Category Archives: History

The Anti-Semitic, Anti-Israel Nation of Sweden

I didn’t know Sweden had gotten so anti-Semitic.  Did you?  Isn’t this an example of hypocrisy to support violence against people, against a minority in your country, even?  I don’t keep up with European affairs too much, so I was very shocked and very sickened after reading the article linked below.  It’s so astonishingly tiring, too, to think violence perpetrated against Israel is Israel’s fault.

There is a lot of false “history” out there regarding the formation of Israel and the tensions and wars that followed (I guess even the educated in Sweden don’t want to know, but would rather spread hate).  Israel was not perfect – nobody is or was – but the Palestinians (and the Arab immigrant fighters brought in at that time) are not at all innocent.  Why do you think Israel received the land for their state after WWII, but then the Palestinians did not (nor have they ever since)?  Please read some real history if you don’t know and you think it’s all Israel’s fault (see the second link)!

LINK:  “Sweden. Violence dominates and a Jew today feels like a Jew in Berlin in the ’20s”

For a detailed history of Israel and Palestine, and all that has transpired in that region until the present day, go to this page to start, and then read on (links continue the narrative and provide other side links for more specifics):

LINK:  “Israel and Palestine: A Brief History – Part I” [it is not brief, it’s just not in book form . . .]

You will read that Israel had accepted the UN lines of partitions for their respective countries, even though it wasn’t great for Israel.  And then the Arab League declared war on Israel.  And, the Arabs were stabbing each other in the back over these lands (read the bottom of the “Partition” section).  Regarding the 1948 war:

The conflict created about as many Jewish refugees from Arab countries [as there were Arabs from Israel], many of whom were stripped of their property, rights and nationality, but Israel has not pursued claims on behalf of these refugees . . .

So who has moved on, left the past and revenge behind, and simply tried to make a good living?  Israel.  Israel defends itself, as anyone one would; it doesn’t terrorize and go out and kill innocents in buses, at restaurants, etc.  The hate toward them is mind-bogglingly unfounded.

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“Why do Christians ‘pick and choose’ which Biblical laws to follow?”

1273151_84403885 stock.xchng ba1969I’ve seen that question asked so many times on the internet, and it surprises me that more people don’t know the answer.  But then again, I always have to check my surprise because, really, the answer isn’t taught much in churches, it seems.  I had always gone to Bible teaching churches, and the subject just doesn’t come up much (or at least it didn’t in the past).  Maybe, in a way, it just seems too obvious to pastors, but then why do people keep asking?  One law that will get a sermon now and then, since it specifically relates to non-Jews, is whether keeping the “Sabbath” “holy” is still required (this is from one of the Ten Commandments), but that specific subject is for a future post.

So what is the answer?  As so many ask, why don’t we stone homosexuals anymore?  Implying, I guess, that since we no longer stone them, then we should no longer think their actions sin anymore either.  Of course, the one action or lack thereof (capital punishment) doesn’t change what God thinks of the crime (homosexual acts); what has changed between the Old and New Testaments was the timing of judgement.  A major part of the Old Testament covers the time of the Jews, the history of the nation of Israel.  God made the nation of Israel to be a human group that was governed by God’s laws, and His specific revelations would come through Israel during that time.  They were an example that the pagan nations around them could see, and for future peoples to learn from.

But we – Christians –  are not the nation of Israel and so we don’t mete out punishments to people that sin against God.  We are to convey God’s plan of redemption to all peoples.  God’s plan is redemption, it isn’t punishment, per se.  His focus, as it was at the beginning and as it will be in the future, is for humans to have a wonderful life in fellowship with Him.  God is extending His hand to all who will accept Him during this church era, and is reserving judgement until later.  Sin is still sin.  Just because God doesn’t zap people from heaven when they sin doesn’t mean He doesn’t see it or that He has changed His mind about it.  Consider these quotes from two of the sources provided below:

The New Testament gives us further guidance about how to read the Old Testament.  Paul makes it clear in places like Romans 13:8ff that the apostles understood the Old Testament moral law to still be binding on us.  In short, the coming of Christ changed how we worship but not how we live.  The moral law is an outline of God’s own character–his integrity, love, and faithfulness. . . .   The New Testament continues to forbid killing or committing adultery, and all the sex ethic of the Old Testament is re-stated throughout the New Testament (Craig).

If we are to understand the application of the Law to ourselves, we must understand its purpose.  The law was never intended to be a permanent and full revelation of God’s mind to man but was given for the express purpose of preparing the way for Christ (Galatians 3:23-25).  Furthermore, the law given through Moses was never intended for any people except the nation of Israel (Deuteronomy 5:1-3; 6:6-7).  Thus, with the death of Christ upon the cross, this impermanent law, the Old Testament, was taken away (Colossians 2:13-17).  Now instead, God “has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.”  (Hebrews 1:2; cf. Matthew 17:1-5)  One who goes back to the Old Testament and tries to be justified by it has “become estranged from Christ” (Galatians 5:4) (Sharp).

So, in response to  the original question, we don’t “pick and choose” which laws to follow, since those laws aren’t for us to enforce.  We do, however, acknowledge as sin what God tells us is sin, and we convey it to others since “the Good News” is that Jesus died for our sins.  If there was nothing for Him to die for, then obviously He died for nothing.  If people don’t or won’t recognize their sin, then they will not see why Jesus had to die for them.  So, if you don’t know what sins are or don’t think that you’ve sinned, why would you think Jesus relevant?  The gospel would be pointless.

If homosexual sins, or any other sins, are said to be forgiven and thus accepted by God, it makes a mockery of the whole actions of Christ.  Christ said to the adulteress, “go and sin no more.”  We are to strive to live sin free; to continue to live a life of sin, purposefully, is to deny Christ’s work.  It’s like saying I can go out and murder, and the whole time Christ is at my side smiling, knowing He’s got me covered.  Yes, we all sin, but the point is to recognize sin and repent of any sinful actions, so that we can have relationship with God; God will forgive the repentant, but to be unrepentant means to be unforgiven.

For a more detailed presentation of the subject, please read one or more of the sources listed below.

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Sources/For Further Reading:

Craig, David.  Dr. Tim Keller on The Bible and Homosexuality – What’s the Big Deal?

Dorsey, David A.  “The Law of Moses and the Christian: A Compromise,” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (34:3/Sept. 1991).

Sharp, Keith.  Understanding the Law.

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Image from ba1969 at stock.xchng, “Bible Collage 2.”

“Screw Calm and Get Angry” Quotes

Ebury PressScrew Calm and Get Angry is a little chunky hardcover published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC (Kansas City 2010).  Little chunky books are just so hard not to look into, to savor,  to roll in one’s hands like a lollipop in the mouth.  So yeah, I enjoyed it.

Even though this book isn’t new, I just saw it for the first time last month.  Here are some fun quotes from it, and don’t worry if you are offended by one, since you’ll find another you agree with (the quotes are from a whole range of political, religious, and philosophical views):

How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.  Adolf Hitler

We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.  Aesop

The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil but because of those who look on and do nothing.  Albert Einstein

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.  Elie Wiesel

Start off every day with a smile and get it over with.  W.C. Fields

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy, that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.  J.K. Galbraith

Let us be grateful to the mirror for revealing to us our appearance only.  Samuel Butler

Nobody really cares if you’re miserable, so you might as well be happy.  Cynthia Nelms

In our civilization, and under our republican form of government, intelligence is so highly honored that it is rewarded by exemption from the cares of office.  Ambrose Bierce.

You can’t say civilization don’t advance . . . for in every war they kill you in a new way.  Will Rogers

I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle.  I just wish that he didn’t trust me so much.  Mother Teresa

If you wake up and you’re not in pain, you know you’re dead.  Russian proverb

Life is not so bad if you have plenty of luck, a good physique, and not too much imagination.  Christopher Isherwood

It is only by not paying one’s bills that one can hope to live in the memory of the commercial classes.  Oscar Wilde

The modern banking system manufactures money out of nothing.  Perhaps the most astounding piece of sleight-of-hand that was ever invented.  Banking was conceived in inequity and born in sin . . .  But if you want to continue to be slaves of the bankers and pay the cost of your own slavery, then let the bankers continue to create money and control credit.  Josiah Charles Stamp

Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.  Stephen Leacock

Criminal:  A person with predatory instincts who has not sufficient capital to form a corporation.  Howard Scott

Money:  There’s nothing in the world so demoralizing as money.  Sophocles

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.  Mark Twain

That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.  Aldous Huxley

A life spent in constant labor is a life wasted, save a  man be such a fool as to regard a fulsome obituary notice as ample reward.  Georgy Jean Nathan

I like work; it fascinates me.  I can sit and look at it for hours.  Jerome K. Jerome

Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates.  Gore Vidal

Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession.  I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.  Ronald Reagan

Politics, N[oun].  Strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.  The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.  Ambrose Bierce.

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.  Albert Einstein

1927 Mass School Murder the worst in our history. Could it have been prevented?

Michigan 1927 school killing was worst in nation’s history

Did you wonder, after the horrific Connecticut school shooting, what actually was the worst school slaying event in our nation’s history that kept being mentioned in the media?  Here’s the story of it, and it’s crazy and gross.  Read the whole thing.  I know that serial killers are often considered to be nice and contributing members of society, but they are socio- or psychopaths.  This guy wasn’t a serial killer but was nice and contributed to society too, but he just flipped out after life became too against him.  If he had gotten help with his issue, like we should help with our neighbors and community, then I don’t think that this 1927 tragedy would have occurred.

Is it Rational to be a Christian? (1 of 2)

Good Shepherd fresco from the Catacombs of San...
Good Shepherd fresco from the Catacombs of San Callisto under the care of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Below is half of a relatively long (but actually concise) treatment of evidences or evidential steps for the view that the Christian faith is rational, and even desirable, to hold.  Thanks for reading, and may the God of all creation bless you.

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For the person who wants to know that there is reason to believe a holy book–that there is evidence to back it up–different areas of apologetics have those answers.  In fact, there is more evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible today than ever before, excepting when the events actually occurred.  This essay assumes that the person searching for a legitimate holy book already believes that there is a deity of some sort; it does not cover arguments for the existence of God.  What this essay does cover, in concise form, are the issues of reliability of the Old and New Testaments, fulfilled prophecies, miracles, and Christ’s resurrection.

Old Testament Reliability

How was the Old Testament written and copied? What we Christians refer to as the Old Testament is the same as the Jewish Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, called the Tanakh. The content of the Tanakh and the Septuagint is the same, but the two are formatted differently. The Old Testament follows the same formatting as the Septuagint. The Septuagint was translated from about 250 BC to 150 or 100 BC and was used by the scattered Jews of the diaspora.

The Tanakh itself was written from about 1400-400 BC. Moses and other prophets were believed to possess the word of God because of the signs (miracles) they did, coupled with their openness (“transparency”). Moses was obviously literate, and because of his high upbringing, may have been literate in three languages. He no doubt, along with the people in general, knew the stories of other cultures and had copies of various source documents. Moses’ telling and retelling of events was considered God inspired.

At the time of Christ, the books of the Tanakh were established and accepted as canon. Those who copied the Tanakh beginning AD 70 (after the destruction of the temple) were called Talmudists. They had very specific rules for transmitting the Tanakh. Because damaged copies of the Tanakh were purposefully destroyed, very old copies do not exist. The Massoretes (or Masoretes) were the copyists for the Tanakh from AD 500 – 900. They, too, had very specific rules for copying, and any imperfect copies were destroyed. They are noted for adding marks to the text that represent vowels, as Hebrew did not have vowels and concern was growing over the continued pronunciation of the language. Whoever the copyists were through time, they all took God’s command in Deuteronomy 12:32 very seriously: “See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.”

There have been archaeological finds in recent centuries to confirm the historicity of the Old Testament, and the Dead Sea scrolls additionally confirm accurate copy transmission.   With the 200+ scrolls that date from approximately 250 BC to AD 125, we have the oldest copies of scripture, and these tell us that the accuracy of transmission is nearly 100%. A Qumran copy of Isaiah 53 has only three truly variant letters from the more recent Massoretic text, and these three letters do not change the text meaning in any real way.

There are many archaeological finds that corroborate the OT, with these representing only a sample:

  • The Moabite Stone. Mentions “Yahweh” and events in 2 Kings 3.
  • The Taylor Prism. From Nineveh, it describes the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib an corresponds to 2 Kings 18-19, 2 Chronicles 37, and Isaiah 36-37.
  • The Cyrus Cylinder. After Cyrus began ruling Babylon (539 BC), he ordered that Babylonian captives could return home. This is told of in Ezra 1:1-3 and 6:3 (see also 2 Chronicles 36:23 and Isaiah 44:28).
  • The Tel Dan Stele. This is an Aramaic inscription found in Israel. It is about Hazael’s victory over Ramoth Gilead, as in 2 Kings 8:28-29, and conveys that David’s dynasty ruled in Jerusalem.
  • The Gilgamesh Epic. Found in the great library of Nineveh, it in part describes a flood not unlike that in Genesis 7-8.

New Testament Reliability

There has been a plethora of interest in “lost gospels,” which leads some to doubt the manner in which the New Testament (NT) was put together.  Then there are those who also question the accurate transmission of the words in the NT, saying that parts were added or taken away at later times.  All these issues are really non-issues, promulgated by detractors of the faith and sometimes believed by neutral parties who simply don’t take the time to look into these matters further.  Concerning when the books of the NT were written and how they became canon, providing a chronological order seems like it would be clearest, and that is provided below.  As for the accuracy of textual transmission, however, here is a good summary:

“A simple comparison of the text of the Bible with the text of other religious, historical, and philosophical documents from the ancient past proves the vast superiority of the biblical record.  Less than one tenth of one percent of the biblical text is in question, whereas no such accuracy of transmission exists for the Qur’an, the Mahabharata, or the Iliad.  Some ancient records such as Caesar’s Gallic Wars of Tactitus’ Annals, exist in less than ten copies, and these copies date from 1,000 years after their originals.  By contrast, over 5,000 copies of the New Testament exist, the vast majority of them dating less than 200 years after the original text and some fragments less than 50 years after the original text.  No book from ancient history has been transmitted over the centuries with greater clarity and accuracy than the Bible” (Geisler and Hindson p 100).

So when was the New Testament written?  The books that were considered canon and that make up the New Testament were written not all that long after Christ’s death and resurrection, by those who were Christ’s disciples/apostles or associates of the apostles.   In other words, by close eye witnesses of Jesus, or persons who learned directly from those eye witnesses.  Jesus lived from about 4 BC to AD 33.  The book considered earliest in the NT is James, written around AD 45-48, and the most recent book is Revelation, written by AD 100.  In light of the prior quote regarding biblical transmission, it is known that the copies that now exist reflect the originals very reliably.  That is, what is used for our bible translations today can very confidently be considered “original.”

But how do we know that the books of the NT are the ones that the early church read and thought reliable (had divine inspiration), and that important books weren’t left out?  The books of the NT had been circulated and read amongst the widespread churches (in Europe and the greater Middle East of today), and certainly not in the region of Rome only!  Books considered scripture had apostolic authority, which was important very early on because of the rapid development of false teachings.  So, we know that the books were all written by AD 100, and that they were widely circulated (and copied); there are codices of the gospels and of the letters of Paul from the early 2nd century.

Partly as a result of some influential persons (such as Marcion) trying to redefine and delete parts of scripture, “lists of canon” began to be written down.   The first generally accepted one dates to the late 2nd century and is known as the Muratorian Canon; it had excluded Hebrews, James, 1&2 Peter, and 3 John.  The early church father Tertullian (c. 150 – c. 229) had quoted 23 of the 27 books that became the NT.  Those excluded or disputed on some lists were done so for various reasons, but not because some churches thought they were inauthentic; often it was because a heretical group happened to like the book, so then some questioned it.  The Eastern and Western churches differed early on and this is reflected in the books supported or unsupported at different times (examples are Hebrews and Revelation).  Later, most believers accepted James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude, yet some did not want to accept these.  However, the Eastern church accepted an official list in 367 which includes all the books of the present NT.  In 393 and 397, councils of the western church also accepted the NT canon as it is today.

What of some books that weren’t included in canon?  From the church father Eusebius, who had investigated possible canonical books, we know of some old “spurious” books.  The Didache had instruction in it and was used by the early church, but it faded from use and its authorship was in severe doubt.  The Acts of Paul had been written by an overzealous admirer, not Paul.  The Epistle of Barnabas was read and admired, but it was not written by Paul’s partner Barnabas.  The Shepherd of Hermas was widely read and may be all true, but it was written in the early 2nd century by someone other than an apostle or an apostle’s associate.  The Apocalypse of Peter was written in the first half of the 2nd century, so Peter the Apostle was not the author.  Other books that some critics like to bring up, like the Gospel of Thomas, were written far later and were never considered apostolic whatsoever; they are simply made up, forgeries, etc.

Now, are there historical or archaeological evidences that corroborate the NT?  While not everything can be corroborated, there are outside sources that confirm aspects of NT writings.  These help to show that the texts are indeed historical and not made up later.  Written sources for Jesus and Christians are (1) the Roman historian Tacitus (55-117) in his Annals (15.44); (2) Pliny the Younger, a Roman Governor, in a letter to the Emperor in about 112; (3) Josephus, a 1st century Jewish historian (some of his writing or copies of it are questioned, but others are not; there is definite reference to Jesus in Josephus’ writings); (4) Jewish Rabbinical writings called the Babylonian Talmud; and (5), the 2nd century Greek satirist Lucian.

Archaeological finds also corroborate the NT, and they continue to grow in number.  Here is a small sample:

  • The ossuary of Caiaphas (Luke 3:2 and others), discovered in 1990.
  • The Pilate Stone, discovered in 1961, has Pontius Pilate’s name on it and where he governed.
  • The Gallio (or Delphi) inscription (dated to about 52) speaks of Gallio, the same being mentioned in Acts 18:12; discovered in 1905.
  • Sergius Paulus inscriptions (there is more than one inscription bearing that name) confirm the proconsul of Cypress, as is mentioned in Acts 13:7.
  • The Pool of Siloam, excavated in 2004. As recorded in John 9:1-11, Jesus did a miracle there.

Fulfilled Prophecies

When considering the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by Christ, it is exciting to simply read over an annotated list of them. There are different lists, however, with the highest number of fulfilled prophecies going up to 400. The listed number of “major” fulfilled prophecies varies as well, ranging from about 61 to 121.   In MacDonald’s list of chronologically ordered fulfilled prophecies, he presents 44 (he does not say that these are the only ones he considers “major,” however) (MacDonald 1995). Here is one list just for your quick online reference: Prophecies that Jesus Christ Fulfilled.

One of my favorite lists is by D. James Kennedy – not because of the list itself, but because of the story around it. He had spoken to a highly educated man, a writer, who thought that the bible was simply written by man; he had no knowledge of the evidences for the validity of the scriptures. So Kennedy asked the man to tell him who it was he had read about, after reciting many verses to him.  The man said that the verses clearly referred to Jesus Christ. But the man was completely surprised when Kennedy told him that all the verses he read were from the OT, the last book of which was written 400 years before Christ. He went on to tell him, “No critic, no atheist, no agnostic has ever once claimed that any one of those writings was written after His birth. In fact, they were translated from Hebrew into Greek in Alexandria some 150 years before He was born.”

So it is that verses such as (1) Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem, Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting,” (2) Isaiah 53:3, “He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him,” (3) Psalm 22:16, “They pierced my hands and my feet,” (4) Psalm 22:18, “They divided my garments among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing,” and (5) Psalm 34:20, “He protects all his bones; not one of them is broken,” refer to Jesus though written centuries before His birth.

One of the most fascinating prophecies of the Messiah is found in Daniel 9:24-27, and it concerns the timing of His coming. It is not in some of the basic lists, no doubt because it is not easily deciphered or shown in a few words. To put it very briefly, this prophecy provides a window of time as to when the Messiah would be around. When the Hebraic terms are taken into account, and then taking into account which possible scripture(s) is meant by the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and then also taking into account the different calendars (ancient calendars kept 360-day years), a time frame emerges that encompasses the time that Jesus lived (and was crucified) (Powell 2006).

There is so much more that can be known concerning the fulfilled prophecies of Christ that cannot be easily shown in a list, such as Christ in the meanings and symbols of things, like the lamb and shepherd, and symbols and events related to the feast days of Israel. Unique among religious faiths is the fulfillment of prophecies found in the Old and New Testaments.  “You will find no predictive prophecies whatsoever in the writings of Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, Lao-Tse, or Hinduism. Yet in the Scripture there are well over two thousand prophecies, most of which have already been fulfilled” (Kennedy xxix).

Please also see Is it Rational to be a Christian? (2 of 2)

© Vicki Priest 2012 (this is a modified and edited version of a series of articles published by the author at Examiner.com, 2011)

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Bibliography and Recommended Reading (for both article parts)

Anonymous. “Why should I believe in Christ’s Resurrection?” GotQuestions.org. http://www.gotquestions.org/why-believe-resurrection.html (accessed March 2012).

Arlandson, James. “Do Miracles Happen Today?” American Thinker. January 13, 2007. http://www.americanthinker.com/2007/01/do_miracles_happen_today.html (accessed March 2012).

Chong, Timothy. “Bible, Canonicity.” In The Popular Encycolopedia of Apologetics, by Ergun Caner Ed Hinson, 101-102. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011.

Dowley, Tim, Editor. Eerdman’s Handbook to The History of Christianity. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977.

Garrett, Duane A, General Editor. NIV Archaeological Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Geisler, Norman, and Ed Hindson. “Bible, Alleged Errors.” In The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, by Ergun Caner Ed Hindson, 97-100. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Gleghorn, Michael. “Ancient Evidence for Jesus from Non-Christian Sources.” bethinking.org. 2001. http://www.bethinking.org/bible-jesus/intermediate/ancient-evidence-for-jesus-from-non-christian.htm (accessed March 2012).

Hart, David Bentley. Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2009.

Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Dutton, 2008.

Kennedy, D. James. “Christ: The Fulfillment of Prophecy.” In The Apologetics Study Bible, by Ted, General Editor Cabal, xxviii-xxix. Nashville: Holman, 2007.

MacDonald, William. “Prophecies of the Messiah Fulfilled in Jesus Christ.” In Believer’s Bible Commentary, by William MacDonald, xviii-xxiii. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995 (1989).

Nappa, Mike. True Stories of Answered Prayer. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 1999.

Powell, Doug. Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics. Nashville: Holman Reference, 2006.

Ricci, Carla. Mary Magdalene and Many Others: Women Who Followed Jesus . Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1994.

Sailhamer, John H. Biblical Prophecy. Grand Rapids: ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1998.

Yates, Gary E. “Bible, Transmission of.” In The Popular Encycolopedia of Apologetics, by Ed, and Ergun Caner Hindson, 107-110. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

A Beautiful Life: Amanda Berry Smith, 19th century black female evangelist

Amanda Smith (Wikimedia Commons).

I’ve always wanted to write about Amanda Smith, and here I’ll introduce her.  I’m sure she must be known in some circles, but when I first read about her over a decade ago, I was actually shocked.  I had never heard of her, even though she was an international evangelist and missionary.  Why is that?

Generally, we tend here, in America, to not learn much history, and when we attempt it, it seems all stale and dry, and no one seems to remember much.  Otherwise, I think we are still a male dominated culture, no matter what people say or how we can point to how long respect and equality have been taught in schools.  Amanda was black and female, and she experienced much prejudice on both counts in this country.  During her stays in other countries, including Great Britain, she was treated with respect and without prejudice.  Also, religious history and biography are not taught in school much, and churches basically stick to teaching the Bible or their own flavor of doctrine, and ignore historical and biographical lessons.  You can find quite a few references to Amanda online, but I read of her in Six Qualities of Women of Character by Debra Evans (Zondervan Publishing House 1996).

But what about Amanda; what is her story?  Amanda was born into slavery, in Maryland, in 1837.  Thankfully, her family was one that was permitted to stay together.  She knew her grandmother and her father, although her father worked so incredibly hard, she probably saw him little until their eventual freedom.  Her parents were faithful Christians, and her mother and grandmother prayed for the salvation of their young mistress, Celie.  Celie indeed became saved, but soon after contracted typhoid fever and died.  Her death bed wish to her parents was to let free her slaves, who were her Christian siblings.  Her parents granted her request and Amanda became free at the age of 13.

While she experienced the faith of her immediate family, she felt that she needed a conversion experience.  She needed to make a commitment herself.  This she did at a Baptist revival meeting in 1856; she was forever changed and strengthened by relationship with Christ that began then.  Her life was hard and she needed the Lord’s strength!  She married a man at 17, and he turned out to be an alcoholic.  Their marriage was full of strife, but it didn’t last long as her husband was killed in the Civil War.    She had a daughter by this marriage, Mazie, and Amanda worked hard indeed for her well-being.

Her second marriage wasn’t much better.  The man she married tricked her into thinking he was going to be appointed minister in a local church, which Amanda was thrilled about.  But after the marriage, she found that he in fact had given up the thought of ministering for Christ.  Can you imagine this deception, how it would feel to one who was overjoyed at the thought of being able to serve her Lord fully, and in fellowship with a group of other passionate believers?

After this, desiring affirmation from God, a confirmation of her salvation and desire to be close to God and serve Him, she prayed.  She encountered the Holy Spirit twice one night in September 1868,

. . . a wave came over me, and such a welling up in my heart . . . . How I have lived through it I cannot tell, but the blessedness of the love and the peace and power I can never describe.  O, what a glory filled my soul!  The great vacuum in my soul began to fill up; it was like a pleasant draught of cool water, and I felt it.  I wanted to shout Glory to Jesus!  . . . . Just as I put my foot on the top step I seemed to feel a hand, the touch of which I cannot describe.  It seemed to press me gently on the top of my head, and I felt something part and roll down and over me like a great cloak!  I felt it distinctly; it was done in a moment, and O what a mighty peace and power took possession of me!  (Amanda Smith, in An Autobiography:  The Story of the Lord’s Dealings with Amanda Smith [1894], as quoted in Evans pp 180-181.)

Amanda now felt that the Lord was with her, in control of her life no matter how hard it was, and she prayed constantly and learned from her Lord during the most tedious of times.  She talked with anyone she could about Christ, finding it easy after taking the effort to start.  While her husband was alive, her ministry was local, but after he died things changed.  She began ministering at meetings in New Jersey, and soon found herself being invited to speak and sing at revival meetings all across the U.S.  She soon felt God telling her to minister in Africa and India, but she was to go to Great Britain first.

While fearful of crossing the Atlantic, she finally realized that her fear showed a lack of trust in God.  She eventually repented and made the watery trek.  God had a surprise in store for Amanda, and no doubt a confidence boosting mission it was:  the captain of the ship asked Amanda to conduct the ship’s services.  Though there was prejudice against her on that voyage, she won everyone over by the time the trip was over.

In Great Britain, she was welcomed with open arms.  It didn’t matter that she was black, or female.  She had thought that her time there would be about three months, but she preached around the whole of England and Scotland for two years.  She met and was respected by those in the upper class, and these helped her in her future work for the Lord.  Her daughter’s room and board in America were paid for, so she needn’t worry about that, and her trip to India finally became a reality.  The poverty and the very poor treatment of women she saw there “gripped her heart instantly.”  The experience made her realize something that affected her ministry the rest of her life–that evangelism must be coupled with the meeting of practical human needs as well.

Next, she ministered in Liberia, touching and influencing many lives there for eight years.  When she came back to the United States she worked with African-American orphans and opened an orphanage in the Chicago area.  She was able to do this with the funds garnered from her memoirs.  In her final few years of life, Amanda was able to enjoy Florida in a donated home.  She died in 1915, having lived a beautiful life of giving and loving.

A missionary to India, Bishop James Thoburn, said this of Amanda:

Through my association with her I learned many valuable lessons, more that has been of actual value to me as a preacher of Christian truth than from any other person I have ever met (Evans p 186).

Thank you, Lord, for blessing Amanda and blessing us through her example!

Secular girl activist meets Christian girl activist: love and necromancy, OR, An Encounter with Simone Weil: A film review

This film is not yet out for general release.  See this FB page  or the website for more info.

Normally a review would recommend an audience for the book or movie or whatever it is that is being reviewed, but this film makes it difficult to say who exactly would prefer it or get the most out of it.  I love the late Simone and seriously looked forward to “An Encounter with Simone Weil,” but I was in for a surprise with this pseudo-documentary.  This film (the Director’s Cut), by Julia Haslett, is like a personal travel diary only instead of the destination being a place, it’s a person.  And the road there is strewn with corpses.

Ok, so let’s make a stab at the audience, or in this offering, audiences.  The filmmaker comes from the liberal anti-American, anti-Christian segment of America, as is made apparent in the film, so that same audience is probably the intended one (since a quote from Michael Moore is on the front dvd cover, this is not a risky guess); the secondary audience would be those who otherwise like Weil or want to know more about her, most likely having heard of her in Christian or philosophy circles.

Simone Weil (1909-1943) was one of those rare of the rarest of human beings, a person with extreme intellectual prowess fused with extreme empathy and charity.  She was an intellectual who taught philosophy (and taught it all in the original languages), gave up her teaching job to labor with factory workers, had conversations with the likes of Trotsky . . . but scratch the record . . . she was also a Christian mystic.  This film touches on her academic career, but focuses on Simone’s social activism (“political” activism in the film) and her unfortunate and apparently irrational taking up with God (film’s view, not the reviewer’s).   It also has much interesting archival footage.

Haslett makes this film, does this research, due to her sadness and feeling of regret after her father’s suicide.  Could I have done something to stop it?, she asks, and Can I do more to help others who suffer?  She is inspired by something Weil wrote, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”  Indeed, surprisingly true and knowledge worth acting upon.  How did Simone give attention, how did she alleviate suffering (or at least how did she try), and how does Haslett emulate Simone in this regard?

Without going into too much detail (a short bio of Simone can be found here, there is an excellent biography at the beginning of the book, Waiting for God, and there are numerous other sources about Simone as well), Simone didn’t just research social problems and make suggestions to the government.  She knew that the only way to understand someone’s suffering, at least to some degree, was to become them.  Thus the factory work episode mentioned earlier.   She also, from a very early age, paid attention to the sufferings of soldiers and workers and ate the small amounts they ate, or didn’t pay for heat if her fellow workers could not afford it.  She gave up on pacifism when she saw that war was inevitable and that providing help to the better side was a good; she fought in Spain for a short time (in 1936) with those against the fascists, and she volunteered to be a front-line nurse early in the Second World War.  She didn’t just talk, she walked the walk.

This is all well-known material regarding Simone Weil.  So what did Haslett do?  She does what she can to suffer alongside her brother who is in and out of depression, and she is involved with causes that are meant to alleviate suffering and bring about justice.  The problem with these causes is that they are very political and Haslett can’t seem to get herself to look at all the sides of the issues (she shows that there is voter fraud in Florida, on the side of the Republicans, but she ignores the voter fraud perpetuated by the Democrats).   Simone was very good at (and purposefully so) looking at opposing information.  Haslett’s inability to look at the other side, of humbling herself for that (or simply not villainizing the “other side”), shows up in another important way in this film.

Haslett is so enamored with Weil, and so mystified by some things about her, that she wants to meet her.  Since she can’t actually bring her back from the dead, she hires an actress (obviously a sharp one) to read and absorb Simone’s writings, and work in a factory like Simone did (sort-of), in order to “become Simone” so that Haslett can ask her questions.   [I’ll pause while you take that in.]   My first thought was, Why doesn’t she just try and understand Simone herself?   Haslett perhaps realized that she was incapable of doing so, but then, what use would there be in talking to and getting annoyed with an actress when you can basically do the same thing with a book?  It does indeed come to the inevitable head when the actress (bless her) says that “I” -meaning Simone – did not kill myself and by being  a slave of God’s I could get beyond my pain (Simone had very bad and long-lasting migraines) and try and do what I was called to do.

“Simone” insisted that she did not kill herself.  This is in reaction to many people’s claim that she passively ended her own life by not eating enough (while trying to get over tuberculosis); something the doctor who filled out her death certificate claimed.  Knowing Simone’s lifelong habit of only eating so much based on someone’s suffering–in this case, it was the amount allotted to her occupied countrymen in France–many question the doctor’s judgment.   But Haslett seemed to be trying to make the case that Simone killed herself, and had earlier submitted to Christ, out of desperation–desperation over not being able to stop the suffering of so many, and knowing that suffering would never come to an end.  It is presented that Simone had to have turned to religion only as a last resort – after all reason and rational thought were used up.  Reading Simone’s writings, one would be very hard pressed to come up with a justification of this opinion of Haslett and others.

For one thing, Simone insisted that “she had not needed to be converted; she had always been implicitly, in ‘secret’ even from her lower self, a Christian” (Fiedler 1951, 23).  Regarding suffering, she came to view her own, from the migraines, as a gift.  Of course, suffering caused by man should be worked against.  Regarding reason and rational thought, consider her claim:  “Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth.  If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms” (Weil 1951, 69).  Very unlike Haslett, Simone knew that humans needed salvation.  In all the history now known there has never been a period in which souls have been in such peril as they are today in every part of the globe.  The bronze serpent must be lifted up again so that whoever raises his eyes to it may be saved” (Weil 1951, 76; see Numbers 21:5-8 and John 3:13-15 for biblical references).

All this is significant since Haslett is against it . . . yet she can’t seem to dismiss it.  At the end of the film we find that the brother she includes in the film, who suffered depression after his father’s suicide, committed suicide himself.  Haslett equates his suicide with Weil’s, though this seems very far from the mark (especially if you are of the opinion that Weil did not commit suicide).  She says that, since the world is doomed, the only choice is whether to commit suicide or not.  Wow.  I do hope that if any suicidal persons see this film that they aren’t encouraged negatively by it.  In any case, there actually seems to be hope in the end.

Amazingly, Haslett, for the first time, gives a nod to the supernatural; she says that to give attention is a “miracle.”  As she kisses a wall, she ends the film with this Weil quote:  “Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall.  The wall is what separates them but it is also their means of communication.  It is the same with us and God, every separation is a link.”  Perhaps the best audience for this film are all those who desire Haslett (and others like her) to look toward God longer, until she desires Him instead of the vessel in which He worked so brightly (Simone).
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Fiedler, Leslie A.  “Introduction,” in Waiting for God.  Simone Weil (New York: Harper Colophon 1973)

Weil, Simone.  Waiting for God (New York: Harper Colophon 1973; reprint of G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1951)

What does God say about employer obligations, worker rights?

Hall-Scott Factory workers, undated (late 1800s to early 1900s; http://theoldmotor.com/?p=18973).
Hall-Scott Factory workers, undated (late 1800s to early 1900s; http://theoldmotor.com/?p=18973).

In the Old Testament, Micah tells Israel, “He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).  Indeed, chapter six of Micah concerns the Lord’s decision to punish Israel because of its practices that opposed God’s laws and intentions:  Israel was full of those who used dishonest scales, who lied, and who were violent.

Many of God’s OT regulations were meant to protect those in weaker social and economic situations. Psalm 146 is a praise to God who, unlike mortal men, “upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.  The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.  The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked” (7-9).

These ideals are certainly carried through into the New Testament, where it is emphasized that all are to be treated with respect and as one would like to be treated themselves, and that all persons are equal in God’s sight (Matthew 7:12; Galatians 3:28; 1 Peter 3:8). So what did God command concerning the rights of workers?  What was expected of the employer (or master)?  For one, all persons, including hired people and servants/slaves, were to have the Sabbath day for rest (Deuteronomy 5:14).  Second, workers were to be paid at the end of the day (Leviticus 19:13b; Matthew 20:1-16).  Third, employees are to be treated with gratitude, respect, and good will, as this verse from Ruth 2:4 exemplifies:  “And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, ‘The LORD be with you!’ And they answered, ‘The LORD bless you.’”

Verses that continue with this idea, but also provide the reason – that all humans are equal – include Job 31:13-15, Colossians 4:1, and Ephesians 6:9.  For example:  “Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him” (Ephesians 6:9).

God also gave warnings to those who would disobey His will and laws in the employer-employee relationship.  In Malachi He says, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment.  I will be a swift witness against . . . those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me” (3:5).  There’s more in Jeremiah:   “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages . . .” (22:13). James did not pull any punches when he wrote:

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.  Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you.  The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.   You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you (5:1-6).

Another thing to consider about God’s laws and regulations is that they were more advanced and humane than those of the ancient near eastern societies that surrounded Israel.   Some slaves in Israel were the poor who became too indebted.  Instead of becoming homeless and/or being on various forms of welfare, “Someone would agree to pay their debt for six years (or fewer) of labor. After the time was over, the owner-employer sent them on their way, with funds and good.”

One law made it illegal to return runaway slaves to their masters!  “If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand him over to his master.  Let him live among you wherever he likes and in whatever town he chooses. Do not oppress him” (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). Laws such as these (and there are more) provided a big incentive for masters to treat all in their household fairly.   In contrast, there is hint about how poor persons were treated elsewhere.

In the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), the son receives his inheritance from his still-living father and then moves to a far-off country.  He soon finds himself without any money left, “So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.   And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything” (15-16).  If the prodigal were paid every evening, would he be without food?  If he had been even a slave in Israel, would he be without food and shelter? I am not advocating slavery (!) but am pointing out a result of our practice and attitude toward the less successful in our country (the United States): the slaves of Israel were better off than the jobless/homeless in America.

(c) Vicki Priest 2014 [edited on September 1, 2014; previously posted by the author at Examiner.com, in 2011]