King James Only? -Textus Receptus?

Here is an illuminating article which reveals the back story of the few manuscripts cobbled together by the scholar Erasmus which we now have as The Received Text or Textus Receptus. Folks should know the real deficiencies of this collection of manuscripts. We have so many better resources today, lets use all that are available.

March 1, 2016 will mark 500 years since Erasmus published his Greek New Testament. As I mentioned it featured only a few sources. What the article linked to doesn’t mention is that the work could have contained a few more Greek sources had Erasmus waited to include these as they were not in his immediate possession but were available. He however was in a rush to publish before a rival, so these sources are missing from his compilation.

The Vulgate is the Latin translation of Greek (the language the New Testament was written) by Jerome which was used in the Roman Catholic Church. Latin was the common language of the Roman Empire (west) before the Italian language was established.

 

Source: Church History’s Greatest Myths – Reformation21

Boiling a Kid in its Mother’s Milk

Ex. 23.19 (also Ex. 34.26, Dt. 14.21) gives a seemingly strange prohibition: “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” (ESV). So observant Jews today do not eat cheeseburgers or pepperoni pizza in case the cheese and beef are some how related. What did this ancient ban mean?

One consideration should be pointed out when reading the Old Testament text: the Hebrew was written with consonants only and the vowels were supplied through the reader’s familiarity of the language. It has been pointed out that the words for “fat” and “milk” are identical in their form (consonants). So it may be related to the prohibition against eating fat (Lev. 3.17, 7.23). While this may be a possibility, the Karaite Jews insist that they have correctly maintained the vowel marking as “milk” and not “fat.” in this particular prohibition.

Sometime in history a certain Jewish sect (Karaites) which placed more authority upon the scriptures rather than the “oral law” of the Rabbinate Jews (the dominant sect of Judaism) added vowel marking under the consonants to preserve the language after Hebrew was no longer a living language spoken by large numbers of people. One reason for the demise of Hebrew (though it was preserved to a degree by the religious professionals of that faith) was the dispersion of Jews both after the Temple destruction of 70 CE and particularly the scattering after The Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 CE). So this particular sect maintained the bible (Old Testament) with the letters (consonants) and the vowel marks under the letters preserved the distinct words (in cases where a question could arise which word was meant as some were identical).

These Karaite Jews maintained what is known as the Masoretic Text. The earliest examples date from about 1000 CE. This is the standard text accepted by Christians and Jews. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, there was found remarkable agreement with this particular source. Also, The Septuagint (the Greek translation from about 250 BCE of the Hebrew Bible and which the Christians of the 1st Century used) in very large part also finds agreement with The Masoretic Text. So, if the preservation was essentially accurate, what does the command refer to which speaks against eating meat and milk together (or more properly: “boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk”).

Another, and better, explanation may have come from an archeological excavation at Ugarit uncovering a Ugaritic text which details a fertility ritual where a kid is cooked in milk and the mixture is poured on the fields. So, if this is indeed an ancient Pagan practice, a better rationale is seen for the prohibition concerning this odd practice. The Jews were not allowed to mimic these false beliefs but to rather trust in the True and Living God.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karaite_Judaism#Karaites.2C_Aharon_Ben_Mosheh_Ben_Asher.2C_and_the_Masoretic_text (see under Kosher laws).

Melchizedek “Made Like” the Son of God

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever. (Heb. 7.1-3)

Melchizedek was not a Canaanite as many hold, instead, the book of Hebrews makes clear, He was eternal. Jesus came in the line of Melchizedek and this is why he is not equated exactly: The incarnation. Jesus, at a point in time was born in Bethlehem fully human and fully divine, whereas Melchizedek was not human but a manifestation of The Eternal Son. So, it is not technically accurate to fully equate Jesus and Melchizedek and Hebrews notes the distinction that Christ came “in the line” of Melchizedek (Heb. 7.17).

Further, if Melchizedek was a priest, where was the sacrifice since He brought only bread and wine? The answer is that this Christophany embodied the sacrifice in His person. Just as Jesus at the Last Supper had not yet died, He still used the elements bread and wine to signify His sacrifice, so Melchizedek, the Priest, symbolized a sacrifice in His person and brought bread and wine to Abraham after the defeat of the kings and the rescue of Lot.

So Melchizedek resembled the Son of God by bringing bread and wine but no blood sacrifice. The word resembled in the ESV is only found here in Heb. 7.3: aphomoiomenos means “to make like unto” and this is how the King James Version renders the word. So this Christophany is represented like Jesus bringing bread and wine instituting the Lord’s Supper. Christ’s sacrifice was the blood of the New Covenant and The Lord’s Supper signifies it. So whenever we observe this remembrance of Jesus we show that we are relying on what Jesus did on the cross for us. We announce this by taking the elements of bread and wine to encourage Christians in mutual faith and a testimony to those who have not yet believed:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1Cor. 11.26)

 

 

 

Divine Election: Redemptive Love

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Some folks think that if they believe hard enough God will save them. This is not the case. Faith is not something we work up as if it is native to us. Instead it is a response to hearing the message of the Gospel. God gives us saving faith. This is explained in 2Pet. 1.1:

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

The word “obtained” is lagchano in the original language. This word meant in that culture “being chosen by lot.” In the bible however this choosing is not is not a blind or random action. It is both personal and from love. It happened while we were still in our first ancestor Adam. God saw us and loved us before we were even born. Here is how it was presented to Jeremiah and is true for all who come to Christ:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you (Jer. 1.5)

Therefore God knew us as persons before we were born. These concepts of loving choice and prior knowledge are set forth in Eph. 1.4-5:

Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.

He predestined us to be adopted to His family before we could do good or evil. It didn’t depend on us that we are in Christ. God saw us in Adam and decided to pay our penalty by sending Christ as an atoning sacrifice, to overcome temptation and live a righteous life for our sanctification, and to conquer death on our behalf. Knowing that God is choosing some, Christians should be watching being ready to give an answer for the faith we have (1Pet. 3.15).

Before God’s Kingdom comes the chosen Gentiles need to turn to Him and so there are more to be saved:

A partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Rom. 11.25)

The Good Life

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The apostle quotes Ps. 34 giving a recipe for enjoyment while in this life. God wants to bless us and tells us how to find the blessed life.

1Peter 3.10-12 corresponds to Ps. 34.12-16. Here are the two sections from the ESV:

“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1Peter 3.10-12)

What man is there who desires life

and loves many days, that he may see good?

Keep your tongue from evil

and your lips from speaking deceit.

Turn away from evil and do good;

seek peace and pursue it.

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous

and his ears toward their cry.

The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,

to cut off the memory of them from the earth.

(Ps. 34.12-16)

On the Hypostatic Union

This constant undivided union of two perfect natures in Christ’s person is exactly that which gives infinite value to His mediation and qualifies Him to be the very Mediator that sinners need.  Our Mediator is one who can sympathize because He is very man.  And yet, at the same time, He is one who can deal with the Father for us on equal terms because He is very God. – J. C. Ryle (1816-1900)

Source: On the Hypostatic Union

Cumulative Growth

James Montgomery Boice has some excellent advice to young people in his sermon series on the Minor Prophets (volume 2, p. 510). He identifies a major problem with young people today:

As I counsel with people in our day, many of them young people, I am convinced that one of their biggest problems is that they expect shortcuts. They want a simple principle that will explain all the Bible and eliminate the need for concentrated and prolonged Bible study. They want an experience that will set them on a new spiritual plateau and eliminate the need for hard climbing up the steep mountain paths of discipleship. They want a fellowship that has all the elements of a perfect heavenly fellowship without the work of building up those elements by their own hard work and active participation. This is not the way God has ordered things. He could have given shortcuts, but he has not.

To young people out there: there are no shortcuts. And if there are, they usually lead to long delays, as Pippin would say in The Fellowship of the Ring. Things are not going to be handed to you on a platter. Life is not something you can simply let happen to you. This is not a popular message in an age of instant gratification.

Young Christians often think this way as well. After the euphoria of conversion is passed, they often come to a hard shock: the Christian life is hard work! They often think that they didn’t sign up for this. As Pliable turns back in the Slough of Despond, the very first sign of trouble, so also do many today who call themselves Christians. However, as any seasoned Christian can tell you, conversion is the peace with God that starts the war on the world, the flesh, and the devil. In many ways, life is far more difficult after conversion than before.

Do not think of the Christian life as having shortcuts. Study your Bible thoroughly and deeply. Pray over it and meditate over it. Wrestle with God in prayer. Prepare for the Sabbath Day every single week, so that the Word will dwell richly in you. The Christian life is cumulative.

Advice to Young People

Jewish Punctilliousness

Towards the end of his post (please see source link at the bottom) Jenkins relates a story of harvesting wheat under Jewish supervision. This poignant account illustrates the extreme carefulness of keeping the commandment of the feast of unleavened bread. This harvested wheat would be kept until the next year during the traditional barley harvest in Israel or about 10 months.

Of course these Jews were not in Israel in the account but the timing is the same. The Feast of Unleavened Bread required the Jews to clean out all sourdough starter (yeast) that was used to make bread rise, hence, the fear of moisture which might ferment the grain with naturally occurring air-borne yeast .

They were, as part of the Pesach (Passover) observance required to do three separate things: 1. Clean out the sourdough starter and eat unleavened bread for 7 days 2. Sacrifice the Passover lamb at twilight and eat it with staff in hand. 3. Wave the barley sheave that had just ripened in the Land of Israel.

The first 2 Observances related to their flight from Egypt which they were to remember how God miraculously delivered them: their dough didn’t have time to rise and they fled in haste with their cloaks tucked in their belts and staffs in hand. This was the first redemptive month for Israel and its timing related to the barley harvest in Israel. Had they obeyed and entered the land at that time they could have enjoyed this harvest.

Somehow I think these observant Jews in this account missed the redemptive meaning and bigger picture of God’s deliverance. When John the Baptist first encountered Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus has become our Passover (1Cor. 5.7) the firstfruits to rise from the dead (1Cor. 15.20).

 

Source: Bringing in the sheaves

Fallible Formulations

By Lydia McGrew

Having been raised as a conservative Baptist, I’m surprised that I only just last week ran across the following saying:

If we can’t trust God about Genesis 1, how can we trust him about John 3:16?

A moment’s googling shows that this question (or some version of it) is used by Answers in Genesis, the young-earth creationist organization, and specifically by Ken Ham of that organization. The concept was not new to me, but that wording was something I hadn’t heard before.

To lay my cards on the table, I’m pretty sure the earth and the cosmos are very old. I would call myself an old-earth progressive creationist–a category not very well-known in YEC camps, where everyone who is not young-earth is generally thought of as an evolutionist. Actually, as readers of this blog know, I’m an outspoken advocate of intelligent design theory, and I’m also quite willing to come out and say (more so than some authors in the ID camp) that I think this evidence supports repeated intelligent interventions in the making of various species and animals, not merely in the origin of life or some other major transition. I don’t have enough expertise to state precisely how often God probably created new species, but I’d be willing to lay bets that mammals didn’t evolve by purely natural processes from reptiles, for example. I’m also an extremely strong supporter of the historical Adam, though I think he lived a lot longer ago than 6,000 years. (And no, I don’t know exactly how long ago. And that’s actually okay.) By “the historical Adam” I mean a real man, the one and only male progenitor of the human race, from whom, with Eve his wife, all of us are biologically descended, without interbreeding with non-human animals. I think that God made him by miraculous means and that there was strong physical as well as spiritual and mental discontinuity with all animal species. I’ve argued for the theological and even ethical importance of this view,here. I’ve also strongly opposed the recent work of John H. Walton in proposing a radically different view which he calls “an historical Adam” but which is not “the historical Adam” in the strong sense I have just defined. See my posts contra Walton  here, here, here, and here. And I’ve argued that the scientific claims that it is impossible for one couple to be the progenitors of the whole human race are shaky, here. So I don’t at all shrink from the creationist label, and I’ll admit to being more than a little impatient with John H. Walton, and even more so with Peter Enns, whom I find annoying.

All of that, I admit, may not be enough to establish my creationist “creds” with a real hard-liner on the age of the earth, but I’d like to think it would be a start.

With all that out of the way, let me go back to the saying at the beginning of this post and say this: It’s wrong.

Why is it wrong? After all, on its face it almost sounds like a tautology. Either we do or don’t worship a deity who is, by his very nature, not a deceiver. If we do, then we can trust him about everything, right? Including various parts of the Bible. And if we worship a being who might deceive us, then how can we trust him about anything?

But the saying is still wrong. It’s wrong, to begin with, because it confuses God with man. What Ham is doing there is identifying his interpretation of Genesis 1 with “God’s word” and insisting that, if Ken Ham is not infallible in his interpretation of Genesis 1, then God is a liar.

Mind you, I can well imagine that Ken Ham and I would have a lot more in common than I would have with his critics. To me, the comments by the Gungors (some musicians), to whom Ham is responding in that particular blog post, sound over-wrought and snobbish. They give the distinct impression that anyone who isn’t an evolutionist is a contemptible knuckle-dragger. I have no patience with that kind of thing.

But the fact remains that it is a perilous and a misguided matter to identify your interpretation of one passage of Scripture with what God says, with no questions or differences of opinion allowed. All the more so when the question at issue is one where scientific evidence also comes into play. We absolutely must be willing to admit to our young people that there is such a thing as biblicalinterpretation, that controversy about biblical interpretation isn’t per se a bad thing, that human interpretations are fallible, and that our interpretation of Genesis 1 is notequivalent to “God’s word.” Yes, that means admitting that you could be wrong about it. I think you should be willing to tell kids that this is what you think, but that you could be wrong. You can even be a young-earth creationist and tell them that.

This issue of varying interpretation comes up in many places in Scripture. You aren’t turning into a Christianity-denying liberal if you think the story of the rich man and Lazarus was a parable that Jesus was telling and that Jesus wasn’t actually affirming that it happened. Jesus often told parables. This looks like one of them. Another example: It is a completely viable possibility that the flames of hell in various biblical passages are a metaphor for the horror of eternal separation from God rather than describing a physical state of the damned. There can be legitimatedifference of opinion on that point among those who take the Bible very seriously indeed as God’s Word.

There are also textual areas where we as Christians need to be able to keep our heads and handle some uncertainty. It is not an abandonment of the Bible to recognize that the long ending of Mark may not have been there in the original text that Mark wrote; in fact, there is solid textual reason to doubt that it was. There is even reason to believe that the original ending of the Gospel of Mark may have been lost.That’s okay.

Our faith shouldn’t be shaken by such points. There is room for both human error and difference of opinion among solid Christians on all of these matters and more. These issues should not be presented to congregations or to young people as “trusting God’s Word” vs. “not trusting God’s Word.”

There are more problems with the statement about Genesis 1 and John 3:16: It strongly implies that there are no levels of importance amongst doctrinal statements. It gives the impression that either all the views that Ken Ham (or your particular church) holds about God and theology are right or they are all wrong, dubious, or up for grabs. It certainly implies that a young-earth position is right up there in importance with, say, the doctrine that Jesus died for our sins, taught in John 3:16.

That’s not true. Nowhere in the Bible does anyone say to anyone else, “Believe that the earth is 4,000 years old [or whatever it would have been at the time], and thou shalt be saved.” But people are told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. When the Apostle Paul gives a creed in I Corinthians 15, he doesn’t include anything about the age of the earth, but he does talk a lot about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When Jesus is asked what the most important commandments are, he lists loving the Lord God with all your heart and soul.

I don’t want to be misunderstood. This isn’t meant to encourage a facile argument of the sort one hears from social liberals nowadays, “Jesus never condemned homosexuality, so why are you Christians getting so het up about it?” Jesus explicitly taught that God made male and female and created marriage between them. The Apostle Paul again and again condemns homosexual practice. And then there is the natural law, which is another topic altogether.

My point is that biblical authorities do have priorities, and there is not the slightest indication whatsoever that the age of the earth is one of the high priorities. The existence of Adam, I’ll grant, is given prominence in several important Biblical teachings, such as Paul’s teaching about the origin of sin and death. But not the age of the earth, nor the creation within six twenty-four hour days.

Some doctrines are more important than others. You can still be a Christian and even get some things wrong. Most of us probably do have some things wrong, though we should do our conscientious best to interpret Scripture accurately.

Another, related problem with the statement is this: It teaches that all literal biblical interpretations stand or fall together. It strongly implies that, if the most natural, literal, on-the-face-of-it interpretation of Genesis 1 is called into question, it becomes impossible to know what any other part of the Bible means. But that’s not true. I might be wrong about whether the days in Genesis 1 are ages or 24-hour days, but I can say with much greater confidence that the Gospels are asserting that Jesus really lived, really walked on this earth, really said various things, really died on the cross, and really rose again. The genre of the gospels is different. The sources of information are different. The nature of the claims is more tied into known history. (He was crucified under Pontius  Pilate, etc.) We should not think or teach that a wide-ranging skepticism about all Biblical meaning is the only alternative to a 24-hour-day interpretation of Genesis 1. That’s incorrect.

And finally, perhaps my most controversial claim: That slogan communicates to young people that, if they are not young-earth creationists, they might as well be atheists, because they have “stopped trusting God.” It teaches an inflexible theology that presents apostasy as the stark alternative to an acceptance of precisely this interpretation of this passage.

As I’ve indicated above, I think it’s deeply and importantly misguided to believe that Adam was just the head of a clan of hominids and that man came into existence by natural, evolutionary processes from non-human animals. I think it creates all kinds of problems for one’s theology of the fall and sin and for one’s view of the image of God. I’ve put lots of energy into arguing against it. But if someone comes to hold that seriously mistaken view about Adam, he can still be going to heaven. Would I argue with a daughter of mine who was influenced by people who teach that? Sure, of course I would. I’m an argumentative person anyway, and I think this is important. Would I be concerned about possible other sociological “domino effects,” causing someone to fall into theological and/or moral liberalism? Yes, I would. If you run with a certain crowd that sneers at special creation, you may pick up other things from them. But despite all of that, I would rather that someone I love were wrong about Adam and still believed that Jesus Christ is God the Son who came to this earth to die for our sins and to rise for our justification than that he decided he might as well go whole hog and become an agnostic or an atheist because of an all-or-nothing theological system! All the more so should we take such an attitude concerning the age of the earth all by itself.

Some years ago I knew of a man who lost his faith in Christ. His Christian parents were deeply distressed, of course. They were strong young-earth creationists and said that their son (then in his twenties) had begun sneering about “not believing all of that” and then had made it clear that he didn’t believe Christianity at all, that he no longer regarded himself as a Christian. They were asked this question: Would you rather that your son believed in an old earth and were still a Christian, still a follower of Jesus Christ, still believed in God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost and in Jesus’ death and resurrection for sin? They said yes, of course! But by then it was too late. Their son never gave anyone a chance to present that alternative to him, to show him the direct, powerful evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the other truths of Christianity, quite independent of one’s views on the interpretation of Genesis 1. He was an adult by then, and a highly intelligent adult. He was responsible, because he could have figured out for himself that it didn’t all have to stand or fall together. He could have asked more questions, sought for more light, looked into the evidences of Christianity. He chose to apostasize instead. I would not for the world heap blame upon the heads of his heart-broken parents.

But let’s get this issue clearer–in our own minds, in our churches, and in our families. If you, dear parents, think that Ken Ham is right about the saying at the top of this post, and all that it implies, I most earnestly urge you, in Christ, to reconsider.

 

Source: Extra Thoughts: You can trust God, but men are fallible

Truth, Trustworthiness and “Right Reason”

All human relationships are rooted in and grow in good ways on trust. Consider this: the one basic lesson that God teaches us is that he can be trusted. Therefore, we should entrust ourselves to him. The lie that Satan tempted Eve with was that God could not be trusted. Trust is rooted in truth and our experiencing over time a person’s faithfulness to truth. When someone demonstrates faithfulness to truth, we regard them as a person of integrity, or a person with integrity, who can be trusted.

The term integrity is related to our terms integraland integrated. The terms communicate something about the relational bond or connection that two or more realities have to each other. Of the many ways we can discern that someone is a person of integrity is our detecting that their actions are consistent with their verbal affirmations. If they say they are going to do a particular thing, they do it. If they say they are not going to do a particular thing, they do not do it. If they fail in some way to keep their word, if they are a person of integrity, they admit this failure and they pledge themselves to do better.

Of course, according to Scripture, all people are sinners, and therefore in various ways and to varying degrees cannot be trusted; we all fail in some ways to have integrity. But Scripture also teaches that all people are created in God’s image, live in the one creation God has made, and that the whole creation reveals God. This means, among other things, that no person can live without, to some degree, admitting and submitting to God’s truth. God’s truth surrounds us and possesses us. That is, because we are God’s creatures created in his image, our very being reveals God’s truth. As the apostle Paul stated, “In him [God] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). No person can escape God’s truth, but they can deny and rebel against it. When we do, we do not merely go against God, but ourselves. To sin against God is to go against the truth and to begin to disintegrate; the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).

The gospel message of Scripture is that Jesus is The Truth, and by trusting him we are forgiven of our sin and progressively changed by his Spirit of Truth so that we resemble him in our speaking, loving and practicing truth. Do a word search with the word truth using any reputable Bible research tool and read the texts that come up. You will quickly find that Christianity is regarded by the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as being the way of truth that has the word of truth, the gospel (consider this short list: John 14:6; 17:17; Eph. 1:13; 4:21; Col. 1:5; 2Thess. 2:10-13; Titus 1:1; James 1:18; 3:14; 5:19; 1Peter 1:22; 2Peter 2:2; 1John 1:6-8; 2 John 1:2). Truth equals life. Eternal life is knowing God, who is Truth (John 17:3). The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord, who is Truth (Rom. 6:23).

When God saves sinners he reveals to them by his Spirit of Truth that he is trustworthy, that he isTruth. Among other things, this means that when God saves us he does a work that is internal to us or within us that has a corresponding work outside of us. This could get a little complicated but it really need not. In short, God’s Spirit affects our thinking and desires so that we come to understand enough of the truth so that we love and obey it (Gal. 5:7; 1Pet. 1:22). Put another way, God’s Spirit causes true Christians to reason rightly about things that are both internal and external to them to the degree that they entrust themselves to God’s Word. Being saved from sin can be described, then as having “right reason.” This is one of the ways that the 19th century Old Princeton theologians described salvation. “Right reason” for the Old Princeton theologians did not mean perfect or flawless reasoning. Still less, did it mean morally neutral reasoning. That does not exist among humans, and the Old Princetonians did not teach or believe that it did. Instead, “right reason” for them meant “corrected” reasoning; reasoning that had been corrected or “righted” and would continue getting corrected (what Scripture calls “sanctification,” see John 17:17) so that the person would increasingly love and obey the truth.

Of course, all of what I have written is greatly mocked in many quarters throughout Western culture today, and even called into question by many who call themselves Christians. For well over a century, and to a lightening degree over the past 25 years, the term truth and the practicing of truth has been regarded as only about how the individual feels and thinks about what they are experiencing. The knowing subject, or the person is regarded as the sole authority for truth claims and truthful conduct. Truth is thought to be only subjective,person relative, or based on what someone likes.Many have a Facebook view of truth. In other words, there has been an assault on the biblical concept of truth. Sadly, this view of truth has been embraced by many people confessing to be Christians, many even pastors. Among the many results has been a lack of integrity among them, and within the congregations they pastor. Of course, all Christians are still sinners, who will in this lifetime have constant need to confess sin, repent of it, seek forgiveness, and strive to live more faithful to The Truth, that is, to Jesus, not simply one’s self.

We are currently awash in the United States with media outlets that routinely lie, and politicians who are skilled liars. But in a culture that substitutes human feelings and sincerity for truth, a lie gets redefined, and a sustained interest in holding people accountable for anything outside their own sincerity is seriously diminished. No wonder there is great distrust and cynicism that marks much of public life in America. Individual Christians and the Church corporately are to be different, and truly, those who are of The Truth will stand out as different in a culture of lies where many have shown themselves to be untrustworthy.

Source: Truth, Trustworthiness and “Right Reason”

The Apologetic of G.K. Chesterton

How a 29-Year-Old G. K. Chesterton Flipped 4 Arguments Against Christianity Upside-Down

Jan 21, 2016 | Trevin Wax & Randy Huff

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Many of the sharpest and most influential thinkers in England during the first years of the 20th century were outspoken in their skepticism toward the central claims of Christianity. Men such as Robert Blatchford (1851-1943) leveled a number of forceful arguments against Christian doctrine, relying on historical, scientific, and sociological research to bolster their perspectives.

Into this arena of prominent, published writers and thinkers marched 29-year-old G. K. Chesterton.

Now, it is hard to think of Chesterton as if he were the faithful “David” going forward to battle the skeptical “Goliath,” primarily because Chesterton physically resembled a jolly giant, not a tiny shepherd boy. Nevertheless, when you consider that Chesterton’s age was nearly half that of his opponents, you might be amazed at the skill with which he answered the most common objections to Christianity in his day.

In an essay entitled, “Christianity and Rationalism,” Chesterton went public with his Christian faith, and he did so by using the skeptical arguments of Blatchford as the very reasons he subscribed to Christianity. Watch how Chesterton flipped four common arguments against Christianity upside down. 

Argument #1: There are many ancient mythological accounts that parallel the Christian story.

Chesterton’s Response: If a story appears repeatedly in various cultures, might it point to something real?

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s famous stroll with a still skeptical C. S. Lewis, Tolkien made the case that Christianity was the myth that really happened. It was the true myth to which all the other stories were pointing. Tolkien’s logic helped Lewis come to faith. But that line of logic wasn’t new with Tolkien. He was echoing Chesterton’s perspective from two decades before.

 “If the Christian God really made the human race, would not the human race tend to rumors and perversions of the Christian God? If the center of our life is a certain fact, would not people far from the center have a muddled version of that fact?… When learned skeptics come to me and say, ‘Are you aware that the Kaffirs have a story of Incarnation?’ I should reply: ‘Speaking as an unlearned person, I don’t know. But speaking as a Christian, I should be very much astonished if they hadn’t.’”

Argument #2: Christianity is a gloomy and ascetic religion that causes people to give up their home and happiness and sacrifice their health or sexuality.

Chesterton’s response: If countless people abandon normalcy to pursue the magnificent, might it be that such a reality, in fact, exists?

Rather than seeing Christianity’s call to self-denial as a reason to dismiss it, Chesterton saw the devotion of ascetic Christians as evidence for the truly supernatural experience of conversion.

“The very oddity and completeness of… surrender make it look very much as if there were really something actual and solid in the thing for which they sold themselves.”

“Mr. Blatchford tries to prove that there is no such thing by proving that there are people who live on nothing else,” Chesterton wrote. In other words, the critics were trying to prove that there is no real spiritual experience at the heart of Christianity by pointing to people who seemed to survive on nothing else but their spiritual experience. That’s why Chesterton saw the impulse toward self-denial as a reason to take their truth claims seriously.

“When the learned skeptic says to me: ‘Christian saints gave up love and liberty for this one rapture of Christianity,’ I reply, ‘I should have been surprised if they hadn’t.’”

Argument #3. Christianity has produced tumult and cruelty in the world. 

Chesterton’s response: If the vision of eternal life “upsets values and creates a kind of cruel rush,” might it be that the vision indicates a real truth?

Chesterton noted that masses of good, common men act with a measure of cruelty whenever something they value is in peril – the food of their children, or the independence of their country. Furthermore:

“When something is set before them that is not only enormously valuable, but also quite new, the sudden vision, the chance of winning it, the chance of losing it, drive them mad. It has the same effect … that the finding of gold has in the economic world. It upsets values, and creates a kind of cruel rush.”

Note that Chesterton was not excusing the cruelty or tumult, only demonstrating why common people may act in these surprising ways. He points to the excesses of the French Revolution in pursuit of “liberty, equality, and fraternity” as a demonstration of the preciousness of those values. “What if Christianity was yet more maddening because it was yet more precious?” he asked, contrasting the “colossal realism” of Christianity to the “eternal sentimentality” of secularism.

“When the learned skeptic says: ‘Christianity produced wars and persecutions,’ we shall reply: ‘Naturally.’

Argument #4: The Hebrew and Christian accounts of God are tribal, unsophisticated and much too attached to particular locations.

Chesterton’s Response: If the Old Testament accounts of God are down-to-earth and unsophisticated, might that very fact indicate their validity?

Chesterton made the case that the Old Testament accounts of God’s revelation were credible precisely because they did not come to us as “cosmic philosophy.” The skeptics should turn their skepticism toward anachronistic notions of God being a cosmic force or energy.

“If Moses had said God was an Infinite Energy, I should be certain he had seen nothing extraordinary. As he said He was a Burning Bush, I think it very likely that he did see something extraordinary…. When the learned skeptic says: ‘The visions of the Old Testament were local, and rustic, and grotesque,’ we shall answer: ‘Of course. They were genuine.’”

CONCLUSION

Chesterton did not dismiss the arguments against Christianity. He recognized the truth in each objection, but then he turned the objection inside out in order to make a case against the skeptic. His conclusion is just as memorable as his defense, with a brilliant twist at the end:

“Thus…the reasons that I have for believing in Christianity are, in very many cases, to repeat those arguments which Mr. Blatchford, in some strange way, seems to regard as arguments against it. His book is really rich and powerful. He has undoubtedly set up these four great guns of which I have spoken. I have nothing to say against the size and ammunition of the guns. I only say that by some accident of arrangement he has set up those four pieces of artillery with the tails pointing at me and the mouths pointing at himself. If I were not so humane, I should say: ‘Gentlemen of the Secularist Guard, fire first.’”

http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/trevinwax/

Many Christianities?

ApplewhiteFor some critical scholars, the most important fact about early Christianity was its radical theological diversity. Christians couldn’t agree on much of anything, we are told. All we have in the early centuries were a variety of Christian factions all claiming to be original and all claiming to be apostolic.

Sure, one particular group–the group we now know as “orthodox” Christianity–won those theological wars.  But why (the argument goes) should we think this group is any more valid than the groups that lost? What if another group (say the Gnostic Christians) had won?  If they had, then what we call “Christianity” would look radically different.

Thus, according to these critics, in the second and third centuries there really was no such thing as “Christianity.”  Rather there were “Christiantities” (plural), all of which were locked in a battle for theological supremacy.

This entire line of thinking, of course, goes back to Walter Bauer’s 1934 book Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. But, its most ardent supporter today is Bart Ehrman.  Ehrman describes precisely this view of early Christianity:

The wide diversity of early Christianity may be seen above all by the theological beliefs embraced by people who understood themselves to be followers of Jesus. In the second and third centuries there were, of course, Christians who believed in one God. But there were others that insisted there were two. Some said there were thirty. Others claimed there were 365 (Lost Christianities, 2).

Ehrman then proceeds to provide a laundry list of many of the conflicting beliefs held by early Christians–a list that no doubt would (and was certainly designed to) overwhelm and shock the average reader.

So, what can be said in response to such claims?  Was early Christianity really as diverse as Ehrman claims?  Was there no credible standard by which Christians in the second century could tell the difference between true and false beliefs?

There is much to be said in answer to these questions. I have already addressed some of them in a prior blog post (here) and, of course, in my book The Heresy of Orthodoxy.

But, in this short post, I simply want to observe (and respond to) something noteworthy about Ehrman’s methodology. Notice that as he described groups that believed in 2 or 30 or 365 gods, that he refers to these groups as “Christians.”

And why does he do this?  Because, as he said, these people “understood themselves to be followers of Jesus.”

But, the use of this terminology by Ehrman is a bit misleading. Sure, these people claimed the name of Jesus.  That is not in doubt. But, it strains credulity to think that this is a title that accurately and fairly describes their theology.

The fact of the matter is that Christians did not believe in 2 or 30 or 365 gods.  Christians were committed not only to the Old Testament but to a monotheistic system. The historical evidence for this is overwhelming.

The groups that believed in, say, 365 gods were in fact, Gnostics. In particular, Ehrman is referring to Basilides here (and they weren’t really “gods” in the way we think of it, but more like creator-angels).

And the theology of the Gnostics was so out of bounds that it could not be recognizably given the label “Christianity” with any historical or theological credibility.

But, it is not difficult to see why scholars insist on using labels like “Christianity” to describe such groups.  The answer is because it creates the impression that there was greater diversity than there really was.

The more the label “Christianity” can be tossed around indiscriminately, then the more it appears that Christians could believe just about anything (and did). In strips the word of all its meaning.

What you have in Ehrman’s statement above, then, is a bit of semantic slight of hand.  Yes, it is defensible under the heading that “these people thought they were Christians and who am I to say otherwise?”  But, at the same time, it remains substantially misleading and, in the end, unhelpful.

To take a modern example, consider the UFO religious group “Heaven’s Gate” led by Marshall Applewhite. This group believed that they would, upon death, be transported to an alien ship following the Hale-Bopp comet—a belief that led 39 of them to commit mass suicide in 1997. They also claimed to follow Jesus and to be fulfilling the prophecies of Revelation.

What if a newspaper reporter tracking these events went on the evening news and declared, “Christians believe in UFO’s and also believe that they should commit suicide in order to join an alien spacecraft trailing the Hale-Bopp comet.”

When challenged about such a statement, the reporter could say, “Well, this group claims to be Christian!” But, I think we all know that defense is inadequate.  No one with journalist integrity would speak in such a misleading way when they know that, historically speaking, this does not represent the Christian faith.

In the end, not everyone who claims to be a follower of Christianity ought to be considered a follower of Christianity. If that basic principle were applied to our study of the second century in a balanced and fair way, I think much (though not all) of the rhetoric about radical diversity would have to be modified.

http://michaeljkruger.com/how-diverse-was-early-christianity-clearing-up-a-few-misconceptions/

Shiloh: The Messiah

In Gen. 49.10 Jacob gives the prophecy that the Messiah would come from the line of Judah, that the scepter would be His. The term Jacob uses is “Shiloh.” This term’s meaning according to the standard Hebrew Lexicon (Brown, Driver, Briggs): He whose it is. Or, in other words, “the rightful owner.” Another meaning also can mean Pacificator (Maker of peace, or in this case breaking the enmity between God and men). It has long been associated in Jewish Theology as the indicator of the Messiah.

An amazing collocation of the term Shiloh is developed when the place where the Tabernacle is located after Israel’s entry into the promised land (Josh. 18.1ff) is named “Shiloh.” The Israelites named the place where God’s people gathered to observe their required festivals and sacrifices “Shiloh.” So for them the Messiah and the sacrificial system were linked intrinsically. So, in a redemptive sense, Israel had in mind initially under Joshua the concept of The promised Messiah with the sacrifices at the Tabernacle which were instituted by God to Moses under The Old Covenant.

During the High Priesthood of Eli the Ark of the Covenant was captured and visited judgement upon the Philistines who sent it back to Israel. David later was instructed (or inspired) to locate the Ark and Tabernacle worship in the conquered Jebusite city which became known as Jerusalem. The Jewish Encyclopedia, who are not Christian, note the water source that feeds the city and sustained it whenever it was besieged: A conduit, in which was discovered the Siloam inscription, led to it from the Fountain of the Virgin (‘Ain Sitti Maryam), and through the outer part of the Moriah to a pool in the Tyropœon valley; and it was probably to this conduit that Isaiah alluded in speaking of the “waters of Shiloah that go softly.”

Isaiah (8.5-8) rebuked the Israelites in his day because they didn’t trust the gentle flowing waters of Shiloah (a reference to divine assistance and, ultimately the promised Messiah) therefore a torrent in the army of Assyria would sweep them away instead (the Northern Israel Kingdom with its calf idols which were set up to rival the legitimate sanctuary at Jerusalem). This flood from Assyria would then rage into Judah because of the unfaithfulness of The Southern Kingdom also. Though the towns of Judah would be captured and Hezekiah forced to pay the Assyrian King tribute for a time, Jerusalem would not see the Assyrian inside its walls according to Lord’s promise. Also, because of the denigration of the Lord by the Assyrians, 185,000 would die by some sort of a plague which is attested in Greek sources as well as the bible.

These “cool waters of Shiloah” of the book of Isaiah are the “pool of Siloam” in the New Testament. The whole of chapter 9 in John’s Gospel records the crucial incident of Jesus applying His saliva and earth to a man’s eyes born blind. Jesus told the man to go down to Siloam to wash the mud from his eyes and the man received sight for the first time. This event precipitated the final conspiracy of the Pharisees since Jesus performed this miracle on the Sabbath. The parenthetical note in John signifies the meaning then during the current era of Siloam as “sent.” This verbal idea complements and applies the noun form of Old Testament usage of “Messiah.”

So, this vital stream which sustains Jerusalem and its Temple flows around Mt. Moriah from the “fountain of the virgin.” Jesus used it to reference the plan of God sending His Son as a propitiation for humanity’s healing.

Trevin Wax Interacting with Culture

Whenever I write about the worldview of a cultural icon or a cultural artifact, I brace myself. The ensuing comment streams and Facebook conversations almost always devolve into debates over whether such cultural analysis should happen in the first place.

(Examples of this phenomenon are my post that analyzed the underlying philosophy of Taylor Swift’s music video for “Out of the Woods,” or my post interacting with Stephen Colbert’s definition of faithfulness.)

Many Christians think of cultural artifacts (such as a pop song) in categories of “good” or “bad.” Naturally, some readers assume that my choice to comment on a song or interact with its spiritual dimensions serves as an implicit endorsement. Or they think that comparing or contrasting something as banal as a pop culture phenomenon with the good news of Christianity cheapens the gospel.

On the other side are readers who assume that my critique of a song means I think it is “bad” and should therefore be “banned.” If the song is deficient in the worldview it promotes, it is “dangerous.” These readers then assume that the blog post is an overreaction, a futile exercise in “overanalyzing.” They jump to the artist’s defense.

What both sides have in common is that they miss the point of cultural commentary. Examining a cultural artifact is not a statement on the spiritual state of an artist; neither is it a blanket endorsement or condemnation of a product.

Instead, cultural commentaries are an exercise in cultural literacy, what Kevin Vanhoozer describes as “discerning the meaning of cultural texts and trends in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

WHY READ THE CULTURE? 

In his book, Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends, Vanhoozer offers several reasons for becoming “culturally literate.”

1. To resist the temptations of the time.

We need to know what songs and messages are forming one’s spirit. “It helps to be able to name the powers and principalities that vie for the control of one’s mind, soul, heart, and strength,” Vanhoozer writes.

2. To follow Scripture more faithfully.

We ought to read culture so that the scripts we perform in everyday life are in line with the Scriptures rather than the dominant narratives of our society. We are more likely to imbibe uncritically whatever it is we sing or whatever movies we watch if we are not trained to see the underlying philosophy, to recognize both what is good in that worldview and what needs to be challenged.

3. To know the setting for your faithful witness. 

We should read culture in order to know where we are in the great story of redemption. If the culture is the setting for the next scene, we need to understand that scene well in order to be effective witnesses.

4. To love and understand your neighbor.

This exercise is offered up as an act of love toward God and neighbor. As Vanhoozer writes:

“I cannot love my neighbor unless I understand him and the cultural world he inhabits. Cultural literacy – the ability to understand patterns and products of everyday life – is thus an integral aspect of obeying the law of love.”

You can’t love or reach people you don’t care to understand.

HOW TO READ AND COMMENT ON CULTURE

Now that we’ve outlined some reasons why it is helpful to examine cultural artifacts and trends in our day, we can turn to the question of how to read and comment on culture.

1. Start with a cultural artifact.

Cultural commentary usually begins with an artifact that shines light on the values and beliefs implicit in a culture. You start with some thing or someone who has captured the public eye and the imagination.

2. Ask questions of the artifact.

  • Why is this cultural artifact important today?
  • What does it tell us about our society?
  • What is the message? How is it communicated?
  • What impressions or emotions does the artist want to leave us with?
  • Why does this artifact resonate with people today?
  • Why is the artifact significant right now, as opposed to other times and places?

3. Hold the artifact up to the gospel’s storyline.

Once you have considered the artifact’s significance, you hold it up to the light of the gospel story. Usually, you’ll find you can affirm some things that are true – longings or aspirations that are, in some way, grasping for the joy that is found only in Christ. You’ll also find some things that are false – the “shortcut” to happiness that won’t ultimately deliver because it sidesteps or opposes the gospel.

Almost every cultural phenomenon has aspects that can be affirmed by Scripture, as well as aspects that are idolatrous distortions of the truth. To only focus on what can be affirmed is to dull the prophetic edge of the gospel’s hard truth. To only focus on what should be challenged is to fail to show how the culture’s longings are answered in Jesus.

4. Help people understand their culture in light of the gospel.

From Francis Schaeffer in the 1960’s, to C. S. Lewis in the 1940’s, to G. K. Chesterton in the 1920’s, we stand in a long line of people who have identified the narratives on display in cultural artifacts of their day, and then spoke to those longings by putting them in light of the gospel. John Stott called this “double listening” – listening to God’s Word and to the people in God’s world, so that we can be effective witnesses to the kingdom.

Conclusion

Too many Christians assume that analyzing cultural products is simply a way of saying “safe” or “unsafe,” “bad” or “good,” “acceptable” or “banned.” Not so. When done well, cultural analysis helps you ask the right questions, see the narrative in light of the gospel, and look for what can be affirmed and what should be challenged.

That’s why I plan on doing more cultural commentary in the future, not less.

http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/trevinwax/2016/01/14/from-stephen-colbert-to-taylor-swift-4-reasons-i-write-cultural-commentary/

Bible Reading Tips

By Andy Naselli (http://andynaselli.com/re-3-unusual-tips-for-better-bible-reading)

You probably don’t need to hear reasons that it’s important to read the Bible. You know it is.

But you might need some motivation. One way to get excited about reading the Bible is to rethink your Bible-reading strategy. Here are three tips for better Bible reading:

Tip #1. Listen to audio-Bibles.

When you listen to an audio-Bible, you’ll be surprised how quickly the time goes by and how much of the Bible you “read.”

Sometimes I listen while doing other tasks such as driving or cleaning or running, but I’ve found it to be incredibly profitable to listen while following along in a different English translation (or in the original languages). Listening to a different version than you are reading helps keep you engaged as you inquisitively consider various renderings. The pace is so fast that you miss all sorts of nuances, but you gain a valuable macro-perspective.

Audio-Bibles work well for the Bible’s many styles of literature, though they work best for stories as opposed to proverbs or letters. This is evident when listening to dramatized audio-Bibles (such as my family’s favorite: The Bible Experience). But it’s worth remembering that the congregations whom Paul addressed in his letters typically listened to Paul’s letters and did not own personal copies of them.

You might want to get started by downloading some free audio-Bibles from “Faith Comes by Hearing.”

Tip #2. Read books of the Bible in one sitting.

There is value in Bible-reading plans that divvy up the readings so that you read one chapter from four different books of the Bible. But if that’s the only way you read the Bible, it will be difficult to understand key literary features and the theological message of whole books of the Bible.

Have you ever read the Gospel according the Matthew straight through in one sitting? Or Romans? Or Job? Or Revelation? If not, you’re missing out. That’s the way they’re meant to be read. A book like Nehemiah would generally take about one hour. Ephesians would take 20 minutes. Here’s afull list of the approximate times it would take to read each book in our English Bible.

I understand the objection: “There’s no way I could possibly find time to do this.” But aren’t there other activities you do in life for prolonged periods of time? Do you read other books for a few hours at a time? Do you ever spend an hour watching a TV show or two hours watching a movie or three hours watching a football game? Why not prioritize lengthy, undistracted time in the life-giving word?

Tip #3. Read without any chapter or verse references.

I am not a fan of chapter and verse references in the Bible. Bible “verses” didn’t even exist until about 1550, and “chapters” go back only to the 1200s. They can obscure the text and create artificial and sometimes inaccurate divisions.

Yes, chapter and verse references help us locate specific sentences and phrases quickly. But sometimes they do more harm than good. They lead many people to think of the Bible as a reference book that collects bullet-pointed verse-nuggets — not as the literature that it really is.

So how do you read the Bible without any chapter or verse references? There are at least three options:

  1. Get a Bible without them. For example, Biblica has one called The Books of the Bible, and Crossway is planning to release the ESV Reader’s Bible in May.
  2. Use a Bible software program like Logos to export a book or passage of Scripture to your favorite word processor without the chapter or verse numbers.
  3. Manually delete the chapter and verse references in a word document on your computer. This is time-consuming, but you could copy-and-paste text from a site like Bible Gateway and then delete all the numbering. That’s more feasible for shorter books. Even better, Bible Gateway has an option to hide verse numbers (click on “Page Options”).

Take up and read (and listen) a lot.

 

Obstreperous Islam

By William B. Evans

[This article originally appeared on The Aquila Report in September 2012.  It was written in the context of the so-called “Arab Spring” and related events, and thus it does not address the current brutal persecution of Christians and other religious minorities–involving mass executions, forced conversions, beheadings, and crucifixions–by ISIS/ISIL in Iraq and Syria.  I have resisted the urge to rewrite the article in light of more recent events (in part because it is difficult to write analytically rather than viscerally in the face of such genocidal horror), although its relevance for understanding the broader historical context of current events should be obvious.]

Recent events—the wave of demonstrations and violence in the Islamic world prompted at least in part by news of alleged religious insults from the West, ongoing threats by the Islamic government in Iran to destroy the state of Israel, and the emerging pattern in the wake of the so-called “Arab spring” of replacing authoritarian governments with rule by overtly religious parties that seek the implementation of Sharia law—have underscored what some of us already knew.  Islam in its political expression, in contrast to the personal warmth that I have experienced from many Muslims both in this country and when I have traveled in the Middle East, can be obstreperous.  It is difficult to deal with.  It refuses to be domesticated or confined by conventional Western categories.  There are reasons for this, some of them theological, which many contemporary Western leaders are ignoring to their peril.

The first is that Islam is a religio-cultural-political package.  There is no ultimate distinction in Islam between the sacred and the secular, and thus none between mosque and state.  All of life is understood as a matter of submission to Allah.  For this reason, while there has sometimes been religious toleration under Islamic governments, there can be no real religious pluralism in the practical political sense of the term.  That is to say, adherents of other religions will not be viewed as equal members of society in a context governed by Islamic principles.

Second, the history of Islam has been characterized by periods of militant expansionism in the name of religion.  As historian Efraim Karsh has noted in his recent Islamic Imperialism: A History (Yale, 2006), the great Mohammed himself provided the model of the “warrior prophet,” and a concern to unify the world religiously and politically under Islamic auspices seems to be hardwired into the Muslim consciousness.  The Islamic ideal is of a humanity unified by a single religion, and the lessons of history suggest that while this ideal has seemingly gone dormant under certain political circumstances it repeatedly reemerges.

Third, there is the Muslim understanding of jihad, or holy war.  All three great monotheisms—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—have traditions of holy warfare in their scriptures, but in both Judaism and Christianity these notions were largely spiritualized and eschatologized.    After the bitter experience of the Jewish wars against Rome in the first and second centuries, the Jews realized that holy warfare was a dead end and they decided to wait for the messiah to set things right.  Likewise, Christians have tended to interpret biblical holy warfare language as a metaphor for spiritual struggle or to project it into the future when Jesus returns to judge the world.  Though there is some evidence of similar spiritualization in the Qur’an, on balance the Muslim notion of jihad retains a decidedly this worldly and overtly political edge.  Reasons for this are complicated and have to do with both theological and historical factors.     Nevertheless, in contrast to the other great monotheisms, the conception of holy warfare has followed a strikingly different path in Islam.

Along with this there is the attendant religious incentivizing of violent struggle.  According to the Qur’an, those who engage in warfare on behalf of Islam will be rewarded (see, e.g., Surahs 4:959:38-3911148:17).  And of course, when eternal religious rewards are offered for temporal violence in the name of religion, unfortunate things tend to happen.  To be sure, Christians have occasionally fallen into this trap as well.  Here we think of Pope Urban II, who declared a plenary indulgence (i.e., go straight to heaven with no stop in purgatory) for those who went on the First Crusade.  But such instances are more the exception than the rule, and Christianity contains within itself notable safeguards against them such as the Sermon on the Mount and the example of Jesus himself.

Finally, there is the hermeneutical tradition of Islam.  Here we are referring to the way that Muslims themselves read the Qur’an.  Many in the West today hear conciliatory passages from the Qur’an and conclude that Islam is a “religion of peace.”  But as my late academic colleague W. H. F. Kuykendall (who read Middle Eastern history at Johns Hopkins) often pointed out, the interpretation of the Qur’an is very much a “tale of two cities.”  The Qur’an is a collection of the records of visionary revelations that Mohammed claimed to receive, and they date to two strikingly different contexts—his earlier time in Mecca and the later period in Medina.  The Meccan surahs (chapters) reflect a period when Mohammed was trying to win people over to his cause, and here the emphasis is on persuasion and kindness.  The Medinan surahs present a more militant version of Islam as Mohammed was trying to expand his influence and take over Mecca by force.

But how does one reconcile these two perspectives?  A common answer given by Muslim scholars is that where there is conflict or contradiction the later surahs abrogate or set aside the earlier.  In fact, the roots of this principle of abrogation are found within the Qur’an itself (see, e.g., Surahs 2:10616:101).  While for obvious political reasons this notion of abrogation is denied by some Muslims today, it is nevertheless well attested in the Islamic interpretive tradition.

There is nothing particularly complicated about all this.  But why do secular Western liberals seem to be so clueless?  What blinds so many in the West to these realities?  Here we think, for example, of Barack Obama’s astonishing 2007 assertion that upon his inauguration as President the Muslim world would look at America differently simply because he had lived in a Muslim country and has relatives who are Muslims.   There are at least three reasons.

First, Western secular liberal democracy no longer takes the question of religious truth seriously.   In fact, it largely lacks even the vocabulary to discuss religious truth claims, and this places it at a distinct disadvantage when deals with groups for whom such truth claims are central.  We in the West are the heirs of the post-Enlightenment fact/value dichotomy—on the one hand there are empirical, scientific facts; on the other hand there are values which cannot be rationally confirmed.  Such values are matters of opinion, and religious beliefs and convictions are, on this reading of things, merely values.  Along with this comes the inevitable privatization of religion.  Religious belief is simply a matter of personal opinion that is acceptable only so long as it remains private and unobtrusive.

The public square, as the late Richard John Neuhaus aptly observed, has thus become “naked” or stripped of religious expression.  When Barack Obama claims that Muslims will have a different opinion of America because he “understands their point of view,” Muslims know full well that he is not taking them as believers or their truth claims seriously, and they are not impressed.   But we really cannot expect a Western secularist like Obama to respond in any other way, and hence the persistent disconnect between Islam and the West.

Second, in the absence of a transcendent frame of reference there is the reduction of political process in Western secular liberal democracies to matters of economic wellbeing, tolerance, and personal autonomy.  This means that many in liberal democracies not only do not understand what is at stake in this struggle, but they will also often seek compromise with militant Islamists in order to maintain economic stability and preserve lifestyle.  This has been the story in Western Europe, and there are indications that the same process is beginning here in America as well.  The irony here is that, having opposed the religious truth claims of the Judeo-Christian tradition by denying the reality of objective religious truth itself, secular liberalism now finds itself with little in the way of resources to deploy against a zealous and confident religious opponent that will not be distracted by such ideological games.

Finally, there is the multicultural fixation of secular liberalism.  Having used the presence of other religions such as Islam in the West as leverage against the supposed cultural hegemony of Christianity, secularists cannot very well now turn around and condemn Islam without embarrassment.  This no doubt helps to account for the deafening silence of many secular liberals when they are confronted by Islamic intolerance and violent excesses.

The West is now locked in a political and cultural struggle with Islam, and no amount of sentimental claptrap about “mutual understanding” will change that.  The real question is whether the West will have a robust and principled position from which to oppose Islamic religious, cultural, and military aggression.  Such a principled stance will need to take religious truth claims seriously.  At the same time it also needs to provide a basis for defending what is good and right about the West as well as a position from which to oppose Islamic violence and intolerance.  That is a tall order.   At least one thing is now clear—the solution is unlikely to come from an intellectually spent secular liberalism.

 

 

Source: Obstreperous Islam

John 15.16: “Go and bear fruit”

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that remains, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. This I command you—to love one another. (John 15.16-17 NET)

When I was in bible college the teacher in one class engaged the students to define what the “fruit” referred to in John 15. It was a very lively discussion and the teacher gave no direction to the debate and the topic was left unresolved at the end of the class session. The teacher must not have known for himself the solution or else he would have guided the discussion more. At least it seems to me he really didn’t have a position on the reference of “fruit” in John 15. Being a young Christian, I could not decide which position was correct. One group of students argued for qualities internal to a Christian while another group said it was converts to which the fruit referred and so Jesus was urging evangelism.

Even bible translations (in its study notes), such as the NET Bible, do not define the concept of fruit as a single entity but say the section speaks transitionally from qualities in the disciples to a missional concept with these qualities reproduced in converts. I disagree with this nebulous reference and argue that the fruit mentioned is qualities in the disciples exclusively. These qualities are the fruit of The Spirit (see Gal. 5.22-24) which the believers bear as they both crucify their flesh and live in The Spirit.

My solution is utterly simple and takes the text at face value without the necessary forcing that the other positions employ with the terms “go” and “remain.”

This section of text (pericope) cannot refer to the fruits in converts by the use of “go” since the converts would themselves be subject to the Vine. The converts would be new branches themselves commanded to bear fruit. The concept of responsibility for others’ fruits is absent from scripture. Of course this fruit bearing in John 15 is toward others primarily or at least witnessed by others. Vs. 8 notes this: “My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples.” The “showing to be disciples” is obviously to others but without reference to resulting converts. The fruit is the witness, not the resultant branches who are chosen by The Lord.

Certainly, fruits such as peace and joy are internal to the Christian but cannot escape the notice of others. So, while a believer may experience joy and peace while alone, they (the believer) are further established to both individually praise God and to reflect God’s grace in their lives to others.

Some cite the term “remain” as indicating converts since converts “remain” and have eternal life. However, it is the fruit that remains as the text indicates. Of course the branches remain forever if they abide in the Vine, but the reference is to fruit, not branches. The determining of branches is from the Vine’s choosing: “you did not choose Me, but I chose you.” 

1Cor. 3.9-15 is a section that also speaks to Christian fruit bearing also even if the metaphor changes to components of buildings (gold, silver, stones) as indicated by vs.9: “We are coworkers belonging to God. You are God’s field, God’s building… If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward.  If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

In 1Cor. 3, the figure is a builder whose work remains if it is a certain quality. Here, the builder’s work remains just as the fruit remains in John 15. This fruit and the quality building refer to rewards that endure through eternity in the Christian. Of course, a Christian is never motivated by mere rewards, rather “we love, because He first loved us.”  (1Jn. 4.19). The rewards are probably memorials of our collaboration with The Lord. In my mind, the promise of rewards give the Christian significance and purpose. The metaphoric gold and silver reflects the light of The Lord. The metaphoric fruits are savored.

Additionally, John 15.17, which closes the pericope, gives an explicit command to make clear what Jesus is talking about: “This I command you: Love one another.” If He wanted the disciples to understand the metaphor as evangelizing others, then He would have said something to indicate this idea instead of an action primarily among Christians.

The Covenant of Salt

Three texts name the Covenant of Salt in the bible. Lev. 2.13, Num. 18.19, and 2Chron. 13.5. However, they do not refer exactly to each other but are related. Lev.2.13 commands the symbolic use of salt in all the sacrifices of the Aaronic Priesthood. Additionally, Ezek. 43.24 commands the priests of a future temple to sprinkle salt on the burnt offering (and presumably the other offerings also) without specifically mentioning “The Covenant of Salt.” The Numbers and 2Chron. references  point to durable agreements. Num. 18.19 speaks to the offerings of the Israelites being given to the House of Aaron the priest. Even though offerings are mentioned, no salt is, but rather shows the permanent nature of a statute. 2Chron. 13.5 speaks to the inviolability of the decree that the Kingship of Israel is made with the House of David and names it the Covenant of Salt, again showing a durative action.

A question is then raised as to why salt is referenced to indicate permanence or durability. The ancient people to whom the bible was written would not have thought it unusual to connect salt with permanence. Each household would prepare their food from scratch or preserve it using salt in the process. They used salt in virtually all their foods excepting fruits which could be eaten raw (fruits, of course, contain traces of salt as all other plants-more on this later). Modern bible readers may be puzzled by salt’s reference because so much of today’s food is processed for us.

Initially, when I started tracing the use of salt in the bible, it was to try to understand the metaphorical use of salt in the New Testament: “have salt among yourselves” (Mark 9.5), and “salt losing its flavor” (Mt. 5.13). Col. 4.6 instructs Christians: “Let your speech always be seasoned with salt.” The prior references to salt in the Old Testament intrigued me also as to their meaning. Often, to find metaphorical meaning, the bible student needs to trace all biblical references to help to determine their usage.

Initially I thought my research complete concerning The Salt Covenant, but recently I read a section that seemed to explain the idea better. Incidentally, this biblical section refers to David’s Covenant also and provides a rationale of permanence. This crucial text is Jer. 33.20-21b: “Thus says the Lord, ‘If you can break My covenant for the day and My covenant for the night, so that day and night will not be at their appointed time,  then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant so that he will not have a son to reign on his throne.”

God cites His fixed order of creation to indicate faithfulness to David’s Descendant (Jesus) of the promise of an eternal kingdom. So, it seems, God has a covenant with the physical creation to regulate it. With this usage, and others, covenants can be made with non-living entities. Since He is the Creator and Sustainer of all, therefore, this should not surprise us. Likewise, The Covenant of Salt. God has ordained that salt is a necessary nutrient in virtually all living things, plants,  animals, and microorganisms.

Often, when thinking of life’s sustenance, we think of water. However, water is exceedingly difficult to purify absolutely (laboratory water). It will usually contain traces of substances, especially Sodium, a component of salt. Water and salt seem to have a relation to each other in forming an electrolyte in living things. Without this water and salt solution (electrolyte) our hearts could not beat, nor could our nerves make connections in our brain. Blood transports, among other things, salt to every cell in an organism. Even plants rely upon salt to function. Soil contains salts which plants take up to grow. Salt water is a fertilizer when mixed with fresh water at a specific ratio. Of course too much salt in both fields and organisms is injurious and even deadly. For the most part, animals and humans regulate salt concentrations by water intake and careful seasoning. So everything living is designed to depend on salt. God has made a covenant with all living things, it seems, to use salt for sustaining life.

Therefore, looking at salt from the perspective as a necessary component of life, it is easier to understand the concept of durability in connection with the term “Covenant of Salt” in the bible.

 

 

 

The (Major) Purpose of The Law

Many were the purposes why God gave The Mosaic Law to  Israel. One reason was to show God’s wisdom to the other nations so as to win respect and that they would turn to the One, Only True God. This happened on many occasions such as Uraiah the Hittite and probably the Pelethites who served under David later in his reign. Also the lineage of Christ contains Gentiles who turned to the Lord. Another reason for giving The Law was for societal and personal justice in Israel. However, the overarching purpose seems to be to show God’s righteousness and our sinfulness contrasted.

The Law acted to reveal our sinfulness and thus the sincere worshiper could bring a sacrifice which proclaimed the message from the beginning in (Gen. 3.15) that The Divine Man would provide the payment to redeem His people. Paul shows this condemnatory function of The Law clearly in 1Cor. 15.56 where he indicates: “the power of sin is the Law.” Also, Gal.2.19ff. “Through The Law I died to The Law, so that I might live for God…for if righteousness were through The Law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

Gal. 3.19 gives the reason for The Law:  “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the seed [Christ] should come to whom the promise had been made.” Heb. 8.7-8 says The Mosaic Covenant pointed out the peoples’ sin: ” For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with THEM when he says: ‘Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.'” (emphasis mine)

Jesus mentions the same truth when reproving the Jewish leaders: Do not suppose that I will accuse you before the Father. The one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope. (Jn. 5.45) Later in the account Jesus speaks to their inability to keep the Law: “Hasn’t Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law” (7.19). These Pharisees that Jesus was primarily speaking to were extremely punctilious in their religious observance, yet they failed to keep The Law completely.

Further, The Law was perfect and whoever could keep it would live: “So you must keep my statutes and my regulations; anyone who does so will live by keeping them. I am the Lord.” (Lev.18.5) Additionally, Jesus quotes Leviticus to the Jewish expert in Lk. 10.25-28: “Now an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you understand it?” The expert answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

No one ever kept The Law except Jesus who claimed this promise of whoever could keep The Mosaic Law would live forever in Lev.18.5. He earned life in His humanity and gives eternal life to those who trust Him. Yes, it is also true that Jesus could not sin but this does not take anything away from His righteous life. More could be said about He being perfected through suffering during His earthly life (it was for our sanctification). Also, Jesus died as a penal substitution and fulfilled all the sacrifices: guilt, sin, burnt, daily, and others. These considerations will have to be in other posts however.

 

Transmitting the Text

Herman gives a relatively concise rationale why Christians have many bible versions. Mostly, copyists of The New Testament were not like the Jewish Scribes who were extreme perfectionists. However, while Christian texts are not as uniform, they are voluminous and therefore the bible investigator can determine the original with a high degree of certainty.

 

Source: 129 Source

 

 

 

 

This One Bone Is The Only Skeletal Evidence For Crucifixion In The Ancient World

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinakillgrove/2015/12/08/this-one-bone-provides-the-only-skeletal-evidence-for-crucifixion-in-the-ancient-world/

Kristina Killgrove, a bioarcheologist at the University of West Florida, discusses Roman crucifixion and the singular evidence which remains to our day.

This striking evidence gives credence to the promise of Gen. 3.15 referring to Christ’s sacrifice for humanity: “and he (the serpent) will pierce your heal.” A bite from a serpent was understood to be a death strike in the ancient world. However, a resurrection was inferred since the primary judgement was pronounced on the serpent: “and He shall crush your head.” This was also a death blow which is still pending until the full number of humans are saved from eternal judgement.

When God gave the Mosaic Law it provided the promise: “Do this and you will live.” Since no one (except Jesus) could keep it perfectly, the sacrificial system was in place to witness to Christ’s final sacrifice which the worshiper, by faith, could find refuge. Since Christ did keep the Law’s requirements He could rise from death and so provide eternal life to all who believe.

God Has Spoken

The Divine authorship of Scripture is a subject to which we should constantly return and one that should recurrently fill the minds of the people of God. That God has spoken in the Scriptures and that He speaks today in the Old and New Testament is of supreme importance to the life of faith of a believer…. Read More

Source: God Has Spoken

What Exactly Is the Identity of the ‘Star’ of Bethlehem? The Bible, Astronomy, and Scholarship Par Excellence

Here is a book I look forward to reading. The phenomenon of The Star of Bethlehem has intrigued me for over 40 years without satisfaction of its identity. Now, hopefully, the question will be answered with this book.

 

Colin R. Nicholl is one of the most careful New Testament exegetes I know today. In the April 2000 volume of The Journal of Theological Studies, Colin R. Nicholl published the seminal article, “Michael, The Restrainer Removed (2 Thess. 2:6-7),” making the strong case that Michael is the Restrainer.  His article would be published in […]

Source: What Exactly Is the Identity of the ‘Star’ of Bethlehem? The Bible, Astronomy, and Scholarship Par Excellence