Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Other Higher Powers?

On Stephen Collins' web site, there's an interaction between Stephen and someone who wrote in his guestbook. Stephen Collins played the Reverend Eric Camden on 7th Heaven.

"J.J." writes the following:

"I loved your show. How could you compromise like that? What's with the 'your higher power' statement? How could you[?] You play a minister! How could you put God aside for a higher power? This ruins the whole show! We spoke of the show at our last Bi[bl]e Study and the main comment was 'it used to be a good, healthy show to watch, but like the rest of TV, they've gone to the 'politically correct' route and thrown the Lord out of the show!['] Shame on you! JJ. San Diego, CA USA."

And Stephen Collins replies as follows:

"Dear JJ,

"I have nothing to do with the concept or execution of the scripts. But personally, I have no problem with the term 'higher power.' Eric did not, as you suggested, 'put God aside for a higher power.' He simply acknowledged that acceptance of a higher power is a good thing. Personally, I don't believe that a 'higher power' is in competition with God. I also believe that there are different kinds of higher powers at work in life: sometimes the spirit of a community of people working toward a common good can be a power greater than an individual. Sometimes the beauty or force of Nature is surely a power higher than ourselves. That doesn't mean that God isn't there or that we don't need God. I also believe that God is generous and is glad for the work of powers other than He. And I believe He directs them. The idea of a higher power isn't 'politically correct.' In modern culture, the idea often comes from 12-Step groups, like AA, which are spiritual, not religious, in nature. 12-Step groups, respecting that people who come to them are from different religious backgrounds, don't require a specific religious belief from their members. You may be uncomfortable with that. But I don't think God is.

"-Stephen

"P.S. And I hope you watch our Christmas episode in December. I think you'll enjoy it."

I wonder if the "Christmas episode in December" is the one where Haylie Duff converts to Christianity. Hmm!

I kind of liked what Stephen said about a power greater than ourselves. Sometimes, I like Judeo-Christian conceptions of God; sometimes, I don't care for them too much. But I don't ever want to get to the point where I think I'm the ultimate power in the universe. For me, a healthy spirituality includes humility before something or someone greater than I am. It also entails admiration of something above myself--something beautiful, good, and inspiring. I may be self-centered, but I don't assume that I can find my healing or motivation totally inside of myself--with all my bitterness and resentment.

There's something about nature that puts us in a state of awe, even as it makes us feel really small. And, yes, there was a sense in monotheistic or henotheistic religions that nature was a competitor with God for humans' affections.

Deuteronomy 4:19: "And when you look up to the heavens and see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, do not be led astray and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples everywhere under heaven" (NRSV).

Job 31:26-28: "if I have looked at the sun when it shone, or the moon moving in splendor, and my heart has been secretly enticed, and my mouth has kissed my hand; this also would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges, for I should have been false to God above."

The Koran presents the following interaction between Abraham and his idolatrous father:

"And when Ibrahim said to his sire, Azar: Do you take idols for gods? Surely I see you and your people in manifest error. And thus did We show Ibrahim the kingdom of the heavens and the earth and that he might be of those who are sure. So when the night over-shadowed him, he saw a star; said he: Is this my Lord? So when it set, he said: I do not love the setting ones. Then when he saw the moon rising, he said: Is this my Lord? So when it set, he said: If my Lord had not guided me I should certainly be of the erring people. Then when he saw the sun rising, he said: Is this my Lord? Is this the greatest? So when it set, he said: O my people! surely I am clear of what you set up (with Allah). Surely I have turned myself, being upright, wholly to Him Who originated the heavens and the earth, and I am not of the polytheists" (Sura 6:74-79, translation on BibleWorks).

What I think Abraham is telling his father is something like this: "Look, the sun and the moon may look glorious, but they're definitely inferior to God. The sun and the moon set. They don't even dominate the sky all of the time, so certainly they're not the highest! I worship the one true God, who made the heavens and the earth."

But is there a way that the glory of the heavens can lead people to God, by helping them realize that there's something greater than themselves? There are Bible passages that come to mind:

Psalm 19:1: "The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork."

Romans 1:20: "Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse[.]"

But a particularly intriguing passage is Wisdom 13:1-7:

"For all men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists, nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world. If through delight in the beauty of these things men assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them.
And if men were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is he who formed them. For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator. Yet these men are little to be blamed, for perhaps they go astray while seeking God and desiring to find him. For as they live among his works they keep searching, and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful."

There's almost a sympathy for the pagans in this passage. "These people are looking for something or someone greater than themselves, and nature puts them in a state of awe. And why wouldn't it? It's so beautiful, so mysterious! It humbles us! But, while we should appreciate nature, we shouldn't treat it as the highest power. That title belongs to the one who made all these things."

Wisdom of Solomon seems to coincide with Stephen Collins' comment: there are all sorts of "higher powers" in the world, and they can assist the God who created them in the first place. They can also perform a function of putting us in a state of awe and humility. And yet, we should remember that God is the highest power, the one who created nature.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cursed Soil, Fellowship with God, Weighing Deeds

1. Philip S. Alexander, "Jewish Aramaic Translations of Hebrew Scriptures," Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin Jan Mulder (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004) 233.

On Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: "...the idea is that before Cain's sin the earth was like the Garden of Eden. God's curse on the earth (Gen 3:17-18) was suspended, and only became operative after the murder of Abel."

In Genesis 3:17-19, God curses the earth: "And to the man he said, 'Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return'" (NRSV).

Eve's curse was that she'd have pain in childbearing, while Adam's punishment was that he'd have to work hard on the unproductive soil.

I can somewhat understand why the targumist thought Adam's curse was removed before Cain messed things up. After all, God said to Cain after he (Cain) killed Abel, "When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth" (Genesis 4:12). But I thought the ground already didn't yield its strength. Wasn't that God's punishment for Adam? For the targumist, God renewed the temporarily-suspended curse of the ground after Cain killed his brother.

There are some who believe that the curse of the ground was removed in the time of Noah. When Noah was born, his father Lamech said, "Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands" (Genesis 5:29). "We won't have to work as hard now that Noah is here," some interpret Lamech to be saying.

Maybe. But, if that's the case, I think it's unfair that women still have to put up with their curse (pain in childbearing), while God's punishment of men has been removed.

2. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1910) 559.

Irenaeus (second century C.E.) refers to "man's original likeness to God and destination for permanent fellowship with Him."

In yesterday's post, Good Nimrod, Justin the Arian?, Projecting, I criticized the tendency of modern evangelicals to project modern ideas onto the Bible. Such ideas included the quest for a feeling of self-worth, and a personal relationship with God. I still don't see the quest for self-worth as an obsession of the biblical authors or the early Christians, but a relationship with God may very well be a part of their thought. Irenaeus, after all, says that God made us to fellowship with him. My mind turns to other things in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and early Christian literature, such as the emphasis on seeing God's face. I'm hesitant to say that "fellowship with God" meant the exact same thing to them as it does to modern evangelicals, but who knows? There may be some overlap.

3. C.G. Montefiore, "Introduction," A Rabbinic Anthology, ed. C.G. Montefiore and H. Loewe (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1938) xxxv, xl.

"On the whole, the theory of justification by works is strongly pressed. There is a somewhat inadequate appreciation of character. The individual's personality is not well conceived. He is regarded too much as a bundle of deeds. If he has done 720 good deeds and 719 bad deeds, he is more righteous than wicked (with due consequences as regards divine punishment and reward); if he has done 720 bad deeds and 719 good ones, he is more wicked than righteous. An unsatisfactory way of looking at human character. [Footnote:] George Eliot could teach the rabbis here: 'God sees us as we are altogether, not in separate feelings or actions, as our fellow-men see us.'"

"The indication of a dream sufficed for the belief that an ignorant ass driver who had performed one special deed of love was more fitted to pray for rain in a time of drought than all the Rabbis of the land."

Montefiore is a liberal Jew, and he's critiquing the rabbinic notion that God will weigh a person's good and bad deeds on the day of judgment. Christian scholars used to point to this idea as an example of Jewish legalism. "You see!" they said (in my paraphrase). "Christianity is better than Judaism! Christianity says that people are saved by grace through faith, whereas the God of Judaism weighs people's good deeds and bad deeds, basing salvation on their works."

E.P. Sanders challenged this interpretation of Tannaitic rabbinic Judaism in Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), asserting that the "weighing" passages should not be taken so literally. His reasoning is that there are passages that contradict it. Some say that (perfect?) fulfillment of one commandment can earn a person a place in the World to Come. Others claim that one transgression is enough to damn a person. Add to these the passages that recognize deathbed repentance, or that suggest that "even if 999 argued for a man's guilt and one for his innocence, God would consider him innocent" (143). Sanders states:

"The truth is that these three groups of sayings--damnation for one transgression, salvation for one fulfillment and judgment according to the majority of deeds--have a common ground and purpose. All three statements could be made without intellectual embarrassment by anyone but a systematic theologian. Each type of saying is an effective way of urging people to obey the commandments as best they can and of insisting upon the importance of doing so" (141).

According to Sanders, what is important for the Tannaitic rabbis is not the majority of one's deeds being righteous, but rather one's intention. Those who are righteous desire to obey God and are generally successful at it. The wicked have little desire to do what's right, even though they may have a few good deeds to their record. Then there's a huge middle ground, and God either shows mercy to them (Hillel) or lets them into the good afterlife after they suffer in Gehenna (Shammai) (142).

There are different things that go through my mind. I think of that line in Batman Begins: "It's what you do that defines you." In this line of thinking, the person who does more good deeds than bad probably has a better character. But then my mind turns to Sawyer on Lost, who could be a total jerk for four whole years, then perform an act of self-sacrifice to help his companions. What defines a person's character?

I'm not sure what my intention is, to be honest. Do I desire to obey God? Yes and no. It depends on the day! What I like about Judaism is that it lays out specific, concrete mitzvot that define how to honor God and help others. "Do these things" is a good message for me.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Good Nimrod, Justin the Arian?, Projecting

1. Abraham Tal, "The Samaritan Targum on the Pentateuch," Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin Jan Mulder (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004) 208.

"Nimrod is another unpopular figure. Gen 10:8-9 narrates: 'and Cush became to be father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man; he was a mighty hunter before the LORD, therefore it is said: Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD'...[I]n biblical times hunting was not as disgraceful a profession as it probably was in later days...[A] hunter (whose name [Nimrod] suggests [mrd], 'rebellion') cannot be connected with the following word: [liphnei Adonai--'before the LORD'] for...only a righteous person 'walks before God'."

This passage seems to be saying that the biblical text was not too hard on Nimrod, which posed a problem for Samaritan interpreters. I vaguely recall finding a positive portrayal of Nimrod in some source. I thought it was the Book of Jubilees, but I can't find the statement right now. Most Jewish interpretations view Nimrod in a negative light, and they contend that "before the LORD" means "against the LORD." E.W. Bullinger accepts this interpretation, and he defends it through a reference to Genesis 6:11, which uses "before the LORD" in a negative context: "Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight [('before the LORD')], and the earth was filled with violence" (NRSV).

Genesis probably treats Nimrod as negative, since he builds cities that became hostile to Israel (e.g., Nineveh), his name means "we will rebel," and he is called a "mighty man," which, in Genesis, is a bad thing (Genesis 6:4). At the same time, I recall reading something in Basil Wolverton's Bible Story that shows why Nimrod may have been deemed a hero: he protected the city from wild animals. Wild beasts were a serious threat in biblical times, which explains why God uses that as a threat in Deuteronomy 32:24. Nimrod the mighty hunter could therefore get a pretty substantial following!

2. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1910) 549, 552.

On Justin Martyr (second century C.E.): "The act of the procession of the Logos from God he illustrates by the figure of generation...This generation, however, is not with him an eternal act...as with Athanasius in the later church doctrine. It took place before the creation of the world, and proceeded from the free will of God...Christ is the Reason of reasons, the incarnation of the absolute and eternal reason."

On Origen (second-third century C.E.): "He can no more think of the Father without the Son, than of an Almighty God without creation, or of light without radiance. Hence he describes this generation not as a single, instantaneous act, but, like creation, ever going on."

I don't know too much about the nuances of the trinitarian controversy, so please be charitable to me!

Schaff denies that Justin Martyr was like the Arians, who maintained that God created the Logos who became Jesus Christ, to the consternation of Christians who viewed Christ as eternal God. And yet, Justin seems to say that there was a point in time when the Son came to exist. For Justin, God at some point decided to generate the Logos, which embodied his reason, created the cosmos, and served as an intermediary between God and humanity.

Origen, however, held what became the orthodox trinitarian perspective: that the Son eternally proceeds from the Father. Schaff presents Origen believing that God has to emanate as part of his self-expression. Don't we all like to express ourselves? Why would God be any different?

I don't understand what it means for the Son to be "begotten." Does that imply that the Son depends on the Father for his existence? If that's the implication, doesn't it rule out the Son being self-existent, making him inferior to the Father? But I thought orthodox trinitarianism views the Father and the Son as of the same essence.

One more thing I don't understand: Arians liked to appeal to Proverbs 8:22-31:

"The LORD created me [(wisdom)] at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth--when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world's first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race."

According to this passage, God created wisdom before the creation of the world, and wisdom was like a master worker who assisted God in his craftsmanship. That sounds somewhat like John 1, which says that the Logos existed with God before creation and made all things. And Jesus is called wisdom in the New Testament (I Corinthians 1:24--only there Paul associates Jesus as wisdom with the cross). For Arians, the wisdom that God created was the Logos who became Jesus Christ. That outraged the Christians who maintained that Jesus was eternal God, meaning he never was created at a specific point.

Schaff's statement that Origen couldn't envision the Father without the Son revived an old question I've asked before: What was God like before he made wisdom? Was he unwise? Or maybe Proverbs is saying that wisdom was an emanation from God, who already is wise. The rabbis treat wisdom as God's plan for the universe: when an architect designs a house, he draws up a plan, and that's what wisdom was for God. God was already wise when he drew up the plan, but the plan (wisdom) was a concrete expression of God's intended order for the universe.

How's that tie in with Jesus? I don't know. The New Testament does present Jesus as similar to the wisdom of Proverbs 8, and the Logos of Greek philosophy (see John 1; Colossians 1:15-16; Hebrews 1:2-3). Does that mean Jesus the Logos was a created being? Or can Jesus resemble wisdom/Logos in some ways, but not others?

3. C.G. Montefiore, "Introduction," A Rabbinic Anthology, ed. C.G. Montefiore and H. Loewe (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1938) xv.

"If a Jew of the year, say, A.D. 1000 had made a collection of what he regarded as the finest and the noblest things in Rabbinic literature, it would have been a very different collection from that which I should make if I were rigidly to include only those things which I thought noblest and finest."

I think that, in many cases, evangelicals like to read the Bible in light of modern ideas. Today, self-esteem is a big thing, so many evangelicals interpret the Gospel in terms of feeling good about oneself: I no longer root my self-worth in looks, money, babes, etc., but rather in God's unchanging love for me.

I don't see this explicitly in the Bible, but the Bible has things that can be applied to it. There's a lot of talk in the Bible about God's love--for Israel, for sinners, for Christians. Plus, we know that people throughout history have had a thirst for glory and recognition, which they try to feed in a variety of ways (often unhealthy). And the Bible does appeal to this desire for glory, since there's much in it about God glorifying those he loves.

I think it's acceptable to apply the Bible to issues that may not have arisen in the minds of its authors (e.g., self-esteem). At the same time, it's also important to ask ourselves about the concerns of the ancients. I thought about this when I read early Christian literature. We moderns like to see God as our buddy, or as a nice grandfatherly figure in the sky, who wants to have a personal relationship with us. But, as far as I can see, we don't explicitly encounter such a figure in the Bible, or in early Christian literature, or in the Koran. In those sources, God is someone who loves us and desires a righteous, beneficent order in the world. Christianity even goes so far as to call God abba ("daddy"), and to affirm that Christ can live inside of the individual believer. But we don't see much talk about a personal relationship with God, or God boosting our sense of self-worth. These works have other concerns: justice, helping others, human duties to a glorious God, etc.

But don't see my thoughts as "in-stone." I still believe in having a personal relationship with God! I just wonder how often we project modern concepts onto the Bible, and what the Bible's own concerns actually are.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

LXX's Contemporizing, Sectarian Leaders, Fence Around the Law

1. Emanuel Tov, "The Septuagint," Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin Jan Mulder (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004) 178.

"In order that the subject matter of the translation should be understood by the readers, the LXX translators used words and terms taken from daily life in Egypt and also made actualizing changes. E.g., in Isa 9:11 'Aram on the east and the Philistines on the west' has been changed to 'Syria on the east and the Greeks on the west'. In this translation the names of the enemies of Israel in the time of the OT have been changed to conform with the situation existing during the Hellenistic period...The new enemies are the Hellenistic cities on the shore of the Mediterranean and the Seleucid kingdom in the East. In Isa 46:1 'Bel...Nebo', the last name has been changed to [Dagon]. Seelingman applies this change to a Hellenistic source which knew Dagon as a Babylonian godhead side by side with Bel."

This overlaps with what I wrote about yesterday, in Reapplied Prophecy, Marcion on Matthew 5:17, Atoning Marriage. I see here an example of how the LXX rewrites a prophecy to fit the nations of its day. It doesn't do so in a way that's totally unfaithful to the Hebrew text, however, for Aram and Syria are the same nation.

I also see that the LXX rewrote the Bible in light of the historical research of its time. There were Hellenistic sources that placed Dagon beside Bel, so the LXX interpreted Isaiah 46:1 in light of that. I'm not sure if the translator thought the Hebrew text was wrong, or if he felt he was clarifying and elucidating it.

2. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1910) 515.

"Another characteristic feature of patristic polemics is to trace heresy to mean motives, such as pride, disappointed ambition, sensual lust, and avarice. No allowance is made for different mental constitutions, educational influences, and other causes. There are, however, a few notable exceptions. Origen and Augustin admit the honesty and earnestness at least of some teachers of error."

The New Testament does the same sort of thing: it believes heretics have a bad character. Here are some examples:

Galatians 6:13: "Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh" (NRSV).

II Peter 2:1-3: "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them-- bringing swift destruction on themselves. Even so, many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced against them long ago, has not been idle, and their destruction is not asleep."

Are false teachers necessarily bad people? I think there are many who are, since we know of religious figures who try to gain power for themselves. Moreover, II Peter may discuss a group that was antinomian--which justified its own sinful lifestyle with the claim that we don't have to keep a moral law. In that case, bad character and false doctrine tended to go hand-in-hand. Then there's the NT notion that false teachers may themselves be deceived (II Timothy 3:13).

I've been thinking about factionalism as I've read the Koran and James Crossley's Why Christianity Happened. My impression from the Koran is that it believes people should accept the message of Muhammad, the prophet of Allah. My question is, "Why?" If Muhammad's basic message was that people should believe in God and the final judgment while avoiding evil and doing good, can't one do those things without embracing the person of Muhammad? If so, then why is acceptance of Muhammad necessary?

I wonder the same thing about Jewish sects. What was so special about the Teacher of Righteousness (in Qumran)? What did he offer that was substantially different from other Judaisms of the Second Temple Period?

Can one say the same about Jesus? The New Testament often focuses on accepting the person of Jesus, since he was the one God raised from the dead (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15, 26; 17:31). But can one accept moral principles without embracing the person of Jesus? Is Christianity the same as other religions, only it adds the person of Jesus to the mix--as Islam adds Muhammad, and Qumran had the Teacher of Righteousness?

Not exactly, for Christianity is a religion with substantial differences in terms of content. James Crossley talks about Jesus' message of repentance, and he asks why many Jewish leaders had problems with it, when they themselves believed that sinners should repent. His answer is that Jesus' idea of repentance differed from that of most Jewish leaders. For Jesus, repentance didn't mean living a life that had a lot of religious rituals. So Christianity isn't just about having a certain personality (Jesus) who leads a movement. Rather, Jesus makes the content of Christianity different, although it also has clear overlaps with other religions.

3. Jacob Neusner, Judaism's Story of Creation: Scripture, Halakhah, Aggadah (Boston: Brill, 2000) 263.

"Man showed his arrogance in adding to God's commandment concerning the tree (GR XIX:III)."

This is from Genesis Rabbah. Here's the text, from my Judaic Classics Library:

"BUT OF THE FRUIT OF THE TREE WHICH IS IN THE MIDST OF THE GARDEN, GOD HATH SAID: YE SHALL NOT EAT OF IT, NEITHER SHALL YE TOUCH IT, LEST YE DIE (III, 3). Thus it is written, Add not unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar (Prov. XXX, 6). R. Hiyya taught: That means that you must not make the fence more than the principal thing, lest it fall and destroy the plants. Thus, the Holy One, blessed be He, had said, For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Gen. II,17); whereas she did not say thus, but, GOD HATH SAID: YE SHALL NOT EAT OF IT, NEITHER SHALL YE TOUCH IT; when he [the serpent] saw her thus lying, he took and thrust her against it. ' Have you then died? he said to her; just as you were not stricken through touching it, so will you not die when you eat it, but For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, etc. (ib. 5)."

God commanded Adam not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. When Satan tempted Eve to eat from it, Eve recited the rule with a slight addition: you can't touch the tree either. Satan proved the rule-plus-the-addition to be wrong by making Eve touch the tree, which didn't result in her death. As a result, Eve concluded that the entire command must be incorrect.

A teacher I had once drew a parallel between Adam's addition to God's command and the Jewish concept of a "fence around the law." Within Judaism, there are fences that protect the law: you don't get to the point where you violate the law because you avoid situations where you remotely can disobey it. Similarly, Adam prohibited Eve from even touching the tree, since, if she didn't touch it, she wouldn't eat from it.

Interestingly, the midrash doesn't say we shouldn't have fences around the law. Rather, it states that we shouldn't allow the fence to overshadow the law itself. Maybe this means that we should view the fence as a fence--it's not a divine command, but it's a boundary we can set for ourselves to avoid compromising situations.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Reapplied Prophecy, Marcion on Matthew 5:17, Atoning Marriage

1. Emanuel Tov, "The Septuagint," Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin Jan Mulder (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004) 162.

"Additionally, Isaiah contains allusions to historical occurrences which indicates that it was translated [into Greek] in the middle of the second century B.C.E."

I'm not sure what to say about this, but it interests me because it shows how many interpreters try to see ancient prophecy in light of their own time. My Armstrongite tradition viewed Assyria as a united Germany, and Israel as the United States (in part at least). Joe Good, a Messianic Jew, sees Assyria as Russia, and he makes other connections between ancient and modern nations. Many biblical scholars assert that Isaiah's prophecies were for his own day, meaning that (for the prophet) Assyria meant Assyria, and Israel meant Israel. According to this reasoning, Isaiah expected the paradisaical Kingdom of God to come in his own day. Maybe, but we see in the Bible the reapplication of prophecies to new situations.

When did the LXX of Isaiah respect the historical context of Isaiah? And when does it read prophecies in light of its (the LXX's) own time? This would be an interesting question to pursue.

2. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1910) 485.

"Marcion [in the second century C.E.] rejected all the books of the Old Testament, and wrested Christ's word in Matt. 5:17 into the very opposite declaration: 'I am come not to fulfill the law and the prophets, but to destroy them.'"

That's kind of a stretch, isn't it? It reminds me of the time I read a Church of Christ Questions and Answers book, and the author was asked what Matthew 5:17 meant. He offered some spin on why it doesn't mean we have to keep the law. When I told one of my relatives about this, he mimicked the author: "Actually, it means that Jesus did destroy the law..."

Christians who don't believe we have to observe the law literally claim that Jesus fulfilled it, so that's why we don't have to follow its literal details. For example, the Sabbath pointed to Christ, so we don't have to rest every seventh day. Nowadays, in their minds, we keep the Sabbath when we rest in Christ.

But Marcion didn't even believe that. For him, God had nothing to do with the Old Testament, but the New Testament was God's actual revelation. Consequently, he didn't think that the Old Testament pointed to Christ. The church fathers, by contrast, did believe in the revelation of the Old Testament, even though they didn't literally observe Old Testament rituals.

3. Jacob Neusner, Judaism's Story of Creation: Scripture, Halakhah, Aggadah (Boston: Brill, 2000) 241.

"It has been taught on Tannaitic authority: Whoever has no wife lives...without atonement...Without atonement: 'And he shall make atonement for himself and for his house' [meaning his wife, so if he cannot atonement for his wife, he cannot make atonement for himself] (Lev. 16:11)."

Neusner is quoting Genesis Rabbah. I'm not sure what this passage means. Suppose a Jew observes the Day of Atonement and repents, but (for whatever reason) he can't find a wife. Must he continually walk around with the guilt of sin?

Maybe a lot of marriages were arranged in those days. But the dating game also existed, in some way, shape, and form. At Jewish Theological Seminary, I attended a lecture on a Talmudic passage about how women could attract a man: they lifted up their glass to indicate their availability. I remember this because the presentation had good visual aids.

Jews treat God's command for man to "be fruitful and multiply" in Genesis 1 as an actual command, not a suggestion. Christianity, however, is different. Of course, Jesus didn't marry an actual human being, but he married the church (Ephesians 5:23). But Jesus mentioned eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 19:12). Paul presents singleness as a legitimate option for Christians (I Corinthians 7). This may have set the stage for the Christian view that the clergy should be celibate.

But Jesus was not the first to see being a eunuch as an option. Isaiah 56:4 says eunuchs can serve God. Wisdom of Solomon 3 says godly eunuchs are better than people who bear bad kids. This openness to being a eunuch may have arisen from necessity. Regarding Isaiah 56, that passage may address eunuchs who returned from exile. In Babylon or Persia, they were made into eunuchs, possibly against their will. In the time of Isaiah 56, they have returned to the holy land, and they wonder if they can worship God in their state.

The Anonymous Muslim

In my last post, Does Islam Believe Jews and Christians Are Saved?, I wrestled with what the Koran has to say about the eternal destiny of Jews and Christians.
Outside of the text, I've encountered different perspectives. When I was in New York, I attended a liberal Seventh-Day Adventist church, and a moderate Muslim spoke to us one Sabbath. The speaker appealed to the "open" passages of the Koran to suggest that Islam thinks Jews and Christians will be saved.

At Harvard, however, I was discussing the issue with a Roman Catholic, who said he encountered Muslim discussions on the eternal destiny of "those who never heard." In Christianity, there is a belief that one must believe in Jesus Christ to be saved. This generates a variety of discussions over whether a good and loving God would send to hell those who never heard the Gospel. Some say that God will do precisely that, since God is just. Others hold that God will offer people a chance to be saved after death. Still others maintain that a person can be a "Christian" without knowing the name of Jesus Christ, provided he responds to the light that he has.

According to my friend, Islam has the same sort of debate: people are supposed to believe in God's prophet to be saved, but does that mean everyone who doesn't explicitly embrace Muhammad is condemned? I've not encountered a full-fledged discussion of this issue, but I find the following passage to be intriguing:

Sura 5:97-100: "Surely (as for) those whom the angels cause to die while they are unjust to their souls, they shall say: In what state were you? They shall say: We were weak in the earth. They shall say: Was not Allah's earth spacious, so that you should have migrated therein? So these it is whose abode is hell, and it is an evil resort. Except the weak from among the men and the children who have not in their power the means nor can they find a way (to escape); So these, it may be, Allah will pardon them, and Allah is Pardoning, Forgiving. And whoever flies in Allah's way, he will find in the earth many a place of refuge and abundant resources, and whoever goes forth from his house flying to Allah and His Apostle, and then death overtakes him, his reward is indeed with Allah and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful."

I'm not entirely sure what this passage is about, to be honest. But I find it interesting that it distinguishes between two types of unbelievers: those who had the freedom and the opportunity to believe, and those who were helpless. According to this passage, God will have mercy on the helpless.

What I think is going on is this: the Islamic armies are about to attack a pagan, oppressive city, and the city's inhabitants have a choice. Will they embrace the path of Allah and join the Islamic army? Or will they fight for the pagan, oppressive city? Some claim that they have a valid excuse not to leave the city, since they are oppressed. But Allah responds that they could have left anytime they wanted. At the same time, Allah acknowledges that some truly are trapped and may not know how to get out, so Allah has mercy on them.

Maybe this is a Muslim parallel to Christianity's "those who never heard" debate, and maybe it's not. On one hand, it looks like a clear choice for or against God is presented to the city, and that's not really the case for those who never heard the name of Jesus Christ! On the other hand, the Koran takes into consideration the opportunity and ability of people to respond to God, affirming that God has compassion for those who lack knowledge.

Does Islam Believe Jews and Christians Are Saved?

Does Islam believe that Jews and Christians are saved? That question has been in my mind as I've gone through the Koran. I'm not really in the mood to comb through everything I've read, so I'm lucky I found the dichotomy in Islam on the same page. The Koran translation is from my BibleWorks.

On the one hand, Islam is open to the possibility that Jews and Christians will be saved:

Sura 5:69: "Surely those who believe and those who are Jews and the Sabians and the Christians whoever believes in Allah and the last day and does good-- they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve."

On the other hand, Islam (much like the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament) portrays Israel as unbelieving:

Sura 5:70-71: "Certainly We made a covenant with the children of Israel and We sent to them apostles; whenever there came to them an apostle with what that their souls did not desire, some (of them) did they call liars and some they slew. And they thought that there would be no affliction, so they became blind and deaf; then Allah turned to them mercifully, but many of them became blind and deaf; and Allah is well seeing what they do."

According to this passage, many Jews are spiritually blind and deaf.

And what it says about Christians is much worse:

Sura 5:72-73: "Certainly they disbelieve who say: Surely Allah, He is the Messiah, son of Mar[y]; and the Messiah said: O Children of Israel! serve Allah, my Lord and your Lord. Surely whoever associates (others) with Allah, then Allah has forbidden to him the garden, and his abode is the fire; and there shall be no helpers for the unjust. Certainly they disbelieve who say: Surely Allah is the third (person) of the three; and there is no god but the one God, and if they desist not from what they say, a painful chastisement shall befall those among them who disbelieve."

In this passage, Christians who believe in the trinity are going to hell.

Is there a way to reconcile these passages? Maybe the more "open" verse is saying that Jews and Christians will be saved if they embrace Islam. Sura 5:74 exhorts Christians to seek God's forgiveness, and v 77 states:

"Say: O followers of the Book! be not unduly immoderate in your religion, and do not follow the low desires of people who went astray before and led many astray and went astray from the right path."

This verse tells Jews and Christians to reject the "errors" of their own religions, which presumably means "embrace Islam."

We see later on that the Koran wants Jews to believe in God and the Prophet (Muhammad):

Sura 5:78-83: "Those who disbelieved from among the children of Israel were cursed[;] this was because they disobeyed and used to exceed the limit...You will see many of them befriending those who disbelieve; certainly evil is that which their souls have sent before for them, that Allah became displeased with them and in chastisement shall they abide. And had they believed in Allah and the prophet and what was revealed to him, they would not have taken them for friends but! most of them are transgressors. Certainly you will find the most violent of people in enmity for those who believe (to be) the Jews and those who are polytheists, and you will certainly find the nearest in friendship to those who believe (to be) those who say: We are Christians; this is because there are priests and monks among them and because they do not behave proudly. And when they hear what has been revealed to the apostle you will see their eyes overflowing with tears on account of the truth that they recognize; they say: Our Lord! we believe, so write us down with the witnesses (of truth)."

According to this passage, Jews are unbelievers who ally themselves with pagans against the Muslims. But the Koran acknowledges that there are some Christians who are actually open to what Muhammad has to say. Salvation appears to rest on one's acceptance of God's messenger.

What's happening is that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism were competing religions. While Islam may have been tolerant to the "people of the book" when it ruled in medieval times, my impression is that it felt Jews and Christians should embrace Muhammad, which (for Muslims) is truly believing in God and the last day.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Marley, Fred, and Interaction with the World

Something that sticks out to me from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is that the ghost of Jacob Marley was ordinarily forbidden to interact with the world. Because he didn't care for others when he was alive, he was condemned to roam the earth for all eternity as a mere observer. He could watch what people were doing, but he could not participate or influence them to do good. They could neither see nor hear him.

What went through my mind when I read that was that I often feel this way. Since I have a hard time jumping into conversations, I mostly take the role of an observer. But my situation is different from that of Jacob Marley, since there's always a possibility that, at some point in time, I can positively impact someone else. Maybe someone will appreciate what I write, or I'll finally be able to get a comment into a conversation that makes people think.

Of course, there's always the chance that a lot of people won't listen to me. But there's also a chance that they will. That reminds me of another scene from A Christmas Carol. Scrooge's nephew, Fred, is talking about Scrooge at his Christmas party, and he says that he'll continue every year to invite Scrooge to his Christmas gathering, since the party could bring Scrooge some pleasure. Granted, he thinks Scrooge will turn him down each time, but he at least wants the invitation to be out there for him each and every year. And Fred says that his visits to Scrooge may influence his uncle to be a little nicer to his employee, Bob Cratchit.

Scrooge looks like a lost cause, but Fred acknowledges there's at least a possibility that he could plant a seed in the hardest of hearts. Unlike Marley, Fred is able to interact with the world--to get others to notice and pay attention to him in some way. As a result, he can be a force for good.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Scrooge v. Ghost of Christmas Present on the Sabbath

I read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol today. The following is Scrooge's interaction with the Ghost of Christmas Present on the issue of the Sabbath day--or at least that's what it looks like to me:

In time the bells ceased, and the bakers were shut up; and yet there was a genial shadowing forth of all these dinners and the progress of their cooking, in the thawed blotch of wet above each baker's oven; where the pavement smoked as if its stones were cooking too.

"Is there a peculiar flavour in what you sprinkle from your torch?" asked Scrooge.


"There is. My own."


"Would it apply to any kind of dinner on this day?" asked Scrooge.


"To any kindly given. To a poor one most."

"Why to a poor one most?" asked Scrooge.

"Because it needs it most."


"Spirit," said Scrooge, after a moment's thought, "I wonder you, of all the beings in the many worlds about us, should desire to cramp these people's opportunities of innocent enjoyment."

"I!" cried the Spirit.


"You would deprive them of their means of dining every seventh day, often the only day on which they can be said to dine at all," said Scrooge. "Wouldn't you?"
"I!" cried the Spirit.


"You seek to close these places on the Seventh Day," said Scrooge. "And it comes to the same thing."


"I seek!" exclaimed the Spirit.


"Forgive me if I am wrong. It has been done in your name, or at least in that of your family," said Scrooge.

"There are some upon this earth of yours," returned the Spirit, "who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us."

It's interesting that elements of Great Britain in those days regarded Sunday as the seventh day of the week. I didn't know that treating Sunday as the Sabbath went that far, for I assumed Christians who did so thought Sunday was the new Sabbath because Jesus rose on the first day of the week.

Also, the interaction between Scrooge and the spirit is interesting. Scrooge is either playing devil's advocate, or he's letting his moral sense come out in this situation. In the course of the book/movies, Scrooge is a lot more moral when the spirits show him visions than he usually is in his day-to-day life. A third possibility is that he doesn't like blue laws because he wants to work and make money on Sundays, so he brings up others who might benefit from a policy that would help him out.

The spirit's reaction is good and bad. It's bad because the spirit does what many Christians like to do when challenged: don't answer the question, but change the subject to the moral flaws of others. But the spirit also makes a good point. Are we going to blame poverty on the Sabbath, of all things? Poverty is caused (at least in part) by all sorts of human evils, so to blame God for it just because he wants to institute one day in seven of rest is kind of a stretch.

Also, is Scrooge assuming that the Ghost of Christmas Present speaks for God? It appears so. That's not a surprise, since Dickens was a devout Christian.

UPDATE: I found here that Dickens was a critic of blue laws. In light of this, the spirit is saying, "Don't blame me and other spirits for those blue laws. Those are the ideas of man!"

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve 2008

I just finished It's a Wonderful Life on YouTube. To be honest, I think I appreciate it more this year because my TV is indisposed right now. I'm just grateful I got to watch it! I noticed that the Christmas Story is also on YouTube, so maybe I'll watch that tomorrow evening.

Christmas was a hard time for me last year. I was alone with cabin fever. I watched lots of television, and I did lots of reading. But I eventually grew tired of TV and reading, so what do you do then? In the end, my Christmas was a pretty bitter experience.

So I decided that I need a game plan for this year. This year, I'm going to do a little bit of everything. I'll go to church tomorrow morning, and to an AA meeting tomorrow afternoon. After the meeting, maybe I'll go to a pizza place, if one is open. I don't get pizza that often, and I want to spoil myself a little on Christmas (albeit not extravagantly).

I don't plan to read a whole book this Christmas, as I did last year. But I'm reading some Martin Luther sermons here and there. I like Martin Luther because he focuses a lot on God's love and grace, which led him to love Jesus Christ. I may also listen to the Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe CD that I have from Focus on the Family's Radio Theater.

This evening, I feel pretty good. I read some Martin Luther sermons while I listened to Rush, only Rush wasn't on. Someone from Minnesota subbed for him. Then, I did an hour of my daily quiet time, as I prayed and read the Koran. I didn't think about my Koran reading for the entire hour, but I spent much of the time simply telling God what was on my mind--the good, the bad, and the ugly.

In the process, I remembered a remarkable Christian I knew in high school: many of her classmates considered her fat and ugly, but she was a truly sweet person, with a really pleasant disposition. Her faith somehow enabled her to rise above her difficult surroundings and to have faith, hope, and love. I said a while back that there aren't too many Christians I want to be like. Well, she's one who deserves admiration.

Then, I went to an AA meeting. Unfortunately, I got stuck with chairing, but there was a blessing that came out of it. A while back, someone told the group that he couldn't see his dying mother, since she lives in another state, and he's stuck where he is because of his probation. But he told me today that his mom is now in remission, and he'll be off of probation if he can pay his fine. He's trusting God for the money!

One thing he said to me: he's been mad at God, but now he's decided to make amends with God because of all the good things that God is doing. I don't know if God does that sort of stuff all of the time, since there is suffering in the world. But it is good when God helps someone out. I feel as if my prayers and those of others are not in vain. I was blessed to hear his story. And hopefully he felt blessed that someone asked to hear it. I hope to give this Christmas as well as receive.

As I watched It's a Wonderful Life, I wondered to what extent each of our lives touches everyone else's. I mean, that was a big point of the movie: George's very existence and life of helping others had a ripple effect that benefited people he didn't even know. He learned that when he got to see what Bedford Falls would've been like had he not been born.

But would the world really be all that different if I were not here? I think of that Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, in which Q let Captain Picard relive an event from his youth. Picard was worried that he'd dramatically change history, to which Q responds: "Look, the same wars occur, everything pretty much happens as it would have anyway. You're not that important."

I'd be tempted to dismiss It's a Wonderful Life as idealistic, until I realize that it actually touches real people's lives. I heard a person talk about it at an AA meeting I attended last week. Even idealistic movies can have real consequences on our outlook, or resonate with our day-to-day experiences.

So I prefer to think that God put me on this earth for a reason, meaning that my life plays some important role in the web of humanity. Tomorrow, maybe I'll think about the significance of Christ's coming to earth, since that is what Christmas celebrates.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Untranslated Passages, the Conquest, Hate the Sinner

1. Charles Perrot, "The Reading of the Bible in the Ancient Synagogue," Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin Jan Mulder (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004) 144.

"During the reading from the Tora each verse, read aloud in Hebrew, could be translated into Aramaic...Only a few passages in the Tora are not to be translated: the story of Reuben (Gen 35:22f.); the end of the story of the golden calf (Exod 32:21f.); the Priestly Blessing (Num 6:24-27). The same holds for some prophetic texts about David (2 Sam 11:2-17) and Ammon (13:1f.). It was deemed sufficient to read them, but not to give a translation. The case of Ezekiel was graver: 'They may not use the chapter of the Chariot (Ezek 1) as a reading from the Prophets; but R. Yehudah permits it."

I can understand why Ezekiel was banned, since rabbis feared that people may do some mischievous stuff with the Chariot chapter. But why couldn't that other stuff be translated into Aramaic? What's so special about the story of Reuben, or the end of the Golden calf story? Perrot doesn't explain.

2. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1910) 460.

Gibbon says that the Gnostics "were at a loss to reconcile 'the conquest of Canaan, and the extirpation of the unsuspecting natives with the common notions of humanity and justice."

Someone mentioned to me a pamphlet that says Satan is god of this world (II Corinthians 4:4), so he was the one who commanded the Israelites to slaughter every Canaanite man, woman, and child. That may be similar to what the Gnostics said. For them, a diabolical sub-deity created the heavens and the earth, so the God of the Hebrew Bible is not the true God.

I know that the rabbis wrestled somewhat with the Conquest. They said that the Israelites offered the Canaanites terms of peace, then proceeded to slaughter them when they didn't accept them. I wonder how the early Christians addressed this issue.

3. Jacob Neusner, Judaism's Story of Creation: Scripture, Halakhah, Aggadah (Boston: Brill, 2000) 217.

"The net effect is to link the homely observance of the Sabbath to the most profound issues of human existence and divine love--all out of the simple statement that God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it."

Neusner says that Judaism has a conception of divine love. As I've read the Koran for my daily quiet time, I have wondered if Islam really has such a concept. I don't think that Islam sees God as a harsh tyrant who hates humanity, as certain Christians like to portray it. After all, the Koran says at the outset that Allah is compassionate and merciful. But I don't really see therein God's love for his enemies, as I do in the following New Testament passages:

Matthew 5:44-45: But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

Romans 5:6-7: 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person-- though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Instead, the Koran states that God does not love certain people (translation is from whatever my BibleWorks uses. Also, keep in mind that I've only read the first four suras):

Sura 2:276: Allah does not bless usury, and He causes charitable deeds to prosper, and Allah does not love any ungrateful sinner.

Sura 3:31-32: Say: If you love Allah, then follow me, Allah will love you and forgive you your faults, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful[.] Say: Obey Allah and the Apostle; but if they turn back, then surely Allah does not love the unbelievers.

Sura 3:57: And as to those who believe and do good deeds, He will pay them fully their rewards; and Allah does not love the unjust.

Sura 4:36:...surely Allah does not love him who is proud, boastful[.]

At the same time, I have encountered one passage that says Muslims shouldn't look down on non-believers, since they once were non-believers themselves, saved by the gift of Allah:

Sura 4:94: O you who believe! when you go to war in Allah's way, make investigation, and do not say to any one who offers you peace: You are not a believer. Do you seek goods of this world's life! But with Allah there are abundant gains; you too were such before, then Allah conferred a benefit on you; therefore make investigation; surely Allah is aware of what you do.

At the same time, the Bible says that God hates certain people:

Psalm 5:5 The boastful will not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.

Psalm 11:5: The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates the lover of violence.

Proverbs 6:16-19: There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that hurry to run to evil, a lying witness who testifies falsely, and one who sows discord in a family.

(Notice that God hates a person here: a lying witness.)

God hates the sin but loves the sinner? Not in every Scripture!

Actually, God probably loves sinners, even while he hates them. He loves them in that he wants them to repent, but he hates them for the bad decisions that they make. He doesn't just hate sin in the abstract, as if sin and sinner are separate, for sin flows from the decisions of the sinner.

Samuele Bacchiocchi Has Passed Away

I've just learned from X-HWA (In Memoriam, Samuele Bacchiocchi) and Felix (Samuele Bacchiocchi: 1938-2008) that Seventh-Day Adventist scholar Samuele Bacchiocchi has passed away.

The name of "Bacchiocchi" was respected in Armstrongite circles--at least the ones that I ran in. I know that Garner Ted Armstrong and Ron Dart spoke highly of his dissertation, From Sabbath to Sunday, which concerned the Catholic Church's change of the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday.

"So what?," some may say. "There are a lot of Sabbatarian tracts that make that point." The difference is that Bacchiocchi wrote his dissertation at the Pontifical Gregorian Institute at Rome, Italy, as the first non-Catholic to be admitted there since the sixteenth century (see Samuele Bacchiocchi - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). I read a while back that there were Catholics who actually liked his work because they thought it upheld the Church's authority to institute non-Scriptural traditions (Sunday). Bacchiocchi assumed that the change of the Sabbath was a bad thing, but elements of the Church read his dissertation in another light--as a criticism of Sola Scriptura. Moreover, Bacchiocchi's From Sabbath to Sunday was so influential that prominent Sunday-keeping scholars (e.g., D.A. Carson, Richard Bauckham) saw a need to refute it--in From Sabbath to Lord's Day.

I'd like to talk first about my impression of his work, then some things that I know about him personally. I read From Sabbath to Sunday in high school. People always told me that it was a dense book, but I found its prose to be understandable, even though the footnotes were quite copious! The book was refreshing because it actually interacted with the early church fathers (e.g., Dicache, Justin Martyr, etc.). A lot of Sabbatarians don't do this, for they assert that Constantine was the one who changed the church's day of worship--in the fourth century C.E. But Christian writings as early as the late first century C.E. honor the first day of the week (see here), and Bacchiocchi did well to acknowledge that point.

For Bacchiocchi, the church moved away from Jewish observances after Rome had crushed the Jewish rebellions in the early second century C.E. It wanted to distance itself from the Jews so Rome would leave it alone! It's been a while since I read Bacchiocchi, but he presented the second century church as if it was grasping for straws to buttress Sunday observance. He said that the resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week was not a major factor in its support for Sunday, for many church fathers focused on Christ's death rather than his resurrection, plus they largely based their Sunday observance on the occurrence of the number eight in Scripture (e.g., eight people on the ark), since Sunday is the eighth day--the day after the seventh-day Sabbath.

I don't think Bacchiocchi was totally wrong in his analysis, since the Romans' defeat of the Jews may have contributed to the church's anti-Judaism. But I don't think he was totally right, either. His critics point out that there were early church fathers who connected the celebration of the first day of the week with Christ's resurrection (again, see here). So Bacchiocchi's explanation of the origins of Sunday observance is not the only way to see the issue. It could be that Christ rose on Sunday, and that's why the early church fathers honored that day.

I fell in love with Bacchiocchi's Divine Rest for Human Restlessness. It's one of the few books that knocked my socks off! I read this book in high school. I liked Bacchiocchi's statement that the Sabbath is a day to act like all my work is done. As someone who always has "one more thing" to do, this statement has given me rest and peace on many a Sabbath. I also enjoyed Bacchiocchi's connection of the Sabbath with Christ's coming kingdom, along with his personal anecdotes of how he tried to be faithful to the Sabbath as a non-Catholic in Sunday-keeping environments. Sabbatarianism is a minority practice in which adherents must push against the grain. After all, the world often requires work and secular activity on the Sabbath. So it was refreshing to read Bacchiocchi's struggles with this issue. And Bacchiocchi's book drew praise from Sunday-keeping organizations, which wanted to apply his insights to the Lord's day.

His book, The Advent Hope, exposed me to a lot of eschatological and soteriological issues. I think I first learned of universalism from this particular work. (See Eschatological Sabbath: The Spiritual Interpretation for my critique of his approach to Isaiah 66).

I never read all of Wine and the Bible, only parts of it that are on the Internet. He was defending the tea-totaller position, and I recall that he referred to ancient sources in which oinos means unfermented grape juice. But I wonder how he would interpret Deuteronomy 14:26: "spend the money for whatever you wish--oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire" (NRSV).

A significant move was when he wrote a few books that said Christians should observe the annual holy days. There were Armstrongites who applauded his conversion, while more cynical people claimed that he was trying to lure Armstrongites into the Adventist church. The Worldwide Church of God was abandoning the Sabbath and the holy days in the 1990's, after all, and there were members who still clung to those institutions, looking for a place to go.

I admire Bacchiocchi's open-mindedness, since he was willing to explore spiritual avenues apart from the usual Adventist spiel. And, to his credit, his books on the holy days were not the typical Armstrongite interpretation of those festivals, which drew a lot of criticism. It's good to read new interpretations, for a change!

But I don't really go ga-ga anymore when someone unconventionally defends an Armstrongite doctrine. I used to get excited when a Sunday-keeping Protestant defended soul sleep or said we should keep the Sabbath or avoid unclean meats, since that made me feel less strange. And the same went for Bacchiocchi, who was a big scholar in a prominent Sabbatarian denomination, which relegated the holy days to the no-longer-relevant "ceremonial law." But when Bacchiocchi started defending the holy days, the thought went through my mind: "I can't be too strange to keep that stuff, since the respected scholar Bacchiocchi does so too." Now, to be honest, I really don't care. The peculiar doctrines of Armstongism don't matter to me that much.

Bacchiocchi also criticized biblical inerrancy, as does the Seventh-Day Adventist church, which sees the Bible as "thought-inspired" rather than "word-inspired." I wonder if he can offer me insight on how to reconcile faith with historical-criticism.

One more thing: Bacchiocchi had a little spat with Joe Tkach, Jr., the leader of the Worldwide Church of God. Bacchiocchi said it was ironic that the WCG was embracing a "new covenant perspective" on the Sabbath and holy days, while following the "old covenant" model of church hierarchy. My family and friends got a big kick out of that dig! It's so true!

Now, for some personal stuff:

1. I know people who used to visit Bacchiocchi in Berrien Springs, where he taught at Andrews University. They say he was a very nice man.

2. Bacchiocchi and I interacted via e-mail. I ordered a copy of Divine Rest for Human Restlessness for an evangelical friend who had started keeping the Sabbath. Unfortunately, Bacchiocchi never got my check. So I never got the book!

3. My dad went to hear Bacchiocchi speak. Bacchiocchi attended several interdenominational Sabbatarian gatherings, which included Armstrongites. My dad loved Bacchiocchi's response to a question about the Sabbath and legalism: "Legalism says one has to work for his salvation, but on the Sabbath I don't work. I rest."

So we lost a great man today--someone prominent in Sabbatarian and non-Sabbatarian circles, who was not afraid to look into different ideas and to interact with people from other denominations.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life on YouTube

My TV will be out of commission this Christmas day, but my tradition of watching It's a Wonderful Life will go on! The entire movie is on YouTube. I watched Parts I and II, so I'm posting the link to Part III so I can access it immediately rather than combing through all my bookmarks. You can find Part I through that link, if you want to watch it. Enjoy!

It's A Wonderful Life [Part 3/13]

Qere-Ketiv, Pseudo-Clementine Annihilationism, the Best Possible World

1. Martin Jan Mulder, "The Transmission of the Biblical Text," Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin Jan Mulder (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004) 112.

"In the course of time, many theories have been put forward about the origin and nature of the ketiv-qere cases, such as the opinion that they contain variants from very ancient manuscripts. Another opinion is that they are emendations replacing incorrect, difficult or unusual words or expressions. In his study, Gordis presents a classification of the words with ketiv-qere, the number of which he estimates at 1350, and further demonstrates that, generally speaking, both forms are of equal weight. The ketiv need not always be inferior to the qere. According to Gordis's statistics, qere is superior to ketiv in only eighteen per cent of the cases, ketiv to qere, on the other hand, in twelve per cent of the cases. In sixty-two per cent of the cases, they balance each other out. Therefore, the qere-forms are not variants of the ketiv-forms considered problematic...In later times, the system of annotations in the margin was also used to record the variant readings of certain manuscripts."

In the Masoretic Text, there sometimes appear two alternative words in a given verse--the qere and the ketiv. The ketiv is what is written down in the text. The qere is what people are supposed to read aloud in the synagogue. For example, the biblical text has YHVH as God's name. But when Jews come across YHVH as they're reading the Torah, they're supposed to say Adonai--"my lord" (or, more accurately, "my lords"). This is to honor God's name, since God's name becomes more sacred when it's not uttered. But there are other examples of qere-ketiv that are not so dramatic, in which (for whatever reason) Jews are simply supposed to say aloud what is not written in the official text.

In the quote above, Mulder wrestles with the reason for qere-ketiv. In the end, he seems to maintain that the qere and the ketiv most of the time represent equally plausible ways of reading the text: they're simply variants, and one is not better than the other. But, if that is the case, then why are the Jews supposed to read the qere aloud and not the ketiv? Doesn't that demonstrate a preference for the qere?

2. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1910) 440.

[According to the Pseudo-Clementines,] the ungodly, since the soul becomes mortal by the corruption of the divine image, are annihilated after suffering a punishment, which is described as a purifying fire. When the author speaks of eternal punishment, he merely accomodates himself to the popular notion."

I'm supposed to come up with topics to research for my comps, and I think that eternal punishment is one that I'd like to tackle. My Armstrongite heritage was annihilationist, meaning it held that God will destroy the wicked rather than burning them in hell forever and ever.

In the Hebrew Bible, "eternal fire" often refers to a fire that destroys, specifically sinful cities like Jerusalem (see Me on Universalism: "Forever"). When we reach the time of the deutero-canonical writings (second century B.C.E.), there is more of a belief in eternal torment (see Ben Sira's View of the Afterlife). In the early Christian writings, we mostly see references to "eternal punishment" (whatever that means), as we do in the New Testament (see Clement, Dispensationalism, and Salvation).

It's interesting to encounter an annihilationist view in an ancient text. (The Pseudo-Clementines are dated from the second-fourth centuries C.E.). I wonder if it crops up anywhere else.

3. Jacob Neusner, Judaism's Story of Creation: Scripture, Halakhah, Aggadah (Boston: Brill, 2000) 211-212.

"For at issue throughout is the simple question, How can creation be 'very good' if there is evil in the world? So we systematically review the challenges to the view that Creation is 'very good.' These encompass death, IX.V.1 sleep, death's counterpart, IX.VI, the impulse to do evil, IX.VII, suffering, IX.VIII, Gehenna, IX.IX, the angel of death, IX.X, and the measure of punishment, IX.XI....Everything people think mars creation in fact marks its perfection. Death is good because it prevents the wicked from getting what they have not earned, hence, death ensures justice in Creation. Sleep is good because it permits the sage to study the Torah all the more effectively when he awakes. The evil impulse produces good results. Suffering is the route to eternal life. Gehenna likewise insures justice for those who have earned a reward, by preventing those who have not earned a reward from getting one. The angel of death takes up the same task. And as to punishment? It is inflicted only with justice. So, in the end, there is a mete punishment for those who deserve it and a proper reward for those who earn it..."

Neusner refers to a rabbi who claimed that God created several worlds before he finally made ours. In the mind of this rabbi, ours is the best possible world that exists, whereas all the prior ones were rough drafts.

People can easily laugh at that sentiment, since this world clearly does not look like the best possible world. Christians will usually appeal to the Fall in Genesis 3 to explain how we arrived at this decrepit state, and rabbinic literature also embraces that kind of idea. In the eyes of the rabbis, the present world is not exactly the way God wants it to be, for Israel is in exile, and sin rules the day. That's why God will bring us a much better World to Come.

But there are rabbis who try to show that this world is still "very good," notwithstanding Adam and Eve's sin. I've heard rabbis who claim that Jews do not focus on Genesis 3, but rather on Genesis 1, which presents a divine order that people are to honor. I think that the view that this world is still the best possible one exemplifies that sort of perspective.

A few years ago, I took a class on Job, in which we covered Maimonides' interpretations of the book. (Maimonides was a twelfth century Jewish philosopher). I vaguely recall that Maimonides did not believe that the natural world had evil. Even earthquakes have some proper function in the natural scheme of things! The purpose of religion, for him, is to teach people how to thrive in the world as it is.

This is an interesting thought. My parents often taught me that there is a divine order to the natural world: there's a reason that animals eat other animals, since that preserves the balance of life. Without predators, we'd have an over-population of who-knows-what!

But such a view did not always coincide with what I heard other Christians teach. In their eyes, there were no predators and prey in the Garden of Eden, since death did not exist yet. That implies that there's more order after the Fall than there was before. But maybe this world, which seems imperfect, actually has a certain beauty, order, and rationality behind it. I don't want to be too dogmatic on this, though, since there's a lot of suffering, and I don't want to blow that off.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Diverse Bibles, God's Unforgiveness, Bad and Good Waters

1. Martin Jan Mulder, "The Transmission of the Biblical Text," Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin Jan Mulder (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004) 101.

"Kahle was moved to his criticism by studying the finds of biblical fragments in a geniza (=storage room) of a synagogue in Cairo, which had been built in 882 C.E., and was rebuilt in 1890. This led to the discovery of the 'hidden treasures'. From the geniza appeared numerous manuscripts of the Bible, and also of other religious and liturgical books. Some of the biblical manuscripts, which can be dated in or even before the ninth century, occasionally show considerable divergencies from our present MT. In rabbinic literature, too, deviations from the MT occur in biblical quotations, just as in the Ancient Versions. According to Kahle, there was not at first a single text of the Hebrew Bible, but there existed several Vulgartexte. Kahle modelled his hypothesis on the (Aramaic) targumim, which had also circulated in different forms. He claims that during the first centuries of the Common Era, one of the said Vulgartexte was rewritten in such a way that an official text could grow out of it."

There are several manuscripts and quotations of the Hebrew Bible in antiquity. They have a lot of similarities, but they also have differences. Conservatives do well to point out that the biblical manuscripts at Qumran match the Masoretic Text to a great extent. But there are also differences between certain Qumran manuscripts and the MT, particularly concerning the Book of Jeremiah.

Conservatives and others like to use textual criticism to discover what the text originally said. But is this even possible, when the transmission of the biblical text may have been rather fluid up to a certain time?

What effect do different versions have on the Christian faith? There were biblical authors who obviously had a problem with variance in texts, for the authors of Deuteronomy and Revelation command people not to add or subtract from their books (Deuteronomy 4:2; Revelation 22:8). At the same time, if memory serves me correctly, Jerome asserted that both the Septuagint and the Hebrew text were inspired, even though he was aware of their differences.

Bart Ehrman is a liberal scholar who makes a big deal about differences among New Testament manuscripts. Conservatives usually retort that the differences are mostly orthographic (spelling) and do not demonstrate significant discrepancies on the important stuff, such as the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Personally, I don't think that the existence of different manuscripts compromises the big-picture stuff, such as the character of God, which includes his love, justice, righteousness, etc. The Bible itself presents variety in terms of laws. Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Ezekiel have differences in the precise details of their legal stipulations, but all of them acknowledge God's holiness and goodness. So I guess I'm a big-picture man.

2. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1910) 426.

"Tertullian held all mortal sins (of which he numbers seven), committed after baptism, to be unpardonable, at least in this world, and a church, which showed such lenity towards gross offenders, as the Roman church at that time did, according to the corroborating testimony of Hippolytus, he called worse than a 'den of thieves'..."

The NRSV of I John 5:16 states: "If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one--to those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin that is mortal; I do not say that you should pray about that." The NRSV calls a sin unto death a "mortal sin." I wonder if Roman Catholic Church believes that its conception of mortal sin is the topic of I John 5:16. Most Protestants apply that passage to the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus says will not be forgiven (Mark 3:28-29 et al).

From what I can see in its catechism, the Catholic Church holds that mortal sins--sins "whose object is grave matter and is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent"--can be forgiven (1856).

For my daily quiet time, I've been reading the Koran (Do I hear gasps?). Here are some quotes about God's forgiveness, from Ahmed Ali's translation:

"God does accept repentance, but only of those who are guilty of an evil out of ignorance yet quickly repent...But he does not accept the repentance of those who continue indulging in evil until death draws near and they say: 'We now repent'..." (The Women 17-18).

"God does not forgive that compeers [=equals] be ascribed to him, though he may forgive aught else if he please" (The Woman 48).

In these quotes, God doesn't forgive intentional sin, nor does he care much for death-bed repentance. And God's also not too eager to bury the hatchet when people say other beings or things are equal to him.

I don't know what the full ramifications of this are. After all, many of the first converts to Islam were formerly idolaters. Would Muhammad say that God forgave them because they acted in ignorance?

On some level, the Koran is getting its idea about God's forgiveness (or lack thereof) from the Bible. Numbers 15:22-31 says that those who sin unintentionally can offer a sacrifice and receive forgiveness, whereas the people who sin high-handedly get the death penalty. Such an attitude carries over into the New Testament, which refers to God's mercy on the ignorant. This includes people who killed Jesus (Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17; I Corinthians 2:8), persecuted the church (I Timothy 1:13), worshipped idols (Acts 17:30), and committed a host of other sins (Ephesians 4:18; I Peter 1:14). But Hebrews is clear that God does not forgive those who fall away or "sin willfully" after knowing the truth (Hebrews 6:4ff; 10:26; 12:17). Even in the New Testament, there's a view that says God forgives unintentional sins, but not intentional ones.

Where that leaves me, I have no idea. I find that I do sin with the knowledge that the Bible disapproves of my act. Lust is a big example. But do I know the full ramifications of what I'm doing? How ignorant am I when I sin--of the inherent goodness and rationality of God's standard, for example?

This last week, I encountered a woman on the bus who was worried that she had blasphemed the Holy Spirit. She seemed pretty composed for a person who believed she was going to hell, but her story was this: she asked God for a billion dollars, God said no, and she cursed him and "prostituted herself." Now, according to her, she's ugly, and her significant other has left her. In her mind, the curse of God is upon her.

I told her that, if what she did (e.g., cursing) was unforgivable, then everyone is going to hell. She nodded her head and proceeded to confess Bible verses silently to God. I thought I was a failure because I didn't give her the usual evangelical spiel on blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which I have problems with (see Matthew 12:22-37: Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit). But maybe I wasn't a failure after all. Even if she thought I was from the devil and trying to deceive her, I got her praying, and that's a good thing!

I wondered why Jesus even uttered his statements about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, since they have led to the emotional and spiritual abysses of many Christians. But I think that Jesus gave them as a warning, not to kick people when they're down. I'm not sure if he was saying that the Pharisees had placed themselves beyond the realm of God's mercy, since he later asks God to forgive them because they didn't know what they were doing. But when the Pharisees attributed Jesus' works to the devil, Jesus may have been saying, "You'd better watch what you say! You don't want to put yourself beyond the realm of God's forgiveness. And you are on the verge of doing so right now!"

I'm not sure if the passages about God not forgiving people are meant to discourage us from repenting and seeking God's forgiveness, whatever we have done or however knowingly we did it. God forgives his prodigal children, after all! But they may be designed to make us watch ourselves--to make sure that we're not in a position where God cannot reach us. If we are so rebellious that nothing God does will bring us to him, then we may very well be on dangerous ground.

3. Jacob Neusner, Judaism's Story of Creation: Scripture, Halakhah, Aggadah (Boston: Brill, 2000) 191.

"From the beginning of creating the world, God foresaw Moses, who was called 'for he was good' {Ex. 2:2), and [God foresaw that] Moses would receive his punishment on account of [water, smiting the rock for water, rather than merely speaking to it], 'For it was not good.'...Along these same lines, the Holy One, blessed be he, said, 'Since the water will punish the generation of Enosh, the generation of the flood, and the generation of division, therefore let the words 'for it was good' not be written with regard to water."

Neusner is quoting Genesis Rabbah. In Genesis 1, God calls most of his creation "good" after each day of creation (except Day 2), but he does not explicitly say that about water. I remember Professor Jon Levenson pointing that out in a class that I took at Harvard. At the time, I assumed this was because water in Scripture and the ancient Near East is often an enemy of God. It represents chaos, which God has to subdue to restore the natural order. Jon Levenson discussed this in Creation and the Persistence of Evil, and Bernard Batto (a professor of mine at DePauw) did so in Slaying the Dragon.

In Genesis 1, God calls everything he had made "very good," after he has created all the heavens and the earth, of course. But did God create the waters? In Genesis 1:2, they are around before God says "Let there be light." God mostly arranges the elements that already exist: darkness, the water, etc. So were these things co-eternal with God? Some scholars think so. Armstrongites, of course, would posit that there was another creation before the one in Genesis 1, explaining why there was water before God commanded light to appear.

What's interesting is that the rabbis point out that Scripture praises water on a few occasions. Psalm 93:4 says that water praises God, and there are passages in which God commands and restrains the waters. For the rabbis, Neusner argues, nature is obedient to God, whereas human beings usually are not. This resembles sentiments of Islam and Clement, who say that nature is naturally subservient to God, whereas humans have to yield to him from their own free will.

Maybe. And yet, we all know there's a lot of brutality in the animal kingdom! Christians usually attribute this to the Fall, which disrupted the goodness of God's natural order. But God points out to Job that his creation can be pretty strange, so maybe the bizarre things in nature are all part of the plan!

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