Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Comments on the emerging church

A good friend has started attending an emerging church which has led us into conversation about it. I have read some about it but not extensively and no books by any of its more well known proponents. This post discusses

From early on I have had some caution about the movement but I have found it difficult to critique. I now realise that this is because I could never find a set of beliefs to interact with. The fact that there does not seem to be given beliefs makes me uneasy. This post gives a helpful distinction between hard and soft postmodernism within the emerging church.

Now I am aware that Jesus rewards us according to our love for him and our neighbours, and our obedience; not our knowledge. I do not intend to be divisive solely because of variant beliefs. Nor do I think that salvation is about right beliefs (it is about who we follow), but right belief is important in that right behaviour is more likely to follow from right belief than wrong belief (though it is no guarantee of it).

Beliefs can be important in at least 2 ways. They are important in terms of how foundational they are to Christianity. They are also important in terms of how much weight we put on them.

A person can claim a particular theological issue is peripheral. It either is or it is not. If it is peripheral it may be dealt with in such depth and regularity it becomes important.

Consider tithing 10% of one's income. If a Christian thought men should tithe, that tithing is a major issue, and he frequently thought about it, or he taught on it regularly and influenced others about it; then it is important for him to have correct belief because of how much of an issue it is in his life or because others are affected by his influence; even if tithing intrinsically is a lesser doctrine.

The emerging church emphasises minimising our differences. This minimisation and not insisting our beliefs are true supposedly leads to unity and away from judgment and divisiveness.

I agree that Christians can be too judgmental. This is a problem of men because of sin, not because of truth. I can know the truth and speak the truth in love or in hate. And interestingly, if I hold my ideas with conviction, I can be judged as being divisive by those who claim not to judge! Kind of like "tolerant" men being intolerant of intolerance.

The anti-judgment claim allows the more liberal view to inappropriately claim the moral high ground. If one group claims God allows something and another that God forbids it, the group claiming freedom may blame the banning group for being divisive. However this is only the case if they are indeed correct, in which case the other group may be being divisive. If the freedom group are actually incorrect then they are encouraging sin; they are
ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1)
So the issue is not about how inclusive we are, it is about what is true. In fact Jude states that divisive men are not the men who are emphasising truth, rather the ungodly:
"... In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions." It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.
I think the solution to excessive judgment is not so much a focus on inclusion, but a reminder that we all stand before Christ and it is he who judges. I actually think Jesus is quite confrontational; he intends to divide based on truth and error. We are for Jesus or against him. More so, he does not let us stay as we are but changes us to be conformed to his will. And, whether we like it or not, God does, at time, use men in this process. (We should therefore be careful in how we do God's will, and be certain it is God's agenda and not our own we seek).

So my advice to my friend was: Enjoy your new friends and encourage them in their love for Jesus but stay very grounded in Scripture.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Saved by a nose

Currently I am doing devotions with my daughters following thru a children's devotional book. It referenced the fact that Jesus is God's promised saviour unlike Buddha or Muhammed. To which my eldest daughter (9) asked, "Who is Booger?"

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Afflicted 400 years

I have been revisiting the Egyptian sojourn in some recent correspondence. It raised the possibility of another option I had not previously considered.
Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for 400 years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." (Genesis 15)
I wondered if the "for 400 years" could be read "until 400 years" giving the translation:
Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted until 400 years (from now).
I would appreciate thoughts from anyone who can read Hebrew.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Does one need always tell the truth?

My general view has been that there is a hierarchy of absolutes, so if one is faced with doing one or other of 2 usually wrong actions he needs to decide what is the right thing to do. If we are faced with a genuine conflict of morality, we are to choose that which conforms to loving God and loving our neighbour.

That being said I cannot think of a situation where murder would ever be the eumoral choice; of course murder is not the same as killing and if killing is ever justified then the killing is unlikely to come under the definition of murder.

With lying it is more complex. I personally think that Rahab did the right thing with the spies and the authorities of Jericho. Although previously I would have classified this under graded absolutism (ie. hierarchy of absolutes as above) my more recent thoughts have been that I think it depends on whether you are voluntarily giving information or you are being forced to.

If you are trying to convince someone of what you believe, or in general share your thoughts, you are morally obligated to tell the truth. But if others demand information that you do not desire to give them the situation is not the same. If someone is forcing you into a position of sharing information I wonder if that removes any obligation to tell the truth. I am not aware biblically that one is morally required to give information to someone they do not wish to. So being vague or evasive is not necessarily morally wrong, one has to weigh up the consequences of sharing that information. And if sharing that information causes damage to others (Nazi's looking for Jews) then love of one's neighbour may dictate that lying is justified.

We have liberty to our opinions and what we do with them, if someone tries to remove that liberty (eg. by forcing information out of us) we are released from any moral obligation in our answers. Further, if people misunderstand what we are saying when we do not wish them party to our information we are under no obligation to correct that misbelief.

However, God is not happy if we choose to keep our mouths shut in order to allow the miscarriage of justice.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

The postdiluvian patriarchs

Only the age at the birth of the son and the remaining years are mentioned for the postdiluvian patriarchs. The age at which they died can easily be calculated. Again the figures vary depending on the texttype.

Texttype Masoretic Septuagint Samaritan
Name Son Years Died Son Years Died Son Years Died
950 502 448 950 502 448 950
Shem 100 500 600 100 500 600 100 500 600
35 403 438 135 430 565 135 303 438
30 403 433 130 330 460 130 303 433
34 430 464 134 370 504 134 270 404
30 209 239 130 209 339 130 109 239
32 207 239 132 207 339 132 107 239
30 200 230 130 200
330 130 100 230
Nahor 29 119 148 79 129 208 79 69 148
Terah 70 135 205 70 135 205 70 75 145

The figures for Terah are to his first son. Genesis 12 and Acts 7 imply that Abram was 75 at Terah's death and therefore Terah was 130 when Abram was born, so the year in which Abram was born is 75 years prior to Terah's death.

So we can calculate the year of the flood, the year in which Abram was born and the time elapsed.

Texttype Masoretic Septuagint Samaritan
Period Flood Gap Abram Flood Gap Abram Flood Gap Abram

1656 352

Again I prefer the Masoretic. There seems to be a rationale for lengthening the times so as to make one's culture ancient, but to shorten the timeframe would seem unlikely. As there is no summary age as there is in Genesis 5, the fact of the systematic change in Genesis 5 and the frequent difference of 100 years suggests this was conscious, not accidental.

If the Masoretic is original, then the Samaritan has added years till the year of the first child but subtracted them for the remaining years leaving the total calculated age the same even though this is not given in Scripture. The exceptions being Eber and Nahor. The interesting thing about Eber is that the age after the son was born is 100 years less than the Septuagint. Was there are further Hebrew text which gave 370 years to Eber after his son was born?

Explaining the derivation of the Septuagint is difficult. Arphaxad, Salah and Eber don't appear to derive from the Masoretic at all. A smoothing effect (so that the ages drop off steadily from 900 years) is not clearly apparent and is an inadequate explanation.

If the Masoretic is correct we have the situation where Abram potentially could have known his ancestors. Abram was born in 2008 AM. Note the year of death.

Name BirthDeath
1056 2006
Shem 1558 2158
Arphaxad 1658 2096
Shelah 1693 2126
Eber 1723 2187
Peleg 1757 1996
Reu 1787 2026
Serug 1819 2049
Nahor 1849 1997
Terah 1878 2083
Abram 2008 2183

Of Abram's 10 ancestors following the Flood, 7 of them were alive at his birth. Noah died 2 years before Abram was born. And Peleg and Nahor also died prior to his birth. The others were all alive. Shem, who had seen the Flood, only died 25 years before Abram, Abram would have been 150 years old and Isaac 50. Eber, from whom the Hebrews derive their name, outlived Abram!

Monday, 8 October 2007

Physics is descriptive not prescriptive

It is important to remember the laws of physics come from observations. We observe regular patterns and attempt to come up with mathematical models that explain the data and predict related phenomena. The predictive component is validates the model, it suggests that the model is more likely to represent reality. Explaining anomalous data is less impressive because models can usually be adjusted to fit. Models with simple equations, symmetry and covering more fields are generally favoured.

Kepler and Newton came up with orbital equations and gravitational theory that explained the movement of the the planets. Using gravitational laws we can predict the movements of the moon around the earth to great accuracy.

But the moon does not orbit the earth because of these equations, the moon orbits the earth and these equations describe the movements.

God set up the universe to function how it does. But God also sustains it, this means that it is not wound up and would run without him, if God removed his sustaining power the universe would instantly cease to exist. Anti-theists complain that this means we cannot do science, that we are at the whim of a God. Well we are dependant on him, but that does not mean that the universe is irregular and unpredictable. Leaving aside the fact that an atheist view of the universe gives us no reason to even trust our senses, if God is not capricious, then we can rely on his usual providence. We can therefore examine the universe with an assumption of a constant God who set up the world with a high degree of predictability.

This predictability has been known by all cultures and predates the scientific method—the scientific method gives a tool to gain underlying knowledge and make predictions based on models. As the earliest scientists said, they were thinking God's thoughts after him. Isaac Newton stated,
This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being.
Because God sustains the universe he can manipulate it at his will. Not that he necessarily does this on frequent basis. This intervention we refer to as (specific) providence if God's hand guides specific events according to his will, or even at our request; we refer to it as miracle if it involves the overriding of physical law. Both the general upholding of the universe and a specific change to how the world usually operates are of equal ease for him. If God can stretch out the fabric of space then the multiplying of loaves and fish is of little difficulty.

That is why science is unable to disprove miracles. Miracles are not within the domain of operational science. Miracles are God's specific activity, not his general activity. We cannot observe regularity in miracles to formulate physical law. However they are provable, just via another method: testimony. Proof of miracles is via witnesses.

Miracle is also proof of the supernatural. Science can say the the world operates "like so" under the normal scheme of things. Observations that contradict what we know may be due to miracle and science can say nothing against it—science does not describe specific providence, only the general. Dead men do not come back to life according to biological science, but there is nothing to prevent God doing this in a specific case if he so wishes.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

The antediluvian patriarchs

The ages the patriarchs had their sons and their age at death differs according to the various text types. Most English Bibles use the Masoretic figures.

Texttype Masoretic Septuagint Samaritan
Name Son Years Died Son Years Died Son Years Died
Adam 130 800 930 230 700 930 130 800 930
Seth 105 807 912 205 707 912 105 807 912
Enosh 90 815 905 190 715 905 90 815 905
Kenan 70 840 910 170 740 910 70 840 910
Mahalaleel 65 830 895 165 730 895 65 830 895
Jared 162 800 962 162 800 962 62 785 847
Enoch 65 300 365 165 200 365 65 300 365
Methuselah 187 782 969 167 802 969 67 653 720
Lamech 182 595 777 188 565 753 53 600 653
Noah 500 450 950 500 450 950 500 450 950

Noah was 500 when he became the father of Japheth. Genesis 7 tells us that Noah was 600 when the Flood came. This would make the date of the Flood according to the various texttypes:
  • 1656 AM, Masoretic
  • 2242 AM, Septuagint
  • 1307 AM, Samaritan
So which is correct?

The corrupt texts have been deliberately changed. This is obvious because in Genesis 5 the age of fathering the son, the remaining years and the total age is given. As the first 2 figures sum to the 3rd an error in one of the figures would lead to an incorrect sum yet in all texttypes all figures add up. Josephus gives different figures again though they are similar to the Septuagint. I have not seen figures for the Dead Sea Scrolls, I do not know whether there are any manuscripts of the early chapters of Genesis found. It would be interesting to know as some Dead Sea Scrolls preserve in Hebrew a more Septuagint texttype.

One thing that points away from the Septuagint is that by its chronology Methuselah outlives the Flood which is not possible. If the meaning of Methselah is "when he dies it shall be sent," then this points to the accuracy of the Masoretic and the Samaritan which both have Methuselah's death in the year of the Deluge.

A further possible argument against the Septuagint is that is was translated perhaps 250 BC. Many cultures claimed antiquity for themselves. There may have been a desire to lengthen Hebrew history, either to make claims for priority, or to allow time to accommodate the claims of other cultures; it would not do to have Yahweh creating the earth many years after Egypt was founded. Egyptian history is not as old as is sometimes claimed, it postdates the Flood which leaves even less time for it to develop, but this is a possible argument for the translators changing the figures in Genesis 5 and 11. Interestingly the age at fatherhood for the Septuagint is exactly 100 years greater than the Masoretic for most men. Setterfield suggests a mark for 100 has been omitted in the switch from paleo-Hebrew glyphs to the square Hebrew (Setterfield favours the Septuagint as being original as did many church fathers). I am not convinced this is an adequate explanation as there is a loss of 100 years for the years they lived after fathering the relevant descendant: a deliberate change in whichever texttype is errant.

This does raise an interesting point though, how old was Jared when Enoch was born? If the Masoretic is original and the Septugint routinely added 100 years (except for Noah for other reasons) why not make Jared 262? Is the Samaritan correct here? Was 262 seen as just too old? Noah was 500. Does the Samaritan decrease the age in line with the surrounding patriarchs? But why would a culture want to minimise its ancestry? And if we decide to follow the Samaritan then both Methuselah and Lamech die in the year of the Flood. Possible but it does seem a little convenient.

The fact that the first 2 figures add up to the third in all versions (corrupt and original) is evidence that the men changing the ages in translation understood the chronology to be airtight, there are no gaps.

Though I think the Septuagint is underrated in current English translations, I tend towards the Masoretic figures in Genesis 5. I have no desire to make the world any older or shorter than it is. Claims of cultural antiquity no longer bother me, all cultures must post date the Flood and even using the Septuagint leaves one at odds with secular dating for many post-Flood artefacts. And good arguments can be made for shortening many chronologies.

There is a place for looking for common themes amongst the varying figures. The problem is that the corrupt figures are not accidental, they are deliberate, and deducing the original is that much harder. It is not the case that a misread letter explains variant readings. The most similarities can do is fix ages for specific men. The only agreement for the antediluvian patriarchs across all 3 texttypes is that of Noah.

It would be wonderful to find a manuscript in paleo-Hebrew. It may help point us toward the original.

Monday, 1 October 2007


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