Tuesday, 31 December 2013

One of the great ironies of history

In one of the great ironies of history that only God could bring about we see him promise that the Gentiles will be brought into the Kingdom. The faith of Abraham that belonged to Abraham's descendants was to become the faith of the entire world, with all men of faith becoming the seed of Abraham.
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isa 60:1-3)
Such was the in-pouring of the nations that their numbers dwarfed Israel. Abraham's descendants would number as stars and sand (Genesis 22:17). And irony of ironies, Israel did not want to be part of the kingdom; the children of the flesh refused to be children of the faith. The people of the promise would not accept the promise, but to those who saw the light of the promise the promise also came; and they came to the promise. The Gentiles join with Israel and outnumber Israel, but not all Israel is Israel (Romans 9:6). Yet when the time of the Gentiles has ended, will not God include the sons of the flesh, but not as descendants by flesh but by faith (Romans 11:23).

Monday, 30 December 2013

Monday quote

A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth: this has been exactly reversed.

G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Questions on Arminianism

In response to my post "Repairing fences" Bnonn asks
1. Historically, Calvinism has upheld the free offer of the gospel. So both Calvinism and Arminianism would have God visiting every house, as it were. But this analogy does reveal a different asymmetry between C and A, which is that God doesn't actually visit every house at all. Plenty of people never hear the gospel. That seems problematic under A, since God wants to save everyone, and certainly could have arranged it so everyone at least got a visit. But under C, there is no need for God to visit those whom he has not elected.

2. One very serious philosophical question Arminians need to give account for is why Christians choose faith while others don't. There seems to be a trilemma here. It can't be (i) because God gives Christians more grace than others, because we know God wants to save everyone equally. It can't be (ii) that Christians are just naturally better somehow than other people, because then we could boast in our salvation (it also seems to collapse into the same problem as [i], since God makes us the way we are). And it can't be (iii) that there is some external influence unrelated to either our choosing or God's grace, since that would basically make faith a matter of luck, or something else unrelated to the actual mechanics of salvation.

3. On the theological side, I don't see how Arminians can remain Arminians in light of John 6:44-45: "No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who hears from the Father and learns comes to me."

The logic of the passage reveals 3 propositions:

i. No one comes to Jesus unless drawn by the Father
ii. Everyone drawn by the Father comes to Jesus
iii. Everyone who comes to Jesus is raised up on the last day

Now, (i) and (iii) are consistent with Arminianism, since you can just say that the set of people in (iii) is a subset of the universal set in (i). But (ii) makes it clear the sets are actually identical. So Arminianism in conjunction with (ii) entails universalism. If God draws everyone, then Jesus raises up everyone on the last day. The context of the passage precludes universalism, however, because Jesus is clearly talking about people who come to him in this life...which demonstrably not everyone does. So the only way to read this passage is that the Father draws only those who come to Jesus, and no one else. But... that's Calvinism!
Before addressing these questions I need to point out that my goal in the post was not a defence of Arminianism in general but rather a refutation, by use of analogy, of the false claim that Arminians save themselves. Arminians never claim to save themselves, they say that salvation is a gift, and they differ from Calvinists by saying that man is able to refuse the gift of salvation. This position is logical, that is internally coherent. It also seems to Arminians to be Biblical.

As to my takes on various aspects that relate to Calvinism and Arminianism; these can be found under my labels of determinism and freewill.

Addressing Bnonn's questions.

1. If we extend the analogy and say that God does not visit every household the analogy still works; the point is one can still reject the offer of his gate being fixed.

But I did not equate the visit to every house with the preaching of the gospel but with God's desire to save. Thus the Calvinist position that if God desires someone to be saved he will be amongst the elect (some houses); and the Arminian position that God desires all men to be saved (every house), regardless of whether they hear the gospel.

As to my position on salvation, it is about who we follow. Christianity is a centred set, not a bounded set.

2. As I have said elsewhere I don't think there is an answer to why some people choose faith and others do not, beyond our capacity to make choices. We choose because we have a nature that can choose. Yes other things sway us, but we make decisions based on the fact we are agents that can do such things.

Say I have 2 options, one that brings a degree of pleasure, and I desire it, but it does not please God. The other option would please God but I don't desire it. Do I subvert my desire to my will, or do I suppress my conscience for the sake of pleasure?

Our desires compete between long term pleasure and short term pleasure. Sin and righteousness. Yielding to temptation depends on degree of perceived pleasure, previous yielding, our resistance, our requests to God to help us, tiredness, knowledge of consequences, past experiences. All these feed into our decision to obey God, or not. But because men love wickedness, many choose to reject God.

What is it specifically within our spirit that means 2 men with similar inputs choose opposite paths? I see nothing deeper than our will. Our choice to obey righteousness or wickedness. Nothing compels us. Ultimately one person chooses one way and one person the other because they do. Do they decide to love righteousness more than wickedness?  This ability to choose is part of the imago Dei in us. In the same kind of way that God can make free, non-necessary choices, so can we. God can create, or not create. And he could have created a variety of worlds, all of which are good. This freedom that exists within God he imparts to us.

Bnonn's trilemma does not pose significant difficulties. He says the reason Christians have faith and others do not cannot be (from an Arminian perspective)
  1. because God gives Christians more grace than others, because we know God wants to save everyone equally;
  2. that Christians are just naturally better somehow than other people, because then we could boast in our salvation; or
  3. that there is some external influence unrelated to either our choosing or God's grace, since that would basically make faith a matter of luck, or something else unrelated to the actual mechanics of salvation.
Interestingly I deny all 3 can be excluded. God can give more grace to some than others, though this does not cause saving faith. The faithful may be better than others because faith choices are right choices, though Christians are still sinners who require Christ's righteousness to be acceptable before God; that all fall short does not imply they fall short by the same amount. And other external forces may contribute to one's decisions as mentioned above.

Though the crux of the issue is 1. The unstated assumption is that God can increase the amount of grace to a level which will ensure salvation for each person. My position is that the amount of grace given by God is qualitatively different to our choice to follow God or resist him. The nature of love (and the grace by which it comes) is such that no amount of it can prevent the possibility of resistance.

3. I am familiar with the Calvinist approach to John 6. One Arminian response is to deny ii.
Everyone drawn by the Father comes to Jesus
I am not certain that John 6 insists on this. John 6 is saying that one cannot come to Jesus of his own accord, that the Father must draw him. But an Arminian would argue that such drawing is still resistible.

Yet there is another possible understanding of John 6. It is not so much saying that the Father will draw specific people to Jesus a la Calvinism, rather that the Father will draw those who are his people to his son Jesus. In my post on John 6 I wrote,
those who recognise who Jesus is do so because they already know the Father. If they do not recognise Jesus, they do not really know the Father. They may know the story about the manna in the desert, but this story points to Jesus; if they really know the Father who sent manna they will see the true manna.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Comment problems

While I do not get a lot of comments it seems that there is a problem commenting on my posts. I have settings pretty loose with no verification and moderation only on old posts.

The spammers are still getting through. I am informing you in case your comment gets lost. I am not certain how to fix the problem but have removed moderation on old posts. I prefer non-anonymous posts (monikers are fine) as anonymous authors are hard to distinguish form the spammers.

I do note that recent comments pluggin no longer workers, and K9 Web Protection has identified several blogger sites as suspicious.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Monday quote

I've often thought that if I'd been a journalist in the Holy Land at the time of our Lord's ministry, I should have spent my time looking into what was happening in Herod's court. I'd be wanting to sign Salome for her exclusive memoirs, and finding out what Pilate was up to, and - I would have missed completely the most important event there ever was.

Malcolm Muggeridge, journalist (1903–1990).

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Repairing fences

Arminians are often accused of saving themselves, as if we are the authors of our own salvation. Despite repeated defences that men can accept God's call and sacrifice, the charge is that Arminianism is salvation by man.

It seems to me that some of the confusion arises because Calvinists see a single transaction in a place that Arminians see two. Because Calvinists claim that God's call is effectual God's choice to save coincides with actual salvation; if not in time, at least in person. God chooses some whom he will save and saves them. Contrary to this Arminians think that man is able to resist God. Thus God both offers salvation and saves men. The acceptance of God's offer is distinct from his salvation. In the Calvinist view God offers salvation to the elect who are all saved. In the Arminian view God offers salvation to all men though only some respond.

Consider a road in disrepair and a builder stops at the houses along the road offering to repair the fences. The Calvinist position is that the builder stops at some houses offering to repair their fence to which the owner accepts the offer. The Arminian position is that the builder is stopping at every house. Some owners accept the offer of a new fence and some decline. Neither those that accept or decline the offer build their own fence, and if they attempt to do so they all fail! Even though Jesus is able to save all men, and no man is able to save himself; and even though Jesus desires to save all men, not all respond to his gracious and life giving offer.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Live peaceably with all men

Sage advice from Ben Merkle at Aristeia,
I’ve found Romans 12:18 to be an incredibly freeing passage. “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” It’s that honest disclaimer at the beginning—“If it is possible, as much as it depends on you...” When there is something that you can do to make peace, you do it. You go the extra mile to smooth things over. But there will be times when there will be no peace, when others are groundlessly angry with you and they refuse to be appeased. And when that happens, you sleep easy. Because it is beyond your control and not your problem.

Remember that when David marched forward to fight Goliath, his courage was considered by his brothers to be pride and insolence (1 Sam. 17:28). Joseph’s faithful service to Potiphar was reported by Potiphar’s wife as attempted rape (Gen. 39:14). John the Baptist was called demon-possessed and Jesus was called a drunk (Luk. 7:33-34). Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what you do, they are going to be angry with you.  And if your heart is right with God, you can shrug your shoulders and walk on.

It’s not an excuse to not care about others. If there is something that you can do to bring about peace, you do it. But if nothing can be done about it, then don’t worry about it and don’t let it faze you. There are giants to be killed.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Monday quote

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana (1863–1952).

It is those who learn the wrong lessons from history who are condemned to repeat it.

Dennis Prager (1948–).

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Jesus' genealogy

Matthew begins,
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1)
This is reminiscent of Genesis which states,
This is the book of the generations of Adam. (Genesis 5:1)
Comparing Matthew to the Septuagint
  • Βίβλος γενέσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (Matthew 1:1)
  • αὕτη ἡ βίβλος γενέσεως ἀνθρώπων (Genesis 5:1)
These phrases in Genesis likely represent toledoth though this is the only occurrence where the word "book" is added. In the same way that Genesis 5 introduces tho story of man (or Adam), Matthew introduces the story of Jesus. It also means ancestry which Matthew subsequently gives, much as Genesis 5 gives the descendants of Adam. Prior to giving the ancestry of Jesus Matthew tells us that Jesus is the Christ, or Messiah, that is the anointed one that the Jews were anticipating. He is also saying that the Messiah was both a son of David and a son of Abraham. The first indicating confirming that the Messiah would indeed come from David's seed, and related to that his authority as a king; the second indicating he was of the promised line of Abraham, the progenitor of Israel and the father of faith. In Matthew's first sentence there is great depth of meaning for those steeped in the Jewish Scriptures.

Matthew then outlines an abbreviated and stylised genealogy of Jesus starting from Abraham. There are 3 sections of 14 names. Matthew possibly uses groups of 14 as the Hebrew gematria of David is 14.

LatinHebrewValue
Dד4
Vו6
Dד4

The genealogy, while accurate in the names it contains, excludes several generations to keep 14 names in each list. The 3 groups are Abraham to David, David to the Babylonian Exile, and the Exile to Jesus.

#FatherSon#FatherSon#FatherSon




David Solomon
Jechoniah Shealtiel
1 Abraham Isaac 1 Solomon Rehoboam 1 Shealtiel Zerubbabel
2 Isaac Jacob 2 Rehoboam Abijah 2 Zerubbabel Abiud
3 Jacob Judah 3 Abijah Asa 3 Abiud Eliakim
4 Judah Perez 4 Asa Jehoshaphat 4 Eliakim Azor
5 Perez Hezron 5 Jehoshaphat Joram 5 Azor Zadok
6 Hezron Ram 6 Joram Uzziah 6 Zadok Achim
7 Ram Amminadab 7 Uzziah Jotham 7 Achim Eliud
8 Amminadab Nahshon 8 Jotham Ahaz 8 Eliud Eleazar
9 Nahshon Salmon 9 Ahaz Hezekiah 9 Eleazar Matthan
10 Salmon Boaz 10 Hezekiah Manasseh 10 Matthan Jacob
11 Boaz Obed 11 Manasseh Amon 11 Jacob Joseph
12 Obed Jesse 12 Amon Josiah 12 Joseph
13 Jesse David 13 Josiah Jechoniah 13 Jesus
14 David
14 Jechoniah 14


It is uncertain whether the last list ends at 13 persons or whether Mary should be considered number 13 with Jesus number 14.

Matthew also includes 5 women ancestors. Mary Jesus' mother as mentioned. Also Tamar the mother of Perez by Judah; Rahab the wife of Salmon; Ruth the wife of Boaz; and the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba) who became the wife of David.

This is the ancestry of Joseph the husband of Mary the mother of Jesus. Compare Luke's list which is the ancestry through Mary. Luke starts his list thus,
Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli,... (Luke 3:23 ESV)
This may possibly be better translated,
Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son, as it was supposed, of Joseph, but was actually the son of Heli,...
This seems to me to be a better option than the claim that Heli was the adoptive father of Joseph.

Thus this genealogy is that of Jesus via Mary which Luke traces back to Adam the son of God.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Money, employment, and wages

In A Humane Economy, (which I have not read) Wilhelm Röpke (1899–1966) argues that
...we cannot have all three: stable money, full employment, and further wage increases.
If that were that case which should we prioritise?

I think this can best be solved by looking at what the government should do, the nature of wealth, and the importance of work.

Man is created to work. The earth is cursed and thus work is often toilsome. Our attempts at redeeming work by removing toil have been moderately successful over the centuries. Work is what God has created men to do and as such it seems to be a priority over remuneration, or increases in remuneration. Still, we should pay what we have agreed to pay (James 5). High wages tends to allow a higher standard of living which seems a good in itself, though in a fallen world this can tempt us to seek security and independence from God (Deuteronomy 8). Further, wealth is its own temptation. Wage increases here are presumably for the masses, not the most wealthy. If wage increases were only for the latter then it would not seem wise to sacrifice stable money and high employment for this. Nevertheless, improving the material welfare for most of the population seems a desirable good.

Neither of these goods have seemed to me to be a priority of government. Policies that indirectly encourage vice and discourage virtue should be avoided, but the primary role of government is (direct) justice and punishment. So of the 3 options Röpke gives us it seems that goverment should only involve itself in one—money. If this is the case then we priorise stable money because it is a moral good. If money were material rather than fiat then stability would cease to be an issue. The problem would cease to be stable value and become an issue of equal weights.

Aside from this it seems to me that stable money is the only moral good in the list. Honest weights and measures are a necessity and dishonest measures sinful.
You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, (Deuteronomy 25:14-15)
Whereas high employment and high wages are desirable. Quite desirable. But increases in unemployment is not immoral in and of itself. Of course high employment is likely to have flow on effects that limit immoral behaviour in the community, though indirectly.

Finally, wages reflect value. People over-estimate the value they provide and under-estimate the cost for a product or a service. Tax excluded, at minimum the cost for you to pay someone to do a job will be the wages for you to do the same job plus overheads. You can't desire someone mow your lawn for only $10 and expect people to pay you $20 for the same job. Even so, with stable money and high employment (and a few other important factors), wages will likely increase over time.

I therefore prioritise these 3 in this order:
  1. stable money
  2. full employment
  3. wage increases

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Inerrancy and interpretation

Derek Rishmawy in his article Inerrant Text ≠ Inerrant Interpretation states
We often hear that appealing to an inerrant text shuts down conversation and identifies one's own interpretation with the Word of the Lord. The argument claims that a basically trustworthy, but still fallible text means we have to wrestle and humbly open ourselves to conversation with others, experience, and so forth.

I can't say I've ever found this a mildly convincing argument. Yes, there is a serious temptation for believers trained in certain conservative circles to short-circuit the dialogue and to shun tension, questions, and the deep trust required to believe in the midst of questions. That can, and sadly does, happen. All the same, the higher a view of the text you affirm, the more it should lead to real struggling with the text, given that you think it's the truth of God somehow.

When dealing with the issue of contradictions in the Bible, G. K. Beale points out that, far from cutting off wrestling and intellectual struggling with the text, a high view of Scripture's truthfulness has led to deeper study, prayer, conversation with other interpreters, and wrestling to see how it's true.
I concur. It is too easy to say that the text is wrong when it contradicts another text or worse, your own opinion. Now the Bible in either inerrant or it isn't, and the ease at which one may disregard Scripture does not determine its errancy status; though it may influence your belief in errancy—do I not like what Scripture teaches, well perhaps the Bible has mistakes.

But if the Bible is inerrant this does not make interpretation always easy or simplistic. I have found that apparent contradictions force me to examine the text even more closely. God has given me reason thus I do identify difficult passages. But I am fallen and my reasoning is broken. Scripture helps me reason rightly.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Monday quote

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

Author uncertain

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Loving sinners?

I note that conservatives are sometimes labelled haters for their opposition to practitioners of sin. Now the situation is complicated, not the least being challenging men in the public sphere who promote evil is not incompatible with compassion, overlooking sin, or offering grace in the private sphere. Nevertheless, the accusation may be true at times.

What I think is neglected in this debate, especially when it is Christians accusing Christians of lack of charity, is the attitude of the fault-finders toward sin.

Consider several of the topics often associated with conservatism; opposition to: abortion, public welfare, sexual immorality, aspects of public education, liberal media. (Leaving aside the fact these can be framed positively and that other topics have not been included). When conservatives oppose these issues they are frequently accused of hating the people that engage in such activities. This may be contrasted with Jesus' command to love.

Now Jesus does call us to love all men including our enemies. Christians who fail to love their political opponents are not in line with Jesus' commands here. If we are not loving we should take note of such challenges.

Nevertheless, I think that conservative Christians do frequently act lovingly toward such people in their private engagements. My complaint is that (politically) liberal Christians who make such accusations seem to approve of pagan behaviour that conservatives oppose, or at least they consider such behaviour as a minor infraction.

If this is the case then liberals can hardly claim the moral high-ground. Which is more praiseworthy? Loving someone despite the fact you think his behaviour is evil; or loving someone because you think he really is not that bad, or even that his behaviour is perfectly acceptable.

Which is harder, loving a woman who has had an abortion when you think that she has murdered someone, or loving her because you think her situation was difficult and the abortion was no big deal?

I am not attempting to justify conservative Christians hating their enemies. Jesus tells us this is not an option. But you cannot accuse others of being haters and justify yourself when your opinion of the morality of various actions differs from your opponent. The question is: Do you hate those whose morality you truly disagree with? How do you treat dog-fighters, and paedophiles, and people who don't recycle.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Monday quote

There is no safety for honest men but by believing all possible evil of evil men.

Edmund Burke (1729–1797).

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Refusal to receive the greater blessing

When God commands the Israelites concerning warfare he gives them several reasons they are permitted to stay home.
Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying, ‘Is there any man who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it. And is there any man who has planted a vineyard and has not enjoyed its fruit? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man enjoy its fruit. And is there any man who has betrothed a wife and has not taken her? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man take her.’ (Deu 20:5-7)
They are also not to fight if they are afraid, though that is so they do not dampen the courage of the other men.

The list of exclusions are
  • New house
  • New vineyard
  • New wife
These are pleasures that God has given him and he is allowed to enjoy them over going to war else he might die in warfare and never have the opportunity of experiencing these gives from God's hand. When the country is called to war, men who have newly gained a significant blessing are exempt.

Contrast this with Jesus' parable of the Wedding Feast. Jesus said,

“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” (Luk 14:16-24)
This is not a command to go to war where a man may lose his life and never enjoy the good things that God has given him: land, oxen or a wife. Rather an invite to join another in his celebration of the good things God has given him.

A man may avoid risking his life in war so he can enjoy his blessings lest he lose his life before he does. A man invited to a banquet is not in danger of losing his life. His refusal to attend in order to enjoy his personal blessings prevents the banquet holder from celebrating. He is choosing a lesser blessing (land, oxen, wife) over the greater blessing: the feast in the kingdom of God. He is using an excuse that is valid in certain situations but not the circumstance he applying it to. It is interesting to note that the result of their refusal to receive the greater blessing (the banquet) means that they can never obtain it. Be wary lest your enjoyment of God's blessings are thorns (Mat 13:7) which distract you from the kingdom (Deu 11:18).

Friday, 29 November 2013

Gratitude in the details

A lot of posts I have read in the last day have focused on blessing because it is American Thanksgiving. This is not a tradition or holiday here, though I wanted to mention how much we can express gratitude to God. Not generalities but specifics. And even within specifics more specificity.

Take a simple pleasure like warmth. I really like warmth. But how many ways does God allow me to take pleasure in this one simple sense. I am grateful for
  • A warm bath
  • A warm fire on a cold night
  • A hot meal for dinner
  • A warm wife to hold in bed
  • A warm spa outside on a snowy day
  • Nerves that sense temperature and a brain that interprets nerve signals as warmth
  • That God invented such a pleasure as warmth so that his creatures can enjoy it
God's gifts are not only expansive all the way up, they are expansive all the way down.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Hobbit may well prove a classic

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien was published in 1937. C.S. Lewis wrote a review the same year which you can read here. He makes some interesting comments that Tolkien had created a new world brimming with history, much as authors like Lewis Carroll and George MacDonald before him. Though the most interesting and amusing comment his his final sentence,
Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbit may well prove a classic.
You think?! Very prescient Lewis.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Monday quote

Man and coyote both eat chickens. But the more coyotes the fewer chickens, while the more men the more chickens.

James Wanliss, Resisting the Green Dragon, p.30

Monday, 18 November 2013

Monday quote

Lawyers and computers have both been proliferating since 1970. Unfortunately, lawyers, unlike computers, have not gotten twice as smart and half as expensive every 18 months.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A casuistry in equivocation and imprecision

The atheists are acclaiming a new book in their armament. Peter Boghossian, a , has written A Manual for Creating Atheists.
philosopher from Portland State University

Disclaimer: I have only read the foreword and first 2 chapters of the book.

From the description of the book,
A Manual for Creating Atheists offers the first-ever guide not for talking people into faith--but for talking them out of it. Peter Boghossian draws on the tools he has developed and used for more than twenty years as a philosopher and educator to teach how to engage the faithful in conversations that will help them value critical thinking, cast doubt on their religious beliefs, mistrust their faith, abandon superstition and irrationality, and ultimately embrace rationality and reason.
While I support a more rational approach to theology and encourage Christians to think more deeply, the early parts of this book do not aid this endeavour and I suspect the subsequent chapters will fail also.

I will refrain from commenting in detail on Michael Shermer's foreword here save to note that his understanding of Christianity (despite his previous claim to salvation) is somewhat shallow. The first chapter "Street Epistemology" is a encouragement to fellow atheists to evangelise the world for unbelief and offers hope for a utopia free of religious constraints and political correctness—ironic given Boghossian's use of "she" for the generic person; as well as his promotion of fornication, gay "marriage", abortion, euthanasia, and opposition to (school) corporal punishment, all the trendy ideologies brought to us by the same men who gave us political correctness.

More concerning is the chapter on faith. Faith is a somewhat difficult term in that it does have more than one meaning. But for all his discussion on faith he fails to mention the common meaning attributed to the word by both the Bible and Christian theologians. The closest he gets is the quote from Hebrews which he dismisses as a "deepity"—a pithy phrase that has the appearance of profundity but is in fact meaningless on any level except the surface level. Well, let's take the surface level.
  • Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb 11:1 KJV)
  • Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (NIV)
  • Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (ESV) 
Faith is defined here as a confidence or assurance in that which we hope will be the case. Not a hope that is a wish, but a hope that is looked forward to. Not the hope that my stock will rise tomorrow, but the hope an engaged woman has for her approaching wedding day. It is the assurance or conviction of things unseen, or yet to be seen; the certainty of what we know is the case but is not visible, or not yet formed.

The reason men are approved for their faith relates to whom the faith is in, not the mere presence of faith, an attribute that is hardly limited to pious. We can also understand what Christian faith means by the fact that the Bible translates the same word variably as "faith", "belief" and "trust".

Conversely, Boghossian invents meanings for this word. Meanings that "faith" has never had in it long existence are now attached to it. Apparently no human has ever known what he meant by the word "faith", but now we can know thanks to Boghossian's belated discovery of the meanings. Of course this makes dialogue so much easier as the atheist does not need to understand the person they are taking with, the atheist can instead ascribe the new meanings to the word and inform his opponent of what he really means.

The meanings? Faith can either mean
  1. belief without evidence; or
  2. pretending to know things you don't know.
The first is almost the opposite of what faith does mean. The very issue with faith is that there is evidence. Perhaps not evidence of the actual event (which may still yet be future), but evidence of the faithfulness of the person teaching us or making us promises. The child who has faith that his father will buy him a bar of chocolate on the way home from soccer (as he said he would) may not have the evidence of the chocolate bar in his hand but he does have the evidence of chocolate bars after every previous game and probably a thousand other promises besides.

The second definition is just hubris. Perhaps I may be making claims about things I don't know, perhaps not, but how do you know that I don't know? Where did Boghossian gain the knowledge that when he disagrees with the theist that the theist is not only incorrect, the theist cannot possibly know what he claims to know?

We are shown several examples of definition 2 where the atheist can apply the author's rhetoric: "My faith is beneficial to me" can now be understood by the atheist to mean "pretending to know things I can't know is beneficial to me". But the list of examples has at least 2 broad categories of "faith" here. "Faith" is analogous to "trust" or "belief" in several examples but it is also used as a metonymy for "religion". If a word has a definition this does not apply when it is used as a metonymy. That we can use "crown" for "government" does not mean that the definition of "government" is "a jewelled headpiece". For a philosopher this is incredibly imprecise!

Next we are informed that
Faith and hope are not synonyms. Sentences with these words also do not share the same linguistic structure and are semantically different—for example, one can say, "I hope it's so," and not "I faith it's so."
I agree "faith" and "hope" are not synonymous, though they are related. But the rest is just nonsense. "Faith" is a noun in English not a verb. "Hope" is both a noun and verb. Boghossian forms a sentence using "hope" in its verb form then shows that you can't replace a verb with a noun without modifying it. Well no you can't. But convert "faith" to a verb-form and it makes sense. How about
I have faith it's so.
or
I trust it's so.
These are perfectly fine. Or use "hope" as a noun and change it to faith. Compare
I have hope that you will return.
with
I have faith that you will return.
Further, these examples show that "hope" and "faith" are related concepts.

There are a couple of other problems in this chapter. Atheism is defined as not having enough evidence to believe in God but be willing to change one's mind if evidence is presented.
[The atheist] simply thinks the existence of God highly unlikely. A difference between an atheist and a person of faith is that an atheist is willing to revise their belief (if provided sufficient evidence); the faithful permit no such revision.
The example of the author of his foreword notwithstanding, why would one stop believing in someone he has met? Does (perceived) lack of evidence really compete with actual evidence. The atheist merely needs evidence that God exists, but the theist needs strong evidence that overrides what he already knows.

Is not this atheism just agnosticism? But the author does not like the term "agnostic", further he considers it superfluous. Yet what to call the person who really does not know? And despite the so-called willingness to change one's mind, do not most atheists assert that there is no God?

Boghossian has some relevant things to say about objective and subjective belief. He rightly notes that religion makes objective claims (which he views as false). He then tries to show how wrong belief, or rather belief based on faith and not reason which he implies will invariably be incorrect, leads to bad consequences. How does he do this? Appeal to the fruit of Islam as seen in Afghanistan and several other states that follow Sharia law. Why Islam? Presumably because he could not do this with Christendom which has led to most of the markers of prosperity that he names: exports, imports, literacy, economic aid, public health, life-expectancy, infant-mortality, household income, GDP. (He also quotes the Happy Planet Index, I had to look that one up). And thanks to the 20th century we have an atheist comparison. The atheist governments killed millions of their own people, fared poorly on Boghossian's markers of prosperity, and were failed states, or escaped demise by abandoning their economic policies.

I realise that it may seem unfair to review a book that remains partially unread. There is some merit in this complaint. Unfortunately I am not particularly willing to commit my money and time given the significant faults in the opening chapters.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Monday quote

Self-appointed expert groups tend to preferentially include members who agree on central issues. While this increases the chance of reaching consensus, it is more doubtful whether it increases the chance of reaching correct conclusions.

Peter C Gøtzsche

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Beaten for receiving communion

Iranian Christians punished for drinking wine in communion.
A court in the Iranian city of Rasht has sentenced four members of the Church of Iran denomination to 80 lashes each for drinking wine during a communion service.
What the punishment is is not completely clear as the sentence was for drinking alcohol and possession of a receiver and satellite antenna. Even the Torah limited lashes to 40 for serious crimes (Deuteronomy 25:3).

Though switching to grape juice would be permissible and not a denial of Christ, this is still persecution of those who are walking in obedience to Jesus. Wine was given for man and men should not forbid what God has permitted.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man's heart. (Psalm 104: 14-15)

Monday, 4 November 2013

Monday quote

This war is not an option we can make disappear by visualizing world peace. Christ alone can usher in peace.

Douglas Jones, Angels in the Architecture.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Monday quote

The left leaning Christian frequently mistakes God's condemnation of unrighteous behaviour with vices that should be criminalised.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Monday quote

When people complain that they don't get what they deserve, they don't know how fortunate they are.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The authority of Scripture

Augustine writes
On such terms we might amuse ourselves without fear of offending each other in the field of Scripture, but I might well wonder if the amusement was not at my expense. For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the Ms. is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason. I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine. I do not need to say that I do not suppose you to wish your books to be read like those of prophets or of apostles, concerning which it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from error. Far be such arrogance from that humble piety and just estimate of yourself which I know you to have, and without which assuredly you would not have said, “Would that I could receive your embrace, and that by converse we might aid each other in learning! (Letter 82:3)
His approach to Scripture is that it is always true, though there may be problems at the level of
  • Manuscript quality
  • Translation accuracy
  • Personal interpretation
If there are no issues identified in these 3 components then what Scripture teaches is true and completely free from error. He yields to Scripture by virtue of it being Scripture, but only to other literature in as far as it convinces him by reason.

This is my approach and as such makes Scripture completely formative. Where I disagree with Scripture I am incorrect and I must modify and correct my worldview to accommodate Scriptural teaching on the issue. It is a little more subtle in that there are passages that are quite tricky to understand and I do not need to come down definitively on a conclusion. Further, I think all Scripture is inerrant thus I need to consider what I have learnt elsewhere in the Bible. Even so, as much as I am aware and am honest with myself, my beliefs are subservient to the word.

Now other books can be formative as well, I have learnt a lot from literature over the years. Yet I still pass judgment on the truthfulness of books. I fell free to agree with anything from 0 to 100% of what a book claims. Again, I may defer a conclusion awaiting more information on a topic. The difference is that I place myself (and Scripture) over what I read, not because I am an expert on everything I read, but because I am (somewhat) responsible for what I choose to believe. Conversely I place myself under what Scripture teaches. God is its ultimate author and therefore the Bible is God's authority over my mind.

As Geisler writes in Christian Apologetics,
Jesus is God incarnate. As God, whatever He teaches is true. Jesus taught that the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament are the authoritative, written Word of God. Likewise, Jesus, who is God’s full and final revelation, promised that the Holy Spirit would guide His twelve apostles into “all truth.” The only authentic and confirmed record of apostolic teaching extant is the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. Hence, the canon of God’s revelation is closed. With these sixty-six books we have the complete and final revelation of God for the faith and practice of believers. Every spirit or prophet who claims to give a new or different revelation is not from God.

This does not mean that there is no truth in other religious writings or holy books. There is truth in Greek poetry (Acts 17:28), in the Apocrypha (Heb. 11:35), and even some truth in pseudoepigraphical writings (Jude 14), as is manifest from the New Testament of these books. The point is that the Bible and the Bible alone contains all doctrinal and ethical truth God has revealed to mankind. And the Bible alone is the canon or norm for all truth. All other alleged truth must be brought to the bar of the Holy Scriptures to be tested. The Bible and the Bible alone, all sixty-six books, has been confirmed by God through Christ to be His infallible Word

Hat tip: Calvinist International

Monday, 14 October 2013

Monday quote

Though the Bible forbids God's people to deify God's servants, it commands us to esteem them highly. Christians frequently show more skill using the critical knife than tendering grateful thanks to parents, pastors, mentors, friends or educators who have labored to lead them in the grace and wisdom of God.

Dale Ralph Davis, Such a Great Salvation.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

On analogies

I find people's inability to understand analogies frustrating. Many deny an analogy because they claim that the issues differ, but the point is not that they might differ, the point is how they are the same. When Jesus said he is like a thief (Mat 24:43) he is not saying he steals the way a thief steals, he is saying his return is unexpected the way a thief is unexpected.

Alan Jacobs clearly explains how analogies work in this post.
Very few people understand how to evaluate analogies properly. An analogy will have explanatory value if the things or experiences or events or ideas likened to one another are indeed alike in the respect called attention to by the analogy. Far too many people think they can deny the validity of an analogy between X and Y by pointing out ways in which X and Y are different. Yes, and if they were not different you couldn’t analogize them because they would be the same thing. In Thomistic terms, you do not discredit an exercise in analogical predication by gleefully announcing that the predication is not univocal.

Here’s the proper way to evaluate an analogy:
  1. Ask this question: Does the person making the analogy between X and Y explain the respect in which he or she claims that X and Y are similar?
  2. If not, ask the person to clarify that point.
  3. If so, think about whether X and Y are indeed similar in the respect specified. If so, the analogy is legitimate. If not, the analogy fails.
  4. Feel free at this point to pursue other questions about the analogy, e.g., whether even if legitimate it identifies an important similarity, or whether the analogy does the intellectual work its maker thinks it does.
The use of analogies can be for clarity, emphasis, or rhetorical purposes. People may show poor judgment in their choice of analogy, but one's disapproval of a component of the analogy does not invalidate it.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Does an ideology measure up?

John Tertullian mentions 4 (non-exhaustive) criteria in judging an ideology. They appear quite useful. How does an ideology measure up to
  1. Loving one's neighbour as oneself;
  2. Doing as you would likewise have done unto you;
  3. Focus upon one's own faults before trying to correct others; and
  4. Truth telling versus lying.
In as much as a belief system breaks these rules as part of its modus operandi then it can be dismissed as false. For example is if a system knowingly lies to outsiders to increase its effect or credibility it should be dismissed. Quite a useful sieve.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Bible College in prison

Angola is a high security prison in Mississippi. It was notorious for its violence in the 1970s. Significant improvements have come about in the last 2 decades after a local seminary offered theological training.
In Mr. Cain’s view, the biggest change came in 1995 when, as he took over the prison and faced drastic cuts in school funds, he invited the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to open a seminary. To his surprise, he said, the eminent seminary agreed, covering the costs with outside donations.

“The Bible college was the game changer,” said Mr. Cain, 71, a portly man with granny glasses and a shock of white hair. “It changed the culture of the prison.”

Some other experts say the college is one of many factors, but the softening effect of religion on life here is evident.

Beyond the bachelor’s degrees, the college has granted hundreds more certificates or associate degrees, producing a cadre of men who lead churches, provide informal counseling in their dorms and take on what many describe as their hardest task — informing fellow inmates when a loved one on the outside has died. 
Candidates must have highschool qualification, which they can gain in prison, be sentenced to a minimum of 10 years, and have a record of good behaviour. The 4-year bachelor degree is rigorous and includes Greek and Hebrew. They have had 241 graduates so far. The seminary also offers a range of diplomas.

The cost is covered by the college, that is donations to the seminary; not government. This seems preferable and should allow the college to set course requirements as it would on its non-prison campus.

As to Warden Cain's comment about changing the culture of the prison: 2500 inmates attend church weekly.

The grace of God extends to the most wicked of men if they repent of their evil and follow him. May he continue to bless the men who have found forgiveness in jail and may many more at Angola and elsewhere turn to him.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Monday quote

There is freedom in submission and bondage in rebellion.

Lisa Bevere.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Does evil cause us to question God's existence?

This is a common claim in the secular West though I am not certain it is true globally or historically. Besides the fact that evil is evidence for theism which I will not deal with here, evil need not lead us to question God's existence, or even his goodness. Rather it may lead to us pleading ignorance of the ways of God. And for many it draws them closer to God as they seek comfort in the mist of suffering.

How may a Christian deny that evil challenges theism? Genesis clearly tells us that God made the world perfect. The world we now live in is broken and evil just reminds us of this fact. The ongoing presence of evil does not raise the question of God's existence over and over again, rather it raises the brokenness of the world over and over again. It shows us day after day the the world really is broken, thus really needs fixing. The more grievous the evil the more convinced we are of the world's brokenness and how utterly broken it truly is. This realisation can bring much comfort. The man who knows God has promised to fix the world can be secure in God's promises because he knows how desperately the world needs fixing. It drives him to God to plead for him to restore the world.

Difficulties may also expose our weaknesses. We do not just ask that God fix our environment, we ask him to fix us. It not just the world that needs perfecting, it is our souls. This could lead to depth of despair when we realise that we are as broken as the world; though it need not. Despair would be an appropriate response given the darkness of our fallen souls were it not for God's promises. The problem is not the despair (though this is a problem), the problem is us. But the promise is that we need not despair as God need not condemn us as our souls deserve, nor do our souls need to remain blackened. His grace is offered so that the offence is removed, and so that we can be remade. If we believe God's promise then the presence of evil need not lead us to question God's goodness but rather question our own goodness; and the question of God's existence may not even arise as a potential question in the presence of suffering. Further, when we see our lack of goodness then the goodness of God is more readily seen. I do not necessarily write the ideas of men who have not known evil, this is the experience of many who have suffered greatly for the kingdom.

Right belief does not make suffering any more pleasant, but right belief matters in how we respond to suffering. To those who falsely believe that the presence of evil logically questions theism, the experience of suffering may lead to such claims; but to the man who has trained his mind in the truth, such suffering, while just as unpleasant, can lead to different questions. To question God's existence in the face of evil is not more authentic. Others may question his goodness, and still others their own goodness. Suffering is the path to the kingdom (Act 14:22), so trusting God in the face of hardship and training ourselves to think rightly about God may make a difference in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Monday quote

I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E = mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.

Michael Crichton (1942–2008).

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Dalmanutha found?

After feeding the 4000 Jesus sent them away,
And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. (Mark 8:10-13)
Archeologists have found a town in Ginosar valley that may be Dalmanutha.
The architectural remains and pottery suggest that Jews and those following a polytheistic religion lived side by side in the community. In addition, the researchers found that the southern side of the newly discovered town lies only about 500 feet (150 meters) away from another ancient town known as Magdala.
Interestingly some manuscripts of Mark specify Magdala instead of Dalmanutha. Whether the towns were in close enough proximity that the names were used somewhat interchangeably, or that Dalmanutha was considered a section of Magdala?

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Massive aquifers discovered in Kenya

Finding fresh water is always good news. Kenya has discovered aquifers containing several trillion litres of water. They used satelite and seismic technology to identify previous unknown water sources.
Following an extensive groundwater mapping project that incorporated satellite observations, seismic information and remote sensing, five vast aquifers have been identified hiding beneath the country's arid northern region. Preliminary estimates put the aquifers' contents at roughly 250-trillion liters of water,
They were identified in a drought area. The largest aquifer is refilled at a rate of 3.4 trillion litres per year.
Turkana hosts a minimum reserve of 250 billion cubic meters of water, which is recharged mainly by the rainfalls of the Kenyan and Ugandan highlands at a rate of 3.4 billion cubic meters per year. This new wealth of water could boost Kenya's share of available water by 17% and alone represents nearly double the amount of water that Kenyans consume today. This groundwater raises the prospect for improving the livelihoods of the Turkana people, most of whom live in poverty and have limited access to basic services and clean water.
Turkana is one of the driest regions in Kenya.

Kenya is planning further exploration.
The Government of Kenya also announced the launch of a national groundwater mapping programme that would be implemented with UNESCO, which would assist county governments in identifying and assessing their groundwater resources.
Of the manifold ways to assist the poverty stricken internationally, providing clean water must be the most useful and cost effective.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Monday quote

In ancient and medieval cultures the key issue was how people collectively could realize the true human good. In modern society the key matter is to ensure that individuals are safeguarded from interference by others as they pursue their own concerns. The problem is that this modern concern involves concern with individual rights (including the "right" to commit suicide), and an overemphasis on such individual rights has seriously damaged the concepts of community and of obligation to others.

John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World, p.207

Monday, 16 September 2013

Monday quote

As for "logic is what atheism is all about," in years of dialoguing with atheists, I honestly hadn't noticed.  If I were to be reductionistic about it, and ignore some welcome exceptions, I might have guessed that anger was what atheism was all about. Or pride. Or perhaps libido.

David B Marshall

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Fiction fabrication

The Guardian reports a survey on lying about reading books.
A recent survey of 2,000 people suggests that the majority of people pretend to have read classic books in order to appear more intelligent, with more than half of those polled displaying unread books on their shelves and 3% slipping a highbrow cover on books they'd rather not be seen reading in public.
The list (percentage of respondents lying)
  1. 1984 by George Orwell (26%)
  2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (19%)
  3. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (18%)
  4. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (15%)
  5. A Passage to India by EM Forster (12%)
  6. Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien (11%)
  7. To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee (10%)
  8. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (8%)
  9. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (8%)
  10. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (5%)
Though one would ask, "Why lie?" You may end up in a conversation with someone who had read the book and show yourself ignorant of the contents. And who did they survey? Guardian readers? One quarter of all people lying about reading the book 1984 seems a little high? Further, I never assume that a book on a shelf in a house means the owner has read it. I haven't read all the books on my shelves.

Of the above I have read
  1. 1984
  2. Great Expectations
  3. Lord of the Rings
  4. To Kill A Mocking Bird
No plans on reading the others at this stage though it may be prudent to reread 1984.

Hat tip: Scribble Pad

Monday, 9 September 2013

Monday quote

I am anticipating things getting, simultaneously, much muddier and much clearer, by which I mean that it will be very clear how muddy it is.

Douglas Wilson

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Atheist fail

I was discussing with my daughter how she would approach an ambiguous sentence in literature. Specifically if there is sentence that has 2 meanings and one meaning does not make sense (by virtue of intrinsic logic or context) and the other does make sense, which sense should we attribute to the author. She correctly suggested we should give the benefit of the doubt to the author and assume the meaning that makes sense.

I then noted the penchant of some atheists to favour interpretations of Scripture that are obviously errant or create the most difficulties. This diverted to a discussion with a younger child about what atheists believe. To which my daughter stated,
If God didn't exist then they wouldn't exist; so what a fail.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Monday quote

Christ has turned all our sunsets into dawns.

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215)

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Love, submission and cultural blindness

I recently commented that I have not written a lot on the somewhat contentious issue of the relationship between husbands and wives. After a few recent comments on a recent post I thought I might expand on this topic.

There are, I think, several influences to our approach here such as: previous experience, our perception of fairness, our egalitarian Western culture, our dislike of submission, our concepts of freedom, our narcissism. With the emphasis on the word "our" in the previous list. But times and fads change therefore in any era parts of the Bible will align with cultural norms—the prohibition of murder currently—and other truths of the Bible will not—the various idolatries of this age. If egalitarianism is a biblical truth then we need to hold on to it while secularism spirals the West to its death; if complimentarianism is the correct interpretation then the church needs to resist secular definitions of liberty.

These ideas and influences that affect our approach to biblical commands need to be faced, especially when we find them harder to see. It is much easier to see the problems with arranged marriages in our culture which marries for love; but there are problems with the later which we, immersed in "till love do us part," struggle to identify. Paul's claim that there is no male or female (Gal 3) in a hierarchical society, or there is no Jew or Greek in a tribal or nationalist society—especially if you are the chosen race!—is a clear challenge. Incredibly shocking! This is not quite so radical in the 21st century after 2000 years of Christian influence. But tell slaves to submit to their masters... We reply no they should not, and then talk continuously about emancipation.

One of my concerns is the fallacy of abuse. The abuse of a principle does not invalidate the use of it. In this situation it would apply to leadership or dominion. A bad boss does not mean that businesses should not have them. Destruction of the environment does not mean that humans do not have dominion over the world. The abuse of wife by her husband does not disprove male headship (if it exists). The mistreatment of a child by his mother does not mean motherhood should be banned. The specific abuse in all these situations should be addressed. Consistent misuse of a situation may lead us to question whether the situation is indeed valid, and structural modifications may be needed to discourage abuse (taking fully into account the law of unintended consequences). But of itself, abuse speaks more of a fallen world than incorrect principles.

A second problem is, as my pastor puts it, reading other people's mail. One of the valid complaints by egalitarians is people who try to enforce what others are commanded to do. In Ephesians 5 Paul commands wives to submit to their own husbands. He is not saying that husbands are to force wives to submit to them. In as much as a wife is not submitting to her husband she is disobedient, yet for him to try and force obedience is not what the command is, and forced obedience is hardly submission. Further, he is disobeying his command which is to love his wife and nourish her and cherish her.

Likewise, a husband who does not love and cherish his wife is disobedient, yet if she tries to manipulate him to do so is not obedience to the command to love. The command is not to her and her actions may in fact make it more difficult for him to obey the command to love. Further, she is disobeying her command to submit to her husband.

The egalitarian complaint that husbands are not to enforce submission (and the unstated complaint that wives are not to enforce loving and cherishing) is valid. This should be acknowledged by all complimentarians.

Nevertheless, we are given our commands and we are to obey them irrespective of whether our spouse is being obedient to God in the matter. Husbands are to love, nourish and cherish their wives even if she never submits to him; likewise wives are to submit to their husbands and this command is not contingent on her husband's love.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Monday quote

Beating swords into plowshares is a characteristic of Christ's Kingdom, but it is not the condition that brings it about.

Wesley Sims

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Benefits of repeated reading

Reading a book of the Bible thru several times has the benefit of focusing one of the larger context, especially if one does this at normal reading speed rather than the slower devotion speed. A slightly dynamic version may help for some of the read-thrus.

The larger context helps one understand the structure of shorter passages. Let us say that a small passage may have a several different but legitimate interpretations. Based on the grammar, some may be more probable, others possible, perhaps some unlikely or even impossible. But in the larger context some interpretations become more likely than others. Interpretations of roughly equal likelihood when viewed at the level of sentence can dramatically change in their relative probabilities when viewed at the level of paragraph, section, and book.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Did Moses write the Pentateuch?

The first 5 books of the Bible are known as the Torah (Hebrew) or Pentateuch (Greek). The books are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. They are commonly referred to as the Law. Authorship is traditionally ascribed to Moses though there is indication in Genesis that Moses is compiling and editing earlier sources.

The Bible confirms Moses as the author of the Pentateuch.

Old Testament

From the Pentateuch
  1. Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven." (Exodus 17:14)
  2. And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient." (Exodus 24:4-7)
  3.  And the LORD said to Moses, "Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." (Exodus 34:27)
  4. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the LORD, and these are their stages according to their starting places. (Numbers 33:2)
  5. Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel. (Deuteronomy 31:9)
  6. So Moses wrote this song the same day and taught it to the people of Israel. (Deuteronomy 31:22)
  7. When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, "Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against you. (Deuteronomy 31:24-26)
Elsewhere
  1. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:7-8)
  2. And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. (Joshua 8:32-34)
  3. They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. (Judges 3:4)
  4. When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, "I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, (1 Kings 2:3)
  5. But he did not put to death the children of the murderers, according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, where the LORD commanded, "Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. But each one shall die for his own sin." (2 Kings 14:6 citing Deuteronomy 24:16)
  6. And I will not cause the feet of Israel to wander anymore out of the land that I gave to their fathers, if only they will be careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Law that my servant Moses commanded them." (2 Kings 21:8)
  7. But he did not put their children to death, according to what is written in the Law, in the Book of Moses, where the LORD commanded, "Fathers shall not die because of their children, nor children die because of their fathers, but each one shall die for his own sin." (2 Chronicles 25:4 citing Deuteronomy 24:16)
  8. And they set the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their divisions, for the service of God at Jerusalem, as it is written in the Book of Moses. (Ezra 6:18)
  9. And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. (Nehemiah 8:1)
  10. On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people. (Nehemiah 13:1)
  11. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. (Daniel 9:11-13)
New Testament

Jesus
  1. And Jesus said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them." (Matthew 8:4 citing Leviticus 14)
  2. They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." (Matthew 19:7-8 discussing Deuteronomy 24)
  3. For Moses said, "Honor your father and your mother"; and, "Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die." (Mark 7:10 citing Exodus 20:12 and 21:17)
  4. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob"? (Mark 12:26 citing Exodus 3:6)
  5. "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 16:31)
  6. Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." (Luke 22:44)
  7. "For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" (John 5:46-47)
  8. "Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?" (John 7:19)
Others
  1. And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27, Luke)
  2. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17, John)
  3. "This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us." (Acts 6:13-14, Jews)
  4. "Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses." (Acts 13:39, Paul)
  5. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses." (Acts 15:5, Jewish Christians)
  6. For it is written in the Law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain." Is it for oxen that God is concerned? (1 Corinthians 9:9, Paul citing Deuteronomy 25:4)
  7. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:15, Paul)
  8. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. (Hebrews 10:28, Author of Hebrews citing Deuteronomy 17:6)

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Submitting to one another

SLW raised some issues concerning complimentarianism and egalitarianism in Genesis on a previous post. Here I wish to discuss a couple of ways that Ephesians 5:21 may be understood. It says,
...submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Two questions arise: whether this should be attached to the preceding or following verses; and who the submission applies to. The second question is the more disputable one, though the former may have implications as how to best answer the latter.

In Ephesians Paul is instructing the believers in Christian behaviour—the Christian walk. Christians have new life in Christ therefore they are no longer to behave like the other Gentiles (Eph 4:17) and stop acting how they did prior to trusting Christ; put off their old self, put on their new self, change they way they think (Eph 4:22-24).

Interspersed in the following verses are several behaviours that need addressing: falsehood, unrighteous anger, theft, laziness, corrupt speech, bitterness, slander, covetness, sexual immorality. Concluding these Paul states,
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, (Ephesians 5:15-18).
There is debate as to whether one does these things in order to be filled, or whether one does these things because he is filled. Nevertheless, what does being filled with the Spirit look like? Paul lists the following:
  1. addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
  2. singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
  3. giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
  4. submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:19-21)
The structure suggests that submitting to one another is connected to the list of being filled with the Spirit.

Following this Paul talks to husbands and wives. He tells wives to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33)
The egalitarian interpretation suggests that the passage about submitting (Eph 5:21) applies to everyone in the church; all people within the church are to submit to each other. Thus it (Eph 5:21) is a summary of things to follow, with the subsequent discussion giving specific advice to husbands and wives based on areas they tend to struggle with. Wives are to actually submit to their husbands; that is the command to submit to each other (Eph 5:21) applies in marriage even as women tend to struggle to do so. Men are to love their wives (Eph 5:25, 28, 33) as well as submit (Eph 5:21). But the tendency for the man is not to love the woman in the same way that he loves himself (Eph 5:28). The woman is not specifically told to love as she generally does not find that difficult. The man is not specifically told to submit as he does this more easily.

The complementarian interpretation would see the passage about submitting (Eph 5:21) as be a prelude to the subsequent examples. Verse 21 concludes the previous passage and Paul then gives some specific examples of submission. These are marriage, fatherhood and slavery. In these 3 situations the specific person in the submissive role is reminded that it is still appropriate to submit, even though they (wife, child, bondslave) have equal standing as believers in Christ.

Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21) therefore means that those who are in submissive roles are to submit.
  1. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (Eph 5:22)
  2. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (Eph 6:1)
  3. Bondslaves, obey your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, (Eph 6:5)
After each of these Paul adds a command to the people who are being submitted to ensure that they act godly in their actions and not abuse their position.

Some of the debate is over what is meant by "to one another" or "one to another" (Greek allelon) in verse 21. I do not think this can easily be resolved; it almost certainly cannot be if verse 21 is interpreted in isolation. The term "one to another" can mean both "all to all" and "some to all". "All to all" is meant in certain contexts, eg.
Greet one another with a holy kiss. (2Co 13:12)
See also Luk 24:14; Joh 13:34; 15:17; Other contexts can only mean "some to others", eg.
Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, (Rev 6:4)
See also Joh 4:33; Act 26:31. Many other phrases could possibly be read as "all to all" though it would seem more likely that "some to others" is what occurs in any one specific situation, even if these roles are somewhat fluid and change in other specific situations, such as,
Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1Pe 4:9).
See also Gal 6:2; Eph 4:32; Col 3:13; 1Th 5:11.

So the egalitarian interpretation reads this as a summary of what is to follow, and claim all are to submit to each other; the complementarian interpretation reads this as a prelude (and possibly as a conclusion of the preceding verses) and some categories of people are to submit to other categories of people.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Monday quote

The models predicted a hot spot and 28 million radiosondes (28 million weather balloons) couldn't find it. And they call us the deniers.

Joanne Nova

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Posts in purgatory

Things have been moderately busy lately, as the state of my blog may suggest—that or blog apathy.

Nevertheless I have nearly 200 drafts in various stages of completion; from titles to ideas to half written essays to completed—but not published or proof read. Unfortunately unless I complete an article near the time I begin it, and post it at the time, it may end up being ignored for several years. Work and family will continue to demand time, and I would like to get some reading done, so in the next week I thought I would see if I could find half a dozen drafts or so that are complete, or near to it, and publish them.

We'll see.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Monday quote

Being honest may not get you a lot of friends but it'll always get you the right ones.

John Lennon (1940–1980).

Monday, 5 August 2013

Monday quote

Anyone who has been around the block a few times will know that, for instance, several of their peers who left the church ‘because of all of the hypocrisy’ or ‘because of the tension between science and faith’ had been struggling for some time with the cognitive dissonance between their fornication and their professed faith.

Alastair Roberts

Monday, 29 July 2013

Monday quote

There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, "Mine!"

Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920).

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Highpriesthood of Annas ben Seth's family

As mentioned previously Annas had 5 sons who became high priests:
  • Eleazar (16-17)
  • Jonathan (36-37, 44)
  • Theophilus (37-41)
  • Matthias (42-43)
  • Annas (61-62)
Annas' daughter was married to Joseph Caiaphas (18-36) so Caiaphas was Annas' son in law (John 18:13).

Annas' son Theophilus had a son Matthias who was highpriest c. 65-68.

HighpriestRelationshipYear
Annas ben Seth6-15
Ishmael ben Phiabi15-16
Eleazar ben AnnasSon16-17
Simon ben Camithus17-18
Joseph CaiaphasSon-in-law18-36
Jonathan ben AnnasSon36-37
Theophilus ben AnnasSon37-41
Simon Cantatheras ben Boethus41
Matthias ben AnnasSon41-44
Elioenai ben Simon Cantatheras44
Jonathan ben Annas (restored)(Son)44 
[Cimtheras]
Joseph ben Camydus [?ben Cantos]44-47
Ananias ben Nebedeus47-58 
[Jonathan]
Ishmael ben Phiabi58-62
Joseph Cabi ben Simon62-63
Annas ben AnnasSon63
Joshua ben Damneus63
Joshua ben Gamaliel63-65
Matthias ben TheophilusGrandson65-67
Phinehas ben Samuel67-70

There is a potential allusion to this family by Jesus in the story of the rich man and Lazarus as I describe here.
Caiaphas fits the position of the rich man in this story: he is wealthy, he has 5 brothers-in-law, he is part of the ruling class (dressed in purple), and at least one of his brothers-in-law probably denies the resurrection.
The brother-in-law who denied the resurrection was Annas ben Annas as mentioned by Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1). However it is likely that Annas the Elder was a Sadducee, and probably all 5 sons; Caiaphas was a Sadducee. The Sadducees denied the resurrection. If Caiaphas was the rich man in the story (which seems both reasonable and probable) then the use of Lazarus as a name would also have been intentional. As I wrote earlier,
We learn that Mary poured perfume on Jesus' feet (John 12:3). This story is also told in Matthew 26 and Mark 14. It is probably the same event but the woman's name is not given. They are in the house of Simon the Leper. So Lazarus may have known Simon, or Simon may be Lazarus' name.
John writes,
Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:1-3).
Matthew relates,
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. (Matthew 26:6-7)
And Mark similar. All 3 authors mention that the disciples were indignant that the perfume was not sold and the money given to the poor; John specifies Judas, and Matthew says it was the disciples (presumably at the instigation of Judas), and Mark just mentions some were indignant. The cost of the perfume is a large sum (Matthew), at least 300 denarii (John and Mark). All 3 specify Bethany as the location. The authors are clearly describing the same event. Lazarus was either the friend of Simon the Leper or, more probably, Simon was Lazarus' name. It is likely that Simon had previously been cured as he was now hosting a dinner, something he would not be able to do were he unclean. Simon was quite possibly healed by Jesus.

In summary Luke 16 has a rich man
  • dressed in purple and linen;
  • eating lavishly;
  • having 5 brothers; and
  • possibly sceptical about the resurrection of the body
and a poor man
  • named Lazarus;
  • covered in skin lesions;
  • starving; and
  • surrounded by unclean animals.
The highpriest Caiaphas fits the profile of the rich man (though he is prudently unnamed) and Simon the Leper fitted the profile of the poor man prior to his healing. Lazarus is mentioned by name in the story so that Lazarus' subsequent resurrection from the dead will bring to mind this story.

It seems likely that this parable was told as a warning to Caiaphas, especially in view of the subsequent raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Yet it also seems interesting that the 5 brothers also became highpriests; only 1 (Eleazar) had been so prior to Jesus' death and resurrection. Jesus said these things to the leaders in Israel, and all Jesus' words and deeds were told the Pharisees, priests, teachers of the law. It seems likely that not only did Caiaphas know of this story, but so did other rulers including Caiaphas' brothers-in-law.

Did Caiaphas take this to heart? Did his brothers respond to the warning after they learnt of Lazarus' revival and then Jesus' resurrection?

Monday, 22 July 2013

Monday quote

The question is not whether atheists can believe in universal morals or whether they can act morally; they are, after all, made in the image of God. The real question is whether such belief is intellectually and logically warranted.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Venomous poison

The 1980s song Poison by Alice Cooper has come on the radio a few times recently. Though I know of this song from several years ago the lyrics have recently reminded me of Proverbs 7.

One could argue that Poison is somewhat sadistic and not merely seductive. Possibly, though I think the physical descriptors can be appreciated as metaphors for the evil behind lustful seduction, especially as the man is still tempted despite his knowledge of her harm. Proverbs likewise uses the metaphor of death, though also linking it to spiritual death.

Proverbs 7 and Poison below.

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