Saturday, September 07, 2019

The power of the word

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me all that I ever did." So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world." (John 4:39-42)

1. I suppose this is the difference between a friend telling you about Jesus vs. you coming to know Jesus yourself. Roughly speaking, this seems to illustrate knowledge by description vs. knowledge by acquaintance.

2. A person can see all the facts and evidences for Christianity and even intellectually assent to belief in Christianity. Take many people who grew up in Christian households. However that's not the same as a person coming to trust and commit themselves to the one, true, and living God, who is the God of the Bible. Consider Bethan Lloyd-Jones' testimony:

[Martyn Lloyd-Jones'] own wife had come into a state of concern and conviction. Having attended church and prayer meetings from childhood, Bethan Lloyd-Jones had always believed that she was a Christian. Not until she heard Martyn preach for the first time (on his second visit to Sandfields in December 1926) was she confronted, in his sermon on Zacchaeus, with an insistence that all men are equally in need of salvation from sin. The message shook her, even frightened her, and she almost resented the teaching which appeared to place her in the same condition as those who had no religion at all. In a sense she had always feared God; her life was upright, and yet she knew that she had no personal consciousness of the forgiveness of sins, no sense of inward joyful communion with Christ. In Mrs Lloyd-Jones' own words:

I was for two years under Martyn's ministry before I really understood what the gospel was. I used to listen to him on Sunday morning and I used to feel, Well, if this is Christianity I don't really know anything about it. On Sunday night I used to pray that somebody would be converted; I thought you had to be a drunkard or a prostitute to be converted. I remember how I used to rejoice to see drunkards become Christians and envy them with all my heart, because there they were full of joy and free, and here I was in such a different condition.

I recall sitting in the study at 57 Victoria Road and I was unhappy. I suppose it was conviction. I felt a burden of sin, and I shall always remember Martyn saying, as he looked through his books, 'Read this!' He gave me John Angell James' The Anxious Enquirer Directed. I have never forgotten what I read in that book. It showed me how wrong was the idea that my sin could be greater than the merit of the blood of Christ - his death was well able to clear all my sins away. There, at last, I found release and I was so happy.

(Iain Murray. The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones: 1899-1981, p 110.)

3. Many people read the Bible but the Bible is a dead book to them. It's no different than reading other ancient texts like Homer, Thucydides, Virgil, Suetonius, the Bhagavad Gita, Norse mythology, the Quran, etc. They might believe in its general historical reliability, that it teaches good morals like loving our neighbors, and so on, but ultimately the Bible isn't any different from other books.

However, on Christianity, the Bible is not a dead book, but a living book: "For the word of God is living and active..." (Heb 4:12). The problem isn't the Bible, but the problem is the person. Their spiritual dullness or deadness: stony hearts. Their spiritual blindness: they see but do not truly see. Their spiritual deafness: they have no ears to hear.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Cowper's grave

Rebecca Stark:

Last Sunday I posted a little bit of the story of William Cowper's conversion as background for his hymn There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood. I'd like to be able to tell you that his conversion immediately solved all his problems, but it wasn't so. Cowper continued to suffer bouts of mental illness throughout his life, and his conversion didn't keep him from attempting suicide again, either. He'd come from a family with mental illness in its history, but beyond that, he'd been a sensitive child who had suffered greatly in his younger years. Little William's mother died when he was six, and his father almost immediately shipped him off to boarding school, where he was, by his own account, treated cruelly.

Sometimes a light surprises

The following excerpts are from Martyn Lloyd-Jones' book Living Water: Studies in John 4.

Come behold the wondrous mystery

Christ is mine forevermore

Thursday, September 05, 2019

A Reply to Jeff Durbin with a Juxtposition of Handing a Biblical Passage

Preterist and postmillennialist Jeff Durbin has recently put out a spate of material and videos on eschatology. The problem with them is they are incredibly shallow, clichéd, and dismissive of futurist interpretation. They may work for his listeners but not thinking people.

I was actually disappointed because I like some of the other material he has put out on abortion and such. I recently challenged him to debate ex-preterist, now-futurist Dr. Brock Hollett, who was willing to debate. Pastor Durbin cited his health and declined the debate. Fine, but he did not show any willingness to debate once his health cleared up. The invitation remains open. Nevertheless.

I found his argumentation against premillennialism and futurism to be really, really bad (he and Gary DeMar are stuck in the 1970s and 80s on pop-pretrib literature and show zero familiarity with scholarly or even semi-scholarly futurist literature).

I wanted to at least respond to him so his listeners and readers can hear the other side—surely he will encourage this. We shall see.

So to begin, I have chosen to start with his mishandling of Jesus's "left behind" passage in Matthew 24. Recently in an in-studio interview with DeMar, he gave a cursory and flawed reason why he thinks it is the righteous who are left and the wicked taken rather than the other way around. So I will juxtapose his reasoning (the righteous are left behind) with my reasons for my interpretation (the righteous are taken).

I trust this will be an instructive exercise why Durbin should not be dismissive of the futurist interpertation. The following link is to my response to Durbin on the left behind passage.

Penal substitution in honor-shame cultures

Here's a debate between Anand Samuel and Aubrey Sequeira vs. Jackson Wu on penal substitution in honor-shame cultures. In chronological order:

1. Anand Samuel and Aubrey Sequeira:

"Nothing To Be Ashamed Of: Penal Substitutionary Atonement In Honor-Shame Cultures"

2. Jackson Wu:

a. "How 9Marks Misrepresents Honor and Shame in Atonement"

b. "9Marks’ Strawman Argument Against Honor and Shame (Part 2)"

c. "How 9Marks Can Rise Above Shameful Theological Debates"

3. Anand Samuel and Aubrey Sequeira:

"Still Not Ashamed: A Response to Jackson Wu"

4. Jackson Wu:

"Open Letter of Gratitude for 9Marks’ Response"

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

The natural evil of evolution

This is indeed a challenge for theistic evolutionists (e.g. BioLogos, Catholic intellectuals):

When you look at the full picture of evolution and you consider the 3.5 billion years during which this unfolding drama played out, when there were millions and millions of species that evolved only to be snuffed out and pushed into evolutionary dead ends, and during which time there was at least 5 mass extinctions in which some 70-95 percent of all the living species on earth at that time went extinct, I'm being asked by theists to believe that this was all part of a divine creator's plan who was sitting back and taking pleasure in watching millions of species (whose evolution he allegedly guided) get wiped out one after the other, and then starting all over again, and then wiped them out again and repeated this process over and over, until finally getting around to evolving human beings – which I'm told was the whole purpose of this cruel and clumsy process.

Atheist communities

And a little child shall lead them

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
Bye bye, lully, lullay.
Thou little tiny child,
Bye bye, lully, lullay.

That woe is me, poor child, for thee
And ever mourn and may
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
"Bye bye, lully, lullay."

– Coventry carol

The death of children must be one of the hardest occasions for a pastor to preach on and offer counsel to the bereaved. And it raises trying issues in theodicy and theology, although that has more to do with the emotional problem of evil than the intellectual problem of evil. 

However, that concern may cause us to overlook something else about the death of children. There's a natural fear of death, and that's a good thing. God uses that. Even Christians may tremble at the prospect of death. 

But consider this: if a child can face death, surely an adult can face death. Some children die in the faith. They are old enough to embrace the Gospel. They take comfort in the prospect of heaven. Other children die without the comfort of the Gospel because they were unchurched. 

But fearful or fearless, many children past and present have had to confront their own mortality. And in that regard they set an example for adults. 

That reflects a paradoxical dimension of the Christian faith (1 Cor 1-3). The weak can lead the strong. We may hold a dying child's hand to comfort him, but in another way the dying child is taking us by the hand as he goes ahead, with one hand in heaven, to lead the way. By watching a child–even a child–die before our eyes, we learn how to live and how to die. 

Farewell dear babe, my heart's too much content,
Farewell sweet babe, the pleasure of mine eye,
Farewell fair flower that for a space was lent,
Then taken away unto eternity.

– Anne Bradstreet

No sooner came, but gone, and fall’n asleep,
Acquaintance short, yet parting caused us weep;
Three flowers, two scarcely blown, the last i’ th’bud,
Cropped by th’ Almighty’s hand; yet is He good.
With dreadful awe before Him let’s be mute,
Such was His will, but why, let’s not dispute,
With humble hearts and mouths put in the dust,
Let’s say He’s merciful as well as just.
He will return and make up all our losses,
And smile again after our bitter crosses
Go pretty babe, go rest with sisters twain;
Among the blest in endless joys remain.

– Anne Bradstreet

With troubled heart and trembling hand I write,
The heavens have changed to sorrow my delight.
How oft with disappointment have I met,
When I on fading things my hopes have set.
Experience might ‘fore this have made me wise,
To value things according to their price.
Was ever stable joy yet found below?
Or perfect bliss without mixture of woe?
I knew she was but as a withering flower,
That’s here today, perhaps gone in an hour;
Like as a bubble, or the brittle glass,
Or like a shadow turning as it was.
More fool then I to look on that was lent
As if mine own, when thus impermanent.
Farewell dear child, thou ne’er shall come to me,
But yet a while, and I shall go to thee;
Mean time my throbbing heart’s cheered up with this:
Thou with thy Savior art in endless bliss.

– Anne Bradstreet

At death's door

The river of death is a traditional metaphor for dying. The power of the metaphor depends on how we visualize the picturesque image. The logic of the metaphor is that a dying person can see into the afterlife. He sees the land lying in the background on the other side. He stands on one bank of the river. From that vantage-point he can see across the river to what lies on the other side. Perhaps a paradisal scene. Sunny and Edenic. 

While that's a very comforting metaphor, it's not very realistic. For most of us, Christians included, death is more like standing in line before a door. Even if we die at home surrounded by loved ones, there's a sense in which we each die alone because everyone must pass through the door single file. The dying person can't see what's on the other side of the door until he goes through the door. The next person in line, standing behind the dying person, can't catch a glimpse of what lies behind the door as he watches the person ahead of him go through the door. From a psychological standpoint, everyone dies separately from everyone else, even if they die together. That's part of what makes death an intimidating prospect. 

There are exceptions. Veridical near-death experiences. Grief apparitions and crisis apparitions. Deadbed visions. I remember yeas ago Billy Graham talking about how some of his godly relatives had deathbed visions. But none of that is something we can count on. 

In the past, death was a ubiquitous stalker of young and old alike. Nowadays it's easier to be in denial about your own mortality. Modern agriculture has made famine rare in the industrial world. Medical science has made death uncommon for young people. Likewise, there are couples who will never experience the ordeal of watching their child die because we have an increasing number of willfully childless couples. I imagine nothing has a greater capacity to foster heavenly-mindedness than having your child die in your arms. 

Many people feel like outsiders. For Christians especially, the psychological experience of an outsider leaving this world behind is less daunting than it will be for those who were desperately invested in this world. 

It's possible for a Christian to cling to the past, not because he clings to this life, but because he can't live in the future. As long as he's alive, he may cling to fond memories, but he will happily relinquish the past once he's allowed to relinquish this life. It's just a temporarily bridge to tide him over–like pictures of family when you're away from home.  So long as we're stuck in a fallen world, we have little coping strategies, but that's not something we live for. It's just something to help us along until the journey's end. 

Enfield Miscellany (Part 1)

I'm going to periodically post collections of miscellaneous items related to the Enfield Poltergeist, mainly taken from Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's audio tapes. These will be discussions of material I didn't include in my earlier posts, that wouldn't fit well in any post I plan to write in the future, etc.

My citations of the tapes will use "MG" to refer to a tape from Grosse's collection and "GP" to refer to one from Playfair's. For example, MG88B is tape 88B in Grosse's collection, and GP3B is tape 3B in Playfair's.

Disembodied Hands

Some individuals reported seeing one or two disembodied hands involved in the paranormal events they witnessed (MG29A, 34:19; GP51A, 3:12; GP52B, 12:39; GP57B, 20:08). On the second tape just cited, for example, Peggy Hodgson refers to how she saw a disembodied hand on the kitchen door, then saw it move away and fade. None of the children were close by, it seems, and she says it looked like a man's hand anyway. In the third context cited above, Peggy saw a small hand, like a child's. The hands would sometimes accompany a paranormal event, so that a hand would be seen throwing a slipper that moved paranormally, for example. There's precedent in other cases for a disembodied hand (Alan Gauld and A.D. Cornell, Poltergeists [United States: White Crow Books, 2017], approximate Kindle location 2185).


I noticed a few occasions on the tapes when people commented on watches or other clocks having the wrong time. I initially didn't think much of it (and probably didn't include all of the incidents in my notes), but the cumulative effect seems significant. And other cases have involved the altering of time on clocks (Alan Gauld and A.D. Cornell, Poltergeists [United States: White Crow Books, 2017], approximate Kindle location 4835). On two different days only about a week apart, Grosse referred to his watch having the wrong time (GP71A, 31:21; GP73A, 16:18), and John Burcombe referred to his watch having the wrong time shortly before the second incident Grosse experienced (GP72A, 0:47). In another context, Grosse and Peggy Hodgson talked about how they'd noticed some clocks in the kitchen losing time (GP96B, 1:59). Notice that a few of the occasions involved watches. How would the Hodgson children have faked those incidents by changing the time on watches people were wearing on their wrists? It's unlikely that two people would have taken their watches off and allowed the children to access them a few different times in so short a period.

Tape Recorders

I've referred in previous posts to how the poltergeist often caused camera equipment to malfunction. Go here and do a Ctrl F search for "equipment" for a summary of the evidence. There were occasions when the poltergeist apparently interfered with audio equipment as well. Playfair discusses some examples in his book (e.g., This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 153-54). There are many more on the tapes. Peggy and Margaret saw Paul Burcombe's tape recorder thrown and broken in the process (GP7A, 4:55). Peggy and both of the girls saw a microphone on Playfair's tape recorder move (GP31A, 27:00). Grosse and Peggy refer to a tape recording that was erased, and they suggest it happened paranormally (GP32A, 50:02). The poltergeist pulled the plug from John Burcombe's tape recorder (GP64A, 11:43). After Grosse criticized the poltergeist for doing something he disapproved of, it cut the wire of the microphone on his recorder (MG47B, 16:11). Sometimes it seems that there's a good chance or even that it's probable that audio problems with the tapes were caused by the poltergeist. For example, Grosse told it to stop swearing, and just after he said that, there's more than two minutes straight of distorted audio on the recording, after which it returns to normal (MG52B, 22:09). The poltergeist often responded defiantly when people told it to stop swearing. (Listen here, for example.)

Craig's backwoods exegesis

William Lane Craig recently expanded on a defense of a position he took regarding the depiction of God in Gen 2-3:

I've already discussed his original presentation: 

I will reproduce his entire answer at the bottom of my post. By way of comment:

i) One of the revealing things about Craig's interpretation of Gen 2-3 is the contrast between his philosophical prowess and his exegetical prowess. How that exposes the difference between his philosophical sophistication and his hermeneutical naivete. Over the decades, Craig's philosophy and philosophical theology have undergone great development. By contrast, it's like he still reads the Bible the same way he did as a teenager. His grasp of biblical hermeneutics never developed in tandem with his grasp of philosophy. His hermeneutic is in a state of arrested development. Intellectually, part of Craig never grew up. His philosophical toolkit matured while his hermeneutical toolkit remains immature, stuck in Sunday school. 

It reminds me of some apostates who become proficient philosophers and scientists, but when they attack Christian theism, they never brought their understanding of the Bible up to the same level of their mastery of science or philosophy. In the age of specialization, that's understandable, but it lays bare a big hole in Craig's skill set. 

ii) The way Craig frames the alternatives is an understatement. As he explained in his original presentation, what he means by "anthropomorphic" is "palpably false if taken literally".

iii) A basic flaw in Craig's analysis is assumption that in order for something to count as a theophany, the criterion is not the nature of the event but whether the account is introduced by a verbal formula: "God appeared to…" Likewise, that a figure must be explicitly called the "Angel of the Lord". 

iv) Another flaw in his analysis is his failure to appreciate that Gen 2-3 isn't told from the viewpoint of Adam and Eve. It's not a first-person, indexical description of how God looked to them. Rather, it's told from the third-person, external viewpoint of the narrator. 

v) Yet another flaw in Craig's analysis is the equivocal notion of an "appearance". It doesn't even seem to occur to Craig that that word or concept has multiple meanings, and so it's necessary to identify which one or ones may be germane to the issue at hand. Among other things, "appear/appearance" can mean the following:

• Materialize

• Be present or show up

• Come into view; become visible or noticeable

• Perform (e.g. Franco Corelli appeared in Il Travatore)

• How something is perceived by one or more senses (e.g. an indirect realist says appearances are all we have to go by–we can't peel back the veil of perception. Or a Catholic says that in transubstantiation, the Host retains the appearance of bread and wine) 

vi) Apropos (v), does a "theophany" mean God "appears" in the sense that he's present or localized at a particular time and place? Does it mean God "appears" in the sense that he can be seen? These are distinct ideas. For instance, an angel might be present but invisible. Take the Balaam account where the Angel of the Lord was present, but initially invisible to Balaam. 

vii) Although the default connotation of "appear" may signify to a visual appearance or apparition, theophanies often include auditions as well as visions. God's audible voice. Or preternatural thunder. So "appearance" can be shorthand for something that's perceptible to one or more of the senses. In principle, it could be tactile as well. 

viii) Some incidents in Scripture indicate that angels are able to materialize and dematerialize. So that's another sense of "appearance" which is applicable to theophanies and angelophanies. In the case of the Angel of the Lord, the two categories overlap. He's the theophanic angel.  

ix) Then there's Craig's frankly silly objection that Adam and Eve didn't exist at the time of the theophanies. But once God brought them into existence, they were in a position to see their Maker, if he took the form of the Angel of the Lord to create them. Likewise, Adam regained consciousness after the operation. So even on his own grounds, Craig's objection is hairsplitting. 

x) Craig reads biblical narratives atomistically, as if similar incidents in the Pentateuch can't shed light on one another. To take a comparison, consider movies, novels,, or a miniseries where earlier scenes raise questions that are answered as the plot unfolds. You don't understand it all at once. Rather, as you go deeper into it, later plot developments retroactively illuminate earlier scenes. 

Likewise, it isn't necessary to pedantically use the same clues each time same kind of event is narrated. That's woodenly repetitious. Readers are expected to analogize from explicit examples to comparable examples. 

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Enmity between serpents and women

And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your seed and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.
(Gen 3:15)

1. On the secular interpretation, the nemesis in Gen 3 is a talking snake. Because the narrator suffered from a primitive, mythological outlook, he believed in talking snakes. In addition, Gen 3:15 is an etiology to explain women's aversion to snakes. 

2. But does that interpretation make sense even on secular assumptions? It's true that Gen 3:15 trades on serpentine imagery. On the one hand, people inadvertently step on snakes. On the other hand, venomous snakes usually strike at the lower extremities (although a King cobra can strike higher). However, that would be the case whether the imagery is literal or figurative, so that by itself doesn't establish the identity of the nemesis. 

3. The secular interpretation trades on the stereotype that women have a greater aversion to snakes than men. In a sense that may be a valid generalization, but it needs to be qualified. Although boys are more likely than girls to handle snakes with their bare hands, those are usually nonvenomous snakes. As a rule, it's a foolhardy boy who picks up a venomous snake. It takes great skill to do that, and it's reckless to do even if you have the skill.

It's true that lots of guys are fascinated by snakes (and other reptiles). Some collect venomous snakes, including exotic imports. Some men become herpetologists. 

However, before the development of antivenom and snake tongs, men were naturally wary of venomous snakes. Just consider the reaction of Moses to a venomous snake (Exod 4:3). So I don't think the etiological interpretation is realistic. That interpretation singles out women, but the antipathy to venomous snakes extends to men as well. And I'm sure the same holds true for tribes in tropical jungles where reticulated pythons lurk. Dangerous snakes in general. 

4. But the etiological interpretation suffers from another flaw. If the nemesis was a talking snake, then to preserve the parallel, this is a prophecy (after the fact) to explain the animus between women and talking snakes. Not between women and mute snakes. Not merely between the first woman and a talking snake. Rather, this is couched as a prediction. And on the secular interpretation, the narrator thought talking snakes existed. So the initial scenario is projecting into the future. 

But as a etiology, that fails since ancient Jewish women never encountered talking snakes. On a secular interpretation, that might be plausible if you push it back into the past, to a legendary time when there were talking snakes, but the oracle is forward-looking. So for the secular interpretation to be consistent, this is a backstory to account for the aversion that women at the time of writing had towards snakes. And secularists traditionally date the composition of the Pentateuch to the Babylonian Exile or thereabouts. But of course, secularists don't think women in general had any experience with talking snakes–since they don't exist! So the secular interpretation suffers from internal tensions. 

Blinded to see

John Murray was known for his emphasis on exegetical theology rather than historical theology. For him, Calvinism had to be justified from Scripture. He wasn't someone who paid lip-service to sola scripture but in reality defaulted to tradition. Of course, like everyone, he was still conditioned by his background, but he made a good-faith effort to derive Calvinism from Scripture. 

In that regard I wonder if it's coincidental that Murray was blind in one eye. He lost one eye in WWI. I imagine it's harder to read with one eye than two eyes. So his visual impairment meant he couldn't be as prolific a reader as B. B. Warfield or E. J. Young. If you can't read as much, then that forces you to be more selective about what you read. The fact that he was blind in one eye may have enhanced his concentration on Scripture. If a Christian suffers from visual impairment, then constant Bible reading may be a priority. 

I'm reminded of something Virgil Thompson said about Toscanini:

…poor eyesight [is] probably responsible for the Toscanini style. When one cannot depend on reading a score in public, one must memorize everything. And when one memorizes everything, one acquires a great awareness of music's run-through. One runs it through the mind constantly; and one finds in that way a streamlined rendering…

If Murray's experience was analogous, to be steeped in the text of Scripture might facilitate his grasp for the flow of argument, narrative arc, and connections within or between books of the Bible. If you carry so much around in your head, then there's a constant process of mental comparison. So it may be that God providentially used–indeed, arranged–Murray's disability to make him excel at exegetical theology.  

Curse God and die!

I'd like to talk a little bit about Buddhism in this post.

  1. When I say Buddhism I mean Theravada Buddhism because (to my knowledge) it's the most conservative and oldest form of Buddhism. The original Buddhism.

    I regard Mahayana Buddhism more like Buddhism if Buddhism were Catholic. Mahayana Buddhism strayed far from any semblance to primitive Buddhism. It's an ostentatious corruption of Buddhism. Like a simple house turned into Elvis' Graceland.

    In fairness, it’s worth dealing with all forms of Buddhism, inasmuch as all have adherents trapped in falsehood, so it’s worth explaining their falsehoods to them so that they might know the truth. However I’ll focus on Theravada Buddhism here.

  2. It seems to me Buddhism is anti-natalist in the sense that anti-natalism is its ultimate goal.

    That's not to say Buddhists are against humans having children and giving birth, per se. That's because Buddhists believe the non-self (anatta) - despite its logical inconsistencies - could be reborn into something besides the human form (e.g. lower animals), which, if so, would perpetuate its suffering. In fact, its suffering may be arguably worse than if it existed in the human form. Nevertheless human birth is a means to a goal in Buddhism.

    The endgame for the Buddhist is to reach nirvana. To reach nirvana is to reach non-being, to extinguish oneself, to annihilate oneself. And therefore to end all rebirths. That's anti-natalistic in the end.

  3. All this plays out in a larger context. Buddhism recognizes evil and suffering, but in order to escape evil and suffering, Buddhism denies desires like joy, love, pleasure. Buddhism denies self. Buddhism denies life. Buddhism denies God. Buddhism escapes evil and suffering by denying everything.

  4. By contrast, Christianity regards God, creation, and the self as good, but we are fallen creatures inhabiting a fallen world. Like a beautiful cathedral fallen into a terrible state of disrepair. Christianity's message is that God the architect has come to redeem and repair this once majestic cathedral in order to rebuild it better than ever.

    However Buddhism's message is the architect will destroy the cathedral, burn it down to dust and ashes, to be swept away by the howling winds, and finally the architect himself will commit suicide. As Ripley said in Aliens: "Nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."

    Both Christianity and Buddhism see life under the curse, but Christianity turns the curse into a blessing, good from evil, whereas the counsel of Buddhism (like Job's wife) is to "curse God and die!" (Job 2:9).

  5. It might be instructive to know Siddhārtha Gautama aka the Buddha called his one and only son Rāhula which is related to a "fetter" or an "impediment". The Buddha considered his son an impediment to reaching nirvana, for his own son would fetter him to love, which in turn would open him to continued evil and suffering. Hence the Buddha dare not love his own son if he is to reach nirvana, non-being, self-obliteration.

    However, in Christianity:

    She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). (Mt 1:21-23)


    Behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased!" (Mt 3:17)

Monday, September 02, 2019

Until Shiloh comes

Gen 49:8-12. Since antiquity Christians have understood this passage to be a prophecy about the Messiah. Many ancient Jewish interpreters also understood this as pointing to the Messiah. Josephus notes this messianic interpretation among his contemporaries. He calls this passage "an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their [e.g. the Jews'] sacred writings, how, about that time [i.e. during the 1C], one from their country should become governor of the inhabited earth" (Jewish War 6.3.312). As such, it would be the last of the messianic promises in Genesis, tracing a path from Eve's promised descendent (3:15) through Noah's son Shem (9:26) to Abraham (12:2-3; 18:18; 22:18), Isaac (26:4) and Jacob (28:14), and finally now to Jacob's son Judah (vv10-12).

Jacob's words to Judah begin with a triple play on words: Judah…praise you…your hand (v8)–in Hebrew, yehuda…yoduka…yadeka. The opening verse depict the brothers acknowledging Judah's leadership both in praise and by bowing before him. This sees a future where instead of bowing to Joseph and acknowledging his leadership (37:10; 50:18), the tribes of Israel will give that honor to Judah. The word for praise is seldom applied to humans in the OT–perhaps only at Job 40:14 & Ps 45:17; 49:18. Thus, there is already a hint of divine majesty connected with Judah. Between the two poetic lines describing the acceptance of Judah as the leading tribe of Israel is a description of Judah's defeat of his enemies with his hand on their necks, a portrayal of triumph over those who threaten his people.

After directly addressing Judah in the opening of this oracle, Jacob continues by speaking of Judah in the third person. Here Judah is compared to a young lion returning from the kill with his prey. Similar imagery will also describe the fierceness of the tribes of Gad and Dan in the Blessing of Moses (Deut 33:20,22). In his den Judah lies down like a lion or lioness. With the rhetorical question who dares to rouse him? (v9), Jacob states that it would be as foolish to oppose Judah as it would be to rouse a lion with its prey. This figure of Judah as a lion is employed by later Scripture passages. It is referred to twice in Balaam's prophecies (Num 23:24; 24:9) where it is used to describe Israel as a whole–probably a type of synecdoche where Israel is described by reference to its chief part, the leading tribe of Judah. The figure of a lion that must not be roused is taken up by Isaiah (Isa 31:4). There the lion is Yahweh, and he will come to defend Zion–perhaps a reference to the Messiah from Judah who is also depicted as divine. This theme is developed further in Rev 5:5-14 where Jesus is depicted both as a Lion of the tribe of Judah and as one who is worthy to received worship. 

Next Jacob turns to prophesy Judah's permanent place of leadership. He depicts Judah as having the signs of kingship: a scepter and a leader's staff. The staff is said to be between his feet (v10. Since antiquity this reference to feet has been understood as a euphemism for the sexual organs, thereby describing Judah as providing royal leadership throughout coming generations (cf. Deut 33:21; Mic 5:2). See 49:10, LXX: "A ruler shall not be lacking from Judah and a leader from his thighs"; also Targum Pseudo-Jonathan XII: "Kings or rulers shall not cease from the house of Judah, nor scribes teaching the law from his seed"; and Targum Onkelos XII: "He who exercises dominion will not pass from the house of Judah, nor the scribes from his children's children forever." 

The next line of v10 has been one of the most difficult passages to interpret in the entire OT, and there has been no consensus among ancient or modern interpreters as to its meaning. While there have been many suggestions, there are only a few that do not require radical emendations to the text. The most often discussed are the following:

1. The line could be taken as written to mean "until he comes to Shiloh". This apparently would be a prophecy of a Judean ruler coming to the city of Shiloah in the territory of Ephraim, perhaps to assert his control over all Israel. There are several problems with this interpretation, however, While Shiloh was an important Israelite center for a while when the tabernacle was there (Josh 18:1; 1 Sam 1-4), it apparently was destroyed by the Philistines before David's day and never again became an important city in Israel. In addition, the name of the city is never spelled elsewhere in the OT as it is here. 

2. Many of the versions take it to mean "until he to whom it [i.e. the scepter] belongs comes", which involves only a slight change in the Hebrew vowels. This would be a messianic prophecy that the leadership of Judah among the people of Israel would last until the coming of the Messiah to claim it. This interpretation appears to be as old as the LXX…There are various problems with this interpretation, not the least being that the spelling of "whose it is" in Hebrew is invariably lo, not loh, as it is in this verse. The normal spelling for "whose it is" (i.e. lo) is found in the very next line, calling this interpretation into question. 

3. Another popular interpretation is to read the line as "until tribute comes to him". This reading has the advantage of forming a nice parallel with the next line, which attributes obedience of the nations to the Messiah from Judah. Thus, the nations will bring tribute to him. However, once again, this interpretation involves a slight adjustment of the Hebrew vowels. In addition, it also divides the word Shiloh into two words– say loh–whereas all manuscripts record this as one word, not two. Moreover, like the previous interpretation, loh is again taken to be a variant of the usual Hebrew lo

4. Finally, the Hebrew text can be read as it stands: "Until Shiloh comes". This would understand Shiloh not as a common noun, but as a proper noun naming the Messiah. 

An objection to this interpretation is that Shiloh would be a feminine noun but the verb he comes is masculine (e.g. Hamilton [1995: 659]). However, if Shiloh is understood to be a proper noun naming a man and not a common noun naming a city (which is always feminine in Hebrew), then that objection is moot.  

The name most likely ought to be derived from the Hebrew root slb, meaning "to be at ease", "to rest", "to be prosperous" (Job 3:26: 12:6; Ps 122:6; Jer 12:1; Lam 1:5). Thus, it would picture the Messiah as a man coming from the tribe of Judah to bring rest and prosperity to Israel and the nations (see Mt 11:28; Rom 14:13). Several ancient Jewish interpretations of this passage simply substitute "Messiah" for Shiloh here: 

Until the coming of  the Messiah of Righteousness, the Branch of David, for to him and to his descendants has been given the covenant of the kingship over his people for everlasting generations.
(4Q Patriarchal Blessings)

Until the Messiah comes, whose is the kingdom and unto whom shall be the obedience of the nations.
(Targum Onkelos)

Until the time that the King the Messiah shall come, the youngest of his sons, and on account of him shall the peoples flow together
(Targum Pseudo-Jonathan)

What is his [i.e. the Messiah's] name?–The School of Rabbi Shila said: His name is Shiloh, for it is written, until Shiloh comes.
(Talmud,  bab Sanhedrin 98b)

In addition, Christians have traditionally understood other OT passages as giving descriptive names to the Messiah (e.g. Isa  7:14 [Mt 1:23]; 9:6; Jer 23:6; Zech 3:9), so this type of interpretation is neither unique nor unexpected.

The final line of v10 notes that the obedience of the peoples belongs to him. This is a reference to the Messiah's dominion over all peoples, an extension of the promise of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that all people would be blessed through their descendant (12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 28:14).

Vv11-12 go on to depict in highly figurative terms the lush benefits of the Messiah's reign. He will tie his donkey to a vine. Later messianic passages associate the coming of the Messiah with a donkey (Zech 9:9; Mt 21:5; Jn 12:15). Normally one would not tie one's donkey to a valuable grapevine  since the donkey would eat it. However, the picture is one of such abundance that the loss of a vine is seen as inconsequential. Moreover, the Messiah will wash his clothes in wine. Once again, the picture is that normally expensive wine will be as common as water so that the Messiah will not hesitate to use it to wash his clothes. Note that the expression blood of grapes (v11) refers to the juice used to make wine (Deut 32:14). Finally, the Messiah's beauty is described as his having eyes darker than wine and teeth whiter than milk (v12). A. Steinmann, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (IVP 2019), 454-59. 

The cat sat on the mat

The cat sat on the mat

Philosophical translation:

The haecceity of felinity was instantiated in the spacetime manifold 

Dueling politicians

Alexander Hamilton vs. Aaron Burr.

John Randolph vs. Henry Clay.

Abraham Lincoln vs. James Shields.

Sam Houston vs. William White.

Andrew Jackson vs. everyone, though most famously Charles Dickinson.

As Americans, we used to have a fine tradition of duels among our political leaders. Regrettably, that no longer exists today.

That's why I propose we bring back dueling among politicians!

It'd help clean the moral morass that is DC. It'd save taxpayers money if politicians eliminated themselves.

At the very least, let's start with a test run: the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates. After all, they've already exchanged heated words, but I'm sure they'd love to exchange more than mere words. And it'd be a benefit for them inasmuch as it'd help narrow their crowded field.

Of course, I realize the Democrats are anti-guns. In that case, we could hand each of them an alternate weapon of their choice. For example, it'd seem appropriate to give Warren a tomahawk. Beto a broken alcohol bottle. Kamala Harris already has shooting daggers for eyes. Perhaps a jian or katana for Andrew Yang? Pete Buttigieg might wish to call in a real man to fight in his stead. Marianne Williamson will undoubtedly harness happy thoughts. Bernie can bring a nanny. And Biden? Biden doesn't need a weapon because he's creepy enough on his own, at least as long as he's dueling a female.

If this works out, I don't necessarily have any objections to moving onto Republicans like Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, Chris Christie, John Boehner, James Comey, Bill Weld, etc.

The right to self-defense

Alyssa Milano asks:

Ted Cruz answers:

The transmission of original sin

1. Original sin has two sides: (i) the condemnation of Adam's sin and (ii) moral corruption/spiritual inability. (i) seems unfair. I've discussed that on multiple occasions. In this post I'd like to focus in (ii).

2. One question is whether the Bible teaches original sin. Considered in isolation, Gen 3 doesn't seem to teach original sin. However, that's followed by a drastic escalation in evil, leading up to the flood. And it continues after the flood. OT history is a record of pervasive depravity, both in pagan cultures as well as Israel. The extent and intensity of human evil is hard to explain unless there's a predisposition to evil.

In the NT, two classic passages are Rom 5:12-21 & 1 Cor 15:21-22. The text in 1 Cor 15 is about death, while the text in Rom 5 is about condemnation as well as death. 

Over and above that are Pauline texts about the moral and spiritual blindness, hardness, and deadness of the lost. About their captivity to raw destructive passions. Again, it's hard to explain that if humans are born moral blank slates. 

Finally, a theme of John's Gospel and 1 John is how the mission of Christ exposes the preexisting animus towards God and good. That dovetails with the Pauline picture.

3. A difficult issue in Christian theology is the transmission of original sin. In terms of guilt and condemnation for Adam's sin, that gave rise to debates over immediate and immediate imputation in Reformed theology. I think proponents of immediate imputation have the better of the argument. Again, that raises questions of fairness, but I've addressed that elsewhere.

4. But what about the transmission of moral corruption? What's the metaphysics or mechanics of original sin in that respect? That's something else theologians struggle with. Different models are proposed. 

Let's take a comparison: from what I've read, feral children are psychological inhuman. For normal psychological maturation to occur, humans require socialization during their formative years. There's a narrow window of opportunity that closes. If humans don't receive the necessary socialization during that period, no amount of remedial socialization will fix the deficit. The tragedy of feral children is the fact that they already passed the threshold where it's possible for them to develop a normal psychological makeup. No matter how much affection and attention they receive, it's too late for them to become psychologically human. It would take a miracle (which God may provide in the afterlife.)

Nothing was done to them that directly caused that deficient. They weren't physically, verbally, and psychologically abused. Rather, their condition is the result of severe neglect.  Humans aren't like Jem'Hadar babies programed to automatically mature psychologically as soon as they pop out of the incubation chambers. Our psychological makeup isn't purely internal and self-contained, waiting to unfold like clockwork. To be psychologically complete and mature requires something from the outside.  

By analogy, the transmission of original sin needn't be caused by some positive factor or determinant, but by the absence of some external factor that's necessary to complete our moral formation. Something lost in the Fall. 

Moral without God

Many notable atheists thinkers are avowed moral relativists or nihilists. However, there are atheists, especially pop atheists, who say we can be moral without God. Indeed, we can be more virtuous without God because Christian ethics is so deplorable.

Christian philosophers and apologists usually counter that atheists who say we can be moral miss the point. They concede that people can be moral without believing in God. The point, rather, is that morality can't be justified apart from divine creation and revelation. 

That's true, but it lets atheists off the hook too easily. From a Christian standpoint, the examples of virtuous atheists are typically atheists raised in a culturally Christian nation. Even though they repudiated Christianity, their social mores were conditioned by Christian values. When, however, we look at social ethics in pre-Christian cultures or secular regimes, or the modern Democrat party, we witness massive cruelty. 

"Record" hurricanes

Global warming alarmists point to "record" hurricanes to demonstrate the reality and existential danger of global warming. A few observations:

i) We've only had the technology to clock hurricane speeds for what–a few decades? But haven't hurricanes been occuring since the last Ice age ended, about 12,000 years ago? Likewise, how far back do our records extend regarding the frequency and severity of Atlantic hurricanes? Our chronological sample is hardly representative.

ii) Suppose global warming is real, but a natural cyclical variation, like ice ages?

iii) Suppose the environmentalists were right and we ignored them at our peril. Now it's too late. We're doomed!

They will try to blame us, but even if they were right-or especially if they were right–they are to blame because they burned their credibility by resorting to hyperbolic warnings, manipulating and destroying data. Perhaps they think the threat is so great that it justified their mendacity: the noble lie. If so, the tactic backfired. If you use deception to make your case, and your deception is exposed, then you lose credibility. Like crying wolf, people tune you out so that even when it turns out to be true, no one believes you because your reputation as a liar preceded you. 

The True Anti-Catholic Agenda Moves Forward as “Pope Francis” Names More Cardinals

“Pope Francis” is continuing to follow up on his program to “clean house” within “the Church”.

Recall that in one of his first interviews, he promised to change things in a big way:

“Vatican II, inspired by Pope Paul VI and John, decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to be open to modern culture. The Council Fathers knew that being open to modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers. But afterwards very little was done in that direction. I have the humility and ambition to want to do something.

“… providence has placed me at the head of the Church and the Diocese of Peter. I will do what I can to fulfill the mandate that has been entrusted to me” (Interview published October 1, 2013).

He has announced that he will be creating 10 new voting Cardinals in a consistory to be held October 5 this year. This is important because only Cardinals under the age of 80 can vote for the next pope – a vote which, I can assure you, conservative Roman Catholics will be watching for and sweating about. The longer “Pope Francis” lives, (a) the more he will be able to mess up conservative Roman Catholic ideals, and (b) the greater the odds that he will be able to shape the voting for a “successor” who will continue those kinds of policies.

Coming from North America, Central America, Africa, Europe, and Asia, Pope Francis said Sept. 1 that "their origin expresses the missionary vocation of the Church, which continues to proclaim the merciful love of God to all people on earth."

Among those to be elevated to cardinal is Canadian Jesuit Fr. Michael Czerny, the head of the Migrants and Refugees section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Two other red hat recipients also work inside the Vatican. They are: Spanish Archbishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, prefect of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; and Portuguese Archbishop José Tolentino Mendonca, librarian of the Holy Roman Church.

From Africa are Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Archbishop Cristobal Lopez Romero of Rabat in Morocco.

There is Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta in Indonesia and Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini of Huehuetenango, Guatemala. North America is represented only by Archbishop Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez of Havana, Cuba.

Archbishops Jean Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg and Matteo Zuppi of Bologna represent Europe.

These 10 voting Cardinals will replace those who are getting older and falling off the voting list. I’m not sure who these individuals are, but there is at least one Jesuit (and the Jesuit order has been given up for lost by the conservatives) and an Archbishop from Cuba, who is certain to be a Bergoglio fan.

So far Pope Bergoglio has named 73 new Cardinals of voting age. I’m not sure how many have passed the magic number 80 in the interim, so that will affect the total number of voting Cardinals he can claim at the moment. It’s a number that’s always changing.

The October 2019 consistory will bring the number of electors to 128. Assuming that none of these old guys dies during the year, the number of voting Cardinals will fall again to 120 again in November 2020, when Donald Wuerl turns 80.

Previous Articles:
Bergoglio’s Gig: Opposing Ratzinger (We knew that “Pope Francis” was going to oppose “Pope Benedict” from the start).

Killing Pope Francis (May 24, 2017 – outlining conservative Catholic hopes).

Betting on Dead Papal Politics (May 25, 2017).

Killing Pope Ratzinger" (February 8, 2018 – how the “Francis” party is outwitting the “Benedict” party).

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Bipedal apes

The cranium, known as MRD, is noticeably different from known A. afarensis skulls.  MRD is smaller with a much more projecting face.  Down the center of the skull runs a sagittal crest for attachment of jaw muscles.  The skull is longer and narrower than A. afarensis skulls.  To my eye, MRD looks more like a living ape like a gorilla than A. afarensis does.

The existence of bipedal animals that look so similar to us raises many questions about God’s design and their relationships to each other.  How many created kinds of upright apes are there?  In past analyses, Paranthropus seems well-separated from other australopiths, and A. afarensis and A. africanus are also very distinct.  Are these patterns merely the result of a sparse sample of species?  Will we eventually find that all bipedal apes belong to one created kind, distinct from humans?  What can this new skull tell us about even less well-known fossils like Ardipithecus or Sahelanthropus?

i) I'm not quite sure what Todd means by bipedal animals that look so similar to us given what he says about MRD. However, that may be tangential to his main point. 

ii) To consider the question in general, Darwinians and atheists will take this to be yet another example of how science continues to put the squeeze on Christianity. There's increasingly less that makes human beings unique. Science keeps chipping away at human exceptionalism. One theological outpost after another falls to the invincible march of evolutionary biology. Christians are constantly in retreat. Constantly ceding ground to evolution. At least that's how it looks to Darwinians and atheists.

iii) But is that the case? Even in Gen 1-2, it's clear that humans share much in common with the animal world. That's because we're embodied agents and earthlings. Ancient Jews and Christians could see that humans have animals bodies. Physically, our bodies function like other animals. It's not as if modern science provides a revolutionary perspective in that regard. Prescientific observers could see that just fine. 

iv) I don't see that bipedal apes pose any greater threat to human exceptionalism than animals with forward-facing eyes. It's my impression that different body designs maximize an organism's ability to exploit a particular niche. Obviously we've never seen bipedal apes in action, but that presumably enables them to take advantage of certain opportunities their environment presents that quadrupedal apes cannot exploit. 

But there are tradeoffs in any body design. Gains in one respect are offset by losses in other respects. Leopards lack the power of lions, but that's offset by their superior tree-climbing ability. Cheetahs can outrun prey that's too fast for leopards and lions, but that's offset by weaker jaws and lack of razor-sharp claws. 

v) There's the question of what makes something unique. It is a single unique feature or a unique combination of ordinary features? 

vi) What makes humans unique isn't primarily our bodies but our minds. Suppose a wolf had a human body. That wouldn't make it human. A lupine mind in a human body would be a disastrous mismatch. It wouldn't survive. It has the wrong kind of intelligence to operate with a human body. 

vii) This doesn't mean human bodies are unimportant to human identity. But they are secondary in the sense that human bodies are instruments of human minds. A human mind requires a body that enables it to do human things. A human mind in the body of a dolphin would be stultifying and maddening. 

If you hand a mediocre tennis player the racket of a world-class tennis player, that doesn't make him a world-class tennis player. Conversely, a world-class tennis player can beat a mediocre player with an off-the-shelf racket–no matter how good the racket the mediocre player has. Same thing with pool. It isn't the cue or the balls that make the difference. Although Heifetz plays better with a Guarneri or Stradivarius, handing that violin to a mediocre violinist doesn't transform him into Heifetz. Imagine what Newton could do with a computer. 

A body is just a medium. It's generally a necessary medium for humans to develop their potential and exercise their humanity, but it's what the operator does with it that's special, and not the medium in itself. 

Like animals, we produce offspring and raise offspring, but human parents and their offspring both get far more out of the experience than animals because we have more complex minds. Lower animals may not even have minds. If they do have minds, they have very simple minds. Like animals, humans engage in sex, but we get far more out of the experience because we have more complex minds. There's so much more we can take in. 

viii) It's like science fiction stories about extraterrestrials. What kind of bodies does the writer give them? If they rely on advanced technology, they need body parts that enable them to build and operate fancy gadgets. They require bodies suitable to their alien intelligence and alien proclivities.