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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Why I Think Jesus Didn't Exist

Dr. Richard Carrier’s video message, “Why I Think Jesus Didn’t Exist” is a clear, clean academic exercise. This is not to say there is any completion to his arguments or that he even provides examples in those instances when he makes one of his abundant assertions. It is to say that his message is so abundant in assertions, short on substance that it seems a masterpiece of editing. All his points are the usual and familiar array to dismiss Jesus as nothing more than just a guy, or the idea/myth created in the minds of some people, about a guy who made some off the wall and historically familiar claims about his deity. It is not surprising that the same short list of ancient deities which he enumerates is the same as heard from Christians, whom, upon first learning about those deities often dismiss and abandon their faith in Jesus. Carrier, despite his high academic credentials, his much learning and much touted expertise has absolutely nothing more to say than those Christians with far less knowledge, education or touting.


There are a multitude of claims, according to Carrier, which reveal the development of the myth about Jesus, an ordinary guy who never existed. Carrier peppers his message with assertions without offering any substantiation. Instead, he repeatedly informs his listeners that there are many or the majority of scholars and mainstream scholars who agree with him in his dismissal of scripture passages as well as entire books of the New Testament. He would have the faithful believe him that those scholars who deviate from the faith and agree with him are otherwise strong, faithful adherents of the scriptures and the faith. However, if Bart Ehrman is any indication of those scholars who agree with him; Ehrman is quite outspoken in his unbelief and dismissal of the scriptures as being corrupted or fabricated. Even when something such as the resurrection of Jesus is referred to by the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15 as being, according to the scriptures Carrier dismisses it. It’s the proverbial predicament of being damned if you do, damned if you don’t; a catch-22. In other words, it is evident there is no answer which would satisfy Carrier, but . . . there is an answer. There are greater, weightier matters ahead for Carrier to consider and which he has, not surprisingly, avoided.


So, I will not dispute with Carrier about matters which may or may not have been written about long ago.


something in common


Instead, I prefer to address just one point, two actually, which Jesus stated and which is as readily dismissed by Dr. Carrier. There is no need to verify the authenticity of this one main point. It does not require sifting through ancient documents. It is something which Carrier has in common with every Christian, Muslim, animal and plant, atheist, and _ Jesus. All are born. All will die. What Carrier has in common with all these is birth, and specifically, death which obscures his academic, feeble efforts to dismiss the existence of Jesus.


Carrier can forget and dismiss the claims of the the virgin birth of Jesus. I can level the playing field for him because in the same manner as Carrier dismisses the extraordinary claims surrounding the virgin birth of Jesus the same dismissal can be applied to the birth of Carrier or any human birth. The truth is no one knows where they were born, when they were born or who are their parents. The fact that one does not know these things first hand or even if no one could attest to their birth does not invalidate or nullify the reality of their life. They may be despised and their humble origins questioned but they are no less a life regardless whether or not they leave a lasting impression or message. Humans can only acquire and accept the information about he place, time and parents and the beginning of their life from others as they grow older. Although we can only verify and authenticate our own birth through the testimony of others if we belittle, deny or dismiss someone else’s birth we have been most disingenuous. The same holds true of dismissing the birth of Jesus, but, frankly whether it is our birth or the birth of Jesus; it is a moot point really. Again, Carrier has some weightier matters than birth and the existence to which birth initiates into this world.


it’s alive; it speaks


Death, unlike any number of points concerning Jesus which Carrier can scrutinize and dismiss can not be dismissed. Death was the same reality which existed for all human beings two thousand years ago just as it exists for human beings in the twenty first century. No measure of  academic exercise or the collaborative work or say-so of numerous scholars can change that reality. None are necessary. Whether or not a real or created, mythic Jesus made those claims about his resurrection from the dead does not require an academic exercise to verify or invalidate those claims.


Fortunately, death is alive with us today. It stands ready to speak to us in the twenty first century. We can examine it ourselves as scholars, mainstream scholars or individuals, but even without the need for scholars or mainstream scholars. All that is required are those lives have been touched by the reality of death.


Carrier parrots the standard, familiar inclusion of the gods Horus, Mithra along with Jesus and states:


All these gods DO have in common: They all obtain victory over death which they share with their followers.


He is correct about their death.


death of a myth


Once again, lets leave aside the breakaway distinction of those claims associated with those gods and the same claims of Jesus concerning his own resurrection to friends and foes alike. Lets put aside also the fact that the narrative of Horus and Mithras died at birth. Why? Their narrative died simply because the undeniable reality became irrepressibly apparent to even their staunchest believers that they were not willing and able to sustain a myth which did nothing to affect a change, much less a transformation, of their lives.


Despite the connections which Carrier blithely, but rightly, makes between Judaism and Christianity (I will suffer this use of the latter term for which I have no use, but it’s Carrier’s use and it is in the vernacular here.) he is oblivious to a vital point and one which in no small part attests to the reason why the so-called myth of Jesus has survived. The message of the faith that is in Christ Jesus began well enough with the Jews, but it very quickly became apparent in the first century that this faith was not hemmed in, limited or characterized by Jewish culture, customs or language. Even Greek, which is the primary language of the scriptures was indicative of something bigger than any single ethnic group. The Greek people themselves never claimed nor has the claim ever been asserted by others that this message of faith was of Greek origin or that it was of the Greek people.


The fact that Jesus’ claims were not new and were centuries old has made them a favorite touchstone for sword sharpening and dashing for Carrier and his fellow scholars. However, by this same tactic the claims of Jesus’ would be just as readily be targeted for dismissal for no other reason than that those claims were new and never heard or attested to in ancient literature. Again, like a Catch-22; you can’t win for losing.


The Roswell Analogy


Carrier concludes his video message with the Roswell Analogy as his way of overlaying his mistaken notions concerning the mythic Jesus over the mythic gods of Mithra and Horus. Simply stated, just as the Roswell incident involving flying saucers and aliens never happened so too neither did Mithra, Horus and Jesus.


This is Carrier’s breakdown of the 1947 incident at Roswell, New Mexico.


What really happened: A guy found some sticks and tinfoil in the desert.
What was said to have happened: It was debris from an alien spacecraft.
What was said to have happened within just thirty years: An entire flying saucer was recovered, complete with alien bodies that were autopsied by the government.


Then, he overlay his Roswell analogy template over the Mithra and Horus gods with this explanation:


The “tinfoil in the desert” would be analogous to “the revelations of the archangel named Jesus”
and
“the flying saucer and alien bodies” would be analogous to the “historical Jesus of Galilee.”


Carrier is true to form,. Granted that to provide corroboration for his rejection of the entire Roswell incident would be tedious and outside the scope of his message. Nonetheless, this is the track record Carrier has established for himself, but if the corroboration of the incident is outside the scope of his message; why use it? Furthermore, the fact that Carrier should resort to something out of this world, literally, such as flying saucers and aliens is most tellingly disingenuous of him.

a trend


Carrier rejects the standard rebuttal by Christians who insist that Jesus was different from those gods, and thereby, he casts his own ensnares himself unwittingly. He states, “The differences are not the issue. Their similarities are what identify them as a trend.”


A trend towards what, Dr. Carrier? A trend, as your choice of words suggests, is a breakaway move from what has been seen and established as the track record. Yes, the resurrection, as one example, is one element held in common between all those different god myths. However, the claims concerning the resurrection of Jesus were made by Jesus himself in the presence and for the knowledge of his disciples as well as his adversaries. It was not a private secret. When his resurrection became a reality it was not denied by his adversaries. They elected to suppress it, but not to deny it.

death speaks


I expect Dr. Carrier remains unconvinced. Well enough. What remains is for Carrier to examine today what he has observed or what he might experience if a close, lovely family member or friend die. Never mind that the friend never said or made any claims that he/she would rise up from the dead.


It is safe to say Carrier would likely react with some modicum of astonishment were he to see his deceased family member rise up from the dead.


If his family member or friend had indeed stated he/she would rise up from the dead it is safe to say Carrier would likely react to those words with unbelief.


If his family member or friend indeed told Carrier he/she would rise up from the dead and then actually did it it is safe to say that despite the awesomeness and overwhelming joy of seeing his family member or friend back from the dead Carrier might still rightfully react with unbelief. His mind would likely be flooded with doubts and possible messages he missed concerning the loved one risen from the dead who is standing before.


None of these responses by Carrier would represent or constitute an outrageous or incredible response. They all represent a very human behavior response to an extraordinary phenomenon. It does not require the write testimony of ancient or contemporary scholars or mainstream scholars to validate or authenticate these responses.


This is no less what the disciples of Jesus experience. They had heard Jesus tell them he would rise up from the dead. They saw him after he was risen from the dead. They could not believe it even as he stood in their midst.

Now, what remained for them as well as Carrier is to consider what might be the implications and significance of one who said these things about himself and fulfilled them in the presence of his followers and adversaries alike. Suddenly, what someone wrote or did not write and whether or not it were corrupted or whether there were any witnesses all pale because death, Carrier’s own, stands before him and it speaks to him. It awaits your answer, Richard.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

In Between Epiphany & Emmanuel sermon: A response to invitation to LGBT

The recent announcement by the GracePointe Church in Franklin Tennessee to extend an invitation and to embrace LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender) represents a need to proclaim 1) what is sin, and 2) how those who renounce their life of sin will inherit the kingdom of heaven. This need to proclaim is true as concerns the enlightenment and edification of those saints who are bound to Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is just as true, though they are certainly not bound by it, of the nonbeliever whom if he/she loves his/her life cannot be a disciple of Jesus nor inherit the kingdom of heaven deserve to hear the proclamation of the gospel. (Luke  14:26; I Corinthians 6:9, 10) I believe there is sincerity behind and in the aftermath of a great struggle and wrestling before pastor Stan Mitchell came to a place, to understate it, of great discomfort for himself and as concerns his love towards the saints, their love towards him, the love of the saints at GracePointe towards Jesus as Lord and Savior and his and the saints love for the LBGT to whom GracePointe has extended the invitation. Decisions which affect the congregation of the saints in Christ are sometimes reached on the basis of what is popular or difficult. Yet, I believe those decision makers know these are not the proof as to whether those decisions are right or wrong. Decisions in the past in different fellowships ranged from the petty inside bickering of the saints over whether to have a kitchen in the building to speaking in tongues. Mostly, these were limited to those fellowships respectively. Today, the decisions concerning LGBT, equality involving same-sex marriage (with more to come likely) or other decisions such as sisters in Christ preaching and teaching, (The YouTube video introducing Lauren King at Fourth Avenue Church of Christ has been removed.) reveal that these are not limited to a particular fellowship of the saints. They cut across from one gathering of the saints to another without respect to doctrine or creed.


So, this is a blast of neither the GracePointe Church, her leaders or those who gather there to seek and to know the will of Father through Jesus, his Son and the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is an admonition. It is a word of encouragement that through understanding the saints who gather there as well as those elsewhere may be edified in their faith. I strongly encourage readers of this article to take the time to watch the video in its entirety. Listen to Stan Mitchell in his own words which include some profound insights on Living Between Epiphany and Emmanuel. As true and powerful as are Mitchell’s praiseworthy insights the application of those insights or the justification for the decision of the church leadership seems obscured at best and at worse misplaced. Watch and listen to the video as it is the only way some of the content of this article will can make sense because I have not necessarily expanded in great detail on the entire content of the video.


a list of sins


The apostle Paul stated (I Corinthians 5) that some of those believers in Corinth who were now in Christ were at one time were numbered among those people who lived in sin and without God. His admonition to them was for them to not associate with such people. The admonition was not about those who know not Jesus as Lord and Savior. Rather, it was as concerned a “so-called brother,” as Paul refers to him in the same chapter to the believer in their midst. His immorality had been embraced by the Corinthian saints as a demonstration of their love. It was their mistaken notion and it was why Paul admonished and instructed them as to what they were to do about the matter. Paul, although absent from Corinth not only judged the individual, but he urged the saints at Corinth to do likewise. Despite the aversion and mistaken notion about judging which some saints clutch with much fear it is more the influence of the world on their thinking than their understanding of Jesus and Paul. Their judgments, like the judgments of the saints, were not unto the condemnation of the individual, but unto the salvation of the immoral brother. The saints in Corinth did just as Paul instructed them and they put out of the assembly, or broke fellowship with him. The individual did repent and was restored subsequently. (see II Corinthians 2)


The apostle Paul later reiterates a list of sins, by no means exhaustive, in I Corinthians 6 with some additional sins:


Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters,nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.


peace outside kingdom


I thought this statement by Mitchell to be peculiar and as telling as it is to ponder:


"I want all of you today who are experiencing the peace of safety to celebrate that. I want those of you who do not have the peace of safety to hear me; you're safe and if can't believe that for yourself let some of us believe that for you and then you can do that for us when we go through our time . . . hmmm” (time: 12:30)


It is not easy for the saints in Christ whether at GracePointe or anywhere to view with acceptance or much less accept the practice of something which the scriptures state is sin, against the will of God and the kingdom of heaven. It may seem and sound as praiseworthy, but exactly what or how does a disciple believe peace towards another person so as to impart peace on that person? Even more, what is this notion of Mitchell to ask of those who do have peace to, do that for us when we go through our time? Assuredly, Mitchell understands how the believer goes from being a child under the wrath of God to one who is at peace with God through the peace of Jesus. It is not a stretch to expect that he knows there is no way for a nonbeliever to be led to believe he/she is at peace with God if they are outside of the kingdom of heaven, _ especially by the saints in Christ believing the nonbeliever is at peace? This is precisely where they remain, outside of the kingdom, without their own renunciation of a life of sin and without Jesus as Lord.


Still, if there anything praiseworthy about the decision of GracePointe Church it is that she is to be commended for her welcome of the LGBT; a welcome which ought to be, and presumably is, extended as well to thieves and others.


leadership, membership and other false branches


Yes, the carnal mindset of some saints who shun sinners and shut the doors of the assembly to them is as much their own sin against the kingdom of heaven. However, extending “full leadership” roles and “ full membership” are no less the same concessionary olive branch of “partial leadership” and “partial membership” which GracePointe extended to them by the church leadership initially. These meager offerings to sinners as decided by the GracePointe Church leadership represent nothing less than (however unwittingly) a deceptive or misleading offering because full leadership and full membership offerings are no more present and taught in the scriptures than are partial leadership and partial membership.


Furthermore, and this is the fallacy of these olive branches as Mitchell calls them, the giving of those olive branches may create the impression of love in the Lord, but it is a notion of love as mistaken as that of our Corinthian brethren. Why? Because receiving and participating in “full leadership” and “full membership” do not equate with and are not a substitute for the knowledge, humility and obedience of the believer to the message of the gospel by which he/she is translated from darkness into the kingdom of heaven. (Colossians 1:13)


being full of the Holy Spirit


It is quite true that those who lead are to do so by serving. Certainly, this is what was modeled for the saints in Acts 6. What escapes the GracePointe leadership is not unique to them. It is widespread. It is the quickness with which some are tasked with the responsibility of teaching (as is the intention of GracePointe towards the newly welcomed ones) in the body of Christ rarely without any discernment or testimony as to whether these, like the seven in Acts 6, are “full of the Holy Spirit.” If this can not be or is not discerned and affirm about the individual by the congregation the needless qualifier of “full” to their responsibility as leaders rings hollow.


Paul declared this truth about being in the Spirit and belonging to Christ succinctly and clearly and are pondered with questions and thoughts:


9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. (Romans 8)


24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5)


First, do those whom are entrusted with “full leadership” including to teach, able to understand and able to teach how and when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in them? If the Holy Spirit is not in one who professes to believe or who speaks of love it no more makes him/her a leader or a teacher than one who belongs to Christ and is filled with the Holy Spirit. The promise that the believer who receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is not the same as being filled with the Holy Spirit.


Secondly, the body of Christ is made up of a number of different members. There is no mystery as to how these believers came to be added into the body of Christ nor is their any question about them being members such that they have need to qualify that they are “full” members of the body of Christ. I encourage you to review the response of believers to the preaching of the gospel in Acts as well as the conversion account of the apostle Paul.


I anticipate the response concerning Peter’s qualifier that the seven be “full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” I understand this example of the work of the Holy Spirit in the saints was to teach the body of believers how to address and solve problems in their midst. It was to provoke and stir the saints to think and examine just who and how those seven selected individuals were full of the Holy Spirit. It is noteworthy that the task at hand as described by Peter was to serve tables. How much more so of those who go before the congregation of the saints to teach the scriptures! Today, this is not the intended use of those qualifiers. They are as pins or labels adhered to an individual on the basis of their professional stature, business success, because they want to teach, or, because the leadership has no response to a charge of being politically incorrect, phobic or anti towards a particular individual or group. They are like that peace of the nonbeliever in Mitchell’s statement, which is given by one believer believing for another person that they have peace. So too, being a leader or teacher is not much more than a hashtag; full of the Holy Spirit. It is to be dispensed like a commodity.


I also anticipate the rants and shouts about this being a hate, hateful or hatred-filled message. This is a common response and typically with nothing more substantive than . . . a rant and shout. Let the reader judge for themselves. Hate and love are two words with which Jesus was quite comfortable towards himself, but he also used these same familiar words to impress without any tricks, schemes or slight of hand on anyone who would contemplate following him.


conclusion


Whatever your way of living might be I have no more need or desire than did Jesus to condemn you, fear, hate, dislike or shun you from the assembly of the saints anytime you might be moved to gather among the saints who are of the faith that is in Christ Jesus. The cost of following Jesus is for every individual to count and determine and decide for themselves whether they will follow Jesus. Whether you live a life which you hate but the you live without Jesus is more to be desired than what you hate about taking up their cross and following Jesus, _ then, Jesus said, you cannot be my disciple. If you love the life you live more than the love which you see and understand in Jesus, _ then, Jesus said, you cannot be my disciple.


Yes, there are plenty of semblances to being a follower of Jesus, but here is a at-home test for you. If those semblances of following after Jesus are easy, fun or popular think about the horror and spectacle of Jesus being crucified and decide for yourself as the apostle Paul said about himself,
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)


Nobody likes crucifixion or being crucified. If, on the other hand, after looking past the horror and spectacle of death by crucifixion you determine you hate your life more than you hate being crucified to self, or, that you love the call of following Jesus more than your own life; then take up your cross and follow. It is your obedience to or rejection of the gospel, not what I as individual, a political agenda or association, a gathering of the saints, participating in that gathering of the saints or what the leadership might have to say about your condemnation or salvation. It is your obedience to the gospel which determines your own condemnation or salvation. (II Thessalonians 1:5-12)
Grace and peace be to all who call upon the name of the Lord.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Winning Football, Misreading Scripture: New Terminologies and Catchy Phrases

I remember watching an NFL football game one Sunday afternoon many years ago. I scoffed when the player bowed his knee in the end zone then stood up, forefinger pointing towards the heavens. It was his touchdown celebration on that Sunday afternoon complete with a short prayer and public acknowledgment of God.

Immediately, I discerned the admonition by the Spirit. I was admonished because of my own self-righteous arrogance and the notion that God had no interest in a game played on Sunday afternoon. He led me to reflect, ponder and examine what I had scoffed. Some, and I must emphasize some, of what I have come to understand since that Sunday and which I have developed in my faith over the years is reflected in this article. It scoffs at the Sunday game-day quarterback turned Monday morning quarterback as theologian. This is my comment on the article Winning Football, Misreading Scripture, and The Only Child Myth by Sean Palmer on the ploys and perils of words and phrases.

new terminology and catchy phrases

The basic premise of the author in this article, which I encourage you to read, is about the mistaken notions concerning the misreading of scripture and what he calls, The Only Child Myth. This myth, allegedly, is the tendency among American Christians to think of themselves, in the singular sense, as the reason God would tilt the world for them alone. I do not believe he has grossly overstated the matter which I would like to address here shortly. I do believe he seems to be unaware how his view, particularly as a teacher of the saints in Christ, is unwittingly shaped and colored by the influences of culture. Some of those influences which are widely embraced and parroted by the saints in Christ are reflected in the author’s own embrace and use of a terminology which such as; Christianity, community, and non-communally. (note: A discussion of terms such as this would have to include, Trinity, perhaps the single major misunderstanding of the scriptures by the saints.)

These are the terms used by teachers and preachers before those who hear them preach and teach. No, these words do not represent a heresy or a doctrinal problem. I do understand that these represent the struggle of the saints, teachers and preachers included, to proclaim the message of Jesus, the Son of God, and the kingdom of heaven. It is for this same reason I take no offense when I hear the unlearned Sunday’s player talking theology on Monday. Personally, while I do not take offense at the use  of these terms; I have no desire, need or use for these shorthand attempts to represent what is for the saints to read, examine and understand in the scriptures. Nonetheless, while the practice of coining new terminology and catchy phrases may be a good way to memorize and to parrot sound bites, these devices are not a substitute for teaching which can produce understanding in the hearts of the saints.

The author’s first attempt to debunk and clarify the mistaken notion of being special  is taken from the book by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. (A book which I have not read, but I expect to read this week.) What the authors debunk, according to Sean, is the misunderstanding and application by the saints in Christ of the prophet Jeremiah to certain plans:

'For I know the plans that I have for you,'declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

seems innocuous

Yes, it is true that the plans of which Jeremiah speaks are not about myself; the individual as The Only Child, or of the saints in Christ today. The plans in Jeremiah’s message pertain to Israel and his return from Babylonian captivity. Point well made. Point well taken.
What Sean does not seem to realize that while his own plans for re-imagining church as community may not represent a misreading of scripture they represent, 1) a dismissal of, let alone reading of, scripture together with the significant meaning of its terminology, and 2) a deference to culture for the things he teaches and practices.

The buzz of the past three decades about dropping the term church when referring to the body of believers in favor of the term community seems innocuous enough. The pop message of culture which the church often adapts for its listeners is that that the church is open and welcomes all. Again, this may have the appearance of being praiseworthy and commendable. (Conversely, do not distort my point as a suggestion that the church is to remain closed and unwelcoming to all.) However, the effective result is that the message reflects an abandonment of the significance and meaning of the term church as the called out.

Yes, we understand that even that definition in the first century had no religious connotation. It was used in reference to any civic or political gather of the citizens. They were called out to come and hear or discuss some matter of importance to them. It was the apostles who by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit saw it as a fitting and apt descriptive term to refer to and apply to those in Christ who have been called out from the world. This is not the idea which the term community connotes. It lacks the divine transforming nature of those in its number as well as the knowledge and sanctity of those who come together in praise and worship to the Father; the unique royal priesthood, the children of God.

the message of culture

Here is the blandness and contradiction when the message of the church defers to the message of culture. While the claim of culture is that it purports to foster and nurture diversity in the community its own poster children of same-sex couples represent a rejection and less than friendly response to any message which proclaims and exults the diversity and difference as between a man and a woman in the union of marriage. There seems to be little awareness of how the re-imagining church as community according to culture can/does bring with it these other, more substantive elements of pop culture. Community stands in stark contrast and opposition to the message of the church as the redeemed and the message which she is to proclaim in all cultures and nations of the world.


Conclusion

It may be a source of amusement (or a challenge to proclaim Jesus) for some saints to hear the Sunday football game quarterback-turned Monday morning theologian. That quarterback’s explanation and acknowledgement of God for getting him the game victory as though God were constantly tilting the world for the individual is neither a distortion of scripture nor a problem. Nonetheless, what the author of the article dismisses as a misreading by the saints in Christ of the message of prophet Jeremiah because it reflects a reasoning whereby God is seen as working marvels for the individual as though he/she were God's only child. Yet, this reading of the passage has more validity than the practice of the church to adapt of  terminologies and practices of culture as a kind of re-image makeover for the church. The truth is that what may be a growing practice in the church to chasten the saints for mis-applying the message of Jeremiah is found more and more with Jesus’ own words or the words of Paul. The words of Jesus and Paul are often dismissed as not applying to the saints in Christ today. It is hoped that even the least discerning of disciples would see it, if nothing else, than at least as something for them to be aware of it, understand it and not be troubled by it as the latest attempt to makeover what God has made.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin

First, I have thoroughly read this article. Second, I have, as recently as December 31, 2014 completed a cover-to-cover reading of the Bible. It is not my first reading. Kurt Eichenwald, the author of the above named article, states the purpose behind the article. He claims,
Newsweek’s exploration here of the Bible’s history and meaning is not intended to advance a particular theology or debate the existence of God. Rather, it is designed to shine a light on a book that has been abused by people who claim to revere it but don’t read it, in the process creating misery for others.

Then, after a dredging of the dregs on modern Bible criticism he concludes, 

So why study the Bible at all? Since it’s loaded with contradictions and translation errors and wasn’t written by witnesses and includes words added by unknown scribes to inject Church orthodoxy, should it just be abandoned?

No. This examination is not an attack on the Bible or Christianity. Instead, Christians seeking greater understanding of their religion should view it as an attempt to save the Bible from the ignorance, hatred and bias that has been heaped upon it. If Christians truly want to treat the New Testament as the foundation of the religion, they have to know it.


There is nothing in the content of the article by Kurt Eichenwald which is new to me, to the saints in Christ in general or to those other theologians and their contributions to the study of the biblical text which he purports to lay out but whose contributions are not a part of the bias of this article.
What is my purpose for this brief comment? It is neither to bash Eichenwald nor to refute every point in his article. Rather, my aim is to address just one point as an example which may serve to enlighten those saints in Christ who are impressed or shocked by the content of this article by Eichenwald.
There is one thing which Eichenwald does right. He begins with the matter of the scriptures themselves. I believe there is a consistent telltale characteristic when a message is being parroted. This telltale characteristic is evident in his opening volley that no one, not television preachers, evangelical politicians, the pope, Kurt Eichenwald or I (gt) who has read the Bible. Yes. I understand this is for dramatic emphasis by casting a dismissive shot at the authenticity of the Bible as he states:
At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.


Eichenwald attempts to discredit and dismiss the authenticity of the Bible on three different levels: 1) bad translations, 2) bad translations of translations, and 3) the Greek koine language.
Eichenwald may be aware about koine Greek, but if so he reveals a markedly, significant ignorance about koine Greek. Years ago the very same language of the Bible manuscripts which stumped Bible scholars for many years was finally cleared up when it was discovered that the Bible was not written in classical Greek but it was written in koine; the common language of ordinary Greek people. Yet, Eichenwald states “not all of the amateur copyists spoke the language or were even fully literate,” and _ did not understand the words?
Then, after stating that the ancient manuscripts parchments crumbled and primitive ink faded away he cheerily touts the discoveries in the last 100 years of manuscripts which date back centuries. These are the same koine manuscripts which are the sources of those translations but in what would seem to be an even greater cause for Eichenwald to cheer for is to inform us of Erhman’s flip dismissal of these manuscripts.
“There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament,” says Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, a groundbreaking biblical scholar and professor at the University of North Carolina who has written many books on the New Testament.

What Eichenwald decries as dishonesty and a butchery of word translation is what is arguably debated among translators and linguists as dynamic equivalence. It is a means by which translators intend to provide for the reader, not the literal meaning of the word which would be obscure and lost to the reader, but rather a familiar word which carries the same or approximate meaning in the language of the reader. Of course, there is context which is always vital in the reading of any document. This understanding is absent from Kurt Eichenwald’s explanations even when he cites the manner of koine Greek in these manuscripts as it was written in one continuous, unbroken line without spacing or punctuation. Eichenwald purports to challenge Christians to “attempt to save the Bible from the ignorance, hatred and bias [and] . . . to know it.” This seems disingenuous because he would have readers believe that his article is just simply a presentation of the Bible as a very human work with its “flaws, the contradictions, and the theological disagreements.”
Those words may resonate with some people. Those who have read at least the first three chapters of the Bible may recognize the father of biblical criticism as none other than Satan. It was well before the account of what God had spoken had been written. All three parties present, namely, Satan and Adam and Eve knew what God had said. Yet, the Genesis account records of the serpent that,
he said to the woman, "Indeed , has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?"
Thus, a portend of what would become the lofty preoccupation of “modern Bible criticism.” This is the preoccupation of Kurt Eichenwald' parroting with this copy of a copy of a copy of a very familiar set of notions on alleged contradictions and translation differences of no substantive significance  in the Bible.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Matthew 24 & I Timothy 2: Power and salvation in Rome and Artemis

power and salvation

This article is about two different factors which affect the saints in Christ, particularly as these factors are seemingly outside of their control. Two instances for our learning in which these factors appear are Matthew 24 and I Timothy 2. They appear in the two different geographic areas of Jerusalem and Ephesus. These factors are 1) a power, and 2) the salvation of the saints. These scripture passages do not name the power to which the Holy Spirit alludes, but the passages do give instruction for the enlightenment of the saints concerning their salvation as they were affected by those powers. How the Holy Spirit spoke to us through these passages speaks is for our understanding and enlightenment concerning other areas not the least of which includes the teaching and preaching of the gospel of Jesus by the saints who are the royal priesthood of believers.


The purpose for the focus on these passages is that the saints in Christ might gain an understanding and appreciation for the awareness of New Testament speakers and writers of the historical context.


Specifically, it is about how history and context are assumed and acknowledged in some passages of scripture, but they are ignored in other passages.


If you are like me it probably grates on your ears when you hear history and context; especially when the two appear together in the same sentence. It is not that either of these represent a problem. Rather, it is that too often the mere mention of the terms of history and context are given as the default answer and explanation for passages and concepts which we struggle to understand much less teach. Those writers, and speakers such as Jesus, were aware of the power under which they lived, struggled, and in the case of Jesus, would be put to death. Those writers and speakers understood that what was paramount was the salvation, that is, the preservation of the saints, not at all costs, but such as would bring glory to God.


an unnamed power/salvation made certain


God makes no apology for the reality of the world in which the saints reside. Although God was the ultimate mediator between Israel and the world powers which rose to prominence his warnings with respect to those powers was about how God could and would unleash them as his instruments of punishment on Israel should they ever fall away from the commandments of the Lord their God. Jesus instructed and warned the saints at various times about those world powers. The saints were to be wise and aware in their response towards the actions of those powers if they were to preserve and save their lives. God does not always refer to those powers by name as he did in the numerous visions which Daniel received from God. It would be careless for the saints to gloss over or dismiss the relevance of a passage in the first or twenty first century on the basis of a shallow, yes; shallow claim, namely, because a specific power is not named. Just as bad as dismissing a passage is the false notion of a so-called conservative interpretation which purports to just follow the word without taking into consideration the factors of a power and salvation of the saints in the historical context of the scripture.


Matthew 24: the power of Rome in Jerusalem


For example, Jesus never revealed by name the governing power to which he alludes in his prophecy in Matthew 24 in that historical context. Jesus expected that the disciples would look, understand and discern that when that unnamed power brought on the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem it would be in accordance with the judgment which he had foretold in their presence. The disciples had received instruction and insight from Jesus 40 years prior to the destruction of the temple. Generally, we assume and acknowledge the history and the context of Matthew 24. How is it that history and context seem impersonal enough and easier so as to attain a general understanding and acceptance at a discussion level while an unnamed power receives less than a similar understanding and acceptance?


Those disciples who listened and remembered knew what they were to do;  emerged, their salvation made certain because of the words of Jesus. Those who either did not listen, forgot, or dismissed the instruction from the Lord; perished. Those who might have foolishly and arrogantly reassured themselves that “God will save us;” perished. This false reassurance had abounded in Israel in the days leading up to their final captivity; first by Assyria and later by Babylon. Even as all the signs of which the prophets had forewarned them about were being made manifest they mistakenly believed and expected deliverance and salvation from those powers from God.


When Jesus revealed to the disciples who marveled at the enormous and beautiful temple that not one stone would be left unturned they were astonished. This was not history. It was the future. Certainly, the Jews could draw on the scripture and their collective memory of their Babylonian captivity and the destruction of the temple at that time. However, for the most part they could not connect or see a need to draw the connection between those past things in their history with world powers and the future destruction by an unnamed power which Jesus spoke to them. It was prophecy. Jesus opened a window for them to reveal to the disciples in much the same as God had done for Daniel as to what was to happen, not centuries later, but during their lifetime:


Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.


Yet, the prophecy of Jesus bore the certain knowledge that there would be some, not all,  who would not survive the events of those days because they failed to listen, understand and remember. They were unwilling or unable to understand and accept that the power in the prophetic message of Jesus was Rome. Subsequently, they perished.


I Timothy 2: the power of Artemis in Ephesus


A second example is found in the I Timothy 2 passage which involves the ministry of Paul in Asia.


Yahweh was to the Jews in Jerusalem and all Judea what Artemis was to the Gentiles in Ephesus and all Asia.


This reality is attested to by Demetrius in Acts 19 whose testimony was preserved for the saints by the Holy Spirit. Yet, Paul, like Jesus, never named that power in Ephesus. The saints  were expected to look, understand and discern what Paul’s instructions meant and how they were to respond to those instructions under the shadow, not of the temple of God in Jerusalem, but of the temple of Artemis; the power in Ephesus. It is quite plausible and likely that some of our brothers and sisters who had come to faith in Jesus had emerged from the cult of Artemis. They knew and had lived under the power of Artemis. In Ephesus, the female dominant cult of Artemis held sway and its hold over women: Artemis was the savior of women in childbirth.


Women in Ephesus and throughout Asia had, like Eve, been deceived by Artemis. They had believed Artemis was their savior. But Paul boldly asserts and affronts that message of Artemis when he declares of our sisters in Christ that:


she will be saved through her childbearing, if they continue in faith, love, and sanctification with sobriety.


The mistaken assumption by which some teachers and preachers of the word in the body of believers impose the additional qualifier of childbearing to salvation in Jesus borders on appalling and apostasy. Yet, those same teachers and preachers remain as oblivious as those who in Jerusalem who perished. They do not listen, they have forgotten, or they reason that their message of salvation, not just for women, but for men, too, has been made more sure and better secured than what the Holy Spirit who indwells them revealed through his servants, the apostles.


Women in the cult of Artemis were not saved through childbearing anymore than our sisters in Christ are saved through childbearing. Women in the cult of Artemis were saved by Artemis. Women in Christ were saved through childbearing without regard or reliance on Artemis. This is Paul’s confident assertion that the salvation of our sisters was through their continued walk in faith, love and sanctification with sobriety, _ without Artemis. The fact that they bore children without the aid or reliance on Artemis not only silenced the adversary (typically, Satan by name, but in Ephesus his name was Artemis) but it shut up the insults of the adversary that women who departed from Artemis were gossips and busybodies. (I Timothy 5:15)


How is it possible that despite the mention of women’s costly apparel, (perhaps former priestesses in the temple of Artemis) women teaching and women bearing children under the shadow of the temple of Artemis the saints remain adamantly oblivious to power of Artemis whom the Holy Spirit saw fit to introduce to us in Acts 19? Those who wonder blithely why Paul did not mention Artemis by name and therefore feel justified to reject the unnamed power of Artemis in their understanding of I Timothy and Paul’s letters must also wonder and reject the unnamed power of Rome which carried out the destruction of Jerusalem in which those who did not heed the message of Jesus perished.


just like old times


The understanding which some saints claim concerning, for instance, the I Timothy 2 passage is akin to another fatal forgetfulness and misunderstanding by some of our first century brethren. It does not seem likely, given the admonition of Jesus prophecy to the disciples in Matthew 24, that there were some disciples who probably concluded before the destruction of the Jerusalem temple that everything would return back to life as usual; just like old times _ as long as they remained faithful.


They were determined to the end, in their disdain for the power of Rome, to disregard Rome in no less the same manner as the saints disregard Artemis, today. After all, the call by Jesus was for the discerning saints to be faithful, right? Isn’t that enough? Those who escaped death during the destruction of the temple thought they could resume life as a Jew and be neither the wiser nor be filled with the Holy Spirit for what God had just granted them. But, Jesus expected the saints to consider, to discern, to understand and to act accordingly with respect to the power of Rome which would soon come down hard on them.  Those who thought to seek safe refuge in the city, Jesus alerted them, would seal their fate because they failed to heed his words.


There is a staunch explanation which exalts men as leaders which is not even a matter in discussion in I Timothy. It is bad enough to mistakenly equate teaching and preaching with leadership, but it is even worse to glibly ascribe spirituality to a man simply, not even because he is a man, but because he is a leader and must therefore be spiritual. It escapes our notice that if those who were to wait on tables (Acts 6) were to be full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit how much more so those who lead the people of God. It is another mistaken notion to equate spirituality with being full of the Holy Spirit. The explanation purports (faithfully and lovingly, if not biblically, the saints are reassured) to put and keep women in their place because of their gender as ordained by God. The thought behind this rank and file order is derived from Paul’s reference to the Genesis creation account. This egregious explanation pins Eve’s sin in the garden on those sisters in Christ who have been, like their brothers, redeemed and washed by the blood sacrifice of Jesus.


This explanation borders on apostasy, not unlike Israel’s apostasy under the reign of their kings, when the sacrifice of Jesus for the salvation of women must be enhanced with childbearing. The view of these teachers and preachers is as mistaken and ignorant as those saints who scrounged for reassurance in the familiar, “God can do anything” even as Rome unleashed her judgment of Jerusalem according to the decree of God. It is a view not unlike that of believing that everything would return to normal after the destruction of the temple; a notion which reverts to the garden to make certain the salvation of women by imposing on them Eve’s sin in the garden and the condition of childbearing. It is a impression about male dominance not unlike the female dominance in the cult of Artemis; just good ol’ boys, just like old times. Yes, Paul clearly and undoubtedly makes a reference to the Genesis creation, but any explanation about that reference which is oblivious to and rejects the unnamed power of Artemis is as flawed as to reject the unnamed power of Rome in the destruction of Jerusalem.


conclusion


The settings of history and context are reflected in the scriptures. It is within these settings in which the Holy Spirit brought out and presented various factors concerning the powers which affected the salvation of the saints in Christ. They, like us, were to understand and be enlightened by these things. The result of the saints who persevered and overcame either the power of Rome in the destruction of the temple or the power of the cult of Artemis, was that the priesthood of believers not only remained faithful, but they continued faithfully in the teaching and preaching of the gospel of Jesus.

This is a call and support for those brothers and sisters in the royal priesthood of believers who are not only not against Jesus but who are with him in the teaching and preaching is to listen, understand and heed the words of Jesus for the salvation of those who know not Jesus as Lord and Savior. Just as Jesus warned about the false messengers in the day of visitation on Rome telling the saints to go there or come here to preserve their lives, beware of messengers who clothe themselves with an assumed spirituality merely because they are men and they happen to lead. peace in Jesus.