Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Church Write-Up: I Corinthians 13

At the LCMS Bible study, the topic was I Corinthians 13. Here are some items:

A. The pastor started by talking about the Hebrew word for love, “ahav.” He said that it covers various kinds of love, but it always indicates an emotional or intimate bond. He seemed to suggest that the Hebrew Bible never uses “ahav” for love of objects (as opposed to people). For example, Genesis 3:6(7) employs another verb for Eve’s desire towards the forbidden fruit, ch-m-d. But there actually are occasions in which “ahavah” is directed towards objects: Gen 27:9, 12 refers to Isaac’s love for meat. I will revisit the pastor’s point in (D.).

B. The pastor then went through various Greek words for love. Phileo refers to the feeling of love. Storge is used for love of family, neighbor, or the body politic. Eros is sexual passion or desire. According to the pastor, there were two lines of interpretation of eros within Greek thought. The Platonic line treated eros as an appreciation for the ideal of beauty, for Plato believed that there was a form of beauty in the spirit realm of which beautiful people and objects were imperfect representations. The other line interpreted eros as sexual passion, and Greek thought feared eros in that sense because it was irrational and entailed a loss of control over one’s body, emotions, and life. Ludus is playful love and can encompass children at play, flirtation, or laughter among friends, and it can lead to a deeper relationship. Pragma is a mature love, the sort that sustains marriages. Ludus and pragma are not in the Bible.

C. The pastor defined agape as an esteem for people, which is irrelevant to whether they reciprocate that love. It is seeing another as precious. It occurs in classical Greek but is rare, and the pastor speculated that this could have been why it was chosen to translate ahav: agape was not overused. However, on page 52 of Exegetical Fallacies, D.A. Carson states that agape was prominent in Greek literature from the fourth century B.C.E. on, and that it was replacing phileo because phileo “had acquired the meaning of to kiss as part of its semantic range.”

D. I did a quick search of agapao in the Septuagint. It does seem that what the pastor said about ahav and objects is largely accurate when it comes to agape in the Septuagint. Isaac’s love for meat, for instance, is translated with phileo. But there are occasions in which agapao can refer to a deep devotion or overwhelming preference for something inanimate, such as pleasure, sleep, money, or violence. Agapao appears to go beyond merely liking something, however: it is the devotion of one’s life to something, such that it shapes and defines one’s life. There are times when agapao seems to encompass affection while including more than that: Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons. Jacob obviously had more affection for Joseph, but he had more than affection: he cared about Joseph more. The people of Israel loved David. I would not characterize this as some grand sort of unconditional love, but it may go beyond merely “liking” David. There are times when agapao relates more to action than to emotions. Love for others in the Torah appears to entail refraining from harming them, while exercising compassion towards them in terms of helping to meet their needs. One can do this without a whole lot of emotional affection.

E. The pastor noted that Paul in I Corinthians 13 speaks in the first person. “If I understood all mysteries and have not love….” The pastor speculated that this may be a rhetorical device on Paul’s part as he responds to people who were trying to take his place. There were people in the Corinthian church who believed that they were more gifted than Paul. Paul was away in Ephesus, so they tried to be in charge of the Corinthian church in his absence. Paul was essentially saying, “You want to be like me, well, let me tell you what applies to me, and this applies to you, too.”

F. Several of the Corinthian Christians were using their gifts as a reason to boast. Paul was not only telling them that their gifts exist to serve others, but he was also telling them that their spiritual gifts were only partial. They will be complete when Christ appears at the end. According to the pastor, Paul was essentially saying: “You think you have it all but you don’t so you should be humble rather than puffing yourself up over what little you do have.”

G. Faith, hope, and love, by contrast, are already complete. I cannot say that I fully understood the pastor’s point here, since he acknowledged that, due to our flesh, we often are not loving. But there were things that he did say that may clarify his point. Faith, hope, and love will not be replaced with something more complete when Christ appears at the end. The whole reason for faith, hope, and love is given in Christ. We have all of God’s love now. Christ is the reason for our hope now.

H. Related to (G.), I long thought that faith and hope were temporary, whereas love was permanent, and that was why Paul said the greatest of these was love. When we see Christ, we will no longer need to hope, for the object of our hope will be right there. Love, however, will always be relevant because we will be loving God and neighbor in the eschatological paradise. I wonder if there is a sense in which faith and hope will be relevant after Christ appears.

I. The pastor offered a different reason for Paul’s statement that love is greater than faith and hope. Love is the basis for faith and hope, for it is on account of God’s love for us that we have faith and hope. To quote the pastor’s handout: “faith and hope rely on love (agape) to fill them and love is the basis for and the goal of our works and lives.” Love defines what the church does: whether it preaches the Gospel, feeds the hungry, or lets groups in the community (AA, NA) use the church building. The church communicates that it cares for others.

I will leave the comments on. Please do not ask me to document my points in (D.). This is an informal post.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Church Write-Up: One Body, Codex Sinaiticus

Here are some items from the LCMS church activities last Sunday:

A. The pastor told a couple of notable anecdotes. One was about an elderly woman who was angry at Jesus for forgiving the thief on the cross and letting him into paradise. That man lived his life as a thief, maybe even a murderer, and he got saved at the last minute. She, by contrast, tried for decades to live a good life, not going to parties. Why do all that work, if one can be saved at the last minute? The pastor said that the thief on the cross recognized his desperate need for God’s mercy, which we all need. The pastor also talked about people at the gym who are proud of their body and strut it around, and he likened them to the proud Corinthians. Others, however, have a poor body image. The white robe of Christ’s righteousness covers believers, though, and they do not have to worry about whether it makes their hips look too big! I thought of an episode of Dennis Kiszonas’s “Grace for Today” radio program that I listened to last night. He said that we all need God’s grace, so no one person is better than another.

The pastor told another story about an elderly woman he would visit. Every time, she would tell the same story about how she became a Christian when she was young and helped bring her whole non-believing family to Christ. It all started when a friend invited her to Sunday school. The pastor would tell her that her story was cool, but it was also cool that the friend invited her to Sunday school.

The theme of the service was the church being one body, Jesus’s body, which Jesus builds. The first story relates to that because having a sense of superiority can hinder harmony in the church, as was the case with the Corinthians who bragged about their spiritual gifts. The second story relates to it because it shows how Jesus can build his body through the ordinary and through interpersonal connection.

B. The Sunday school class revolved around the fourth century Codex Sinaiticus, which contains half of the Septuagint and the entire New Testament.

Codex Sinaiticus was found at St. Catherine’s monastery at Mount Sinai. The teacher told us the story about who St. Catherine was. She lived in the fourth century and was tortured on a Roman wheel. She managed to survive that ordeal, which was rare in those days, so the Romans beheaded her. According to legend, angels took her head and her body to Mount Sinai. Monks later found them and named the monastery after her. It was attacked by bandits, but Justinian in the sixth century, with the authority of the Byzantine empire, built the building of the monastery there. St. Catherine’s became an autonomous monastery when it broke away from Russian orthodoxy in the sixteenth century. This is in contrast with Benedictine orders, which send monks from monastery to monastery. Tours at St. Catherine’s were discontinued in 2013 due to problems Al-Qaeda was causing, and that hurt the monastery, which makes money from the tours.

The teacher then gave us a history of monasticism. Prior to Constantine’s conversion, Christians tried to demonstrate their conviction by publically proclaiming that they were Christians and getting arrested. We have sermons in which pastors attempt to discourage congregants from trying to get arrested! After Constantine converted, people became Christians, and one reason some did so was in order to rise in the imperial ranks. There was no longer martyrdom of Christians in the Roman empire, so Christians sought another way to demonstrate their seriousness about their faith. Monasticism emerged in Syria and Egypt, and monks would deprive themselves of food, sleep, and sex. In Syria, the monasticism was largely solitary, as monks lived in caves. In Egypt, by contrast, there was a communal element to it.

The teacher told the story of Konstantin von Tischendorf, a nineteenth century scholar. von Tischendorf went to St. Catherine’s and studied the manuscripts of Codex Sinaiticus. He says that he was allowed to take forty-four manuscripts, so he did so and published them, without saying where he got them. The next time he went to St. Catherine’s, the monks were cooler towards him. von Tischendorf got more manuscripts, and his initial claim was that the monks threw them into the garbage, so they were there for the taking. He then claimed that he bought them: he worked with Tsar Alexander to buy them and the Tsar would protect the abbey. In 1933, the Soviet Union sold many of them for $500,000 (that time’s value) to the British Museum.

The Codex Sinaiticus also contains the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas, which demonstrates some fluctuation in the canon in the fourth century. Communities differed on whether to accept twenty-seven or twenty-nine books in the canon. Some books were controversial: some communities wanted Hebrews, some did not. Half of the church wanted Revelation, half did not. Books were deemed canonical when it was concluded that they were especially used by God to touch people’s lives. The Epistle of Barnabas dates to around 130. It is a Christian interpretation of the Old Testament, like Hebrews. Like the Gospel of John, it has dualistic themes such as light and darkness, which would become prominent in Gnosticism in Egypt. The Shepherd of Hermas dates to the late first-early second century, around the time of the Gospel of John. Hermas was a freed slave from Rome; Christianity was full of slaves at that time because Christianity gave them hope when their situation appeared hopeless. An angel appears to Hermas as a shepherd and delivers Christian ethics, which related to the situations of churches at that time. One commandment was that, if a man’s wife commits adultery and she repents, then the man must accept her back. The text implies that the shepherd may actually be Jesus. The Shepherd of Hermas also has symbols, like Revelation: the church is a tower with repentant sinners.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Book Write-Up: Swords and Plowshares, by Timothy D. Padgett

Timothy D. Padgett. Swords and Plowshares: American Evangelicals on War, 1937-1973. Lexham, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Timothy D. Padgett has a Ph.D. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

The back cover of the book sardonically asks, “Evangelicals are warmongering nationalists—right?” The thesis of this book is “wrong!” Add to that the myth that “Evangelicals have been uncritically supportive of Israel.” Padgett attempts to respond to prevalent scholarly narratives that regard evangelicals as supportive, pro-war nationalists.

Padgett surveys evangelical stances towards war from 1937 to 1973. That goes from World War II, through the Cold War, to the Vietnam War. Padgett looks at a variety of evangelical sources. Carl F.H. Henry of Christianity Today gets a lot of attention. Francis Schaeffer has some cameos.

Some items from this book:

—-Padgett discusses prophetic expectations that evangelicals had about world events, while also referring to voices that were cautious about applying biblical prophecy to current events. Some of this was a variant of the usual Hal Lindsey prophetic scenario: Russia invades Israel, the Roman Empire gets revived. But there was also wrestling with such questions as where the United States fits into prophecy. One person suggested that, because Americans were of Roman descent, they would be part of the Antichrist.

—-Padgett cautions readers not to judge the evangelicals of the past in hindsight. There were evangelicals who thought that Communism in the 1930’s was a greater threat than Nazism. Some were ambivalent about Mussolini, but so were a lot of people at that time. Yet, there were prominent evangelicals who criticized Hitler and Mussolini: Hitler for his anti-Semitism, and Mussolini for his cavalier disregard for human life in Ethiopia.

—-Evangelicals were largely against Communism during the Cold War. Padgett argues that this was not so much from a sense that the United States was the best country in the world, but largely due to Communism’s oppression of people, including Christians. Evangelicals were quite critical of the United States, especially for its sexual openness and materialism. And this was during the 1950’s, which many modern evangelicals consider the “good old days”! Billy Graham was actually impressed with the Soviet Union because it was more conservative on sex. According to Padgett, some evangelicals could also recognize differences among Communists, such as the differences among the U.S.S.R., Yugoslavia, and China. They had a nuanced understanding of Communism.

—-Regarding war, Padgett presents evangelicals as similarly nuanced. Overall, they were not pacifists. Still, they discussed what they considered to be positives and negatives of military actions. Some could be extreme, such as recommending the usage of the A-bomb in the Korean War. But plenty of evangelicals were apprehensive and cautious about atomic warfare. On the Vietnam War, many evangelicals supported it as a way to contain Communism, yet there were evangelicals who bemoaned the innocent lives that were taken, not only by Communists but also by Americans.

—-On Israel, there were the reactions that many associate with evangelicals: the thought that Israel’s reestablishment was prophetically significant, and the view that Israel replenished the land after taking it over. But there was also prominent evangelical criticism of Zionist terrorist tactics and the treatment of Palestinian Arabs.

—-Padgett also discusses evangelical stances towards segregation and the civil rights movement. Carl F.H. Henry was quite critical of segregation.

There were evangelicals who met the stereotype that Padgett critiques. Some wrote letters to the editor of Christianity Today! Padgett also speaks about the high opinion that many evangelicals had of President Eisenhower, whom they deemed a man of prayer. Others, by contrast, criticized American civil religion as hollow.

Overall, this book reads well, though there were places where it could have used editing. The book does not have many stories, but it conveys prominent evangelical thinkers’ thoughts and analyses. This is an important book in that it rounds out the lopsided pictures of evangelicalism in American history.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Church Write-Up: One Body

At the LCMS Bible study today, the topic was I Corinthians 12:12-31, which describes the church as one body.

Here are some items:

A. The pastor drew a contrast between the United States and Norway. In the U.S., people normally go to college to get a good job and provide for themselves and their family financially. In Norway, people go to college to take their place in society and contribute to the well-being of society. That is Paul’s focus in I Corinthians 12:12-31: the well-being of the whole. That does not sacrifice the well-being of individual members but enhances it.

B. Greek philosophy, influenced by Plato, had a very spiritual conception of connection with the divine. According to Plato, the earthly realm points to a spiritual realm, where there is the ideal of humanity and life. God is spirit, so one gets close to God through one’s mind. Some of the Corinthian Christians were claiming that what was important was a spiritual connection with God so what they did in the body did not matter: they could commit fornication and that was fine, since what was important was their mind. The pastor drew a contrast between Lutherans and Calvinists. Calvinists see the Lord’s supper as something that lifts believers to the heavenly realm. Lutherans, by contrast, see it as God coming down to meet believers in the material, as Christ is inside the bread and the wine.

C. Some of the Corinthian Christians were claiming that they had a special revelation from God, and those with flashier gifts (i.e., tongues, healings) acted as if God liked them better than others. There was also division among classes. House churches would gather together for a potluck followed by the Lord’s supper. The richer Christians would bring fancy food and wine and would not share it with others. Some of the poorer Christians would stay at home due to embarrassment about their lack, depriving themselves of the Lord’s supper. Paul seeks to encourage Christians who feel inferior and bear resentment because they feel as if their gifts are not as good as those of other Christians, while exhorting those who are proud on account of their flashier gifts to put things into perspective.

D. Part of Paul’s exhortation was to remind the Corinthians that they received their gifts from one Spirit. There is not one spirit giving the gift of healing, and another spirit giving the gift of prophecy. All of the spiritual gifts come from one Spirit for the edification of those in the body. The Corinthians drink from the same Spirit. John 7:38-39 calls the Spirit rivers of living water that flow from the believer, so Paul, when he says in I Corinthians 12:13 that all believers have been made to drink of the same Spirit, is likely referring to living in and drawing from the Spirit.

E. The Christians are members of Christ’s body. Christ is the one who gives the body life; as someone in the class said, a body may lack an arm, but the body itself is still alive. The analogy of the body existed in Greco-Roman writings, which likened the body politic to the human body. Society is healthy, they said, when people respect one another’s rights and contribute. Paul claims that the body is Christ rather than saying it is the institutional church, for, if he said church, it would be a matter of us trying to figure things out. But Christ is the one who builds his body. He brings people to where the body is, even if they may think they are making the decision on their own, and the people he brings are gifts to the rest of the body. We may not know how some people are gifts, but they are. Paul refers to a part of the body that is covered up, yet it is that part that propagates the human race. Even by being in church, we are an encouragement to others in church, as God brings us through another week. The pastor referred also to Ezekiel 37, in which God’s Spirit brings together dry, lifeless bones to create a body.

F. The pastor commented on some of the spiritual gifts. Apostles are eyewitnesses to Jesus, so there are no more apostles; the New Testament contains the repository of apostolic testimony. Prophecy, according to the pastor, was the speaking of divine revelation for the fledgling early church, before there was a New Testament. Tongues are listed last to humble those who were proud because they spoke in them; the pastor said tongues were primarily for the edification of the individual believer.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Church Write-Up: Spiritual Gifts, Roman Pedagogy, Constantine, Septuagint, Text Criticism

Here are some items from church last Sunday. I attended the LCMS church.

A. The theme was spiritual gifts. The youth pastor asked the kids if they have ever been on a team. If a person is on a basketball team, she may feel bad that she does not shoot as well as another player. But she may have her own strengths, such as defense. God has given to us by sending his Son to bring us salvation; similarly, we should give to others.

The pastor in his sermon said that, whether we are proud of our spiritual gifts like the Corinthians, or we lament that we do not have impressive spiritual gifts, the focus is on ourselves. In addition to I Corinthians 12:1-11, our text was John 2:1-11, the wedding at Cana. The wedding occurred on the “third day,” a pregnant term in Scripture, as that often indicates a time of dramatic divine intervention that changes things for the better. Jesus was bringing that. Our spiritual gifts should focus on Jesus’s love and forgiveness: what Jesus is doing. The pastor talked about things that the church is thinking of doing: following up on visitors to make sure they know they are welcome, and visit members who are going through difficulties.

B. I have four items on the Sunday school class.

The teacher talked about Roman pedagogy. Elite Roman children had pedagogues, tutors who taught them reading, writing, and rhetoric. Rhetoric was important if they were to go into politics. The pedagogues were highly educated slaves, often from Greece after the Romans “annexed” it. Some of them were harsh towards the children, acting as their disciplinarians when their fathers were away for war. When the Roman empire became Christian and Christians were the elites, the question was whether Christian elites should continue to read Homer’s writings, which were about pagan gods. Some Christians said “no,” but the Bible was deemed too unsophisticated to use: the New Testament was written in common (koine) Greek, not literary Greek. Public schools came much later. Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, the vernacular, but what good was the translation if most were illiterate? Consequently, Luther appealed to the German princes to set up public schools. These would be for both boys and girls.

The teacher talked some about Constantine. The Roman empire had more than one emperor because it was too big for one person to rule it. There were heir apparents so there would not be civil war once an emperor died, but that did not work. Constantine receives a vision convincing him to rule the entire Roman empire. He reaches a deal with another emperor, the Edict of Milan, saying that the government will no longer hunt down Christians, though Christianity is still illegal. Constantine triumphs militarily though he is overwhelmed. Constantine may not have been totally open about his Christianity, but his empire incorporates cross imagery. Constantine returns property that was taken from Christians during the third century persecution, and, to make up for the burned Christian books, he orders twenty-five manuscripts of the Christian Bible to be produced with Christian money.

The teacher talked about the Septuagint. The Septuagint of the Pentateuch was produced in third century BCE Alexandria, Egypt. None of the synagogues in Alexandria spoke Hebrew or Aramaic; for that matter, Hebrew was rarely spoken in Palestine, which was why a person would translate aloud the Torah portion into Aramaic. Most of the synagogues then were Greek-speaking and outside of Palestine. There are different legends about how many translators produced the Septuagint, seventy or seventy-two. Legends say that the translators worked in separate cubicles and all ended up producing the same document, miraculously. The teacher doubts that really happened, but he thinks that Alexandrian Jews told this to Palestinian Jews because the Palestinian Jews treated them as second-class citizens and lorded over them. The Alexandrian Jews were saying that they did not need to use the Bible that the Palestinian Jews did, for the Septuagint was divinely-inspired.

The teacher gave us a taste of text criticism, but that will be the main topic next week. Ordinarily, he said, earlier manuscripts are more reliable, in terms of being closer to the original text. But what if you have an earlier Latin translation of a Greek Gospel? Or a later Syriac translation preserves an earlier line of text from Antioch?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Book Write-Up: Revelation, by Charles C. Ryrie

Charles C. Ryrie. Revelation. Moody, 1996, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Charles Ryrie was a renowned conservative Christian scholar, theologian, and author. This book is a commentary on the Book of Revelation, written on a popular level yet influenced by scholarship.

Ryrie’s perspective is pre-tribulational and pre-millennial. “Pre-tribulational” means that he believes that the church (both living and dead saints) will be raptured to heaven before the seven year Great Tribulation. “Pre-millennial” means that he believes that Christ will return at the end of the Great Tribulation and establish a thousand year reign on earth. Ryrie defends these views occasionally, while describing other views, using helpful visual aids.

Ryrie is also dispensational, but he overlaps with and differs from other dispensationalists whom I have read, such as E.W. Bullinger, who is often called a “hyper-dispensationalist.” At its basic level, dispensationalism distinguishes between the church and Israel, rather than treating the church as the new Israel. Ryrie adheres to dispensationalism in this sense. Unlike Bullinger, however, he does not treat the church as spectators of the Lamb’s marriage with Israel but rather holds that the Lamb is marrying those redeemed from among the Jews and the Gentiles. Yet, like Bullinger, Ryrie does make distinctions when it comes to the Lamb’s marriage. On pages 152-153, he states regarding the friends of the Bridegroom in Revelation 17:9: “These guests are not the bride, and they are not unsaved people, so they must be redeemed people who are not members of the church, the body of Christ.”

Like many dispensationalists, Ryrie also believes that the church operates under salvation by free grace and once-saved-always-saved. This perspective influences his approach to certain passages. Revelation 19:8 states that the bride is arrayed in fine linen, which is the righteous deeds of the saints. Ryrie states: “The bride is the bride because of the righteousness of Christ; the bride is clothed for the wedding because of her acts” (page 152). In Revelation 3:5, Christ promises the church at Sardis that the overcomer will not be blotted out of the Book of Life. Ryrie interprets overcoming as believing in Christ, in light of I John 5:4-5, and he states: “This statement does not threaten the possible loss of one’s salvation but rather promises assurance that no believer will ever lose it” (pages 35, 41). That is Ryrie’s approach to the promises to the churches in Revelation 2-3: they are not rewards for doing good, but rather they represent Christ trying to reassure the churches about the blessings that they already have, as that can strengthen them amidst temptation and persecution. Unfortunately, Ryrie does not really address Christ’s threats to the churches. What did Christ mean in Revelation 2:5 when he threatened to remove the Ephesian church’s candlestick, unless she repented? Is that a loss of salvation?

Ryrie is not exactly an antinomian. Regarding those who are cast into the Lake of Fire for certain sins in Revelation 21:8, Ryrie states: “Notice that the text does not say that anyone who has ever committed any of these sins will be excluded, but people whose lives are characterized in these ways” (page 167). He later calls them “unsaved people.” This is both helpful and unhelpful. Why are the “fearful” included in that list of unsaved people? Ryrie does not say. My guess is that, in the Book of Revelation, those who fear the world and the Beast will give in to them, and that brings condemnation. My problem with the verse is that I have long struggled with fear, and not just occasional fear.

As a conservative Christian, Ryrie tries to address the passages in Revelation that seem to suggest that the end is near, as in, expected to occur in John’s day. There were not many surprises there. Like a lot of dispensationalists, he interprets “things which must shortly come to pass” in Revelation 1:1 to mean that, when Christ does finally come, it will be quickly. But he realizes that Revelation 22:10 states that “the time is near,” so he says, “these events are near because a thousand years are as a day with the Lord (2 Peter 3:8)” (page 18). To his credit, Ryrie does cite passages in favor of his interpretation of “shortly.” He is not very convincing, though, for Revelation often conveys a tone of urgency.

In terms of strengths, the book is informative. For example, in discussing the Lord’s day in Revelation 1:10, Ryrie notes that kyriakos outside of the New Testament means “imperial,” so the Lord’s day could be when Christ “takes the reins of earthly government” (page 23) rather than Sunday. Ryrie sometimes ignores details, but at other times he tries to explain details, and he sifts through different perspectives in so doing. He refers to translational issues: the angel of Revelation 8:13 is actually an eagle; Ryrie does not explain the significance of that, however. Occasionally, Ryrie is rather elliptical. On page 146, he interprets Revelation 18:2’s statement about fallen Babylon being the cage of unclean and hateful birds by saying: “The latter phrase possibly alludes to the birds in the parable of the mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32), indicating the demonic forces at work in the apostate system.” What? The birds who rest in the branches of the tree in Matthew 13:32 are demonic? The book has a cozy tone, and yet one has to pay close attention lest one miss an intriguing insight.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Church Write-Up: Spiritual Gifts, Idolatry, Cross Plus

I went to the weekly adult Bible study at the LCMS. It resumed meeting, after a hiatus.

The pastor started a series on I Corinthians.

Here are some items:

A. A key topic in I Corinthians is spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are acts of God’s grace. They are given to believers, not because they are deserving or conjured them up themselves, but because of God’s free gift. They exist to glorify God and to build up the church. Unfortunately, Christians in Corinth, on the basis of these gifts, acted as if they were superior. Those with flashier gifts, like tongues, thought that God liked them more than those who had less flashy gifts, like hospitality.

B. In Corinth was a temple to Apollo. It had Corinthian columns, which bulge in the center for support and for an optical illusion: so that the columns from a distance will look straight. If the column were straight, it would look caved in from a distance. Wherever people in Corinth would go, the temple of Apollo would look over them. Corinth had a lot of idolatry. As a cosmopolitan city and a trading hub connecting the east and the west of the Roman empire, it attracted different ideas, not just goods. Paul believed that the idols were nothing, yet he also thought that idolatry was an entry-point for demons, who use it to promote orgies and prostitution.

C. Some Christians in Corinth thought that the cross was good as a beginning, but that something needed to be added to the cross in order for one to become intimate with God. They claimed to have special wisdom and knowledge, so Paul opens I Corinthians by saying that God’s wisdom is in the cross, which is above human wisdom. Paul in I Corinthians 12:3 says that no one speaking by the Spirit of God can say Jesus is cursed. The pastor said that this does not refer to Christians cursing Jesus under threat of persecution, for that was the time before the Roman persecution of Christianity. The pastor suspects that Paul is criticizing adding Christianity to other things. When Christianity is mixed with other belief systems, Christianity is what gets compromised. Some examples that he cited were Christian socialism and Thomas Merton incorporating Buddhist meditation into Christian monasticism. But he referred to other controversial issues: organs were played in the Roman collosseum, while Christians were being killed by lions. Consequently, some Christians recoiled at using organs in worship, but they were eventually accepted because they could be heard in large cathedrals.

Here, questions enter my mind.

Is the cross (and I include Jesus’s resurrection in this) the only thing that Christians need to know? Is Paul’s problem that the Corinthian Christians were saying that one needs to know something in addition to the cross? Or is his problem more that they were marginalizing the cross of Christ—which is of paramount importance in terms of how God is and how Christians should live—in favor of human-made ideas?

Does not the New Testament, at times, treat the cross as the beginning, or as one of the basics, while thinking Christians should move on to other material? Paul says he needed to feed the Corinthians with milk because they were not ready for meat. (And, by the way, I remember reading E.W. Bullinger speculate that this was why Paul came to them knowing nothing but Christ and him crucified, according to I Corinthians 2:2.) Hebrews 6:1-3 talks about not laying again the foundation, which includes repentance, baptism, the resurrection, and judgment; those are basics, and Christians are to move on to perfection. I asked the pastor about this, and he replied that, in Hebrews, the author is exhorting his audience not merely to trust their outward confession of their faith, with their lips, but rather to internalize their confession in faith. Back to my original question in this paragraph: I do not think that the New Testament treats the cross as something from which believers graduate. It is part of the advanced material, as well.

Is it wrong for Christians to practice Buddhist meditation, or to be socialists because they believe that coincides with the principles of their Christian faith? There are Christians who are Republicans because they believe that the Republican Party reflects their Christian values. Obviously, one can look at the German Christian movement of the 1930’s and see an example of where mixing Christianity with something else can go bad. Christianity plus racialism, or Christianity plus devotion to the Fuhrer. The result, of course, was that Christianity got marginalized. And this could occur with other mixtures: is Buddhist meditation taking one’s focus off of Christ? Does Christian commitment to a particular political creed lead one to hate and demonize those with a different political persuasion? I think a key question is: What sets the agenda? Is it the Christianity, or the something else?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Book Write-Up: Jerusalem’s Queen, by Angela Hunt

Angela Hunt. Jerusalem’s Queen: A Novel of Salome Alexandra. Bethany House, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Jerusalem’s Queen is the third book of Angela Hunt’s “Silent Years” series, which is about the period between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The first book is about Cleopatra VII, and the second book concerns Judah the Maccabee. This third book is about Salome Alexandra. Salome Alexandra was the queen of Judea in the early first century BCE. She empowered the Pharisees.

Jerusalem’s Queen alternates between the perspective of Salome Alexandra, originally called “Shelamzion,” and Kissa, her servant from Egypt. The book goes from the reign of John Hyrcanus I, through the oppressive reign of Alexander Jannaeus, to the death of Salome and the rivalry between her sons, which led to the Roman takeover of Judea and the end of Jewish political independence. In the book’s moving ending, one of the characters encounters Simeon, the man in Luke 2 who saw Jesus Christ before his death.

Overall, the book effectively explores theological issues, as Sadducees dialogue with Pharisees, and Essenes get into the discussion. Honi the circle-drawer has a cameo. Shelamzion questions her uncle John Hyrcanus’s Hellenism and the royal airs he puts on as high priest. Political tensions recur in the book, and powerful personalities encounter powerful personalities. Hunt makes use of ancient sources, such as Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and rabbinic literature, and she presents her critical assessment of the sources in an appendix.

Reading about Salome, there are additional stories that Hunt could have included, which may have rounded out the book a little more, but Hunt chose as she did. I disagree somewhat with something she says in the appendix. She presents Shelamzion and Kissa together in the Jerusalem temple, and she says that this is plausible because, prior to Herod’s temple, there were only two courts: one for the people, and one for the priests. There was not yet a “Court of the Women” or “Court of the Gentiles.” Yet, Antiochus III’s decree in 200 BCE (Josephus, Ant. 12.145–46) presumes that Jewish law forbids Gentiles to enter the temple enclosure. That should factor into the discussion somewhere. Incidentally, I do not remember the scene in which Shelamzion and Kissa are together at the Jerusalem temple—only the scene in which they are at the Heliopolis temple. If Kissa was a slave when she was at the Jerusalem temple, perhaps she would have been allowed at its enclosure, since slaves were considered part of Israelite households (Genesis 17:12; Exodus 12:44).

The book has an evangelical perspective, which influences the issues that are placed on the table. In one part of the book, a Pharisee was saying that the Messiah would be a king and a priest, like a Christian would. (Elsewhere in the book, an Essene says that there would be two Messiahs, one priestly Messiah and one royal, and that is what is in the Dead Sea Scrolls.)  I wondered how plausible the Pharisee’s speech was, or if Hunt was placing evangelical beliefs into the mouth of the Pharisee. I suppose it is not impossible that a Pharisee would say that, since the Hebrew Bible does sometimes depict David as a priest-king (II Samuel 8:18; Psalm 110:4), and perhaps a Pharisee could pick up on that. On whether such a sentiment occurs in rabbinic literature, that is a question that deserves further research.

The book’s evangelical perspective does lead to an interesting discussion: is obeying the rites of the law sufficient to be righteous, or is something further than that necessary? In a poignant scene, Kissa acknowledges that she obeys the law as part of Shelamzion’s household, yet she does not feel a connection with God.

There is an intriguing statement on page 305. An Essene Torah teacher is responding to Shelamzion’s question of whether the Messiah will overthrow her husband Alexander Jannaeus. The Torah teacher replies: “The Teacher of Righteousness has called your husband ‘the wicked priest,’ but I do not believe he considers Alexander Jannaeus the wicked priest described in the text. Your husband does not rule Egypt and Syria.” Shelamzion then sighs and says, “So we should not expect the Messiah until later?” At the moment, I do not know where the Dead Sea Scrolls say that the Wicked Priest rules Egypt and Syria. But there have been different ideas about the identity of the Wicked Priest, and whether there was only one.

This is my favorite book in the series thus far.

I checked this book out from the library. My review is honest.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Book Write-Up: Rewire Your Heart, by David Bowden

David Bowden. Rewire Your Heart: Replace Your Desire for Sin with Desire for God. Nelson Books, 2018. See here to buy the book.

How can Christians overcome sin in their lives? One suggestion, of course, is “Just say no.” But I have heard alternative advice from Christians over the years. “Don’t focus on not lusting, but draw closer to God, and then you will not lust.” I heard a pastor offer similar advice about smoking.

David Bowden leans more towards the latter advice. For Bowden, sin is the result of misplaced affections. We seek fulfillment from sin when only God can satisfy those needs. I remember Tim Keller making a similar point: maybe, contrary to Freud, religion is not the result of unsatisfied sexual desire, but rather our search for sexual fulfillment is really an aim to satisfy a religious need.

In my opinion, and other readers may differ, the book is a little thin on how Christians can replace their desire for sin with a desire for God. The book talks about focusing on God’s free grace in Christ. Bowden draws a lot from Reformed thought, but, unlike some prominent Reformed thinkers, he leans heavily towards the grace side of the grace-law/works/fruit continuum.

Such an approach leaves questions unanswered. How can a Christian rest in God’s grace, when there is so much in the Bible about divine wrath, the need for good works, and the contingency of forgiveness, or even God’s acceptance? If simply trusting in God’s free grace decreases a desire for sin, why do so many believers in God’s free grace still struggle with sin, and in some cases simply give in to it?

And can devotional religious activity or thinking the right religious thoughts decrease sexual desire or addictions? I do not hastily answer “no” to this question, for people do look to sex or addictions for a sense of peace or fulfillment, often in unhealthy ways. But some desires are due to human biology.

The book has its assets, though. Bowden offered effective illustrations. His interpretations of Genesis 3 and Romans 7 were intriguing. He does well to attempt to offer something positive, rather than merely saying “Just say no” to the negative.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through BookLook Bloggers. My review is honest.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Church Write-Up: Parental Equation, Bruised Reed and Smoldering Wick, Costly Parchment

Here are three items about Sunday morning’s LCMS service.

A. The youth pastor was saying that children should honor their parents. Our parents are not perfect, he said, but they have done for us more than we have done for them. That may not be true for everyone, but it has been true for me.

B. The pastor talked about how we do not like to fail. Some of us quit projects midway because we are frustrated and we would rather quit than fail. Or we paint a bulls-eye around our arrow, rationalizing to ourselves that we hit the target. When it comes to God’s commands about how we should live, we find ourselves in many cases missing the target altogether. God did not give us the law just so we can fail, however, for the law instructs us as to how to live God’s way of life, different from what the world lives.

Jesus is God’s ultimate servant who acted in a manner that glorifies God. Isaiah 42:3 affirms that the servant shall not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick. A bruised reed was a reed that was bent over by the winds and unable to become straight. We may find ourselves broken by life and by our sins, unable in our own strength to get back up. Like a smoldering wick, our sin and selfishness have snuffed out our relationships with God and others.

C. The Sunday school class was the series about the production of books in antiquity. Papyri were good for books because they were from plants, whereas animals (for leather and parchment) were costly to raise. But papyri mainly grew in Egypt and, as plants, dried out and became brittle. Leather and parchment were more durable but were from animals, and it was costly to raise animals for writing material, to devote time and resources to feeding and watering them when most people went to bed hungry. The teacher was illustrating and reinforcing a point that he made last week: that it was costly to produce books. Consequently, even scribes with adequate materials abbreviated some words to spread out the supply of their materials.

Suppose, the teacher said, you have Ron in one city and Jay in the other. Both are Christians. They ask each other what books each other’s church has. Ron’s church has the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of the Ebionites. Jay’s church has the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Mary. They then ask each other what they use in church services, and Ron’s church uses the Gospel of Matthew, and Jay’s church uses the Gospel of Mark. Each wants a copy of the other’s Gospel, but it would take a while for them to get that. They have to get the materials and find a scribe, then transporting the material will be time-consuming. The teacher was saying that one reason for canonization—deciding which books to copy and circulate for usage—was economic: they had to pick which books they deemed important, since books were costly to make.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Book Write-Up: The Power of the Cross Unveiled and Revealed in Jesus

Jim Taylor. The Power of the Cross Unveiled and Revealed in Jesus. Crosslink, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Jim Taylor is a Church of Christ minister who formerly worked in electronics.

This book primarily engages Romans 5:12-21. Taylor’s main argument in this book is that Christ’s death on the cross eliminated the guilt that humanity had for Adam’s sin. According to Taylor, nobody now, Christian or non-Christian, is held accountable for Adam’s sin, in the eyes of God. Still, human beings are accountable for their own sins after they reach the age of accountability, which was twenty years old in the Old Testament (Numbers 14:28-32). To be forgiven of those sins, Taylor argues, people must repent (turn from sin towards a different way of life), be baptized, believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and abide in Christ. On page 117, Taylor states: “When the children of God live the best life they can live according to their conscience and according to the knowledge of God (Hosea 4:6), and they abide in the truth according to their Father’s commandments (John 8:31-32; 1 John 2:3-5) and walk in the light (1 John 1:7), they are never charged with sin (1 John 3:9).” That does not sound like once-saved-always-saved; rather, it sounds as if a Christian needs to repent continually in order to keep his or her salvation.

While some may feel that such a soteriology fails to offer assurance, there are beautiful passages in the book about the love of God. Taylor inquires how many people would be willing to sacrifice their own children to save somebody else. Few, if any. Yet, God the Father sent his Son to suffer and die for our salvation.

Taylor discusses another issue in Romans 5:12-21, as well: Romans 5:13-14’s statement that sin is not imputed when there is no law. Taylor argues that people were not guilty of sin or punished for it prior to the law of Moses. To his credit, Taylor does attempt to explain how this view can accord with God’s punishment of Noah’s generation with a Flood and God’s punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah. Taylor resorts to saying that people could still follow their consciences after Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and God stepped in with wrath when people’s consciences became overly seared. Some considerations, Taylor does not explain. For instance, Taylor states that there was not a system of forgiveness of sin prior to the Torah. Maybe, but did not Abraham pray that God might remove Abimelech’s guilt in Genesis 20? Is that not forgiveness of sin?

Taylor explores other issues, too, such as how Melchizedek was an intercessor between humans and God prior to the time of the Torah. A lot of what Taylor says was not surprising, in terms of my understanding of what Church of Christ people believe: baptism as a requirement for salvation, the risk of losing one’s salvation, and the treatment of the Kingdom of God largely as a heavenly reality. Some things were surprises, assuming that Taylor is stating Church of Christ beliefs and not just his own personal interpretation. For instance, Taylor states that Christ will eventually shed his fleshly body and return to his preincarnate state, which had a spirit body that lacked flesh.

This book had strengths and weaknesses. The strengths were that Taylor covered interesting topics and tried to account for Scriptures that might, at first sight, seem to challenge his scenarios. Taylor offers food for thought. One weakness was that Taylor did not successfully defend his thesis that Christ’s death erased human guilt for the sin of Adam and Eve. It just seemed to me that he asserted this rather than demonstrating it from the Scriptures, and questions were left unanswered. Why would Christ’s death in Romans 5 absolve all humanity of Adam’s sin, whether they believe in Christ or not, but not for their personal sins, whether they believe or not? Why do people still experience the penalty of physical death, which came from Adam’s sin? Perhaps Taylor should have looked at how others, such as John Wesley, have defending the sort of view that he is promoting, without sacrificing his own original contributions. Although the prose was fine, the book could have used more focus and better organization. And the paragraphs should have been indented.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Bookcrash. My review is honest.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Church Write-Up: Light, Ancient Book Production

Here are some items on church Sunday morning. I went to the LCMS church.

A. It was Epiphany, so the theme was the magi and light. In the children’s part of the service, the pastor talked about how the magi were Gentiles, and thus were not part of God’s chosen people Israel. They had no business seeing the Messiah, but God brought them to see him anyway. The pastor also talked with the kids about how they could be lights: by helping a person who lost her shoes to find them, etc. In the sermon, one point that the pastor made was that God does God’s best work in the midst of darkness, and that should encourage us as we cope with our own spiritual darkness: our desire, like Herod, to be in charge. The magi went to see the Christ child at night, which was a dangerous time on account of the highwaymen.

B. The church started a six-week Sunday school class, taught by the professor who has taught classes there before. This class is about the Bible: the production of books in antiquity, the canon, infallibility, issues like that.

The teacher referred to Martial, a Roman poet in the first century CE, who said that his poems were being written on a codex, which was handy for people who wanted to carry his book of poems around with them. Before that point, the codex was largely for note-taking, not for literature. Christians would begin using the codex instead of the costly, heavy scrolls, and the codex largely supplanted scrolls in the fourth century C.E., when Christians gained political power. A question the teacher raised was why Christians gravitated towards the codex. Some of the conventional answers—that it is cheaper to replace a mistake in a codex than in a scroll—are inaccurate, because it is actually simpler and cheaper to correct an error in a scroll. The teacher also gave a run-down on scrolls. The Pentateuch is on one scroll. The Twelve Prophets are on another. But most scrolls were not that big: they were about three yards. The teacher also said that the literacy rate was low, and most reading was done aloud: the TV shows in which a slave reads a letter aloud to a Roman general are more accurate than ones in which the Roman general reads the letter to himself. Private reading still occurred among the elites, and silent reading was not completely unheard of, though it was rare enough that it puzzled someone when Augustine did it. The teacher also talked about how there was no copyright back then: people could copy things any way they wished; that is why books threatened people, with divine penalty, not to alter the book. Books were also copied by hand. The teacher said that the need for a canon related to theology, on some level, but it also had to do with economics, as Christians could only spend so many resources on the production of books.

That is somewhat of a run-on paragraph, I know. I am also aware that some scholars have maintained that there was more literacy in antiquity than has been conventionally thought. I have not read that literature in depth. The questions would be “How literate?”, “How widespread?” Scrolls were costly to produce, and, when they were the primary game in town when it came to books, that probably meant that few people read literature.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Book Write-Up: Cosmology in Theological Perspective

Olli-Pekka Vainio. Cosmology in Theological Perspective: Understanding Our Place in the Universe. Baker Academic, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Olli-Pekka Vainio has a Th.D. from the University of Helsinki, where he teaches systematic theology. He has also taught at Oxford. As the title indicates, this book examines cosmological issues from a theological perspective. It evaluates the challenges and questions that cosmological issues have posed, or have been believed to pose, to Christian theology.

I will comment on each chapter, offering my impressions:

Chapter 1: “Every Saga Has a Beginning: Philosophical Cosmologies in the Ancient World.”

This chapter looks at ancient Near Eastern (including biblical), Norse, and Greek cosmologies. Some interesting details: ancient Egypt had somewhat of a “Fall” narrative, and Plato did not believe that the Demiurge prioritized humans in fashioning the cosmos. In terms of its view on biblical creation narratives, the chapter seems to lean in the John Walton direction. Stylistically, this chapter was like others: a lot of information, packed into a few pages. The asset to this approach is, of course, the abundance of information. The liabilities, on the other hand, include some sacrifice of depth and a lack of absorbing prose.

Chapter 2: “The Voyage Home: Cosmos in Early Christian Thought.”

This chapter complemented my recent reading of Craig Allert’s Early Christian Readings of Genesis One (IVP Academic, 2018). Vainio cites passages in which Origen and, on some level, Augustine appear to disparage a literal, historical interpretation of Genesis 1-3 (Origen, De principiis 4.16; Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis). This chapter also argues, in a sense, that the Ptolemaic understanding of the universe was not an essential aspect of early Christianity, even though ancient Christianity tended to adopt it.

Chapter 3: “Resistance Is Futile: Galileo, Newton, and Darwin.”

Among other things, this chapter conveyed how the Copernican model looked to those who lived when it developed, as opposed to criticizing those who rejected it in hindsight. On page 48, Vainio states: “There were several scientific phenomena that the Ptolemaic model could explain satisfactorily and that were not explained by the Copernican model.”

Chapter 4: “All These Worlds: On the Multiverse.”

This chapter is informative about the historical views in historical Christianity about the existence of other worlds. There were those who rejected such a concept, as they adopted Greek philosophy, and there were Christians (in some cases, non-orthodox Christians) who were open to the possibility of other worlds and life on those worlds. Vainio lays out the different scientific proposals on how different universes may develop. People who are not scientifically inclined may glaze over some of these discussions, but they might also get something out of them. Vainio effectively laid out different views and offered his assessment. Regarding the theological ramifications of the multiverse, Vainio seems to ask “Why not?” Some Christian theologians regard the multiverse concept as wasteful, since there are so many empty universes, but Vainio wonders why God could not work through such means, considering that God providentially acts through events that, to us, might appear contingent or even random. At the same time, Vainio raises problems that he has with the concept of multiverses: if all universes are possible, would God create or allow a universe that lacks goodness?

Chapter 5: “If It’s Just Us, It Seems Like an Awful Waste of Space: On Human Uniqueness.”

This chapter is about the possibility of life on other planets. It includes a quote by C.S. Lewis about how skeptics of Christianity assert that life being on other planets and life being only on earth both challenge Christianity. Vainio refers to ancient thinkers who reflected on the possibility of life on other planets. Vainio wrestled briefly with the problem of evil and the issue of animal suffering, referring to a thinker who posits that animals, too, may have a post-mortem existence that would make their pain worthwhile. This chapter surveys different Christian perspectives on life on other planets, including that of William Lane Craig, but it does not land anywhere. The result is that there is a tone of “on the one hand, on the other hand,” and the chapter does not quite hit the spot.

Chapter 6: “Infinite Space, Infinite Terror: Our Cosmic (In)significance.”

If life only exists on earth, does that challenge Christianity? Why would God create a vast universe and populate only a tiny planet with life? Vainio’s answer, essentially, is that God honors the least. A predictable response, but this chapter also talks about such concepts as axiarchism, ananthropocentric purposivism, and nonnaturalism, and the question of whether objective value can exist in an atheistic universe. Vainio is not afraid to address perspectives that are contrary to his own, while acknowledging that they raise understandable considerations.

Chapter 7: “In Space No One Can Hear You Scream? God and Being.”

This chapter is largely about how humans can speak meaningfully of a God they cannot understand. Vainio talks about the Analogia Entis. He seems to gravitate towards Kierkegaard’s story of God bringing Godself down to people’s level, in pursuit of a relationship.

Chapter 8: “There Is No Gene for the Human Spirit: Images of God.”

What is the image of God? And can animals or extraterrestrials possess it? My impression of where Vainio lands is here: the image of God includes rationality and the capacity for relationships. Animals can have that, too, on some level, albeit not as much as humans. And humans do not possess the same level of rationality as angels, who bear the image of God more fully. A question that I had was how to account for human disability: do humans with lower IQs or relational skills reflect less of the image of God? That would be a troubling prospect. There also was not much biblical exegesis in this chapter, or even the book as a whole. The book is informative about theologians and philosophers, but it was rather lacking in terms of a biblical component, so one might wonder if the theologies hang on anything divinely-authoritative.

Chapter 9: “Come with Me If You Want to Live: Incarnations.”

Suppose that there is life on other planets. Did Jesus Christ die for them, too? As far as I can recall, this chapter did not address head-on a major reason that some think life on other planets would pose a challenge to Christianity: if the sin of two human beings plunged the entire cosmos into chaos, does that not imply the priority of earth, or that human life only exists on earth? So much of God’s plan in the Bible seems to be tied to God’s interactions with earth (Romans 8). This chapter had its high points, though, as when it addressed the question of how people on other planets could be saved. An intriguing feature of this book is that Vainio often asks if, say, people being saved on other planets is truly inconsistent with things that Christians already believe, or if the two may overlap. Vainio tries, however, to argue that Christ could be incarnate on other planets, and he is not very convincing, in my opinion. If the risen Christ remains a human being, how can he be aliens, too?

Chapter 10:  “To Boldly Go: Beings in Search of Greater Understanding.”

Among other things, this chapter talks about C.S. Lewis’s engagement with Kant. In a sense, what we see is how things appear to us, not necessarily what they truly are. Lewis did not go in the direction of complete skepticism, however. This chapter builds on insights in Lewis’s Space Trilogy. It is a bit meandering, but, like the book as a whole, it has its share of interesting details and intriguing insights.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Christopher Wright on “Man After God’s Own Heart”

Christopher J.H. Wright, on page 380 of Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, states the following about I Samuel 13:14’s claim that David was a man after God’s own heart.

“‘A man after God’s own heart’ probably does not mean ‘someone whom God was especially fond of’ (a kind of favouritism the English phrase seems to suggest, but the Bible elsewhere denies, about God), but rather, someone who will carry out God’s will and purpose (‘heart’ being the Hebrew for purposeful intentions, not primarily for emotions).”

That interpretation would make sense, in light of Saul’s disobedience: “But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee” (I Sam. 13:14 KJV).

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