Sunday, 25 March 2007

Celebrating the end of slavery

Today is the 200th year anniversary (1807 March 25) of the English passing into law an act to abolish the slave trade . Slavery had been practised by multiple cultures thru out the world. Greeks thought that some persons were innately slaves. The only culture where anti-slavery sentiments arose to any significance was Christianity. So while some Christians may have claimed a biblical mandate for their owning slaves, much like many Christians do with other verses to justify beliefs that suit their behaviour, it is clear that the driving force against slavery was Christian in origin.

Summit Ministries have written a brief article on the end of slavery and Jonathan Sarfati has written about William Wilberforce.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Establishing astronomical synchronisms for Babylon and Assyria

I have been dialoguing with Starwind about the timeframe between the return from captivity and the coming of Jesus. Starwind states:
I don't wish to belabor this, but I do want to ensure I've 'turned over every rock' to discover any error in my own research. So, 3 follow up questions, please?
I need to emphasize that I think scriptural data takes priority. That doesn't mean that other data is useless, it is just that I think scripture gives chronological data far more emphatically that some realise. So I strongly think that Daniel's prophecy refers to the time of Jesus. I also strongly think that the post Persian period is discussed biblically and has a clear scriptural resolution. I also think it is likely that God intends the Old Testament to give a chronology from Creation to Christ. That means that I have less time for chronologies that require Persian histories to give us the period between the Babylon captivity and Artaxerxes. Now that you know my biases...
1) On what basis do you think Ptolemy is wrong? And even so, the neo-babylonian regnal dates are established by modern archeologists/ chronographers independently of Ptolemy's King list which to my knowledge has neither been shown wrong (beyond a few hours in his star catalog) nor is it relied upon after 700BC as mesopotamian cuneiforms provide direct chronologies.
I am somewhat ignorant concerning Babylonian and Assyrian data. I am aware that it exists, but have not read a lot of it. However I do know a little (not a lot) about eclipses. I am also aware that previous revisionist material exists and I do not think it is beyond ancient (or modern) historians to fabricate data to encourage acceptance of their ideas.

Ptolemy was an astronomer. Although he may have access to data we no longer have, he also predicted astronomical events; he was certainly able to add data to his histories. I am not suggesting he did, just that it was possible with the understanding of astronomy of that time (as I understand the situation).

The problem with synchronising eclipses is that the archaeologists and historians already had a timeframe with which they were working with. So when eclipse data predicted on modern computers is matched with ancient data, they look to match eclipses that seem to appear at the same time. If there is an eclipse in Babylon at a time of about 700 BC, they are going to ignore eclipses that are several years prior or later. In fact they may ignore very close eclipses if they are reasonably sure of their dates by other means.

Now due to variation in the earth's rotation speed and some minor changes with the moon, there is a range of areas and times where eclipses occur. This is understood. When dealing with ancient times they calculate the error based on the difference between the calculated and written data. This is fine, but if you then use the data to say one date has preference over another (when there is a dispute) you are now arguing circularly. Standard date is X. Error in eclipse data is said to be x based on predicted versus observed (assuming X is true). New date is Y. This doesn't fit because the error is x. But if Y is assumed, then the error is y (based on predicted versus Y), and under that assumption then X may (or may not) be excluded. I am not saying that X is unacceptable, rather that so much is built on it that advocates of X exclude Y on several lines of evidence that seem to be independent on X but are actually dependent on it.

In terms of direct chronologies, the Assyrians have year lists. That is reasonable, but when were they written compared to the event? The fact that the Hebrew history gives the negative and the positive versus other histories that are adjusted to show the victor in a good light means that the Hebrew should be given a more credence. And I give it even more because it is scripture. When Thiele adjusts Hebrew data to fit Assyrian (removes about 50 years of Hebrew kingship) I don't buy it. I would adjust the Assyrian first. For the 2 reasons above and a third; a complex chronology within a history with multiple comparison points (Hebrew version) is intrinsically stronger than a list. That is also why I don't give much to Manetho's king list (that and he wrote centuries after the events).
2) If you date Cyrus decree to 3477 A.M. doesn't that equal 283 BC to which when 483 years is added => 200 AD which obviously can't be right for the fulfillment of Daniel's 69 weeks? Or is this an erroneous artifact of what you termed the "standard Hebrew dating"? Do you dispute the calendar conversion website I linked? Is there some other Hebrew dating you use?
No, because I don't use the standard Hebrew calendar. Modern Israel has AM dating based on calculations by Yossi ben Halafta. He dates from the creation of Adam. I don't agree with his interpretation of biblical data, so our AM dates don't match up. You can't compare the AM dates I give with the AM dates that is seen in Jewish newspapers. There will be a conversion factor. There is not likely a problem with the conversion on the website you mention, it is just they are using the standard Hebrew dating which I personally thinks needs tweaking to be more accurate.

I think Ussher's dating is more accurate than the modern Jewish one, though obviously prefer mine over Ussher's—they differ less though.
3) are you relying on the Sedar Olam for any of your chronology, and if so might you share a link or cite please to whatever you feel is the most credible source for Sedar Olam chronologies?
I am not relying on the Sedar Olam, my chronology is completely derived from scriptural references. What is interesting with the Sedar Olam is it gives the Persian empire a duration of about 80 years compared to the usual 200. And the Hebrew calendar you mention differs in the dating of the destruction of the first temple compared with the Gregorian/ Julian because of this period.

An aside, the number of Persian kings before the Greeks as given by Daniel does not square with profane chronology.
I'm not arguing so much as wanting to understand the basis for any alternative view, again just to ensure I understand and fully vet my own research.
Agreed. I think there is a lot out there, but there is much more in scripture than many realise. I think it worth the effort to read a lot of scripturally based chronological research. I recommend reading all of James Jordan's material. I disagree with him at times, but it is still essential reading. He is a preterist, so that will colour his views on eschatology but it has little impact on Old Testament chronology. Ernest Martin's book The Star of Bethlehem is about dating Christ's birth in the Julian/ Gregorian calendar. You can view the flash demonstration of the astronomical events before deciding to read the book. One needs an anchor from scriptural chronology to the current dating system. I think Martin provides the best evidence for the time of Christ's birth and the best anchor point (along with the date of his crucifixion) to Anno Domini.

Friday, 23 March 2007

Medicine and morality

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a paper titled Religion, Conscience, and Controversial Clinical Practices. It was the results of a survey asking physicians about their views on providing treatments that they object to on moral grounds. In their introduction they state:
On the one hand, most people believe that health professionals should not have to engage in medical practices about which they have moral qualms. On the other hand, most people also believe that patients should have access to legal treatments, even in situations in which their physicians are troubled about the moral implications of those treatments. Such situations raise a number of questions about the balance of rights and obligations within the doctor–patient relationship. Is it ethical for physicians to describe their objections to patients? Should physicians have the right to refuse to discuss, provide, or refer patients for medical interventions to which they have moral objections?

The medical profession appears to be divided on this issue. Historically, doctors and nurses have not been required to participate in abortions or assist patients in suicide, even where those interventions are legally sanctioned. In recent years, several states have passed laws that shield physicians and other health care providers from adverse consequences for refusing to participate in medical services that would violate their consciences. For example, the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act protects a health care provider from all liability or discrimination that might result as a consequence of "his or her refusal to perform, assist, counsel, suggest, recommend, refer or participate in any way in any particular form of health care service which is contrary to the conscience of such physician or health care personnel." In the wake of recent controversies over emergency contraception, editorials in leading clinical journals have criticized these "conscience clauses" and challenged the idea that physicians may deny legally and medically permitted medical interventions, particularly if their objections are personal and religious. Charo, for example, suggests that the conflict about conscience clauses "represents the latest struggle with regard to religion in America," and she criticizes those medical professionals who would claim "an unfettered right to personal autonomy while holding monopolistic control over a public good." Savulescu takes a stronger stance, arguing that "a doctor's conscience has little place in the delivery of modern medical care" and that "if people are not prepared to offer legally permitted, efficient, and beneficial care to a patient because it conflicts with their values, they should not be doctors.
Savulescu's article that is referenced concludes:
Values are important parts of our lives. But values and conscience have different roles in public and private life. They should influence discussion on what kind of health system to deliver. But they should not influence the care an individual doctor offers to his or her patient. The door to "value-driven medicine" is a door to a Pandora's box of idiosyncratic, bigoted, discriminatory medicine. Public servants must act in the public interest, not their own.
The New England Journal of Medicine article, while weighing in on this problem, is actually a survey of 1144 physicians and analysis of only a few of the comments. The survey, while comprehensive, is slightly simplistic in how it approaches ethical questions. They find that
  • 63% of physicians believe that it is ethically permissible for doctors to explain their moral objections to patients
  • 86% believe that physicians are obligated to present all options
  • 71% believe physicians are to refer the patient to another clinician who does not object to the requested procedure
They also found that those that did not think they needed to disclose information about alternative procedures or needed to refer patients for medical procedures to which they objected on moral grounds were more likely to be men, those who were religious, and those who had personal objections to morally controversial clinical practices.

In their conclusion they make the astute observation:
Thus, those physicians who are most likely to be asked to act against their consciences are the ones who are most likely to say that physicians should not have to do so.
And this is the point isn't it. It is pointless to ask persons about objecting to behaviour they do not find morally repugnant. Issues discussed included contraception, abortion, assisted reproduction, euthanasia. It is not uncommon for persons to find these behaviours acceptable. It is all very fine for those that accept these activities to condemn those who don't for being unwilling to do them or even being unwilling to refer patients elsewhere. But many people find it difficult to understand others point of views. What they need to do is ask physicians about other objectionable practices; practices that pro-abortionists may not find acceptable. 2 examples would be administering a lethal injection to a criminal or handing over homosexual offenders (in a Muslim country say) to the authorities for imprisonment or execution.

The predictable response to this suggestion will be that these actions are immoral and therefore the issue is irrelevant. It however is very relevant and perfectly illustrates the point. They claim it is immoral to think abortion is wrong, it is immoral to tell a patient your anti-abortion views, it is immoral not to perform the procedure (especially if you base your opinion on "religious" reasons), if you refuse to perform the procedure it is immoral not to refer the patient. But place them in the same position with regard to something they morally object to and they will say they are not bound to behave in this way because it is wrong. But what is "wrong" in this sentence but a moral judgment?

Trevor G Stammers in the rapid responses to Savulescu's article says:
...if values have no place in determining medical care, on what basis does Savulescu attempt to impose his own moral values on conscientious objectors? The paternalism he so despises is only matched by Savulescu’s own and his ideal of “statute-driven medicine” seems to me more ‘idiosyncratic, bigoted and discriminatory’ than the moral values he is so intolerant of.
The objectors claim moral neutrality but they are far from it. If placed in a situation they find morally obscene they would think similarly, how could one not. To ask someone to restrict moral behaviour to his private life results in cognitive dissonance. To ask someone to behave contrary to his morals is morally repugnant. And to act according to one's morals is far more moral than to act against them.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

A look at some salvation verses

At Pentecost Peter quotes from Joel:
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Act 2:21 ESV)
It is false to think that calling out to God is all one needs to do to be saved, a necessary requirement does not imply it is the only requirement. However I am not certain this verse is even showing a condition of salvation, rather it is showing God's faithfulness. If we call out to God he hears us and is faithful to answer our call (according to his promise). Peter in his sermon also said:
"Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Act 2:38 ESV)
This verse shows the importance of repentance. One must turn from his own way and choose God's way. It is not possible to be part of the kingdom and walk one's own path. Yes we fail at times, and we ask for forgiveness, but our desire is to do Christ's will and not our own.

So what of John 3 which clearly talks about salvation:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (Joh 3:16-18 ESV)
Likewise Paul and Silas said to the Philippian jailer:
"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." (Act 16:31 ESV)
How we understand these verses in based on what does it mean to believe. The book of Acts is giving a summary verse of Paul's response to the jailer's question, "What must I do to be saved?" We need to study scripture thoroughly to understand the full implications of belief.

Jesus said to Paul that he was sending him to the Gentiles...
...to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. (Act 26:18 ESV)
Here we see that Jesus talks about being made holy by faith in him. Although it is Jesus who makes us holy, he sees this completely congruent with us turning from darkness to light.

Prior to his ascension Jesus commands the disciples:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Mat 28:19-20 ESV)
Jesus tells them to make disciples and what that entails; baptising them (for the remission of sins) and teaching them to observe his commandments.

This is consistent with the meaning of believe which encompasses the concept of trust, faith and faithfulness. Belief in Christ is more than mental acknowledgment of his existence, even the demons do that, it is choosing a lifestyle of obedience, it is becoming a follower of Christ.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Random quote

What were we? Before conversion, we were unrighteous, alienated, and enemies of God. And this is not figurative language or hyperbole. We concern ourselves with terror attacks, invest in costly alarm systems for our homes, and fret over whether our cars have side air bags—all in an attempt to feel safe and secure. But imagine for a moment what it would be like to have the God of the universe as your enemy. The Bible says we really were at enmity with God, and more to the point, he with us (compare James 4:4)!

Brad Wheeler

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Who goes where? Part 2

We have established that Jesus did not ascend to heaven between his death and resurrection by Jesus' own words. Jesus subsequently ascended to heaven 40 days after the resurrection having spent time with his followers (Luk 24:51; Act 1:3). Peter expounds on Jesus' ascension:
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

"The Lord said to my Lord,/
Sit at my right hand,/
until I make your enemies your footstool." (Acts 2:33-35 ESV)
I think it is likely that the righteous were taken from Hades to heaven following Christ's resurrection. We do know that those who die as Christians, that is after the resurrection, go to heaven:
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6-8 ESV)
Paul also makes the comment:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Philippians 1:21-24, ESV).
This makes sense if Paul thought that he would go to heaven to be with Jesus when he died. This would be nonsensical if Paul thought he went to Hades or that his soul slept while he waited for the judgment.

The unrighteous remain in the pit in Sheol. Those who don't know Jesus go to Sheol at their death. Both await the judgment. This is possibly what Peter is alluding to in the following passage:
...then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,... (2 Peter 2:9 ESV)
though I concede that this verse is difficult to translate. At the end of the age all will be resurrected and face the judgment. It is at this time men and angels who have rejected Jesus are cast into hell.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15 ESV)
And the most straightforward understanding is that it is everlasting, conscious and unpleasant.
...and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:10 ESV)
Hell was not made for men but for angels. In choosing to disobey God it became a possibility for humans. But for those who have chosen to follow Jesus our punishment in laid on him and he promises eternity with the Father.

To summarise more fully:
  • Hell was created for the fallen angels.
  • Hades (Sheol) was created for man because of the fall and the subsequent pending death.
  • Man goes to Hades at death, the righteous to Paradise and the wicked to the Abyss (pit).
  • Some fallen angels are in Tartarus which is the deepest part of the Abyss.
  • Inhabitants of Hades are conscious
  • Jesus descended to Hades at his death then rose on the third day and did not go to heaven during that time.
  • Jesus subsequently ascended to heaven.
  • Christians go to heaven at their death.
  • Judgment happens at the end of the age.
  • Fallen angels and men who have rejected Christ are cast into hell.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Who goes where? Part 1

Because of the fall of the angels God created hell. Jesus informs us of this:
Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels....' (Matthew 25:41 ESV)
The eternal fire does not appear to have been created for man. It was created for the evil angels, presumably soon after their fall, and is in existence now. However I contend that it is currently empty. Hell is also described as the hell of fire (Mat 5:22), the eternal fire (Mat 25:41), unquenchable fire (Mar 9:23), the lake of fire that burns with sulfur (Rev 19:20; 20:10,14-15). It is a place where the inhabitants will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev 20:10), where both soul and body are destroyed by God (Mat 10:28).

So what happens to man? Man was not created to die. Death, both man and sentient animals, came as a result of the fall.
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "...but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that [or when] you eat of it you shall surely die." (Genesis 2:16-17)
When humans died they went to Sheol. Sheol is translated into Greek as Hades in the Septuagint and the bible uses this word in the New Testament. Hades may be used in the context of suffering (or punishment) after death. That is an appropriate albeit restricted meaning, and Hades is generally the place of the dead. A helpful bible translation would use Hades in both the Old and New Testaments to help with interpretation and understanding. Scripture clearly understands Hades to be a real place. It may have metaphorical meaning but words that are used as metaphors also have a literal meaning. Using head as a metaphor for leader does not deny that head refers to a part of the body as well.

Both the good and evil went to Hades, but there is distinction between them. The wicked were cast into the pit (a word that meant a hole in the ground (Gen 37:19)) which was descriptive of the part of Hades that was unpleasant and reserved for evil men. The New Testament equivalent is Abyss—also a word (like pit) that can have both Hades and non Hades connotations.

Of Isaac it is said: "...and Isaac expired and died and he was gathered to his people.” (Gen 35:29). Jacob said, "No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning." (Gen 37:35). From this we can see that Jacob expected that he would descend to Sheol at his death. But we also know that Isaac and Jacob will be in heaven by Jesus' comments: "I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,..." (Mat 8:11).

The stories of Enoch and Elijah also give clues about the realm of the dead. That they were taken to heaven is somewhat out of the ordinary; not just the way in which they went, but the fact they went to heaven and not Sheol.

Further information about Hades comes indirectly from Jesus when he tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man.
There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.' And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.' But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.' (Luke 16:19-31 ESV)
From this we learn that Lazarus goes to Abraham's side and the rich man goes to Hades. Whereas Lazarus is comforted the rich man is in torment. And it was not possible to cross the chasm that separated them. Note that Paradise is used for a pleasant place, but it is the context that explains this word. Paradise also refers to heaven (2 Corinthians), the new earth at the end of the age (Revelation) and possibly Eden.

Interestingly Jesus did not ascend into heaven immediately following his death. Peter quoting David says:
I saw the Lord always before me,/
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;/
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;/
my flesh also will dwell in hope./
for you will not abandon my soul to Hades,/
or let your Holy One see corruption./
You have made known to me the paths of life;/
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.' (Acts 2:25-28 ESV)
Peter shows that this passage applies to Jesus and that Jesus descended to Hades and was resurrected:
Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. (Acts 2:29-32 ESV)
After his resurrection Jesus said to Mary:
Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." (John 20:17 ESV)
One of the criminals on the cross went to paradise which we can see from the above was not heaven. His destination corresponds to Luke 16 where Abraham is said to be in Paradise (as previously mentioned).
And he [one of the criminals] said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:42-43 ESV)
Presumably Peter's enigmatic statement in his first letter corresponds to the period between Jesus' death and resurrection.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,... (1 Peter 3:18-19 ESV)
The dead have some semblance of consciousness in Hades. This can be seen in many passages in the Old Testament. It is also alluded to by Jesus' comments about Abraham (who was in Paradise).
Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad. (John 8:56 ESV)
To summarise: hell was created for the fallen angels; Hades (Sheol) was created for man because of the fall and the subsequent pending death; man goes to Hades at death, the righteous to Paradise and the wicked to the Abyss (pit); Some fallen angels are in Tartarus which is the deepest part of the Abyss; inhabitants of Hades are conscious; Jesus descended to Hades at his death then rose on the third day and did not go to heaven during that time,...

more to follow.

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