Thursday, 29 November 2012

Christianity and homosexuality. Part 2

Previously I expanded on the complementary nature of males and females that can be known from anatomy and physiology. Humans are designed for heterosexual coitus.

The scriptural arguments that homosexual behaviour is forbidden are quite extensive. I do not intend to address them all at this stage but will touch on an interpretative issue concerning Old Testament texts.

There are prohibitions against sodomy in the Torah (Lev 18:22; 20:13). Some have argued that since several other prohibitions are no longer in effect such as wearing clothes made with blended linen (Deu 22:11), or eating shellfish (Lev 11:10), we can dismiss prohibitions against sodomy. The problem with this kind of approach is that everyone agrees that at least some prohibitions in the Torah are applicable. All would say that people should not murder (Exo 20:13), steal (Exo 20:15), or give false testimony (Exo 20:16). Likewise animal sacrifices are generally agreed to no longer be in effect. Some things mentioned in the Torah are still applicable, and some are not. It is not sufficient to say that sodomy is no longer prohibited because we can eat pork. The question is, "Is the sodomy law akin to laws against theft, or laws against sowing a field with wheat and barley?" If we now sanction sodomy, does the same approval apply to adultery (Exo 20:14), child sacrifice (Lev 18:21), or bestiality (Lev 18:23)?

We gain insight into this question from Paul's letters.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor catamites, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
The words relating to sexual immorality above are "fornicator" (πορνοι), "idolater*" (ειδολολατρεσ), "adulterer" (μοιχοι), "catamite" (μαλακοι), and "sodomite" (αρσενοκοιται, arsenokoitai).

Paul elsewhere uses the word "arsenokoites" (αρσενοκοιτεσ) in a vice list in his first letter to Timothy
...the lawless and disobedient, the ungodly and sinners, the unholy and profane, father-killers and mother-killers, murderers, fornicators, sodomites (αρσενοκοιταις), kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, (1 Timothy 1:9-10)
This is a compound word that some claim Paul coined. It is derived from "arsen" (αρσεν) meaning "male" and "koite" (κοιτε) meaning "bed". That "bed" (koite) can have sexual overlay in the meaning (compare to, "bed a girl") can be seen in that we get "coitus" from this Greek word. This word is a reference back to Leviticus
καὶ ὃς ἂν κοιμηθῇ μετὰ ἄρσενος κοίτην γυναικός βδέλυγμα ἐποίησαν ἀμφότεροι θανατούσθωσαν ἔνοχοί εἰσιν (Lev 20:3, Greek Septuagint)

And he who lies with a male in a bed as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; let them certainly be put to death, they are guilty. (Lev 20:13, English Septuagint)
Paul's use of this word in his lists is straight from Leviticus which favours reading the ruling in Leviticus as a permanent prohibition and not a temporary injunction for the Israelites.

I think both the design of human anatomy and the commands of God provide us with the answer to homosexual practice. Nevertheless, an understanding of the broader aspects of sexuality and God's intention can help us understand not just what God commands but why.

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

*While idolatry is not intrinsically sexual, in practice it is often closely associated with sexual immorality.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Monday, 26 November 2012

Monday quote

For man, by the fall, fell at the same time from his state of innocence and from his dominion over creation. Both of these losses however, can even in this life be in some part repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by arts and sciences.

Francis Bacon (1561–1626), New Organon.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Christianity and homosexuality. Part 1

A Christian friend of mine (with no significant internet presence that I am aware of) has asked me about homosexuality. His basic question, embedded in a longer email, was:
I can’t see why God would have a problem with homosexuality, assuming that is was ‘good’ homosexuality. We have many, many examples of ‘bad’ heterosexuality. If we take all of what we say a monogamous, loving, ‘Godly’, heterosexual marriage should be and call that a ‘good’ relationship then I can’t see any difference if you just slotted in the word homosexual instead of heterosexual (except, obviously, you can’t have kids – leaving homosexual adoption etc aside). It’s not a matter of homosexuality means the population won’t grow or be able to look after us in our old age – as was the case in Biblical times.
Part of the difficulty answering this is that he is familiar with various other Christian controversies and observes that many people just quote mine Scripture to support their view. This can be true at times, parts of the Bible are used to hold up a prefabricated structure rather than the entire Bible forming the foundation and walls. Such an approach to Scripture can be a temptation, though I would argue that many Christians try to reframe their thinking from Scripture. Therefore he is not that interested in a list of verses refuting homosexuality as others could just offer an alternative list. Though I think finding verses showing the acceptability of homosexual behaviour and unions from Scripture is difficult, I will address the larger issue as I see it.

The arguments that homosexual behaviour is iniquitous comes from both general and specific revelation: nature and scriptural commands against it. Understanding the broader intentions of God gives reasons for these commands. I will initially post on general revelation, specific general revelation, and what could possibly be titled allegory.

The natural argument is significant. Christians know that the world is designed and hence purposeful. Teleology is asserted though variably understood. The natural anatomy of men and women is clearly complementary. The main purpose of the penis and the sole purpose of the vagina is coitus. The gonads are anatomically and functionally associated with them. The urethra is a conduit for urine, but its position is related to the presence of a penis, it merely needs to exit the body from the bladder and its location seems convenient. The uterus (womb) is anatomically intermediate between the vagina (coitus) and ovaries (reproduction). An anatomical connection is a biological necessity. The uterus is also functionally associated with the ovaries with regard to reproduction.

This knowledge of both the anatomy and the function of the sex organs in relation to coitus and reproduction demonstrates that men and women were designed complementary. This does not deny that an organ can have duel function, such as taste and speech with the tongue. Nor that an activity is restricted to a single function. Eating brings sustenance and pleasure. Coitus can give pleasure, produce intimacy, and create life. The point is that nature shows us that heterosexual coitus is how humans were designed to operate. To argue for sodomy (heterosexual or homosexual) one would need to show how such an activity is part of human design: a duel function analogous to the tongue being a taste organ as well as a speech organ.

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Monday quote

The great problem with discontented people (and that means discontented husbands and wives) is that they are the most unteachable people on earth.

Douglas Wilson

Monday, 12 November 2012

Monday quote

It's precisely those systems that fail to defend private property rights that are most inclined to abuse the earth. There's a name for this in economics—"the tragedy of the commons."

Robert Sirico (1951–), Defending the Free Market.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Revolution or reformation

Changing the direction of society can be pursued progressively or suddenly. Advocates of change can be righteous or unrighteous; the change desired beneficial or disastrous. The path to Christendom is good, all other paths are broad and head toward Abaddon. The Western road to secularism, even though it probably won't end there, is in the wrong direction.

But what of the way we change where we are headed? The French revolution arising from the enlightenment and the worship of (fallen) reason was disastrous. Marxists in their pursuit of communism encouraged revolution against the bourgeois which led to the largest death toll in the history of conflict. A question arises as to whether the negative aspects of these revolutions were because of their wrong-headed goal—the idolatries of reason and the state respectively—or their revolutionary nature. If so, a second question is whether revolution is acceptable in the pursuit of the good.

The method of revolution is sudden change. The overthrow of a regime or system is pursued immediately. It declares war on its opponents and seeks to remove their influence by any means. It is not just transformation, but immediate change. As such the conflict is obvious to all, and prone to violence, especially so if wicked men are at the forefront.

Conversely reformation seeks to change by degrees. Though the creation of Protestantism may be viewed as sudden and it is referred to as the Reformation, Luther was not initially trying to split the church, he was trying to reform it. This failed, and the rise of Protestantism was good for both Christendom in general, and for the Roman Catholic church. Nevertheless, the method of reforming is gradual change, it re-forms, it replaces poor and wrong practices with good ones.

It seems that revolution is generally destructive when it is pursued for wrong ends. Though even reformation in the wrong direction is detrimental. And it is subtle. We may not be Marxists, though we are all Fabians. It is uncertain if abortion can be completely laid at the feet of socialism, yet Progressives do advocate its tolerance, and at 40 million abortions per year it dwarfs the communist death toll.

So is revolution a permissible method in pursuit of the good? There may be some situations where revolution may be defended, but in general it seems it is to be avoided.

Judgment at times is revolutionary in its arrival. God is patient with man, but disobedience may be punished greatly and suddenly. Resisting aggressive evil may leave no other option. Wickedness that is bold may need to be resisted by righteousness that is bolder. However these seem to be the exception.

Jesus tells us the kingdom of God is like yeast in bread (Luke 13:20-21). Daniel describes a stone that becomes a mountain that covers the whole earth (Daniel 2:35,44-45). There is no time frame for these but both are processes of growth and have been going on for the last 2000 years.

The kingdom of heaven reforms. God is in the process of change. He redeems people for himself. We become disciples and this takes time. We are baptised to show Jesus' life in us, and we take the bread and wine continually as we became more like him. We are changed in his likeness. In the same way Jesus can redeem and reform culture. Music, art, politics, justice, economics can all be redeemed; and the process of redemption is usually one of reformation. Revolution is destructive. It may be necessary at times, but God is redeeming this fallen world—transforming it slowly, a process of reformation. We need to take a long view. Looking at where people and cultures are is less useful than looking at where they are headed.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Letters to the editor

The Sacred Sandwich prints several letters to the editor after Christianity Today publishes Paul's letter to the Galatians.

From 2009. Most amusing.

If Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians was Published in Christianity Today


Dear Christianity Today:

In response to Paul D. Apostle’s article about the Galatian church in your January issue, I have to say how appalled I am by the unchristian tone of this hit piece. Why the negativity? Has he been to the Galatian church recently? I happen to know some of the people at that church, and they are the most loving, caring people I’ve ever met.

Phyllis Snodgrass; Ann Arbor, MI

Dear Editor:

How arrogant of Mr. Apostle to think he has the right to judge these people and label them accursed. Isn’t that God’s job? Regardless of this circumcision issue, these Galatians believe in Jesus just as much as he does, and it is very Pharisaical to condemn them just because they differ on such a secondary issue. Personally, I don’t want a sharp instrument anywhere near my zipper, but that doesn’t give me the right to judge how someone else follows Christ. Can’t we just focus on our common commitment to Christ and furthering His kingdom, instead of tearing down fellow believers over petty doctrinal matters?

Ed Bilgeway; Tonganoxie, KS

Read more

Monday, 5 November 2012

Monday quote

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Prophecy is better understood after it is fulfilled

In an earlier post I wrote,
There is an aspect of hiddenness to Scripture. Related to this hiddenness is the concept that prophecy is better understood after the event than before it. That is, its fulfilment clearly relates to the prophecy, but this is much harder to grasp before the event.
This could seem to imply that prophecy is not really prophecy if we can only perceive it after it is fulfilled, or worse, that it is not prophecy at all and we just look to random events that may line up with vague ponderings—a Nostradamus approach where cryptic predictions have innumerable confirmations.

This is not really what I am getting at. I think it possible to understand prophecy before the event. And some prophecies are quite clear. Jeremiah clearly stated that Babylon was going to conquer Jerusalem. The Jews would be exiled for 70 years and then return. Daniel was praying near the end of that time asking God about the return (Daniel 2:9). So some prophecy is easy to understand. Nevertheless some prophecies are harder to grasp and some is very difficult to understand.

This may be intentional, God gives words he knows will be difficult to understand. This may relate to us not grasping the issue: for example, at times we relate 2 disparate things because they seem similar to us and we fail to see crucial distinctions. This may be because it addresses issues we have yet to encounter: new inventions, different culture.

Whatever the reason is that we struggle to understand, the reason for God giving elusive prophecies may relate in part to him wanting the prophecy to exist—that is, publicising the foretelling of events—without people knowing exactly what is to come, especially those who oppose God.

So I do not mean that the prophecy is vague and any number of events fulfil it, I mean that an event clearly fulfils it, but all the details of the prophecy become much clearer after we encounter its fulfilment.

An example is Isaiah 53, the 4th of the suffering servant passages (Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). Isaiah 53 clearly applies to Jesus, as do all of the suffering servant passages. There has been no other life that fits these verses, and applying them to the nation of Israel fails. Yet who could really understand all that Isaiah 53 was saying before the incarnation of the Messiah. Perhaps there were several interpretations before Jesus, but there is only one after him. And did any one person get it correct before Jesus? Peter tells us that not only did the prophets inquire carefully about the salvation to be offered, but also the angels!
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10-12)
Post fulfilment clarity is not ad hoc, it is more an aha moment.

A potential application of this is that if an event accurately fulfils prophecy then this event may be the intention of the prophecy (or the first event in a duel fulfilment). If an event does not clearly match the prophecy (after it occurs) then perhaps the connection is strained and the prophecy is yet to be fulfilled.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Eschatological schools

Following on from my prophetic principles, how do I see eschatology in general, and specifically Revelation? Revelation 1:1-7 mentions that the vision concerns the return of Christ. Verse 1 says the events are soon,
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.
Verse 7 mentions Jesus return,
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.
Verse 19 adds,
Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.
This means that Revelation discusses things happening around the time it was written and in the future. It need not solely mean immediately, that is the first generation after Jesus' resurrection; nor end-times, the last generation before Jesus returns. It potentially covers affairs from the time of John's vision until Jesus' return.

Briefly classifying the 4 major schools:
  • Preterism*: Most of the prophecies of the Bible find their fulfilment in the first generation after Jesus' resurrection; that is, by 70 AD.
  • Historicism: The prophecies of the Bible are fulfilled in various persons thru-out history until the return of Christ.
  • Futurism: Most prophecies of the Bible find their fulfilment in the last generation before Jesus returns.
  • Idealism: The symbols are predominately symbolic of ideas and most do not correspond to any specific event.
By most prophecies I mean those that were not fulfilled by the time of Jesus, I do not mean those that are acknowledged to have been fulfilled such as Jeremiah's prophecy of the return from exile, or Isaiah's prophecies of the first coming of the Messiah.

I think that preterism, historicism, and futurism all offer a potentially valid approach. Idealism may get us thinking more carefully about what the symbols refer to, but it fails to recognise and apply genuine prophecy.

Because I am not attached to any one particular option I read some passages with an immediate (preterist) fulfilment, and others with a distant (futurist) one.

There is agreement among the schools in some aspects. Most interpreters identify the churches in the early chapters as representing real churches that existed in the time Revelation was written. Antipas was a martyr. Jezebel was a false prophetess. The Nicolaitans were a false sect. These should all be understood as literal people from the first century. Likewise they agree that Jesus returning in the clouds has yet to happen (Acts 1:11).

Here are some examples where each school is probably correct. Other schools may not necessarily disagree with the interpretation here, but the interpretation is most in line with the approach of the particular school.

In the Olivet discourse Jesus refers to those escaping when they saw Jerusalem surrounded.
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:20-24)
I think this is best interpreted as occurring at the time of the destruction of the temple 66–70 AD under Vespasian then Titus. Interestingly there was a break in the fighting when Vespasian returned to Rome to become Emperor before Titus took over the seige. At this time many Christians, remembering Jesus' words, fled Jerusalem.

The best example of this school of interpretation is Daniel's visions. His vision of the 4 beasts in chapter 7, then the ram and the goat in chapter 8, then the kings in chapter 11 refer to events that occurred over the following decades and apply to specific kingdoms and people. The beasts are kingdoms
  • Lion/ eagle: Babylon
  • Bear: Media/ Persia
  • Leopard/ bird: Greece
  • Terrible beast: Rome
The ram and goat are the kings of Media/ Persia and Greece respectively (Daniel 8:20-21).

The final defeat of Satan, the new heaven and Earth, the judgment of the nations are all events at the end of the age. They are best viewed as future events.

Here are some problems with the schools.

Not all of the Olivet discourse was fulfilled in the first century. Antichrist(s) may be yet to appear.

Though Daniel offers a good example of the Historicist view, I have not read convincing interpretations of Revelation along these lines. The rise of Islam, the Great Schism, the Catholic/ Protestant split; none of these are clearly seen. I am also not certain about the allegorical application of the letters to the 7 churches to the global church thru the ages. Even if true, it is not the primary meaning.

Disagreement with the number of the beast applying to Nero. Forcing a strict chronology on Revelation. Not applying parts of the Olivet discourse to the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century.

As mentioned previously, I would apply aspects of each of these as I see them apply to a specific passage. Based on the specifics of the prophecy and how events have panned out I would say some events have already occurred, and some are yet to be. Some of the difficulty in recognising the Messiah in Isaiah may have related to seeing him as both a suffering servant and a conquering king. These do not seem compatible, yet we know they are. He came first to suffer and die for our sins. He was raised victorious over death. He is seated at the right hand of God, and will return again to enforce his dominion. Let us not make this mistake, failing to realise that some aspects of prophecy were fulfilled in the first generation after Jesus ascended, and others in the last generation before he returns, and perhaps even some in between these generations.

*I am using preterism to mean partial preterism. I consider full preterism (hyper-preterism) with its claim that the return of Christ was in the first century and was therefore spiritual to be false.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Prophetic hermeneutics

SLW has written an interesting piece on Antipas. He refers to his prophetic hermeneutic which is interesting.
  • If events have significance to God's plan of redemption, those events will be foretold by prophets.
  • If the prophesied event occurred within the time frame during which biblical writing was inspired, its fulfillment will be recorded in the scriptures dealing with that period.
  • If a prophecy interprets the past (as it certainly does in the Revelation) it's fulfillment in the past will be recorded in the scriptures dealing with that period. (Predictive) prophecy is difficult to interpret. It may imply now, or soon, or distant future, or perhaps have duel fulfilment.
He bases this on Amos 3:7. These premises are well worth considering though I am not going to interact with them directly.

The post lead to a discussion on the dating of the book of Revelation and various interpretations of Revelation.

Traditionally these are
  • Preterism
  • Historicism
  • Futurism
  • Idealism
Let may say at the beginning that I do not have strong eschatological views. My reading around the issue is not in-depth enough. I am also not sure that if I did have more certainty, I would find the issue evoking significant passion. It seems more important to have a right view of beginning-times than of end-times.

Had I labelled myself previously, perhaps it would have been a futurist. I find I have increasing sympathy for preterism. I would not say that I have abandoned futurism for preterism, it would better to say I have incorporated aspects of preterism.

Nevertheless, I do not think that Revelation needs to fit into a preterist, historicist or futurist interpretation; I am more concerned with what Scripture says and with consistency. As Douglas Wilson has written,
We must always allow the words of Scripture to speak to us, straight up, and not modify them for the sake of a theological system. Receive the Word as spoken, and let the system (which will form necessarily) take care of itself.
It may be that eschatology is best understood under the classification of futurism, or preterism, or idealism, or historicism; or they may each contribute aspects of the truth.

It seems that futurism has a slightly more literal approach to prophecy. Although I have sympathy with literal hermeneutics, there are aspects of prophecy that call this approach into question; or at least suggest modification.

My general hermeneutic is probably better described as more grammatical (straightforward interpretation) than literal. Much of the Bible is to be understood in a literal manner (especially history). Still, figures of speech, idioms, approximations, hyperbole, rhetoric are all features of Scripture and Scripture needs to be interpreted with this in mind.

So is predictive prophecy literal? Well it may point to literal events: Isaiah's prophecies of the Messiah meant that a real person was coming. Yet some fulfilments of prophecy seem to be more spiritual than physical.

There are aspects of prophecy that should make us question whether something is literal, or rather that a literal aspect may be fulfilled in a difficult to perceive way. A couple are hiddenness and scriptural interpretation of prophecy.

If we view prophecy in the broadest aspect: God speaking to people though his servants, it seems that clarity is attenuated by righteousness. What I mean by this is that our ability to understand is modified by our receptiveness to God. Those inclined toward God understand better than those opposed to God. Jesus spoke in parables for this reason. Isaiah says,
‘You will be ever hearing, but never understanding;/
you will be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’/
This people’s heart has become calloused;/
they hardly hear with their ears,/
and they have closed their eyes (Isaiah 6:9-10, Septuagint)
Thus there is an aspect of hiddenness to Scripture. Related to this hiddenness is the concept that prophecy is better understood after the event than before it. That is, its fulfilment clearly relates to the prophecy, but this is much harder to grasp before the event.

We also need to read how the authors of Scripture understood prophecy. For example Matthew's interpretation of prophecies is different than I would expect at times. Jesus indicates that some things should be understood as more spiritual than material. We need to learn from Jesus and the inspired authors.

We need to read Scripture (including eschatology) aright. Avoiding both hyperliteralism (phylacteries) and over-spiritualisation (Jesus has returned in the church; Jesus has risen in our hearts); and also rightly discerning which aspects are more literal and which are more spiritual.


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