadership of the church in Corinth had allowed this type of dissention to grow and had stood idly by when these false teachers publicly opposed Paul.

While Paul’s final visit is not recorded in Scripture it seems clear that Titus’ mission and ministry were successful. The rebellion against Paul was quashed and those erring brothers were brought to repentance or they fled the field. In the preparation of Titus for this mission Paul states that he had engaged in “boasting before Titus” about the true nature of the Corinthian believers (2 Cor 7:14). For all of the sorrow and distress the situation had caused Paul, he was certain of the essential godliness of the assembly there. This description of Paul’s instructions to Titus seem to indicate that Titus needed some convincing, that he himself, was not so assured that the situation would not require a “heavy hand.” As Paul’s companion and “trouble shooter” he was certainly privy to the totality of the situation and how much his mentor had suffered because of it. Paul spoke frankly that he rejoiced that he had “not been put to shame” in his confidence exhibited to Titus (7:14). The joy (and perhaps surprise) of Titus as to the repentance of the offenders and the now firm stand of the church leadership against the offenders was a great source of joy to Paul (7:13).

Reconciliation in church disputes is one of the leading issues for the Consulting Pastor. After the issues of leadership, the most destructive cancers within a local assembly are always those of factions, disputes and personality conflicts.


Summary and Conclusion

180px-titusIn Titus we see an individual who was not interested in building an empire for himself, he never stayed anywhere long enough for that.   While the Consulting Pastor may simply be called upon for advice about proper direction in buildings, programs or strategic planning; more often than not there is some level of crisis involved. The character and skill-set qualities of Titus served him well in the service of the Apostle Paul and the local churches.

This mission in Crete was to help bring to health a church that had never been properly rooted in proper theology, practice or had established the Biblical pattern for godly leadership. The mission in Cornith was to confront and put down a long-simmering rebellion against sound doctrine and apostolic teaching. In both cases Titus was used to “set things in order” but then move on so that a long term pastor and elders could effectively continue and build a ministry legacy in those places.



[1] There is some debate as to when specialized youth pastors began to become normal parts of church staffs with most sources indicating after World War II. Prior to the time churches, regardless of size would have, at most, one assistant pastor and perhaps a choir director. For example, at the height of the ministry of Charles Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, his brother James Spurgeon was brought in as an assistant pastor; which meant that the largest Baptist church in the world (if not the largest Protestant church) had only two full time pastors. Charles Spurgeon also had a personal “secretary” (which in that era was more like a “chief of staff”). Prior to the specialization of pastoral staffs, deacons and elders were typically much more hands on leaders of different ministries in the typical local church.

[2] According to one of the more obscure of the apocryphal works, The Acts of Titus, Titus was a Cretan by birth and highly placed in both local and Roman society. He is depicted in this work to be the brother–in–law of the Roman Proconsul of Crete. This proconsul reportedly dispatched Titus to Judea when he had heard of the stories concerning Jesus, to investigate and bring back a report. This text, purportedly written by Zenas the Lawyer (cf. Tit 3:13), is clearly hagiographical in nature, but does give some indication as to the esteem in which Titus was held in Crete and undoubtedly has some underlying basis in fact in some places. It is beyond the scope of this work to delve more deeply into this otherwise fascinating piece of literature and it’s relation to the factual evidence in the Book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament. For further see: Richard I. Pervo, “The ‘Acts of Titus’: A Preliminary Translation with an Introduction, Notes, and Appendices,” Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers (1996), 455–82. And also, M. R. James, “The Acts of Titus and The Acts of Paul.” Journal of Theological Studies 6 (1905), 549–56.

[3] John Gillman. “Titus,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary. David Noel Freedman, ed. (San Francisco, CA: Doubleday Publishing) 6:581.

[4] F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (revised) NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1988) 289.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] For the purposes of this work we are assuming that the Galatians 2 passage is connected to the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 and not Acts 10–11; accepting what is commonly known as the “Northern Galatia Theory” as having the greatest weight of evidence and most coherence in terms of chronology and harmonization. It is beyond the scope of this work to detail all of the issues and arguments related to this question. For further details see the discussions and extensive bibliographies in Ronald Y. K. Fung. The Epistle to the Galatians. NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1988), 1–32; F. F. Bruce, “Galatian Problems 2: North or South Galatians?” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 52 (1970–71), 243–66; and G. W. Hansen, “Letter to the Galatians,” in the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid, eds., (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 323–34.   On this question Meyer notes,

The opinion, therefore, that the journey of Gal. ii. 1 is identical with that mentioned in Acts xi., must be rejected; and we must, on the other hand, assume that in point of fact those expositors have arrived at the correct conclusion who consider it the same as which, according to Acts xv., was undertaken by Paul and Barnabus to the apostolic conference.

Henrich August Wilhelm Meyer. Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistle to the Galatians. (Winona Lake, IN: Alpha Greek Library, 1979), 46–47.

[8] Harold W. Hoehner, “History and Chronology of the New Testament,” in Foundations for Biblical Interpretation. David S. Dockery, Kenneth A. Mathews and Robvert B. Sloan (eds). (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 1994), 485. See also Hoehner’s, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1977); and Chronology of the Apostolic Age. Unpublished Th.D. Dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1965.

[9] Harvey Frommer. Rickey and Robinson: The Men Who Broke Baseball’s Color Barrier. (New York: Collier Books, 1982).

[10] Fung. Galatians, 86. See also Cleon L. Rogers Jr. and Cleon L. Rogers III. The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1998), 423. “The word is applied to a private companion or minister who is not sent forth on the mission of an envoy, but is taken by the envoy on their authority.”

[11] Interestingly, Titus is never mentioned by name in the narrative of Acts. There is a good deal of speculation as to why, with most commentators leaning towards the idea that Titus was the brother or otherwise closely related to Luke himself; and is supposed that as Luke never mentions himself by name he also omits the name of his relative. See William M. Ramsey, St Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1906), xxxviii; 380. Also, A. Souter, “A Suggested Relationship Between Titus and Luke.” The Expository Times 18 (1906–07), 285.

[12] Paul Barnett. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. NICNT. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1997), 420.

[13] Adolf von Harnack. Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur bis Eusebius. (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1958), 2:240n.

[14] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin Jr. 1, 2 Timothy; Titus. The New American Commentary. (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), 274.

[15] Hoehner, “History and Chronology,” 482–83.

[16] We prefer Hoehner’s chronological reconstruction as being the most coherent and most cognizant of all the Biblical data. The last few years of Paul’s ministry flow as follows: The Book of Titus written: summer 66; Paul winters in Nicopolis: winter 66/67; Paul in Macedonia and Greece, spring-fall 67; Paul arrested and taken to Rome, fall 67; Second Timothy written, fall 67; Paul executed, early spring 68. Hoehner, “History and Chronology,” 486. See also David Smith. The Life and Letters of Saint Paul (New York: Harper Brothers, n.d.), 622.

[17] Smith, Life and Letters, 622.

[18] Remarkably, even the otherwise excellent commentary of R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), completely skips over this section at the end of Titus without a single comment.

[19] Miriam T. Griffin, “Nero,” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary. David Noel Freedman, ed. (New York: Doubleday Publishers, 1992), 4:1078.

[20] Smith, Life and Letters, 624,

[21] See W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson. The Life and Epistles of St. Paul. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1889), 2:467. Also, William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, WBC 46 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 590.

[22] George W. Knight III. The Pastoral Epistles, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1992),465.

[23] Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 590. Also James L. Kelso. An Archaeologist Follows the Apostle Paul (Waco, TX: Word Publishing, 1970), 110.

[24] Jerry A. Pattengale. “Dalmatia,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 2:5. For a detailed discussion of the geographic region and history in relation to the ministry of Paul and Titus, see: Eckhart J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission: Paul and the Early Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 1446–47.

[25] Pervo, “The Acts of Titus,” 465.

[26] The Bascilica is built upon the ruins of a church that date to the 2nd Century, making it one of the oldest known places in the world used exclusively for Christian worship outside of Israel.

[27] Herbert S. Seekings. The Men of the Pauline Circle (London: Charles H. Kelly, 1914), 68.

[28] Thom Rainer. Breakout Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2005), 44.

[29] Ibid. Note, in this quotation Rainer mistakenly refers here to “The Twelve” instead of “The Seven” as Acts 6:1–7 indicates.

[30] In all of the churches we have been the interim or consultant, we have only been invited back to one of them for an anniversary or similar type of celebration.

[31] Carson, D. A. The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 95-96.

[32] Anthony C. Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2007), 92 (Italics in original)

[34] Mark Dever. 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, New Expanded Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 246–47.

[35] Daniela Dueck, Hugh Lindsay and Sarah Pothecary, eds. Strabho’s Cultural Geography: The Making of the Kolossourgia. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 125.

[36] Pfeiffer, Charles F. (ed). The Biblical World: A Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1966), 389.

[37] F. J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake. The Beginnings of Christianity: The Acts of the Apostles, Part 1 (London: Macmillan and Co., 1942), 178.

[38] Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider (eds). Brill’s New Pauly: Encyclopedia of the Ancient World (Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2003), 3:938.

[40] John Ferguson. The Religions of the Roman Empire (Ithaca, NY: Cornel University Press, 1970), 16.

[41] William Ramsey. The Bearing of Recent Discoveries on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1958), 278–79.

[42] D. S. Potter, “Quirinius,” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, David Noel Freedman, ed. (San Francisco: Doubleday, 1992), 5:589.

[43] It is also likely that multiple Jews returning to Crete from Pentecost brought slightly conflicting versions of Christianity to the island also leading to a retardation of growth and development of a functional church.

[44] W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson. The Life and Epistles of St. Paul (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1889), 2:460.

[45] J. N. D. Kelly. The Pastoral Epistles. Black’s New Testament Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1998), 230.

[46] Knight, Pastoral Epistles, 288.

[47]Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt and F. Wilbue Gingrich. A Greek–English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd Ed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 292.

[48] R. C. H. Lenski. The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus, and to Philemon (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1963), 888.

[49] William D. Mounce. Pastoral Epistles. Word Biblical Commentary Vol 46 (Nashville, TN: Nelson Reference and Electronic, 2000), 457.

[50] I. Howard Marshall. The Pastoral Epistles, ICC (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999), 111.

[51] Margaret M. Mitchell, “New Testament Envoys in the Context of Greco-Roman Diplomatic and Epistolary Conventions: The Example of Timothy and Titus.” Journal of Biblical Literature, 111, No. 4 (1992), 649.

[52] Stirewalt, M. Luther Jr. Paul the Letter Writer. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 2003), 116.

[53]Gerhard Delling, “diata,ssow” in TDNT, 8:35.

[54] Craig S. Keener. The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 635.

[55] John Calvin. Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1854), 290.

[56] Stirewalt, Paul the Letter Writer, 116.

[57] Marshall, Pastoral Epistles, 133.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Thomas C. Oden. First and Second Timothy and Titus. Interpretation. (Nashville, TN: John Knox Press, 1983), 145.

[60] James W. Aageson. Paul, The Pastoral Epistles and the Early Church. Library of Pauline Studies. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 2008), 52. See also Benjamin Fiore, The Pastoral Epistles. Sacra Pagina. (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2007), 197.

[61] John Albert Bengel. New Testament Word Studies. Charlton T. Lewis and Marvin R. Vincent (trans) (1864; reprint Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1971), 2:559.

[62] Hermann W. Beyer, “epi,kopoj,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Gerhard Kittel, ed.; Geoffrey W. Bromiley, trans. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1964), II–617.

[63] Warren W. Wiersbe. The Bible Exposition Commentary. New Testament. (Colorado Spring, CO: Victor Books, 2001), 2:261.

[64] Theodor Zahn. Introduction to the New Testament, Three Volumes (Minneapolis, MN: Klock and Klock, 1977), 2:45.

[65] Gunther Bornkamm, “pre,sbuj” in TDNT, 6:666.

[67] Jerry L. Sumney. ‘Servants of Satan’, ‘False Brothers’ and Other Opponents of Paul. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series #188. (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 301.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Keener, Bible Background Commentary, 637.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Gordon D. Fee. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. NICNT. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1987), 3.

[72] Michael Green. Evangelism in the Early Church. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1970), 259. See also Roland Allen. Missionary Methods: Saint Paul’s Or Ours? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1962).

[73] Ibid, 260.

[74] Strabo Geography 8.6..23. Loeb Classical Library, 199.

[75] David G. Horrell and Edward Adams, “The Scholarly Quest for Paul’s Church at Corinth: A Critical Survey,” in Christianity at Corinth: The Quest for the Pauline Church. Edward Adams and David G. Horrell (eds). (Nashville, TN: Westminster/John Know Press, 2004), 3.

[76] Barnet, Second Corinthians, 1.

[77] Jerome Murphy–O’Connor. St. Paul’s Corinth: Texts and Archaeology. (Collegeville, MN: A Michael Glazer Book, The Liturgical Press, 1983), 127.

[78] Charles F. Pfeiffer and Howard F. Vos. The Wycliffe Historical Geography of Bible Lands. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1967), 481.

[79] Strabo, Geography 8.6.23. Loeb Classical Library, 203.

[80] Richard M. Rothaus. Corinth: The First City of Greece, An Urban History of Late Antique Cult and Religion. Religions in the Graeco-Roman World, No. 139. (Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2000), 139.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott. A Greek English Lexicon. (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1968), 981. Also Aristophanes, frag. 354.

[83] Plato, Rep. 404d.

[84] Fee, First Corinthians, 3.

[85] Ibid.

[86] Ibid.

[87] Horrell and Adams, “Scholarly Quest.” 7.

[88] Ibid, 49, (emphasis in the original).

[89] Lucius Annaeus Seneca. Controversiae 9.1 (preface). The Loeb Classical Library, 211. This is particularly interesting in light of the fact that Gallio, mentioned as the “Proconsul of Achaia” (Acts 18:12) and had Corinth as his administrative seat, was the brother of Seneca.

[90] Barnett, Second Corinthians, 33. See his excellent discussion of the personalities and issues of these “false apostles,” 33–40.

[91] Eckhard J. Schnabel. Early Christian Mission: Paul and the Early Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 964.e˙gw» me÷n ei˙mi Pau/lou, e˙gw» de« ΔApollw◊, e˙gw» de« Khfa◊, e˙gw» de« Cristouv.

[93] The exercise of apostolic authority against false teachers was not something to be trifled over (c.f. Acts 13:11). Those who sought to deceive a local church under the care of an apostle could easily face the ultimate discipline (e.g. Acts 5:1–11). Even in his advanced age, the Apostle John made it clear that his apostolic authority would be more than adequate against those sought to oppose his teaching (3 John 10). Even with the apparent success of Titus’ mission to Corinth, Paul made it clear that he had reached the end of his patience with the false teachers there, should they again seek to oppose him (2 Cor 13:2). Paul’s withdrawal was not a sign of defeat or weakness on his part; but rather an exercise of grace and long suffering. But as the “severe letter” apparently made clear, those qualities should not be viewed as having an unlimited duration in this situation.

[94] Allen, Missionary Methods, 112.

[95] Mainly by those who deny the unity of the epistle and view this section to be a portion of the “severe letter” that was “cobbled” together with the third letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

[96] R. V. G. Tasker. The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (London: , 1958),

[97] Roger and Rogers, Linguistic Key, 419.

[98] Simon J. Kistemaker. Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, NTC (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 446.

[99] Gillman. “Titus,” 6:581.

[100] Barnett, Second Corinthians, 374. See also: Margaret E. Thrall. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, ICC (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), 1:500.

[101] This is perhaps the contrast Paul is making in 2 Cor 10:10 about his reception in the “sorrowful visit.” But it is clear that Paul’s detractors did not comprehend that Paul’s method of handling their rebellion and sin was for their benefit.

[102] Alfred Plummer. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark Publishers, 1999), xiv. “Person” as used by Plummer is likely incorrect, the opposition to Paul was likely more than a single individual. While the named factious groups from First Corinthians had been quelled previously, the situation in Second Corinthians makes is clear that it was not totally eradicated.

[103] Barnett, Second Corinthians, 379.

A Christmas Shopping Guide for Books for Your Favorite Pastor or Seminary Student

The following are actually two posts that I wrote for another site, But I thought I’d add them here for anyone for may not have seen that site.  Keep in mind they are two posts written a year apart and I haven’t done much to smooth them out. I hope they might be helpful.



For the last 25 years, a few weeks before Christmas I begin to get questions from friends, relatives, and parishioners asking for my opinion on Christmas gifts for the pastor or seminary student in their lives, especially as it relates to books. Since I’m a professional librarian and have trained pastors, I apparently seem like a good person to ask.

With slight variations they run something like this, “I want to do something special and I’m think about getting them [fill in with this or that large set of books], do you think they’ll like that?”

These good folks are always well intentioned, but most of the time they know next to nothing about either the books or authors or even the subject matter. I recall one acquaintance who received a couple of large sets which he didn’t have the shelf space for, but he needed to “display” them to make the gift giver feel good, so a large number of much more useful material had to be stacked under his desk. I recall another student coming to me once in despair. He had received a large and expensive set of books, which his wife, parents, and sisters pooled their resources to buy. Since the set was largely useless he asked me, “What do I do?” It’s possibly still displayed on a prominent shelf.

Booksellers, who naturally exist to make money, will often have displays of large sets of books with a “Christmas Special” that amounts to something like 75% off of retail. One set that I’m looking at right now on the other computer screen is listed for $89.99 off of a retail price (at least what they list) of $700 or a sale price 87% off. That sounds like a great price (which is a tolerable price as you’ll see below) but it is also exceptionally misleading since no one would pay full retail for that or any other set.

So, as a public service as Christmas nears (and planning ahead for graduation time when these same questions will come up again), let me offer some advice on the purchase of large sets of books. What follows is in no particular order. By the way, if I offend anyone or disparage your favorite author, I apologize now. However, I’m always reminded of Charles Spurgeon in his Commenting and Commentaries, where he often made rather biting remarks about certain works. On a commentary on Daniel by Henry More, he remarked, “If a man had no more than More, he would certainly long for more.” My comments below occasionally will follow that vein, so you have been warned.

Expositions of Holy Scripture (various publishers, most recently Hendrickson) by Alexander Maclaren.

Alexander Maclaren was a contemporary of Charles Spurgeon (although they apparently didn’t care for each others company) and pastored the famous Union Chapel in Manchester, England for 45 years. He represented the well-educated, wealthy, upper middle and upper class wing of the Baptist Union. Early on he rejected biblical inerrancy and opted for an evolutionary scheme of creation, although he rarely mentioned either. His conduct during the Downgrade Controversy, where he was appointed along with some others to meet with Spurgeon in an effort to quell the controversy can only be described as disinterested at best and disingenuous at worst.

His expositions are rather banal and you can almost hear an affected “stained glass voice” as you read. While rejecting inerrancy, Maclaren’s expositions are remainly broadly evangelical and he will generally land within traditional Baptist interpretations of the texts relevant to ecclesiology. However, he will often frustrate the reader by seemingly never dealing with an important text or taking a clear position. Beyond that, the set will take up way too much space, unless you can acquire it for free, take a pass.

Expositor’s Bible Commentary (new edition), Zondervan Publishers.

This new edition has been generally well received. Several of the weakest entries in the original series, such as Kalland on Deuteronomy and Mare on Corinthians, were thankfully replaced. However, the original first volume, which contained a set of introductory essays, most of which were exceptionally helpful, was not included in the new edition. Personally, I thought this was a singular mistake and weakened the overall new edition but it was dropped nonetheless.

For a set of commentaries it is now rather uniformly of high quality, excellent in places and no less than good in others (the spectrum of quality in the original series was much wider in a negative direction). If you can find a set for $250 you won’t be overpaying for it. If you can find the original volume one to add to the present whomever you choose to gift should be appreciative.

Commentary on the Old Testament (recently published by Hendrickson) by Keil and Delitzsch.

I see this set currently listed at an 86% discount, which is about 13% too little. This was a valuable set when it was first produced over 120 years ago and it was a staple for many pastors for a long time. Despite the unevenness of work in its day it was a valuable set; however, its day has long since passed. The only real value for this set now has is to look pretty on the shelf.

Actually the “set” was never designed to be a set and the publisher rebinding individual volumes as sets over the years has made it one of the more difficult sets to use in an academic setting (the page numbers were never redone, so any given volume may have the same page number in two or three locations). It has long since been superseded for the student by works current in research and is too dense and cumbersome for the busy pastor. The tidbit here and there that is still edible in this set isn’t worth the space in the pantry. Avoid at any price.

Pillar New Testament Commentary, edited by D. A. Carson (Eerdmans Publishing).

This series didn’t begin life as a series. Eerdmans published Leon Morris on the Gospel of John at the very end of the line of individual commentaries being published. Essentially all commentaries are now part of a series rather than a “stand alone” work. There are exceptions to that rule, but it is now exceptionally rare. What Eerdmans did was repackage Morris’ work into a new series: The Pillar New Testament Commentary series. Edited by D. A. Carson and now at 16 volumes, it is one of the most valuable commentary sets currently in production. The problem with series is that they often take a long time to produce (for example the Word Biblical Commentary still is incomplete after nearly 40 years) and they are of uneven quality. This series is due to be completed very shortly and Carson has kept the quality at a uniformly high level. While it retails for nearly $800, I’ve seen the set available for about half that. If you want to make an investment that will last for many years, this is a good place to put your money.

The Pulpit Commentary and The Biblical Illustrator (various publishers).

I have placed these two venerable sets together to dispose of them at the same time. There was a time when the only books a pastor in a small rural church might have were these. It would be rather impressive as at about 60 volumes total they took up the better part of an entire bookshelf (over the years I’ve seen many sets inscribed to a new pastor). They were designed for the pastor possessing what Spurgeon used to call “slender apparatus,” and I guess they were better than nothing at all. But today they aren’t, the material is dated, the illustrations are trite and even offensive in places. They are valueless when commenting on the original languages and are from an era when everyone still used the King James Bible.

I’ve seen these sets available practically for free at local Goodwill Stores; so don’t buy them new, even at an 83% discount. If you have them and need to create shelf space, they make excellent kindling for a warm winter fire.

The Dictionary of New Testament Theology, edited by Gerhard Kittel (Eerdmans Publishing).

This ten-volume set has been a high-end lexical resource since it first appeared in English in the 1970’s. It is a massive collection of essays on individual words and word groups in the Greek New Testament. It remains valuable for the student or teacher; although I would question its utility for the busy pastor. But I have a couple of warnings about purchasing this set. If you want to buy this I strongly recommend finding an older printing that has real dust jackets and stitched binding. The newer printings (last 10 years or so) are not stitched, they are glued and the bindings simply will not last. I’ve seen them crack and split after a couple of years. You might pay more than the current sale of $90, but you can still find them for about $120 and they will last a lifetime.

There is something you also need to know about the content. This was originally a German language work and the main editor, Gerhard Kittel, was a thoroughgoing Nazi (shortly after the war he died while in allied custody awaiting trial for war crimes). Kittel was not the only contributor of this ilk in this set and the anti-Semitism comes through pretty clearly in places, although more subtly elsewhere. It’s not that they were trying to hide anything, they probably couldn’t conceive any other kind of thinking. As such, in my view, there are places where it is an unreliable guide although crafted in careful scholarly language. It’s still an important set and still useful for the scholar, but the unaware pastor or student can be mislead in places. Handle with caution.

Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson (B&H Books)

Robertson, who taught Greek at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for many years left two main works, his Historical Grammar and his six volume Word Pictures. Designed as less of a commentary and more of an extended word study through key words in a verse-by-verse setting. It can be helpful in places but he often falls into “word study fallacies” by making the etymology of a particular word carry more weight than they can possibly bear. It’s a nice set that is useful in places and doesn’t take up too much space, but they can be found for a much better price than retail, generally as owners who discovered they really didn’t need the set sell them.

The Renaissance New Testament by Randolph O. Yeager (Pelican Publishing).

I only include this set because someone recently asked me about it, which led me to think that possibly some misguided publisher has brought it back, although I hope not. This set took poor Mr. Yeager nearly his entire adult life to complete, so he gets an “A” for effort and perseverance; however, as Carson points out it is a “monument to misplaced energy.” The set takes up considerable space to no possible benefit to the owner. It’s based entirely on the King James Version, the comments are either entirely self-evident or entirely misguided. He apparently had some facility in New Testament Greek, but I’m always hard pressed to see how it helped him. Don’t even let someone give this set to you.

The Daily Bible Study by William Barclay (Westminster-John Knox Press)

I would have thought that by now most people would understand that William Barclay’s commentaries have been thoroughly discredited. However, I’m often still surprised that people buy and pastors still quote this amazingly bad series. Barclay had a fascinating way of explaining manners and customs and historical information about the New Testament. He was writing purely for the layman and as a result he never used footnotes or referred to sources that could be verified. Not only are most of his explanations about manners, customs, and history wrong, in the process he denies essentially every significant Christian doctrine. Unfortunately, many pastors, especially in the 1960-80 era often quoted Barclay to illustrate their own sermons and in so doing legitimized Barclay in the minds of their listeners in the process.

The set remains immensely popular and Barclay’s son has recently updated it. Nothing in the updates fixes any of the terrible theology and unsubstantiated references that supposedly make the Bible clear to the average layman. This is a set that pastors should be paid not to use.

New International Commentary on the Old Testament and New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans Publishing).

These series have been ongoing since the late 1950’s and the New Testament series will soon be getting its fourth editor (Ned Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, and Gordon Fee) since Dr. Fee recently had to retire because of his health. If someone really wants to do something nice for a present either of these sets are worthwhile. They have been updating them regularly (some of the earlier parts of the series have been replaced, such as John Murray on Romans was replaced by Douglas Moo). The sets are expensive, it will usually take at least $300 per set on sale, but they have and will stand the test of time. F. F. Bruce’s Acts, while significantly dated, is widely regarded as the model for a modern biblical commentary. The scholarship, research, and writing standards for the both series have remained high. If you have to make a choice, I prefer the New Testament series slightly over the Old Testament, but only by a small margin.

Commentary on Romans (12 Volumes) by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Banner of Truth Publishing)

I’m sure I will get into trouble here with many readers, but $300 for this set is way too much. While it will look nice on the shelf and certainly help with your bona fides for any young restless reformed groupie that visits your office, I found this set to be ponderously unhelpful. I’m rather convinced that anything that could be said in 100 words Lloyd-Jones could say in 1,000. Of course, these began life as sermons, not as an intentional commentary.

As a dispensationalist I naturally think his comments on Romans 9-11 are entirely misguided. He creates useful outlines and makes good pastoral observations, but his utility in Greek is dubious. As Carson states, “Lloyd-Jones is probably not the model most preachers should imitate.” That being said, while he is wordy, he’s readably wordy and there is value in his comments. However, for a commentary you can get John Murray’s two volumes on Romans and have a thorough commentary on the text with the same theology explained much more clearly and without the spatial commitment of an entire shelf.

The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, by John MacArthur (Moody Press).

Now, if you’ve recovered from my comments on Lloyd-Jones, we’ll move on. This set is unquestionably a singular achievement and it’s single-handedly kept Moody Press afloat for many years (it’s the only series they print that remains profitable with strong sales). It can generally be found as a set new for about $400 and it’s worth that investment and the new dust jackets are much more attractive than the plain hardbacks were. That being said, the series is a cross between sermonic material and commentary and that’s not always good. In the editing some of the sermonic quality is lost and they were never supplemented adequately enough to create a solidly pure commentary. Over the years his theology shifted as well and as a result there are internal inconsistencies within the series.

The focus of the series also shifted very early and Moody allocated more pages to each volume. The set would be greatly strengthened if the first two entries Hebrews and Galatians, were replaced with new editions, but there seems to be no plan for that. For the Sunday school teacher, the Bible study leader, the young pastor, or who Carson calls, “the well-read layperson,” this series has a high value. Buying it as a set is also the best bet, as you’ll save about 50%

New Testament Commentary by William Hendriksen and Simon Kistemaker (Baker Books)

Hendriksen completed eight of the commentaries and after his death Kistemaker finished the New Testament. This set is useful, thoroughly committed to inerrancy, and often has helpful pastoral comments. The tone of the series is staunchly Covenantal-Reformed, often tediously so. Hendriksen’s contributions tend to be much more wordy and dogmatic and he rarely interacts with opposing viewpoints. Kistemaker is a little easier reading, but he also doesn’t give much time to other possible interpretations.

The set is often available for under $200 but honestly there is a reason that its popularity has declined (as a set it was even out of print for a time). A few of Kistemaker’s contributions are still valuable, but personally I’d buy these individually. Hendriksen’s volumes (especially the gospels) are dated and pedantic. The Pillar series is a far better use of your money and shelf space.

The New International Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Eerdmans Publishing).

This is the more technical version of the NICNT series. It is a commentary on the Greek text, not the English and therein lies my warning. The set is not inexpensive (about $350 on sale) but you need to be sure the person receiving this is really a good Greek student. For pastors who got B’s and C’s in Greek during seminary and haven’t kept up on the language this set will may be more of a frustration than a help. The authors do no explain the basics of the language; they rather assume a superior working knowledge of New Testament Greek on the part of the reader. Some of the volumes can be exceptionally technical in places and are probably more suited to the advanced student working on his doctorate than the busy pastor.

That being said, it is a superior set of high quality and thorough scholarship. If the person you have in mind to give this too is good with Greek, they should rejoice to receive this set.

The Bible Exposition Commentary, by Warren W. Wiersbe (David C. Cook)

When I have finished preparing a sermon and I’m giving it one last check the place I always go to it Wiersbe. The longtime pastor at Moody Church and then the radio teacher for Back to the Bible, is by far my favorite preacher and author. Checking his comments will almost always reveal a new way of looking at a text, an emphasis for preaching or teaching, as well as useful and timeless illustrations. A compilation of his famous “Be” series of individual commentaries, the five volumes are generally available new for around $50 and will be the best $50 you will ever spend.

Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible, by John Calvin (most recently published by Hendickson)

This classic set reprints the Calvin Translation Society editions in the Victorian era. They will repay the reader in most areas. Calvin did the commentaries toward the end of his life and they often represent his more mature thought. The careful reader will see that the comments are occasionally at odds with The Institutes, but that is to be expected. Here I will repeat a warning that I gave earlier. If you want a set that will last, look for the Baker Books edition from the 1980’s. The volumes are stitched and the binding will last a lifetime. The current Hendrickson set is cheaply bound and glued, not stitched. You might get a new set for $100, but spending $200–250 on the older edition is a wise decision (and they will actually open and lay flat on the desk). There are, of course, some quirks in the way Calvin did some of the books (his chronological presentation of Samuel, Kings & Chronicles) and his synoptic presentation of the gospels. Also, he didn’t do a commentary on Revelation. Calvin can be loquacious at times and his comments make arcane references to the current events of his day; but the Translation Society editor’s are often helpful with footnotes.

Word Biblical Commentary (now published by Thomas Nelson and distributed by Zondevan)

In the publishing world there has been a recent consolidation and News Corp (owned by the Murdoch’s who also own Fox) how have owned Zondervan Publishing for nearly 20 years now owns Word and Thomas Nelson (along with Harper-Row). In their acquisitions and rearrangement of each imprint it appears that Zondervan will ultimately take control of handling the Word Biblical Commentary (Word had been changed to the “W Group” and then sold to Thomas Nelson and now they all belong to the Murdoch empire).

I can make this one really simple; don’t buy this as a set. First of all it takes nearly an entire shelving unit for the whole thing, but beyond that it’s probably the most uneven series that has even been produced. Some of them are excellent and some of them are simply awful. There seemed to be no unifying editorial control and certainly no unifying theological point of view. It’s a mix of just about everything and there are a few of the authors I would be hard pressed to even call evangelical. The good individual commentaries can be bought individually without cluttering up an office with books whose only usefulness is tossing in with the Pulpit Commentary and Biblical Illustrator.


There are any number of other sets I could mention, and perhaps I’ll add some other thoughts around graduation time. I would mention that if you are looking to buy a gift of books for your pastor or student and you don’t know what to get or if something is worthwhile, ask around. Send me an email if you like. You might see the set of commentaries by Matthew Poole, very nicely bound, very pretty, and reasonably well priced, but you would be buying something destined to never be used.



2016 Update

Last year I posted here some recommendations for commentaries and other book sets people might want to buy for that pastor or seminary student in their life. It was in no particular order and it wasn’t exhaustive.

Two things happened again this year: people started sending me notes asking about this or that book as a gift and I also received my shipment of books from the Evangelical Publishing Association. I’m a judge in the Bible and Reference section for their annual Gold Medallion Awards (and I have been for about 15 years). Questions and these new additions to commentary series stimulated me to create some additions to last years sampling.

My same disclaimers apply as last year. I apologize in advance if I am critical of your favorite author, but when I look at the work of Spurgeon and more recently D. A. Carson, I realize that I’m in good company utilizing some of the sharper facets of humor and critique. Also, these are in no particular order.

I haven’t mentioned a few series because one must be mindful that commentary series often die young (e.g. The Eerdmans Critical Commentary series or the now officially aborted Clarendon Bible series). But here you go:

Preaching the Word Commentary Series. Edited by R. Kent Hughes this series began as Hughes’ sermons put into commentary form (similar to The MacArthur series). It proved to be successful and to fill out the series more quickly Hughes became the editor and other authors were added. They are brief, uniformly helpful, and much more pastoral in tone. bookstoreAnd, they are engagingly written. The key with this set is, despite, the title, they aren’t really commentaries; they are in fact synopses of how to “preach the word” and in this sense Hughes didn’t try to make his sermons something they weren’t. They are more useful to examine against what your completed sermon looks like than to see the technical details of the text. I’m not sure I would rush out and buy the whole set, although Hughes’ contributions are always worthwhile. The newest volume (1 Corinthians by Steven Ulm) covers the key features of the book without bogging down in this or that section of the epistle.

The Kregel Exegetical Commentary Series. The most important contribution to date is clearly Allen Ross’ three volumes on the Psalms, perhaps the best effort in the Psalms in recent decades. The series is solidly evangelical, really exegetical, and premillennial, although not forcing it where the text doesn’t. The only question with this series is whether Kregel can pick up the pace a bit in terms of production. So far only Old Testament volumes have been produced.

Craig Keener’s mammoth four volumes: Book of Acts: An Exegetical Commentary is now thankfully complete. All four are available at about a 50% discount and if Acts interests you and you have hefty book shelves then you might want to invest the $140 they will cost. Personally I wonder if this set is a “commentary” or perhaps better classified as an encyclopedia on the Book of Acts. It is in the tradition of von Harnack and while Keener is an excellent writer; I hesitate to call him concise, but in his own way he is, but I wonder how many pastors will require 5000 pages on Acts. But, the busy pastor may better appreciate F. F. Bruce in the NICNT supplemented by Darrell Bock in the BENTC.

A few words about Zondervan Publishing (one of the branches of News Corp’s growing influence in religious publishing). After finishing the complete revision of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan currently has several disparate commentary series in process, including taking over the Word Biblical Commentary series when Mr. Murdoch added Thomas Nelson to his empire. At first glance they seem to have something for everyone, closer examination however, make me wonder. Their new The Story of God Commentary series is an interesting new study. Edited by Tremper Longman III (admittedly not one of my favorite editors or commentators) is an examination of the storyline of each book. It deals more with overview and narrative than detail and in that it is a welcome addition. The series will not please more conservative readers (In Genesis Longman rejects a young earth position and waffles around Mosaic authorship) but as a commentary examining larger portions of text, it is a good source to sort of pull your mind out of the lexical and grammatical minutiae. Zondervan is clearly serious as all the authors have been assigned. An old friend and TMS grad, Tim Gombis is scheduled to do The Gospel of Mark. The Story of God series seems to be a good balance to the NIV Application Commentary Series and the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series. By the way, while the NIVAC is very good in places, like the Word Biblical Commentary, it’s terribly uneven and not something you want to fill your shelves with. There seems to be a tendency with some publishers to simply add the word “exegetical” to the title and include some Greek and Hebrew fonts, add words like aorist infinitive participle and attempt to make people thing something new (or useful) has actually been created, I’m afraid the ZEC too often falls into this category. This series does continue a trend with Zondervan’s editorial desires it seems, dealing with “preachable lengths” of text. So far the nuggets here and there haven’t inclined me to want to buy any of them individually and certainly not clutter up a shelf with them. There is way too much wasted space in the text. Including the entire Greek text and then the individual author’s translation (along the lines of the Anchor Bible) is just tedious and offers almost no real value to the reader.

One set I would avoid is the Reformed Expository Commentary Series from P&R. It is thoroughly reformed even when the text isn’t and in places reads like an exposition of the proof texts of the Westminster Confession rather than the text of Scripture. The occasional useful morsel will probably be found elsewhere and in a more palatable form. The comments are often too brief or too pedantic to be helpful and naturally from my perspective utterly worthless in the prophetic books unless you agree with Calvin that the prophets must be referring to the church in their utterances. The same can be said of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary. Built on the assumption that Christ is in every passage of the Bible, the comments are too idiosyncratic and often in the process of “finding Christ” in every passage the authors don’t find the actual meaning of the passage. Another set that I would avoid is the Preach the Text Commentary series from Baker. Each publisher seemingly has to have an entry into every commentary sub-genre but so far the offerings in this series haven’t been impressive, it seems to be more of an effort to balance out the uncritically liberal Paideia series.

By the same token I would not simply avoid some of the Sacra Pagina volumes because they are by Catholic scholars; for instance, Collins on First Corinthians is excellent. Another entry from Westminster/John Knox is the New Testament for Everyone series by N. T. Wright (which incorporates his older Paul for Everyone). Before you reject Wright immediately for his New Perspective leanings, remember he is a first rate biblical scholar (in my opinion his work on the resurrection is unsurpassed). He is a clear and engaging writer with both style and has the chops to back that style up. There are things to learn from Wright and as a commentary series it can be had reasonably priced and doesn’t take up a lot of space.

Not long ago I had a panicked call from a young pastor, whose parents, as a surprise but without much knowledge in the field, bought him the entire Yale Anchor Bible series. This series has been around since the 1960’s when it was published by Doubleday and simply known as the Anchor Bible. It is part “new translation” and part commentary. One of the advantages is that it includes the Apocrypha and useful commentaries covering those are few and far between. Yale University Press bought the rights to the series (which also includes a set of reference books) and this set isn’t inexpensive. The whole series takes an entire shelf unit and he was worried that people who came into his office would think he had become a liberal. I advised him that it was more important to honor his parent’s elaborate gift than to worry about what other people thought. It’s a set of uneven quality, but mostly liberal to extremely liberal (Carson politely calls the series “ecumenical”). Some of the more conservative works in the series (Albright and Mann Matthew on for instance) were also the worst written and the least exegetical. However, the Catholic Raymond Brown’s volumes on John are immensely helpful. However, if someone is thinking about spending the $1000 or so it takes to buy the entire set, seriously consider placing your money in a more useful investment.

It was sad to read about the passing of Dr. Thomas Oden in the last couple of weeks. He was the driving force behind the the paleo-Christian movement and especially the IVP Ancient Christian Commentary series (which expanded into other areas). The idea behind the series was unique and in some cases exceptionally well carried out. But while it is a pretty shelf set I’m not convinced having them all is a worthwhile use of space or money. One thing is that since they are little more than snippets of various Fathers on different passages, the actual context of the original writing is lost and sometimes the thrust of the commentary isn’t exactly the same as what the particular church father as trying to say.

If someone wants to spend money on you, if you don’t own the IVP Dictionaries for the Old and New Testament, they should be a first choice. The are subtitled a “Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship” and that is a true statement. While some of the conclusions will make you scratch your head, they are clear, well written, and have good bibliographies. IVP tends to use a rather narrow club of contributors, but they are all highly respected scholars, certainly not always conservative but well written and thorough.

One word of update. Since the recent scandals of plagiarism are still fresh, it’s worth noting that a couple of the series’ I mentioned last year were affected. Peter T. O’Brien’s volumes in the Pillar and NIGTC have been removed and apparently the inventories destroyed (this has had the effect of making them scarce and driving up their prices in the used market, I’ve seen some of his works going for over $200). What we can say about O’Brien and others is that as far as I can tell they weren’t making things up, as in fiction, they were just not properly attributing phrases, sentences, and paragraphs to who actually wrote them. The net effect is not error in the text as much as making the authors appear more clever than they actually are. Personally, I think they are all disqualified from being properly cited in an academic setting, but they are still good compendiums of information. But, buy the same token I would also never quote them in a sermon.

The steam in the creation of new commentary series seems to be running out a bit and theology seems to be taking the lead with publishers again (just as new works in reference have scaled back from a peak several years ago when commentary series began to take over). I expect the recent kerfuffle on the Trinity will lead to some new library1books, although after all the sessions at ETS I remain convinced the whole affair was much ado about nothing. By means of prediction I do think the field of theologies will expand. Millard Erickson and Wayne Grudem have dominated the field some time now and I expect updated full systematics from some other perspectives (an updated work along the lines of Chafer would be welcomed). Beginning the trend is the release of the new edition of The New Dictionary of Theology: Systematic and Historical (IVP, 2016). This new edition is a significant update and expansion of the original. The much-anticipated Biblical Doctrine, edited by Mayhue and MacArthur is currently schedule for release at the end of January, but may not ship until March.

But certainly don’t forget reference works! I will close with this: one of the best reference works you can get for NT backgrounds is either The Cambridge Dictionary of Classical Civilization or The Classical Tradition from Harvard Press. It’s always amazing to me how few pastors learn or know much about the Classical era of which the NT writers are often (especially Paul) and then after the NT era, the church fathers) dependent.

To answer one last question I always get, what about Logos, Accordance, Bible Works, and the like. Here are my thoughts in a nutshell. Computer programs are wonderful in helping you do things faster and more efficiently; like technical exegetical work, concordance searches, and the like. Even the tagging features to connect verses to books and journal articles can be helpful. But, as a reading tool, here’s what you need to remember. Virtually every study done shows that people read up to 40% slower on a computer screen, tablet, or any other electronic device as opposed to paper books. If space and travel is an issue, by all means e-Books are a great idea. But in terms of pure reading, these programs don’t fulfill my “faster and effective” criteria. If I am asked to rank the major programs, as I often am, here it is: Accordance is first, by far and away, it’s not even a close discussion. Second place: Bible Works a solid workmanlike program that will handle all your language and exegetical needs. Third place goes to Logos, which essentially began life as a book reading program, and that remains it best feature. In my opinion its exegetical and lexical capabilities are a distant third (and possibly fourth) behind the other two.

I hope this helps, perhaps next year we’ll do this again.

The Library as the Center of a University



Shelby Foote, the famous author and historian of The Civil War: A Narrative, famously stated that a university is simply a group of buildings surrounding a library.

Obviously a university is more about the people: the students, faculty, and staff; those who given the university a reason to exist, those who provide the education and impetus for those students, and then the people who actually enable the university to function on a day to day basis. However, I think Foote is largely correct in that for a university to fully function, which at UNC Pembroke means “changing lives through education,” the library needs to be at the center. Geographically, intellectually, and even emotionally, the library is what I call the pivot of a university education. Only the library transcends the lines of all the disciplines and brings together all the knowledge and resources of what used to be called a “liberal education.”

The discussion of a “liberal education” is a subject for another day, but it is nonetheless important. I’m old enough to have attended a public high school where I took four years of Latin and old-fashioned enough to still consider that one of the most foundational experiences in my educational path.

As I take up the leadership of the Mary Livermore Library here at Pembroke there are several tasks in front of me. “The Library of the Future,” a discussion that has been going on for the last 25 years needs to become the library of the present here a UNCP. However, the so-called library of the future isn’t a place where all the print books and periodicals are cast of to the re-cycling bin and the shelves are replaced with rows of seats and computer terminals. That experiment has already been tried and spectacularly failed. No, books aren’t going away anytime soon. As a corollary, I’ve read several articles in the last year about the resurgence of independent bookstores in America. The now defunct Borders and the increasingly dominant Amazon (which is now much more than books and amazingly is now opening “brick and mortar” stores) may have briefly broken the hegemony of the small bookstores, but there is something lasting and permanent about books and the small stores are coming back stronger than before.

In the library books are no longer the exclusive repository of knowledge and experience, a vast array of technological innovations and advances have seen to that, but the library of the future will require balance. Besides information, in whatever form it may take, that the library provides two vital components for student success: expertise and space.

In terms of expertise the library provides “librarians” those who have the academic training in what is called “Library and Information Science.” The librarians are generalists in terms of working across the across the academic disciplines, but they are the specialists in terms of “information quality.” Just because it’s on the web, or published in a study, or even in a book, the question remains, “is it true?” While one can argue over the nature of truth and criteria for its determination, the quality of information has clear and objective standards that the librarian is trained to discern. Behind the print, or the blog, or the online article, or the speech, there is information. Is the information good? Are the conclusions made on this basis of the information valid? What and where are the best sources for information? The sheer quantity of information today has created its own haystack and finding that needle of the information that is just right for that assignment or project or research is what the librarian does; even, I daresay, better than the professor in an individual course. That is the expertise a library provides.

The library also provides space. While it is certainly true that the religious can “worship anywhere” it is nonetheless true that worship is more focused and precise in the particular sacred space dedicated to worship. A student can certainly read, study, and research, anyplace; however, it is in the library that the reading, studying, and researching can be focused and obtain precision. New studies and research are increasingly pointing to that “quiet space” where students can thrive. The library of the future will not only incorporate the informational resources, but also enhance the quality of the information professionals, the librarians, as well as provide that “sacred space” of study and research.

The library will undergird the motto of the university, “changing lives through education” as we “enhance education through research.” This quote is one we are using on our new brochures:

The library is the central pivot of a university education; a place of scholarship, intellectual community, growth, and freedom.

I want to thank all of the university family, especially the chancellor and provost, and the library staff for welcoming me so warmly to UNC Pembroke. Brave Nation has a lot to be proud of and a lot to look forward to. I’m looking forward to the library being front and center helping to lead the way to the future.

Ethical Issues In Research and Writing

dmsthumbThe recent disclosure of plagiarism by a major and well-respected writer, Peter T. O’Brien (see the statement by Eerdmans here) has brought the issue back to the evangelical consciousness. A few years ago Mark Driscoll was discovered to have been regularly and extensively plagiarizing in his books, but many perhaps wrote that off as someone who wasn’t a “scholar.” O’Brien, however, is a well-published scholar who has contributed to many works and published many others. I must admit that the story about O’Brien did not surprise me, since I had noticed some significant problems in his Philippians commentary in the NIGTC series. I even sent a letter to Eerdmans about this (now many years ago) and after a long wait I received a reply that they were aware of the issue but that it was a “transcription error.” I’ve not seen the Hebrews commentary that was the flashpoint of this issue but Eerdmans implied that the problem was more pervasive than the Philippians work.

There are two points to make: first of all while the series general editor for the Pillar Commentary series,  D. A. Carson is undoubtedly embarrassed by this and, in theory, has ultimate responsibility. However, it also has to be understood what the series editor or executive editor actually does for a publisher in a case like this. Carson’s job wasn’t to do a close read copy editing of O’Brien or any of his other contributors, his job is to make the assignments, keep the series moving along, and ensure the schedule is maintained. There are copy editors and proof readers who should have caught this and I would imagine someone is now unemployed.  Secondly, as can be imagined, publishers are loath to withdraw works or perform massive revisions; the profit margins in publishing these specialized works is not significant.  Hopefully, Eerdmans will produce an errata sheet to supplement O’Brien’s suspect commentaries. As I recall in the Philippians commentary there are about a dozen questionable items I observed without doing an extensive check, including an entire page that was verbatim from Marvin Vincent’s ICC Commentary from the Edwardian era.

Plagiarism is a problem not only in writing but also in the pulpit.  In tracking this issue in my career, I would say there is a greater tolerance for plagiarism than there was in the past. I think people would be rather shocked at how many preachers each week preach, with little or no modification, someone else’s sermon. This problem has been exacerbated by well known pastors either looking the other way or outright condoning the practice.  Plagiarism is simply stealing; there is no middle ground, and in the process of stealing the culprit, either in writing or speaking, pretends to knowledge and expertise of expression that are not theirs. It is a pure deception of the audience.

What follows is the class notes from my lectures on Ethical Issues in Research and Writing (and we could add preaching). These notes are largely unchanged from their classroom format, although I’ve modified some formatting to make Word Press happy.

Ethical Issues in Research and Writing

The entire discussion of ethics in research and writing generally revolves around the issue of plagiarism; that is the appropriation of an individuals ideas and/or writing and claiming them as your own. However, there are other issues involved that must be dealt with in the context of this course.

Later in this course you will be exposed to the issues of Critical Thinking and Logic. In that section the entire subject of logical fallacies will be discussed. It needs to be remembered that the unintentional slip into a fallacy is not necessarily an ethical lapse; however, the intentional use of the more sophisticated fallacies to either confuse or obfuscate in a research paper does constitute a serious ethical issue.

As the authors state in The Craft of Research:

Everything we’ve said about research begins with our conviction that it is a thoroughly social activity, one that links us to those whose research we use and in turn to those who will use ours. It is also an activity no longer confined to the small social world of the academy. Research is now at the center of industry, commerce, government, education, health care, warfare, even entertainment and religion. It influences every part of our society and our lives, public or private. Because research and its reporting have become a seamless part of our social fabric, in these last pages we offer some brief reflections on an issue beyond its technique—the inescapable connection between reporting your research and the principles of ethical communication.[1]

Beyond the issue of plagiarism, the authors list three “obvious” and four “less obvious” ethical considerations:

The Obvious:

  • Ethical Researchers do not steal by plagiarizing or claiming the results of others.
  • They do not lie by misreporting sources or by inventing results.
  • They do not destroy sources and data for those who follow.

The Less Obvious:

  • Responsible researchers do not submit data whose accuracy they have reason to question.
  • They do not conceal objections they cannot rebut.
  • They do not caricature those with opposing views or deliberately state their views in a way they would reject.
  • They do not write their reports in a way that deliberately makes it difficult for the reader to understand them, nor do they oversimplify that which is legitimately complex.[2]

Plagiarism in all its Forms

Plagiarism is defined as the act of “taking and using the thoughts, writings, inventions, etc., of another person as your own.” This definition requires, what is called “intent.” The most serious forms of plagiarism will manifest some level of knowledge of the act and generally display and effort to conceal the plagiarism. This is not to say that the “I didn’t know” defense is valid; since at this point in the student’s academic career the assumption is that they do know.[3] Additionally, the further along a student progresses in their seminary education the more responsibility accrues (Luke 12:48). An act of plagiarism which might cause a first year student to receive an “F” for the course and a severe reprimand (formal or informal) may very well lead to the expulsion of a senior and would certainly lead to dismissal from a post-graduate program. Additionally, graduation is not a “pass go” where the consequences of plagiarism simply evaporate. Should serious plagiarism be discovered in a thesis or dissertation­–even years after graduation, the seminary may move to revoke the offender’s degree.

The authors of our text most clearly:

It is the concern for the integrity of the work of the community that explains why researchers condemn plagiarism so strongly. Intentional plagiarism is theft, but of more than words. By not acknowledging a source, a plagiarist steals some of the little reward than an academic community can offer, the enhanced respect that a researcher spends a lifetime trying to earn. The plagiarist steals from his community of classmates by making the quality of their work seem worse by comparison and then perhaps steals again by taking one of the few good grades reserved to reward those who do good work.[4]

A subset of plagiarism is perhaps the more significant problem of “claiming the results of others.” This problem can be as simple as laziness or as serious as a deliberate attempt to deceive. Laziness is perhaps the most frequent cause of this problem. For example, while doing your research and you come upon a quotation in one of your readings. The problem of plagiarism occurs when you take that quotation from that reading and place it into your paper without using a “cited in” notation. This situation can lead to two problems:

  • You have claimed research that you have not really performed; and
  • You are taking a chance that the work you have taken this quotation from has cited it correctly.

Whenever a student finds a quotation in another work they are under an ethical obligation to go to the original source, verify the citation and context, only then listing it in a footnote or bibliography. “Quoting or referring to ideas of others through second hand information is precarious. It does not pass for research.”[5] If they are unable to view the original source, a “cited in” reference must be used for this quotation. This is not only an ethical consideration but may well save the student from the embarrassment of perpetuating a misquotation, a quotation taken out of context or wrong information.

On this subject Ross makes five helpful points:

  • Be wary of the general statements writers make about customs, manners, or general background information, especially if it is undocumented.
  • Philological comments and grammatical comments need special, up-to-date, critical evaluation.
  • Statistics can slant the entire argument.
  • Do not assume that because a liberal wrote the book his ideas are wrong, or because a conservative wrote the book his material is all trustworthy.
  • If you learn to demand evidence and accuracy in the sources you read, you will begin to provide accurate, convincing evidence in what your write.[6]

Plagiarism is not limited to copying verbatim statements from a source into a paper or thesis without attribution. There is also the problem of “inadvertent plagiarism.” This occurs when the writer attempts (oft-times poorly) to simply paraphrase a quotation. Just paraphrasing a quotation (without attribution) from a source is inadequate, it is still plagiarism. For example:

Don’t paraphrase a source so closely that you seem to follow the source word for word, even though the actual words differ. For example, the following would be a plagiarizing paraphrase of this paragraph:

If you paraphrase, avoid language so similar to the source that your words correspond to its words, despite the fact that the words differ. For instance, this plagiarizes what you just read.[7]

Inadvertent plagiarism is avoided by doing the hard work of taking research, distilling it in your mind and then writing your own thoughts, interpretations and conclusions, giving attribution as often as necessary.

Finally, there is one other type of plagiarism that must be avoided; the issue of “self plagiarism.” This type of plagiarism has its own special caveats. Self-plagiarism occurs when a student submits the same paper, or significant portions of a paper to different professors for different classes without first informing or seeking permission from the professor(s) involved. This type of plagiarism is only applicable when academic credit is sought for work that should be unique and original to an individual course.

Plagiarism is a sin that is easily avoided. Here are some simple guidelines:

Give credit where credit is due-just as you would like to receive it. Inevitably, you will use other people’s discoveries and concepts. Build on them creatively. But do not compromise your honor by failing to clearly acknowledge where your work ends and that of someone else begins.

Provide proper citation for everything taken from others. These include interpretations, ideas, wording, insights, factual discoveries, charts, tables, or appendices that are not your own. Citations must clearly and explicitly guide the reader to the sources used, whether published, unpublished, or electronic. Cite a source each time you borrow from it. A single citation, concluding or followed by extended borrowing, is inadequate and misleading.

Indicate all use of another’s words, even if they constitute only part of a sentence, with quotation marks and specific citation. Citations may be footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical references.

Paraphrase properly. Paraphrasing is a vehicle for conveying or explaining a source’s ideas and requires a citation to the original source. It captures the source’s meaning and tone in your own words and sentence structure. In a paraphrase, the words are yours but the ideas are not. It cannot be used to create the impression of originality.

Facts widely available in reference books, newspapers, magazines, etc., are common knowledge and need no citation. Facts that are not common knowledge but are derived from the work of another must be cited. Interpretations and theories provide an author’s assessment of a set of facts and commonly embody that author’s opinion. The interpretations and theories of another must be cited in footnote, endnote, or parenthetical reference.

Provide a citation when in doubt. Different venues have different practices; for example, footnotes are not used in memoranda or computer programs. But, regardless of practice, the distinction between what is honorable and not remains recognizable. If in doubt, ask. If still uncertain, err on the side of caution.

STAND ALONE CAPABILITY. There may be instances when an original, complete document/publication may be organized into manageable components (chapters, parts, cases, annexes, appendices, enclosures, etc.), which lend themselves to being used separate and apart from their parent volume. When using components from their parent publications/sources, the contributor shall make every reasonable attempt to ensure proper citation is maintained within or incorporated on the separated portion so that it can stand alone.[8]

Lastly, to avoid the temptation to the sin of plagiarism, allow for the proper amount of time to both research and write your papers.  Virtually every instance of plagiarism I have encountered has is root in either laziness or poor time management.


Misreporting sources or the invention of “facts” is perhaps more devious than plagiarism in that the intent to deceive is clear. Whereas the root sin of plagiarism is stealing; the root sin of misreporting is lying. Misreporting can really take one of two forms:

  1. The actual creation of a source that does not exist. This can either be an entire work or the adding to the words of a writer with an extra paragraph, sentence or phrase. The goal is to bury the misreporting in obscurity where it is hoped that it is never found.
  1. The removal of a key phrase, sentence, etc., which alters or distorts the meaning of the source cited. This is sometimes accomplished with the use of an ellipsis (. . .) or just removing the offending portion. See Turabian 5.18ff for the proper use of the ellipsis.
  1. Misreporting can also simply be high-handed misrepresentation of a source or set of sources. The problem in identifying this type of misreporting is that most often one must examine and/or question the motives of the researcher. This misreporting occurs when the researcher/writer either knows or should know that they are engaged in misrepresentation.


Experience demonstrates that this is a rare occurrence in standard academic research. This type of activity is typically restricted to corporate, scientific, or governmental research where no back up material exists. However, one word of caution: due to the instability of Internet sources the researcher is wise to make a hard copy of Internet material for future reference just in case a site suddenly ceases to exist! This protects the integrity of the research and guards the integrity of the researcher.

Questionable Sources

The goal of research is a search for truth, not the simple accumulation of facts to prove a thesis. In a court case if either the prosecution or defense puts forth evidence or allows testimony to be presented that they either know or have reason to believe is false, that is called subornation of perjury. This is a case where the person (or writer) is one step removed from the falsity of the statement or proposition, but nonetheless guilt is incurred.

For example, in a well-known reference work an author in an article makes a case for a particular viewpoint.[9] That author’s use of sources and her resulting conclusions have been called into question in a public forum and a paper has been presented in a scholarly forum and in print detailing the assertion and evidence.[10] Additionally, this author’s research and conclusions have been called into question in previous years in different areas.[11] That being known, it would be improper to use the article without comment in your paper. As will be discussed in section on logical fallacies, this type of comment is not a violation of the ad Hominium fallacy.

One of the banes of research in the last decade or so has been the Internet and the proliferation of “information” on web pages. One word of caution: self-published articles located on the web must receive careful scrutiny before using them as source material. Unlike material published in journals, or even material placed on the web by educational institutions there is often no “peer review,” that is the material has not been examined by others who are skilled or expert in the area.

Inability to Rebut an Argument

In the process of research one naturally gathers details that both support and oppose one’s thesis. One of the key issues in researching a thesis is the ability to have the integrity to change or abandon one’s thesis in the face of irrefutable arguments. If, in the course of your research, you come upon an obscure source whose argument opposes your position; an argument that you cannot intellectually overcome or defeat, you cannot simply bury it or pretend it does not exist and hope that no one ever finds out.

False Caricature

This was covered briefly in the section on Logical Fallacies; however, in terms of ethics the fallacy of the Straw Man or Argumentum ad Hominium can become the more serious matter of bearing false witness. The Straw Man fallacy certainly has no place in scholarly writing; but when the fallacy is expanded and enhanced to the point that the reputation or character of your opponent is needlessly or unjustifiably called into question. Once an item goes into print and circulates the damage is very difficult to undo. Certainly this kind of tactic has no place in Christian scholarship.

Complexity and Simplicity

Certainly, some writers are just obtuse (as are some preachers). They can take any subject, even those that are relatively straightforward, and make it incomprehensibly complex. Additionally, some students make up for poor research by simply multiplying words. I read a thesis once that was conservatively 40% longer than it needed to be. It was mostly repetition, even to the point of using the same block quotations two or three different times. One, more creative student once turned in a paper to me that had a minimum page requirement, apparently he didn’t know enough words, so he simply changed the font on the computer to 16 point type.

However, there is a difference between poor writing skills and the intentional act of masking a poor thesis (or sermon) in complex language. Conversely it is also an ethical lapse to offer vague and simplistic analysis of issues that are in reality quite complex.



The problem of plagiarism is as old as the printed word. It should not be tolerated. Personally, in the case of O’Brien and the commentaries that Eerdmans has withdrawn, I think they should be shunned, the problem of plagiarism will not go away until people stop supporting it by reading and listening the fruits of plagiarism.



[1] Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), p. 255

[2] Ibid., p. 255-56.

[3] The defenses against guilt in plagiarism based on the practices of a non-American student’s cultural background are simply not valid.

[4] Craft of Research, p. 257.

[5] Allen P. Ross. Sharpening Your Skills in Research and Writing. (Dallas Theological Seminary, n.d.), p. 4

[6] Ibid.

[7] Joseph M. Williams and Gregory G. Colomb. The Craft of Argument (New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 2001), p. 164.

[8] History Department United States Naval Academy: “USNA Statement on Plagiarism.” (24 March 1998). (6 August 2003). Emphasis in the Original.

[9] Cathrine Kroeger, “Head” in the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin and Daniel G. Reid (Downer Grove and Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 375-77.

[10] Wayne Grudem. “The Meaning of (“Head”): An Evaluation of New Evidence, Real and Alleged.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44:1 (March 2001), p.25-66.

[11] Carroll D. Osburn. “Authenteo (I Timothy 2:12). Restoration Quarterly 25:1 (1982): p. 1-12.

New Edition of the Cambridge History of the Bible


James Carleton Paget and Joachim Schaper (eds). The New Cambridge History of the Bible From the Beginnings to 600. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. xxvi + 979pp (cloth) $190.00.

Richard Marsden and E. Ann Matter (eds). The New Cambridge History of the Bible From 600 to 1450. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. xxii + 1045pp (cloth) $190.00.


The original Cambridge History of the Bible (CHB, three volumes, 1963–70) has long been the standard reference work on the history of the Bible from the initial writing and collection of individual manuscript pieces, through the 1960’s, when the great explosion of Bible translations that has marked the last 50 years was igniting. The creation of this new edition was driven by the “considerable advances in scholarship made in almost all biblical disciplines during the previous forty years and respond to the new scholarly concerns of the twenty-first century” (2:xv). A broader and more inclusive editorial policy is also noted,

The volumes respond to shifts in scholarly methods of study of the Old and New Testaments, look closely at specialized forms of interpretation and address the new concerns of the twenty-first century. Attention is paid to biblical studies in eastern Christian, Jewish and Islamic contexts, rendering the series of interest to students of all Abrahamic faiths (1:ii).

As planned the series will expand the original three volumes to four:

  • From the Beginnings to 600 (edited by James Carleton Paget and Joachim Schaper)
  • From 600 to 1450 (edited by Richard Marsden and E. Ann Matter)
  • From 1450 to 1750 (edited by Euan Cameron)
  • From 1750 to the Present (edited by John Riches)

The volumes under consideration in this review (Volumes 1 & 2) are the first offering in the series. Volumes 3 & 4 are due for release in 2014–15. As one would expect from any Cambridge series work, the research is near exhaustive. Each volume has a near-exhaustive bibliography (1:871–912; 2:874–983) and are thoroughly indexed (1:913–79; 2:984–1045).

The volume one editors, James Carelton Paget, Senior Lecturer in New Testament Studies at the University of Cambridge and Joachim Schaper, Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Studies at the University of Aberdeen, note that since the original CHB the field of Biblical studies, “has witnessed a considerable number of discoveries of texts and artefacts relevant to the study of the Old and New Testaments and an often remarkable shift in scholarly methodology and opinion” (1:xii). Volume One is divided into five parts: “Languages, Writing Systems and Book Production” (3–82); “The Hebrew Bible and Old Testaments” (83–388); “The New Testament” (389–504); “Biblical Versions Other Than the Hebrew and The Greek” (505–48); and “The Reception of the Bible in the Post-New Testament Period” (549–870). A total of 37 chapters bringing together a notable collection of scholars specializing diverse fields of Old and New Testament background, introduction, and development.

Happily, the editors also retained chapters on several key individuals, “a decision was made, perhaps rather unfashionably, to retain the policy of CHB of devoting some chapters to individual exegetes of significance” (xiv). Along with chapters on Origin (605–28), Jerome (653–75), and Augustine (676–96); a chapter on Eusebius of Caesarea (629–62) was added. However, the individual chapter on Theodore of Mopsusetia was not retained and the discussion on his contribution was subsumed into the chapters on exegesis. This new edition also enlarges the discussion of the Septuagint beyond the “fragmentary way” (xiii), which the original edition presented the material, “reflecting, in particular, the fact that since 1970 the study of the Septuagint for its own sake, and not simply as a text-critical tool for the original Hebrew, has become much more the standard” (ibid).

The writing quality amongst the chapters is more uneven than one might expect. The opening sentence of the first chapter, “The languages of the Old Testament are Hebrew and Aramaic,” (Kahn, 3) is clearly not going to remind anyone of Charles Dickens or Herman Melville. Fortunately though, aside from this tediously pedantic first chapter there are many well-written and stimulating contributions. Paget’s “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Second Century” (549–83) is a valuable overview. In particular, his discussion of development of biblical interpretation in the second century (562–72) is especially helpful.

There are some other particularly notable chapters. Bogaret’s discussion of the Latin Bible (505–26), although perhaps a bit brief, is a helpful contribution and a good reminder that the Latin is an important field of study, especially in the context of New Testament translation. Of particular interest is Graumann’s chapter, “The Bible in doctrinal development and Christian Councils” (798–821). Of interest is his discussion of the debate between Origen and Heracleides (ca. AD 244). Graumann concludes that,

The debate is almost entirely concerned with scriptural interpretation. The Bible is the unquestionable normal against which any teaching is measured and from which the answers to any disputed question are expected (800).

He notes that the dialogue between Origen and Heracleides, “may illustrate the kind of reasoning we can expect at other, formal, synods” (ibid). His overview of the Christological controversies (800ff) and the interpretative methodology of Athanasius is informative. His discussion on how the Nicene Creed slowly began to supersede Scripture as the theological standard is fascinating (812ff). In discussing the machinations of Cyril against Nestorius, he notes, “for his [Nestorius] theology was measured against the Nicene Creed as the norm of orthodoxy – not scripture” (814). One other notable section is Edwards’ “Figurative readings: their scope and justification” (714–33), especially his discussion of allegory (720 – 22) and “Origen’s hermeneutic” (723–26).

The volume two editors are noted biblical and medieval scholars. Marsden is Emeritus Professor of Old English at the University of Nottingham and Matter is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The work is arranged in five parts: “Texts and Versions” (19–308); “Format and Transmission” (309–484); “The Bible Interpreted” (485–658); “The Bible in Use” (659–754); and “The Bible Transformed” (755–873). A total of 44 chapters by individual scholars within those parts present a depth of material on the Bible in the medieval era, a period the editors call a “diverse and complex period of history” (xv). Marsden’s Introduction (1–16) where he notes that when the era begins, “Christendom still enjoyed a broad measure of political and spiritual unity, and Islam had yet to appear. Byzantium was leading the Christian society in the East, while the evangelization of the West continued apace, which much of northern and western Europe still in the process of conversion” (1). By the end of this era every aspect of the entire world: politically, theologically, culturally, and socially had changed. In terms of technology the revolution enabled by Johannes Gutenberg (1395–1468) was about to change the world even further.

The strength of the second volume is also the source of its weakness. While there are new and more detailed discussions of the Bible in the several languages (Ethiopic, Armenian, Georgian, along with the Scandinavian and Slavonic languages), it seems to come at the expense of the discussion of the Latin texts and particularly the English. Marsden notes, “large parts of the Bible have been available in the English language continuously for more than 1100 years, a record unparalleled by any of the other language communities of western Christianity” (217). While this “unparalleled” record has its foundation established in this period; his chapter on “The Bible in English” (217–38) is one of the shortest, and in many ways, least satisfying parts of this volume. Hopefully the forthcoming volume edited by Cameron will backtrack and enlarge the discussion of the English versions.

One chapter of particular note is “The Use of the Bible in Preaching” (2:680–92) by Siegfried Wenzel. He notes that both preaching styles and format of the sermon (sermo) and homily (homilia) “underwent some significant changes and developments” in this period (682). The homily was often a more discernable and perhaps more formidable “biblical exegesis” than the sermon, which was often only “loosely built upon a scriptural verse” (ibid). Wenzel’s entire chapter and particularly his discussion of Wyclif, or more familiarly to American readers, Wycliffe (688ff), is stimulating reading.

These volumes represent the best modern research on the history of the Bible, some of the most varied and stimulating essays on the subject, and open avenues of future research into areas not covered in the original edition. It will be interesting to see if Volume Four gives any attention to the rise and impact of “Study Bibles” which have now witnessed enormous range and influence.

This set is a must have for any seminary or research library, training school, or scholar; although the sheer cost of the entire set (nearly $800) may be prohibitive for the individual. These volumes are most highly recommended and we are eagerly anticipating the release of the last two volumes..

Examining Martyrdom in Early Christianity

I’m going to be posting some book reviews in the next month or so and continue the series on the History of the English Bible.


Candida Moss. Ancient Christian Martyrdom: Diverse Practices, Theologies, and Traditions. Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012. xiv + 256pp (cloth) $40.00.

Candida Moss. The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2013. 308pp (cloth) $25.99.

Often, one of the first “apologetic” arguments Christians are exposed to are the martyrdom narratives in the early church, that is, the death of early Christians for their faith. Perhaps the most readily recognized in anecdotal apologetics is Christianity must be true (especially details regarding the resurrection and the life of Christ) since people assuredly would not die for what they knew to be a false or for a false cause. As Candida Moss states,

For much of the Christian era, martyrdom was viewed as particular to Christianity and as an indication of Christianity’s unique possession of religious truth. If Christians alone were prepared to die for their beliefs, it was thought, then there must be something special about Christianity (Ancient Christian Martyrdom, 23).

Moss, a graduate from Oxford and doctorate from Yale University, is professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Notre Dame. She is also the author of another book on the subject of martyrdom, The Other Christs: Imitating Jesus in Ancient Christian Ideologies of Martyrdom (Oxford, 2010).

The two titles reviewed here cover the same material. Ancient Christian Martyrdom (ACM) is the more detailed and “scholarly” contribution and is part of the Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. Moss has extensive notations and is painstakingly detailed in ACM, while The Myth of Persecution (MP) is the same material presented in a more popular writing style. ACM contains a near-exhaustive bibliography (205–30); however, the bibliographic support for MP, while present, must be culled from the notes (263–95) and not in a separate listing, which even in this more “popular” format must be counted as a negative. Both works have very helpful indexes.

As Moss demonstrates the study of the subject of martyrdom is complex, even in terms of definition. “Originally, martyrs referred to the testimony or witness presented by an individual in a trial setting” (ACM, 2). However, by the time of Polycarp (AD 69–155), “the meaning of this term had been transformed from a material witness to an executed Christian” (ACM, 3).

Moss states,

As a history of ideologies of martyrdom, this book will utilize a functional definition of martyrdom that incorporates texts whose protagonists are memorialized as martyrs, even if the texts do not use martys in a technical sense (ACM, 5).

Moss presents her study of martyrdom geographically more for convenience and organization, although she notes the variation of accounts and ideology in the differing regions. “The arrangement of this book [ACM] into discrete geographically and sociohistorically grounded ideologies is an attempt to do justice to regional variations of Christianity and should not be taken too literally” (20).

Moss notes, correctly in our view, that while martyrdom accounts were stories that served both an inspirational and apologetic purpose, “Martyrs were ordinary people—slaves, women, and children—as well as bishops and soldiers who had risen above the constraints of their circumstances to display exceptional courage” (MP, 19). However, the downside, especially in modern history, are those same stories in some circles produce an “us vs them” mentality.

It is this idea, the idea that Christians are always persecuted, that authenticates modern Christian appropriations of martyrdom. It provides the interpretative lens through which to view all kinds of Christian experiences in the world as a struggle between “us” and “them (MP, 13).

Moss begins MP by arguing that the “Age of Martyrs” (Christianity before Constantine) is largely an exaggeration. She also makes the important distinction between “prosecution” and “persecution” (MP, 14; ACM, 9–12) “although prejudice against Christianity was fairly widespread, the prosecution of Christians was rare, and the persecution of Christians was limited to no more than a handful of years” (MP, 14). She notes that,

Before Decius, the prosecution of Christians was occasional and prompted by local officials, petty jealousies, and regional concerns. That Christians saw themselves as persecuted and interpreted prosecution in this way is understandable, but it does not mean that the Romans were persecuting them. This interpretation does not match up with the political and social realities: Christians were ridiculed and viewed with contempt, and there were even sometimes executed, but there weren’t the subjects of continual persecution (ibid).

Part of the problem that Moss notes is that modern sensibilities are offended by the harshness of governmental penalties in the ancient world (MP, 164–79). For example, Nero accused Christians of causing the great fire of Rome in AD 64, and subsequently burned many Christians alive. “The fact that Nero would have had Christians burned alive, however, was perfectly in keeping not just with Nero’s own penchant for cruelty, but also with the general principles of Roman punishment” (MP, 165; see also ACM, 77–79). As a comparison, during the American Revolutionary War, George Washington ordered 25 to 50 lashes for soldiers for failing to use the proper latrine and execution of soldiers, often with a level of cruelty, for non-treasonous, lesser offenses was not uncommon.

Moss’ discussion of the “Cultural Contexts: The Good Death and the Self-Conscious Sufferer” (ACM, 23–48), is important. “martyrdom was viewed as particular to Christianity and as an indication of Christianity’s unique possession of religious truth” (ACM, 23). She particularly discusses the death of Socrates (ACM, 33–37). She notes, “Socrates’s dying on principle in many ways stands [according to his biographers] as guarantor of the truth of his message. His nonchalant and at times joyful approach to death earned him admiration from many quarters, not least from the early Christians” (ACM, 35).

In short, unlike some misguided believers in the Ante-Nicene era (ACM, 149–55), martyrdom is neither desirable nor to be sought after. More importantly, while those who have been martyrs serve as examples of faithful steadfastness should not be viewed, biblically speaking, as a category of believers who are somehow spiritually superior (cf. MP, 19). Because he avoided a martyrs death, Myles Coverdale (c. 1488–1569), even though he assisted William Tyndale (c. 1494–1536), produced the first complete English translation of the Bible and worked on two others (The Matthews and Great Bibles), is often viewed in a disparaging manner in comparison to Tyndale. Moss’ discussion of the “Avoidance of Martyrdom” (ACM, 155–59) is singularly helpful on this point. In terms of a Biblical example, the Apostle Paul is a model in this regard. In Acts 22:24, when faced with a punishment that nearly always resulted in death he exerted his rights to avoid that possibility (compare mastzin anetazesthai “examine by scourging” in Acts 22:24 and ekelenon rabsizein “beaten with rods” in Acts 16:22, the later, while painful rarely resulted in death or disabling injury, while the former almost always did); but at the end of his life when his death was inevitable he was confident that the Lord would “bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim 4:18).

These two works are important contributions to the study of martyrdom and the apologetics of the early church. Her observations and conclusions regarding the non-inspired texts of the church fathers on this subject will run counter at an emotive level to the popular evangelical understanding of martyrdom; but they are recommended as significant studies and a corrective. The entire concept of martyrdom is difficult, as Moss notes, “it is, perhaps, a cultural script that glorifies comfort and the pursuit of long life at any costs that reads martyrdom as unintelligible” (MP, 166).

Her questioning of the historiography of the Biblical accounts and, by implication, the uniqueness of Christ’s vicarious and propitious death, should not distract from her underlying arguments and observations. Her through examination of the history and realities of martyrdom in the early church require thoughtful consideration. An evangelical, biblically-based examination of martyrdom is clearly a need in the modern church, which is seeing persecution and killing of Christians (in the broadest sense of that term) rising in many regions and perhaps Moss’ work will inspire such an undertaking..

The Construction of Logical Argumentation

I’m taking a little break in the series on the History of the English Bible (the Bishops Bible will appear next week) and adding this post on logic.  Logic is a vital function in both writing and preaching.  It is often ignored and occasionally ridiculed.  I’ve been called a “logic-nazi” (as well as a “grammar-nazi”) in the past, but if one builds a preaching or writing style on logical fallacy, eventually it will catch up with the person.  It is simply a lazy way to present truth.  It may be funny, it may even be compelling, but it won’t stand up to scrutiny and even if the conclusions are correct in a particular case, the power of the communicator is diminished.  I’ve used this material in lectures for 20+ years and I hope some may find it helpful.




When all of the research has been performed the matter of “constructing” the thesis or sermon begins. One of the differ­ences between a poorly constructed paper or sermon and an excellent one is the matter of “logic.” The best of research can quickly become a useless assortment of quotations if there are widespread violations of the rules of logic in the writing. Even good writing skills will cover very little in the way of fallacious logic. Unfortunately, that same cannot be said about sermons or public speaking. A clever or witty public speaker can often cover widespread fallacious arguments with equally witty and fallacious quips. However, long-term effectiveness of a sermon is dependent on the use of solid logic.

The idea of logic is vitally important in both writing and preaching. As Carson points out:

This study is important because exegetical fallacies are painfully frequent among us among us whose God-given grace and responsibility is the faithful proclamation of the Word of God. Make a mistake in the interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s play, falsely scan a piece of Spenserian verse, and there is unlikely to be an entailment of eternal consequence; but we cannot lightly accept a similar laxity in the interpretation of Scripture” (Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, p. 12).

Logic is the science of necessary inference and is founded on the principle of non-contradiction (that is, something cannot be both true and false). Without going into a long explanation of Logic here are the main points as summarized by The Logic Classroom at

What is Logic?

Logic is the science of necessary inference. An inference is the forming of a conclusion from premises by logical methods — the conclusion itself. The adjective necessary in necessary inference or necessary consequence means there is no way to avoid the conclusion of an argument. We define an argument as one or more propositions in support of another proposition. The propositions in support of the other proposition are called premises; the proposition supported by the premises is called the conclusion. More about necessary inference later, but first, what is a proposition?


A proposition is a form of words in which the predicate is affirmed or denied of the subject of a declarative sentence. A proposition is the meaning of a declarative sentence. Declarative sentences are either true or false. Propositions are the premises and conclusions of arguments. Other sentences, in expressing commands, posing questions, or conveying exhortations are neither true nor false. Some questions, rhetorical questions, are intended as propositions; but if a question is not rhetorical, then it is neither true nor false.


Arguments divide into two classes: deductive arguments and inductive arguments. This classification amounts to two different claims. The premises of Inductive Arguments claim to provide incomplete or partial reasons in support of the conclusion. The premises of Deductive Arguments claim to provide conclusive reasons for the conclusion. In Inductive Argument, the conclusion is said to be either probable or improbable. With Deductive Argument the conclusion either follows necessarily or it does not. That is to say, the conclusion is either a necessary consequence of the premises or it is not a necessary consequence of the premises. Another way of stating the same thing: A Deductive Argument consists of a conclusion presumably deduced from premises. The deduction of conclusions from premises is at the heart of logic.


The phrases necessary consequence and necessary implication mean necessary inference . The use of one or the other phrase depends on the emphasis. If one stresses that the premises imply a conclusion, one speaks of necessary implication. If one stresses the conclusion resulting from premises, one speaks of necessary consequence. With either phrase, the reference is a claim of necessary inference between premises and conclusion of a Deductive Argument. If the conclusion of a Deductive Argument is a necessary consequence of the premises, then the argument is valid; otherwise, invalid. Using other words: If the premises of a Deductive Argument necessarily imply the conclusion, then the argument is valid; otherwise, invalid.

Summarizing this section. Logic is the study of the relation between premises and conclusion in Deductive Arguments. If the conclusion follows from premises necessarily (that is, the conclusion is unavoidable), then the argument enjoys valid status; if not (that is, the conclusion can be avoided), then the argument is invalid. Every Deductive Argument is either valid or invalid.


Violations of the Rules of Logic

The violations of logic are most often referred to as “fallacies.” Fallacies will appear in both written and verbal form. Recognizing and avoiding logical fallacies and poor reasoning will increase the usefulness of you’re your spoken and written word. Below are the common types of fallacies with some examples.

Anecdotal evidence

One of the simplest fallacies is to rely on anecdotal evidence. For example:

“I’m sure that speaking in tongues must still be going on today, since my cousin goes to a church where they speak in tongues every Sunday.”

It’s quite valid to use personal experience to illustrate a point; but such anecdotes don’t really prove anything to anyone. Your friend may say he met Elvis in the supermarket, but those who haven’t had the same experience will require more than your friend’s anecdotal evidence to convince them.

Proper research methodology and content will overcome the fallacy of Anecdotal Evidence. It is important to remember that Anecdotal Evidence can only serve to illustrate, it is the weakest possible form of argumentation. If you make Anecdotal Evidence a foundation or pillar of your argumenta­tion you may have some initial success with those who are easily swayed, but ultimately you have built an argument on sand. Anecdotal Evidence should generally be used in a very limited fashion in scholarly writing.

Argumentum ad Baculum (the argument or appeal to force)

An Appeal to Force happens when someone resorts to force (or the threat of force) to try and push others to accept a conclusion. This fallacy is often used by politicians, and can be summarized as “might makes right”. The threat doesn’t have to come directly from the person arguing. For example:

“… In any case, I know your phone number and I know where you live. Have I mentioned I am licensed to carry concealed weapons?”

“…The budget that I have presented should be accepted without any further discussion, I do not need to mention of course, that I contribute more money to this church than anyone else in the membership.”

The Appeal to Force can either be direct and physical or indirect intimidation. For instance, to bolster an otherwise bad argument a person may resort to intimidation by mentioned that they graduated from a prestigious seminary or university, or have written some number of books.  Often that is an indirect appeal to force, in other words, “How dare you question me.”  Normally, this type of fallacy will not find its way into open scholarly work, but can more than often appear in internal memos and often in sermons.

Argumentum ad Hominen 

Argumentum ad Hominem literally means “argument against the man.” There are two types: abusive and circumstantial.

If you argue against some assertion by attacking the person who made the as­sertion, then you have committed the abusive form of argumentum ad hominem. A personal attack isn’t a valid argument, because the truth of an assertion doesn’t de­pend on the virtues of the person asserting it. For example:

“Atheism is an evil philosophy. It is practiced by Communists and murderers.”

Sometimes in a court of law doubt is cast on the testimony of a witness. For example, the prosecution might show that the witness is a known perjurer. This is a valid way of reducing the credibility of the testimony given by the witness, and not Argumentum ad Hominem. However, it doesn’t demonstrate that the witness’s testimony is false in this particular case.

In scholarly work it is also a valid point to demonstrate that a particular author’s work has been criticized or proven to be inaccurate in the past, this again is not Argumentum ad hominem.

While this sort of evaluative criticism is a valid approach it also cannot be the key point of your presentation. You must argue the facts at hand

If you argue that someone should accept the truth of an assertion because of that person’s particular circumstances, then you have committed the circumstantial form of argumentum ad hominem. For example:

“It is perfectly acceptable to kill animals for food. How can you argue otherwise when you’re quite happy to wear leather shoes?”

This is an abusive charge of inconsistency, used as an excuse for dismissing the opponent’s argument. The fallacy can also be used as a means of rejecting a particular conclusion. For example:

“Only those who reject the Bible accept modern translations instead of the King James Version.”

This particular form of Argumentum ad Hominem, when you allege that someone is rationalizing a conclusion for selfish or manipulative reasons is also known as Poisoning the Well.

A special form of the Argumentum as Hominem is know as the Tu quoque or the “you too” fallacy. It occurs if you argue that an action is acceptable because your opponent has performed it. For instance:

“You’re missed the entire point of the passage.”  “So? You’ve mishandled the text before too.”


Argumentum ad Ignorantiam

Argumentum ad ignorantiam means “argument from ignorance”. The fallacy occurs when it’s argued that something must be true, simply because it hasn’t been proved false. Or, equivalently, when it is argued that something must be false because it hasn’t been proved true.

Note that this isn’t the same as assuming that something is false until it has been proved true; that’s a basic scientific principle.

Here are a couple of examples:

“Of course evolution is true, no one has proven it to be false.”

“Paul did not write the Pastoral Epistles, we have no original copies with his name on them.”

Note: this fallacy doesn’t apply in a court of law, where you’re generally assumed innocent until proven guilty.

Also, in scientific investigation if it is known that an event would produce certain evidence of a particular occurrence, the absence of such evidence can validly be used to infer that the event didn’t occur. However, inferences are not conclusive evidence.

For example:  “A flood as described in the Bible would require an enormous volume of water to be present on the earth. The earth does not have a tenth as much water, even if we count that which is frozen into ice at the poles. Therefore no such flood occurred.”

In science, we can validly assume from lack of evidence that something hasn’t occurred. We cannot conclude with certainty that it hasn’t occurred, though. This type of fallacy also often combines with the failure to consider other options and assumes facts that may affect the whole.

Of course, the history of science is full of logically valid, but terribly wrong conclusions. In 1893, the Royal Academy of Science were convinced by Sir Robert Ball that communication with the planet Mars was a physical impossibility, because it would require a flag as large as Ireland, which it would be impossible to wave. In a National Geographic article in the early 1920’s a noted physicist “proved” that what appears to be a curveball from a baseball pitcher was an “optical illusion” that it was impossible for a man to spin a baseball hard enough to produce an alteration of trajectory.

The burden of proof is always on the person asserting something. Shifting the burden of proof, a special case of Argumentum ad Ignorantiam, the fallacy of putting the burden of proof on the person whom denies or questions the assertion. The source of the fallacy is the assumption that something is true unless proven otherwise.“OK, so if you don’t think the gray aliens have gained control of the US government, can you prove it?”

Argumentum ad Misericordiam

This is the Appeal to Pity, also known as Special Pleading. The fallacy is committed when someone appeals to pity or emotion for the sake of getting a conclu­sion accepted. For example:

“I did not murder my mother and father! Please don’t find me guilty; I’m suffering enough through being an orphan.”

“Certainly you cannot be upset with us for going to the faith healer, my father is suffering ter­ribly and we just had to try something.” 

Argumentum ad Populum

This is known as Appealing to the Gallery, or Appealing to the People. You commit this fallacy if you attempt to win acceptance of an assertion by appealing to a large group of people. This form of fallacy is often characterized by emotive lan­guage. For example:

“Everyone agrees that the NIV is the best translation of the Bible.”

This type of fallacy is typical of newspaper and television news, as well as most advertising. Any statement that includes such expressions as “most scholars,” “many economists” or a “majority of Noble prize winners” and such things are always suspect.

Argumentum ad Numerum

This fallacy is closely related to the argumentum ad populum. It consists of asserting that the more people who support or believe a proposition, the more likely it is that that proposition is correct. For example:

“Recent survey’s show that 90% of the adult population believe they have encountered angels. Conclusion (stated or unstanted): Angels must be real and active today.”

The argumentum ad populum and argumentum as numerum are closely related to the No True Scotsman Fallacy. 

Argumentum ad Verecundiam

The Appeal to Authority uses admiration of a famous person to try and win support for an assertion. For example:

“Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos says to be a winner you must eat your Campbell’s Chunky Soup.”

This line of argument isn’t always completely invalid; for example, it may be relevant to refer to a widely regarded authority in a particular field; but only if you’re discussing the subject where the authority in question has legitimate expertise. For example, we can distinguish quite clearly between:

“Dr. John MacArthur has stated that the Bible is inerrant and infallible.”


“Alec Baldwin says that Jeb Bush will make a horrible president.”

Now while Dr. MacArthur can be viewed as an expert in theological and Biblical matters, and his view on the above statement carries a measure of weight; Alec Baldwin is an actor, so discussing national politics or the relative merit of the candidates is beyond the scope of his expertise; thus his opinion carries, or should carry, no more or less weight than the average person on the street.  Conversely the same is true, if a preacher is speaking out of his area of expertise, his opinion is no more valid than anyone else.

Argumentum ad Antiquitatem

This is the fallacy of asserting that something is right or good simply because it’s old, or because “that’s the way it’s always been.” This is the opposite of Argumentum ad Novitatem. This fallacy often appears in the area of Biblical and theological studies.

“We have always closed the service with a hymn.”

“The Puritans naturally have the best material on this subject.”

Argumentum ad Novitatem

This is the opposite of the Argumentum ad Antiquitatem; it’s the fallacy of asserting that something is more correct simply because it is new, or newer than something else is. This fallacy often occurs in the area of worship and music styles as well as matters related to youth and children ministries.

“This commentary is based on the latest research and clearly supersedes any of the old conclusions of the Reformers.”

Argumentum ad Crumenam

The fallacy of believing that money is a criterion of correctness; that those with more money are more likely to be right. This is the opposite of Argumentum ad Lazarum. This fallacy often appears in the area of political elections, where wealthy and successful people are often viewed as the best selections for solving political problems. 

“Joe here is a banker and quite a wealthy man, I’m certain he would make a fine church treasurer.” 

Argumentum ad lazarum

This is the fallacy of assuming that someone who is poor is somehow sounder or more virtuous than someone who’s wealthier. This fallacy is the opposite of the Argumentum ad Crumenam. It is a populist approach to issues.

“I’m sure that Catholic theology must be correct. I mean look, my priest has taken a vow of poverty and given up all his worldly possessions. No one would do that for something that wasn’t true.”

“He could have made a fortune in private industry but he’s dedicated his life to ublic service instead, so he is the person who should be elected.”

Argumentum ad nauseam

This is the incorrect belief that an assertion is more likely to be true, or is more likely to be accepted as true, the more often it is heard. So an Argumentum ad Nauseam is one that employs constant repetition in asserting something; saying the same thing over and over again until you’re sick of hearing it. This is a key issue in examining Biblical commentaries. Many “true” facts have become accepted simply because they have been repeated year after year from one commentary to another.

The fallacy of Accident / Sweeping Generalization / Dicto Simpliciter 

A sweeping generalization occurs when a general rule is applied to a particular situation, but the features of that particular situation mean the rule is inapplicable. It’s the error made when you go from the general to the specific. For example:

Baptist churches are always congregational in their polity, even though that church calls itself a baptist church, it has elders so it can’t be a real baptist church.

People who try to decide moral and legal questions by mechanically applying general rules often commit this fallacy.

Converse Accident/Hasty generalization

This fallacy is the reverse of the Fallacy of Accident. It occurs when you form a general rule by examining only a few specific cases that aren’t representative of all possible cases. For example:

“Jim Bakker was an insincere Christian. Therefore all Christians are insincere.”

Non causa pro causa

The fallacy of Non Causa Pro Causa occurs when something is identified as the cause of an event, but it has not actually been shown to be the cause. For example:

“ I had a migraine headache, so I took my prescription medicine and prayed. A little later my headache disappeared. God graciously cured me of the headache.”

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

The fallacy of Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc occurs when something is assumed to be the cause of an event merely because it happened before that event. For exam­ple:

“In 1950 we began a bus ministry and the church grew. Therefore if we want the church to grow we should begin a bus ministry.”

“That church switched to elders and they began to grow and be successful, if we want to be successful we need to switch to elders.”

Cum hoc ergo propter hoc

This fallacy is similar to post hoc ergo propter hoc. The fallacy is to assert that because two events occur together, they must be causally related. It’s a fallacy because it ignores other factors that may be the cause(s) of the events.

“We canceled the Wednesday night prayer meeting and the next day the church was broken into.”

Petitio principii/Begging the question

This fallacy occurs when the premises are at least as questionable as the con­clusion reached. For example:

“We know that today we have sufficient tools to understand the Bible without knowing the original languages; therefore seminaries should drop classes in the original languages and focus on more practical issues.”

Circulus in demonstrando

This fallacy occurs if you assume as a premise the conclusion that you wish to reach. Often the proposition is rephrased so that the fallacy appears to be a valid argument. For example:

“The Gospel of Matthew was written originally in Hebrew, so in our exegetical work it is useless to utilize the Greek, since we know it was not written originally in Greek but rather Hebrew.”

“We know that Paul did not write the Pastoral Epistles. In reconstructing an account of the life of Paul we cannot make events mentioned in the Pastoral epistles mesh with the account of the Book of Acts. We should not use material from the Pastorals in creating an account of Paul’s’ life since we know that Paul did not write the Pastorals.”

 Note that the argument is entirely circular; the premise is the same as the conclusion. An argument like the above was actually used by a writer writing on the life of Paul.

Circular arguments are surprisingly common, unfortunately. If you’ve already reached a particular conclusion once, it’s easy to accidentally make it an assertion when explaining your reasoning to someone else.

Complex question /Fallacy of interrogation /Fallacy of presupposition

This is the interrogative form of Begging the Question. One example is the classic loaded question:

“Have you stopped beating your wife? 

The question presupposes a definite answer to another question that has not even been asked. Lawyers in cross-examination often use this trick, when they ask questions like:

“Where did you hide the money you stole?”

Similarly, politicians often ask loaded questions such as:

“How long will United Nations interference in our affairs be allowed to continue?”

Another form of this fallacy is to ask for an explanation of something that is untrue or not yet established.

Ignoratio elenchi/Irrelevant conclusion

The fallacy of Irrelevant Conclusion consists of claiming that an argument supports a particular conclusion when it is actually logically nothing to do with that conclusion.

For example, you may argue that the conclusions of a particular writer are undoubtedly true. But you cannot then proceed to support your assertion by bringing a list of conclusions that have little or nothing to do with the assertion.

This type of argument typically arouses the emotions and clouds judgment that allows the supposed conclusion to have more weight than it should ever receive.

An example of one form of this would be in a recent advertisement for the Los Angeles Times Newspaper. The advertisement encourages people to subscribe to the newspaper; the narrator states that she receives the Times because she “likes to feel informed.” Note that no claim of actual or real information is given, the appeal is entirely emotive and therefore irrelevant to reality.

Equivocation /Fallacy of four terms

Equivocation occurs when a key word is used with two or more different meanings in the same argument. For example:

“What could be more affordable than free software? But to make sure that it remains free, that users can do what they like with it, we must place a license on it to make sure that will always be freely redistributable.”

One way to avoid this fallacy is to choose your terminology carefully before beginning the argument, and avoid words like “free” which have many meanings. In public speaking words that sound the same but have different meanings or different meanings depending of the context should be avoided, for example, “Which witch is which?”


Amphiboly occurs when the premises used in an argument are ambiguous be­cause of careless, convoluted or ungrammatical phrasing. This often occurs in online discussions. People who are careless in writing, spelling, and grammar are simply difficult to converse with because it is generally unclear what they are really saying. And, calling them to account in a discussion will often see the offender rely on ad hominem comments like calling his opponent a “grammar nazi.”

Fallacies of composition

 One Fallacy of Composition is to conclude that a property shared by the parts of something must apply to the whole. For example:

“The bicycle is made entirely of low mass components and is therefore very lightweight.”

The other Fallacy of Composition is to conclude that a property of a number of individual items is shared by a collection of those items. For example:

“A car uses less gas and causes less pollution than a bus. Therefore cars are less environmentally damaging than buses.”

 Fallacy of division

The Fallacy of Division is the opposite of the Fallacy of Composition. Like its opposite, it exists in two varieties. The first is to assume that a property of some thing must apply to its parts. For example:

“You are studying at a rich college. Therefore you must be rich.”

The other is to assume that each item shares a property of a collection of items. For example:

“The man arrested was an illegal immigrant, therefore all illegal immigrants commit crimes.”

The slippery slope argument

This argument states that should one event occur, so will other harmful events. There is no proof made that the harmful events are caused by the first event. For ex­ample:

“If we cancel the Sunday night service people will have to go elsewhere for something to do with their time; if that happens people will find something more interesting than church therefore people might leave the church entirely.”

“A is based on B”fallacies / “…is a type of…“fallacies / Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle

These fallacies occur if you attempt to argue that things are in some way similar, but you don’t actually specify in what way they are similar.


“Islam is based on faith, Christianity is based on faith, so isn’t Islam a form of Christianity?”

“Cats are a form of animal based on carbon chemistry, dogs are a form of animal based on carbon chemistry, so aren’t dogs a form of cat?”

Affirmation of the consequent

 This fallacy is an argument of the form “A implies B, B is true, therefore A is true”. To understand why it is a fallacy, examine the truth table for implication given earlier. Here’s an example:

“You get wet if you are outside in the rain. I was outside sleeping in my hammock and when I woke up I was all wet, therefore it must have rained while I was asleep.”

This is the converse of Denial of the Antecedent.

  Denial of the antecedent

This fallacy is an argument of the form “A implies B, A is false, therefore B is false”. The truth table for implication makes it clear why this is a fallacy.

Note that this fallacy is different from Non Causa Pro Causal That has the form “A implies B, A is false, therefore B is false”, where A does not in fact imply B at all. Here, the problem isn’t that the implication is invalid; rather it’s that the falseness of A doesn’t allow us to deduce anything about B.

“You get wet if you are outside in the rain. Even though I was outside, it did not rain, therefore I am not wet.” (as he wipes himself off)

This is the converse of the fallacy of Affirmation of the Consequent.

 Converting a conditional

This fallacy is an argument of the form “If A then B, therefore if B then A”

“If it’s raining outside and I don’t have an umbrella I get wet. So if I get wet, then it’s raining outside and I don’t have an umbrella.”

This fallacy is similar to the Affirmation of the Consequent, but phrased as a conditional statement.


Also referred to as the “black and white” fallacy, bifurcation occurs if you present a situation as having only two alternatives, where in fact other alternatives exist or can exist.

“Our Sunday night service is only attended by 30% of our congregation. We must have a huge sin problem in the church or people just don’t want to hear the preaching of the Word.”

Plurium interrogationum /Many questions

This fallacy occurs when someone demands a simple (or simplistic) answer to a complex question. “Just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.”

Non Sequitur

A non sequitur (it does not follow) is an argument where the conclusion is drawn from premises that aren’t logically connected with it. For example:

“Since Egyptians did so much excavation to construct the pyramids, they must have been well versed in paleontology.”

Actually this type of fallacy can be quite amusing, and is really the basis for most situation comedy on television.

Red Herring

This fallacy is committed when someone introduces irrelevant material to the issue being discussed, so that everyone else’s attention is diverted away from the points made, towards a different conclusion. Often this is an ad hominem interjection.

“But pastor, we shouldn’t have this man for our Bible conference speaker. Haven’t you heard about what is going on in the seminary where he graduated from?” [this man graduated from the seminary in question 30 years earlier]

Straw Man

The straw man fallacy is when you misrepresent or caricaturize a position so that it can be attacked more easily, then knock down that misrepresented position, then conclude that the original position has been demolished. It’s a fallacy because it fails to deal with the actual arguments that have been made.

The Extended Analogy

The fallacy of the Extended Analogy often occurs when some suggested gen­eral rule is being argued over. The fallacy is to assume that mentioning two different situations, in an argument about a general rule, constitutes a claim that those situations are analogous to each other.

“I believe that the Inerrancy of the Bible is vitally important.”

“But this would put you at odds with Kierkegarrd who believed that you could come to know Christ only by personal experience.”

“Are you saying I don’t believe in Christ! How dare you!” 

The Argument of Irrelevance

There are often appeals to factual information that is largely irrelevant.  This often occurs in advertising.  For instance a popular car advertisement states that a particular car will go from Zero to 60mph in 4.5 seconds. That fact may be true, but it is irrelevant to the purchase of an automobile because it would be illegal (unsafe acceleration) according to every state vehicle code to perform such a feat.  Or, one could argue that churches today need to deal with heretics the same way the Reformers did. This is another irrelevant point because churches are not able today (and probably never should have) to, burn heretics at the stake.

Audiatur et altera pars

Often, people will argue from assumptions that they don’t bother to state. The principle of Audiatur et Altera Pars is that all of the premises of an argument should be stated explicitly. It’s not strictly a fallacy to fail to state all of your assump­tions; however, it’s often viewed with suspicion.

Ad hoc

There is a difference between argument and explanation. If we’re interested in establishing A, and B is offered as evidence, the statement “A because B” is an ar­gument. If we’re trying to establish the truth of B, then “A because B” is not an ar­gument, it’s an explanation.

The Ad Hoc fallacy is to give an after‑the‑fact explanation that doesn’t apply to other situations. Often this ad hoc explanation will be dressed up to look like an argument. For example, if we assume that God treats all people equally, then the following is an ad hoc explanation:

“I was healed from cancer by the Lord.”

“So, will He heal all believers who have cancer?”

“Well, you must have sufficient faith.”

 Argumentum ad Logicam

This is the “fallacy fallacy” of arguing that a proposition is false because it has been presented as the conclusion of a fallacious argument. It must always be remembered that a fallacious argument can arrive at true conclusion.

“Take the fraction 16/64. Now, canceling a 6 on top and a six on the bottom, we get that 16/64=1/4.”

“Wait a second! You can’t just cancel the six!”

“Oh, so you’re telling us 16/64 is not equal to 1/4, are you?”

The issue here is twofold: (1) to deal with the reasoning that was used to arrive at the conclusion and (2) to demonstrate that even though the conclusion is correct, if this reasoning is allowed to stand and proliferate throughout the paper, the entire thesis could become a “house of cards.”

The “No True Scotsman“fallacy

Suppose I assert that no Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge. You counter this by pointing out that your friend Angus likes sugar with his porridge. I then say “Ah, yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge. A variety of this is to say “Reformed Theologians don’t believe in premillennialism, because you believe in premillennialism you can’t be Reformed.”

This is an example of an ad hoc change being used to shore up an assertion; combined with an attempt to shift the meaning of the words used original assertion. You might call it a combination of fallacies.


History of the English Bible: The Geneva Bible of 1560

The most important English Bible, other than the King James Verison of 1611, was the Geneva Bible of 1560.  The Geneva would have an entirely different purpose heretofore from previous (and even subsequent) editions of the Bible.  It was the first true “Study Bible” in history.


When Myles Coverdale reached Geneva in 1558 work was already well underway on what would become the most controversial and at the same time the most popular English translation of the era. The Geneva Bible of 1560 was to be most significant English Bible to date and would remain the Bible of choice for English Protestants for the next 100 years. It was significant for many things, but mainly it was notable for its notes; this would be the first true “Study Bible” in history.

The Geneva Bible is bound up in the work of the famous reformer John Calvin (1509–64) and the city most identified with his life and work, the French-speaking Swiss city of Geneva. Geneva had quickly moved towards the Protestant movement and from 1523 to 1533 there were several uprisings and wars and finally in March 1533 the Town Council agreed to a compromise that made Geneva a “free” city with its inhabitants allowed to practice either Catholicism or Protestantism. By 1536 Geneva declared itself a Protestant republic and Catholicism essentially ceased to exist within its walls. Calvin had been invited back to Geneva in 1541 after the town council had expelled him in 1538 (Calvin had originally come to the city in 1536 and at William [Guillaume] Farel [1489–1565] urging began teaching New Testament). Calvin and the town council had a tenuous relationship at best; while they supported his work in the church they were resistant to allow the essential merger of church and city government that he desired. The struggle between Calvin and the Council lasted until 1555 when French migration into Geneva had given Calvin the majority support and in the elections of that year most of Calvin’s opponents were removed from power.[1]

In 1555 Calvin allowed exiles from England and the Catholic persecutions of Mary to take up residence in Geneva. Led by John Knox (1514–72) and then William Whittingham (1524–79), the English speaking community grew significantly. When Knox left for a short-lived work with the English community in Frankfurt, Whittingham was selected at Calvin’s urging to become the pastor of the English congregation (the fact that Whittingham had married Calvin’s younger sister undoubtedly helped his promotion). In terms of the creation of the Geneva Bible, other than providing a safe haven and whose works provided the basis for many of the notations (especially in the Pauline epistles), Calvin had no significant involvement in the project. Calvin was, quite naturally, more concerned about protestant work in his native France and he had produced a French Bible in 1558. Knox also had little if any, direct impact on the production. By all accounts Knox, while a great preacher, was short on “people skills” and was exceptionally difficult to work with.

Calvin’s Geneva was a “bubble” in the Christian world, what Bruce called the “most favourable setting for the work of Bible study and translation.”[2] The free city was relatively safe and biblical and theological scholarship was allowed to advance and did so at a very rapid pace. The Geneva Academy under the leadership of Theodore Beza (1519–1605). Beza was one of the “Four” of Geneva famously enshrined in the relief on the “Reformation Wall” in Geneva (from left to right: William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and John Knox). While Beza was largely away from the city while the Geneva was being produced, his influence mainly being the contribution of his Latin version of 1556. Also, Beza’s French translation of the Apocrypha was very important. As Greenslade notes:

The translators, Whittingham, Gilbey, and Sampson, had much new work to help them. The foundation of their Old Testament was the Great Bible (1550 edition), which they revised in light of the Hebrew-Latin Bibles of Pagninus (1528, and in Stephanus’ Latin Bible, Geneva, 1557) and Muster (1534/5) together with the more recent Latin versions of Leo Juda (1544) and Castellio (1551) and Olivertan’s French Bible, then under revision at Geneva. They were sufficiently good Hebraists to form their own judgment and they were perhaps the earliest English translators to make first-hand use of Rabbi David Kimchi’s commentary, though they may have known him on through Pagninus. The 1557 New Testament was further revised, with much more attention to Beza’s Latin version of 1556, already used by Whittingham. Their Greek text was that of Stephanus as in the edition regia with its collection of variants (Paris 1550) or in that of Geneva (1551), the first to have verse numbers.[3]

While the whole Geneva Bible was produced in 1560, the New Testament and Psalms appeared as early as 1557. Whittingham was the “driving force” overseeing the work in the New Testament while Anthony Gilbey (1510–85) supervised the work in the Old Testament. Thomas Sampson (1517–89) was the other leading translator. Myles Coverdale joined the project, but to what extent is not clear. He might have been more of what today would be called a “style editor.” However, just the practical experience of Coverdale, who at this time was the most experienced and accomplished English translator living, must have been invaluable. The Geneva Bible, as a project, had more resources (textual, research, manpower, and financial) than any previous English translation project. The entire team under Whittingham also had a unified goal in terms of production, something that was not true of The Great Bible (and later the Bishops’ Bible).

All of the Geneva translators at this time would be classified in the more radical “Puritanism.” All would be caught up to one degree or another in the “vestment controversy” under Elizabeth I and her Archbishop, Matthew Parker.[4] They were also all decidedly anti-monarchial, which would be evident by some notations, and would cause both Elizabeth I and later James I, to oppose its propagation in England. The costs of the project were carried by the English congregation in Geneva, but mostly by the wealthy merchant John Bodley.[5]

The Geneva Bible was unique in the history of the English Bible in several respects. It is often over-rated while at the same time being under-rated. This is largely because the Geneva Bible had a singular purpose entirely different than it’s predecessors, except for the Tyndale. The Geneva Bible was produced, not as a “church bible” for the podium (like the Great Bible had been), it was designed for individual use, printed in a more portable quarto size (about 9 x 11 inches) it was much less expensive. In fact, with the dominance of Knox and Calvin’s Presbyterianism in Scotland, the Scottish Parliament in 1579 passed a law requiring all households “of sufficient means” to buy a copy of the Geneva Bible. The Geneva, printed in Scotland by Thomas Bassendyne, became widely available the same year.[6]

The Geneva Bible introduced several features that are taken for granted in English translations now:

  • When English words were added for clarity they were rendered in italics; that is when a word wasn’t in the Greek or Hebrew, but is necessary in English grammar and syntax for clarity and added by the translators.
  • The chapter and verse divisions of Robert Estienne[7] included for the first time in an English Bible. These divisions, while not always appropriate to the flow of the text, caught on and have remained essentially unchanged.
  • There was also an elaborate system of marginal references and notations for textual variants.
  • It should also be noted that, despite the modern popular legend, The Apocrypha was always included in the Geneva Bible. The myth that the Geneva Reformers did not want to sully their translation with the Apocryphal text is simply untrue and, in fact, it was a superior English rendering. The notes are scant to nearly non-existent in comparison to the Old and New Testaments, but the Apocrypha remained an important part of all English translations well into the 18th century when later editions of the King James Version finally began to drop it.

As Daniell notes:

Two things immediately strike a reader who opens any page of most Geneva Bibles produced in Geneva or London over almost a hundred years: the clarity of the roman type in its little numbered paragraphs, that is, their verses; and the fullness of the surrounding matter. Headings crown each page, italic summaries are at the head of each chapter, and the inner and outer margins have notes, in small roman or italic, all keyed to the text by small letters or signs.[8]

Besides the actual layout and the text-type, the translation itself was clear and exceptionally readable. The basis of the work was Tyndale’s English in the New Testament and Coverdale’s in the Old Testament, although both significantly updated. The English language itself was just beginning an enormous time of transition in vernacular usage. The Late Middle English of Tyndale, Coverdale and Henry VIII was shifting to what would become Elizabethan English (and then into Early Modern English[9]). Whittingham and the other translators were likely influenced by the English usage of the community in Geneva, which was more of the upper business class, than the more formal usage of the academy. In this they were similar to Tyndale in their approach to translation. To use an illustration from two centuries later, it was similar to the popularity of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense of 1775, which sparked the American Revolution and the push for independence. Of Common Sense, Ferling said, “It was free of suffocating jargon and indecipherable Latin phraseology”[10] and thus appealed to and was widely read by the entire literate public, not just the highly educated elite. This was perhaps the main reason the Geneva Bible was so well received. It was rendered in clear, everyday, “market place” English. The Geneva was developed for people to read and study, not, at least primarily, for liturgical use, which of course was the purpose of The Great Bible and would be the main purpose of The Bishop’s Bible.[11]

Beyond the translation, what the Geneva Bible is most known for are its notations. In the original 1560 edition the notes were as Greenslade observes, “are as a whole generally Protestant in intention rather than specifically Calvinist. They do no, for example, stress Presbyterian polity.”[12] The notes of the first edition were certainly most liberally sprinkled with what would become Calvinistic Theology.[13] Bruce also notes that the first edition was, by and large, not doctrinaire,

The notes of the Geneva Bible are famous, largely because the irritated James I so much; yet they are mild in comparison to Tyndale’s. They are, to be sure, unashamedly Calvinistic in doctrine, and therefore offensive to readers who find Calvinism offensive; but for a half century the people of England and Scotland, who read the Geneva Bible in preference to any other version, learned much of their biblical exegesis from these notes.[14]

However, in 1560 the notes were more of a “running commentary on the whole Bible”[15] than a presentation of a systematic theology.

In 1559 Mary I and Cardinal Pole died (within hours of each other) and the Catholic resurgence in England was quickly reduced in the long reign of Elizabeth I (1533–1603, reigned 1559–1603). Elizabeth immediately established the English Protestant church, and like her Father, Henry VIII, made herself the Supreme Governor of it. She was an able ruler and inherited something of her father’s political skill. She was also exceptionally intelligent and was clearly the most well-educated woman of her time. Besides English she spoke the other dialects of the islands (Scottish, Welsh, Cornish, and Irish) with ease and fluidity. She read both Latin and Greek and clearly knew what a good translation into English should be. As we previously noted, she gave license to John Bodley to print and sell the Geneva Bible in England for a seven-year period beginning in 1560 (the title page of the first edition has an elaborate dedication to the Queen). Even her Archbishop, Matthew Parker, who was to shortly begin his quest for a new “church” Bible (The Bishops’ Bible) thought the Geneva a superior work. As Bruce notes:

At the very time Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, was pressing ahead with a rival version, the Bishop’s Bible, he thought so well of the Geneva Bible that he advocated a twelve year extension of the exclusive right of printing it granted in 1561 to John Bodley. Even if he and his fellow-bishops were specially interested in the Bishops’ Bible, he added, “yet should it nothing hinder but rather do much good to have diversity of translation and readings”—a remarkably enlightened opinion.[16]

Even the notes of the 1560 edition of the Geneva do not appear to have led to significant objection and personal ownership and use of the Geneva Bible, especially in Scotland where by 1579 is was legally required, increased significantly. But even in this time, The Great Bible was still the official text for the actual church services and readings[17], which as Parker noted, apparently was not of great concern.[18]

However, in 1576 there was a significant revision of the Geneva New Testament and particularly the notes, undertaken by Laurence Tomson (1539–1608). Tomson was educated at Magdalen and Oxford and was the secretary for Elizabeth’s secretary of state, Francis Walsingham[19]. He had fled England during the Marian persecutions and was lecturer of Hebrew at the Geneva Academy.

Tomson’s revision of the New Testament included, “introducing still more of Beza’s readings and interpretations from his critical (but sometimes rashly conjectural) Greek text with Latin version and commentary.”[20]   However, it was the notes where the larger changes occurred. Calvinism, as enlarged by Beza, became more evident and more strident than the previous editions. However, it was the emphasis on polity: Presbyterian polity, which was to become the crux of the problems with the Geneva, particularly when James VI of Scotland became James I of England.

Another significant change that Tomson introduced were the notations of Franciscus Junius (1543–1602) in the Book of Revelation and in 1699 (and subsequent editions) Junius’ entire translation and notes were substituted for the previous text. Junius’ notes were “violently anti-papal.”[21] The notations had been notably anti-Catholic from 1560 to 1595 (it was a Protestant Bible after all), but Junius’ notes even in an era not given to civility in written discourse were extremely outlandish. The discussions of individual popes as fulfillments of different prophecies in Revelation, was a move away from a careful explaining the text of Revelation to a rather sensationalistic and propagandist interpretation of the text. Being Anti-Catholic, even “violently” so, wasn’t a significant issue. The various intrigues of the Pope and his declarations against Elizabeth and her reign had the effect of forcing what little Catholicism remained in England completely underground. It was the shift in emphasis on polity that was the most problematic, at least initially, to the rulers of England.

The notes were, in many ways, central to the popularity of The Geneva Bible. So much so, that when it was clear that the King James Bible was eclipsing the Geneva in popularity, an edition of the King James with the Geneva notes was issued. It was an interesting market ploy and it did go through a couple of printings; but by this time Puritanism as a social force was spent (especially under Oliver Cromwell) and the Calvinism represented in the Geneva Bible  was increasingly falling out of favor in England; as it also would in Scotland albeit about 150 years later.[22]



As Ryken states, “Every translation has been clear in its own generation and when judged by the audience for which it was intended.[23] This is certainly the case for The Geneva Bible. While McAfee states that the Geneva, “drove the Great Bible from the field by the sheer force of its brilliance,”[24] it was a completely different Bible in terms of type and purpose from The Great Bible. It was a Bible translation that was unique in church history to that point. It was designed to be affordable and portable. It was produced in exceptionally large numbers and it initially had sufficient political support to gain traction. It dominated Bible sales for nearly 100 at years and was only finally supplanted by the King James Bible.

The temptation is to move directly from the Geneva Bible to the King James, but there were two other translations still to appear, both largely forgotten, one essentially ignored or relegated to a footnote by Protestant and evangelical scholars, the Douay-Rheims Bible of 1609; the other viewed as little more than a vain attempt by the now established English Church to regain its control of the Bible from the “foreigners” of Geneva. However, The Bishops’ Bible of 1568 was much more than that and in many ways without this now nearly forgotten English bible, the King James Bible that we know today may have been completely different.



[1] There are dozens of books and essays on this era from every conceivable angle. It really reaches its climax with the arrest, trial, and execution of Michael Servetus in 1553. In popular circles this established Calvin as the “defender of orthodoxy.” The Servetus affair is exceptionally complex and beyond the scope of this essay to go into great detail (I will say that those who attempt to present this as a simple or straightforward affair, whichever side they are supporting, are the most mistaken). Executions, especially for heresy, were common in that era and Calvin had supported several over the years. In later histories some of supporters proposed the argument that he was not involved in the sentences handed down by the “civil magistrates,” (the City Council and Syndics) but this stretches credulity to the extreme. Some sources assert that Calvin tried to either save Servetus (exceptionally unlikely) or at least have him beheaded (which was quicker, but not a legal option for those guilty of heresy). On the other side some sources indicate that Calvin decreed that “green wood” be used for Servetus’ fire so he would burn slower and suffer longer before he died. The truth is probably somewhere in between.

[2] F. F. Bruce, History of Bible in English (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 95.

[3] S. L. Greenslade. Cambridge History of the Bible: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1963), 157.

[4] Interesting though, Calvin had advised Knox and the others not to make an issue out of the vestment decree and to submit to the Elizabeth and Parker’s directives.

[5] Bodley’s son Thomas Bodley (1545–1613) was one of the most important men in the history of English scholarship. Growing up in Geneva he studied under Calvin, Beza, Beroaldus, and Chevalier and regularly attended the sermons of John Knox. Upon the family’s return to England, after the death of Mary, he finished his extensive education at Magdalen College. He was a minor official “Gentlemen-usher” to Elizabeth I (who also granted him exclusive rights to print the Geneva Bible in England. Bodley, left political life, taught at Oxford, and ultimately drove the creation of the now-famous Bodleian Library, which was named in his honor.

[6] In fact, Bassendyne died in 1577, two years before the project was completed in whole. He did manage to get the New Testament printed in 1576. Although the “king’s printer”, Thomas Bassendyne, was nonetheless often late on deadlines. The specific printing project for the Geneva Bible, in partnership with Alexander Arbuthnot (d. 1585) specified “nine months” to complete the project, perhaps an indication that Bassendyne’s rather languid work ethic was well known. There is a record dated March 8, 1575 from the Scottish Privy Council instructing every parish in Scotland to advance 5 £ (Scot) to fund the printing project.

[7] Robert Estienne (c. 1507–59), often referred to by his Latin name Stephanus, a Parisian printer and classical scholar. He was the most important printer (“Printer in Greek to the King”) of the era in the most important city for scholarship in the medieval into the Reformation eras. His three sons (Henri, Robert, and François) continued the family business and were all notable printers. There had been attempts at chapter divisions in the past, notably by Stephen Langton (1150–1228), Archbishop of Canterbury, whose system was largely. There was a competing system developed around the same time by Santi Pagnini (1470–1541), but Estienne’s system ultimately proved more popular.

[8] David Daniell, The Bible In English (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 296.

[9] The shift in language took nearly 200 years, starting the Late Middle English in the 1500’s to finally modern English in the 1700’s. “Elizabethan English” is more of a transitory phase in the process. Early Modern English (e.g. the King James Bible and William Shakespeare) can generally be read and largely understood by English readers today (although, there are some lexical reverses, phrasing, and often word usage which would be hard or even offensive to the modern ear). An untrained modern reader typically has difficulty reading earlier Tudor era and earlier works. Even the previous Bibles we have examined, Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthews, and the Great Bible, range from quite difficult to impossible for the typical modern reader.

[10] John Ferling, Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War that Won It (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2015), 142.

[11] It is important to remember that at this time the idea of an individual carrying a Bible to the worship service and following along the sermon is simply unheard of. Likewise the idea that a pastor of that era would say something like, “turn in your Bible to…” would be simply impossible; in fact this would not become commonplace for another two centuries. The Geneva Bible is not particularly “lyrical,” that is while it appeals to the eye in reading, it doesn’t appeal to the ear in hearing as the King James would.

[12] Greenslade, Cambridge History, 158.

[13] For instance, the notes in Romans are quite clear in presenting the Calvinist view. In Rom 9:15 the interpretation of double predestination if affirmed, “As the only will and purpose of God is the chief cause of election and reprobation: so is his free mercy in Christ is an inferior cause of salvation and the hardening of the heart an inferior cause of damnation.” A dubious assertion based on the content of the actual verse.

[14] Bruce, History of the Bible in English, 90.

[15] Daniell, Bible in English, 305.

[16] Bruce, History of the Bible in English, 91.

[17] While Mary I had ordered English text bibles to be burned, this was only applied to Tyndale, Coverdale, and Matthews’ Bibles. The Great Bible remained in the churches and remained in use. Neither Mary, Parliament, nor Cardinal Pole ever made an effort to ban it or remove the royal license of Henry VIII. This did have the overall effect though of making a scarcity of English Bibles available when Elizabeth I took the throne and practically speaking this had a very positive influence on the distribution of the Geneva Bible. In commercial terms there was a great market, and the Geneva was “designed” to fill that market.

[18] Some assert that Parker, while allowing the Geneva on one hand, attempted to thwart it and point to the fact that none were actually printed in England until 1576. But, this is somewhat misleading. They were printed elsewhere (Geneva and finally in Edinburgh) and their sale was not hindered in England. Bodley and his sons had significant enough influence and importance that if their license had been a “sham” as one writer called it, history would certainly have noted their complaint.

[19] Walsingham was Elizabeth’s most trusted minister and most importantly her “spymaster.” Elizabeth maintained an elaborate interior and continental system of spies. The famous “Rainbow Portrait” of Elizabeth with the cloak of “eyes and ears” indicating that she saw and heard everything.

[20] Greenslade, Cambridge History, 158.

[21] Ibid. Daniell gives an entire chapter to Junius (The Bible in English, 369–75) and gives a moderate defense of Junius’ work. Daniell clearly sees the Geneva as the high point of English translations and rises to its defense at every opportunity. However, it has to be remembered that while the Geneva was sufficiently anti-Catholic in its original notes for the first 35 years, the notes of Junius, which most are familiar with, were an addition, and ultimately in terms of understanding the text, not a helpful one.

[22] Even John Knox’s grave today is nearly forgotten as it is underneath a parking lot at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. Parking Space #23 has a yellow marker and small plaque commemorating Knox’s final resting place.

[23] Leland Ryken, Word of God in English: Criteria and Excellence in Bible Translation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002), 229.

[24] Cleland Boyd McAfee, The Greatest English Classic: A Study of the King James Bible and its Influence on Life and Literature (Champaign, IL: Project Guttenburg, 1999), 54.


The History of the English Bible: The Great Bible of 1539

The Great Bible of 1539 is the first fully “authorized” Bible in English.  Its creation, production, distribution, and use in churches being decreed by the command of the king, Henry VIII.  The previous versions, Coverdale and Matthews, had simply be approved or licensed to be sold in England. It was no longer a crime to possess the Bible in the English language.  Some have insisted that the King James Bible was the first and only “authorized” Bible, but this simply is untrue.  The Great Bible, in many ways, stabilized the production of the Bible in English, and once allowed and placed into the churches the process could never be reversed and undone.


This is the first “authorized” version of the Bible in English. Also completed by Myles Coverdale, this Bible was called “Great” because of its size. It was also known as the “Whitchurch Bible” after the original publisher, the “Chained Bible” because of its being attached to the stands in the churches, and the “Cromwell Bible” after Thomas Cromwell (1485–1550)[1], who oversaw the work.

To call the politics of the English Reformation complex would be the most massive of understatements. There is often a tendency to view this period simplistically from only one angle. The German Reformation under Luther is often viewed as “spiritual” and the English Reformation under Henry VIII as “political.” This is to ignore the very real political intrigues surrounding Luther and to ignore the very real spirituality of Henry. The production of the Great Bible in 1539 shows this complexity at its greatest and shows the balance of political power and conservative piety that marked most of Henry’s reign. Greenslade summarizes this well:

The intricate story of the English Bible from 1535 is but one aspect of the story of the English Reformation. Apart from repudiating the papacy, Henry did not wish to move far doctrinally. But he approved some practical reforms and wanted to check superstition. He would consider restatement of doctrine in terms conducive to unity and was ready enough to exploit the religious convictions of others for his own political ends, for example by intermittent negotiation with German Protestants. Anne’s fall, therefore, which it marked (rather than caused) the end of the first round of negotiations with Germany and was soon followed by the mainly conservative Ten Articles (July 1536), did not provoke a sharp reaction. Indeed, the injunctions which accompanied the articles gave some encouragement to the reformers Jane Seymour was a Protestant, and Cromwell still more powerful. In the episcopal debate preceding the Bishop’s Book of 1537, Edward Foxe, a mediating theologian, could say” ‘The lay people do know the holy scripture better than many of us; and the Germans have made the text of the Bible so plain and easy by the Hebrew and Greek tongue that n many things may be better understood without any glosses at al than by all the commentaries of the doctors.’ Henry himself had instruction Convocation to determine all things by Scripture and not by custom and unwritten verities, a phrase which may suggest the influence of Cramner. About a vernacular Bible he was cautious, but open to persuasion. In 1537 Cromwell could tell Cramner that the king would authorize an English version which the archbishop had just submitted for license ‘until such time that we the bishops shall set forth a better translation which I think will not be till a day after doomsday.[2]

We have already met the two ministers most responsible for the Great Bible, the kings close advisor Thomas Cromwell (1485–1540) and the archbishop, Thomas Cramner (1489–1556). Cromwell had been both the architect and general contractor of the break of England with Rome, carrying out Henry’s larger vision, in so doing, Cromwell implemented the larger vision moving the church in the direction of Protestantism along with Cramner.

Both Cromwell and Cramner realized that the work of Tyndale (whom both acknowledged as a genius in linguistics and translation) was an important step in securing an English church separate from the power of Rome. With Myles Coverdale now returned to England, the pair had the perfect man to organize a new translation of the Bible into English that Henry could “call his own” and place into the churches by royal decree and the authority of Cramner as Archbishop of Canterbury. The plan was for a not so much a new translation, but a thorough revision and updating of the Matthew’s Bible (most of which was Tyndale in disguise and Coverdale). The work was to be done in Paris and printed by Grafton and Whitchurch at their excellent presses there. The best printers were in Paris at this time and such an arrangement was fairly common. The Bible was to be produced in a large folio size and in such quantity that essentially every church in England could be supplied (as well as the personal chapels of important families).

Coverdale began his work in 1537 and printing began in 1538. There was an initial problem with the British Ambassador to France, the Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner. Although Gardiner had been Cardinal Wolsey’s spokesman at the Vatican on behalf on Henry’s marriage annulment from Catherine, he was vigorously opposed to the Reformation and a vernacular translation of the Bible. When he began to actively hinder the production Coverdale and Grafton sent word to Cromwell. Cromwell engineered Gardiner’s recall, removal from the ambassadorial post, and replacement with the new Bishop of London, Edmund Bonner (1500–69).[3]

However, the peace and progress was short-lived. The French “Inquisitor General” seized 2500 completed copied of the Bible and Coverdale, Grafton, and Whitchurch had to flee back to England. During the next year there was a series of adventures, including a chase in the open sea and a protracted legal engagement with over the seizure of a ship with unbound pages from the printer.

Ultimately the Great Bible reached the English parish churches beginning in 1539, remarkably only 13 years after Tyndale “illegal” Bible, the Great Bible came with the full authority, authorization, and encouragement of Henry VIII, now not only the de facto leader of the English Church, but also the de jure. One of the nicknames for the Great Bible, is The Chained Bible, because it was often chained to the podium in front of the pulpit. In some circles this nickname has taken on a negative connotation as symbolic of the Scriptures being “chained” to keep them away from the people an in the control of the church. That’s really romanticized nonsense however; these bibles were expensive and while not entirely portable, they could be stolen. They were secured with a “chain” or cable to keep them secure, not isolated. These were large volumes (14 x 9 inches) and they were used for public reading and the liturgical aspects of a service, not by the person delivering the sermon. As Bruce notes:

Many bishops, even some who were by no means friendly to the principles of the Reformation, encouraged their clergy to possess and study the English Bible. Some went further than that: Nicolas Shaxton, bishop of Salisbury, required his clergy, early in 1538, to see to it that by Whit Sunday of that year an English Bible should be chained to the desk in every parish church throughout the diocese, in order that literate parishioners might read, and illiterate ones hear, ‘wholesome doctrine and comfort for their souls.”[4]

In fact the practice of the preacher having a Bible in the pulpit when they are preaching is a relatively modern convention. The idea of an extemporaneous sermon (that is not read from a manuscript) would be been unheard of and even highly improper more than 100 years ago.

When the Great Bible was finally produced, the title page is an elaborate woodcut that has Henry on his throne handing the Bible to Cramner with his right hand and to Cromwell with his left hand. Below them the masses are crying out “God Save the King!” and above God is looking down approvingly and proclaims: “I have found a man after my own heart who shall perform all my desire” (Acts 13:22). Interestingly enough, all of the “word balloons” in the woodcut have the speech by God and Henry in Latin. The title page was slowly changed as Cromwell fell out of favor. In the 1540 edition his arms were removed and by the fourth and sixth editions removed his likeness removed entirely. Interestingly enough in the 1540 edition (the 4th edition) the preface was re-written and the charge of carrying out the King’s instruction that the Bible be used in his whole realm was given to Bishop Cuthbert of Durham; the same Cuthbert Tunstall who 17 years earlier as Bishop of London had been central to the story of William Tyndale.

The Great Bible was a good solid translation. Coverdale’s lack of facility in Greek and Hebrew did mean that he was mainly limited to Latin and German sources. But this was politically advantageous, as the conservative and pro-Catholic faction of the bishops would have rebelled at anything that connected it to Tyndale. He did modernize the portions of Tyndale and as we noted in an earlier essay his work in Psalms, despite not knowing Hebrew, was particularly strong and his metrical sense made for an excellent English wording for singing the Psalms. Daniell called Coverdale an “inspired choice” to head the project and states, “Coverdale’s skill with English spoken rhythms would ensure the Bible in English sounded well in stone churches.”[5] Tyndale’s genius was in English prose and creating a translation in English in the manner in which people actually spoke. Coverdale’s genius was in English poetry, rhyme and meter and making the poetic sections of the OT read and more importantly at that time, sing, properly.[6] In fact Coverdale’s Psalms became so entrenched in English Churches that they would be brought back into the Bishop’s Bible at a major revision, as English churchgoers viewed the original Psalms in the Bishop’s as “unsingable”.

Although authorized by the Henry VIII, he soon began to put restrictions on its use and possession. This was mainly due to his more pious nature. The English translations had become quite popular and the text was beginning to find it’s way into everyday speech, literature, and even popular songs. However, some of the “popular” songs of the day were often drinking songs from the local public houses. Henry apparently was exceptionally offended by a couple of the ones he heard and decided the masses were profaning the Bible. There was also the problem that was reported to Cramner that people were reading the Bible out loud in the public services, often while the sermon was bring preached. Cramner had to also issue decrees forbidding this practice as well as unauthorized “readings” and “expositions” during the week by those not “qualified” or licensed.  While today we are used to anyone, anywhere, regardless of training (or even skill) being able to lead a Bible study, preach a sermon, or even write a book; this was not the case well into the 18th century, when a preaching “license” was still required.

By the end of his reign he had decree that the Bible could only be read in church, owned by upper class families, and all marginal notations were blacked out. Shortly before his death he also outlawed the use of any Bible except the Great Bible, which led to many of the copies of the previous versions being destroyed.

As for Myles Coverdale, although he would have some minor involvement in the production of the Bishop’s Bible before his death in 1569, in many ways he reached the pinnacle of his career with the Great Bible; at least within England itself. In 1553, Edward VI died and a Catholic revival began under the reign of Mary, Coverdale was arrested and in danger of execution, but because of the intercession of brother-in-law, the chaplain of the King of Denmark, the Danish government put pressure on Mary[7] and Coverdale and his wife were allowed to go into exile (for the third time). In 1558 Coverdale settled in Geneva and had another role to play in another Bible, The Geneva Bible.



[1] Who should not be confused with Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) later Lord Protector of the short lived English Republic. Oliver Cromwell was distantly related, through Thomas Cromwell’s sister.

[2] S. L. Greenslade (ed), The Cambridge History of the Bible: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day (Cambridge UK: The Cambridge University Press, 1963), 149–50.

[3] Interestingly enough Bonner would later rejoin Rome and under Mary was known as “Bloody Bonner” for his persecutions of Protestants. Bonner, like Gardiner, came to reject the royal supremacy in the English Church in favor of the Pope. When Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558 Bonner was persona non grata and ultimately died in the Tower of London.

[4] F. F. Bruce, History of the Bible in English (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 67. This reference also makes it clear that the idea of “chaining” a Bible to the desk predated the Great Bible.

[5] David Daniell, The Bible in English (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 200.

[6] Hebrew poetry is actually based on parallelism and not rhyme and meter, a concept that was still not well recognized in Biblical studies. Coverdale and even the later King James translators in places tend to obscure this in their translations as rhyme and meter are superimposed onto the text; but their work was still vital as their translation made memorizing the Scripture easier to the English reader.

[7] England was still not an empire yet and Mary’s hold on the throne was tenuous, she and her main advisor, Cardinal Reginald Pole, simply could not afford to offend and possibly go to war with Denmark, which at the time was the far superior navel power..