Saturday, June 22, 2013

Is envy sinful?

Is envy sinful? Seems to me that there are two kinds of envy. Take the statement, “I want what you have.” That’s ambiguous. It could mean either of two different things. To illustrate:

i) “I want your wife.”

ii) “I want a wife like yours.”

These don’t mean the same thing. The first statement means I want to take what you have. The second statement means I want the same type of thing you have.

I think this distinction is important to a Christian work ethic (or Christian ethics).


A few years ago, Bill Arnold–an OT prof. at Asbury seminary–published a commentary on Genesis. I had a question for him, which led to the ensuring exchange:

Dear Dr. Arnold,

In your commentary on Genesis you said “The ‘mountains of Ararat’ of 8:4 most likely refers to the foothills where the Mesopotamian plains in the north yield to the highlands near the sources of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers” (105).

What would you say is the elevation of the foothills in question?

Hi Steve.

I have no idea about the altitude of those foothills. The Zagros Mountains, which are spread along the eastern & northeastern border of the Mesopotamian plains, vary in altitude considerably.

Does it matter?

I appreciate his taking the time to answer my question, but his answer highlights a problem with some commentators on Genesis.

Commentators like Arnold treat Genesis as a literary construct rather than a historical record. So even though Genesis is given a real-world setting, it is irrelevant to them what the world in which the account took place was really like. For commentators like Arnold, my question makes no more sense than posing geographical questions about Shangri-La.

When a modern reader turns to Genesis, it takes an effort to project himself into the world of Genesis. For one thing, most of us don’t live any where near where the events took place. So we don’t naturally visualize that setting.

Moreover, our lifestyle is completely different. Most of us don’t live off the land. It’s just an abstraction for you and me.

But for inhabitants of the ancient Near East, this is a real mountain range, with real rivers and foothills. And when the flood account refers to hills and mountains, it’s presumably referring to foothills and highlands like we find in Northern Mesopotamia. That’s the author’s frame of reference. Somewhere in there was the high-water mark, delimiting the flood.

Which brings me to another point. I don’t think scholars like John Walton or Bill Arnold necessarily understand ANE texts. They fail to take into account what ancient Near Easterners could know about their world through direct observation, in distinction to fabulous descriptions of “places” (e.g. the Netherworld) which no man ever saw, ever discovered, ever explored. How much of this is consciously imaginary on the part of ancient storytellers?

Finally, although they may not say so, commentators like Arnold approach the Genesis narrative naturalistically (i.e. methodological naturalism). The supernatural dimension (e.g. angels) is simply part of the mythological outlook which the narrator took over from his sources. They tacitly empty the world of supernatural entities. Those encounters never actually took place.

If, however, angels really exist, then many incidents we reflexively relegate to pious fiction or ancient mythology suddenly become realistic. 

The ‘λόγος of God’: a Hebrew Concept Packed into a Greek Word

Image source: Accordance
There is still a good bit of activity over at Green Baggins on the thread “Conversions to Roman Catholicism”.

In a side discussion, on the topic of whether the New Testament writers were more influenced by Greek, Pagan, or Gnostic concepts, or whether they drew their sources from the Old Testament, I wrote this comment (#194):

CD-Host said #174 –

The word “logos” is in Greek without a corresponding Hebrew word. The fundamental problem of the logos, how an unchanging god can interact with a changing universe, that is act in time, doesn’t exist in Hebrew though. In Hebrew though God exists in time and experiences reality sequentially.

I’m not going to deny that there are concepts in the Hebrew literature that tie in. For example it is possible to make such a case like Yahweh being the material realization of El. But then you are have to have “Old Testament Judaism” as henotheistic not monotheistic and there you have the “son” being Yahweh not Jesus. The angelic “Son of God” / “Son of Man” concept which does have Aramaic ties and might go back to Hebrew could work.

I don’t see how you can argue that the Christian Logos, John’s Logos isn’t a variant of Hellenistism’s Logos. The Logos for Christians is an intermediary who interacts with matter on behalf of the supreme God.

I think Pagan Hellenism -> Hellenistic Judaism (Philo) -> Christianity (Gospel John) is such an obvious derivation. I’m not sure why you would want to bypass it.

We don’t have to relegate this to opinion. I’ve mentioned to you that T.F. Torrance found Philo in 1 Clement’s use of the concept of “grace”. But that same study of the Apostolic Fathers traced Paul’s usage and it had no discernable reliance on Philo, but rather it relied heavily on the OT concepts of hesed and related concepts of God’s lovingkindness.

Just as some background, (and in response to Bryan’s article “The Tradition and the Lexicon”), I cited G.K. Beale to the effect that:

By standards that Beale relates, there may be more than 4,000 “allusions” or “echoes” of the Old Testament found within the New. Given that there are 7956 verses in the New Testament, more than half the New Testament can be seen as bearing at least some form of “echo of” or “allusion to” some Old Testament concept or idea.

Thus, when a New Testament writer talks of “tradition” “handed down” (παρέδοσαν) to him by “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word”, which in Luke 1:2 is a clear reference to the apostles, the “content” of that “tradition” was oozing with Old Testament words and concepts.

Beale traces three different types of phenomena: “direct references”, “probable allusions”, and “possible allusions”.

An “allusion” may simply be defined as a brief expression consciously intended by an author to be dependent on an OT passage. In contrast to a quotation of the OT, which is a direct reference, allusions are indirect references (the OT wording is not reproduced directly as in a quotation).

This is an exercise in determining “where the language of the New Testament came from”. And it is no surprise that Christ’s Apostles were steeped in the culture of the Old Testament.

With that said, looking to John and λόγος, D.A. Carson, for example, in his analysis of John’s prologue (John 1:1-1:18) while allowing that the word exists in Greek culture (i.e. Plato and Philo), but he says (after a lengthy analysis) “there is little evidence for the existence of full-blown Gnosticism before John wrote his gospel”.

Of Philo and other Greek sources he says:

Still others think John has borrowed from Philo, a first-century Jew who was much influenced by Plato and his successors. Philo makes a distinction between the ideal world, which he calls ‘the logos of God’, and the real or phenomenal world wihich is but its copy. In particular, logos for Philo can refer to the ideal man, the primal man, from which all empirical human beings derive. But Philo’s logos has no distinct personality, and does not itself become incarnate. John’s logos doctrine, by contrast, is not tied to such dualism. More generally, logos can refer to inner thought, hence ‘reason’ even ‘science’. That is one reason why some have advocated ‘Reason’ as a translation of logos. Alternatively logos can refer to outward expression, hence ‘speech’ or ‘message’, which is why ‘Word’ is still thought by many to be the most appropriate term, provided it does not narrowly refer to a mere linguistic sign but is understood to mean something like ‘message’ (as in 1 Cor 1:18).

Kostenberger, too, in his commentary notes the various Greek concepts, and points out that “in Stoic thought, logos was Reason, the impersonal principle governing the universe … Yet while John may well have been aware of the Stoic concept of the logos, it is doubtful that it constituted his primary conceptual framework (and he cites an earlier work of his to that effect).

Neither Carson nor Kostenberger (nor Beale) is unaware of the DSS and other sources you cite. Nevertheless, Carson gives what I believe is a superb summary of the source for λόγος in John 1:

However the Greek term is understood, there is a more readily available background than that provided by Philo or the Greek philosophical schools. Considering how frequently John quotes or alludes to the Old Testament, that is the place to begin. (And the chapter on John in “Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament” covers nearly 100 pages).

There, ‘the word’ (Hebrew: dabar) of God is connected with God’s powerful activity in creation (cf. Gen 1:3ff; Ps 33:6), revelation (Jer 1:4; Is 9:8; Ezk 33:7; Amos 3:1, 8) and deliverance (Ps 107:20; Is. 55:1). If the Lord (Yahweh) is said to speak to the prophet Isaiah (e.g. Is 7:3), elsewhere we read that ‘the word of the Lord came to Isaiah (Is 38:4; cf. Jer 1:4; Ezk 1:6). It was by ‘the word of the Lord’ that the heavens were made (Ps 33:6); in Gen 1:3, 6, 9, etc., God simply speaks and his powerful word creates. That same word effects deliverance and judgment (Is 55:11; cf Ps 29:3ff).

When some of his people faced illness that brought them to the brink of death God ‘sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave’ (Ps 107:20). This personification of the ‘word’ becomes even more colourful in Jewish writing composed after the Old Testament (e.g. Wisdom 18:14, 15). Whether this heritage was mediated to John by th Greek version of the Old Testament that many early Christians used, or even by an Aramaic paraphrase (called a ‘Targum’), the ultimate fountain for this choice of language cannot be in serious doubt.

Carson goes on to cite other post-OT writings, especially related to the concept of logos as wisdom and concludes, “However, the lack of Wisdom terminology in John’s Gospel suggests that the parallels between Wisdom and John’s Logos may stem less from direct dependence than from common dependence on Old Testament uses of ‘word’ and Torah, from which both have borrowed.”

Concluding with his discussion of Greek thought:

In short, God’s “Word” in the Old Testament is his powerful self-expression in creation, revelation, and salvation, and the personification of that ‘Word’ makes it suitable for John to apply it as a title to God’s ultimate self-disclosure, the person of his own Son. But if the expression would prove richest for Jewish readers, it would also resonate in the minds of some readers with entirely pagan backgrounds. In their case, however, they would soon discover that whatever they had understood the term to mean in the past, the author [the Apostle John] was forcing them into fresh thought (see on v. 14: there Carson discusses and unpacks this comment: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth”.

It is interesting to note that Carson is finding the same phenomenon in John and “λόγος” that Torrance found regarding “grace” in Paul: the word, prevalent in Greek thought, has a totally new meaning [for pagans] that is filled with Old Testament concepts.

One could go into much greater detail with this. Brown and Cullmann both interact extensively with the literature you cite and both place the identity of the λόγος firmly in the Old Testament.

How Americans Use Their Time

I want to pass along something I heard about on Michael Medved's radio program yesterday. The Department of Labor recently released a study of Americans' time management. See here regarding Americans' leisure time, for example.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Editing the Mass

A brief comment on this article:

For a denomination that claims to be the One True Church®, founded by Jesus Christ, why does it take 2000 years and counting to get the Mass just right? Why is every official version of the Mass just another draft version, to be continually revised? The Mass is the central rite in Catholicism. How long does it take to formulate it correctly?

The Roman church bears an uncanny resemblance to a human organization that’s improvising on the fly.

Roman Catholicism Teaching Series (CD) by Dr. R.C. Sproul

TODAY ONLY - for a donation of any amount - Roman Catholicism - Teaching Series (CD) by Dr. R.C. Sproul *one offer per household*

Or listen to it for free at Ligonier.Org

The Roman Catholic Church claims to be the one, true church established by Jesus Christ. The Reformers of the sixteenth century rejected this claim, pointing to numerous conflicts between Scripture and Roman Catholic doctrine and practice. What are the differences that divide Roman Catholics and Protestants? Are they important? In this series, Dr. R.C. Sproul carefully and respectfully looks at the doctrines that are at the heart of the Catholic-Protestant divide.

HT: Hugh McCann via Facebook

Divine dissimulation

The subterfuge here authorized by the Lord [1 Sam 16:2-3] has often been brought into discussions of whether or not there are ever situations in which it is ethically permissible, according to biblical standards, to lie to or deceive another person. Some have argued that this is never permissible, without exception. Others have said that in certain extreme situations a person is not required to speak the truth because there may be a higher obligation, usually that of protecting innocent life.

This argument is based to a large extent on the ninth commandment, in which the prohibition against bearing false witness against one’s neighbor is not formulated as an impersonal prohibition (not lying) but as a prohibition in which another person is involved. You may not damage your neighbor with your words. But this sometimes leads to a conflict: Are there cases in which one must consider his obligation to his neighbor as a higher obligation than his witness concerning reality (e.g. a formal statement of truth)? The answer would be yes, because to formally speak the truth in such situations would in reality violate the spirit and intent of the ninth commandment (i.e., to protect our neighbor with our words).

Those who say that deception or lying is never permissible usually deal with the Lord’s instruction to Samuel in 16:2 by making a distinction between concealing and lying…One may wonder, however, whether this line of argument really resolves the problem. Samuel was instructed not just to “conceal” his intentions from Saul, but to deceive Saul concerning the real purpose for his trip to Bethlehem, should that become necessary. It would seem to be difficult to defend the proposition that this is telling the truth in the sense that Scripture elsewhere requires. How much difference is there between deliberately misleading another person and lying to that person? Would it not be better in cases such as this to accept the fact that the Lord has told Samuel to deceive Saul, and therefore to conclude that here we find an example of a situation in which there is no obligation to tell the truth…In that case this situation is similar to that of the midwives in Exod 1:17-21, Rahab in Josh 2:1-14, and “the woman” in 2 Sam 17:18-21), J. R. Vannoy, 1-2 Samuel (Tyndale 2009), 158-59.

To protect his prophet, the Lord tells Samuel to go to Bethlehem under the pretense of offering a sacrifice. This half-truth will serve to protect Samuel and to veil the Lord’s intentions. God is not above using deception when he judges rebels (e.g. 1 Kgs 22:19-22; Jer 4:10; Ezk 14:9). The Lord is a God of truth, whose word is reliable, but he may very well deceive his enemies when they have, by their actions, forfeited their right to know the truth (see 2 Sam 22:26-27; 2 Thes 2:11-12). R. Chisholm, 1 & 2 Samuel (Baker 2013), 113.

Lay exorcism

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us (Mk 9:38-40; par. Lk 9:49-50).

This is an intriguing passage.

i) In what sense is the anonymous exorcist not “following them”? Perhaps that means he was not a Christian. Possibly a Jewish exorcist (e.g. sons of Sceva) or syncretist (e.g. Simon Magus).

ii) However, it may simply mean that he was not a “follower” in the narrow sense of being one of Christ’s handpicked emissaries. He wasn’t one of the Twelve, or one of the Seventy. But in a broader sense, Christ had many followers who weren’t formally attached to the Jesus movement. Although Christ didn’t personally choose them for ministry, they were Christian believers.

Indeed, that seems to be the point of the story, where the independent exorcist represents disciples outside the tight circle of those whom Christ directly commissioned for special service.

iii) Did the anonymous exorcist actually cast out demons? That is John’s impression. However, it’s possible that John was mistaken. Prior to Pentecost, the apostles were not inerrant teachers. So this is his fallible interpretation of what the exorcist did.

Christ’s reply doesn’t entirely settle the question, for his statement is hypothetical. Nevertheless, his approving comment assumes a positive view of the man’s motivations–and other like-minded individuals.

iv) However, the passage certainly leaves the door open for crediting the independent exorcist with success. If so, then this would be a case of “lay” exorcism. He had no ecclesiastical authorization to cast out demons. He was not a church officer. He was a freelance exorcist. Yet, at least hypothetically, Jesus sanctions the practice.

Of course, that doesn’t mean every Christian who attempts or presumes to perform an exorcism will be successful. At most it means that some Christians can pull that off.

v) What does it mean to cast out demons “in Jesus name”? Is that a formula (e.g. “The power of Christ compels you!”), or is that just a way of saying the exorcist was a Christian?

Tweeting at the Pope

The Roots of the Reformation: Indulgences

Indulgences: “Christ’s Satisfaction of Sins was Not Enough”

I’m reading The Roots of the Reformation: Tradition, Emergence and Rupture (by G.R. Evans, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, ©2012). This is a work that looks at the issues that were prominent in the Reformation, and traces them back to their origins, either in the Scriptures or in the history of the church. I’m finding this to be a highly useful work in understanding those theological and doctrinal issues that the Reformers addressed.

One of those issues still around is “indulgences”. In 1999, Pope John Paul II issued his Papal Bull Incarnationis Mysterium, on “the mystery of the Incarnation” of the Son of God, which provided the rationale and modern justification for the notion that “indulgences” are still valid and can be given out by the pope.

I’ll look first at how Pope John Paul explained these indulgences, then how they actually “developed” in church history.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A choo-choo without a driver

Making People See Their Need For Apologetics

Here's a podcast J. Warner Wallace did last year about neglect of apologetics in the church. He plays a recording of a meeting he had with a church youth group, in which Wallace's son posed as an atheist and interacted with the teenagers who were there. As bad as they were at responding to Wallace's son, I suspect that most church youth groups would do even worse.

I think Wallace makes some good points during the program. I suspect there's a lot of value in approaching youth ministry the way he suggests.

The Gospel of life

The Gospel of John could be called the Gospel of Life. It has far more references to life than the Synoptic Gospels. Not only does that include direct references to “life” but also “living,” as well as “death”–which, of course, stands in explicit or implicit contrast to life.

In Johannine usage, “life” is shorthand for “eternal life.” This includes the present assurance of immorality, as well as the future resurrection of the body. 

Yet there’s more to it than immortality or physical life. Mere immortality can be a curse. The damned are immortal, and that’s part of their punishment.

But for Christians, eternal life involves participation in the life of God. He shares his life with us. In the process, he shares himself with us. His goodness and beatitude. Everything that overshadows our fallen existence will be banished by the light of his life, shining in our soul and brightening our eternity.

The Gospel of John is good to read or listen to if you are grieving the loss of a Christian friend or relative. The refrain of life eternal which echoes through his Gospel edifies the sorrowing heart.

Hear the word of the Lord

There are many different strategies for reading the Bible in a year. And Christians ought to read the Bible regularly. Likewise, they ought to read the Bible from cover to cover.

That said, most of Scripture was originally directed at the ear rather than the eye. The spoken word. Transcribed speeches. Written to be read aloud.

Silent reading is efficient, but I think it’s good to complement that with hearing Scripture.

A few years ago I bought some Bible recordings for an elderly relative. Her eyesight was failing.

To give her variety, I bought three different recordings, which I alternated.

Two were in the KJV, while one was in the NKJV. Although I normally quote from the ESV, the KJV is still the most listenable English translation of the Bible. The most memorable and euphonious.

I bought Alexander Scourby’s classic recording of the entire Bible. Scourby was a popular voice actor and narrator. He has a mellifluous baritone voice, with a polished, theatrical accent. He brings a lot of passion to his reading, acting out the passages.

I bought Johnny Cash’s recording of the NT. It presents a striking contrast to Scourby’s delivery. Cash has a melodious bass-baritone speaking voice, with a rhythmic Southern cadence, and a pretty good feel for phrasing.

I bought Gregory Peck’s recording of the NT. Peck was a fine voice actor, with a manly bass speaking voice. The delivery is a bit flat compared to Cash or Scourby.    

Southern slavery

Southern Presbyterian theologians like Thornwell and Dabney have been rightly chided for supporting the Southern institution of slavery. Mind you, it’s easy for us to chide them at a safe distance. But given the power of social conditioning, today’s opponents of slavery might well have been yesterday’s proponents of slavery.

I don’t say that to excuse Thornwell or Dabney. Scripture indicts evil social conditioning in the case of paganism. But we need to resist the impulse to feel personal moral superiority. We should condemn unrighteousness without being self-righteous–which is just another form of unrighteousness.

In addition, their position was complex and conflicted. Take Thornwell:

Thornwell demanded the legal sanction of slave marriages, the repeal of the laws against slave literacy, and effective measures to punish mistreatment of slaves. He assailed the scientific racism of his day that held that blacks were a separate species. He repudiated the idea that the curse of Ham in Genesis was fulfilled by the infliction of slavery on the Africans. He recognized in black people “the same humanity in which we glory as the image of God,” and he declared to a white Charleston congregation, We are not ashamed to call [the black man] our brother!” “Upon an earth radiant with the smile of heaven, or in the Paradise of God, we can no more picture the figure of a slave,” Thornwell wrote. He strongly opposed the reopening of the slave trade in the United States…On a trip to Europe in 1860, Thornwell apparently made up his mind to act at once for the gradual emancipation of the slaves…but when he got back home he found it was too late: “the die was cast,” Our Southern Zion (Banner of Truth 2012), 133-34.

Critics sometimes ask how Christians could have supported slavery. The short answer is simple: Christians are sinners. They have moral blind spots.

But I also think we should turn the question around. Although Thornwell’s qualified position fell short, we ought to ask how much worse his position would be absent Christian ethics, absent a Christian conscience, absent the Gospel, absent biblical restraint.

Historically, slavery is a fairly ubiquitous phenomenon. And it still exists in parts of the world today. Throughout history, people-groups have enslaved other people-groups, or enslaved members of their own society, without any trace of moral compunction.  

Sophia's choice

Some women are very ambitious. Some women are vicariously ambitious: ambitious for their husband, their children–or both. But you have other women who are ambitious for themselves: full-time career women.

I’d like to compare and contrast three career women on motherhood. The first concerns a volleyball player:

Before the first abortion, she learned she was pregnant relatively late — 14 weeks in. She turned to her mother for advice:

    I told my mom I was pregnant. She said, “Get an abortion.”

    I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t really thinking I had any choices. I didn’t have a job that could support a child. And I wasn’t sure if I was planning to marry my boyfriend, although we were living together. I knew that I had big ideas for my life and I hadn’t figured things out yet.

    My mom got militant. “You’ll destroy your career possibilities.”

She got pregnant again, a few years later (and apparently after the volleyball phase of her career):

    So the second time I got pregnant, I thought of killing myself. My career was soaring. I was 30 and I felt like I had everything going for me — great job, great boyfriend, and finally, for the first time ever, I had enough money to support myself. I hated that I put myself in the position of either losing all that or killing a baby.

I’d like to compare this to two other women. The first is Lucille Ball. She was the biggest TV star of her time. You don’t rise to the top of a very competitive field without being highly ambitious. Yet she had other priorities.

I believe her husband was the first major Latino TV star. TV executives initially opposed his role. But Lucille was insistent.

In addition, she had two babies during her career. I’ve read that Hollywood studies used to have no-pregnancy clauses in contracts.

In addition, the entertainment industry wasn’t used to depicting pregnancy onscreen. But Lucille was insistent, so the screenwriters had to create a whole story arc around her real-life pregnancy. That turned out to be a ratings bonanza.

Here’s another example of big star who put her career on hold to have kids. Sophia Loren was prone to miscarriage, so when she became pregnant a third and fourth time, she checked out of her career and stayed in bed:

Her sons are living evidence of her optimism. She suffered two miscarriages before doctors told her she would never have children. “I was convinced that it was not true because I believe if I really put my energies into something it happens. When I became pregnant I spent the whole nine months -- both times -- in bed. Maybe that’s my strength -- I really go all the way. The lowest point in my life was when I lost my two unborn children - I didn’t want that again.”

Lucille Ball and Sophia Loren were huge stars in the entertainment galaxy–infinitely bigger than a two-bit volleyball player. Yet they both put motherhood above career.

I don’t think either one is Christian. Rather, this is an example of common grace. But as our society becomes more anti-Christian, even common grace is now in short supply.

The Gospel of Superman

Man of Steel has garnered some theological reviews:

In Defense of Serena Williams

Michael Jackson And Martin Hengel

When I went to my computer this morning, I saw a series of stories on the death of James Gandolfini, an actor, at the top of the Google News page. Then I saw a story about his death at Politico, a political web site. The story notes how his death is being mourned by prominent political figures, like Chris Christie. We're told that Gandolfini's "The Sopranos" series "explored the state of the American dream and the American family". We're told that the series "concluded with its breathtaking blackout ending, which left open the question whether Soprano was gunned down in a New Jersey diner as the show concluded. Many thousands of words on the Internet debated the question, which remains unresolved to this day." A Google News search under "James Gandolfini" turned up about 114,000 results, including articles at CNN, NPR, and USA Today, for example.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Life on the lam

The calls came as Snowden described how he fears he will be kidnapped and returned to America to face espionage charges and possible life in prison – or even murdered on Washington’s orders.

As far as that goes, I suspect Snowden has more to fear from Red China than our gov’t. I assume Hong Kong is swarming with covert operatives from the Mainland. If anything, I think it’s more likely that he’d be kidnapped by Red China, where he’d be interrogated, then imprisoned for life.

Inkblot punditry

I’m going to make a simple observation about the Snowden affair which shouldn’t be necessary, but unfortunately is. There’s a tendency–often a reality–by folks on both side of the debate to treat Snowden as an inkblot or tableau blanc. 

If, on the one hand, you support the counterterrorist policies of the Bush administration, as well as their continuation and escalation under Obama, then you tend to automatically view Snowden as a traitor. If, on the other hand, you oppose the counterterrorist policies of the Bush administration, as well as their continuation and escalation under Obama, then you tend to automatically view Snowden as a hero, whistleblower, or patriot. Both sides are apt to project their own motivations and policy preferences onto Snowden.

This, in turn, results in blind spots on both sides of the debate. On the one hand, we have folks like Karl Rove who say Snowden didn’t tell us anything that wasn’t already public knowledge. Yet Rove also says Snowden should be prosecuted for jeopardizing the national security. Well, it’s hard to see how both claims can be true.

On the other hand, you have folks like Ron Paul who rush out with sympathetic defenses of Snowden. Paul assured us that Snowden is not a defector. But that’s clearly premature. It’s quite possible that Snowden will defect. Paul’s solidarity is shortsighted and foolhardy.

Likewise, there’s a distinction between what Snowden initially did, in publicizing NSA programs, and what he’s been doing since then (or threatens to do), where he’s feeding China information about US counterespionage. Even if you thought his initial revelations were a public service, we must also judge him by the totality of his conduct. In my opinion, the more interviews he gives, the more treacherous and morally confused he comes off.  

It’s important to practice a certain detachment, by distinguishing between his actions, his motivations, and our own positions.

The fabric of fidelity

Dating Daniel

In the 53/1 edition of JETS, a reviewer highlights an inconsistency in the liberal dating of Daniel (see the bolded sentence at the bottom):

Daniel. By Sharon Pace. Macon, GA: Smyth and Helwys, 2008, xxiv + 383 pp., $55.00.

Reflecting the mainstream of contemporary scholarship on Daniel, Pace argues that the apocalyptic section (chaps. 7–12) was written just before the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 164 bc. Because of the format of the commentary, the introduction to Daniel is brief. Typical arguments for and against the late date cannot be seriously weighed. This is an unfortunate shortcoming of the Smyth and Helwys series. However, since this is the working assumption of the commentary, support for the later date is found in appropriate places throughout the commentary. For example, Pace argues that the fourth kingdom of Daniel 2 and 7 is Greece and the goat of Daniel 8 is Antiochus. Likewise, the “anointed prince” of Dan 9:25 is likely Onias III and the final “week” refers to the cessation of worship under Antiochus. Pace is clear that chapters 8 and 9 are non-historical, stereotyped depictions of the progress of history up to the time of the writer. The details of the final vision of the book, however, can be confirmed from descriptions of the Seleucid kingdom found in Josephus and Maccabees. Pace therefore reads Daniel 7–12 alongside texts from 1–2 Maccabees, Josephus, Polybius and other primary sources. These texts are placed in sidebars to illustrate many of the difficult allusions to history in Daniel 11. She interprets all of Dan 11:21–45 as ex eventu prophecy referring to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, although verses 40–45 “turn to general statements about what will happen in the future” (p. 333). This is problematic, however, since Antiochus did not die in the land of Israel in a final battle—a detail Pace acknowledges. In the introduction, she describes these verses as “genuine predictions” with no awareness of the successes of the Maccabean revolt. If the final editor of Daniel had no problem inserting political marriages into Daniel 2, one wonders why this prophecy was not also “updated” to more accurately reflect the way in which Antiochus died.  

From "patriot" to turncoat in the blink of an eye

I don’t know if Snowden is a Chinese spy. It may be that he’s ingratiating himself with Chinese intelligence in exchange for asylum. That would make him a turncoat.

Spy v. spy

Clearing Up a Misrepresentation about Calvinism

There is a rumor spreading out there that Calvinists eat their young. This is not true. We only eat our firstborn.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal


One stock objection to the inerrancy of Scripture concerns numerical discrepancies between Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. However, this raises several issues:

i) It’s easy to miscopy numbers. Some of these could be transcriptional errors.

ii) Coregencies are another consideration, where you have overlapping reigns.

iii) One Bible writer (or his primary source) may be using a different calendrical system than another Bible writer. Keep in mind that inerrancy concerns truth and falsehood. By contrast, calendrical systems are social conventions. For instance, if you have conflicting dates because one writer uses the Jewish New Year as a starting point while another writer uses the Chinese New Year as a starting point, that’s not an error. Same thing with the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

iv) Numerology is a further consideration. To cite a few cases:

The immediate successors of kings who receive news of impending judgment on their royal houses, for example, characteristically reign for “two years” in Kings (1 Kgs 15:25; 16:8; 22:51; 2 Kgs 21:19). Are we really being told exactly how long they reigned, or are we to see this as an example of narrative art, linking these kings together and inviting reflection upon them as a group? And what are we to make of the highly schematic ending to the book, where the last four kings of Judah are described as reigning successively for three months; eleven years, three months, and eleven years (2 Kgs 23:31-24:20)? I. Provan, 1 and 2 Kings (Hendrickson 1995), 18-19.

[20:15] “All the Israelites, 7,000.” It is, of course, a curious coincidence that 7,000 is the number of the “remnant” destined to survive the onslaught described in 19:15-18 (153-54). 

[22:30] The various numerical links perform the same function (400 prophets in 18:19 and about 400 in 22:6; 7,000 Israelites in 19:18 and 20:15; 32 kings in 20:1 and 32 commanders in 22:31 (166).

[24:16] It is interesting to find the figure seven thousand occurring yet again, since that is the number of “the remnant” in 1 Kgs 19:18 (cf. also the additional note to 1 Kgs 20:15) (281).

[2 Chron 7:4-7]. Here the numbers appear, but they are astounding: “twenty-two thousand…and a hundred and twenty thousand” (7:5). In all likelihood these numbers are hyperbolic. 144,000 sacrifices in the period of fourteen days (7:8-9)… R. Pratt, 1 and 2 Chronicles (Mentor 1998), 244.

Pratt says these are hyperbolic, but notice that 144,000 is a multiple of 12 while 14 is a multiple of 7–both of which are theologically significant numbers. So these seem to be symbolic rather than hyperbolic. Provan’s data invites the same interpretation.

One thing leads to another

3 Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul's father, were lost. So Kish said to Saul his son, “Take one of the young men with you, and arise, go and look for the donkeys.” 4 And he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. And they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there. Then they passed through the land of Benjamin, but did not find them.

5 When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant who was with him, “Come, let us go back, lest my father cease to care about the donkeys and become anxious about us.” 6 But he said to him, “Behold, there is a man of God in this city, and he is a man who is held in honor; all that he says comes true. So now let us go there. Perhaps he can tell us the way we should go.” 7 Then Saul said to his servant, “But if we go, what can we bring the man? For the bread in our sacks is gone, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What do we have?” 8 The servant answered Saul again, “Here, I have with me a quarter of a shekel of silver, and I will give it to the man of God to tell us our way.” 9 (Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he said, “Come, let us go to the seer,” for today's “prophet” was formerly called a seer.) 10 And Saul said to his servant, “Well said; come, let us go.” So they went to the city where the man of God was.

11 As they went up the hill to the city, they met young women coming out to draw water and said to them, “Is the seer here?” 12 They answered, “He is; behold, he is just ahead of you. Hurry. He has come just now to the city, because the people have a sacrifice today on the high place. 13 As soon as you enter the city you will find him, before he goes up to the high place to eat. For the people will not eat till he comes, since he must bless the sacrifice; afterward those who are invited will eat. Now go up, for you will meet him immediately.” 14 So they went up to the city. As they were entering the city, they saw Samuel coming out toward them on his way up to the high place.

15 Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed to Samuel: 16 “Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have seen my people, because their cry has come to me.” 17 When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you! He it is who shall restrain my people” (1 Sam 9:3-17).

Systematic theology traditionally distinguishes between providence and miracle. However, there’s a type of miracle that overlaps the two categories: a coincidence miracle.

We have a good example in 1 Sam 9:3-10:5. That recounts a series of seemingly random, causally disconnected events. Although there’s nothing overtly miraculous about these events, there’s a subtle means-ends pattern which the reader can detect after the fact.

Saul’s father loses some donkeys. Saul goes in search of the lost donkeys. He can’t find them, but his search happens takes him in the vicinity of Samuel, so he consults Samuel.

However, Samuel was expecting his arrival. This was prearranged by God. Samuel then gives Saul three signs:

And this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you to be prince over his heritage. 2 When you depart from me today, you will meet two men by Rachel's tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah, and they will say to you, ‘The donkeys that you went to seek are found, and now your father has ceased to care about the donkeys and is anxious about you, saying, “What shall I do about my son?”’ 3 Then you shall go on from there farther and come to the oak of Tabor. Three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you there, one carrying three young goats, another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a skin of wine. 4 And they will greet you and give you two loaves of bread, which you shall accept from their hand. 5 After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim, where there is a garrison of the Philistines. And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying (10:1-5).

Again, these are ordinary events. What is extraordinary is their conjunction. What are the odds that Saul would be in just the right place at just the right time for these encounters to happen? Moreover, what are the odds that Samuel could anticipate these meetings?

To an outside observer, each individual incident in this story would seem utterly mundane, requiring no special explanation. It’s only as you look back over the series of events, with the benefit of some inside information, that you can discern the goal-oriented nature of the process–an outcome imperceptibly guided by a hidden hand. Most of the participants would be oblivious to their ulterior role in the process.

Unbelievers often complain about the absence of miracles in the modern world. There are, of course, books which document well-attested miracles in the modern world.

However, unbelievers don’t know what to look for. They have a preconception of what constitutes a miracle which blinds them to miracles that may be occurring right under their nose. Coincidence miracles can be happening all around us, but a coincidence miracle is only recognizable to the concerned party. It has a private significance. It meets a need which only the concerned party is in a position to appreciate. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Johannine Shema


This should prove to be a useful new resource:


For anyone who is interested:

They were live-blogging decisions that are coming out this week. Everything is done for today, but this will likely be the the first place to see a decision on the "gay marriage" ruling, possibly on Thursday.

Ergun Caner's Attempt to Cover Up His Deception Against the Marines

Is Caner scared the government will prosecute him for his treachery against the U.S. government? He has every reason to be.

John Bugay on Catholicism: What was the ancient church in Rome like?

Some time ago, I spent some time summarizing what some of the major commentators have been saying about the people and the network of house churches found in early Rome in the first century. This is the Rome to which Peter supposedly traveled, where it is thought that he may have died (though historically, there is practically no mention of him at all being in Rome; when Irenaeus talks about “…the church that is greatest, most ancient, and known to all, founded and set up by the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul at Rome …” this is the reality to which he was referring, and it is this reality of which we can say he was not an entirely accurate reporter of history).

There is a reason why I’m going into such detail on this. Recently, I’ve been citing from the James Puglisi work How Can the Petrine Ministry Be a Service to the Unity of the Universal Church? In that work, I’ve quoted Herman Pottmeyer saying that “anyone who wishes to come to an understanding of the papal ministry cannot avoid dealing with the history of this ministry. The historical facts are not disputed...” In an earlier article from that same work, John P. Meier, a leading Catholic Biblical scholar, pointed out, “A papacy that cannot give a credible historical account of its own origins can hardly hope to be a catalyst for unity among divided Christians.” So the implication is that, until this point, the papacy has not given a “credible historical account of its own origins.”

The recent book The End of Christianity begins (Chapter 1) with this little but bold proclamation:

The end of Christianity is not some far-off dream, nor is it on the verge of occurring. Instead, it happened two thousand years ago—in fact, Christianity never even began; it was stillborn….there is no such thing as the religion of Christianity; at best it is a multitude of related but distinct and often-enough opposed traditions, shifting and swaying with the windsof local culture and passing history … (Dr. David Eller, “Christianity Evolving: On the Origin of Christian Species”, Chapter 1 in Loftus, ed., ©2011“The End of Christianity”: Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, pg. 23.)

There’s no need to fear Eller. With this statement he immediately shows himself to be a hack, given that the life of Christ and the origins of Christianity are extraordinarily well attested in history.

But on the other hand, it is the Roman Catholic church and its constant protestations of its own authority, which are extraordinarily poorly attested in history, which give individuals like Eller the kind of toe-hold they need to bloviate and sell books. Eller’s statement is true about Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism was stillborn. That’s what Eller and the others can attack freely; it’s the falseness of Roman Catholicism that gives people like Eller the opportunities they have to attack Christ and Christianity.

But again, the historical work that is being done on the earliest church is going to be immensely helpful in sorting out fact from fiction. This historical work is going to be like Trigonometry and Calculus: these things will always be taught, so long as the subject is taught. But the question going forward will be, will anyone care to understand them?

Introduction and Summary
The nonexistent early papacy
House Churches in the New Testament

Households in Ancient Rome
Part 1: Households in Ancient Rome: An Introduction
Part 2: Christians and Jews in First Century Rome
Part 3: Commerce and Household Communities
Part 4: Household Leadership as Church Leadership
Part 5: Patronage and Leadership

The People of Romans 16
Aquila, Priscilla, Acts 18:2 and the Edict of Claudius
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, διάκονον and προστάτις”
Andronikos and Junia, Part 1
Andronikos and Junia, Part 2

Moving forward, my hope is, Lord willing, to continue to expand on this list and this material, and to make it available in an easy to digest form. In the same way that the printing press aided Martin Luther and helped the Reformation sweep across Europe, the Internet and its ability to make accurate information available immediately around the world, is only going to help to clarify the misunderstandings about Christianity and what it means to have faith in Christ.

[An earlier version of this blog post appeared July 19, 2011]

John Bugay on Catholicism: Some Older Blog Posts

My name, John Bugay, has some notoriety in the world of Catholic apologetics, and as a result, the word “anti-Catholic” has appeared in connection with my name in some search engines. This blog post is in response to several items that appear in conjunction with searches for my name.

I am “anti-Catholic” in the sense that I am a former (devout) Catholic, and through an investigation of the Bible and church history, I have decided to leave that institution. That’s not being “anti-Catholic”. That’s simply “becoming a Protestant”.

The last 200 years have placed the Bible and Christianity itself under an intensive “historical-critical” microscope, and it is clear that both of these have resoundingly passed that test. A hundred years ago, a skeptic like Bertrand Russell questioned whether Jesus was even a real historical person. Now there is no question he was. Even the most strident skeptics today must admit that’s the case.

On the other hand, historical research into the origins of “Roman Catholicism” have not turned up so kindly, to the point that a Roman Catholic Biblical Scholar like John Meier is even quoted as having said that the papacy “cannot give a credible historical account of its own origins”. It is simply false to suggest that Matthew 16:18 constituted the origin of the papacy, and the entire world of New Testament scholarship knows this. But that is not something that has yet filtered out to the general population. And one might understand why the official Roman Catholic Church would not want that information to become widely known among its adherents.

I have written extensively on very many facets of the Roman Catholic Church. Here are a few older items that give a good overview of what I have learned.

My favorite posts at Beggars All:
The See of Peter
The Birth of the Inquisition
The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic
The Integrity of the New Testament Canon
Christianity is Growing but Rome is Sinking

A Few Words About My Method
Thumbs up or thumbs down on Rome
The Unity of the Church

How Roman Catholics Mis-use Scripture:
Ratzinger's Dishonesty about Exegesis
1 Tim 3:15: The pillar and ground of the truth
John 16:13: On being guided into all truth
The Real Body of Christ
The Catholic Historical Method

This blog post is also posted at, which is an older blog that I had, which I’ve decided to pull out of the mothballs, in order to talk at a personal level about the Reformation, Roman Catholicism, and perhaps family and personal issues.

This blog post is also posted at

Sunday, June 16, 2013

NSA bugging

Between the devil and the deep blue sea

Burrell offers only a cursory survey of God’s speech in Job 38–41 and does not interact with recent studies that utilize ancient Near Eastern materials to understand how God constructed His argument. These include, among others, J. C. L. Gibson, “On Evil in the Book of Job,” in Ascribe to the Lord, JSOT Supplement, ed. L. Eslinger and G. Taylor (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1988); Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, In Search of God: The Meaning and Message of the Everlasting Names (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), 175–200 (a chapter entitled “Job and His God”); Robert S. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You: Images of Creation and Evil in the Book of Job, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002); and André LaCocque, “The Deconstruction of Job’s Fundamentalism,” Journal of Biblical Literature 126 (2007). These authors demonstrate that the key to understanding God’s argument is the symbolism of Behemoth and Leviathan, which in their ancient Near Eastern context represent the sinister forces of chaos, death, and evil. If this is so, then God does address the issue of Job’s suffering in a very pointed way by reminding him that the chaos in the world originates with the Enemy—an enemy that God alone can and will subdue. Granted, there are unanswered questions about the origin and persistence of evil; so one must acknowledge that the Book of Job does not offer a fully developed theodicy. Yet it does offer an explanation for Job’s suffering—he was caught in the crossfire of a cosmic struggle between God and the forces of evil (symbolized by Leviathan but behind which lurks the Adversary of the prologue).

The waters above

6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day (Gen 1:6-8).

i) Some think this refers to ancient cosmology, where the solid dome of the sky held back reservoirs of water (the source of rain, snow, and hail).

A problem with this interpretation is that ancient Near Easterners knew that rain clouds were the source of rainfall. So this interpretation imputes an unrealistic level of ignorance to the narrator and his audience. It doesn’t require modern science to know that rain comes from rain clouds. That’s something you can see with your own eyes. And people back then were keenly aware of their natural surroundings, for their survival depended on it.

Indeed, we have various Bible passages that attribute rain to rain clouds. But even if we didn’t, it stands to reason that ancient people could see clouds emitting precipitation–just like we can.

It’s naïve to assume that literary or artistic depictions were taken at face value. As the author of a standard monograph on Mesopotamian cosmography notes:

This investigation attempts to glean evidence from the widest possible variety of surviving sources in order to present as clear a picture as possible of Mesopotamian views of the universe. At the same time, however, it must be recognized that this approach poses certain dangers, not the least of which are our distance and time and space from the ancient writers, as well as the vagaries of archaeological discovery…Ancient Mesopotamian authors do not distinguish between cosmographic ideas drawn from direct observation of the physical world (for example, the movement of stars in the sky) and those not derived from direct observation (for example, the geography of the Heaven of Anu above the sky or the fantastic regions visited by Gilgamesh in Gilg. IX-X). The current evidence simply does not allow us to know, for instance, if ancient readers of Gilgamesh really believed that they too could have visited Utnapistim by sailing across the cosmic sea and “the waters of death,” or if a few, many, most, or all ancient readers understood the topographical material in Gilg. IX-X in metaphysical or mystical terms. W. Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography (Eisenbrauns 1998), xiii-xiv.

ii) Furthermore, they could see passing clouds obscure the sun, moon, and stars. So they knew the source of rain was lower rather than higher than the celestial luminaries.

iii) Hence, some commentators think this is figurative imagery for rain clouds. An objection to that interpretation that this passage places the source of rainwater on the far side of the “firmament,” rather than our side–looking up at the sky. If, however, this is figurative, then pressing the picturesque details misses the point.

Moreover, the account doesn’t say that the “waters above” were above the sun, moon, and stars. At best, that’s an inference. And since the account also says that birds fly in the “firmament,” it’s not a discrete barrier, with a clear line of demarcation between what’s “above” and what’s “below.” It has depth rather than surface.

iv) In addition, Deut 33:26 treats the clouds and the heavens as interchangeable, in synonymous parallelism.

v) There’s also a point of tension in modern scholarship. On the one hand, John Walton thinks that this reflects the antiquated science of the ANE. On the other hand, Walton also interprets Gen 1 as a cosmic temple. If, however, we’re going to interpret Gen 1 in terms of temple imagery, then we’d expect “the waters above” to have an architectural rather than a cosmological analogue. So Walton’s interpretation lacks consistency.

If the “firmament” is roof or ceiling of the temple, you have blue sky above the temple. So that might be the suggestive imagery behind Gen 1:7.

The mountain glory

15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights (Exod 24:15-18).
This passage has some striking parallels with the creation account.

i) There’s the light/darkness motif. The “cloud” is the Shekinah. The pillar of cloud in the wilderness, which was dark by day and bright by night.

ii) The “cloud” conceals the mountain, just as darkness conceals the primordial world. Conversely, the cloud reveals God, as an emblem of his presence.

iii) The six-day/seventh day formula recalls the creation week and the prefiguration of the Sabbath.

That, in combination with the forty days and nights, reminiscent of the flood, raises the question of whether these are conventional figures or numerological sums rather than exact time-markers.

iv) God “dwelling” on the mountain foreshadows the tabernacle as the place of God’s presence. And it backshadows the tabernacle motifs in the creation account.

v) If Eden was situated in the highlands of Armenia, then that’s a mountainous region.