Saturday, 24 February 2007

The dark side

Though the events around Satan and hell are not treated extensively in the bible, there still is a reasonable amount of information to be gleaned. Enough to lay to rest many falsehoods and speculations by Christians. I will leave out passages in Isaiah and Ezekiel because they are not universally acknowledged as being about Satan, though I think a reasonable case could be made for the traditional belief. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1). This gives us a starting point for the material universe but whether the creation of the angels preceded or postdated this event is uncertain. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit existed from eternity past and the angelic realm is certainly created but to pin down the timeframe may prove to be difficult working within God's specific revelation. God spoke to Job saying:
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?/ Tell me, if you have understanding./ ...when the morning stars sang together/ and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4,7 ESV)
In the context the sons of God are angelic beings. Interestingly this (as well as other passages) tells us that stars metaphorically describe angels. Given God is describing the beginning of the creation of the earth, this would suggest that the angels were created prior to or about the time of Genesis 1:1. An alternative view would be day 4 if we associate the creation of the literal stars with that of the metaphorical ones. This is followed by the creation of man and woman on day 6. This is the day that God described everything as very good (Gen 1:31). Although this is primarily a reference to the creation of the material universe, there may be information in this verse that tells us that the angels had yet to fall. We can be certain that the angelic fall predates the fall of man because the temptation by the serpent shows that evil had entered into spiritual realm. We have an parallelism in Job above equating angels with stars. This is also (possibly) seen in Revelation.
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. (Revelation 12:1-4 ESV)
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!" (Revelation 12:7-12 ESV)
From this we see that Satan is equated with the dragon, the serpent and the devil; all traditional interpretations. A further traditional interpretation is that the passage about the dragon sweeping a third of the stars means that about a third of the angels fell at the time of the angelic fall. This is possible, though a third of the stars may be referring back to the stars crowning the woman. Given that the woman, the sun the moon and the stars likely represents Israel (Gen 37:9), this may be discussing some opposition of Satan against Israel. Another (or further) interpretation is that the woman, sun, and moon represent an astronomical configuration as per Ernest Martin. I am not certain of the timeframe of these events discussed in Revelation, but it gives us information as to the identity of the serpent and tells us that Satan is the leader of many evil angels. God told Adam and Eve to procreate and populate the world. This would have happened quickly given their perfect state. The fall of man is prior to Eve conceiving her first child and likely occurred shortly following her creation from Adam—almost certainly less than a month. Ussher suggests Day 10 based on subsequent commandment that the day of atonement should fall on day 10 of Tishri (Lev 16:29; 23:27). An argument for day 16 could also be made on this basis (10 days following day 6 of creation). Though we have not established a complete relative order of events we have established some constraints. In terms of the material world we have:
  1. The beginning of the creation of the world.
  2. The creation of man and woman 6 days later.
  3. The fall of man (likely) several days later.
In terms of the immaterial world (who clearly can interact with the material world) we have:
  1. The creation of angels sometime prior to the fall of man and possibly prior to the creation of the world
  2. The fall of the angels prior to the fall of man, possibly after the creation of man; but prior to the creation of the world cannot be excluded.
There is some further information given us by Peter
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into Tartarus and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;... (2 Peter 2:4)
It is uncertain who, how, or when this fits into the above. Clearly not all fallen angels are in Tartarus. In the time of the New Testament we hear of demons requesting Jesus not send them into the abyss. So were some angels sent there at the angelic fall or was there some subsequent sin on behalf of some angels that demanded this imprisonment? And were these fallen angels, or were they angels who didn't side with Satan in his rebellion but have subsequently taken his side. However this passage at the least allows the possibility of some significant angelic event following the angelic fall.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

How long were the Hebrews in Egypt?

Biblically there are 2 options. A duration of about 200 years or a duration of about 400 years. I contend that a 430 year period leads to contradictions within scripture whereas a 200 year period does justice to all the biblical data.

Starting with Abram's call to Canaan thru to Jacob's descent into Egypt.
So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (Gen 12:4-7 ESV)
Abraham was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born to him. (Gen 21:5 ESV)
Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau's heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was 60 years old when she bore them. (Gen 25:26 ESV)
And Jacob said to Pharaoh, "The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning." (Gen 47:9 ESV)
From these passages it is relatively simple to get a duration of 25 years from the Haran departure to the birth of Isaac; 60 years to the birth of Jacob; 130 years to Jacob's arrival in Egypt; a total of 215 years from the time from when Abram left Haran and came to Canaan until Jacob went to Egypt and met Pharaoh. From the birth of Isaac the duration is 190 years. Jacob entered Egypt during (or at the end) of the 2nd year of the famine. As Joseph came into the service of Pharaoh at the age of 30 Joseph would have been about 39 when he saw his father again. Levi was older than Joseph.

The duration until the Exodus including the time in Egypt is alluded to in several passages:
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." (Gen 15:13-16 ESV)
And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them 400 years. (Act 7:6 ESV)
The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. (Exo 12:40-41 ESV)
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. (Gal 3:16-17 ESV)
The first 2 passages give a timeframe of 400 years. While this could be the time spent in Egypt, the starting point is not clearly defined. This is a prophecy and several pieces of information are given. Reviewing the prophecy of Genesis 15: Know for certain that:
  1. your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs
  2. and will be servants there
  3. and they will be afflicted for 400 years
  4. I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve
  5. afterward they shall come out with great possessions
  6. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace you shall be buried in a good old age.
  7. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.
Item 2 probably goes with item 1, but there are at least 6 aspects to this prophesy and not all have the same timescale. While item 3 could imply the time in Egypt, item 7 links the return in 4 generations which would seem too few if the 400 years starts following a prior 190 years from the birth of Isaac (given the mention of descendants).

Squaring the 430 years of Exodus 12 with Galatians 3 is difficult. Paul states that the giving of the law (at Mount Sinai which corresponds to the Exodus) was 430 years after an event. Is Paul talking about the promise he just referred to, and if so, which promise? Or is he talking about the covenant ratification that he is about to refer to?
Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (Gen 12:7 ESV)
The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, "...all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. (Gen 13:14-16 ESV)
And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir." And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."
He [God] said to him, "Bring me a heifer 3 years old, a female goat 3 years old, a ram 3 years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 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. (Gen 15:4-5, 9-13 ESV)
Chapter 12 is at the time Abram leaves Canaan. Chapter 13 is difficult to date precisely but is after Abram returns from Egypt. Chapter 15 refers to both a promise and the covenant of Galatians 3. It occurred at an unspecified time prior to the birth of Ishmael. Abram was 86 when Ishmael was born. If we do not know which promise is the one specified it is not unreasonable to focus on the first pronouncement of it. If this is the case there is 430 years between Abram leaving Haran to come to Canaan and the Exodus. That would give 405 years from the birth of Isaac until the Exodus which corresponds to the 400 years of Genesis 15 and Acts 7.

Where does that leave us with Exodus 12:40? Here are several translations:
The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. (ESV)
Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was 430 years. (KJV)
The sojourning of sons of Israel (who lived in Egypt) was 430 years. (my translation)
Now the time the children of Israel dwelt in Egypt and Canaan was 430 years. (Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch)
The question is does the dwelt in Egypt refer to the children of Israel or the sojourning. Do we translate
The sojourning (of the children of Israel) which they dwelt in Egypt was 430 years.
The sojourning of the children of Israel (who dwelt in Egypt) was 430 years.
The word for "which" or "who" both being acceptable translations of the Hebrew asher. Charles Taylor in Rewriting Bible History (According to Scripture) suggests that the first interpretation is strained in Hebrew and the second would be a more natural reading.

And if the Septuagint retains the original reading the point is moot.

There is further information which makes a 400 year Egyptian sojourn untenable. This is the genealogical data. Genesis alluded to 4 generations and the only complete transition is Levi, Kohath, Amram, Moses. Here is Moses' family tree:
These are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, the years of the life of Levi being 137 years. The sons of Gershon: Libni and Shimei, by their clans. The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel, the years of the life of Kohath being 133 years. The sons of Merari: Mahli and Mushi. These are the clans of the Levites according to their generations. Amram took as his wife Jochebed his father's sister, and she bore him Aaron and Moses, the years of the life of Amram being 137 years. (Exo 6:16-20 ESV)
The name of Amram's wife was Jochebed the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt. And she bore to Amram Aaron and Moses and Miriam their sister. (Num 26:59 ESV)
It is not uncommon for people to argue that biblical genealogical data is incomplete; that some of the persons are missing—compare Jesus' ancestry in Matthew 1. In this case however the context demands that Jochebed is Moses mother. It is also clear that she was a daughter of Levi not just a female descendant of Levi, so the genealogies cannot be missing generations. If there was a gap between Kohath and Amram then the age that Jochebed marries is getting along. The timeframe for this family is limited. Levi lived 137 years, Kohath 133 and Amram 137. Moses was 80 at the time of the Exodus. That totals 487 years and we must subtract the overlap due to the age of fatherhood and the age of Levi when Jacob came to Egypt (~42). This is less than 430 years but sits comfortably with a 200 year sojourn in Egypt.

Considering all data suggests the 430 year duration commences with Abram leaving Haran for Canaan and ends with the Israelite exodus from Egypt. The 400 years of oppression in Genesis and Acts are dated from the birth of Isaac to the Exodus (actually 405 years but the context implies an approximate timeframe). Jacob entered Egypt 215 years after Abram left Haran and the duration of time the Israelites were in Egypt was 215 years.

The Exodus occurred at c.1450 BC and Jacob entered Egypt c.1660 BC.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Random quote

"'Cheshire Puss,' she began, rather timidly,... 'Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'

'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the cat.

'I don't much care where—' said Alice.

'Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat."

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), Alice in Wonderland

Thursday, 8 February 2007

God of the gaps

It is not an uncommon accusation that the ancients ascribed to the gods aspects of the world that were not comprehensible to them. We now have more knowledge about many things. It is claimed, therefore, that the need for a God to explain these phenomena has become increasingly unnecessary, and by implication we will come to a stage in knowledge that everything will be completely explainable without the need to reference God.

I don't deny that religions of the past may have worshipped a being and ascribed to him characteristics that we could interpret as a god-of-the-gaps mentality, perhaps more so in animistic cultures, but it not the case that this accusation is true within Christianity.

It is incorrect to accuse the ancients of ignorance. While our current knowledge may be vast, it is because of our ability to store knowledge and hence build so easily on previous findings. The ancients did this to a small degree, they had their libraries, but lack of technology limited this. Despite the lack of knowledge storage, they were not ignorant.

Take the virgin birth for example. While the ancients may not have understood sperm production or follicular development, they knew how to make babies. Women do not procreate asexually. Everyone knew this. So the claim of a virgin birth is not based on lack of knowledge of the physiology of fertilization. How could it be? If the ancients were unfamiliar with the concept that coitus causes children, what miracle would need explaining? Why would Joseph seek to divorce Mary? My argument here does not prove the virgin birth, rather it shows why an explanation was given in Luke.

So what about the weather? There are plenty of scriptural passages that describe a divine meteorologist. Can it be said that the weather was not understood in those times and now it is and God was the explanation for the gap in man's knowledge previously?

These passages need to be reviewed as to what they are actually implying. Not all the passages are addressing the same issue. If it can be shown that the ancients did understand a certain phenomenon, then ascribing it to God cannot be due to their ignorance. There must be some other explanation. If I understand how a television works, but see God as involved in some aspect of broadcasting, it is likely because of the circumstances of the event that I make this claim, not my ignorance of the matter.

In the plagues of Egypt we see several events that relate to "natural" phenomena. But there is no indication that the phenomena were not understood. Gnats, flies, frogs and hail are all events the Egyptians and Hebrews were familiar with. The divine aspect of the plagues was twofold:
  1. They were more extreme than previously seen, on a scale that, at least in some circumstances, doesn't seem naturally possible.
  2. They were directed in time and place.
Looking at the second: they were announced in advance; they arrived when predicted; they went when it was specified; they discriminated between the Egyptians and the Hebrews. If I state that a tornado will appear on a certain day outside tornado season, strike a certain city on an exact day at an exact time, and damage one half of a particular street and miss another, it says something. It does not matter if I understand tornadoes. In fact the less I know about tornadoes the more it says. And if I do this repeatedly for different phenomena it says even more.

So what about situations that discuss natural phenomena in general principles (Job 38; Psa 18:15; 77:16-19; 104; Isa 29:6). Several verses are similar to what has already been discussed. There is also an affirmation that God is in control of the universe. We can see this if we compare it to military behaviour in scripture. The ancients understood wars. They knew about political aspirations and the desire for property, power and glory. They knew that these things had their origin in the will of man. Nevertheless scripture also talks about God being in control of the nations (Jer 5:15). It is saying that despite man's best intrigues, God is ultimately in control. The opinion is that God can override human plans and do his willing. This does not mean that the writer doesn't understand military tactics in human terms and so ascribes it to God; it means that God has the ability to put human plans to his own purpose. The same thinking can be applied to natural phenomenon. Solomon described plenty of natural processes (1Ki 4:33). God doesn't need to be seen as an explanation to stop inquiry, rather he is the ultimate explanation and he retains ultimate control.

How else did the scientific revolution begin with Christians. They didn't refuse to ask questions and invoke God to the ones that were asked. Rather it was their belief in the trustworthiness of God and the order of his universe that led them to think that the answers they sought would be meaningful. God is not capricious.

What about the book of Job? God ascribes knowledge and power to himself that Job lacks.
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:/
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?/
..."Has the rain a father,/
or who has begotten the drops of dew?/
From whose womb did the ice come forth,/
and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?/
..."Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?/
Do you observe the calving of the does?/
Can you number the months that they fulfill,/
and do you know the time when they give birth,/
when they crouch, bring forth their offspring,/
and are delivered of their young? (Job 38:1-2, 28-29; 39:1-3 ESV)
God answered Job by showing up Job's ignorance and lack of power. Is this an example of God making himself a God of the gaps? Was God saying that these things are not understandable but that he does them all? Now that we know the answers to some of the questions God asked Job does this diminish our need for God as an explanation of these phenomena? By no means. The point was that Job didn't know everything and that God did. All God did was point out areas where Job lacked knowledge. Job understood what God was saying and repented. He acknowledged that God knew a lot more than him and that God knew what he was doing. If God spoke to us in the same way today he would use things about the world we are currently ignorant of. We could investigate those areas and come to an understanding, but doing that would miss the point: God knows so much more than us.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit

Atheist Brian offers up the blasphemy challenge:
"There isn't any good reason to believe in God," asserts Brian. "It's that simple."

What's wrong with God?

"What's wrong with the tooth fairy?" asks Brian. "There's nothing wrong with something that most likely doesn't exist."

...And recently they came up with a new way to publicize their cause. It is called the Blasphemy Challenge.

...What they did was challenge people to make videos of themselves, denying, denouncing or blaspheming the Holy Spirit,...

Chandler... says: "I've come to the conclusion that alongside the fact that there is no Santa Clause and there is no Easter bunny, there is also no God. So, without further ado, my name is Chandler and I deny the existence of the Holy Spirit."

...[Kathleen] Liles says Brian is simply missing the point. Faith is not something that can or should be proven, she says.

"Faith is a gift, it is a mystery, as so many other gifts from God are," she says. "And when we open our hearts to God, then God will give us the faith to believe."

...Brian says,... "If they want to come to the table and present their evidence, I will present my evidence. And we will see how much of theirs is based on faith, and how much of mine is based on fact."
This is just appalling atheist apologetic and shallow interpretation. Mind you, the token "Christian" response leaves a lot to be desired also.

There are three major mistakes in this article. Inappropriate analogy, misinterpretation and the fact/ faith dichotomy.

Comparing God to the tooth fairy or Santa Claus may belittle him, or make Christians seem childish, but it does little more. There are hundreds or fantastical beings that I could claim I don't believe in but that doesn't prove anything. No one ever truly believed in Santa Claus (except for childhood fantasies) nor was there ever a time people believed in the tooth fairy, it is a conscious man-made construct. Now an atheist may say so is God, but God certainly isn't a consciously invented construct. I could say that I don't believe in Brian, but that leaves me with having to explain away all the people on YouTube denying belief in the Holy Spirit. This is the real point, Christians claim there is good evidence for God. Atheists may attempt to explain this away, but they do not need to explain away Santa Claus, no one believes in him.

Then there are the large number of atheists denying the existence of the Holy Spirit showing up their lack of biblical knowledge, or even desire to gain any.
"Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"—for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit." (Mark 3:28-30 ESV)
God hates those who call good evil and evil good (Isa 5:20). But which does he hate more. Many an evil person or demon claims their activities are good. God opposes this, they are making false claims about themselves and leading others astray. Calling good evil however; that is making claims on God. That is maligning his character. That is attacking his glory. When Jesus accuses the scribes of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, what is it they have done? They have called the Holy Spirit who indwells Jesus unclean; they have claimed the good things of God originate from evil.

The atheists pride themselves in denying the existence of the Holy Spirit; not a sensible thing to do, but not an uncommon belief for people who don't know God. But to acknowledge God and see his good works are say they originate from Satan; that, God says, is unforgivable.

As far as the fact faith dichotomy is concerned, that needs more extensive treatment. However Christians must bear some of the blame for this one with their inadequate definitions of faith. Faith is not the ability to believe the untrue, it is trust based on truth.
The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."/
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,/
there is none who does good. (Psalm 14:1 ESV)


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