Saturday, September 30, 2017

Hidden in Plain View update


I'll comment on Licona's interview, which summarizes his book:

Most evangelicals are willing to acknowledge that the Gospel authors used some compositional devices.


I first observed how Plutarch reports the same stories in two or more of the biographies he wrote. I then assessed how the same author—Plutarch—told the same stories differently. Then I identified patterns of the differences. I then inferred compositional devices Plutarch likely employed that resulted in those differences.

That strikes me as a fallacious inference:

i) Suppose Plutarch writes three biographies in which he narrates the same event, but there are differences in each telling or retelling. Is that due to compositional devices? Possibly. But consider other explanations:

ii) The account in the first biography is based on his sources. When he writes a second or third biography in which he narrates the same incident, he relies on his memory of what he wrote the first time around.

iii) Conversely, the same story is different in the second biography because he was using different sources for the second biography. Same thing with a third or fourth biography. On (ii) or (iii), the differences are not due to compositional devices. And I think that's at least as plausible as Licona's explanation. 

iv) Finally, it makes no sense to chalk up the differences to audience adaptation inasmuch as Plutarch presumably had the same implied reader for his biographies. 

The majority of New Testament scholars agree that, at minimum, the Gospels share much in common with the genre of Greco-Roman biography. Therefore, it should be of no surprise to observe the Gospel authors using the compositional devices that were part-and-parcel of that genre. In fact, we should be surprised if we did not observe it. 

i) Plutarch was a pagan Gentile who studied at the Platonic Academic in Athens. His background is completely different from at least three of the four Gospel writers. Since they didn't have his training, why imagine that they'd use the same rhetorical techniques? 

ii) Even assuming that differences in the Gospels are due to literary devices, why attribute that to the genre of Greco-Roman biographies? The Gospels are steeped in the OT. The OT is full of literary conventions. OT narratives employ compositional techniques. Is it not at least as likely, if not far more likely, that they are indebted to OT exemplars? 

iii) When I used to ask my late grandmother questions about her life, her answers weren't modeled on literary exemplars. Rather, her answers were based on memory, articulated in her Southern working-class speech. Why assume that all four Gospels must conform to a self-conscious literary genre? Especially in the case of Mark and John, why not use oral history as the frame of reference? 

A truly high view of Scripture embraces the Gospels as God has given them to us rather than forcing them into a mold of how we think he should have.

When Licona doubts or denies that Jesus ever uttered the "I am" sayings in John's Gospel, he's not accepting the Gospel accounts as is. His actual practice is diametrically opposed to receiving the accounts as they come to us. By the same token, when he says the Doubting Thomas anecdote may be pious fiction, that's not crediting the account as God gave it to us, but filtering the account through Licona's screening device. 

Friday, September 29, 2017


It's Greek to me!

This is a follow-up to my previous post:

Mike Licona said:

I agree with all Johannine scholars that Johannine adaptation is present in his Gospel.

At the risk of stating the obvious, scholarly consensus is unreliable. Bible studies undergo periodic "revolutions" and paradigm-shifts. The scholarly consensus of a former generation may be contradicted and replaced by the scholarly consensus of the up-and-coming generation. By the same token, each generation of OT or NT scholars is trained in the hot new school of criticism. The Bible is filtered through that lens until the method has exhausted itself. Boredom leads to a new school of criticism. 

What matters isn't scholarly opinion, but scholarly argument. What evidence and reasons do scholars provide in support of their conclusions? That's the only relevant consideration.

The foremost Bible scholars are indifferent to consensus. They are independent thinkers who base their conclusions on original research and reflection. Most Bible scholars are followers, not leaders. 

It's not necessary good to be a leader, and it's not necessarily bad to be a follower. Depends on the position. But appeal to consensus is a vacuous, unreliable intellectual shortcut. 

Lydia needs to do is spend years in the text…in their original language.

Does Licona know for a fact that Lydia doesn't read the Greek NT?

While we're on the subject, I daresay most NT scholars only have a workaday knowledge of Greek. The scholars with a truly impressive command of Greek are a subset of the whole, and fall into a few basic categories:

i) There are scholars who are natural linguists. They have a knack for foreign languages. 

ii) Some NT scholars are Classicists by training.

John Lightfoot, F. F. Bruce, and Bruce Metzger are examples of both (i-ii). They could sightread a Greek text from any period or genre. They had memorized huge swaths of Greek.

As a result, although they didn't necessary have an analytical grasp of Greek, they had a natural feeling for the Greek language, due to their fluency, and how large and wide a sample of Greek they carried around in their heads.

iii) Some scholars may lack that particular skill set, but they have a highly analytical knowledge of Greek. Greek grammarians and lexicographers, as well as scholars who take a keen interest in discourse analysis, verbal aspect theory, &c. (e.g. Stanley Porter, Steven Baugh, Buist Fanning, David Mathewson). 

Another example, who straddles categories, is Gordon Fee. I believe he majored in Greek in college. In addition, he's a leading textual critic, which requires him not only to have a fluent command of the Greek NT but the Greek Fathers, since patristic quotations of the Greek NT figure in textual criticism.

By contrast, I think it's safe to say that most NT scholar are not sophisticated Greek scholars. They can get by. Oftentimes, their training is heavy on hermeneutics rather than lexical semantics. 

Finally, it's silly to complain about people from a different field who comment on Bible studies. Bible studies borrows from outside fields. Consider the work of Robert Alter and Meir Sternberg. Consider how secular literary criticism feeds into biblical hermeneutics, viz. Anthony Thiselton, Stanley Porter, Vern Poythress.

The Water and the Wine

For Christians who take an interest in the paedocommunion debate, this should be a useful resource:

Beckwith is nearly always informative and insightful. Of course, paedobaptism is a necessary presupposition. Baptists reject the premise, of which paedocommunion is an extension.

Script or history?

On Jonathan McLatchie's Facebook wall, Mike Licona posted a response to Lydia McGrew. Here's the "meat" of his response:

I agree with all Johannine scholars that Johannine adaptation is present in his Gospel. However, scholars differ on the degree of adaptation that is present. I wouldn't go as far as Craig A. Evans for whom I have the highest regard. To be honest, I do not know how much John adapted certain traditions. But some is obviously present to anyone who spends a significant amount of time studying the Gospels. Are the "'I am' without predicate" statements in John part of his adapting things Jesus implicitly said and presenting them in a manner in which Jesus says them explicitly? In other words, are we reading the ipsissima vox (his voice) of Jesus here rather than the ipsissima verba (his very words). I don't know. In my single reply to Bethel, I provided reasons why many, perhaps even a majority of Johannine scholars say they are Johannine adaptations. I have argued elsewhere that historical data strongly suggests Jesus believed He was deity. So, if Jesus made implicit claims to deity and John recasts those claims in a manner that has Jesus making them in an explicit sense, then that's what John did and we need to be comfortable with that. Otherwise, we take issue with the way God gave us the Gospels. What Lydia needs to do is spend years in the text, learn how to read the Gospels in their cultural setting and in their original language rather than having an anachronistic view of demanding their authors to write how she believes they should have. That's what having a high view of Scripture entails.

This raises a number of issues. The fundamental question at issue is whether the Johannine narrator wrote a script which he put on the lips of Jesus. 

1. Licona appeals to the generic notion of NT "scholarship", but that's hardly monolithic. NT scholars vary in their philosophical presuppositions. Some operate with methodological atheism. NT scholars vary in their skill set. Some are strong on linguistics and historical background while others are into hermeneutics and mechanically apply whatever represents the current fad in Bible criticism. Some NT scholars are intellectually gifted individuals who buck consensus while others are second-rate thinkers who simply copycat what they were taught in grad school.  

2. There's a sense in which Licona's claim true, because he cast his statement in hypothetical (if>then) terms, but whether the hypothetical is true is the very issue in dispute. 

3. It's also true that critics typically impose artificial standards of accuracy onto Scripture. Ehrman does that all the time. The problem, though, is how Licona defines "reading the Gospels in the cultural setting". He's been using Plutarch as his benchmark. But one issue is whether the implied reader for Plutarch is comparable to the implied reader for the Gospels. Is Plutarch's primary aim to inform his audience or to entertain his patrons? What's the genre of his bioi? History or historical fiction? How much artistic license does he allow himself? That's a question that Plutarch scholars examine. Cf. Barbara Scardigli (ed.), Essays on Plutarch's Lives. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995). Why assume Gospel writers had the same aims and methods as Plutarch? 

4. Then there's the underlying question of whether the Gospel writers even have literary exemplars, and assuming they have, their proper identification. Take the popular classification of the Gospels as Greco-Roman bioi. 

To begin with, should we mash the Gospels together in that regard, or consider them individually? On the face of it, Mark and John don't seem to be modeled on any literary exemplars. Mark is written in the style you'd expect if traditional authorship is correct: a breathless, unfiltered, literarily crude biography by a young man captivated by Jesus the exorcist and wonder-worker. Likewise, John reads like a dictated oral history.

Matthew and Luke have more literary culture, but are quite different from each other, despite the overlapping material. The literary culture of Matthew is very Jewish. Assuming he has literary models, why presume those are Greco-Roman bioi rather than OT historical narratives? The OT is rich in biography. Luke is the best candidate for Greco-Roman bioi, yet he, too, is immersed in the OT. 

5. In his book (Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?), Licona says almost all Johannine scholars acknowledge that the author often adapted his "source material" (115) or "traditions about Jesus" (166).

Notice a hidden assumption that's driving scholarly consensus. The implication is that whoever wrote John's Gospel had no direct knowledge of the historical Jesus. Instead, he relied on secondhand sources. To say the narrator adapted dominical "traditions" or "source material" would be a curious way of to characterize someone who's an eyewitness. A writer who is the source of what he narrates. It makes little sense to say the narrator adapted dominical "traditions" or "source material" if, in fact, he's reporting events which he himself saw and heard. Rather, that makes more sense on the assumption that the Johannine narrator relies on written or oral sources. And, of course, that's what many "scholars" believe. But once you make assumption explicit, it needs to be defended. Why should that be the operating assumption? 

That, however, illustrates the problems with generalizing about Johannine scholars, and it likewise illustrates the need to identify critical presuppositions that drive the analysis.

Once you deny that the Johanne narrator was an eyewitness, then of necessity, that eliminates certain possible explanations and points to alternative possibilities. So that's not a neutral assumption. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Did Jesus make the "I am" statements?

Ehrman on the NT text

Here's an exchange I recently had with a noted NT scholar:

As you know, a stock argument in Christian apologetics is to stress how well the text of the NT is attested compared to ancient writings generally. However, way back in 2005, Bart Ehrman produced an argument which, on the face of it, cuts the ground right out from under that appeal. And I've seen him repeat that argument in debates. He said:

Suppose, though, that the scribe got all the words 100 percent correct. If multiple copies of the letter went out, can we be sure that all the copies were also 100 percent correct? It is possible, at least, that even if they were all copied in Paul's presence, a word or two here or there got changed in one or the other of the copies. If so, what if only one of the copies served as the copy from which all subsequent copies were made — then in the first century, into the second century and the third century, and so on? In that case, the oldest copy that provided the basis for all subsequent copies of the letter was not exactly what Paul wrote, or wanted to write.  

Once the copy is in circulation — that is, once it arrives at its destination in one of the towns of Galatia — it, of course, gets copied, and mistakes get made. Sometimes scribes might intentionally change the text; sometimes accidents happen. These mistake-ridden copies get copied; and the mistake-ridden copies of the copies get copied; and so on, down the line. Somewhere in the midst of all this, the original copy (or each of the original copies) ends up getting lost, or worn out, or destroyed. At some point, it is no longer possible to compare a copy with the original to make sure it is "correct," even if someone has the bright idea of doing so.  

Suppose that after the original manuscript of a text was produced, two copies were made of it, which we may call A and B. These two copies, of course, will differ from each other in some ways — possibly major and probably minor. Now suppose that A was copied by one other scribe, but B was copied by fifty scribes. Then the original manuscript, along with copies A and B, were lost, so that all that remains in the textual tradition are the fifty-one second-generation copies, one made from A and fifty made from B. If a reading found in the fifty manuscripts (from B) differs from a reading found in the one (from A), is the former necessarily more likely to be the original reading? No, not at all — even though by counting noses, it is found in fifty times as many witnesses. In fact, the ultimate difference in support for that reading is not fifty manuscripts to one. It is a difference of one to one (A against B). The mere question of numbers of manuscripts supporting one reading over another, therefore, is not particularly germane to the question of which reading in our surviving manuscripts represents the original (or oldest) form of the text. B. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (HarperCollins, 2005), 59, 128-129.

In my observation, I haven't seen Christian apologists adapt to that objection. They keep using the same appeal to raw numbers. It seems to me that there are several basic problems with Ehrman's argument, but I'd like your opinion on two related problems:

i) Ehrman's argument is hypothetical. But how realistic is that scenario? To my knowledge, Christians in the early church were highly motivated to copy the Gospels and other NT documents for personal use and general distribution. So what are the odds that all our extant MSS of the Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, or 1 Corinthians trace back to a single scribal exemplar? Wouldn't we expect our extant MSS to issue from multiple, independent streams of transmission?

ii) Over and above the abstract probabilities, can we tell, by comparing extant MSS of, say, Mark, whether they all trace back to a single scribal exemplar, or do they have dissimilarities which evidence different text types? Do they have kinds of dissimilarities which evidence different underlying exemplars? 

To which he responded:

First, Ehrman's argument only cuts the ground from under those who must have a 100% accurately-preserved copy of the autograph.  If you're willing to settle for a little less than that (and, really, you have no choice), then his argument is impotent.  The facts remain that we have more copies of NT writings than for any other ancient texts, and that we have copies closer in date to the composition of their texts than for practically any other ancient literary text.  So, we're in much better shape for doing NT textual criticism than for any other such task.

But, yes, Bart's scenario is probably a bit oversimplified.  It's as, or more, likely that the Gospels were immediately copied multiple times, from these copies more made thereafter.  Now, on the one hand, every copying is a possible occasion for errors and intentional "improvements".  So, multiple copyings = a wider scope for such things.

On the other hand, multiple and early copies mean that we have more of the evidence needed to detect such accidental and even intentional changes, and so correct them.

A sign of the future of the Roman Catholic Church in the US

The future of the Roman Catholic Church in the US
The future of Roman Catholicism in the US?
This National Catholic Reporter (NCR) article caught my eye since it is local: Pittsburgh plan would consolidate 188 parishes into 48 groups. What we are seeing, I think, is nothing less than a snapshot of the future of the Roman Catholic Church in the US.

From the article:
There will be grief, but a new, more effective church outreach will emerge out of a massive planned consolidation in the Pittsburgh Diocese, diocesan spokesman Bob DeWitt told NCR.

He spoke after a diocesan planning commission, which includes DeWitt, recommended to Bishop David Zubik that the diocese arrange its 188 current parishes into 48 groups. The plan now goes to the bishop for a decision …

While other archdioceses and dioceses in the Northeast and Midwest have closed and consolidated parishes in the past three decades, including Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Boston, and, most recently, Hartford, Connecticut, no diocese has undertaken such a massive change. The plan will reshape the concept of parish in the Pittsburgh Diocese's six counties.

The diocese needs to act boldly to deal with a decline in the number of priests and Catholics in the pews, said DeWitt.

Choose life!

but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die (Gen 2:17).

An old crux. If the penalty denotes physical death, then it seems like the warning was an empty threat inasmuch as God didn't strike them dead. Of course, the narrator would have to be pretty inept to relay such a blatant contradiction. 

One explanation is that "in the day" is a idiom for "when", and therefore says less about sequential timing than sequential consequences. In the past, I've discussed that explanation. But now I'd like to consider an alternative explanation. A neglected interpretation.

What is meant by "life" and "death" in Gen 2-3? When we interpret Genesis, it's often useful to employ the Pentateuch generally as a frame of reference. That's partly because the Pentateuch is a literary unit, and partly because, by design, Genesis foreshadows later developments. There are common motifs in Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch.

Where else do we have a life and death contrast in the Pentateuch? A conspicuous example is Deut 30:

15 See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your Godthat I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live (Deut 30:15-19).

Even in this summary statement, it's about the quality of life. Life in the promised pand–in contrast to exile. The meaning of "life" and "death" in that context is detailed by the covenantal blessing and bane in Deut 28. "Life" is characterized by:

The Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. 3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. 4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. 5 Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 6 Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
7 “The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. 8 The Lord will command the blessing on you in your barns and in all that you undertake. And he will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 9 The Lord will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways. 10 And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of theLord, and they shall be afraid of you. 11 And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give you. 12 The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow (Deut 28:1-12).

That explicates "life" in terms of spiritual and material prosperity. By contrast, "death" is characterized by famine, cannibalism, illness, oppression, bondage, invasion, exile, idolatry, insecurity, terror (28:15-68). That explicates "death" in terms of spiritual and material bane. 

On the one hand, the promised land is like a second Eden:

the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord (Gen 13:10).

7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey (Deut 8:7-8).

A well-watered land, irrigated by rivers. A land lush with fruit trees. Sound familiar? (cf. Gen 2:9-10.)

On the other hand, the woes in Gen 3:14-19 anticipate the snake-infested wilderness (Num 21:6), as well as the accursed womb and the accursed ground in the Deuteronomic imprecations (Deut 28).

The Assyrian deportation and Babylonian exile parallel the banishment from Eden. To be cut off from the sanctuary and the land of blessing. Adam and Eve "died" when they were expelled from Eden.   

The Roman Catholic Problem with Reality

The Roman Catholic Church has a problem with reality
“Rome has a problem with reality”

In the end ... [Rome] has a problem with reality

I’ve been reading through an advanced copy of the text of “Roman but Not Catholic”, by Jerry Walls and Ken Collins. I’ve just finished Chapter 7 (of about 20 chapters), and I came across this nugget:

In the end, Rome not only has a problem with the church, the living body of Christ well beyond its walls, but also has a problem with reality, a reality that is right in front of its eyes ...

They make this statement in the context of a discussion that those who leave the Roman Catholic Church are still under some kind of anathema. It is in the context of conciliar documents, present and past, and of Canon Law, which is still on the books and in fact was revised in 1983. They make this statement in the context of a section entitled “Giving Rome the Benefit of the Doubt”.

I’ll look forward to explicating this “problem with reality” in a review series that I’m planning to do when the book is released October 17.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

"Christianity wrapped in a flag"

From a recent exchange I had on Facebook with an evangelical leader:

Thinking about the weekend from thousands of miles away—Christianity wrapped in a nation’s flag obscures the cross…

I think that fails to engage the actual issue. It's true that sports and patriotism can be a substitute for religion. But I don't think that's what's driving the backlash.

i) At a mundane level, pro football is a business enterprise. We have athletes and managers who are snubbing their customer base. That has predictable consequences.

ii) More importantly, I suspect many Americans resent the protest because they see this as yet another example of secular progressives infiltrating and co-opting every social institution. Secular progressives have a strategy of taking over every social institution, to make it a vehicle for their political agenda. We are then required to submit to their ideology. Consider how ESPN was gratuitously commandeered to propagandize for the LGBT agenda. I think this is part of fueling the backlash. 

iv) Moreover, this has become very threatening. Under the Obama administration, executive agencies were commandeered to impose a secular progressive agenda on the nation. In addition, major corporations (e.g. Facebook, Google) have allied with the gov't in steamrolling critics. That endangers the civil liberties of many Americans. There's no escape: "You will be assimilated!"

Because an issue here is human rights.

But that begs the question. Another reason many Americans resent athletes protesting the national anthem/saluting the flag is because they reject the BLM narrative as a factually false narrative. They deny that police in general discriminate against blacks. 

This is a tactic of secular progressives. They build on a false premise. At the very least, their narrative is highly contestable. For instance:

Yet we're supposed to grant their contention as an indisputable starting-point.

Free speech is a two-way street. Protest is a two-way street. Sports fans are entitled to counterprotest. And ultimately it's the fans who pay the bills. In addition, your claim about protected speech is confused. The First Amendment prohibits gov't from punishing speech. There's no prohibition against private boycotts. Consider the boycott MLK organized against segregated bussing.

I didn't suggest the players were boycotting anything. What you're really talking about isn't free speech, but paid speech. Whether sports fans are obligated to subsidize protestors.

Once again you're not following the argument. I didn't suggest the players are paid to sing the anthem. The point, rather, is that football fans ultimately pay their salaries, and the customer base has no obligation to subsidize their protest if the customer base doesn't share their politics.

God's glory

Here's some additional observations I made in the comment thread to this post:

i) "Doing things for his own glory" sounds as if God has something to gain. However, God is the benefactor, not the beneficiary. In a way, God's actions are sacrificial. Not that he has anything intrinsic to lose, but he acts for the good of the elect.

ii) And, yes, from what I've read, Piper seems to treat all human relationships as temporary disposable bridges. If so, that fails to appreciate human nature, and how God generally blesses us through created media.

Those passages are typically in contrast to pagan idolatry. And of course, "glory", "my name", &c. is synonym for God's unique deeds in creation, redemption, and judgment. There's no comparison in the creaturely realm, much less the nonentities of pagan pantheons.

Consider these two propositions:

i) The good Samaritan gets credit for rescuing a child from drowning

ii) The good Samaritan rescued the child from drowning in order to take credit for his action

There's a difference between doing something admirable and doing something to be admired. In the case of (i), that's one consequence of the action whereas in the case of (ii), that's the primary purpose and motivation.

There's an anthropomorphic element to some of these texts. Take the famous negotiations between Moses and Yahweh (e.g. Exod 32:11-14; Num 14:13-16; Deut 9) where Yahweh is depicted as very jealous for his honor and reputation, so Moses manipulates Yahweh's imagine-conscious vainglory to dissuade him from destroying the ungrateful Israelites. What would the Gentiles say?

So this involves a hermeneutical and theological issue. On the one hand, an open theist like Boyd would take that at face-value while a classical theist will say that's anthropomorphic. An example of divine accommodation where God casts himself in a very human role, to make himself relatable to his people, but if we think about it more deeply, from what we know about God's revealed attributes, does God's self-esteem depend on human opinion? Is God really like a member of a street gang who flies into a rage when he's disrespected?

When law unlaws itself

The Sabbath

Here I'm expanding on a Facebook exchange:

So which is worse? Not respecting the Lord on the Lord's Day or not respecting the flag of your nation?

Where does the NT say the "Lord's Day" is Sunday on the Gregorian calendar?

It's called "the Lord's Day" because it was the day upon which the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead. That happened on the first day of the week: 

Matthew 28:1 Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. 

Ditto, Mark 16:2, Mark 16:9, Luke 24:1, John 20:1

The first day of the week in the seven day week, both Jewish and Gentile, is Sunday. This is not a disputed point.

Since the Resurrection, the church has historically gathered for worship on the Lord's Day, see Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2.

I didn't ask why it's called the "Lord's Day", so your comment is irrelevant to what I said. You dodged the point about different calendars. BTW, it's not a command.

I don't think you're getting the point. The Gregorian and Julian calendars both have a 7-day-week beginning with Sunday. The Gregorian calendar didn't come in to use until 1582 to make up for the 11 minute difference in the length of a year. Prior to that time the church had always been meeting on Sunday, the Lord's Day. So the Gregorian Calendar is irrelevant to this issue.

i) Scheduling worship according to the Gregorian calendar is an ethnocentric custom, not a biblical mandate. Frankly, you need to take that difference seriously rather than conflating biblical norms with extrabiblical adaptations and culturebound conventions. What if Japanese or Chinese converts used a traditional Japanese or Chinese calendar? 

ii) That doesn't mean there's anything improper about using the Gregorian calendar to regulate worship; what is improper is to conflate localized conventions and post-biblical developments with the authority of Scripture, then condemn people for a made-up sin. That's what the church of Rome does.

Imagine you were a missionary to Chinese, Japanese, or Mayans before the Gregorian calendar became the default standard in modern times. Do you think their calendrical system corresponds to our calendrical system? Do you believe Christian conversion requires them to adopt the Gregorian calendar?

And it's only not a command if you either don't believe the command to not forsake the assembling of the church.

i) To begin with, you're guilty of equivocation by confounding arguments for obligatory public worship with a particular day on the Gregorian calendar. That's logically fallacious.

ii) Apropos (i), your thin, atomistic prooftexting falls short of your desired destination. A more sophisticated argument for mandatory church attendance would begin with the nature of the church and the fact that Christian faith as a corporate dimension. To practice fellowship, Christians must have agreed-upon times and places to gather for worship. That's a firmer foundation than cobbling together some verses that prove less than you need.

That, however, doesn't absolutize any particular day on whatever national calendar happens to be in use. Rather, it's a question of convenience and mutual agreement.

iii) BTW, the passage from Hebrews you allude is contextually referring to fear of persecution. 

Or the actual practice of the Apostolic...

i) You're turning descriptive passages into prescriptive passages. That's not a principle you can consistently apply. Do you really need me to give you counterexamples? It isn't hard. 

…and post-Apostolic church is not binding or normative.

You can't be serious. You think the practice of the postapostolic church is ipso facto normative for Christians? Counterexamples abound.

Surely a 7-day-week is ordained by God.

Whether a 7-day-week is ordained by God is distinct from whether a particular calendar day is ordained by God. We need to draw some basic distinctions. 

1. Natural symbolism

Some phenomena have naturally emblematic associations, viz. four seasons, five senses, lifecycle, day/night, sunrise/sunset, garden/desert, fatherhood/sonship. This forms the basis of poetic metaphors and theological metaphors. And this often enjoys a universal appeal. 

2. Assigned symbolism

In contrast to natural symbolism, some phenomenon have ascribed significance. Take Christmas or Easter. Christians agree on a particular day or date to commemorate the birth of Christ or the Resurrection of Christ. That doesn't correspond to the actual calendar date. We don't know what that was. So we pick an arbitrary day or date. 

3. Idiosyncratic significance

Particular people, places, and events may be significant to one individual but not to another. The high school you attended may have nostalgic associations for you, but not for someone who didn't attend your school. It's constitutes a symbolic landmark in your life.  

When they're still alive, you celebrate your mother or father's birthday. After they pass way, their deathdate is more significant to you than their birthdate. For one thing, the death of a parent is a turning-point in your own life. In addition, you experience their death in a way that you don't experience their birth. 

4. Days and dates

Anniversaries commemorate significant events. By definition, an anniversary is a year later than the original event or the last anniversary. The same date, one year later. But even though anniversaries fall on the same calendar date, a year later, they usually fall on a different day, since days and dates shift from one year to the next. 

So, for instance, you may remember the anniversary of a parent's death every year, but that's pegged to the calendar date rather than the calendar day. The interval is what makes it significant, and not whether it falls on the same day of the week. It's important to keep that conceptual distinction in mind when we consider the significance of the Christian Sabbath. 

5. Commemorations

And in terms of symbolic associations, it's not the day that makes the observance memorable, but vice versa. The commemoration reminds of us the original event, not vice versa.

6. The first day of the week

Monday is the first day of the week according to the international standard ISO 8601, so even symbolically, there's no consistent correlation between Sunday, the Resurrection, and the first day of the week.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Is Christianity on the decline in the USA?

Telling time by broken clocks: Trump v. the NFL

Gagging science

The liberal establishment is hostile to politically incorrect scientific research:

Looking back

But Lot's wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt (Gen 19:26). 
Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62).

Sometimes looking back reflects worldly attachment. But sometimes looking back is a way to look ahead. Looking back to take stock. To sift and sort. To say good-bye. In that sense, looking back is preparatory for looking ahead. 

When atheists write memoirs, there's nostalgia tinged with regret. They think this life is all there is, so they generally cling to life. Writing a memoir, they turn around–facing the past, and gazing at their vanished youth. Their best days are behind them. Fewer days ahead, and the remaining days cannot recapture the zest of youth. It really is downhill. They yearn to be young again. To revisit their past. 

Christians can wax nostalgic, too, but at best, this life is a mixed bag, and better things lie ahead. We can let go. 

There's a sense in which a Christian might cling to the past if the past was better and the present is worse while the best (the world to come) remains out of reach. Sometimes we're stalled a point in life where we can't go back and we can't go forward. 

But that's just a temporary stopgap, like clinging to a lifeline until somebody pulls you back over the cliff. Then you're happy to let go of the lifeline. It served its purpose.  


I'm not making any firm predictions. Prognostications are not my strong suit. 

There is, though, a plausible trajectory regarding the church of Rome. Since Pius XII, it's been in process of becoming a mainline denomination. Francis has accelerated that process. The question is whether the trend is already irreversible.

The motivation has been around for a long time. The idea is that Christianity must adapt to survive. "Modern man" can no longer believe many things his backward, superstitious ancestors believed. This project has been around for a long time. For instance:

Bultmann was another notable exponent. These theologians are idealists. They don't think they are destroying Christianity, but saving Christianity. 

Francis has the support of some bishops, many priests, many Catholic academics. I don't know what percentage of the Roman episcopate supports his initiatives, but it's clearly significant. 

In addition, it's my impression that he's popular among the laity. Given that coalition, along with the inherent prerogatives of the papal office, he seems to be unstoppable. Question is how far he wants to go, how long he lives, and his successors. 

The church of Rome generally prefers an incremental strategy of stepwise compromise to major overnight changes. A softening up process. 

A minority of Catholics take doctrine seriously. By contrast, many Catholics aren't doctrinally oriented. They don't care about logical or historical consistency. In regard to that constituency, a pope can get away with dramatic reversals and contradictions, so long as his policies are deemed to be an improvement over the status quo ante.

From my observation, Catholics who are doctrinally oriented subdivide:

i) Some Catholic apologists, after initially defending Francis, have retreated into diplomatic silence.

ii) Apropos (i), some Catholics have lost hope in Francis, but refuse to openly oppose him. They've hunkered down, hoping his successor(s) will stem the tide. 

iii) Some Catholic apologists rubber-stamp whatever he says and does.

iv) Some conservative Catholics–especially converts–are openly critical of Francis. 

Whether his successors will lock in his initiatives, continue the process of modernism, or attempt to backtrack depends in part on the composition of the next papal conclave. To my knowledge, 75 is the mandatory retirement age for cardinals (indeed, for bishops generally), which gives Francis an opportunity to pack the College of Cardinals with theological soulmates if he can hang on for a few more years. Because bishops are already apt to be up in years when they are elevated to the cardinalate, there's rapid turnover in the College of Cardinals:

It's also striking that Francis was elected by a College of Cardinals, all of whom were appointed by hardline popes (John-Paul II, Benedict XVI). If a papal conclave with a more conservative composition elected Francis, it's hard to see how a papal conclave with a more liberal composition will elect a rightwing reactionary. However, some cardinals, even if they are sympathetic to the modernist agenda, may wish to avoid a bomb-thrower. Time will tell. 

Suppose in the next 50 years, give or take, the church of Rome becomes just another mainline denomination. By that I mean, its theology becomes essentially indistinguishable from the other mainline denominations (e.g. UMC, ELCA, ECUSA, PCUSA). That will precipitate a schism. 

On the one hand it will temporarily replenish the radtrad movement. However, that's a blind alley. 

On the other hand, charismatics have already siphoned off many Catholics. They lie in wait to absorb the influx of disaffected Catholics. (Of course, the charismatic movement is a swamp.)

A post-Catholic world will involve a major realignment, with evangelicals taking up some of the slack. Indeed, that process is already underway. 

Of course, evangelicalism is a soft identity that ranges along a political and theological continuum. However, the combined effect of Obama and Trump is to force fence-straddlers to go left. Theological "moderates" are rapidly shrinking. 

If the Roman church becomes a mainline denomination, it won't die overnight. Rather, it will slowly bleed to death. But the process of secularization can be rapid. Catholicism imploded in Quebec in one generation. The collapse was sudden because the culture was already so nominally Catholic. 

Doubting Darwinism

Of those who identified as atheists (as a sub-set of non-religious people) we found that nearly 1 in 5 UK atheists (19%) and over 1 in 3 of Canadian atheists (38%), somewhat agree, agree or strongly agree with the statement: “Evolutionary processes cannot explain the existence of human consciousness”. (This compares to 34% in the UK and 37% in Canada across the whole non-religious sample and 54% in the UK and 55% in Canada of religious or spiritual people).
Over 1 in 10 UK atheists (12%) and nearly 1 in 3 Canadian atheists (31%), somewhat agree, agree or strongly agree with the statement: “Animals evolve over time but evolutionary science cannot explain the origins of human beings”. (This compares to 19% in the UK and 31% in Canada across the whole non-religious sample and 37% in the UK and 45% in Canada of religious or spiritual people).

Trump vs. Tattooed Millionaires

Will Pope Bergoglio outlast the “tiny, extreme fringe” of Traditionalists?

Just following up on my earlier blog post on the scholars who “corrected” “Pope Francis”, it’s interesting to look at the various responses to this statement.

USA Today interviewed Massimo Faggioli, a professor at Villanova University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies, and author of a number of books on church history. He marginalized the writers of this statement:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Take a knee

Over the weekend, Trump waded into another controversy. He didn't initiate the controversy. Rather, he responded to an ongoing controversy. Among other things, he said:

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”“You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country. The NFL ratings are down massively. Now the No1 reason happens to be they like watching what’s happening … with yours truly. They like what’s happening. Because you know today if you hit too hard: 15 yards! Throw him out of the game! They’re ruining the game! That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game. But do you know what’s hurting the game more than that? he said. When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they’re playing our great national anthem. The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore, anyway.

He continued on Twitter. His comments ignited a predictable firestorm on the left, along with some critics on the right. A few observations:

i) It would be unconstitutional for gov't to arrogate to itself the legal power to punish dissidents. And, indeed, that's what it's doing in the case of Christian businesses that refuse to collaborate with the LGBT agenda. That's gov't exercising official power to suppress political dissent. 

That's quite different from a president expressing the opinion that owners of a private business ought to fire political dissenters. We can still debate the pros and cons, but that's not unconstitutional, as I read the First Amendment.

ii) Trump is simply giving voice to what many sports fans feel. Only difference is that he has a megaphone. 

iii) I've read some people talk about how soldiers die for the flag. That, however, confuses the symbol with what it symbolizes. They don't die for the flag, but at most for what it represents. I'd add that before the advent of the volunteer army, many soldiers weren't dying for a cause. They died because they were drafted. 

iv) Sports used to be bipartisan. But the left insists on interjecting its social agenda into every venue. Many Americans resent that. This has even extended to conscripting 8-year-olds to take a knee. 

v) Strictly speaking, there's no intrinsic reason why a sporting event should open with patriotic ceremonies. But that's our custom. And many sports fans associate sports with patriotism. That tradition can't be rescinded without alienating the constituency. 

vi) The management has exposed itself as a bunch of arrogant out-of-touch elites who don't share the cultural outlook of many or most fans.  

vii) In addition, the management is arbitrary. It allows and defends players who protest the national anthem, but forbids players who wish to honor murdered police officers or 9/11 victims. 

viii) By the same token, you have Democrats who support a movement to violently suppress political dissent (Antifa), but suddenly pivot to defend the right of athletes to protest the national anthem. 

ix) However, some conservatives have said that if we object to Google firing political dissidents or politicians advocating boycotts of Chick-fil-A, then we must, in consistency, defend the rights of athletes to protest the national anthem. To that I'd say several things:

x) There's an important distinction between gov't penalizing political dissent–and economic boycotts. Protest is a two-way street. If athletes can protest, so can fans. 

xi) Moreover, the merits of an issue are germane to what we should or shouldn't tolerate. Now that's irrelevant to freedom of expression as a civil right. It's not for gov't to take sides at that level. But at the level of private citizens and sports fans, we are entitled to distinguish treatment depending on the merits of an issue. People can have good reasons and bad reasons for protesting. Chick-fil-A or Christian bakers, photographers, and florists are not morally equivalent to rich athletes who protest nonexistent structural racism. The difference between right and wrong makes a difference. 

xii) In addition, pro football, baseball, basketball &c. is big business. If you go out of your way to antagonize your customers, you literally pay a price. Entertainers like Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise have damaged their career by making themselves unlikeable. Professional athletes are subject to the same market forces. In the past, entertainers like Johnny Carson kept their political views to themselves because they knew their line of work was a popularity contest.