Clouds Without Water: A Review of the New ACU Commentary
In the little letter that bears his name, Jude, a half-brother of our Lord, addressed a malignant first-century movement that threatened to undermine the integrity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Certain teachers had wormed their way among the early saints with the ambition of changing the fundamental composition of Christianity. They wanted an “emerging church,” different from that of the apostolic pattern. They promised much, but provided nothing of substance.
Jude depicted these perverters by using several graphic metaphors, one of which was “clouds without water” (v. 12). In reflecting upon this illustration, one is reminded of the region of the Dead Sea in southeastern Palestine. It is the lowest body of water on earth, 1,385 feet below sea level, surrounded by a blistering and stark region. Though clouds hover over the briny body of water, they provide precious little moisture—less than two inches of rain annually.
A new, one volume commentary recently has issued from Abilene Christian University Press. Titled, The Transforming Word, it more appropriately should be styled, The Transformed Word. In numerous particulars it has taken the cogent teaching of sacred Scripture and transformed it into a garbled mishmash of theological liberalism. It represents the most radical attempt at Bible commentary associated with churches of Christ to which this writer has been exposed in more than a half-century of gospel preaching.
The brotherhood of Christ needs to be aware of this dangerous production. Elders, gospel preachers, and informed Christians should vigorously protest it. It is our hope that this booklet will contribute to that end. Let me provide you with several examples of danger spots in this massive volume of 1,117 pages, weighing in at six pounds, and retailing for $70. This is the most radically liberal commentary ever to be produced by those affiliated with the churches of Christ. Moreover, it reveals how ecumenically denominational an elitist segment of our brotherhood has become.
The commentary claims Moses was not the author of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) as the Old Testament claims and as the New Testament confirms.
It asserts that Isaiah was not the author of the book that bears his name, as Jesus himself declared; rather the eighth-century B.C. prophet wrote only a portion of the book while other anonymous writers added material to the latter segment (40-66).
The commentary claims that the New Testament authors are not necessarily independent writers. It is alleged that Mark (who was not an apostle) wrote first, and his record along with a fictitious document called “Q” was copied by Matthew (one of the original twelve). This is called the two-source theory and it has no basis in documented reality.
John Willis, a professor of Old Testament at ACU, has written the following about prophecy.
“There is no unequivocal specific prediction of the coming of Jesus Christ and/or the church in the Old Testament. New Testament speakers reinterpreted and reapplied Old Testament texts to Christ and/or the church.”
Willis thinks there are but few proclamations at all of “distant forthcoming events” in the Old Testament (66). Contrast this with professor J. Barton Payne’s calculation that there are 8,352 prophetic passages in the Bible (1973, 631ff).
Here are more examples of Professor Willis’ manipulation of the Old Testament text: Regarding Isaiah 2:1-4, no mention is made of the establishment of God’s “house” (the church), and “last days” simply is an ambiguous “sometime in the future” (535). Contrary to the explicit testimony of an inspired apostle (Matthew 1:22-23), the “virgin” of 7:14 is but a “young woman,” and “does not refer to Mary” (537). Isaiah’s “shoot out of the stock of Jesse” (11:1), according to Willis (541), might be a reference to Hezekiah or Josiah, though most likely it is Zerubbabel. Paul’s messianic application of the text means nothing, one supposes (Romans 15:12). Presumably, the apostle was just “sermonizing,” and knew nothing of the original context!
Isaiah 40:3, “the voice of one who cries,” allegedly does not refer to the preparatory work of John the Baptizer, as all four Gospel writers affirm (cf. Matthew 3:3 and parallel references), rather the ACU professor contends it is the message of an angel to his fellow angels regarding Judah’s return from Babylonian captivity (558). Jehovah’s “servant” (42:1ff) is the nation of Israel (559), not the Messiah—as affirmed by an inspired apostle (Matthew 12:17-21). What is absolutely incredible is the fact that Willis sees nothing messianic in the context of Isaiah 53. The “suffering servant” is “probably the remnant of Jewish exiles” who suffered vicariously for the nation. What kind of spiritual astigmatism afflicts this gentleman?
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- Payne, J. Barton. 1973. Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy. New York, NY: Harper & Row.