Category Archives: Biographical Sketches

Flew

On the 11th of February, 1923, a British Methodist minister and theologian named Robert Flew and his wife Winifred gave birth to a boy they named Antony. He attended St. Faith’s School in Cambridge and Kingswood School in Bath. Despite his being raised by a Christian intellectual, he had concluded by the age of 15 that there is no god.

He went on to study at

the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and was a Royal Air Force intelligence officer. After a period with the Inter-Services Topographical Department in Oxford, he was posted to Bletchley Park in June 1944.

After the war, Flew achieved a first class degree in Literae Humaniores at St John’s College, Oxford. Flew was a graduate student of Gilbert Ryle, prominent in ordinary language philosophy. Both Flew and Ryle were among many Oxford philosophers fiercely criticised in Ernest Gellner’s book Words and Things (1959). A 1954 debate with Michael Dummett over backward causation was an early highlight in Flew’s career.

For a year, Flew was a lecturer in philosophy at Christ Church, Oxford. Afterwards, he was a lecturer for four years at the University of Aberdeen, and a professor of philosophy at the University of Keele for twenty years. Between 1973 and 1983 he was professor of philosophy at the University of Reading. At this time, he developed one of his most famous arguments, the No true Scotsman fallacy in his 1975 book, Thinking About Thinking. Upon his retirement, Flew took up a half-time post for a few years at York University, Toronto.

…While an undergraduate, Flew attended the weekly meetings of C. S. Lewis’s Socratic Club fairly regularly. Although he found Lewis to be “an eminently reasonable man” and “by far the most powerful of Christian apologists for the sixty or more years following his founding of that club,” he was not persuaded by Lewis’s argument from morality as found in Mere Christianity. Flew also criticised several of the other philosophical proofs for God’s existence. He concluded that the ontological argument in particular failed because it is based on the premise that the concept of Being can be derived from the concept of Goodness…

During the time of his involvement in the Socratic Club, Flew also wrote the article “Theology and Falsification,” which argued that claims about God were meaningless where they could not be tested for truth or falsehood. Though initially published in an undergraduate journal, the article came to be widely reprinted and discussed. Later, in God and Philosophy (1966) and The Presumption of Atheism (1976, reprinted 1984), Flew argued that one should presuppose atheism until evidence of a God surfaces. Flew was also critical of the idea of life after death and the free will defence to the problem of evil.

Wikipedia

He was an Honorary Associate of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists, and was celebrated for his contributions to political philosophy as well, being awarded the Schlarbaum Prize by the Ludwig von Mises Institute for his “outstanding lifetime achievement in the cause of liberty”.

And then, in January of 2004, Dr. Flew called his friend Gary Habermas on the telephone to inform him that his mind had been changed and that he had become a theist. He said in a later phone call that he felt he had simply been “forced to go where the evidence leads”. You can read the transcript of a subsequent interview between Habermas and Flew here.

In 2007 Flew went on to write a book, “There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind“, Habermas’ review of which can be read here. N. T. Wright himself contributes an appendix to the book arguing for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.

In an interesting twist of fate, Flew’s lifetime of arguing for atheism had been one of the catalysts of the renaissance in theistic philosophy that started in the 60’s and 70’s, major players in which, especially Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne, were in turn instrumental in Flew’s own conversion to theism. Flew taunts the “New Atheists” for falling short of the intellectual greatness and philosophical rigor of the atheists of yore.

There has been a lot of outcry about Antony Flew’s conversion to theism, even from such prominent atheists as Richard Dawkins, to which Flew personally responds in his review of “The God Delusion“.

In May of 2006, Flew was awarded the second “Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth” from Biola University. The award was given to Flew “for his lifelong commitment to free and open inquiry and to standing fast against intolerant assaults on freedom of thought and expression”.

What finally convinced one of the 20th century’s leading atheist philosophers that God exists? Scientifically rigorous arguments from the empirically detectable presence of design in the world, rendered all the more compelling by recent discoveries in biology.

Antony Flew passed away in April of 2010.

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Nestle

On May 1st, 1851 a German man named Christian Gottlieb Nestle and his wife Sophie Beate Kleinmann gave birth to a bouncing baby boy whom they named Eberhard. Young Eberhard grew up in Württemberg and attended the Gymnasium of Stuttgart. From there he went on to study at the Theological Seminary of Blaubeuren – one of four secluded, monastic institutions at which very thorough philological training was provided for the up and coming clergy of the land. After this, Nestle studied divinity and eastern linguistics, first at the University of Tübingen, and then at the University of Leipzig. He was then delighted to be given the opportunity to spend two whole years in England, working at the British Museum and preaching to various church communities in London. From there he accepted a position as Tutor at the Theological Seminary of Tübingen, and then moved on to the Gynmanisum of Ulm to teach Greek, German, Hebrew, and Religion. After that he went back to the University of Tübingen as Professor of Semitic Languages. Then, after a tenure during which he was not promoted to Chair, he moved back to Ulm, where he had more opportunities to indulge in more direct philological and theological study.

Dr. Nestle made some key contributions to several theological and literary journals, wrote an entire Syriac grammar, produced a tetraglot of the Psalms in Greek, Syriac, Chaldean, and Latin, edited two successive editions of Tischendorf’s critical Septuagint, with collations of Codices Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus, and even did some work with the Apocryphal Gospels. He also edited the Greek New Testament for the Stuttgart Bible Society.

One striking feature of Dr. Nestle’s work is his relentless pursuit of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He refused to omit details or smudge over difficulties for the sake of making work easier for the New Testament textual critic. He had the type of faith that drove him to behave as if getting to the bare truth of the matter, linguistically, historically, textually, and archeologically – without squelching any questions or turning a blind eye to even a single jot or tittle – would ultimately bear the best, the most pure and historically accurate, textual fruit.

He believed that in every case the facts would ultimately testify to the truth of Christianity in the long run, even if they posed difficulties and raised questions in the short term.

One way his work went against the grain of his time was that it led him to disbelieve in the concept of a “Textus Receptus”, or “Received Text” – an edition of the New Testament that was final and after which there would be no use in continuing to study manuscripts to try to gain more and more accurate understandings of what the original documents said. Nestle firmly believed that there was much work to be done in the field of New Testament textual criticism (which, if you don’t already know or haven’t figured out by now is the attempt to identify and correct transcription errors in the texts of the New Testament manuscripts).

To put the issue in perspective, however, it should be noted that we have a recent count of 24,970 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament (not counting quotations in the writings of the early church fathers), compared to 643 of Homer’s Iliad (which has the next highest MSS count). Some of these manuscripts date very closely to the originals that were penned. FF Bruce, Bruce Metzger, Kurt Aland, Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, even Eberhard Nestle, and virtually all other experts in the field believe(d) that we can reconstruct about 99.5% of the text of the autographs with virtually 100% certainty. And the uncertainties are in minor areas – usually grammatical or punctuational.

In other posts, here or on my other blog, I might tell you about some of the more interesting cases, try to explain what hangs in the balance in each, and possibly even take a crack at trying to take a position of my own in one or two instances. But the point is that while there isn’t any basis for doubting the accuracy of the transmission of the New Testament text, there isn’t any basis for believing that we have received a perfect transmission straight from God either (even if we believe the originals were inspired by Him).

One very telling characteristic of the work of New Testament textual critics like Nestle is that the whole goal is to go backwards, not forwards. They try to reconstruct, as accurately as possible, what the original manuscripts said. They keep a running publication now (thanks to Kurt Aland) documenting every extant manuscript, where it is held, what it contains, what it dates to, and other details. They produce almost yearly “critical” editions of the New Testament in which the text is presented and almost every extant variant reading of the uncertain passages is documented in detail (they even assign probabilities to each variant, placing the most probable original reading in the main body of the edition).

They are correcting copyist errors, not revising teachings.

Eberhard Nestle’s edition of the Greek New Testament quickly became universally accepted the best yet, and has become the basis for just about every critical edition of the Greek New Testament text since. His son Erwin picked up where his father left off, and in the 50’s began collaborating with Kurt Aland. The Nestle-Aland 27th edition of the “Novum Testamentum Graece”, published in 1993, is now the foundational text from which many modern English Bibles are translated.

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Ricci

On October 6th, 1552 (exactly 428 years before my sister Jenny’s birth!), a boy named Matteo Ricci was born in Italy. He grew up wanting to study theology and law, and so as soon as his circumstances permitted, he matriculated to a Jesuit institution, and studied them both. By 25 he had developed a heart to become a missionary to the Indians (dots not feathers). He spent four years in India, and was then re-assigned to China.



He immediately began learning Chinese, and fell deeply in love with the Chinese people. And so his studying went far beyond their spoken language; Ricci became one of the rare Western scholars who achieved mastery over the classical Chinese script (he is also responsible for writing the first ever European—Chinese dictionary). After a year of studying Chinese language, calligraphy, and culture he moved to Zhaoqing. There he began working on the first European-style map of the world in Chinese, which he completed within 12 months. But in that classical Ricci manner, he wasn’t satisfied with the field right in front of him (the globe) – he was also a very talented astronomer, and predicted an eclipse that even the Chinese astronomers couldn’t. And so the whole Chinese calendar was reworked according to the astronomical mathematics that the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci shared with them in the 16th century. A prominent Chinese version of 

Euclid’s Elements still has Matteo Ricci on its cover.

Matteo Ricci made a number of calls that we might take issue with today. But what he most certainly did right was this: he never lost his first Love or his vision to share Him with the people with whom he had also fallen in love.

His love for Chinese people drew him to study, respect, and contribute to their culture, and he did so from within – first learning their language, their script, their geography, their manners, and their ways. He wasn’t concerned with flooding China with European people, clothes, and language, with the Catholic church, or with Caucasian culture. His heart was ultimately for a deeply-running and authentically Chinese love for Jesus to take root. And during his investment into the Chinese people, he discovered a very interesting kernel of truth, embedded deeply within their worldview, that could help him realize his vision. The Chinese people have a very ancient concept called the “Tao”.

 Wikipedia helps explain,

Tao is a concept found in Taoism, Confucianism, and more generally in ancient Chinese philosophy. While the character itself translates as ‘way’, ‘path’, or ‘route’, or sometimes more loosely as ‘doctrine’ or ‘principle’, it is used philosophically to signify the fundamental or true nature of the world…

In Taoism, Tao both precedes and encompasses the universe… all the observable objects in the world… are considered to be manifestations of Tao, and can only operate within the boundaries of Tao. Tao is, by contrast, often referred to as ‘the nameless’, because neither it nor its principles can ever be adequately expressed in words. It is conceived, for example, with neither shape nor form, as simultaneously perfectly still and constantly moving, as both larger than the largest thing and smaller than the smallest, because the words that describe shape, movement, size, or other qualities always create dichotomies, and Tao is always a unity.

 While the Tao cannot be expressed, Taoism holds that it can be known, and its principles can be followed. Much of Taoist writing focusses on the value of following the Tao… and of the ultimate uselessness of trying to understand or control Tao outright.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tao



So guess what Matteo Ricci did? In keeping with the philosophy of St. John himself, he translated the first line of John’s gospel, “In the beginning was the Tao, and the Tao was with God, and the Tao was God.”. (Before you react to this, consider that John’s original version used a similar Greek word, “logos”, which was also pretty philosophically loaded and in need of some leavening.) This translation has been used in major Bible translations ever since, and the current standard, the “Chinese Union Version”, still uses it four hundred years later.



Unlike so many other Christians, and missionaries from other religions, Matteo Ricci was immensely respected in China. In 1601 he was invited to present himself to the Emperor at his imperial court, becoming the first Westerner to be invited into the Forbidden City. He never wound up meeting the Emperor face to face, but the Emperor gave Ricci a large sum of money, which he was able to use to help support other missionaries in China.



He also earned the respect of non-Chinese residents. The elderly Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community in Beijing wanted him to take over his position as Rabbi (provided he give up eating pork). After considering the offer, Ricci politely declined.



When Matteo Ricci finally died, instead of being buried in a place called “Macao”, where all foreigners were buried, the Emperor granted the Jesuits special permission to bury Ricci in Beijing in a special temple, because of his contributions to the Chinese people. There is a memorial plague in Zhaoqing to commemorate his stay in the city, and in the 1960’s a “Ricci Memorial Center” was built.

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Archer

On May 22nd, in the year 1916, a boy was born in Norwell, Massachusetts to Gleason Leonard and Elizabeth Glenn Snyder Archer. At the age of 11 he committed himself to Christ, and by 22 he had earned his BA in Classics from Harvard (summa cum laude). He was awarded an LLB from Suffolk Law School a year later (and accepted into the state bar), and an AM from Harvard a year after that. After another four years Harvard forked over a PhD, and after just one year more, Princeton gave Gleason his BD.

By this time he was the pastor of a church in Boston, after which time he became the Professor of Biblical Languages at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. When his work there was finished he accepted a position as Professor of Old Testament and Semitics at Trinity Evangelical Seminary in Deerfield Illinois. He went emeritus in 1989 and planned out how he would spend the rest of his life researching, writing, and speaking.

He was one of the 50 translators of the original NASB Bible and also worked on the 1978 NIV. He wrote acclaimed books on Job, Hebrews, Daniel, the entire Old Testament, the quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament, the various views on the rapture, and an encyclopedia of Bible difficulties called “The Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties”. And while doing all this, he even managed to carve out time to meticulously catalogue the extensive coin collection at Trinity.

At one point he began picking up a language a year, and became fluent in about 20. He took his notes in Hittite.

In one way or another almost every Hebrew scholar in America has been taught, pastored, discipled, or otherwise influenced by Gleason Archer.

Even after retirement, Archer would wake up early in the morning, do push-ups, and go running to kick start his day. He outlived his faithful wife and got married to a much younger but equally lithe beauty.

I know this, because my father discipled his grandson.

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