Thursday, October 1, 2009

Stealing from God, Son of Man, "Spirit-Led"

1. Jacob Neusner, Invitation to Midrash: The Workings of Rabbinic Bible Interpretation (Atlanta: Scholars, 1998) 260.

Said R. Hinnena b. Pappa, "Whoever derives benefit from this world without reciting a blessing is as if he steals from the Holy One, blessed be he, and the community of Israel."

This is from Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 10:2 (ca. 600 C.E.). I remember Jon Levenson quoting it: if you eat without saying a blessing, then you're a thief! I've read, though, that Jewish halakah qualifies this somewhat: if you're doing something like, say, eating an apple for a snack, you don't have to say a blessing. But I forget the exact source.

In Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, the wealthy entrepreneur Hank Rearden is reluctant to pray with his family to thank God for the food. A student presenting that chapter for my Atlas Shrugged class said Rearden was reluctant to pray because he was the one who provided the food for his family through his hard work, so why should he thank God?

But it's God who gives human beings the power to make wealth (Deuteronomy 8:17-18), and God created the bountiful food for us to enjoy. So I feel I should thank God for my food, since it's his to begin with.

2. Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports About Christianity and Gnosticism (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1977) 261.

It is now possible to construct a coherent, synchronized history of the [two powers in heaven] tradition...The book of Daniel, usually dated to Maccabean times, is the earliest witness in the Bible to the existence of apocalyptic traditions of a heavenly figure, though it is possible that some Enoch traditions are earlier...The events narrated in Dan. 7:9f. may be part of the Israelite Holy War and Divine Warrior traditions--mythological motifs which Israel shared with its neighbors.

In Daniel 7, a Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days (God) and receives the kingdom and dominion. Many scholars believe that the Son of Man represents the holy people of Israel, since Daniel 7:18, 22 talk about the holy ones possessing the kingdom, as the Son of Man does. He's depicted as a man to contrast God's kingdom with those of the ferocious beasts in the chapter, the oppressors of Israel. In the Anchor Bible Dictionary article on the "Son of Man," George W.E. Nicklesburg offers the possibility that the Son of Man was a heavenly figure who was a patron of the saints of Israel. Regarding the parallels between Daniel 7 and the myths of Israel's neighbors, I remember reading an article in which one of my professors compared the Son of Man with Baal, and the Ancient of Days as El. White hair was a common feature among these myths.

It's easy to get the impression from Daniel 7 that there is a God and another heavenly figure, meaning there are two powers in heaven. Whether that's the original meaning of Daniel 7 is unclear, but it may have become understood to convey that.

There are many theological issues here: Jesus' identification with his church, a seemingly unfulfilled expectation that God would beat Antiochus Epiphanes and immediately proceed to rule the world, the existence of another figure in heaven besides the Most High God and the question of whether or not that detracts from God's glory and uniqueness, whether Israel can convey truth by borrowing from foreign mythology, etc.

3. Eugene Mihaly, A Song to Creation: A Dialogue with a Text (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1975) 30.

The profundity of Scripture is never exhausted. Whatever a dedicated, inspired student derives from a biblical verse is present in the text--indeed, every conceivable insight was anticipated at Sinai, the sum of human possibility. The same holy spirit which permeates the Torah is potentially present in us and, if we are worthy, it will aid us in uncovering the truth imbedded in the words of Scripture.

Some Christians rely on scholarship and word studies to understand Scripture. Others claim they don't need that stuff because they have the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit. Many rely on both scholarship and the Holy Spirit to determine truths about God and life in the Bible.

I've often wrestled with the view that the Holy Spirit guides us as to the meaning of Scripture. A big reason is that "Spirit-led people" arrive at different conclusions about certain passages' meanings. There are pre-tribbers, post-tribbers, pre-millennialists, amillennialists, and a host of other people who claim to be led by the Holy Spirit. So do Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, for that matter. To their credit, they tell me to pray to God for guidance about the right religion. They leave the ball in God's court, and they sincerely expect God to guide me to their religion!

But, if God is real, wouldn't he want to guide his children on a personal level?

Perhaps people arrive at different "Spirit-led" conclusions because of the Bible's profundity: it has a lot of meanings! But, for certain issues, there comes a point at which only one point of view can be correct: either the saints will be raptured before the tribulation, or in the middle of it, or thereafter. All three can't be simultaneously true, right?

But can God lead people to different doctrinal beliefs based on where they are? A tender person may need the doctrine of "Once Saved Always Saved," along with the assurance of God's love that it provides. But those who simply "believe" and live godless lives without even blinking may need the message that they can lose their salvation. The only problem in this scenario is that God seems to be telling a white lie to one of the groups!

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