P&R has announced publicly that Derek Thomas’ commentary on Acts, a once celebrated achievement, contains what it calls “unattributed content from sermons by another pastor.” The publisher explains that “it appears that the lack of attribution resulted from unclear note-taking more than a decade before the commentary on Acts was written, and we believe it does not reflect intentional misuse on the part of the author.” Nevertheless a simple examination of portions of the text against the sermon does not seem consistent with the explanation of “unclear note-taking” and a mere “lack of attribution.” This basic concern was discussed here.
Sidenote: Check out this article by Mary Demuth also where she discusses how serious and pervasive plagiarism is among Christian publishers.
Since You Asked: The reason these articles are anonymous here is that even though the charges are merely factual in nature, there is a habit in the big reformed world of attacking people who raise such questions. As to an objection from Matthew 18 that this should be handled one-on-one in private, the behavior is not personal or private, and P&R has already made a public announcement of it. Also, charitable speculations about how this could have occurred are right and reasonable. One reason this was posted is to give an opportunity to the author and publisher to come clean about the process. It’s obvious that this is a widespread problem in Christian publishing and that the pressures on men (and women these days) with large platforms to produce materials are immense. So, my prayer is that we will straighten up what is crooked when it comes to plagiarism in our circles.
The Original Sermon: http://tapesfromscotland.org/Audio3/3603.mp3
The entire section of the sermon by Sinclair Ferguson (from minutes 04:55 – 12:21) appear almost word or word (including a parallel of development of ideas and flow of thought) on pages 378-380 in Derek’s Thomas’ commentary on Acts. I pick it up again at minutes 14:39 and transcribe it to minutes 18:55. This section of Ferguson’s sermon also appears almost word for word in Thomas’ commentary – definitely the ideas in the sermon reflect unmistakably in pages 380-382.
The most charitable assessment I can give is that the difference between Ferguson’s sermon and Thomas’s commentary is the difference between the NAS and ESV – same message just slightly varied and in many places not even. If we put this in Bible translation terms, Thomas’ commentary is better than dynamic equivalence i.e. more word for word (literal).
I’ve made the comparisons by putting extracts from Ferguson’s sermon next to Thomas’ commentary. I’ve only referenced the page numbers for Thomas’ commentary. Ferguson’s sermon extracts are basically the continuation of the section starting at 04:55 and ends at 12:21.
COMPARISON OF SINCLAIR FERGUSON’S SERMON AND DEREK THOMAS’ COMMENTARY
SINCLAIR FERGUSON: “The Acts of the Apostles which we are studying together on Sunday mornings was of course inspired by God for you and for me but it was not written either to you or to me. It was written to an isolated and unknown individual called Theophilus.”
DEREK THOMAS: “The book of Acts was written for someone else, an unknown individual called Theophilus but it was inspired by God for us.” (pg. 378)
SINCLAIR FERGUSON: “And it was written for Theophilus probably to help him understand that in God’s purposes for His people two things always go hand in hand. Number one, that God is keeping the promise that Jesus made, that the gospel would extend to the ends of the earth and to the end of the ages.”
DEREK THOMAS: “It was written to enable us to understand that in God’s purpose two things always go hand in hand: first, God is keeping Jesus’ promise that the gospel is to reach the nations of the world” (pg. 378)
SINCLAIR FERGUSON: “In the opening verses of Acts chapter 1, Jesus tells the little band of disciples that they are to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and ultimately to the ends of the earth.”
DEREK THOMAS: “Jesus tells the disciples after the resurrection that they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and ultimately, to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8)” (pg. 378)
SINCLAIR FERGUSON: And the Acts of the Apostles which begins with that statement ends with the Apostle Paul at the center of the earth in those days, the great capital city of the Roman Empire, Rome itself.And the last words of the Acts of the Apostle as we’ve sometime noticed are:“without hindrance”. He was preaching the gospel “without hindrance”. And between these two bookends, Luke is telling his friend Theophilus the story of the triumph of the gospel to the ends of the earth and to the center of the Empire.
DEREK THOMAS: We have seen how Luke wrote the book of Acts with this verse in mind, noting as each boundary was crossed the significance of the advance. The book of Actscomes to a close with the apostle Paul in Rome, at the capital of the empire, noting that he was preaching the gospel “without hindrance” (Acts 28:31). Between these two bookends, Luke is telling his friend Theophilus the way in which the gospel has made it to the very heart of the Roman Empire. (pg. 378)
SINCLAIR FERGUSON: But the other thing that we have notice inevitably that is woven into that story of the triumph of the gospel is the story of the trials of the Apostles which lie behind and are so often God’s way of moving forward the triumph of the gospel. As for Christ no cross no crown; so for the victory of the Christian church no cross, no crown.
DEREK THOMAS: In the second place, Luke is also telling the story of the trails of the apostles that lie behind the greater story of the advance of the kingdom of God, He wants us to see that the gospel moved forward through the trials and persecution of the apostles. As it was true for Christ – “no cross, no crown – so also it true for his disciples(pg. 378-379)
SINCLAIR FERGUSON: And perhaps it’s partly because of that, no cross no crown – no crown without a cross that the early disciples, faithful as they were, were so slow to bring the gospel to the ends of the age. And we noted up until the beginning of chapter 13 it’s almost as if though God (has to) to keep nudging them because they have been so reluctant to do anything.
DEREK THOMAS: The victory of the Christian church is achieved through similar trials experienced by the Lord of the church himself. This may well explain why it is that on so many occasions God has to nudge the church forward, driving it to see the need for mission expansion, perhaps because it knew all too well that suffering awaited in almostevery city.(pg. 379)
SINCLAIR FERGUSON: It’s only at the beginning of chapter 13 that we’ve seen the church moving from needing persecution or revelation to being willing to accept the God given mission of Jesus Christ to take the gospel not only the Jews but also to the Gentiles. And God has given this little church in Antioch this tremendous burden by the Holy Spirit so that they have now sent out two of their leading figures on whom they have depend so much, Barnabas and Paul, himself, with a very clear strategy.
DEREK THOMAS: Only at the beginning of chapter 13 have we seen something of the church’s willingness to accept its God-given mission to be a witness for Jesus in the entire world. The church in Syrian Antioch sent two of its best to do this work with a very clear mission. (pg. 379)
SINCLAIR FERGUSON: “They weren’t simply going wherever the sea would take them or the wind would blow them. They had a very clear fixed strategy. And chapter 14 verse 26 speaks about the way they have been committed to the grace of God for the work they have now completed. And this strategy was that these men would make a round trip of somewhere in the region of a 1000 miles through Barnabas’ native area and then through the Apostle Paul’s native area in order to bring to gospel to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews. And this 14th chapter tells us how they moved, first of all through Crete and then across to the mainline, gone up, northwards, to Antioch and now they are moving ever so generally in an easterly direction. Through the cities of Iconium and Lystra and Derby, through the very edge of Asia Minor. And then they will return at the end of the chapter and report to God’s people at Antioch of what God has done.”
DEREK THOMAS: “They didn’t simply go wherever they felt like going. When they arrived back in the church from which they had been sent, they reported on having “fulfilled” the task appointed them (Acts 14:26).They had made a round trip of approximately a thousand miles, through the native areas of both Barnabas (Cyprus) and Paul (the region near Tarsus). In doing so Barnabas and Paul were setting the agenda for the church in every age…” (pg. 379)
SINCLAIR: FERGUSON: “And you will notice how Luke adds, the style of their preaching, Again in verse 3 they spent a considerable time there speaking boldly for the Lord…”
DEREK THOMAS: “Luke summarized what happened in Iconium using two ideas: Paul and Barnabas proclaimed the word of God, “speaking boldly for the Lord” (Acts 14:3)…”(pg. 379)
SINCLAIR FERGUSON: “And they preach the same message they have preached everywhere, what Luke here describes as the message of God’s grace. In verse 3 they spend a considerable time speaking and God confirmed the message of His grace. They spoke of a gospel that was free, a gospel that required no qualification. To people who were used to thinking in terms of qualifying for the grace of God. They said sinners cannot qualify for the grace of God they can only depend on God’s grace as a free gift.”
DEREK THOMAS: “How does Luke summarize it? It is “the word of his grace” (Acts 14:3). It was a gospel that was essentially free from the idea and burden of merit: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since thorough the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). The gospel requires no prior qualifications on our part. Paul and Barnabas spoke to people who has become used to thinking in terms of qualifying got the blessings of God.” (pg. 380)
SINCLAIR FERGUSON: “Again in verse 3 they spent a considerable time there speaking boldly for the Lord, that’s a word that literally means “all speech”. And it is used frequently in the New Testament to designate what happens when God’s Holy Spirit fills the person who is speaking the word of God either privately or publically. There is such a sense of God’s grace and power as they speak that they are able to speak boldly for the Lord Jesus Christ.”
DEREK THOMAS: “Finally, notice the manner of their proclamation. They spoke “boldly” for the Lord (Acts 14:3). The word translated “boldly” (Gk. parresiazesthai) literally means “all speech”. It is used in the New Testament to describe the way in which the Holy Spirit fills the person who is speaking the word of God either privately or publically. There is such a sense of God’s power when they speak. There is boldness and urgency. (pg. 381)
SINCLAIR FERGUSON: [14:39] You see here the word of God had been spoken about the grace of God to these people, the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament to these people and in addition to the truth of his Word God had confirmed the truth of the gospel by these miracles, these signs that the gospel was true. There was all the evidence mortal man would need to believe in Jesus Christ but they refused to believe to believe in Jesus Christ. It wasn’t that they didn’t make the connection, it wasn’t that that gospel was too difficult to understand. It was that their hearts were hardened and nothing would change them. [15;26]
DEREK THOMAS: Despite the word of grace and the confirmation of the truth by miraculous sigs they refused to believe. Their hearts were hardened, and nothing would change them. It did not matter how true it was, or how clear it was; they refused to believe.(page 382)
SINCLAIR FERGUSON: [15:55] And so those who have hardened their hearts against the gospel – then do you notice stir up. In a union with others they stir up the people against the apostles. In a very strange union that you see appearing again and again in the Acts of the Apostles. Verse 5 there was a plot, a foot, among the Gentiles and Jews. These people were neither on eating terms or speaking terms. But they were joined powerfully by this hostility to the Lord Jesus Christ. Strange alliances against the word of God and the gospel of Christ are always the work of Satan [end 16:42]
SINCLAIR FERGUSON: [16;55] And those with hardened hearts who will not be alone in their heart-hardness now are not content with that but of course want to poison the mind of those who have begun to be drawn to the gospel.[17:09]. And like something out of Hamlet, the way in which to poison the minds of people, is to pour the poison into the ear. And they begin their little whispering and campaign, just a little drop does it. You don’t actually need to say something that’s false about the apostles. You just need to give the little hints and the result is that the plot succeeds. And the gates of hell, while they do not prevail, make it necessary for the apostle to move on.
DEREK THOMAS:Jews and Gentiles did not speak or eat with each other, and yet they formed an alliance of opposition against the gospel of Jesus Christ. Strange alliances of this kind against the work of God are always the work of Satan. Those with hardened hearts begin to poison the minds of those who have begun to be drawn to the work of God. The enemies of the gospel begin to pour poison into the ears of those how show any interest in what the apostles are saying. Just a word will suffice, discrediting the apostles, attributing, perhaps, a false motive to their message. Whatever it was collective animosity was raised against the apostles forcing them to move on. (pg. 382)
Derek Thomas does not explicitly state in the text of his commentary (as far as I can see) his reasoning for the section titles e.g. “Proclamation and Poisoning”. However, it comes directly from Sinclair Ferguson’s sermon. Ferguson remarks in his sermon at 10:10
“Now all the details of God’s work in Acts chapter 14, I think can be summed up in three pairs of words. The first pair is this – that as they visited Iconium at the beginning of the chapter their visit was marked by proclamation and poisoning - proclamation and poisoning.”