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>The post-exilic chronology. Part 1: A common timeline

2009 December 20 Leave a comment

>Sorting out the post-exilic Israelite chronology has its difficulties. Modern biblical scholarship relies heavily on Persian material. The ESV Study Bible is probably typical in its outline. See table below (abridged).

Event Year (BC)
Cyrus king of Persia captures Babylon 539
First year of King Cyrus; issues proclamation freeing Jewish exiles to return 538–537
Jewish exiles, led by Sheshbazzar, return from Babylon to Jerusalem 537?
Altar rebuilt. 537
Temple rebuilding begins 536
Adversaries oppose the rebuilding 536–530
Temple rebuilding ceases 530–520
Temple rebuilding resumes (2nd year of Darius) 520
Temple construction completed (6th year of Darius) 516
Ezra departs from Babylon to Jerusalem (arrives in 7th year of Artaxerxes I) 458
Hanani brings Nehemiah a report from Jerusalem (20th year of Artaxerxes I) 445–444
Nehemiah before King Artaxerxes 445
Nehemiah repairs Jerusalem walls 445
Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem (32nd year of Artaxerxes I) 433–432

The problem I have with this reconstruction (which I will refer to as the common reconstruction) is that it tries to meld the biblical data with the secular perspective of the Persian data. Reading Ezra-Nehemiah using this scheme makes less sense and constant reference to a study Bible is needed to understand when events are happening.

This is the list of Persian kings as they appear in the Bible.

King Reference
Cyrus Ezra 1:1–4:3
Ahasuerus Ezra 4:6
Artaxerxes Ezra 4:7–24
Darius Ezra 4:24–6:22
Artaxerxes Ezra 7:1–Nehemiah 13:9

The common reconstruction places Cyrus ~530 BC. The opposition described in Ezra 4:1–6 is during the time of Cyrus to Darius ~530–490 BC, so Ezra 4:7 onwards is proposed to be describing a similar situation, i.e. opposition, even though it is several years later. There is a single verse about the time of Ahasuerus ~480 BC then several verses dedicated to Artaxerxes who is placed later ~460 BC. This aside supposedly stops at Ezra 4:23 with the next sentence returning to the opposition under Darius. Effectively the text is interpreted thus,

Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. [Aside on Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes.] Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

After the discussion about rebuilding the temple under Darius ~520 BC the text moves to the return of Ezra under Artaxerxes ~460 BC (some 50–60 years later).

Then Nehemiah returns some 13 years after Ezra, also during the reign of Artaxerxes.

Having laid out the common reconstruction I would like to point out what I see are the deficiencies.

Probably the most obvious issue is the distortion of the narrative around the opposition to building. We read of opposition in Ezra 4:4–5 and instead of any explanation we get a diversion some 50 years into the future. When the story returns to the previous era there are no details about the opposition previously mentioned. Ezra does go on to talk about letters sent in the days of Darius but this does not appear to be so much external opposition as enquiry. The governor Tattenai does ask about the authority under whom the Jews were acting in rebuilding the temple, but he does not stop them, and then he asks Darius if the Jewish claim can be confirmed from the archives.

There is also a possible issue with the common reconstruction in that Artaxerxes opposes the building of the city, which includes the walls (Ezra 4:12), yet he sends Nehemiah back to repair the walls in the 20th year of his reign (Nehemiah 2:8). It is possible that Artaxerxes did change his mind, but this does give one pause.

Further, the context of Ezra 4:24 fits the preceding verse 23 better than the earlier verse 5. We have a letter of opposition from the surrounding people leading to a decree by Artaxerxes to stop building the city,…

Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:23–24)

If we read these verses together it says that the Jews were rebuilding the city and were compelled to stop, therefore the work on the temple also ceased. And there was no further building until the time of Darius.

Lastly, if one were not attempting to fit his prior ideas about the reigns of the Persian kings, would the common reconstruction come out of the book of Ezra?

In part 2 I will discuss a revision of this scheme.

>Untying the binding

2009 June 16 2 comments

>I noticed an interesting parallel in one of Jesus’ illustrations. Now for some readers this may have been patently obvious, but perhaps a reader or 2 may have been a little oblivious like yours truly.

In Luke we read how Jesus healed a woman with kyphosis.

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. (Luke 13)

I had previously read this as comparing compassion for an animal with that for a person: you treat animals well, how much more so a person. There is some warrant for this in the passage and in a similar scenario. When Jesus healed the man with a withered hand he specified this comparison:

He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!”

But what I had not previously noted in the passage was the comparison with untying the animal. Paraphrased:

  • In the same way you untie an animal for water on a Sabbath day that you had tied up only a day before,
  • so I am untying this woman from infirmity on a Sabbath day that Satan has kept tied up for 18 years.

The contrast is striking. Jesus shamed the Pharisees and they should have taken the rebuke, instead they conspired to kill him.

I suspected the term for “untie” and “loosed” may be similar in Greek. They are in fact the same.

  • Loosed (λυω, luo) from the manger; compare with
  • Loosed (luo) from the bond.

Ox or Donkey Woman with disabling spirit
Animal Person
Property Daughter of Abraham
Bound 1 day Bound 18 years
Bound by owner Bound by Satan
Unbound for water Unbound for wholeness

>Interpretative techniques

2009 April 21 1 comment

> How we see the Bible affect how we interpret the Bible. I have several underlying themes that affect how I interpret the Bible.

Unity

I seek to find an interpretation that does justice to all the passages that touch on a topic. A related concept is that fuller revelation can expand on previous revelation but does not contradict it. The Bible is without error in any claim.

Context

The grammatical-historical hermeneutic says that the meaning is dictated by the underlying grammar and historical context. By historical context it is meaning what the writer intended based on his cultural setting. Concepts that we may hold based on the meanings of words may be irrelevant. This does not mean the ancients were ignorant, rather that they may have thought differently. One must guard against multiplying historical “settings” to justify an opinion, yet one must not ignore the fact. And there may be clues to this in the surrounding text.

Genre

Attention must be paid to literary genre, the type of text being read. For example a proverb is meant to be a general principle, poetry uses hyperbole and figurative language, apocalypse uses symbolism.

Divine authorship

Because God is the ultimate author, there may be truths that God intended yet the authors were not aware of. The Bible is infallible and legitimate conclusions come from its pages are true.

Perspicuity

The Bible is meant to be understood. The general meaning of the Bible is clear to any reader.

Hiddenness

I think this actually applies to God as well as the Bible and merits a post of its own. Briefly, the Bible is intentionally difficult in places. At least one reason for this is to hide meaning from the mocker and reveal meaning to the devout. There are concepts, difficulties, or apparent contradictions that allow a defiant man to scoff and dismiss, but on deeper investigation reveal unity and profound truth.

Prophecy may be a feature of this. Some prophecies seem to be difficult to understand before the fact but obvious afterwards.

Conclusion

Most of these relate to the usual use of language. Meaning is based on what the speaking is thinking. If he translates the thoughts to words well, and the hearer understands the words then he grasps what the speaker is thinking.

In conversation the context of a statement is important, think listening to one side of a telephone conversation; the genre is important, think telling a joke; perspicuity is important, we generally want others to understand what we are saying; and even hiddenness is used, consider talking in the presence of children using euphemisms or pig-Latin. Of the above items only divine authorship and unity do not are not grounded in the principles of language communication. Rather these are theological propositions.

Even if people agree on methodology, there is the scope for them to weight the issues differently, thus disagree on meaning. If others differ on their methodology it may be difficult to find any agreement. For example if one takes an essentially allegorical approach to all Scripture, or a private interpretation to verses.

That being said, I think the Bible has power thru virtue of it being God’s word. For the pious reader, ongoing reading and desire to know God is likely to lead to growing in true knowledge, even if one’s hermeneutic is substandard.

>In defence of the death penalty

2009 March 21 14 comments

> There is disagreement within Christendom over whether the death penalty is compatible with Christian theology. I am not fully certain as to which camp is correct, though I favour the conclusions below.

Here I wish to give a defence in favour of capital punishment. I will restrict my discussion to the case of murder. I will not cover pragmatic opposition such as miscarriage of justice and the fear of innocents being put to death. While these are important issues, they are issues of administration. My concern is whether execution is fundamentally an appropriate punishment.

There is Scripture in support of the death penalty in certain situations. Therefore I do not think the question is whether or not capital punishment is intrinsically wrong, God ordained it several times. The question is whether not putting people to death is preferable for reasons based on Jesus’ deeper revelation of the intentions of God.

The first mention of the death penalty follows the Flood.

But you* shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your* lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,/
by man shall his blood be shed,

for God made man in his own image….” (Genesis 9)

As mentioned previously this verse is significant in its reasoning. Men have the implanted imago Dei. We must not remove this. Only God has the right to destroy life because it is his image that is being erased.

When God gives the Law to Moses we see similar commands. The 6th commandment is, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5). Others translate this as, “You shall not kill.” Neither “murder” nor “kill” is fully conveys the Hebrew ratsach (רָצַח). “Kill” is too generic. “Murder” implies immoral intention, though the word can be applied to sanctioned and accidental killing. The NET Bible notes state,

The verb רָצַח (ratsakh) refers to the premeditated or accidental taking of the life of another human being; it includes any unauthorized killing (it is used for the punishment of a murderer, but that would not be included in the prohibition).

Compare Deuteronomy 19:

This is the provision for the manslayer (ratsach), who by fleeing there may save his life. If anyone kills (nakah) his neighbor unintentionally without having hated him in the past—

This prohibition clearly does not apply to those carrying out capital punishment for murder. This is seen in the specific commands given to the state and those acting for the state. The above example from Genesis specifies that the offender is to be put to death; that is, there is a command to kill in the pursuit of justice. The Mosaic Law also makes similar provision:

Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. But if a man willfully attacks another to kill (harag) him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die. (Exodus 21)

But if anyone hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and attacks him and strikes him fatally so that he dies, and he flees into one of these cities, then the elders of his city shall send and take him from there, and hand him over to the avenger of blood, so that he may die. Your eye shall not pity him, but you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, so that it may be well with you. (Deuteronomy 19)

The command to put someone to death is specific. It holds even if there is a general command not to kill men. Deuteronomy expands this commenting that the murderer killed an innocent man. The prohibition of killing or murdering does not apply to the murderer as he is not innocent.

So we see clear commands both in the time of Noah and of Moses that men are prohibited from killing people and the punishment for such crime is to forfeit one’s life. The reason for such is:

  • that the victim is innocent;
  • that such behaviour offends God’s holiness (note the words: “take him from my altar”); and
  • that God’s image in man is destroyed without God’s permission.

I do not see statements from Jesus that would lead us to reconsider the above arguments. Jesus spoke to hatred. He informs us that hatred and murder come from same source within us. We cannot claim to obey the commandment not to murder if we hate. Despising men in our hearts is breaking this law. This does not necessarily imply that the degree to which we sin when hating our brother is the same as if we murdered him. Not all sins are equal. But it does state that before God non-murderers who hate have still offended God. They have still broken the essence of the 6th commandment. They are still in need of judgment by God for this.

Jesus also emphasised the need for us to forgive. Whether we are to forgive those who do not request or desire it is debated by Christians. There are examples of those who forgave unrepentant men including Jesus and Stephen. We are definitely commanded to forgive those who ask us (Matthew 18). I do not seek to resolve this question here. But even assuming the murderer is repentant and requests forgiveness, should this affect punishment?

While forgiveness is important to our own spiritual health, and forgiveness removes any right of redress when extended to a repentant man; I am not certain that this is relevant to government punishment. It would be difficult for them to let such murderer free immediately as although he has acknowledged his wrong, he may struggle to behave righteously. He may hate his anger but his struggle to control it may put the lives of others at risk in the future. So for the safety of the community he, at minimum, probably needs to be in prison.

Further, Jesus’ commands seem to be predominantly aimed at the individual. The problem with the world is us and it is us that need to change. Individuals repent and enter the kingdom of God, not governments. Granted, men in government can belong to the kingdom of God and thus govern righteously, but it is still individuals who are redeemed. We are eternal, cultural structures are not. But although the state may be temporary, it still the governing authority in the current dispensation. And I do not see how the teachings for individuals change God’s intention for the state.

Paul makes an interesting comment in the era of grace.

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afra
id, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13)

The sword may be representative of the threat of punishment, however if the threat does not go headed then the punishment occurs. And sword here is a metonymy for execution. Paul affirms the appropriateness of state having the power of execution. If the state is allowed to execute at all then this will apply to the most appropriate crimes. Murder being the most appropriate, save, perhaps, treason.

The earliest teachings tell us that the death penalty is to be enacted. Ezekiel suggests that refusal to execute those deserving of death is unacceptable,

You have profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, putting to death souls who should not die and keeping alive souls who should not live, by your lying to my people, who listen to lies. (Ezekiel 13)

Since Jesus we know that capital punishment for murderers is still at least permissible. However could a judge appropriately override this punishment? Say a righteous judge who was not open to corruption, a murderer who has repented, the victim’s next of kin forgiving and not desiring revenge. Perhaps the murderer has accepted Christ and the judge is Christian; both aware that Christ’s death had atoned for his heinous sin.

I guess a situation like this could allow for an exemption. And because Christ takes the curse there is no curse on the land from the bloodguilt.

This assumes a (Christian) theocracy, or a general tacit approval by the governed (in a democracy) or the king (in a monarchy) of the truth of Christianity. This may describe the current situation in Rwanda. I do have difficulty applying this to all governments. It also opens up the possibility that men will claim religion to escape punishment and thus, potentially, lead to the perversion of justice.

In conclusion there is strong evidence that the death penalty for murder is an appropriate punishment, it is probably the best punishment and it may even be commanded by God. Therefore governments who disallow it are answerable to God for this. There may be situations in which men may be exempt from this punishment however this should be applied with caution. In situations where exemption is permissible, if exemption is still not granted the state is probably not sinning in its refusal.

>Obeying the Law thru faith

2009 March 6 4 comments

>I was listening to a talk recently about understanding the Law. He discussed many of the issues such as type and antitype, old covenant and new covenant and gave a helpful distinction between covenant and dispensational theology. What struck me however was a helpful comment about sacrifice.

Post crucifixion we live under grace. It is not our obedience to the Law that saves us, rather our trust in Christ. Actually it is not our trust that saves us, rather we trust in Christ’s salvation that he obtained thru death.

Now Paul says that not only can the Law not save us, it was never intended to.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. (Galatians 3)

Much has been written about law and grace. What I specifically want to address is faith for those under the Law. Paul makes it quite clear that men are and always have been saved via faith. We have faith in Christ now. The ancients had faith in God then. Habakkuk mentions the righteous will live by faith (Habakkuk 2) and Paul reminds us that Abraham was justifed prior to the Law (Romans 4). I have no difficulty agreeing with what Paul is claiming, what I found difficult to marry is his claim about the Law being unable to save, and commands in the Torah suggesting otherwise.

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. (Deuternomy 30)

Paul mentions there was nothing wrong with the Law. It wasn’t unable to save us, obeying the Law could save but it is sin that is in us that prevents us obeying the Law. And the curses and cautions in the Law allude to God’s knowledge that the Israelites would fail. Nevertheless, there seems to be the suggestion in passages such as Deuteronomy 30 and others that the Israelites were able to obey the Law and live by it.

The insight given by the recent talk was the issue of sacrifice. It was offering sacrifices which was the activity of faith by which the people under the Law were saved.

I think that all men at all times are saved by faith. Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Queen Sheba, the Ninevites, and all the Israelites who trusted in God. So how does this work under the Law?

The term “Law” has multiple uses. It applies to the Torah as a whole: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It also applies to the specific commands contained within the last 4 books that God gave at Sinai and during the following 40 years. These laws are often divided into moral, civil, and ceremonial. Included in this, or in addition to them, are the laws surrounding sacrifice. What to offer, why to offer, and how to prepare sacrifices and participate in them.

One can consider the Law here as a set of rules, and the sacrifice as the mechanism of forgiveness for breaking the rules. We have a set of rules that God knows the Israelites cannot keep (due to sin, not due to the Law) and a mechanism for which forgiveness can be obtained.

For these ancient Hebrews it was not obedience to the rules that saved them, it was faith in the sacrifice that saved them.

This is the key point.

They had to trust God that the sacrifice that he had specified would somehow remove their offence. We understand now that the particular sacrifices in themselves did not take away their sins (Hebrews 10), rather they just were the type pointing to the true sacrifice of Christ. Whatever clarity, or lack thereof, they had at that time concerning the animal sacrifices is less important than the faith they had in the God who had appointed the sacrifices; the God who told them that this was the path of redemption.

Israelites prior to Christ knew that all men were sinners.

Enter not into judgment with your servant,/
for no one living is righteous before you. (Psalm 143)

“If they sin against you— for there is no one who does not sin…” (1 Kings 8)

Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;/
in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?/
We have all become like one who is unclean,/
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment./
We all fade like a leaf,/
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64)

The Law was never given to save people and it was never suggested that they could fully obey it, even at the time it was given by Moses. It was understood at the time of Moses that people cannot obey the Law, that is why the sacrifices were mandated at the same time the Law was given.

>Does the Bible reflect modern science?

2009 February 11 10 comments

>I was hoping to discuss some ideas about ancient cosmology at some stage. In the meantime Greg has raised the more fundamental issue of presuppositions and modern evangelicals. My initial response is below though some items may need clarification.

Greg: …you seem to be concerned with the idea that the Bible has to reflect our current understanding of the world in order for it’s inerrency and infallibility to be upheld.

Well actually my view of Scripture means that I reject a lot of current popular theory. While I accept the world is spherical, I reject Darwinism which is by far the most popular understanding in modern science concerning the origin and development of the biosphere.

Your bias is constrained to a specific view of inerrency. He may prefer another, but each one tips either of you in a particular direction and to a particular interpretation that satisfies the requirements of that inerrency.

I presume “he” in this sentence refers to Gier. I am aware of different views. See here for inerrancy and infallibility. I also have a pastor who is neither a inerrantist nor a creationist whom I sit under quite happily. While I think that some passages appear difficult with an inerrant approach, I think that their resolution leads to deeper understanding of the way of God. This has occurred enough for me that initially contradictory passages do not send me reeling each time I come across one. I tend to look deeper into the context and some inferences turn out to not exist. We can read more into a passage than is often there.

More importantly, I think Scripture points to an inerrantist approach. See my comments on Jesus’ interaction with the Sadducees.

An aside, be careful how you use the term inerrancy, it has a meaning. If you propose another meaning preferably use a different word. Even the word “infallibility” seems to imply inerrancy however it has a theological definition that specifies inerrant doctrine which potentially allows for error of fact.

This concerns me because I see an initiative to interpret passages in a certain way that conforms it to modern science,

The idea that anyone before Bacon really understood science quite the way we do is questionable. I think you are better to talk about the worldviews of then and now. Even Gier uses the term pre-scientific which is better though can still be misleading. I am more concerned about having a biblical worldview than a Western one. While the current Western worldview gets much wrong, it is important to realise that the Western worldview developed from Christianity—likely with some added Greek philosophy (to its detriment I think). Because of this the Western worldview is very Christian unlike many other cultures including pre-Christian Europe and Briton.

You will need to give examples of specific passages.

when an interpretation that draws from the science of their day explains it much better.

Except is the interpretation drawing from their day? Much of what I see is a later construct of what the ancients supposedly thought based on a hyperliteralist interpretation of ancient literature.

I see this a lot in the church, and once again, if I am wrong about you, I apologize.

You may be correct about me, though I give my views considered thought.

A modern person who wishes to explain scripture in light of modern science has the burden of proof upon them first.

Why? If Scripture is consistent with modern science why insist on a different interpretation just to make it inconsistent?

They need to show how an ancient person could have known what we know,

This assumes an anti-supernatural bias. If God created the universe he is more knowledgeable about its intricacies than every scientist combined. God can reveal material that happens to be factually correct, even if simplified. I am not stating that this has to be the case, rather pointing out the bias which insists on human authorship sans divine authorship. Scripture suggests both human and divine. Peter adds that prophets did not always understand everything about their message (1 Peter 1). I am not suggesting that the message of the prophets was differential mathematics and quantum physics, just the importance of divine authorship.

what benefit it provided the ancients,

It may not offer a benefit, it may just be an accurate report.

why God would only make it truly relevant to moderns in the West,

Examples such as?

and why the church missed these interpretations all this time and had to wait until the 20th century before science could shed light on things.

The church didn’t. My previous post on the flat earth mentioned that theologians in general did not teach a flat earth. Several appealed to Scripture to “prove” geocentricism. The fact they could only do so by appealing to poetical passages should have been a concern. Both hyperliteralism (including the Jews) and over-allegorising have been practised in interpretation, but that does not deny that Scripture can be understood. Moderns possibly do this less than some previous generations. Though there is a trend to turn historical narrative into symbolic language.

This comment also seems to contradict your earlier comment,

Going forward we as Christians must always be willing to follow where God’s Word leads us and not be afraid to discard tradition if a new understanding can fit the picture better. Many doctrines, or the expression and depth of understanding concerning them, have developed, been lost and found again numerous times throughout our history. There is always the possibility old understandings will crumble in the face of new discoveries.

While I agree with discarding tradition, I am cautious about new interpretations. They may exist but one would want very good evidence.

On a slightly tangential but important note—and this does not apply to the shape of the earth—part of my concern is how little people understand the types of science. Operational and historical science are quite different and a reasonable argument can be made that the latter is not strictly science. Historical science is a claim about history. It is a claim that can be refuted by eyewitness testimony.

For example scientific examination of Jericho cannot “prove” Joshua did not raze it. Both are claims in the same realm: historical truth. One is just playing a contemporary witness off against a non-contemporary interpreter. Either the first is a liar or the latter is mistaken in his interpretation of his findings.

Presuppositions are important. I think there is good reason to hold to inerrancy based on how Jesus and the apostles viewed Scripture. I think the Bible is historical and that it is correct when it makes historical claims. I think it important to understand what the author intended and the cultural situation into which he spoke. I disagree (in general) with hyperliteralism, but I think the bigger problem in this age is the priority of secular theory and hence unwarranted claims of symbolism, the explosion of interpretations, the invention of hermeneutic principles, the cherry picking of Scripture, the holding of contradictory ideas and anything else that lets us hold on to our favourite ideas; be that psychological, biological, sociologic
al, political or any other theory which we cherish.

>Was Jesus born in a house or a stable?

2008 December 23 7 comments

> Kenneth Bailey wrote an article in 1979 titled, “The Manger and the Inn“. Near the beginning of the article he writes,

For centuries, large sections of the Church have assumed that the manger was in an animal stable. Three overlapping questions arise here, which of necessity must be discussed together:

1. Was the birthplace a cave?
2. Was it a stable or a private home?
3. Was it inside or outside the village?

I will try to demonstrate that the place was likely a private home in the village, and may have been a cave.

I was somewhat doubtful of the claim that Jesus was born in a house, after all, the passage says:

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2)

But the article was most interesting and convinced me otherwise.

First, Bailey shows that mangers were present in houses in Palestine,

What then of the manger? The text tells us, “She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.” The traditional understanding of this verse in the Western world moves along the following path. Jesus was laid in a manger. Mangers are naturally found in animal stables. Ergo, Jesus was born in a stable. However, in the one-room peasant homes of Palestine and Lebanon, the manger is built into the floor of the house. The standard one-room village home consists of a living area for the family (Arabic mastaba), mangers built into the floor for feeding the animals (mostly at night), and a small area approximately four feet lower than the living area into which the family cow or donkey is brought at night (Arabic ka’al-bayt)

But what is most interesting is that he goes on to mention that the word translated “inn” (kataluma) can also be translated as “guest room”. In fact, it is translated “guest room” elsewhere in the New Testament,

And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room (kataluma), where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” (Mark 14)

He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room (kataluma), where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” (Luke 22)

And the mention of the word “inn” in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) is a different word.

He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn (pandocheion) and took care of him. (Luke 10)

This is not saying that kataluma does not ever mean inn, though some have argued thus. However note that it is the same author who relates the both the parable of the Good Samaritan and the lack of lodging at the nativity, suggesting that had Luke meant “inn” in the nativity story he likely would have used the word pandocheion.

The suggestion then is that the house in Bethlehem had a guest room which was otherwise full and so Joseph and Mary stayed in the main room. Bailey writes,

This translation gives new understanding to the story of Jesus’ birth. Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem. They find shelter with a family whose separate guest room is full, and are accommodated among the family in acceptable village style. The birth takes place there on the raised terrace of the family home, and the baby is laid in a manger.

The article covers more including Palestine geography, objections to the theory, and cultural reasons why Joseph and Mary would not have stayed at an inn. I think he has demonstrated that Jesus was born in a house.

That the Magi visited Mary and Jesus in a house probably does not have any bearing on the argument as that episode was some time later—if Jesus was born in a stable, Joseph and Mary would not have stayed there particularly long.

Categories: interpretation, nativity

>Bethke on manuscript history

2008 December 14 3 comments

>Bruce Bethke writes an interesting post titled Relevance. Expanding how a simple question can have so many underlying assumptions.

Some days you can ask what seems like a simple question, and find that instead of plucking off a loose thread, you’ve started unraveling the entire sweater. For example, this morning I asked my wife one simple question, and before I knew it, we were deeply into a wide-ranging discussion of Old Testament history, subtext, context, and translation issues.

…To begin comprehending her answer, then, we should first examine the embedded subtext of the question I didn’t even know I’d asked: does a book written 2,000 years ago really have any relevance to our lives today?

…It was the Septuagint that was widely read and circulated in the early Christian Era and used as the basis for the Latin translation (the Vulgate) written by St. Jerome in the 4th century CE,… The King James version in turn became the basis for almost all subsequent English-language Protestant Bibles except the Lutheran version, which is based on Luther’s German translation, and a careful reader will note many subtle differences between the English-language Catholic, Lutheran, and other Protestant versions of the Bible. (For example, even today the Catholic version of the Ten Commandments omits the prohibition against worshiping graven images, while the Episcopalian version has been shortened to the Nine Suggestions.)

It is worth reading for his conclusion, a modern application of an ancient biblical passage.

>A biblical defence of standards

2008 December 9 Leave a comment

>My recent posts on the need for standards and the government enforcement of such came from my thinking about weights and measures. This is a frequent biblical theme and I wish to mention several verses in defence of how important God sees honesty in trading.

The Lord commanded the Israelites that their measures were to be honest.

“You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. And you shall observe all my statutes and all my rules, and do them: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19)

“You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 25)

An ephah is a volume measure for solids and a hin is a volume measure for liquids. In Leviticus God points to length, weight, and volume as measures that should be standardised. Examples of relevant measures for the Israelites would have included

  • Length: land
  • Weight: precious metals
  • Dry volume: grain
  • Liquid volume: oil

Note that the Israelites had to ensure both the scales were accurate as well as the weights used on the scales. God commands them to do so:

  • based on the fact that he indeed is God;
  • that they may dwell in the land for a long time, either live to an old age or that as a people they may occupy Canaan for many generations; and
  • because to not do so is dishonest and thus an abomination to God.

There are also several proverbs that mention the importance of honest weights and measures.

Unequal weights and unequal measures/
are both alike an abomination to the LORD. (Proverbs 20)

Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD,/
and false scales are not good. (Proverbs 20)

God reminded Judah not only to have just standards but what the standards were,

“You shall have just balances, a just ephah, and a just bath. The ephah and the bath shall be of the same measure, the bath containing 1/10 of a homer, and the ephah 1/10 of a homer; the homer shall be the standard measure. The shekel shall be 20 gerahs; 20 shekels plus 25 shekels plus 15 shekels shall be your mina.” (Ezekiel 25)

Hosea (Hos 12:7), Micah (Mic 6:10-11), and Amos spoke against dishonesty in trading. Amos makes some interesting comments on the actions of the people,

Hear this, you who trample on the needy/
and bring the poor of the land to an end,/
saying, “When will the new moon be over,/
that we may sell grain?/
And the Sabbath,/
that we may offer wheat for sale,/
that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great/
and deal deceitfully with false balances,/
that we may buy the poor for silver/
and the needy for a pair of sandals/
and sell the chaff of the wheat?” (Amos 8)

There are several behaviours he condemns besides that which concerns us currently. They are:

  • Oppression of the poor or oppressed
  • Concern for business over things spiritual
  • Disregard for God’s law
  • Possibly forcing the poor to become bondslaves
    • They do so just to get enough food to eat
    • They do so because they are cheated out of the money
    • The oppressors encourage this because they want their labour without cost
    • And the price of bondslavery is unjustly low

Specific transaction sins of the merchant identified here are:

  • Labelling merchandise as containing more than it really does
  • Charging more than the agreed amount (via deceit)
  • Including material/ refuse not desired by the purchaser

All these 3 actions the Lord considers abominations. We can conclude that merchants are to trade justly, and this includes:

  1. Accurate labelling
  2. Clear agreed price
  3. Not passing off refuse for merchandise

>A defense of inerrancy

2008 September 21 15 comments

>I heard mention of inerrancy and infallibility of the Scriptures in a sermon recently. The speaker was defending infallibility though he is not an inerrantist. It would seem that these terms seem synonymous so perhaps some definitions are in order.

Infallibility
Incapable of error in expounding doctrine on faith or morals.
Inability to err in teaching revealed truth.
Inerrancy
True in any claim of fact.
Without error, and free from all contradiction.

“Fallibility” in theology is describing reliability, “errancy” is describing error. Inerrancy encompasses infallibility, that is if the Bible is error free then it is also reliable. Inerrantists are infallibilists. However one can claim that the Bible is reliable and useful for faith yet claim it contains errors of fact. Infallibilists may or may not be inerrantists. I claim the latter position is difficult to defend logically and scripturally, but that is not the intent of this post.

During the sermon the position of inerrancy was dismissed in, what I consider, somewhat of a strawman manner. Inerrantists were portrayed as being somewhat simplistic and unthinking. The kind who say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” While people of that persuasion undoubtedly exist, this is not the zenith of an inerrancy apologetic and one should should consider the best claims of his opponents, not the poorest.

I am an inerrantist because I think that is the position Scripture points to. The Bible does not appear to discriminate between facts of faith and facts of history. Conversely the Bible claims to be grounded in history. We can believe God about things we cannot know because he is reliable in the things we do know. The early Christians backed up the truth of Christianity by appeal to a fact of history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now we can know much about the spiritual implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection based on revelation by God, but this revelation is confirmed in our minds by the very fact that Jesus did indeed die and then rise from the dead! Many people make claims about spiritual truths but many are also unreliable. They cannot back up their claims with events that prove them trustworthy. If they are unreliable in earthly things why should we believe them about spiritual things.

But rather than an extensive defence of inerrancy at this stage, I want to describe what it is inerrantists claim.

Inerrantists believe the Bible to be true in every factual statement it affirms. Inerrantists can agree with the quote, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” though preferably with qualification.

The last two clauses are relatively straightforward:

  • I believe, or I affirm that what Scripture claims is true;
  • The debate is settled on the side of Scriptural claims because God never errs.

The problem lies in the first clause. While true on the face of it, the debate is around what exactly did God say? The speaker is equating the Bible with God’s words: written in the Bible = God said it. But Bible may not say what the speaker is claiming the Bible says. So while the inerrantist believes the Bible is true in everything it affirms, the careful inerrantist wants to know what exactly the Bible does affirm; nothing more, nothing less.

While people may disagree on specific meanings of texts, there are several relevant issues in understanding Scripture. I will address the literalism claim in more depth.

Inerrantists don’t hold to a literal reading of every text. While they believe much of the Bible is to be taken literally (while errantists may not do so), probably the best descriptor of their hermeneutic is a “straightforward reading” of the text. So if the text is historical narrative then the claim of inerrantists is that what is written is a faithful history. The events really did happen in the way described. But this does not mean that every verse is to be read as literal. No one reads like this. Even the hyperliteralist sees metaphor in some passages. I am not aware that anyone claims the parables really happened. The literalist would rather defend that Jesus really spoke the parables.

So Scripture is to be interpreted according to genre.

Here are several beliefs that inerrantists can and do hold.

  • Poetry uses symbolism and hyperbole.
  • Proverbs are general truths and there may be specific examples of people who fail to follow the general rule.
  • Fables and allegory illustrate an underlying reality.
  • Analogies carry over an aspect common to 2 situations. They may carry over several aspects but they may carry over only 1 aspect and one should be careful about over reading them.
  • People use approximations when giving information.
  • Not all information about an event may be given.
  • Early revelation is not overturned by later revelation though it may be clarified and/ or expanded upon.
  • Only the original text is necessarily inerrant.
  • Copists made errors. Extant manuscripts may contain error.
  • Translation can introduce error. The original language is inerrant, other languages are inerrant in as much as they faithfully reproduce the original.
  • The text may contain more than one meaning.
  • A strict chronology may not be followed.
  • The Bible may be (deliberately) vague in places.
  • Prophecy is often difficult to understand, especially before the fact.

Here are some examples that an infallibilist may falsely challenge an inerrantist.

  • The earth does not stand on pillars. (Job 9:6)
  • Godly parents have rebellious children. (Proverbs 22:6)
  • Some Bibles include the comma Johanneum. (1 John 5:7-8)

So where would an inerrantist and infallibilist possibly disagree?

  • The numbers of returning exiles listed in Ezra and Nehemiah do not line up.
  • Was the number of demoniacs 1 or 2?
  • Jonah was not really swallowed by a sea creature.
  • The chronology of the Israelite/ Judean kings is incorrect.
  • Noah did not really live to 950.
  • Paul did not write the pastoral epistles.

An infalliblist may claim that there is error in the Bible as evidenced by this list, but because they are not claims of faith we can still learn from the principles in the stories. The inerrantist would argue that the straightforward reading of the Bible claims are indeed true or that the apparent contradictions are resolvable. He would further argue that the lessons taught are dependant on the reality of the situation: God acting in real history.

>If God sends evil spirits does he cause evil?

2008 August 16 16 comments

>In response to my post, “Does God ordain evil” Michael asks if I care to comment on 3 passages. Presumably he thinks these contradict my proposal.

Firstly I would say that there are some passages of Scripture that may appear to favour 1 view over another. If this is the case then much consideration should be given to that view. However Scripture is a unified whole, and an alternative interpretation of a passage that is both valid and more in line with other Scripture is to be preferred.

The passages Michael mentions are:

And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, (Judges 9)

Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the LORD tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.” (1 Samuel 16)

And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ And the LORD said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you.” (1 Kings 22)

Michael could have also suggested this verse,

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isaiah 45 KJV)

There are at least 3 issues that are relevant here.

The first is that God is able to use wicked men (or wicked beings) for his own purposes. Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem were both deceptive. They had made wicked choices. That God allows or even sends an evil spirit to them is not saying that God willed the spirit reject him in the earlier celestial rebellion. There is no indication that demons are able to be redeemed but that does not prevent God from using them in his dealings with men. Similar could be said for the situations involving Saul and Zedekiah (whom Micaiah rebuked).

The second issue is that Scripture attributes to God things that he allows (presumably when they accord with his desires) even if the instigator is other than God. Because God has the power to do or prevent anything he is rightly seen as sovereign. This means that we can appeal to God in our situation. We can ask God why we are in some situation even if God did not cause the situation. This is because God has the power to prevent it. This does not necessarily make our appeal valid, but we can make this appeal. Satan oppressed Job, but could only do so with God’s permission, and Job’s response to his wife was,

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2)

Likewise when David held a census of Israel. 1 Chronicles attributes this to Satan but 2 Samuel mentions that God intended on judging Israel for their sin. Satan has intentions for evil against the nation of Israel just as he had against Job. In this situation it suited the purposes God otherwise had—judgment on Israel—and thus God allowed Satan to act out Satan’s intentions.

Thus far the assumption is that the evil spirit in these passages was an unclean spirit, ie. demon. This is the case with Satan and a case could be made for the evil and lying spirits in the 3 passages Michael quoted. This, however, is not a given, which leads us to the third issue: what does “evil” mean?

In the Judges passage “evil” is the word ra’ (07451), as is the word “harmful” in the Samuel passage. Lying is sheqer (08267) in the Kings passage. “Evil” in Isaiah and Job above is also the word ra’.

The problem with the word “evil” is that as an English word it has moral connotations. “Evil” means a negative event though we also associate “evil” with causation by a wicked agent. Compare the word “bad” in English which means a negative event but may not necessarily imply anything about the cause. Here are the definitions of ra’ when used as an adjective:

1) bad, evil
1a) bad, disagreeable, malignant
1b) bad, unpleasant, evil (giving pain, unhappiness, misery)
1c) evil, displeasing
1d) bad (of its kind – land, water, etc)
1e) bad (of value)
1f) worse than, worst (comparison)
1g) sad, unhappy
1h) evil (hurtful)
1i) bad, unkind (vicious in disposition)
1j) bad, evil, wicked (ethically)
1j1) in general, of persons, of thoughts
1j2) deeds, actions

So the question is what ra’ both means and implies in Hebrew. It can mean wickedness (1j above). Does it usually imply immoral causation? How much of its meaning is contextual compared to intrinsic? Note, for example, that the translation of Isaiah I quoted was the King James Version. Modern versions, including the literal New American Standard, use the term “disaster”. The modern versions give the word a negative meaning without the associated implication of a wicked agent.

I don’t know Hebrew to judge the appropriateness of this translation and I am reliant on translators. We do know that it is largely context that determines meaning. It is also likely that the Hebrews (at least during some stages in history) were okay with figurative and hyperbolic language; more so it seems than modern Westerners. Compare Rachel was loved but Leah hated, ie. less loved compared to Rachel (Genesis 29).

This could mean that the phrase “evil spirit” was not giving us information on whether we are dealing with the angelic or demonic. Rather the descriptor “evil” concerns the mission of the spirit: one causes confusion or harm. The New English Translation opts for this translation in the Judges passage:

God sent a spirit to stir up hostility between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem. He made the leaders of Shechem disloyal to Abimelech. (Judges 9)

Is it possible that the phrase “lying spirit” is a similar example? A spirit that deceives those who have rejected the truth; compare 2 Thessalonians 2.

>Family responsibility

2008 July 28 1 comment

>My wife and I were discussing responsibility to family because she was having difficulty reconciling 2 passages of Scripture.

While travelling to Jerusalem, Jesus speaks to some of the crowd travelling with him.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9)

Leaving aside a full explanation of these sayings, Jesus is saying that belonging to the kingdom of God supersedes belonging to family. This is also seen in other passages such as:

“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18)

So if we are to leave family for the sake of the kingdom, how does that fit in with Paul’s statements about family responsibility?

Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God…. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5)

Looking at Jesus’ words it seems that leaving family members could theoretically be asked of us (not that it necessarily is). Note, however, that the comment about leaving houses etc. is in the context of the rich young ruler who does not want to give up wealth for the sake of the kingdom. So this is more a comment by Jesus on the importance of choosing the kingdom over anything else, even very important things such as houses and family. Jesus follows this with a promise that God will give us more than we give up. And this may be part of what Jesus is saying in the Luke 9 passage. Parents and family are having a hold on someone who Jesus wants to join the kingdom.

Compare with Paul’s comments which do not relate to a competing call for believers. Rather they are to discharge the call of the kingdom by caring for those to whom they have responsibility for.

My conclusion in our discussion was that we are to care for those whom God has given us responsibility for, but we do not necessarily need to respond to those who would put their own claim on our lives.

We are responsible to look after our children. God may also give us other children to be responsible for. God may call us to give our children to others to look after so that we may do a task for him—we are still caring for them appropriately as we are delegating our responsibility for that child to another at God’s request (one should be absolutely certain they are hearing correctly from God in such a situation!*).

But an adult does not need to acquiesce to a demand from family to live or act according to their agenda. A request to remain part of the family business, or not to leave until one’s parents have died may not be legitimate. If at some future time one’s parents become infirm, the child may now have the responsibility for them placed on him by God and he needs to discharge that responsibility appropriately.

*This comment needs its own post to explain more fully, I don’t mean to suggest that this is a common request from God.

>Jesus and the use of metaphor

>Now we have dispensed with the flat earth claim I would like to address Jesus’ ability to understand symbolism. The relevant part of Tilling’s post was,

Had you asked [Jesus] if there was a literal Adam or Eve and serpent, I think he would have been puzzled by the ‘literal’ tag, but I suspect that if you had pressed him he would have said that he believes in a literal Adam and Eve (though I cannot prove these statements. I am making historical judgments, and I see no reason why he would not have believe these things – modern science did not develop for centuries. Though as noted, the whole metaphorical / scientific categorisation would have probably puzzled him).

This is not an issue of scientific knowledge, it is one of literal versus allegorical.

Jesus was familiar with the Old Testament besides Genesis. He frequently quoted Deuteronomy and mentions the prophets. The Old Testament had plenty of material that was understood to be figurative. In the book of Judges we read of Gideon’s son Jotham telling his half brother Abimelech a story of the trees having a council:

The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’ Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’ (Judges 9)

This is more than a thousand years before Jesus yet these people understood fable. In fact trees seem to be a recurrent theme in the Old Testament with Joash sending a message to Amaziah concerning a cedar and a thistle (2 Kings 14, 2 Chronicles 25), and God informing Ezekiel about an eagle removing the upper twigs of a cedar to a different land (Ezekiel 17). Jesus certainly would have been familiar with these passages.

Moreover, Jesus frequently spoke in parables himself. He didn’t just inform people of theological truths but made use of stories to illustrate these truths. Matthew adds,

All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. (Matthew 13)

The parable of the sower is a good example. This parable uses symbols thru-out: sower, soil, birds, rocks, thorns, birds—all symbols of some other thing.

The clincher that Jesus both understood and affirmed the literalness of Adam and Eve is seen in his description of John the Baptist. The Old Testament closes with a prediction of God’s visitation and his forerunner Elijah:

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” (Malachi 3)

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” (Malachi 4)

Now this could be interpreted as either Elijah returning (as he ascended to heaven in a whirlwind) or as a person coming in the ministry of Elijah. We are told it is the latter in the gospel of Luke; the fulfilment in the person of John the Baptist:

And [John] will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, (Luke 1)

Jesus affirms this,

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,

” ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,/
who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 11)

Jesus applies Malachi 3 to John and Jesus specifies that John is Elijah. From this we can note that Jesus is perfectly able to understand that a passage can have figurative aspects to it. Jesus does not think that John is literally Elijah or that Malachi meant that Elijah would literally return. And Jesus thought this is even though several of his contemporaries thought that Elijah would literally return.

So when Jesus claims that Adam was a real person he is fully able to comprehend the difference between this and the concept that Adam fictitious person representative of humankind. He is able to understand whether the creation story is historical or mythological. This is not surprising as Genesis clearly historical narrative and Joash’s story is clearly allegorical. Malachi may be more subtle but that is often the case with prophecy; that Jesus is aware of this subtlety demonstrates our thesis more strongly.

>To whom God reveals himself

2008 April 5 2 comments

>There is an interesting comment by God at the time that he slays Aaron’s sons for unauthorised offering (strange/foreign fire).

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will show myself holy, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace. (Lev 10)

There are 2 other situations that somewhat parallel this one. The slaying of Uzzah for touching the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6) and the slaying of Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5). In the Nadab episode God makes interesting statement,

Among those who are near me I will show myself holy, and before all the people I will be glorified.

It is uncertain whether the first clause should be translated

Among those who are near me I will be treated as holy

as per LXX, NASB, ESV and NEB; or

Among those who are near me I will show myself holy

as per NIV, NRSV, NLT, and NET.

If the former then Nadab and Abihu were in a position of closeness by the nature of their position as priests, in which case God killed them for not treating him as holy. If the latter then God revealed his holiness in his judgment of their disobedience.

Now consider the implication of the latter interpretation. Those who are close to God will see God’s holiness and that by God’s revelation. But to all men God will still make his glory known. Everyone will see the glory of the Lord. Those close to him will experience his holiness.

Among those who are near me I will show myself holy,
and before all the people I will be glorified.

The phrase is a parallelism. In which case the former interpretation may be the preferable translation and the second clause is expanding on the first.

Among those who are near me I will be treated as holy,
and before all the people I will be glorified.

Categories: holiness, interpretation

>Does temporal punishment attenuate eternal punishment?

2008 January 21 6 comments

>This is a question I have pondered but have never read about elsewhere. I tend to think that hell will have degrees of punishment. Just as believers will be rewarded for their devotion to Christ, and that reward will vary, I think it is possible that the wicked man’s punishment may be dependant on his sin. All sin is not equal and it is reasonable to think that punishment will match the crime. Of course God will take into consideration our heart, and an adulterous Christian may be more sinful than an adulterous infidel.

Jesus refers to men being hit with few or many lashes.

And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. (Luke 12)

Jesus also mentions men can be more severely punished.

And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Mark 12)

The proposal I wish to suggest (at least for consideration) is that punishment on earth for wickedness means that punishment in eternity will be less.

I am suggesting that a murderer who is caught and imprisoned or sentenced to death receives a less nasty Hades (or possibly subsequent hell) than the man who is not caught or who is excused by a corrupt justice system (though in the later example the unjust judge may wear some of the guilt). This assumes all other things being equal such as the state of the murderer’s heart and the lack of repentance before death.

There is no direct biblical evidence for this proposal, and I do hold it or consider it tentatively, but it seems consistent with Scripture.

I am suggesting this is the case because they have already received some of their punishment.

If I am incorrect it is still possible that a man is changed by the temporal punishment such that his heart is less opposed to God. Due to the lessening of his hatred of God his eternal punishment may be less severe, not because he has received his punishment in part.

If I am correct about this it has implications in biblical exegesis and God’s expectations of government.

In terms of biblical understanding, temporal judgment will be seen as having an aspect of mercy. Those whom God judged in Sodom and those whom the Israelites destroyed in Canaan were already wicked. They had decided on a destiny without God. Their eternal dwelling place is unpleasant, yet possibly less than it may have been had God not acted decisively in the situation. Leviticus hints at this when God explains the disaster he will send if they disobey him. Progressive punishments thru to exile are promised if they persist in disobeying him. But even if progressive judgments finally result in exile, God says, on the condition of repentance,

Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 26)

Even in judgment there is the desire of God that we repent, and his actions, while just, are tempered with mercy and desire for us to return to him. Perhaps even final temporal judgments are actioned so that eternal ones will be less severe.

In terms of government, this brings an even greater responsibility to those who rule us. Failure to punish the wicked not only makes life more unpleasant for the righteous, it means that eternity may be worse for those than it could have been. Of course God’s punishment will be just and appropriate, it is just that with poor government the wicked man is able to clock up that much more wickedness and not have any of it dealt with this side of death. Letting the evil man away with his actions may not be a kindness of a despot to his unjust cronies, rather a greater evil delayed. Interesting that Satan can lead a man to curse his friends while that man thinks he is blessing them.

>Getting the facts of Christmas sorted

2007 December 23 11 comments

>

Given the season it may be a good time to summarise the chronology and other details of the incarnation.

Joseph was engaged to Mary and they both dwelt in Nazareth. Nazareth was a small town in Galilee. Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel when her cousin Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant. Knowing when Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah was serving in Jerusalem may give us some clues to the month of Jesus’ conception and birth. Zechariah was a priest of the division of Abijah (compare Luke 1 with 1 Chronicles 24).

Joseph intended to divorce Mary when he learnt of her pregnancy; quietly so as not to shame her. Divorce is not the term we would use for breaking an engagement but a betrothal in Israel 2000 years ago was a strong commitment and divorce (apoluo) would be the single term used in both situations (unlike English which has more terms). This is not saying that betrothal is the same as marriage, sex was forbidden until after the wedding.

An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and informed him of the situation and Joseph then married Mary. He did not have sex with her until after Jesus was born. Mary had already conceived Jesus so the activity would not have made Joseph the biological father, but abstaining presumably honoured God in the situation. So Jesus was conceived when Mary was betrothed and born after Mary was married, but still a virgin.

The genealogy given in Matthew is that of Joseph. The genealogy in Luke is that of Mary. Heli was likely Mary’s father. Luke 3 states:

Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli,…

Some have considered Heli the adoptive father of Joseph if Heli had no sons of his own, though I believe the passage may be acceptably translated as:

Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son, as it was supposed, of Joseph, but was actually the son of Heli,…

Caesar Augustus sent out a decree that a registration was to be performed. The time frame for this is uncertain. What is known is that Quirinius was governor of Syria. The registration is frequently referred to as a census, presumably for taxation purposes. However Luke does not say that it is a tax census, he specifies they were registered (apographo) for a registration (apographe). Dating Jesus birth has proven difficult, for several reasons, not the least historically identifying the tax census that occurred during Jesus birth. However if the registration was not for taxation then the range of possible dates is potentially expanded. Some have suggested in was a registration to make a proclamation about Caesar Augustus. Ernest Martin suggests that the title Pater Patriae (father of the Fatherland) was bestowed on Augustus about this time and the registration was for the inhabitants of the Roman Empire to swear an oath of obedience to the Emperor.

Joseph with his new bride went from Nazareth to Bethlehem because he was descended from David whose home town was Bethlehem. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Angels appeared to the shepherds that night and they visited Mary, Joseph and Jesus. There is some evidence to suggest that Jesus may have been born in autumn, perhaps in the month of Tishri which corresponds to about September. I think it likely that Jesus was born about 2 or 3 BC.

8 days later Jesus was circumcised according to the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12). Joseph and Mary presented Jesus at the temple at Jerusalem 40 days after he was born and a sacrifice of doves was offered. Leviticus states that a lamb is to be offered but a pigeon is acceptable for the poorer Israelites. Joseph and Mary were therefore poor.

Some time after this while Joseph and Mary were still in Bethlehem the Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem. We are not told the number who came. That 3 are depicted may relate to the number of gifts. The Magi were from the region of Persia and were interested in, amongst other things, astrology. They interpreted the skies as pointing to the birth of the king of the Jews. Much speculation has been made on what the star was. Matthew quotes the Magi saying,

Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.

and he further comments,

the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. (Matthew 2)

It is likely that the star was a conjunction between planets or planets and stars. The best suggestion is that of Martin who mentions several astronomical events of significance including Jupiter stopping (at the time of its retrogression). The Magi had an audience with Herod in Jerusalem and were informed by the priests and scribes that the king was to be born in Bethlehem based on Micah’s prophecy. When Jupiter stopped in the sky (for 6 days) its position was over Bethlehem as viewed from Jerusalem. The date was December 25, 2 BC. Jupiter was in the constellation of Virgo.

This was not the time of Jesus’ birth as the Magi visited Jesus in a house not a stable. Jesus was a young child (paidion), though that word probably does not aid us as to exactly how old Jesus was. Herod ordered the massacre of children under the age of 2 in his attempt to kill Jesus. Herod choose this age in accordance with the time he ascertained from the wise men. If Jesus was born in 3 BC he would have been approximately 15 months old; if in 2 BC, 3 months. Joseph had previously been warned by an angel to depart and they were already in Egypt. On Herod’s death an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream for the third time and Joseph returned with Mary and Jesus to his home town of Nazareth. Herod probably died in early 1 BC, only some weeks or months after the Magi’s visit.

Flash presentation of astronomical events near the time of Jesus’ birth.

>Objects of wrath

2007 December 22 2 comments

>The fall of Adam put us in opposition to God. It changed our nature and our relationship with God.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2)

This is not just some, it is all mankind. All men prior to redemption are by nature children of wrath. Even if we desire God’s ways we still sin and fall under God’s wrath. We deserve judgment.

This is not the pleasure of God. God does not desire that the wicked are destroyed. Jesus says,

God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3)

Paul tells us,

…God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2)

And Peter informs why the day of the Lord is delayed:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3)

Jesus, Paul and Peter all state that God desires the salvation of every man. He would that heaven be filled, that not a single person lost.

Sure, the destruction of the wicked will demonstrate God’s glory but their condemnation his not his desire. God gains much greater glory by showing mercy than by just judgment. If God judges by justice alone he will send every man to hell.

So how do we square Jesus’ offer of mercy to all men with Paul’s comment on God’s mercy?

So then God has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9)

I find it interesting that the actions here are not opposites. God is described as hardening men, but not softening them. I am sure God can soften hearts, but the point is the context contrasts hardening and having mercy. These actions of God can be seen in connection to our response to God. We are all children of wrath because of our nature. So when one rejects God’s work in his life he is resisting the work of God in drawing him to himself. If we reject God and refuse his ways then God cannot gain glory by offering mercy to us. There is nothing else but to harden us that God’s glory may be maximised in our lives; not as objects of mercy, which is God’s preference, but as objects of wrath: that all may see that the rebellious will not prevail against God.

And for those who choose God, yet who by their nature are children of wrath, he offers mercy so that they may become children of God. If in judging those who deserve judgment God is glorified, how much more so when he shows mercy to those who deserve judgment!

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! (Romans 11)

>Sovereignty and free will

2007 December 18 Leave a comment

>There is an interesting passage in Jeremiah which inputs into the Calvinism debate:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ (Jeremiah 18)

There is a lot here that points to God’s activity in the world: God gives a command to Jeremiah (which presumes obedience is possible); if Jeremiah is obedient then God will allow him to hear his words; God can build up nations and destroy them.

The potter motif is interesting. God gives Jeremiah an analogy to act out. It is important to understand this analogy, what God is saying thru it and what God is not saying thru it—while there may be more than one meaning in many passages of Scripture, we must not over read it: for example in this story God is like the potter, the potter is mortal, this does not imply that God is mortal.

We have a potter forming an object, this becomes marred, the object is reworked into something different, the potter chooses what he makes.

God says that if the potter is able to work the clay as he sees fit, how much more so is God able to do as he wills: “…can I not do with you as this potter has done?” But further than this, not only does God have a right to do this, he is also able to do this: “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

In what way is the house of Israel, or a nation, like clay. The answer is in God’s subsequent pronouncement. They are similar in that God is able to destroy a nation or prosper it, just as the potter is able to make an object of his choosing. They are similar in that God is able to change his plans for the nation, to destroy a nation he was planning to prosper, or vice versa, just as the potter can change what vessel he is making.

One must be careful in making claims about the nature of the clay from this analogy. One must look to what is given in explanation. The clay is spoiled in the potter’s hands. Is that because of flaws in the clay or flaws in the potter? Is it relevant? The point is just that the potter has sovereignty over the clay, before and after its spoiling. Theoretically the potter could have destroyed the whole project and started again according to his original plan, but God wanted to use the change in the object being fashioned to reveal himself.

The spoiling of the clay is the change in behaviours of a nation. Though “spoiled” carries a negative connotation, this is not the case in the explanation. This discrepancy suggests that the spoiling may not carry over any analogous qualities. Nations can behave in positive or negative ways. They can repent, a good response, or they can commit evil, a bad response.

And while clay has no will, clearly the nation does. God appeals to the nation to listen to his warning: “If… I declare…, and if that nation… turns from its evil, I will relent….”

While God has declared his sovereignty, that he has the right to do and is able to do exactly as he wills, he also states that his actions are contingent on the actions of the nations. He will change his behaviour based on our actions. It is not that we can force God’s hand, make him do what we want, rather that there are opportunities in which we can choose our path. God may limit the number of paths available to us, but there are outcomes we can determine, or rather outcomes (the specifics of which are determined by God) can be accepted or rejected by us. God does not force us or manipulate our thoughts to make a decision for him or against him.

In this passage God is talking about nations. Does the same apply to individuals? God’s commands to and requirements of nations are not always the same as that to individuals: the state is given a mandate to execute criminals, individuals, in general, are not. That this principle is relevant to individuals can be seen by comparing to Ezekiel.

But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die. (Ezekiel 18)

While this passage describes God’s abundant mercy, the call to repentance comes thru out the Old and New Testaments. We may not be able to save ourselves, but we are able to choose to avail ourselves of this salvation.

>That is your interpretation

2007 November 6 Leave a comment

>It seems some people think the refrain, “That is just your interpretation,” is legitimate. By implication they are saying that there are a multitude of interpretations and, further, that any particular one is as legitimate as another. While it is true that some statements can have more than one interpretation, there are many they cannot have.

I was contemplating a hymn I enjoy, Be thou my vision. The first 2 lines are:

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Be all else but naught to me, save that thou art.

Consider the phrase, “Be all else but naught to me.” What could it mean? If the word “be” refers to “Lord” of the preceding line the phrase stated unambiguously is

Lord be everything except nothing to me

If the word “be” refers to the “all else” which follows then the meaning would be

Everything be nothing to me

So this phrase can potentially have more than one meaning. Of course the phrase cannot mean

Lord, you mean nothing to me

however you parse it.

In this hymn there is only one meaning, the following clause limitis the options to the second interpretation—”save that thou art” makes sense with one idea but not the other. Despite the fact I like the poetic flavour of the first interpretation, it doesn’t quite make sense:

Lord be everything except nothing to me, except you.

Whereas what is intended is:

Everything be nothing to me, except you (Lord)

There are not a multitude of interpretations for every statement, and not all possible interpretations have equal validity.

Categories: interpretation, lyrics

>Character Deficiency Syndrome

2007 September 28 Leave a comment

>An interesting article that I have read recently is Character Deficiency Syndrome by Garry D. Nation. He states that the Bible translates 4 different words as fool into English and that these different words describe different, and likely progressive stages, of foolishness. The words are pethi which he calls a naive fool; kesil which he calls the self-confident fool, though I prefer cocky fool; ‘evil which he calls the committed fool, though there is also the word nabal which describes a full blown version of that person; and luts which he calls the scornful fool, though I prefer mocker or mocking fool. His descriptions are:

  1. The first degree is the Simple or Naive Fool, who is unthinking, gullible. He lacks the most basic understanding of moral cause and effect.
  2. The second degree is the Self-Confident Fool. He is known by his stubbornness, and by his big mouth.
  3. The third degree is the Committed Fool, who has decisively rejected wisdom, and instead pledged his allegiance to destructive ideas and behaviors.
  4. The fourth degree or terminal stage of Character Deficiency Syndrome is reached by the Scornful Fool, a mocker who is openly contemptuous of spiritual truth and moral righteousness.

The cocky fool is not amenable to reason:

Proverbs 26, verses 4 and 5, back to back proverbs, seem to contradict each other. “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. / Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” The contradiction isn’t in the Scripture, it’s in the fool! One is compelled to reply to his aggravating foolishness, yet it’s pointless to do so. You never get anywhere talking to him.

Of the mocker Nation writes,

Other fools may be abominations to God, but the Scorner is even an abomination to men! The Bible expends few words describing such a one. It simply warns the wise believer to stay away from him. …[he] does serve one civic purpose: he provides an object lesson.

Well worth a read.

Categories: ethics, interpretation