Category Archives: Scripture

The Reformation and the Apocrypha

Did you know that the first editions of the Belgic Confession included two proof-texts from the apocrypha?  Did you know that our contemporary editions continue to include one small quote from the apocrypha?  Elsewhere in his writings, Guido de Brès referred more often to these non-canonical writings.  Moreover, de Brès was not exceptional in doing this.  Other Reformers did likewise, and so did other Reformed confessions.  In this paper, I outline de Brès’ use of the apocrypha, put it in the historical context of the Reformation, and attempt to explain it.

Must-Have NT Commentary Set

There are questions that I wish people would ask.  Questions like:  “If I had the means, what one set of New Testament commentaries should I purchase?”  I’ve never been asked that.  But it’s a great question and perhaps answering it will lead to some people actually thinking about it and then following up on it.

One possible answer would be John Calvin’s commentaries.  I love John Calvin’s expositions of Scripture.  I often refer to them.  Even after nearly 500 years, Calvin almost always has something valuable to offer.  But…there are three things that put Calvin in second place.  First, it’s not complete.  Calvin didn’t produce a commentary on the book of Revelation (in the Old Testament he also missed Judges, Samuel-Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs).  Second, when it came to the synoptic gospels (Matthew-Luke), he chose to work with a “harmony” method, rather than commenting on each book individually.  That has its advantages, but it can be difficult to find commentary on a particular passage in those books.  Third, Calvin was commenting nearly a half millennium ago.  He worked in literary Latin or French and had a rhetorical style with which many people today struggle to readily connect, even when he’s translated into English.  So Calvin is great, but would not be my first recommendation.

My first recommendation is the New Testament Commentary set produced by William Hendriksen and Simon Kistemaker.  Hendriksen (1900-1982) was a Christian Reformed minister.  He also served as a New Testament professor at Calvin Theological Seminary from 1942-1952.  The first volume of his New Testament Commentary was on the Gospel of John and it appeared in 1953.  He later wrote volumes on about half of the books on the New Testament.  After his death in 1982, Simon Kistemaker began the work of completing the set.  Also with a Christian Reformed background, Kistemaker served as a professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.  He wrote the volumes on Acts, 1-2 Corinthians, Hebrews, and James-Revelation.

Why would I recommend this commentary set?  First, it is complete, covering the entire New Testament verse by verse.  Second, it is written with exceptional clarity.  Both Hendriksen and Kistemaker were scholars and gifted communicators.  The average person in the pew shouldn’t struggle with these volumes.  Third, most importantly of all, Hendriksen and Kistemaker had a high view of Scripture.  They were Reformed in their theological perspective, confessional men.  Consequently, the New Testament Commentary set is trustworthy.

When I say that it’s reliable, I don’t mean to say that I always agree with Hendriksen or Kistemaker.  I have my differences on various passages — for example, I don’t follow Hendriksen on Romans 11:26, “And in this way all Israel will be saved…”  As he typically does, he lays out several of the options and chooses for one, but I disagree with his choice on that passage.  Same thing for 1 Timothy 2:15, “Yet she will be saved through childbearing…”  Nevertheless, it’s not the case that the interpretations with which I disagree result in an attack on the Reformed faith.  They still fall within the pale of confessionally Reformed orthodoxy.

So, if you’re in the market for one set of NT commentaries, I highly recommend the New Testament Commentary set published by Baker. When I just need to quickly check out at least one reliable Reformed interpreter, NTC is my first stop.  It’s getting on in years now, but still valuable and still faithful.  It’s worth having on your shelf.

NOTE:  Sadly, it appears that this set is out of print.  That means you’d you have to find it used.  It’s also available electronically for Logos. 

Bible Study Resources

Open Bible

A while ago, I received a request to provide a list of some trustworthy online Bible study resources.  The background to this is Reformed people venturing out into cyberspace to research passages, only to be led off the track by resources that are not faithful.  I replied to this request and thought it worth sharing here as well.  The list below does not imply my endorsement of everything published on each of these sites.  While all of these resources come from a Reformed orientation (all of them are managed by confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian believers) they still need to be used with discernment.  We ought always to have the spirit of the Bereans, testing everything against the Scriptures to see whether these things are really so (Acts 17:11).  Here’s the list:

  • — presently has 1384 Reformed sermons on a wide variety of Scripture passages and Lord’s Days from the Heidelberg Catechism.  This resource should get more attention as a Bible Study aid.
  • — the teaching ministry of R.C. Sproul.  
  • — has heaps of resources, both regarding Scripture and theology.  Some are at a seminary level, but I think a lot of it will be accessible to regular folk.
  • — a comprehensive collection of older Reformed writings, including commentaries.
  • — includes links to dozens of online commentaries.  Run by a couple of my acquaintances from the US, both solid men.    

I know there are only five links there, but in those five links are thousands of pages of biblical exposition and other study aids.  Enjoy!

Review: The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible


Some time ago I wrote a review comparing the the ESV Study Bible with the Reformation Study Bible (you can find it here).  Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to get acquainted with another study Bible.  The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible (RHSB) was published in 2014 by Reformation Heritage Books.  In some circles, it has been widely acclaimed, whereas others are somewhat less enthusiastic about it.  At the outset, I can say that I heartily recommend it.

RHSB has most of the features that would expect in any study Bible.  There are over 20,000 study notes, introductions for each book of the Bible, an assortment of maps, a reading plan, and a small concordance.  It also has features that one would expect from any Reformed study Bible.  The study notes are orthodox and Reformed in orientation, the articles as well, and in the back pages one can find the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards.  Moreover, I think it can be said that in terms of biblical faithfulness, RHSB is unsurpassed.  For instance, as John Byl has pointed out, RHSB affirms creation in six ordinary days, as well as a global flood in the days of Noah.


There are some unique features to RHSB that I find rather appealing.  There is a section of articles in the back on “How to Live as a Christian.”  Topics addressed include Coming to Christ, Reading the Scriptures, Why and How We Pray, Godly Contentment, How We Kill Pride, and Coping with Criticism.  Such a collection of articles could be helpful, not only for new or young Christians, but also for more mature Christians who are teachable and want to grow in their walk with God (which should be all of us!).  I’m so impressed with this section of the RHSB that I’m considering how I could incorporate some of this material into my catechism instruction.

Another unique feature is the “Thoughts for Personal and Family Worship.”  My wife and I have done daily family worship habitually all our married life.  As part of that, we have read through the Bible front-to-back several times.  As a husband and father, you want to say something edifying about each chapter you read.  It’s not always easy or obvious what to say.  To help with that, for the last few months we have been using this feature of the RHSB and to good effect.  Every chapter of the Bible includes one or two paragraphs with some edifying thoughts or questions about that chapter.  Oftentimes, these thoughts or questions are explicitly designed to point us to Christ and our life in him.  As an example, take 1 Chronicles 1.  The first nine chapters of Chronicles are taken up with genealogies.  It’s tempting to skip these chapters in family worship.  But with the help of the RHSB, you can read these chapters in an edifying way.  Here are the “Thoughts for Personal/Family Worship” on 1 Chronicles 1:

We have all descended from one man: Adam.  The existence of Adam was as much history as the existence of David.  In Adam, we were all made in God’s image and likeness.  God’s purpose for His people therefore remains to fill the earth with His living image.  In Adam, we all sinned and have fallen into spiritual corruption and enduring misery.  We all share the same fallen nature as the Canaanites.  We all die and face judgment, and human life is so transient that from God’s perspective all the generations from Adam to Israel fit on a single page of history.  God’s people consequently must be redeemed by the Lord’s grace if they will ever achieve their high calling and eternal life.  Mankind needs a new Adam.  How has God met that need in Christ?

Obviously these sorts of notes are geared towards older family members, but one should not right away assume that younger children will not get anything out of them or the discussion that comes from them.

No study Bible is perfect.  Any discerning reader will always find things with which to disagree or things that one might wish were different.  For instance, RHSB is committed to the allegorical approach to the Song of Solomon.  So in the introductory notes for that book the theme is said to be “The union and communion of love between Jesus Christ and His church.”  I am not convinced, but I hold that there can be a legitimate difference of opinion amongst believers on this question.

That brings me to the biggest stumbling block that many face when it comes to this study Bible.  Dr. Joel Beeke (the editor) and Reformation Heritage Books are committed to using the King James Version.  In an introduction, there is an explanation for this commitment and I personally respect their explanation.  At the same time, I recognize the value of a translation in more contemporary language.  I know that many will struggle with reading the King James Version.  Some times it’s simply a prejudice which has to be overcome, but at other times there are genuine difficulties.  To be fair to the RHSB, I need to point out that the study notes do contain explanations of all the difficult or archaic words and expressions from the KJV.  I would urge readers not to impulsively write off the RHSB on this point.  The positives I’ve mentioned above by far outweigh this issue.  Moreover, there are workarounds.  You can use the RHSB in tandem with an ESV or some other Bible in a more contemporary translation.  In our family worship, for example, we read from the ESV, but then use the “Thoughts for Personal/Family Worship” from the RHSB.

In our household, we currently only have one copy of the RHSB.  But this one copy is already starting to look ragged from being used so often.  Doesn’t that say something in itself?  Again, it’s not the perfect Reformed study Bible.  After all, it was created by fallible human beings.  Yet I do think it’s fair to say that, in terms of biblical fidelity, this is as good a study Bible as we can find in print today.  The ESV Study Bible may have more resources (maps, charts, etc), but RHSB has it beat in the potential for real spiritual edification.

NOTE:  you may also want to check out this Infographic from Tim Challies comparing different study Bibles.

Does the ESV Honour the Holy Spirit?

This past Sunday morning, I preached on John 1:29-34.  As I was working on the text, I noticed a potential problem with the ESV translation of verse 32:

And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.”

Do you see the problem?  If not, compare the ESV with the NIV and NKJV on the same verse:

NIV:  Then John gave this testimony:  “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.”

NKJV:  And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.”

If you haven’t caught on yet, the problem is with the “it” in the ESV.  The other translations avoid this issue, either through by-passing the use of the pronoun or using the third-person masculine pronoun.  This is what I said about this verse in my sermon:

I need to say one more thing about verse 32.  Look at it with me.  Our Bible translation says that “it remained on him.”  That could give the impression that the Holy Spirit is an “it.”  I want to be charitable.  I think the ESV translators meant to say that the image of the dove remained on Jesus.  “It” then refers to the image, not the Holy Spirit himself.  After all, elsewhere the ESV is careful to refer to the Holy Spirit as “he.”  To be fair, even the old King James Version used “it” here.  The NKJV has “he,” and that is better at removing the danger that we might think and speak wrongly about the Holy Spirit.  What we need to remember is that the Holy Spirit is not an “it.”  We dishonour the third person of the Trinity when we refer to him as “it.”  We always need to speak of he, him, his, when we’re speaking of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force or power – that’s what the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach. No, he is a person, which means that he is a someone.  Scripture teaches that he is a someone whom you can grieve (Eph. 4:32), he is someone to whom you can lie (Acts 5:3) and so on.  Brothers and sisters, I urge you to be careful in your speaking about the Holy Spirit.  Be careful, don’t ever say “it.” Why?  Because this is a matter of honouring God.

So, in John 1:32, while I still wish it would be clearer, I’m willing to cut the ESV translators some slack.  I’m less inclined to do that for another problematic text referring to the Holy Spirit, Numbers 11:25.

ESV:  Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders.

NKJV:  Then the LORD came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders;

NIV (1984):  Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took of the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders.

This is a more challenging case, because there is no image or symbol of the Holy Spirit involved.  There is apparently no excuse for the ESV’s approach in Numbers 11:25.  However, there may be an explanation.  I suspect it has to do with the pedigree of the ESV in the RSV and KJV.  Compare:

KJV:  And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders:

RSV:  Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was upon him and put it upon the seventy elders;

Notice how both the KJV and RSV translate/interpret the Hebrew word ruach as “spirit” with a lower-case ‘s.’  The Hebrew alphabet doesn’t have capital letters like English does, so it can be difficult sometimes to gauge whether a word like ruach is referring to the spirit of a man or to the Holy Spirit.  The KJV and RSV chose for the former and then used the appropriate pronoun for their choice, “it.”  The problem with the ESV is that it capitalizes “Spirit,” normally meaning a reference to the Holy Spirit, and then — inconsistent with that choice — uses “it.”  That seems to be a carry-over from the earlier translations, a mistake that was somehow overlooked.

One of the good things about the ESV is that it is still being periodically revised and updated.  There is a possibility that future editions of the ESV will include better translations of John 1:32 and Numbers 11:25.  I find it hard to believe that the ESV translators deliberately set out to speak of the Holy Spirit as “it.”  Rather, I reckon this betrays a problem common amongst so many Christians:  we don’t take the Holy Spirit seriously enough as a person of the Trinity.  He often has a background role and, as a result, our thinking and speaking about him can often be less than precise.  Bible translators are no less afflicted with this than the rest of us.  However common it may be, it should not be acceptable.  We should aim for giving full honour to the Spirit and his personhood in our speaking — and we should also insist that a faithful Bible translation do the same.