Sunday, May 21, 2017

Together forever

Catholic apologists mock the Protestant category of the invisible church. The Catholic alternative is a visible church that's corrupt and chockfull of nominal members, even by Catholic standards.

To speak of the invisible church is not to deny a visible church. Rather, these are overlapping entities. But they don't coincide.

Catholic apologists like to quote Jn 17:21 ("that they may all be one"). But on their interpretation you have to wonder, 2000 years down the pike, when, if ever, the Father plans to grant his Son's request. 

I used to take afternoon walks at a nearby cemetery. I usually went around the same time. Based on that unscientific sample, I noticed that a few of the same people came nearly everyday, a few of the same people came nearly once a week or once a month, plus people who rarely came, in addition to people who never came–to judge by neglected graves. 

Especially in reference to the regular visitors, even though they are strangers to each other, they share a hidden affinity. An invisible unity. 

They share a common grief. They share a common hope. All of them are waiting for the same thing. They can't see their dearly departed again unless they die, and they won't see their dearly departed again until they die. 

If you were a Martian, if you didn't know the purpose of a cemetery, if you didn't understand human nature, you'd be puzzled by why these unrelated humans visit the cemetery. What draws them? What do they find there? You'd be unable to discern the common bond of unity. For that can't be seen. Yet it's real and powerful. 

And it's analogous to the Eucharist:

Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes (1 Cor 11:25-26).

Like the Eucharist, they visit the cemetery in remembrance of lost loved ones, and they do so in the hope of reunion. Both backward-looking and forward-looking. Separately, singly, and collectively.  

Outwardly, these seem to be random individuals with nothing in common. But appearances are deceptive. 

Life under the sun

To understand Ecclesiastes, we need to understand recurrent catchphrases like "under the sun". In his new book on The Christ of Wisdom (P&R, 2017), O. Palmer Robertson has an interesting take on that phrase. He thinks it refers to the diurnal cycle (253-55). I'd like to expand on his observation and perhaps develop it in a somewhat different, though probably complementary direction, than he does.

Given that Ecclesiastes alludes to Gen 1-3 in some other respects, it's quite possible or even probable that "under the sun" evokes the creation account, where God makes the sun, thereby generating the recurrent alternation between dawn and dusk, day and night, light and darkness.  

So "under the sun" may refer to human life as regulated by the alternation of day and night. Especially before the advent of electrical lighting, you'd rise at sunrise and retire at sunset. Unlike nocturnal animals, humans need sunlight to see by. 

To some degree, the need to sleep every night breaks up the monotony of continuous existence. We take a break, then get a fresh start the next day. 

At the same time, the inexorable repetition of the diurnal cycle can be somewhat deadening. It's inescapable. Like it or not, there's always another day that you must get through. Another day waiting for you. An unrelenting challenge. 

Especially in a fallen world, this can be a challenge. That ties into something else Robertson says. He thinks the meaning of hebel varies according to the context. It means more than one thing. That includes "ephemeral, incomprehensible," enigmatic", 249n79. And that suits some passages in Ecclesiastes. 

But he thinks it also has the sense of "frustration". And he thinks that suits many other passages in Ecclesiastes (1:14; 2:1,11,15,17,19,21,23; 3:19; 4:7-8; 5:10; 6:2; 7:15; 8:10).

And indeed, life in a fallen world is often aggravating for believers and unbelievers alike. A source of intermittent or even chronic frustration. 

When Christians die, they put that behind them. They enter peace (Isa 57:2). They rest from their labors (Rev 14:13). They enter God's eternal Sabbath.  

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Lord said to my Lord

I saw a video clip by unitarian apologist Anthony Buzzard: 

He says Jews very carefully distinguish between the Lord God (i.e. Adonai, divine name, alternative for Yahweh) and human lords (i.e. Adoni, non-deity lord).

This raises a raft of issues:

1. Unitarians like Buzzard grant that Ps 110 is a Davidic psalm and a messianic psalm. So I can take that for granted in my post.

2. His argument in v1 relies on the MT. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that. However, the vowel points are editorial additions. So we need to distinguish between the original consonantal text and the MT. In both v1 and v5, the same root word is used. 

If, moreover, the MT is reliable in v1, then it's reliable in v5. 

3. Buzzard commits a common semantic fallacy by failing to distinguish between sense and reference. Even if Adoni generally refers to human masters, it doesn't mean human master. It simply denotes someone in authority over another or others. 

4. The term is used in Josh 5:14 and Judg 6:13 for the Angel of the Lord. In context, that's arguably a theophany. So it can be applied to the Deity.

5. The fact that a human or neutral descriptor is used does not imply that the individual so designated is not the Deity. The Bible uses human or neutral descriptors for Yahweh. It describes Yahweh a husband, father, potter, farmer, and shepherd. Those aren't divine descriptors. To the contrary, they are customarily and primarily human descriptors. They derive their meaning from their use in human roles and occupations. 

There's a logical difference between:

i) Not saying X is the case 


ii) Saying X is not the case

If v1 refrains from saying the messiah is deity, that's not equivalent to saying the messiah is not deity. It just means v1 doesn't speak to the question of his deity one way or the other.

6. In v5, Adonai is used, which Buzzard himself says is an alternate divine name for Yahweh. Who's the referent of Adonai in v5? The messiah, or Yahweh is distinction to the messiah? On the face of it, there are multiple reasons to think v5 designates messiah as Adonai:

i) There's the parallel between v1 and v5. Both passages use the righthand imagery, and both passages use the same root word. So it's logical to construe their interrelationship this way:

v1: Yahweh's oracle to my [David's] master [i.e. messiah]: Sit at my right hand

v5 Adonai [i.e. messiah] by your [i.e. Yahweh's] right hand

ii) In addition, that would preserve a consistent subject throughout the psalm. In vv2-4, messiah is the military conquer. Messiah is evidently the military conqueror in v7. And there's no textual clue that the subject changes from v6 to v7. 

To say that Adonai in v5 refers to Yahweh in v1 rather than messiah represents an abrupt shift. That interrupts the flow of thought, the corollary metaphor (to the right of), and the same root word. 

7. Whether Ps 110 predicts a divine messiah doesn't solely turn on who Adonai is in v5, but on the threefold comparison and contrast between Yahweh, David, and messiah. There's only so much metaphysical furniture in the OT worldview. You have God, angels, humans, and the subhuman order. In what sense is messiah David's master? Unless he's an angel, he must be on the divine side of the categorical divide, rather than the mundane side. And he's not an angel. So, by process of elimination, he must be the Deity.

Graduating To What?

Earlier this week, I saw Ken Temple link a good commencement address by John Piper, for the students of Boyce College at Southern Seminary. It's about Mark 8:34-8:

The best address I've seen Piper give to students is this one from 2000:

Friday, May 19, 2017

Dawkins, Fermat, and Jesus

  17 hours ago17 hours agoMore 
Missing verse. Jesus said, no three positive integers a, b, and c shall satisfy the equation a^n + b^n = c^n. Now that would be impressive.

Apparently, Dawkins is alluding to Fermat's Last Theorem. Several issues:

i) It's prudent not to endeavor to be more clever than you are, because a failed attempt will make you look less clever than you aspire to be. 

ii) I'm no expert, but it's my impression that Dawkins bungled the formulation by omitting n>2. He should leave math to mathematicians and stick to evolutionary biology.

iii) What is the implicit argument in his tweet? I suppose it's something like this: Gospel writers can fabricate reported miracles, but a scientific or mathematic theory, theorem, conjecture, or discovery that's centuries ahead of its time can't be faked. It would be unmistakably anachronistic and undeniably impressive. Assuming that's in the ballpark of what he was gesturing at:

iv) Since modern mathematical and scientific notation didn't exist in the 1C, how could that be expressed in Aramaic or Koine Greek?

v) Since the formula would be unintelligible to Christian scribes (as well as readers), it would almost inevitably be miscopied. 

vi) Unbelievers don't think the Gospels reliably record the sayings of the historical Jesus. So even if the Gospels contained something like Fermat's Last Theorem, unbelievers could chalk that up to the narrator, or his hypothetical source, rather than Jesus. He just put that in the mouth of Jesus.

vii) Assuming (ex hypothesi) that Jesus said that, it might prove that he was a mathematical genius, but human genius is no proof of deity, and it's irrelevant to his mission as the Redeemer and eschatological judge.

viii) Is Fermat's Last Theorem especially impressive–or the solution! 

ix) Premature scientific and mathematical theories and discoveries would alter the future course of history by kickstarting math and science. It's like those scifi scenarios in which the time-traveler inadvertently changes the future because he carries his modern knowledge with him when he goes back in time, where he says or does something that seeds the past with future know-how or technology. Indeed, he becomes trapped in the past because the future from which he came no longer exists, so he's now unable to return to that point in the erstwhile timeline. 

Too Skeptical To Be Reasonable

Here are some of Guy Playfair's comments about a report on the Enfield Poltergeist that he and Maurice Grosse delivered to a meeting of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). This occurred on March 29, 1978:

He [Grosse] kicked off with a very concise and factual account of the case to date, summarising the types of phenomenon we had observed or recorded from eye-witnesses under seventeen headings. These included knocks, movement of small and large objects, interference with bedclothes, appearance of water, apparitions, levitation of persons, physical assaults of several types, automatisms, psychological disturbance, equipment malfunction and failure, the passage of matter through matter, unidentifiable voice phenomena - both embodied and disembodied, and spontaneous combustion.

While he was reeling off this list, I looked around the audience. Some, like Professor [Hans] Bender, were listening intently, while elsewhere I saw a number of raised eyebrows. Clearly, this was a bit much for some SPR members, who had never witnessed anything paranormal all their lives.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Comey firing overdue

Trump, Mueller, and Muslims

The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture

Today, our guest on EWTN is Christian Smith, author of The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture.

Interviewer: What's your basis thesis?
Smith: Interpretive pluralism disproves sola scriptura. 
Interviewer: Can you give an example?
Smith: Take "amen". 
Interviewer: What about "amen"?
Smith: The Bible uses "amen", but unlike a dictionary, it never provides the correct pronunciation. 
Interviewer: And how is that a problem?
Smith: It's spawned pluralistic pronunciations of "amen". That's a fundamental dividing line between Anglican and Baptist theology.
Interviewer: Can you illustrate?
Smith: Baptists use the déclassé pronunciation, where "a" rhymes with "grape", while Anglicans use the more elegant pronunciation, where "a" rhymes with "father" or "Chicago". Have you ever been in a Baptist service where you thought everyone around you was Baptist, but when the time comes for the congregation to say "amen" in unison, someone behind you uses the Anglican pronunciation? It's a dead giveaway that they strayed into the wrong church by accident.
Interviewer: And that's why we need the Magisterium?
Smith: Absolutely! The Bible writers are dead, so you can't ask them for the right pronunciation. That's why a living teaching office is indispensable. Absent that, there's no way of knowing for sure whether the gauche Baptist pronunciation is right or the Oxbridge Anglican pronunciation. 
Interviewer: And you think that's a big deal?
Smith: Are you kidding? "Amen" is the password to get into heaven. Millions of evangelicals have been turned away from the pearly gates because they couldn't give Peter the right pronunciation.  

The binding of Isaac

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen 22:1-2).

There's a striking similarity between the ordeal of Job and the binding of Isaac. Both accounts exhibit dramatic irony. In both cases, God puts an individual to the test, but he doesn't know it's a test. The reader knows something Job, Abraham, and Isaac don't, because the narrator explains to the reader what God is up to. But Job, Abraham, and Isaac aren't privy to that key piece of information.

In addition, the reader has the benefit of hindsight. He knows how the story ends. He knows that God has no intention of letting Abraham go through it with. But, of course, Abraham doesn't know the outcome in advance. He doesn't know that God will rescind the command at the last moment. 

Although expositions of Gen 22 often focus on Abraham's submission to the will of God, the success of the test depends as much on Isaac's submission to the will of God. In a way, Isaac's submissive attitude is more impressive because God didn't even speak to him. At best, he's getting his information secondhand from his father. 

Isaac was old enough to either overpower his elderly father or at least run away. Yet he cooperates in what appears to be his premature death. If anything, it's harder for a teenager to face the prospect of death. He had his whole life ahead of him. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Pope Francis dissing Marian apparitions

Concerning the alleged current apparitions, the report expresses doubts.  Personally, I am more “mischievous”: I prefer Our Lady to be a Mother, our Mother, and not a telegraph operator who sends out a message every day at a certain time… this is not the mother of Jesus.  And these alleged apparitions have no great value.  I say this as my personal opinion.  Who thinks that Our Lady would say: “Come tomorrow at this time and I will give a message to that seer”; no.

Depicting the Tempter

There's a conventional interpretation of Gen 3 which visualizes the Tempter as a bipedal reptile that's able to communicate with Eve due to Satanic possession. I'm curious about the historical origins of that tradition.

In my limited knowledge, aery artistic representations of the Tempter depict a zoological snake (e.g. Trinity sarcophagus, sarcophagus of Junius Bassus) while later artistic representations depict the Tempter as a hybrid creature: a human-headed snake (e.g. Ghiberti, Mantegna, Masolino, Michaelangelo, Holbein the Younger)–although later artists sometimes continue to depict the Tempter as a zoological snake (e.g. Cranach). 

In Milton, the Tempter is a fallen angel who's cursed to become a snake, after the Fall. Hugo van der Goes depicts the Tempter as a human-headed lizard, standing on its hindlegs, leaning on the tree of knowledge. 

In none of these examples is the Tempter a Satanically possessed bipedal reptile that became a snake after the Fall. So I wonder when that exegetical tradition developed.

Luke the beloved physician

The following is from Norval Geldenhuys' commentary The Gospel of Luke in the old New International Commentary on the New Testament series. Geldenhuys was a Dutch Reformed minister in South Africa. His work is quite dated (1951), and my understanding is Joel B. Green's replacement is better, but still I think there's some useful information on the topic, though there may be disagreements in interpretation:

Fortunately, from very early times in the history of the Christian Church, there exists straightforward evidence that Luke2 was Paul's fellow-traveller who wrote the Gospel and Acts3. The anti-Marcionite Prologue to the Third Gospel (between A.D. 160 and 180), which survives in both Greek and Latin, gives the following account:

"Luke was an Antiochian of Syria, a physician by profession. He was a disciple of the apostles and later accompanied Paul until the latter's martyrdom. He served the Lord without distraction [or 'without blame'], having neither wife nor children, and at the age of eighty-four he fell asleep in Boeotia, full of the Holy Spirit. While there were already Gospels previously in existence - that according to Matthew written in Judaea and that according to Mark in Italy - Luke, moved by the Holy Spirit, composed the whole of this Gospel in the parts about Achaia. In his prologue he makes this very point clear, that other Gospels had been written before his, and that it was necessary to expound to the Gentile believers the accurate account of the [divine] dispensation, so that they should not be perverted by Jewish fables, nor be deceived by heretical and vain imaginations and thus err from the truth. And so right at the beginning he relates for us the nativity of John - a most essential matter, for John is the beginning of the Gospel, being our Lord's forerunner and companion both in the preparation of the Gospel and in the administration of the baptism and the fellowship of the Spirit. This ministry [of John] had been mentioned by one of the Twelve Prophets [i.e. Malachi]. And afterwards the same Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles."


The statement by numerous church fathers and by Paul that Luke was a physician is also corroborated in the Gospel and in Acts. In 1882 W. K. Hobart, in The Medical Language of St. Luke, defended the thesis that the third Gospel and Acts are permeated by the medical terminology current during the first century. Harnack, Zahn, and Moffatt also, after a careful sifting of Hobart's data, came to the conclusion that the author of Luke and Acts was a physician. Later on Cadbury4, who is exceptionally critical and unwilling to assume Luke to have been the author of the Gospel and of Acts, maintained that the so-called medical words and terms in Luke and Acts also occur in the non-medical writers like Lucian and Josephus and that in those days there existed no noticeable difference between the technical and non-technical language.

Cadbury is right to the extent that the language of Luke and Acts does not of itself prove that the author was a physician. Nevertheless the fact remains that the language and terminology of Luke and Acts are of such a nature that they corroborate5 in a striking manner the tradition that the author was Luke the physician. The following may be cited as a number of examples of medically tinted language and terminology from Luke: Luke iv. 38 describes the disease of Peter's mother-in-law as a "great fever", while Mark merely describes it as "fever". Now it is a well-known fact that medical writers of those times were accustomed to describe fever as a "small" or as a "great" fever.6

Luke v. 12 describes the leper as "a man full of leprosy", while Mark and Matthew merely say "a leprous man". Here also the expression of Luke is typically medical, as is evident from the writings of Hippocrates.7

In the same way the precise manner in which Luke describes different cases of disease (e.g. xiii. 11, viii. 42, vi. 18, xiii. 32; Acts vi. 22, ix. 33, etc.) fits in with the fact that he was a physician.8

Taking all the data into consideration, one cannot but come to the conclusion that, although the language and style do not per se prove that the author of the books was a physician, the statement by Paul9 in Colossians iv. 14, and the unanimous assertions of the ancient church fathers that Luke was a physician, are clearly corroborated by the nature of the contents of the books.10

2 That the name "Lukas" is the abbreviated form of "Lukios" is generally accepted (cf. Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, p. 435). Zahn, however, thinks it is the abbreviation of Lucanus (Introduction to the New Testament, iii, p. 5).
3 Cf. Jülicher-Fascher, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 330.
4 The Style and Literary Method of Luke, pp. 39-72.
5 Plummer, Moffatt, Creed and several others also favour this view.
6 Cf. Creed, op. cit., p. xx.
7 Ibid.
8 It seems probable that Luke, even after he became a companion of Paul, continued with his practice as a physician. "It is also possible that he rendered valuable services as a physician to the apostle himself, who was often severely ill" (Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, English transl., vol. iii, p. 1). This would make it clear why Paul calls Luke "the beloved physician" (Col. iv. 14). For would he have called him so if he had discarded his practice as a physician years before? And by calling him the beloved physician, does that not point to personal gratitude Paul felt towards him for services rendered to him by his physician companion?
9 That the Luke of Colossians, iv. 14 is the same as the author of Acts (and so of the Gospel) "is completely established by the content [of Acts], the thoroughly Pauline conception of Christianity, the accurate acquaintance with Paul's fortunes and the central role which is accorded to Paul" (Ed. Meyer, Ursprung und Anfränge des Christentums, i, p. 3). Only a companion of Paul, and a very close companion at that, could and would have written the book of Acts, in which so much prominence is given to the apostle.
10 Cf., for a fuller exposition, Harnack, Luke the Physician, pp. 175-98; and Ramsay, Luke the Physician, p. 16.