Saturday, April 05, 2014

"Woefully out of touch"

Craig Keener, in the first appendix of Authentic Fire, though recognizing that some of his concerns are valid, even being recognized by many African Pentecostals, writes that it is a blanket judgment that easily leaves a false impression about African Christians, [AF, 358]. 
As much as both Brown and Keener wish to put a happy face on international charismatics, both men are woefully out of touch and naive. The testimony on the ground from genuinely concerned Christians who live in those countries paints a bleaker picture of the situation than both of them are willing to admit.

Let's compare Fred's allegation with Keener's actual statement:

Many claim that the majority of African charismatics (or African Christians more widely) teach prosperity; whether or not this claim is accurate, the survey evidence on which it rests is not as clear as some suppose. Certainly the extreme teaching is widespread in Africa, including on television, and many young Christians eagerly believe whatever they are taught. Nevertheless, many Africans do not read the survey question about the connection between faith and prosperity the way Western evangelicals expect, that is, against the backdrop of materialistic teaching. (The question, reported on p. 30 of the Pew survey, reads, “God will grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith.” The survey thus summarizes, “In nine of the countries most pentecostals say that God will grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith.”) 
My wife, for example, is not charismatic, and she and other African Christians who firmly reject prosperity teaching tell me that they would have viewed the question as ambiguous and answered it positively. Their understanding of the question is simply that we must depend on God to supply our needs—an unquestionably biblical concept. It is questionable whether the “vast” majority of charismatics (p. 15) support prosperity teaching in the sense in which we normally use the phrase.
Does it seem to you that Keener is "naive," "woefully out of touch," and putting a happy face on the situation? 
In addition, Fred's appeal to testimony on the ground is one-sided. For a comparison:

Finally, there's the question of whether the charismatic presence in Africa has been exaggerated: 

Maybe the problem is not what Keener is willing to admit, but what Fred is willing to admit. 

You have deceived me and I was deceived

O Lord, you have deceived me,
    and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
    and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
    everyone mocks me (Jer 20:7).

This is a controversial verse. Jeremiah vents his exasperation at God. He feels hoodwinked by God. 

Some scholars labor to remove the sting by offering a more pious translation. But that's a mistaken. Jeremiah is pouring his heart out to God. Expressing what's on his mind. 

It's not that God really deceived him. But it sure feels that way. This is an autobiographical report of Jeremiah's agitated state of mind. He's frustrated with God. He resents the fact that when God called him to be a prophet (cf. 15:16), God neglected to inform him of what lay in store. Jeremiah didn't agree to this. He thinks God should have leveled with him. 

That's not something translators ought to domesticate. God isn't insecure. It says something about God that he not only allows Jeremiah to lash out at him, but that he allowed this irreverent complaint to be recorded for posterity. 

Since we can't hide our true feelings from God, we might as well confess them. Prayer is confession. Even if our feelings are inappropriate–especially if our feelings our inappropriate–that's something to verbalize in prayer. Tell God what we feel about God, allowing for the fact that we may be wrong.

It's an artificial and unstable piety that bottles up our disappointments for fear of offending God. Our attitude is no secret to God. So we might as well get it out into the open in prayer. It's not that accusing God is a good thing. But suppressing accusatorial thoughts stokes mounting internal tension that may explode in a sudden renunciation of the faith. An outwardly devout Christian may crack overnight, because he kept pushing these misgivings to the back of his mind, pretending to be grateful when he was angry, praying pious sentiments. 

It's not the final straw that broke the camel's back, but all the previous straws–if allowed to pile up. Deal with each one as they come up. 

Doing what comes naturally

Jeffery Jay Lowder 
It's not that we have any strong antecedent reason on theism to expect God to create conscious beings embodied in silicon bodies rather than carbon bodies. But suppose it turns out that carbon-based based life is the only naturalistically possible form of life with our universe's laws of physics. Then we would have at least some evidence favoring naturalism over theism, since God obviously isn't constrained by the laws of physics. He can do anything that is logically possible.

Seems to me several things go awry here:

i) There's an equivocation between what's naturally possible and what's naturalistically possible. "Naturalism" is roughly synonymous with atheism or secularism, whereas the "laws of physics" concern what's naturally possible, given a physical universe governed by certain laws.

ii) Not everything that's logically possible for God to do is naturally possible for God to do. Take certain miracles like surviving in a furnace or turning sticks into snakes, and vice versa. Although it's possible for God to do that, this doesn't mean it's naturally possible for God to do that. Rather, that's in spite of what comes naturally. God is bypassing natural cause and effect. God is bypassing natural processes. 

iii) The fact that God is omnipotent doesn't mean that nature is able to do whatever God is able to do. For if God is working by natural means, then that limits his field of action. God isn't limited to natural means. But if he chooses to effect an outcome through natural means, then that's a self-imposed restriction on what he can accomplish by that medium. 

iv) True, God isn't constrained by the laws of physics. But is Jeff suggesting that if our universe only contains carbon-based lifeforms, that's evidence favoring naturalism? But if a universe containing silicon-based lifeforms has different physical laws than a universe containing carbon-based lifeforms, then it's not naturally possible for both kinds of lifeforms to occupy the same universe. Not all possibilities are compossibilities. 

In that event, Jeff has no basis of comparison. He can't say the exclusive existence of carbon-based lifeforms in our universe favors naturalism, for the absence of silicon-based lifeforms requires a different universe. Either God had to choose one or the other, or there's a parallel universe in which that alternative plays out. But it's indetectable from our universe. 

Why the term "Social Justice" has NO Meaning

Friday, April 04, 2014

Sacramental Wine or Welch's Grape Juice?

A Video On The Reformation And Its Significance

I just saw a post by Jeff Downs concerning a video series about the Reformation and its impact on society. I've only watched one segment so far, but it looks good. Apparently, the whole thing can be viewed online for free.

Lights in the Sky & Little Green Men: A Rational Christian Look at UFOs and Extraterrestrials

There are precious few scholarly Christian evaluations of ufology. Here's a twofer: a scholarly review of a scholarly book. The review itself is valuable, in addition to the book it reviews:

"Subjective dreams and visions"

I'm going to comment on this post:
Let me say at the outset that I have no informed opinion to offer on these reports. It's not something I've investigated. Rather, I'm discussing this as a matter of principle.
I thought it covered the important reasons why I do not believe Jesus is coming to Muslims in dreams and visions which in turn bring the Muslims to salvation. The primary reason being that the the Bible is clear that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17), and the only way a person can hear is by the means of preaching.
If that's his primary reason, then that exposes a basic tension in the cessationist position. You see, cessationists don't really believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, their protestations notwithstanding. Although cessationists routinely accuse charismatics of effectively denying the sufficiency of Scripture (and many charismatics are, indeed, guilty as charged), a key plank of the cessationist position is the role of sign-gifts. Cessationists don't think the apostolic kergyma was sufficient. They classify NT miracles and charismata as sign-gifts. At least originally, the Gospel had to be accompanied or preceded by miraculous sign-gifts to credential the messenger as a genuine spokesman for God. 
Ironically, then, the cessationist argument parallels the claim that Jesus sometimes appears to Muslims to make them receptive to missionaries. Dreams and visions of Jesus would function as sign-gifts which give Christian missionaries an opening to evangelize Muslims. 
A number of people point to Cornelius in Acts 10 as an example as someone stirred to consider Jesus by the means of a vision or dream, but Cornelius was a special case that God used to affirm the salvation of gentiles to the Jewish leaders. 
i) Is Cornelius a special case? Although he's emblematic of God affirming the salvation of gentiles to Jewish leaders, his significance in that respect is primarily symbolic. He's not a pivotal or strategic figure like Abraham, St. Paul, or Constantine. The conversion of Cornelius doesn't have much direct impact on gentiles in general. 
ii) In the Book of Acts, this is not an isolated event. Acts has many dreams and visions. And that's not coincidental. Rather, that illustrates the outworking of the programatic promise in Acts 2:17,39.
First, does God only give dreams and visions to Muslims? Or do Hindus and Buddhists or other members of world religions have similar dreams that bring them to Jesus? Maybe they do, but I am unaware of their stories.
Notice that Fred is resorting to an argument from experience. 
The ordained means by which God has established the spread of the Gospel is through preaching, and that was the historic pattern of evangelism throughout the book of Acts.
i) Actually, the pattern of evangelism throughout the book of Acts combines Gospel preaching with dreams, visions, and miracles. 
ii) We also need to distinguish between preparatory dreams/visions and dreams/visions which would be a substitute for evangelism. 
Why the need to resort to subjective dreams and visions?
Why does Fred keep using the adjective "subjective"? Both the OT and the NT are replete with dreams and visions. Is there something defective about that medium because it's "subjective"? 
Honestly, I believe this is all another clear example of the troubling doctrine I see with charismatic theology. It denudes the authority of God’s written word in the matters of any subject, let alone evangelism. Anything Scripture would seek to address from a divine perspective becomes essentially pointless and non-applicable to a Christian’s life and practice.  Because what ever the Word of God may speak to authoritatively is authoritative UNTIL a dream/vision/experience happens along that trumps what God has said thus canceling what little authority the Word allegedly had.
i) Why begin with charismatic theology rather than the reports? 
iI) Does Fred apply that same reasoning to dreams and visions in Acts? Or dreams in Matthew? Or dreams in Genesis? 
It's a problem when MacArthurites presume to be more Scriptural than Scripture itself. 

Thumb on the scales

I'm going to comment on a post by Carl Trueman:
The World Vision flip-flop is fascinating for a variety of reasons, perhaps most of all for me because it reveals the problems of parachurch accountability when a non-ecclesiastical group chooses to take a theological stand on something not directly germane to its self-appointed task.  

Why does Trueman constantly resort to this illogical objection to parachurch organizations? If a parachurch organization fails, that's because it lacks an ecclesiastical accountability system. But what about comparable failures on the part of denominations? Is there some reason Trueman is addicted to fallacious arguments? Why does he chronically ignore glaring counterexamples to his strictures? 

When it announced its change in policy on gay marriage among employees, that did not immediately change its humanitarian purpose but did alienate much of its financial base.  That base then mobilized to force a reversal.
The Mozilla situation is similar.  The competence of Brendan Eich to run the company is not affected by his private opinions, despite the usual histrionic attempts to characterize any deviation from the accepted line on same-sex marriage as dangerous bigotry.  Yet a powerful part of the financial base took exception to his views and used their economic muscle to force change on the organization.

Was there in fact a large-scale threat to boycott Mozilla? Are statistics available on the "part of the financial base took exception to his views"? 

Christians should accept that those who live by the sword of legitimate economic sanctions in one context might well find themselves dying by the same legitimate economic sword in another. That is the price, or the risk, of freedom.

Problem with that comparison is that we are not, in fact, in a libertarian environment where free-market forces cut both ways. Rather, gov't has its thumb on the scales. Judges, lawmakers, presidents, governors, and attorney generals weigh in on the side of the homosexual lobby.

Indeed, I've read that it was the IRS which illegally leaked his contribution. So this is not the price of freedom. It's the price of a banana republic. 

The animals float two by two

In the Reformation, the Reformers were more true to the Church Fathers than were the Roman Catholics

Calvin: The Reformers, not Roman Catholics, are more faithful to the Church Fathers.

If you haven't read this selection from Calvin, it's worth the few minutes to read it.

Nuancing Roman Catholicism

I’ve left some comments on Bnonn’s excellent article, The Wolves are Guarding the Sheep Pen.

Bnonn argues both that “Roman Catholicism is not a Christian denomination, and Protestant apologists of all people should be conversant with the reasons why.”

I fully agreed with the second, but I thought the first ought to be nuanced just a bit.

Hey Bnonn — I kind of agree with your main premise (that Roman Catholicism is not a Christian denomination) — but I think it needs to be nuanced a bit, because, way deep down, going way back, there is some Christianity in there, and I certainly agree with the second part — that Protestant apologists should be more than conversant with all of the reasons why.

I say “kind of” because Roman Catholics do “name the name of Christ”, and they do have understandings of Trinity and Christology that are largely correct. The problem, as I see it, is two-fold. They have forgotten what some other essentials are (i.e., they substituted Greek philosophical ideas for the largely Hebrew/OT ideas that are conveyed by the New Testament; and then they wholesale adopted ancient Roman culture — they would say they “baptized” it and assimilated it — that’s one major part that needs to be thrown out. (And the papacy came wholesale with that). Then, afterward, you have the Medieval speculations, and Trent’s anathemization of the Gospel.

So I would agree with you, absolutely, that large portions of Roman Catholicism do not deserve to be called Christian. But there is some Christianity in there, somewhere.

* * *

Bnonn, I don’t disagree with you that Rome is bad; I just think it is so big and amorphous that it defies the straightforward categorization that you’ve given it here. As you said above, “the analogy is flexible at best”.

True, wolves have been guarding sheep. But they are generations of wolves, who are writing laws which, first of all, were semper eadem, and then they were “reformulated” so as to appropriate huge swaths first of all, of Roman popular religion, and then its own medieval speculations, and now, popular liberal culture.

The Roman Catholic Church is huge and menacing, though to call it a “sect”, I think, doesn’t capture it. It is a Hydra; it is its own category. Calling it a “sect” or even a “denomination” doesn’t capture all the various things that go wrong, in all the various directions. But in there, somewhere, as you said in your title, are some sheep, who believe (and even preach) the gospel of salvation by faith in the work of Jesus, and who believe (and even preach) that Jesus is fully God and fully man.

The problem is the syncretism, the “both/and” methodology. It claims virtually to “baptize” anything, to assimilate anything. In that sense, it is like the Borg.

See also: “Christ the Borg”.

Impressions of Noah

A liberal scholar pans it:

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The gathering darkness

12 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; 2 before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, 3 in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, 4 and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— 5 they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— 6 before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, 7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Eccl 12:1-7).
Traditionally, this passage is taken to be an allegory of senescence. Some recent commentators challenge that interpretation. However, the set-up in the first verse, with its implicit contrast between youth and the ravages of old age, favors the traditional interpretation. 
Although many of the images clearly lend themselves to figuratively depicting our declining years, some of the images are less transparently illustrative of the aging process. Attempting to locate the analogue is fairly arbitrary. Indeed, that's one reason the traditional interpretation has lately been challenged.
However, this may simply mean the author is not attempting a create a rigid correspondence, but using a variety of metaphors impressionistically to build a general picture. 
Commentators who view this passage as an allegory of senescence try to identify how the metaphors depict different physical aspects of aging, like sensory deprivation or loss of balance. And that's valid as far as it goes.
However, some of the imagery can also allegorize the psychological aspects of senescence. An allegory of senility. If so, this may be the earliest literary record of senile dementia. 
Aging can darken the mind as well as the eyes. Aging can cloud our memories. 
On the one hand, an aging body leads the elderly to withdraw by stages from the physical world. Their field of action contracts over time. At first they may walk around the block. Then walk around their yard. Then they may become housebound, and finally bed-ridden. Their physical world becomes concentrically smaller. From a city, to a city block, to a house, to a bedroom. 
On the other hand, an aging brain leads the elderly to withdraw by stages from the mental world. At first they forget the present. Then they begin to forget the past. Their field of recognition contracts, from friends to family. Eventually, they may forget their own identity. Their psychological world becomes ever smaller. 
If physical decline contracts our access to space, psychological decline contracts our access to time. Increasingly isolated in all dimensions. 
If Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, then this may be an elegy to his father David's atrophy from the mentally and physical vigorous king to the shell of his former self in 1 Kings 1. 
I had a relative who began to lose her mind in her final years. Thankfully, she passed away before the process was complete. It was startling how she could alternate between lucidity and senility. There was often a deceptive normality. Her personality intact. Yet chunks of memory were missing. You didn't know from one hour to the next which person would emerge.  
Sometimes the soul could reroute around the washed out bridges of a deteriorating brain, but other times it was lost–stranded on the wrong side of the riverbank. Habit was all she had to stay centered. Habits of the mind. A daily routine. 
Without God we are all so pitifully vulnerable. 

A cessationist reviews Dreams and Visions: Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World?

Dating the death of Christ

New frontiers in exobiology

No doubt OT parallels can be found for Jude 6 (not surprising since 1 Enoch itself is steeped in OT imagery).

I wasn't quoting Davids and Green on OT parallels. Davids cites what he takes to be a NT parallel, while Green cites what he takes to be Classical Greek parallels. 

I’m also glad to see that Davids makes the same connection with 1 Pet 3:19-10 as I do.

When Davids says Jude 6b refers to the same event as 1 Pet 3:19-20, that's contrary to your original claim that "the whole of Jude 6 is almost certainly a loose summary/paraphrase of 1 Enoch 12:4, 10:4 and 10:6 respectively"–or to Gen 6. It's a different source and a different event. 

I don’t see how your conclusion follows from Green’s point. Green himself does not conclude this, and, in fact, he subscribes to the same view of Jude 6 that I’ve already posited (viz., an allusion to the story in 1 Enoch).

i) Let's see. I preface my quotes from Davids and Green by saying "Even commentators who think Jude 6 includes an allusion to 1 Enoch…" 

You then act like it's inconsistent of my to quote Green since he thinks Jude 6 is an allusion to 1 Enoch. Far from being inconsistent with my appeal, my appeal made explicit allowance for the fact that they both think Jude 6 alludes to 1 Enoch. 

ii) In addition, the fact that they think it alludes to 1 Enoch makes their concessions and qualifications more significant. They only agree with you up to a point. 

iii) You're also equivocating. You said "the whole of Jude 6 is almost certainly a loose summary/paraphrase of 1 Enoch 12:4, 10:4 and 10:6 respectively."

But that is not Green's conclusion. Both Davids and Green distinguish between Jude 6a and Jude 6b (or Jude 6a, 6b, 6c). They attribute the first two clauses to 1 Enoch, but they attribute final clause to a different source (or referent). For Green, this is Classical Greek allusion rather than an Enochian allusion. That doesn't necessary mean Jude got it directly from Classical sources. It may have been a popular idiom within the Hellenistic Jewish circles in which he circulated. But in any event, if Green is correct, then it's not from 1 Enoch. I'm not necessarily vouching for Green's explanation. Just drawing attention to the complexities of the pinning down the source. 

In any case, the use of a phrase that is also used in Greek literature is not the same as relying on those Greek writers *conceptually*. Conceptually, he is quite clearly relying on Genesis 6 as informed by 1 Enoch.

You're asserting what you need to prove. 

Moreover, you're making to inconsistent claims:

i) He's relying on Genesis 6 as informed by 1 Enoch

ii) The whole of Jude 6 is almost certainly a loose summary/paraphrase of 1 Enoch 12:4, 10:4 and 10:6 respectively.

But if the whole of Jude 6 is summarizing/paraphrasing 1 Enoch, then you have no evidence that he's relying on Genesis as informed by 1 Enoch. The sole source/sole referent would be 1 Enoch rather than Gen 6.

You're acting as if Gen 6 is primary, and his use of 1 Enoch is just an explanatory gloss or interpretive expansion, but you're not getting that from Jude 6. If the whole of Jude 6 is summarizing/paraphrasing 1 Enoch, that that's front and center while Gen 6 is completely out of sight.

iii) You may try to get around that by saying 1 Enoch alludes to Gen 6, therefore Jude alludes to Gen 6 via 1 Enoch. However, Jude's use of 1 Enoch (assuming he's using 1 Enoch in v6) isn't controlled by 1 Enoch's use of Gen 6. Jude is free to do whatever he wants with 1 Enoch. The question at issue is not what Gen 6 meant to 1 Enoch, but how 1 Enoch functions in Jude's argument. He doesn't have to agree with 1 Enoch's interpretation of Gen 6. The question at issue is not how 1 Enoch interprets Gen 6, but how Jude appropriates 1 Enoch. 

iv) Keep in mind, too, that his use of this apocryphal literature may be ad hominem. Take the way Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the Psalmists occasionally allude to pagan myths to polemicize against paganism.

And I don’t see the motif of Jude as “falling from heaven” (or falling from positions of authority, or any other version of that), because although the 'arch' language of v. 6 may lend itself to that idea in the case of the angels, that theme just doesn’t so readily apply to the other two examples Jude cites (the Exodus and Sodom and Gomorrah -- what 'positions of authority' did the men of Sodom fall from?). 
That's only a problem if you refuse to acknowledge the unique particularities of three different historical events. They all have similarities and dissimilarities. 
Not sure I’d characterize something like that as 'problematic.' Jude is not woodenly obliged to follow a single pattern in his writing style. V. 6 is a summary while vv. 14-15 is a quotation. Do we conclude that since the writer of Hebrews sometimes quotes from the Pentateuch and sometimes just alludes to it, that it’s thereby problematic to conclude he’s using the same source material in each case?
If, in fact, we already know, on independent grounds, that he's alluding to 1 Enoch in v6. If, however, that's the very issue in dispute, then why would he merely "summarize/loosely paraphrase" 1 Enoch in v6 if he quotes 1 Enoch directly/verbatim in vv14-15?
That works for concepts like 'bound' and 'kept'; not so much for phrases like 'cast into Tartarus.' Let’s face it. If this phrase were referring to unbelievers instead of angels, and we were in conversation with an annihilationist, would either of us be willing to argue this is just a metaphor for divine restraint?
Since I don't think discarnate spirits are physically chained or physically incarcerated in a subterranean prison, as a matter of fact I do construe the entire description as a figurative depiction. I don't arbitrarily break it up into literal elements and figurative elements. And the same applies to the souls of the damned during the intermediate state. 
Also, I have no antecedent objection to the possibility that the souls of the damned haunt some places on earth before they are finally consigned to hell at the Final Judgment. 
Keep in mind, I’m positing the view that Jude is alluding directly to Genesis 6 *as informed by* 1 Enoch.
And how do you ascertain that Gen 6 is the direct intended referent when you think paraphrased verses of 1 Enoch are the only actual passages on display? 
Figurative word-pictures that signify what exactly?
In Jude 6, the angelic fall and preliminary divine judgement thereof.  
I confess, I am uncomfortable with the notion that we can take positive statements made by a biblical writer about events he asserts actually 'happened' (especially events that are 'sandwiched' between two other OT events—do we conclude that Jude is likewise not invested in those?) and relegate them to the realm of idiomatic phraseology. Are you comfortable with that?
i) Are you trying to misunderstand my point? I distinguish between the reality of the event and the depiction of the event.
ii) Unlike you, I don't assume that Jude even referenced 1 Enoch in Jude 6. And even if I did, I don't assume that the actuality of the event is contingent on the veracity of 1 Enoch, rather than OT precedents. Likewise, even if I did think he alludes to 1 Enoch, I don't assume he's invested in 1 Enoch's cosmography.  
Nor do I think he’s committed to the notion that the offspring were 450 feet tall. What I think we can be certain he’s committed to is: (1) these angels did not keep their 'beginning state' (arche), (2) they 'abandoned' their 'oiketerion' (used only once elsewhere in the NT where it refers to our 'heavenly body' -- 2 Cor 5:1-4), (3) they were arguably involved in a sexual sin (the connection with 'sarkos heaters' in v. 7), and (4) as a result they are now being 'kept' in bonds in the 'undergloom' (into which 2 Peter insists they have been “cast”) for the day of judgment. Every other detail is up for grabs. 
Yet you previously said:
Why should this be significant? He summarizes the story from 1 Enoch, which makes that association explicit, and he's made it clear that his readers are already 'fully aware' of that story. What need does he therefore have to relay the story in detail?

There you seemed to indicate that Jude's reliance on 1 Enoch goes beyond what he explicitly uses in v6. We shouldn't confine ourselves to what he specifically selects in v6. Rather, he's cuing the reader to recall the detailed story in 1 Enoch. Now, however, you're cherry-picking 1 Enoch. 
My position is that if, in fact, Jude 6 alludes to 1 Enoch, then v6 itself is picking and choosing what Jude intended to evoke. You, however, are picking and choosing, not from what he himself chose to glean from his sources. Rather, you're going behind v6 to decide which elements of the Enochian angelic narrative Jude implicitly endorses, and which he ignores. Your procedure is quite arbitrary. It isn't consistent with Jude's selection or 1 Enoch. Rather, it combines Jude 6 with additional details of 1 Enoch, while suppressing other details.  
Your point is a fair one, and the concept of sonship is an important one in Scripture. I think it’s essential to consider the literary genre of the passages where the phrase occurs, but we have to establish usage first. None of your points overturns the fact that the phrase itself is not used in any of the passages you cite.
Seems to me that Deut 14:1 is an extremely close verbal parallel. Not to mention the many conceptual parallels I cited. 
It’s used only in Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7 and Gen 6. IF you agree that it refers to angels in the three instances in Job, and IF you agree that it occurs in the Pentateuch only in Genesis 6.
The Pentateuch is a literary unit. When interpreting terminology in Gen 6, Pentateuchal usage takes precedence. Likewise, Genesis routinely foreshadows concepts that receive further development in the remainder of the Pentateuch. 
So, the 'sons of God' were the mighty men? What exactly was the sin in their taking 'daughters of men' as wives? How is this connected with God’s displeasure in Gen 6:3?
Prohibited marriages in Scripture typically involve human partners. And there are various kinds of prohibited marriages in Scripture. It's not as if a prohibited marriage requires the angelic interpretation. 
Hence, in Gen 6, the phrase 'they took as their wives' is a euphemism for copulation.
Scripture isn't afraid to describe rape. 
It’s difficult to miss the connection between the Nephilim and the union between the sons of God and the daughters of men.
Commentators like Currid and Hamilton present exegetical arguments to the contrary. 
Nephilim simply means “giant.”
Actually, scholars usually take it to mean "fallen ones," assuming the noun means the same thing as the verb.
But that's incoherent on the angelic interoperation, for in that event, the "sons of God" would be the fallen ones (i.e. fallen angels) not their hybrid offspring.
And the author of Genesis 6 accounts for these types of giants that would come later (“and also afterward”). But the primary referent to 'Nephilim' still appears to be the offspring of the union between the 'sons of God' and the 'daughters of men.' The inclusion of 'Nephilim' in this passage makes no sense apart from recognizing this connection.  
You're making very generous assumptions about angelic biology. New frontiers in exobiology! How do you know that when angels mate with women, the offspring are giant men? I didn't realize we knew that much about angelic genetics. 

Rating Bible films

In principle, there are two different ways to rate a Bible film (or miniseries):

i) Is the film a valid interpretation of the Biblical narrative which it adapts to the cinematic medium? Does the director take gratuitous artistic liberties? Does the treatment subvert the original? 

ii) Does the film work on its own terms? If you hadn't read the biblical narrative, if you didn't have that frame of reference, if you weren't comparing the film to the original, could it stand on its own as a good film? 

The wolves are guarding the sheep

Women Should Cease to Exist Says "the Religion of Peace, Prosperity and Gender Equality"
After declaring women to be un-Islamic, Shirani explained that there were actually two kinds of women – haraam and makrooh. “We can divide all women in the world into two distinct categories: those who are haraam and those who are makrooh. Now the difference between haraam and makrooh is that the former is categorically forbidden while the latter is really really disliked,” Shirani said. He further went on to explain how the women around the world can ensure that they get promoted to being makrooh, from just being downright haraam. “Any woman that exercises her will is haraam, absolutely haraam, and is conspiring against Islam and the Ummah,whereas those women who are totally subservient can reach the status of being makrooh. Such is the generosity of our ideology and such is the endeavour of Muslim men like us who are the true torchbearers of gender equality,” the CII chairman added. Officials told Khabaristan Today that the council members deliberated over various historic references related to women and concluded that each woman is a source of fitna and a perpetual enemy of Islam. They also decided that by restricting them to their subordinate, bordering on slave status, the momineen and the mujahideen can ensure that Islam continues to be the religion of peace, prosperity and gender equality.

Eyewitness Documents Affirming Jesus' Resurrection

One of the apologetic issues that often comes up during the Easter season is what documents we have from eyewitnesses testifying to Jesus' resurrection. It's often claimed that some letters of Paul are all we have. Even if that were true, all of us frequently accept historical claims from historians, news reporters, and other sources who aren't eyewitnesses. Still, eyewitness accounts have some advantages, so it's worth asking what eyewitness documents we have affirming Jesus' resurrection.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Hobby Lobby

Decrypting Aronofsky

Aronofsky's Noah is the most controversial Bible movie since Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, and Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ. Moreover, it's controversial in a different way. In general, Christians defended Gibson's film against non-Christian opponents while Christians attacked Scorsese's film against non-Christian supporters. 

But in the case of Aronofsky's Noah, we're witnessing an intramural Christian debate. And it's not just a case of "progressive" Christians defending the film while conservative Christians attack the film. The film has both conservative defenders and detractors. It's as if Christians are watching two (or more different) films. They offer such divergent interpretations. How do we account for this?

I have a theory. Aronofsky is Jewish. To be sure, he's a secular Jew (or so I've read), but he takes a profound interest in Jewish tradition. 

Modern Judaism is actually quite alien to modern Christianity. For a couple of reasons, we think we have more in common with Jews than is really the case. For one thing, some Jews (e.g. Michael Medved, Dennis Prager, David Horowitz) are our cobelligerents in the culture wars. At the level of social ethics, evangelicals and conservative Jews share much in common. Secondly, when Christians think of Jews, Biblical Judaism is our default frame of reference.   

Yet Christianity and Judaism have been diverging for the past 2000 years. In fact, there's a retroactive sense in which the split between Christianity and Judaism began to emerge long before the advent of Christianity. By which I mean, you have all that Intertestamental literature (e.g. 1 Enoch) that never made its way into the Protestant canon.

To a great extent, Christianity and Judaism have led parallel lives over the centuries. Each has undergone tremendous internal development, which increasingly differentiates the two, culturally and theologically. Take the Talmud. Or Kabbala. Or Jewish novelists like Kafka, Isaac Singer, Saul Bellow, Paul Celan, Giorgio Bassani, &c. That's not a Christian frame of reference. 

For Christians, the modern Jewish experience is a closed world. A code language. Superficially, we have much in common, but the surface commonalities disguise incommensurable differences underneath. 

I suspect Aronofsky's Noah is something of a riddle because it has so many conceptual influences and subtextual allusions which are foreign to the cultural, religious, and literary experience of most Christian viewers. 

Wayward angels

...since the whole of Jude 6 is almost certainly a loose summary/paraphrase of 1 Enoch 12:4, 10:4 and 10:6 respectively.

Even commentators who think Jude 6 includes an allusion to 1 Enoch don't think "the whole of Jude 6" is indebted to 1 Enoch. For instance, Davids says:

These angels had their own proper spheres of authority (arche), which was also a commonplace of Jewish literature and Christian teaching, going back at least to the interpretation of Deut 32:8 in Greek translation of the OT…This interpretation is also found in the intertestamental literature (Jub. 2:2; 5:6), [and] the Dead Sea Scrolls (49).
Where is the temporary prison where the fallen angels are imprisoned?…It is probably the second heaven location that is reflected in 1 Pet 3:19-20…Very likely this refers to Christ's proclamation of triumph to the fallen angels upon his ascension through the various heavens to the throne of God" (51).

Conversely, Green points out that:

The exact expression Jude uses to describe the place where the angels are bound was used repeatedly in classical literature [Aeschylus; Euripides; Quintus Smyrnaeus; Homer; Sibyline oracles] (70). 

So your attribution is quite questionable and reductionistic. 

This seems to be the default view of those who dislike the connection (directly or indirectly) to Gen 6. But the parallels with 1 Enoch (see above) are far too pronounced to make this a plausible referent.

At best, you only have half a verse which parallels 1 Enoch, and I don't see that the Enochian parallels are more pronounced than the OT parallels (Isa 14; Isa 22:21-22; Ezk 28; cf. Judges 5:20; Deut 32:8).

If anything, these OT precedents are far more specific in terms of a revolt in heaven/fall from heaven than Gen 6:1-4. In that regard it would make more sense to think Jude 6 is alluding to passages like these rather than 1 Enoch.  

and Jude's paraphrase of 1 Enoch 1:9 in Jude 14-15 makes it clear that he has 1 Enoch well in mind as he pens this letter. 

Actually, that's a problematic comparison. If he feels free to quote 1 Enoch in vv14-15, why would he merely allude to 1 Enoch in v9?

Besides, this particular class of angels is said to be "bound" with everlasting chains and "kept" in darkness (literally, "under gloom" or "the under-gloom" or "gloom of the underworld"). Peter's parallel is even more explicit: "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell (tartarus), and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness darkness to be kept until the judgment ..." (2 Pet 2:4). Since we know by the NT witness that demons in general (and Satan in particular) roam the earth freely, then Jude (and by extension, Peter) cannot here be referring to the general population of fallen angels--demons in general have clearly not yet been "cast into tartarus," but these particular angels have. As an aside, Peter almost certainly has this same class of angels in mind in 1 Pet 3:19-20 when he refers to "the spirits now in prison, who formerly did not obey when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared." 

I think you're getting carried away with the imagery. I don't think that refers to a subclass of fallen angels. Rather, I think that's a picturesque metaphor for divine restraint. Fallen angels have a divinely restricted field of action. 

Keep in mind, too, that all fallen angels are doomed to face eschatological judgment. Not just a subclass thereof. 

Not sure what is to be gained exegetically by introducing a non-sourced common Jewish belief when we have a known, concrete referent readily available in 1 Enoch

That begs the question.

I think iii)b) can be dismissed on contextual grounds. Whatever else Jude may think of 1 Enoch, he doesn't treat this particular story as a mere passing reference. Rather, he states he wants to "remind" his readers of things they already "fully know" (or should know) about God's judgment on the disobedient, and he clearly wants them to take heed to it. He references three events to support that point, the first and third of which are events they'd clearly "know" from Scripture. It would be incongruous for Jude to cite two OT events (both of which he presumably believes actually occurred), only then to sandwich in between them a mere myth that does not rise to the same level of authority and which he believes didn't actually occur.

i) To begin with, your own position commits you to sandwiching an apocryphal work (1 Enoch) between two canonical (i.e. Pentateuch) works. How does that avoid elevating 1 Enoch to the level as the Pentateuch? 

ii) Assuming that he alludes to 1 Enoch in v6, he may simply be borrowing some evocative imagery (assuming that 1 Enoch would resonant with Jude's target audience). We need to distinguish the historical event from its symbolic or poetic depiction. As I already noted, Jude may be using mythopoetic imagery from Classical Greek literature to depict the Netherworld. That doesn't mean he's invested in this particular picture-language. It's just idiomatic phraseology. Figurative word-pictures.  

iii) We already have OT passages which employ astronomical imagery to represent a moral or politically downfall. And we have the notion of territorial spirits in Deut 32:8 and Dan 11. The raw materials are there for Jude to harvest. 

Having said this, I think he in fact DOES allude to the angels cohabitation with women, albeit indirectly. In verse 7 we are told that Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities "“in the same way as these” indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh." 

That depends on the intended level of the comparison. You're assuming it has to be sexual. But it can just as well (or better) be comparing two groups (fallen angels, homosexuals) who transgress their appointed roles, but do so in different ways. Both rebel against the roles to which they've been assigned by God. Like the false teachers, Jude is comparing them to, their OT counterparts both spurn divine authority. The analogy needn't be any more specific than that.

Why should this be significant? He summarizes the story from 1 Enoch, which makes that association explicit, and he's made it clear that his readers are already "fully aware" of that story. What need does he therefore have to relay the story in detail?

You're assuming that he takes for granted whatever he omits, because he's merely "summarizing" his source material. Although that's sometimes how an editor engages a primary source, an editor may also be selective because he doesn't accept the primary source in toto. Take "details" like 200 angels descending on Mt. Hermon. Do you think Jude is committed to that detail (among others)? 

every single instance of the phrase “sons of God” that occurs in the OT refers to angels, not men

That's a very dubious claim:

i) To begin with, it's precarious to cite a linguistically isolated source like Job (whose Hebrew is idiosyncratic) to construe the usage in Genesis. Our first recourse should be to Pentateuchal usage. And in Pentateuchal usage, divine fatherhood/sonship is employed metaphorically (e. g. Exod 4:22-23; Deut 14:1; cf. 1:31; 8:5; 32:6). I think it best to construe Gen 6:2,4 in the same figurative sense.  That's a more reliable semantic and conceptual frame of reference than Job or the Psalter. 

ii) Although Davidic kingship may use divine fatherhood/sonship language (e.g. 2 Sam 7:14; Ps; Ps 89), David was human, not angelic.  The same considerations apply to other passages (e.g. 82:6).

if “sons of God” simply refers to the “godly line of Seth” (as is commonly asserted)

i) I haven't taken that position. Rather, as I've said elsewhere: that suggests someone like Nimrod (Gen 10:8-12). Indeed, both passages employ the same designation (gibbor [10:8-9]; gibborim [6:4]). Of course he's postdiluvial, but he's the type of individual that 6:4 is referring to. Explorers. Conquerors. Warrior-kings. Founders of ancient empires. 

ii) Even assuming (ex hypothesi) that fallen angels would lust after women, why would they bother to marry them? Why not just seize them as concubines?  

Why did this union result in offspring that were giants? 

i) How the "sons of God" are related to the Nephilim is syntactically ambiguous. Are they offspring or contemporaries? 

ii) You seem to be alluding to Num 13:33. But that's hyperbolic. Moreover, we'd expect the Nephilim to perish in the Flood. 

Patron saints

This has got to go down as one of the strangest moments in history

It is well known that Rome claims that Anglicans don’t have valid “Apostolic Succession”. Take a classic example: the way in which Leo XIII denies the apostolic succession of the Anglican church.

Now, here, we have an example of a pope, up-close and personal, speaking “the language of the heart” (and this will be the “out” – it’s not official Latin, therefore, this is Bergoglio speaking in a private capacity, and thus not interfering doctrinally with any pronouncement that Rome has made in the past). He’s referring here to a Pentecostal pastor here as a “brother-bishop”.

This was part of the “Pope Francis” official embrace of Kenneth Copeland. I didn’t realize until yesterday, however, that this video was part of the show. Here’s the official “conservative Catholic” view of what happened:

I have to say, the sentiment in this video is truly touching. However, until and unless this pope (or some other pope) actually confesses “the sins of The Roman Catholic Church” (and not just “the sins of the children of the Church”, or that “all of us have sinned”, or some other language that deflects responsibility from the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the historical papacy itself) – and admits the doctrinal errors perpetuated by this body – then all the “touching” in the world isn’t going to heal the rift that Bergoglio laments here.

Was Judas free?

Was Jesus Complicit in Judas' Betrayal and Death?
If Judas wasn't consciously following prophecy could we claim that Jesus was? Here is what we see in the gospel accounts:

First, Jesus appears to pick Judas as one of the Twelve knowing that Judas will betray him:
John 6.68-71
Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

Then Jesus replied, "Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!" (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)
Second, on the night of his betrayal Jesus orchestrates the events of the betrayal. He gives Judas his instructions and then goes to meet him at the appointed place:
John 13.26-30; 18.1-4
Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

"What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night...

When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it.

Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, "Who is it you want?"
It appears, from John's account, that Jesus did know what was going to happen long before it happened. Jesus picks Judas knowing he has selected his betrayer. And, on the evening of the betrayal, Jesus cues Judas ("Go and do what you must do.") and then meets Judas at the appointed spot. Judas seems clueless about what is going on. Jesus, however, "knows all that was going to happen to him."

Some Uncomfortable Questions
At no point in the gospel narratives is Judas given any sympathy for his actions. Despite all the prophecy and Jesus' orchestration Judas is roundly condemned and cursed. However, I expect modern readers are disturbed by Judas' story. The ancients tended to believe in fate, even tragic fate. "Free will" and "moral responsibility" weren't things the ancients worried about or recognized. Judas' life followed the path of his cursed fate, tragically so. But was Judas "free to do otherwise"? If not, can he be held morally accountable for his actions? These questions simply bounce off the gospel accounts.

And what about Jesus? Of all the characters involved Jesus seems to control his own fate. More, he seems to control the fates of others, Judas' in particular. So it makes one wonder, should Jesus have picked Judas to be one of the Twelve? Should Jesus have saved Judas from his fate? Could Jesus have figured out an alternative plan to meet the soldiers in the garden that night that didn't involve the fall of one of his inner circle?

I don't have answers to any of these questions. But what I do know is this. Of all the stories in the bible that run up against modern prejudices regarding freedom and moral responsibility the story of Judas Iscariot takes pride of place.
This entry was posted by Richard Beck.

Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes

Let’s consider some of Tremper Longman’s work for example.  In His argument against Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes in his commentary, he commits several basic errors.
One that comes to mind combines a grammatical error with a procedural problem.  
Working off of the NIV, rather than the Hebrew text, He cites Ecc. 1:12 as an argument against Solomonic authorship.  It states, “I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem” (NIV).  He then argues that the verse identifies a time when Solomon had been alive but not king, basically concluding that since this doesn’t fit with what we know of Solomon it wasn’t really him. 
This is a scandalous assertion.  Longman seems not to know that, 1.) Hebrew uses the perfect conjugation to express either simple past or past perfect verbal ideas.  Thus, “I was king” or “I have been king” are equally valid translations that any student of basic Hebrew would know—seriously.  2.) A consultation of other translations should have at least tempered his argument. 3.) In actuality, the statement seems merely to place Qoheleth’s attitude within its historical setting.  This deficiency on the part of Longman suggests either incompetence in the language, or some unargued philosophical bias that prevents honest assessment here.  But there’s more. 
Citing 1:16, he argues, “It would be strange to hear Solomon state: I said to myself, ‘Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge.’”  Why is this strange—because there was only one king before Solomon?  However, the chronicler in 1 Chronicles 29:25 uses this exact language to make the same case.  He says, “The LORD highly exalted Solomon in the sight of all Israel, and bestowed on him royal majesty which had not been on any king before him in Israel” (1Ch 29:25 [emphasis mine]).  Longman seems to arrive at his conclusion without adequate scholarly reflection on the wording.  Is the phrase an idiom, figure of speech, a common way of taking into consideration powerful men including but not limited to the reigning monarch?  These would be the normal sorts of questions to ask.  These are not addressed though.  When combined with other textual arguments, one can only conclude that Longman simply didn’t read/think carefully about this.  So, failure at this juncture also looks suspicious.  But there’s more. 
Longman argues that Qoheleth is a pseudonym for the one assuming the Solomonic persona, or if applied to Solomon, a “nick-name.”  He writes: 
“One must ask what is gained or what possible reason could Solomon have had for adopting a name other than his own in this book?  Is he hiding his identity from someone?  If so, for what possible reason?  Does the nickname add anything to the message of the book? After all, the connection to Solomon is tenuous, and no one has argued that the name contributes to the meaning of the book.  It is much more likely that the nickname Qohelet was adopted by the actual writer to associate himself with Solomon, while retaining his distance from the actual person” (p. 4). 
Apparently, Longman is unaware that Hebrew nouns typically come from verbs, so that the title Qoheleth is most likely derived from some activity for which he was noted.  Since the verb is qahal, the title Qoheleth is connected with some assembling activity, perhaps the assembling of people or proverbs, etc. 
Finally, at least for this interview, it is notable that Longman begins his arguments against Solomonic authorship seemingly by committing the “snob approach” variety of the argumentum ad poplum fallacy.  He states, “Attentive readers of the Bible have felt uneasy about the simple identification of Qohelet with Solomon for a long time” (p. 4).  And, “Even in the light of strong internal and external testimony to the contrary, a small, but vocal group of evangelical scholars still advocate this [Solomonic authorship] view” (p. 3).  He then props this up with poor arguments including the ones above. 
Notice how he is arguing that anyone who fails to recognize the truth of his assertion is not an intellectual (“attentive”), and it would be in the best interest of the reader to listen to himself.  There are additional points in this particular case to argue, but this is not the place for that.  I would just say that Longman’s argumentation against Solomonic authorship is scurrilous.  To answer the question, is apologetics helpful for biblical studies generally and OT specifically, again, yes.  Perhaps if more biblical scholars were trained in apologetics, a lot of the stuff that passes for biblical scholarship would never gain a legitimate hearing.  Instead, junk scholarship is published and passed off as cutting edge and respectable.