by Al Maxey

Issue #575 ------- May 3, 2013
Quotations, when engraved upon the memory,
give you good thoughts. They also make you
anxious to read the authors and look for more.

Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Quoting Non-Canonical Texts
Is it a Sin to use Extra-Biblical
Texts in our Preaching & Teaching?

Over the years I have had a few people criticize my use of quotes from "secular sources" at the beginning of each issue of Reflections, and also my extensive use of such quotes in many of the articles themselves. As many of you know, I have for years made use of insights from great literary and historical figures, as well as biblical scholars, to help illustrate points I seek to make in my writings (as well as in my preaching and teaching). A few individuals, however, have strongly suggested that I should never, ever use any quote from any source that is non-biblical. In other words, don't quote from mere men, but quote instead from the inspired writings of God's Word. One person even demanded that I cease quoting from anyone who was/is not "Church of Christ," and that if I obstinately insist upon using quotes from a mere mortal anyway, then I should at the very least make sure he is "one of us," and not some godless "denominationalist." Yet, inspired writers quoted uninspired writers, and they did so with the approval of God's guiding Spirit. Indeed, they were probably led by the Spirit to do so.

Clearly, I disagree with such a narrow view of shunning the use of extra-biblical materials. There is great wisdom to be found in the preserved thinking of those who have gone before us. No, I do not place such statements on the same level as the Scriptures, but neither do I discount the worth of such statements in our work of sharing the Good News with others. Louise Imogen Guiney (1861-1920), an American poet admired today for her independent voice and graceful style, astutely observed, "Quotations (such as have point and lack triteness) from the great old authors are a blessing to a public grown superficial and external" [Scribner's Magazine, January, 1911]. It is extremely easy to become shallow as we become increasingly self-absorbed and isolated from our past, and with such shallowness inevitably comes greater and greater irrelevance. Thus, as Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) stated, "By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote." Yes, even the inspired biblical writers themselves quoted from other people (and not just other inspired biblical writers, although they did do that quite often). At times these godly men even quoted from the pagans to illustrate a point they sought to make, a fact which some of my critics found rather shocking when I pointed it out to them.

In 1 Cor. 15:33, for example, the apostle Paul quotes this proverb: "Bad company corrupts good character." This is a well-known Greek proverb that first appeared in a play by Menander (342-292 B.C.), an Athenian dramatist who wrote more than 100 plays, and who was considered by many at the time to be the supreme poet of what was known as Greek "New Comedy." Although this is not a quote from the OT writings, there are places where the concept is certainly contained, such as Proverbs 22:24-25 -- "Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared." So, did Paul "sin" by quoting a Greek poet rather than one of the OT proverbs? Apparently not. After all, was not Paul supposedly "inspired" by the Holy Spirit in his writings? The critics can't have it both ways. If he was being "divinely led" in his writings, then Paul's quote of pagan poets was approved. And why not? Paul was in no way seeking to create converts to the beliefs of Menander (whatever they might have been). He simply used a statement by this man that served as a fitting illustration for the spiritual truths he sought to convey to the brethren in Corinth. Nothing wrong with that. Further, he was writing to a congregation in Greece, so the members would most likely be far more familiar with the writings of their own poets than the writings of the OT poets.

When writing to Titus, who was on the island of Crete, Paul once again chose to include a quote from one of their own poets and seers in his epistle. He wrote, "Even one of their own prophets has said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons'" (Titus 1:12). This quotation comes from Epimenides, who was a semi-mythical 7th or 6th century B.C. Cretan philosopher, prophet and poet; one who was known to frequently use the literary device of exaggeration for effect in his works. In Acts 17:28, Luke records a couple of quotes from non-biblical sources given by the apostle Paul as he preached in Athens, Greece -- "'For in Him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are His offspring.'" "In support of his teaching, Paul quotes two maxims from Greek poets. The first comes from a quatrain attributed to the Cretan poet Epimenides (c. 600 B.C.), which appeared first in his poem Cretica. The second comes from the Cilician poet Aratus (c. 315-240 B.C.), and which is also found in an earlier poem by Cleanthes (331-233 B.C.)" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 476]. "By such maxims, Paul is not suggesting that God is to be thought of in terms of the Zeus of Greek polytheism or Stoic pantheism. He is rather arguing that the poets his hearers recognized as authorities have to some extent corroborated his message. In his search for a measure of common ground with his hearers, he is, so to speak, disinfecting and rebaptizing the poets' words for his own purposes. Quoting Greek poets in support of his teaching sharpened his message" [ibid].

Jude, the brother of Jesus, quotes from a couple of ancient, though non-canonical, Jewish sources in his little epistle. In verse 9 he speaks of an encounter between the devil and the archangel Michael, in which they argue over the body of Moses, which many scholars believe is an account drawn from the Jewish apocryphal pseudepigraphical work The Assumption of Moses (aka: The Ascension of Moses or The Testament of Moses, although some believe these may be separate works). Not all scholars agree, however, that Jude may have been quoting from this source, but may have simply been alluding to an oral tradition. Whatever one's theory, Jude was clearly providing an illustration that was not drawn from a canonical source. In verses 14-15 our Lord's brother also quotes from "Enoch, the seventh from Adam," which is clearly a passage drawn from The Book of Enoch (aka: The Ethiopic Book of Enoch), "the longest of the surviving Jewish pseudepigraphical writings and a work that was highly respected by Jews and many Christians" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 393]. "At Qumran, the Enoch literature and other apocryphal works were evidently valued without being included in the canon of Scripture" [Dr. Richard Bauckham, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 50, p. 96]. Was Jude "in error" for inserting a quote from this non-canonical work in his epistle? Some think so. Most, however, find no "sin" in making use of familiar, non-inspired texts for the purpose of illustrating a point. Indeed, it is very probable Jesus Himself did this when He told the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, which probability I discuss in some length in Reflections #28. Notice the following excerpt from my study:

In my view, therefore, even Jesus Christ Himself made use of information derived from non-canonical sources, and He clearly did so without being guilty of any kind of "sin" against God. Frankly, we ought to be free to make use of any and all materials at our disposal that would help illustrate and enforce the eternal Truths revealed by our God. I especially appreciate the sentiments of Dr. Charles Ellicott, who had the following to say about Paul's use of quotes from non-canonical sources in his sermon at Athens (Acts 17:28): "The fact of the quotations would at once quicken the attention of the hearers. They would feel that they had not to deal with an illiterate Jew, like the traders and exorcists who were so common in Greek cities, but with a man of culture like their own, acquainted with the thoughts of some at least of their great poets. ... The method of St. Paul's teaching is one from which modern preachers might well learn a lesson" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 7, p. 118]. How we are perceived by our audience has tremendous bearing on how (and indeed whether) we will be received by them. If we expect others to relate to us and our message, we must evidence an effort to relate to them, and this includes knowledge of their culture, history and literature. The most successful evangelists are those who can take eternal Truths and give them contemporary relevance within the context of the lives of those to whom they seek to minister. Showing knowledge of a people's culture, history, religion, literature and tradition gives one credibility, a valuable asset to those who seek to proclaim the Gospel.


Reflections on Hiatus

It is that time of year again -- Vacation. Shelly and I will be taking some time off from our various endeavors and getting away to renew ourselves. Thus, my Reflections will be on hiatus for the month of May. They will resume in June. We plan to spend this month visiting family, playing with grandkids, touring the country and enjoying the beauty of God's creation. I want to personally thank each of you for your continued interest in and support of my Reflections ministry. It is truly a labor of love, and I pray God will give me the opportunity and ability to keep on keeping on with it for years to come. May God bless each of you richly.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Thank you, Al, for all your studies and hard work. Would you please send me two copies of your first book Down, But Not Out, your study of The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny, and also your MP3 Audio Sermons for 2012. My check is enclosed. Thanks again for all your good work. Praise God for your reasoning capacity! I am an avid reader, and have been a subscriber for a long time now. I will not stop if you don't.

From a New Reader in New Mexico:

I just started reading your Reflections from the very beginning a few weeks ago. I am totally kicking myself for not reading them years ago when my mom told me to read them. I just want to say Thank You for the way you preach and teach (I've really enjoyed the past few weeks of your Bible class "From Law to Liberty"): you are giving me the answers I have been searching for, and also providing me with answers to things I was struggling with, which is why I kick myself because I could have saved myself a lot of questioning years ago. Please add me to your mailing list for your Reflections, and I hope and pray that Cuba Avenue Church of Christ is blessed with you and Shelly for years to come. You both are so wonderful.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Maxey, I would love to subscribe to your weekly Reflections. I heard about you and your writings recently through the blog site Grace Digest, which is the work of Royce Ogle in Louisiana. Thank you in advance.

From a Reader in Hawaii:

Please check out this YouTube Video of Dr. Daniel B. Wallace talking about his book "Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics" in which he mentions a certain condition found in Romans 7. I compared what he said, which seems to make sense to me, with what you wrote in Reflections #143 -- "Fighting The Battle Within: Romans 7:14-25 -- Is Paul Presenting Pre- or Post-Redemption Reality?" It seems Dr. Wallace may be using different terminology than you, which I am not making a connection with, or he mentions something that you did not cover in your article. Please let me know. Thanks.

From a University Professor in Tennessee:

A few weeks ago, my dad (a minister in Kentucky) shared with you a link to an article I had written and placed on my blog site titled Mind Control and the Seeking Soul. I was so pleased that you were able to share that with your readers (see: Reflections #561). In fact, as a result, I had a brother-in-Christ from the One Cup wing contact me and ask if he could share it on his blog site. I was quite surprised that this article would resonate so well with people of such disparate views. I didn't mind at all, as I see us all as seekers. As a person who is struggling with the narrowness of so many within the Non-Institutional wing, I continue to study, write, and try to reach others who are questioning, seeking, and hoping for change, not for the sake of change, but to bring us into closer alignment with who and what we should be. As I have continued to study, I have grown beyond the unquestioning acceptance of many teachings, many of which I can no longer support. With that in mind, I would like to share with you another blog post of mine, which I believe to be one of the most important things I have ever written! If you find that it may be helpful to others, please feel free to share the link with your readers. You can find this article at: Spiritual Lessons From The Biological World. Al, I very much appreciate your Reflections. I find myself challenged to think and to seek understanding in what you write. Without challenge, we cannot grow! So, Thank You for continuing your thoughtful messages!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Thank You for standing up to John Waddey's accusations (Reflections #574 -- "Sectarians in Blinders") against anyone who would dare to differ with him. It is unfortunate that he continues to use his little paper to keep the sectarian blinders on those who have been raised on a steady diet of his perverted view of Christianity, otherwise some of these people might actually come to know the Truth and enjoy the freedom found in Christ. Only heaven knows how many are kept in legal bondage by the sectarian fences John Waddey, and others like him, keep in place. They just cannot stand it when someone challenges their interpretations and exposes their errors. I'm afraid their faith is in their own "rightness," instead of in the Lord. Al, please continue to fight "the good fight of faith."

From an Elder in Arkansas:

I have begun to read your Reflections over the past year after being encouraged to do so by one of my fellow shepherds here in -------, Arkansas. We live in a hotbed of legalism here in southern Arkansas. However, when I began to read your writings it became evident to me that I was not the only one who has come to believe that "we" are not the "only ONES." For that I am so thankful. Keep up the good work!

From a Reader in Toronto, Canada:

Brother Al, Thanks so much for putting out your weekly Reflections. I have enjoyed reading them for several years now!

From a Reader in Ohio:

I have been reading your Reflections articles for a couple of years, and I enjoy them very much. Recently, Leroy Garrett put some of his writings in book form and listed them on Amazon.Com in their Kindle format. It is very handy to have these writings on my iPad and at my fingertips any time that I have a few minutes to read. When I go on appointments, and must wait, I always have my iPad, but don't always have a WiFi connection. I am wondering if you might consider doing the same with some of your issues of Reflections. Making your writings available this way would expand your audience greatly. Also, I am sure that most who own tablets are willing to pay a few dollars for this convenience. Thanks.

From a Missionary in Nicaragua:

In response to your article "The Bottle-Fed Church: Moving from Milk to Meat" (Reflections #570), I think the writer of Hebrews must have been struggling with the same problem as was Paul (as per his instructions to the church in the epistle to the Ephesians). I believe that the "meat" of our faith consists of living it daily. For the church to come off the bottle, elders and preachers need to encourage living the Gospel. To do that today we need to gently and patiently study and address many of the very problems that you identify in your Reflections. I agree that small groups are a great way to encourage growth, but I do not believe we should group people together by age or maturity. The younger are to learn from the older; the immature from the mature. That's biblical. In the end, though, it is each individual's own desire to create a relationship with God that will result in his/her growth. After all, elders and preachers can only plant and water/feed. Thanks for raising this topic and generating discussion on it. Blessings to you!

From a Reader in Kentucky:

I read your writings from time to time looking for perspectives that I may have overlooked, but time and time again I'm left with the blaring thought: what garbage of a low level order of thinking! I do find examples of thought-provoking information here and there, but as I read more and more of your articles, I am forced to say you are a false teacher with a self-centered and self-promoting sense of piety. It appears to me that you are really not interested in Truth, but rather in creating a following. You promote yourself, your books and your anti-God theology at every turn, which is exactly what Paul warned about in Acts 20:29-30. I have never heard one of your sermons, but I have heard lots of your false teaching every time I read one of your Reflections, which are portals into the fires of hell. I realize in writing to you that I run the risk of being turned upon by you as your "Eye of Mordor" focuses in on me. I love Jesus, you, and others too much to remain silent any longer, for it has been said, "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

From a Minister in North Carolina:

Thank you so much for your excellent article in your last Reflections ("Sectarians in Blinders"). I just wanted to encourage you, as I believe with all my heart that you have a deep love for Christ, and your articles reflect that. From my own personal experience, you have nailed the sectarian-mindedness of some within the Church of Christ denomination. Your articles have been a great blessing to my own personal study of God's Word and my walk with Christ Jesus. I will give you a quote which a fellow minister of Christ gave to me when I was being attacked by legalistic members of the Church of Christ for my own "progressive" views and sermons. After I had complained to this fellow minister for over 30 minutes, he looked over the dinner table at me and gave me the following long statement: "Dogs don't bark at what don't move! The 'dogs' are barking because you dare to move and share the Truth of God's providence, love, acceptance and forgiveness. The 'dogs' are barking because you dare to accept and fellowship with brothers and sisters whom God has added to Himself (regardless of the dogs' extremely narrow sectarian dogma). The 'dogs' will continue to bark if you keep moving, because that is the nature of dogs, especially self-appointed spiritual guard dogs. At some point we need to stop being distracted by barking dogs." You are not the first, nor will you be the last, fellow servant of Christ to be maligned by John Waddey. He has taken potshots at Bobby Valentine, Joe Beam, Max Lucado, Rubel Shelly, etc. ad nauseam. Keep up the excellent ministry you have, my brother! I love you in Christ.

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