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Lessons in the Psalms: Summaries of C.S. Lewis’s Thought (3 of 3)

Psalm 21, Initial D. In: Albani-Psalter
Psalm 21, Initial D. In: Albani-Psalter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post, which is the third of three, is a summary of sorts of C.S. Lewis’s work, Reflections on the Psalms (1955; the edition of this book used here is found in The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis, published in 1994 by Inspirational Press). Note that word spellings as found in the book are kept in this essay.  I hope you are blessed by Lewis’ insight and these easily accessible summaries (click here for the first in the series and here for the second).

[This is a slightly edited version of the article I originally published at Examiner.com.]

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Psalms and the Christian: The Law and Second Meanings

Sweeter Than Honey (the law)

How can God’s laws, His statutes, be truly thought of as “sweeter than honey,” as stated in Psalm 19:10, or something that “rejoices the heart” (19:8), when a starving person is told not to steal? Lewis could not understand this at first. To say that obeying the law brought about these joyful thoughts and feelings, as some have suggested, is to miss the psalmist’s intentions.

By “the law” is meant all that is in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, not simply the Ten Commandments. Psalm 1:2 says that the law is a delight and to be exercised day and night (in more modern translations, the word used is “meditate”). This is not referring to constant obedience, but continual study and meditation. So what is meant by delight in the law is akin to loving a certain subject, like astronomy, for instance.

Of course, there can be a danger in having your favorite subject be something sacred. It can lead to spiritual conceit. See John 7:49. The pride that grew amongst Israel’s leaders led them to attach more and more conditions to the laws until finally no one could do them all. Or, if some claimed to fulfill all the conditions, then this bred self-righteousness.

Moving on from this note of warning, another aspect of the psalmist’s understanding of Gods laws is that they’re “true.” They aren’t “true” in the same sense that “apples grow on trees” is true, but that they are righteous and rock solid: “Their delight in the Law is a delight in having touched firmness; like the pedestrian’s delight in feeling the hard road beneath his feet after a false short cut has long entangled him in muddy fields” (162-163). This has more meaning when viewed in the light of Israel’s neighbors and enemies. Pagan practices abounded, like ritual sodomy and the burning to death of babies. But when horrific danger pressed in on the Israelites, say from the Assyrians, many were tempted to appeal to the “gods” of these rituals. To the person who saw the harm and horror of these pagan practices, God’s laws indeed would be “sweet.”

Second Meanings: Writings in General, and in Scripture

In the last three chapters of Lewis’ book, he presents ways to view second meanings in (1) pagan writings, (2) how second meanings may be viewed in scripture generally, and lastly, (3) second meanings in the psalms. The purpose of this exercise is to determine if it is legitimate to even consider meanings apart from what the writer apparently intended. And if so, how can we know a second meaning is something we should take seriously?

In relation to pagan writings, Lewis explains how Virgil’s poem Eclogue IV* (written shortly before Christ was born)–which uncannily resembles the birth of Christ and its meaning–can be considered an amazing “coincidence.” Whereas Plato’s description of what the world would do to a man of perfect goodness, where he describes a scene like Christ’s passion before the event came to pass, is akin to a very educated guess. Plato was in tune with the subject because of his teacher Socrates’ execution, and after contemplating it all, perfected his thoughts on the matter. And so it happened that Plato was quite correct in his assessment! (While reading Lewis’ work one can surmise that he did not think, really, that Virgil’s poem was mere coincidence or that Plato’s work lacked divine inspiration, but Lewis is making an argument apart from immeasurable heavenly influence.)

Lewis reasons: “If even pagan utterances can carry a second meaning, not quite accidentally but because, in the sense I have suggested, they have a sort of right to it, we shall expect the Scriptures to do this more momentously and more often. We have two grounds for doing so if we are Christians” (187). The two grounds are:

(1) Aside from direct prophecy, the OT is filled with all kinds of different writings. Ecclesiastes is basically pagan, so why is it scripture? The Song of Songs is basically secular, so why is it scripture? Lewis describes those OT as having been worked upwards, or divinely upgraded. “All [have been] taken into the service of God’s word. . . . On all these I suppose a Divine pressure; of which not by any means [the authors] need have been conscious” (188).

Just as not all see (believe) that the human animal has been up-graded to hold the divine, not all will see the divine in the up-graded words of the Bible. “For what is required, on all these levels alike, is not merely knowledge but a certain insight; getting the focus right” (190). He likens this to the printed page: for those who do not know what it is, apart from ink markings on paper, a person who tells them it is a poem may not get far in convincing them.

(2) The second ground for acknowledging other meanings in scripture is far easier to explain: Jesus Himself said so. He had scolded the disciples going to Emmaus for not realizing, from scripture, that the anointed one would suffer. He told them of the scriptures that referred to Himself in the OT (Luke 24:25-27). From NT verses, we know positively that the following OT passages referred to Jesus: Isaiah 53 (Acts 8:27-38), Psalm 22 (Mark 15:34), Psalm 110 (Mark 12:35-36), Psalm 91:11-12 (Matt 4:6), Psalm 118:22 (Mark 12:10), Psalm 16:[10] (Acts 2:27). As Lewis states: “He [Jesus] accepted—indeed claimed to be—the second meaning of Scripture” (191).

* Lewis had not provided the name of the poem, but I include it for the readers’ information.

Second Meanings: The Psalms

“Here (to speak in ludicrously human terms) we feel that it needed no Divine guidance to give the old texts their second meaning but would rather have needed a special miracle to keep it out” (196).

As Lewis explains it so clearly, and as I think that clarity is necessary here, I will quote him at length concerning the overall view of “second meanings” in scripture:

“In a certain sense Our Lord’s interpretation of the Psalms was common ground between Himself and His opponents. [The example of] how David can call Christ ‘my Lord’ (Mark 12, 35-37), would lose its point unless it were addressed to those who took it for granted that the ‘my Lord’ referred to in Psalm 110 was the Messiah, the regal and anointed deliverer who would subject the world to Israel. This method was accepted by all. The ‘scriptures’ all had a ‘spiritual’ second sense. Even a gentile ‘God-fearer’ like the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8, 27-38) knew that the sacred books of Israel could not be understood without a guide, trained in the Judaic tradition, who could open the hidden meanings. Probably all instructed Jews in the first century saw references to the Messiah in most of those passages where our Lord saw them; what was controversial was His identification of the Messianic King with another Old Testament figure and of both with Himself.

Two figures meet us in the Psalms, that of the sufferer and that of the conquering and liberating king. In 13, 28, 55 and 102, we have the Sufferer; in 2 and 72, the King. The Sufferer was, I think, by this time generally identified with (and may sometimes have originally been intended as) the whole nation, Israel itself—they would have said ‘himself’. The King was the successor of David, the coming Messiah. Our Lord identified Himself with both these characters (193).

So, as Lewis remarks, allegorical readings have been viewed as normal and this by the highest authorities–but, not all interpretations are fruitful or even rational. One has to be discerning and open to the possibility that an interpretation can be wrong, based on historical blindness or wishful thinking.

He finishes the chapter, and his book, with examples of second meanings in some psalms based on interpretations in the NT itself (not all are summarized here). The first is Psalm 110, and Lewis explains it in the context of it being used for Christmas day in his church’s prayer book. This psalm is about a coming king who will be victorious over his enemies, and not about a sweet helpless newborn. We already know that David’s “Lord” is Jesus (verse 1), from Mark 12, and this Psalm is wholly messianic. It is about conquering in wrath the kings of the earth, not about individual salvation. Verse 4b says, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek,” which is discussed at length in Hebrews 7. For a Jewish convert this is very important, since Jesus could not be a priest in the order Aaron; right there in a psalm of David, a messianic psalm, is the reference to a priestly order prior to Aaron’s. But regarding Jesus as conqueror and king, see also psalms 45, 89, and 132 (for Lewis’ fantastic treatment of Psalm 45, where Christ is also bridegroom, lover, and father, see pages 197 – 198).

Psalm 68 was read on Pentecost. It rejoices at the Lord’s victories over His enemies as well, but also presents how God loves and defends those in need. This is truly an astonishing messianic psalm! In verse 2, there are said to be a great host who spreads the word that the Lord gave; this suits Pentecost and seems to refer to all His followers. In the NT, Paul (Eph 4:7-8) gave a meaning to verse 18 that was no doubt new to many, and that was of the giving of the Holy Spirit (which of course Jesus told them about in John 16:7).

Paul wrote of another Psalm, 8, that had a new revealed meaning (Hebrews 2:6-9, 1 Cor 15:20-28). Instead of the psalmist meaning humanity in verse 5, “You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor,” it became known to the early church (maybe through Christ Himself) that that verse referred to the Lord Jesus Christ. Psalm 8 also speaks of the “son of man,” which Christ so-often called Himself. Lewis observes,

“And it is this, I believe, that most modern Christians need to be reminded of. It seems to me that I seldom meet any strong or exultant sense of the continued, never-to-be-abandoned, Humanity of Christ in glory, in eternity. We stress the Humanity too exclusively at Christmas, and the Deity to exclusively after the Resurrection; almost as if Christ once became a man and then presently reverted to being simply God. We think of the Resurrection and Ascension (rightly) as great acts of God; less often as the triumph of Man. The ancient interpretation of Psalm 8, however arrived at, is a cheering corrective. . . . As I have already indicated, there seems to me to be something more than analogy between the taking up of animality into man and taking up of man into God” (199-200).

 

Sources

Kaiser Jr, Walter, et al. “Does God Seem so Angry in the Old Testament & Loving in the New?” In Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Lewis, C. S. “Reflections on the Psalms.” In The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis. Inspirational Press, 1994 (1955).

 

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Lessons in the Psalms: Summaries of C.S. Lewis’s Thought (2 of 3)

KJV of 1611 (Psalms 23:1,2): Occurrence of &qu...
KJV of 1611 (Psalms 23:1,2): Occurrence of “L ORD ” (and “God” in the heading) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post, which is the second of three, is a summary of sorts of C.S. Lewis’s work, Reflections on the Psalms (1955; the edition of this book used here is found in The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis, published in 1994 by Inspirational Press). Note that word spellings as found in the book are kept in this essay.  I hope you are blessed by Lewis’ insight and these easily accessible summaries (click here for the first in the series)!

[This is a slightly edited version of the article I originally published at Examiner.com.]

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Psalms and the Christian: Death and Seeing God

Death in the Psalms

Do you know what the Pharisees and Sadducees believed about the afterlife during Jesus’ time? Do you know what the Jews believed about this 1000 years earlier? When it comes to interpreting the Psalms it’s important to know that the Jews, through time, had differing beliefs about life after death. This is because God chose to reveal his plan for our eternal souls slowly.

“. . . in the Old Testament the idea of an afterlife was only partially revealed and even that revelation comes toward the end of the Old Testament period. Most of the time people thought of death as going down to the shadow world of Sheol where there was no praise of God and at best only a semi-life. What they hoped for was to die at a ripe old age with a good name, having seen their children and grandchildren . . .” (Kaiser, et al., p 46).

So this was basically the idea of the afterlife when most of the Psalms were written, which was between about 1400 BC and 430 BC. By the time of Jesus, the Jews were split in their beliefs. The Pharisees believed in an afterlife that included a resurrection, the Sadducees did not. As my old pastor occasionally said, “That’s why they were sad, you see.” At this point I think it well to make a note that while this is the view that Lewis took, and many or most scholars still take (i.e., the quote above), other scholars disagree. They argue that based on (1) the taking of Enoch and of Elijah, (2) the views expressed in some of the psalms, and (3) on the book of Job, that the Jews believed in an afterlife directly with God. While some references to Sheol say that God is present there, others do not, and in any case Sheol did not represent what we understand as heaven.

Here are some examples of the ancient Jews’ views on the afterlife: Psalm 89:47 – “Remember how fleeting is my life. For what futility you have created all men!” Psalm 30:9 – “What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness?” Psalm 6:5 – “No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave?” Psalm 88:5 – “I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care.”

Lewis does not deny that there are some verses in the Psalms that speak to us today about God’s plan of redemption, but he is pointing out in this topic that we have to be careful about applying Christian theology to ancient texts. Lewis feels that God kept thoughts of the afterlife to a minimum with His chosen people so that they wouldn’t get too caught up in it. The pagan nations around them, like the Egyptians, were very much concerned with the afterlife, indeed. One can be TOO concerned about it, where it becomes simply a selfish ambition. It was enough during this time that people sought after God to help them simply survive in a difficult world. God also wanted the Jews to learn to love Him for what and who He is, not just for what He could do for them. When they learned to love Him, they then would begin to desire to be with their God forever. It is only when God is at the center that the desire for heaven or the fear of hell really make sense, or any lasting sense, anyway. If we try to imagine what either heaven or hell is like, we don’t get very far; in the end it is a choice of whether one wants to be with God or not.

Worshiping God, Seeing God

Lewis finds that it is useful to think about how Jews worshiped God when the view of heaven was absent, which would be so foreign to us. He says the worshipful aspect of the Psalms is one of mirth, and “If we think ‘mirth’ an unsuitable word for them, that may show how badly we need something which the Psalms can give us perhaps better than any other book in the world” (p.154). What tempers our mirth relative to the Jews’ is that while we believe that the Messiah has already come, he died a gruesome death for us which we are called to remember every time we have communion.

Which brings us to important differences between the Temple and the synagogues, and how they relate to our current church practices. When the Temple existed, it was the place of worship and festivity, slaughter and barbeques. The synagogues were different, being local places for scripture readings and education. In our churches, we combine all: worship, slaughter (the Eucharist), scripture readings and education – we may even have an occasional barbeque.

But there’s a difference between the Temple festivals and our weekly services. Lewis says, “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God which made David dance” (p. 155). When people came to the temple for a holy time, it was also a fun time. If you didn’t live in Jerusalem, then it was kind-of an adventure (at least for kids). You socialized, had roast meat, listened to music and danced. You might come to think of God in that way, that he equaled those things. This is what Lewis tries to get at. Probably for the “common man” God was all of those pleasant things; the ancient peasant Jew was not an analytical Greek – all was one with him, and that one was God (however, do not think that he was a pagan or pantheist, either).

So when the psalmist talks of seeing the Lord, or longing to see him, he most often meant seeing him through worship in the Temple. Psalm 68 is an example: “Your procession has come into view, O God, the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary. In front are the singers, after them the musicians; with them are the maidens playing tambourines” (vv. 24-25). He wouldn’t say, like we might today, that he “felt” the presence of the Lord, but that what he saw was the Lord’s presence.

Considering the historic contexts shown in the essays so far, Psalm 27 (vv. 4-6) takes on new or added meaning:

One thing I ask of the Lord,
This is what I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
He will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle
and set me high upon a rock.
Then my head will be exalted
Above the enemies who surround me;
at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

And make music they did. The psalms are full of the longing for God and for declaring it through music. Examples can be found in: 9(2); 42; 43(4); 47(1); 50(2); 57(9); 63(2); 65(4); 81 (1-2); 84(3); 97(1); and, 150(5). Since the writers of these psalms did not know the salvation of the Lord like we do, it is all the more amazing that they worshiped with such gusto. Granted, our worship has the somber counterpoint of Jesus’ death, but we should be able to seek the beauty of the Lord and the “pleasures” of his house today. (It seems that the church as a whole actually has moved more in this direction since Lewis wrote his work in 1955.) Lewis concludes: “. . . I find [in the Psalms] an experience fully God-centered, asking of God no gift more urgently than His presence, the gift of Himself, joyous to the highest degree, and unmistakably real” (p.158).

 

Sources

Kaiser Jr, Walter, et al. “Does God Seem so Angry in the Old Testament & Loving in the New?” In Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Lewis, C. S. “Reflections on the Psalms.” In The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis. Inspirational Press, 1994 (1955).

Christian Books for Reference and Reading (of course!)

Reading with the kitty scholar

This bibliographic article was first at Squidoo and called My Christian Bookshelf: Apologetics (I).  I removed it to my blog here and I hope you are informed by it!

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Christian Apologetics Covers an Array of Topics

Apologetics is a term many more Christians know today since there’s been a publishing boom on the subject in recent years, and universities have added classes and degrees in it. I have a certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, where, if a student is interested, credits from the low-cost certificate can be applied to a master’s degree. But what is apologetics? It’s not apologizing for one’s faith, as it might sound. Our modern word “apologetics” comes from the Greek “apologia,” which means “defense,” “answer,” or “vindication.” Of course, apologetics covers many topics and responds to whatever new fad of popular criticism crops up. There are a variety of topics that some people specialize in, like apologetics relating to science-based criticisms, or philosophical criticisms, or even textual criticisms.

Regarding textual criticism, there is so much evidence to show that the Old and New Testaments are reliable and unaltered, that it’s a bit odd that this area of criticism continues. Yet, this may be because this subject seems to have the least amount of publications readily available, or perhaps many people just don’t care to understand it as much as other Bible-related issues. It is certainly necessary to understand, since various cults, and even Islam, baldly and falsely claim that the Bible is unreliable. This is to justify their own later writings and to gain followers.

Presented below are some of my general apologetics favorites or those I find very useful. I’ll write about more resources in another post. Be aware that there are many more good apologetics books that I not only don’t have time to read, but don’t have the money to buy them with, or have room in my home to keep them all! If you have any favorites, you’re welcome to talk about them in the comment section near the bottom of this post.

Christian books

The Apologetics Study Bible.  This Holman Christian Standard Bible version is the entire Bible interlaced with 142 short articles (most are 2/3 to 1 1/2 pages long), many “twisted scripture” notes, bullet notes (dictionary/glossary), and more. With its numerous easily read articles that cover a very wide variety of apologetics topics, the Apologetics Study Bible is a great resource for beginners. It’s not a bad way to compare views and nuances on the various topics, either, since some articles overlap, add to a subject, or provide different views by different authors. Unlike some resources, the articles in this Bible come from many different authors, and their bylines are given so that you can look them up further if something intrigues you. In addition, since this translation is a newer one, it wouldn’t hurt to have a copy of it to compare it with other translations.

Holman Quick Source Guide to Apologetics.  This colorful book by Doug Powell is one of my favorites, thus its place at the top here. In fact, I need to get the newer edition since mine is actually falling apart! Powell is a creative, art-oriented person (besides being an apologist, he’s a graphic designer, recording artist, and more, and has appeared on Conan O’Brien’s Late Night show), and this book is overflowing with photos, graphics, charts, and color text. This isn’t to say that the material is overly light. It’s not, but it does provide a great deal of good information in a fairly concise way. The topics run from the various arguments regarding the existence of God, to which God exists, to the reliability of either testament, and so forth, and it includes a valuable discussion on how God could allow evil.

Hard Sayings of the Bible.  This is the most used book in my apologetics library. It is a compilation of four previously published books by different authors. As with just about any large resource with multiple authors, you’ll probably find some things that you disagree with in here. I disagree with some things. For anyone who has read the Bible and talked with a variety of believers, they will know that there are some subjects that are controversial; indeed, there are some things that are simply mysteries–things we can’t comprehend in our present form. And a lot of people like to argue about them, as if they have solved the mystery. In any case, as the title suggests, Hard Sayings of the Bible tries to help readers understand passages or topics that many people find confusing, and it mostly succeeds. Having this book along with a variety of commentaries will really help you understand the context of God’s word.

The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics.  Published by Harvest House, this book is pretty much described in its title. It’s an encyclopedia of apologetics that is “popular” due, I think, to the brevity of the entries and, perhaps, as an excuse to leave certain topics out. I’m not trying to criticize the book too much here, as it is included for its usefulness, but it is not all-inclusive as far as topics are concerned. For instance, many religions are covered, yet Scientology is left out (“socinianism” is there, however – any guess as to what that is?). As for the length of the entries, they really aren’t all that short; it’s not a dictionary. In addition to covering many religions and philosophical ideas, there are many entries in this book about apologetics itself, Jesus, and God. Topics are easy to look up quickly in the accessible format.

True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism.  This book is now available in hard copy form instead of only Kindle, as I have it. This is a good thing for those who find that print documents not only help with retention, but are easier to mark with notes and are definitely easier to cite (since there are page numbers). Multiple contributors wrote about multiple subjects in True Reason, so the topics can be looked up and read about when interested or needed. I love the last chapters the most, 13 – 16, since those chapters interest me personally and they are topics not understood well by many people. One of these topics, from chapter 15, is about slavery in the Bible. There is a very big gap between biblical slavery and the worst examples of slavery found in the historic Southern U.S., or in many parts of the world today. However, from reading high sounding critics, you would completely think that biblical slavery was equivalent to the worst forms of slavery. Perhaps bible translators should sometimes choose different words for “slave” since it seems to have only one meaning anymore.

In any case, some “slaves” among the Jews were persons who today would be those who became too poor to pay their debtors. 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 goods. This is more like indentured servitude and it was unique to Israel. This is due to God’s word; everywhere else, slaves were simply property, no matter the reason they had became slaves. Slaves in Israel were more like servants and were considered to be people, not property, and as such had the same protections against injury and murder as anyone else.

Slavery in the New Testament was not condoned, only made the best of in a time when the new, small Christian church had no power to change the entrenched Roman system. Author Glenn Sunshine gives us some context:

“. . . although a number of Pauline epistles and 1 Peter instruct slaves to be obedient to their masters, they also tell masters to treat their slaves with dignity and respect, in essence recognizing their humanity. This was a radical idea in the Roman world, more than we in the 21st century Western world can easily appreciate. Even more radical was Paul’s insistence on the spiritual and moral equality of all people when he says that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:28). Paul tells people to remain in whatever condition they were in when they became Christians, with the exception that should an opportunity to become free arise, slaves should take advantage of it (1 Cor. 7:21).”

 

A Tiny Bit of CS Lewis on Will

“There are two kinds of people: Those who say to God ‘thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says ‘All right then, have it your way.'”

 

Mere Christianity.  On the back cover of the HarperCollins edition shown of Mere Christianity (which is an edited version of radio talks the author did for the troops during WWII), there’s a simply fantastic evaluation of this book and its context in history. I point you to it. C.S. Lewis, the author of Mere Christianity, is considered to be the greatest apologist of the 20th century. He basically started it all for us who are now in the 21st century. Lewis himself had been an atheist who eventually accepted Christ in his life, through both intellectual reasoning and personal experience. If you’d like to read a thoughtful piece by someone who had been an atheist and then accepted Christ through Lewis’ works, you can check out Philip Vander Elst’s engagingly informative article at bethinking.org: “From Atheism to Christianity: a Personal Journey.”

Zak, pretending to read.The Reason for God: Belief in the Age of Skepticism.  Written by Timothy Keller of the well-liked Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, this book continues much of Lewis’ earlier work. It is a very readable and friendly look at the Christian understanding of such topics as suffering, forgiveness, sin, science, and God’s interaction with us.

The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith.  This book is of more interest than it perhaps generally would be because it is by the journalist brother of the late and popular anti-theist Christopher Hitchens. Peter Hitchens provides personal experiences and much history in explaining not only how he became a believer, but also how the new atheists ignore and/or twist history in their attempts to discredit belief in God and Christ. Besides being informative, it’s an interesting read, particularly if you want to know more about the relatively recent history of the United Kingdom.

“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.”

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.

Is God ever the author of evil? Does God cause evil acts?

The light shines through the darkness. By Mattox at stock.xchng (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1134104).

As a Christian, I believe John’s statement:  This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (John 1:5).  Yet, there are verses in the Bible—mostly in the Old Testament—where God says He causes calamity, the hardening of hearts, even sinful behavior.  Critics and skeptics ask about these, and in light of the evil and suffering in the world, wonder at the goodness or even existence of God.

So which verses are we talking about?  Here are some of them:

Exodus 9:12:  But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had told Moses.

1 Kings 22:23:  You see, the Lord has put a lying spirit into the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and the Lord has pronounced disaster against you.

Isaiah 45:7:  I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.

Mark 4:11-12 (verse 12 is from Isaiah 6:9-10):  He answered them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been granted to you, but to those outside, everything comes in parables so that ‘they may look and look, yet not perceive; they may listen and listen, yet not understand; otherwise, they might turn back—and be forgiven.”

So does God really, purposefully, harden people’s hearts to that they won’t listen to Him or come to Him, tell people or spirits to go and lie for Him so that they (or others) do the wrong thing, and/or simply cause disasters?

The basic answer to all of these is that since God is sovereign and He made everything, He is ultimately responsible for everything that happens.  That’s how the Hebrews saw it and that’s how they wrote, though to us today it seems odd or unsatisfactory.  The Hebrews knew that persons and spirits were responsible, yet they emphasized God’s role.  As is stated in Hard Sayings of the Bible, “What is reflected here is the lack of precise distinction in Hebraic thought between primary and secondary causes.  Since God is sovereign, human will and freedom to decide for or against God were often subsumed under divine sovereignty” (Kaiser et al, 620).

Let’s look at each of the above verses separately, while keeping in mind the general explanation already stated by Kaiser et al.  Regarding Exodus 9:12, MacDonald briefly writes:  “The more Pharaoh hardened his heart, the more it became judicially hardened by God” (96).  The concern is recognized in Kaiser et al.:  “. . . it appears God authors evil and then holds someone else responsible.  Did God make it impossible for Pharaoh to respond and then find Pharaoh guilty for this behavior?” (142).  No, since Pharaoh hardened his own heart  during the first five plagues (Ex 7:13, 14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34, 35; 13:15).  After this, as MacDonald so concisely stated, God helped the process along since it was already what Pharaoh had decided himself.

1 Kings 22:23.  In considering this verse and its context, the Hebrew habit of ignoring secondary causes is significant.  There are other verses in the Bible where a command is given, but it is an affirmation of permission – as is the case when Jesus tells the demons to enter a herd of pigs (Matt 8:31), or when he tells Judas to get going with his plans (John 13:27).  In the case of 1 Kings 22, King Ahab was listening to false prophets and the false prophets were responsible for their own lies; God allowed it and used it for His plans, and God even warned Ahab.

. . . the passage in question is a vision that Micaiah reveals to Ahab.  God is telling Ahab, “Wise up.  I am allowing your prophets to lie to you.”  In a sense, God is revealing further truth to Ahab rather than lying to him.  If God were truly trying to entrap Ahab into a life-threatening situation, he would not have revealed the plan to him!  Even so, Ahab refuses to heed God’s truth, and he follows his prophets’ advice (Kaiser et al, 231).

In conclusion, “Without saying that God does evil that good may come, we can say that God overrules the full tendencies of preexisting evil so that the evil promotes God’s eternal plan, contrary to its own tendency and goals” (Kaiser et al, 230).

Isaiah 45:7.  Much has been written on Isaiah 45:7, since part of the problem is that the King James Bible incorrectly used the word “evil” instead of disaster or some like word.  The verse refers to natural “evil” (destructive forces) and not moral evil.  God permits these things, and in fact natural destructive forces are a normal and necessary part of the earth’s balance and being.  The verse is a strong declaration, however, that God is THE creator and that He is ultimately in control of all things, and not some other being.

Mark 4:11-12 (Isaiah 6:9-10).  After having reviewed the other verses/passages, the meaning of this passage can almost be inferred.  It may sound mean and controlling of God, but it is a reality that there are those people who go after and accept views and actions that are contrary to God.  For those like this, God lets them continue; they have chosen their way, their path, and God does not force anyone to follow Him and accept Him as savior and Lord.  (Interestingly, the author of the section on this verse in Kaiser et al. [417-419] does not agree, providing a minority interpretation that is something of a 180˚ turn.)  MacDonald provides a generally accepted interpretation:

Verses 11 and 12 explain why this truth was presented in parables.  God reveals His family secrets to those whose hearts are open, receptive and obedient, while deliberately hiding truth from those who reject the light given to them. . . . we must remember the tremendous privilege which these people had enjoyed.  The Son of God had taught in their midst and performed many mighty miracles before them.  Instead of acknowledging Him as the true Messiah, they were even now rejecting Him.  Because they had spurned the Light of the world, they would be denied the light of His teachings (1330).

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (John 1:5b).  God is not evil and does not do evil, but He does “work around” the evil in this world to further His plans for human redemption.  God loves us, and sent His son for us, so that we may have new life in Him (to not be controlled by the evil in the world).  If you want that, you will find it.  You will find God and He will know you.  “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10); “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt 7:7); “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor 13:12); “But the man who loves God is known by God” (1 Cor 8:3).

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Sources:  James Dunn and John Rogerson, ed.s, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Pub Co 2003); Tim Jackson, Did God Create Evil?; Kaiser, Walter et al, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 1996); MacDonald, William, Believer’s Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub.s 1995).

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]

What is Christian Freedom, Christian Obedience?

Do we have a hard time wrapping our head around Christian freedom? It seems so, as some will say that we Christians need to follow laws and rituals in order to do our part in our own salvation. Others will go to the opposite end of the spectrum, saying that Christians can do whatever they want because they are “free in Christ.” Neither assertion is valid. The first denies the work of Christ, which does not come with an “also” list for salvation; we only need to believe in Him and surrender ourselves to Him (in other words, have faith in Him). The second denies the indwelling of Christ in the believer and the work of The Spirit; God with us and in us will not allow for a life of sin.

But then, what is Christian freedom? In his letter to the Galatians, Paul is upset that those whom he helped lead to Christ and who learned the gospel, were now being lead astray by legalists who were teaching that works of the flesh were also necessary for salvation.

“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (2:15-16). “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (2:21).

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? I guess Paul thought so too, since he next exclaims, “You foolish Galatians!” (3:1). Paul believed that the Galatians received God’s Spirit, as he goes on to ask them if they received that Spirit by observing the law, and if they were going to reach their goal of salvation by the law after having received the Spirit. Abraham and others, prior to the giving of the law, were righteous because of their faith (see also Romans 4). So why was the law given?

“The law was given to a nation of sinners. They could never obtain righteousness by keeping it because they did not have the power to obey it. The law was meant to show men what hopeless sinners they were, so they would cry out to God to save them by His grace. God’s covenant with Abraham was an unconditional promise of blessing; the law resulted only in cursing. The law demonstrated the unworthiness of man to receive free and unconditional blessing. If man is to be blessed, it must be by the grace of God” (MacDonald p 1885).

The law was like a guardian for God’s child. Israel was seen as God’s immature child, and the child had to follow the rules set forth by the Father until the child reached the right age. In practical terms, the child was a slave to the law. The child was an heir of God, but could not come into his inheritance until the right time. The child could not come into his inheritance if he did not obey all the laws, either, since the consequence of disobedience was death (now that’s one tough guardian!). At the right time, however, God sent Messiah so that the heir might come into his inheritance. “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).* Believers receive God’s Spirit, are redeemed from the law, and are no longer slaves to the law. Because they are in Christ, they cannot suffer death due to legal disobedience.

What the Galatians were doing, then, was making themselves slaves to the law all over again! They were making the law an idol. Were they the children of Hagar the slave woman (representative of the Law), or children of Sarah the free woman, whose offspring are children of God’s promise?

“These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent the two covenants” (4:24a; emphasis mine). “But what does the Scripture say? ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.’ Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman” (4:30-31).

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (5:1a). Legalism is of no value – “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (5:6b). “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (5:13). Since we have the Spirit and are not under the law, we are to live by the Spirit. The Spirit is contrary to sin, so those with the Spirit will not live a life that is enslaved to the sinful nature. Contrary to the “easy believism” types, a person who has God in them is not going to abuse Christian “freedom” by living life “in the flesh.” In fact, we are free from being under the control of sin and are slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:15-23). Although we all sin at times–since we are still physical beings in a corrupt world–we are awakened spiritual beings who have the Spirit of God to give us guidance and strength. Our lives will not be characterized by sin but will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:19-24)

Therefore don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah  (Colossians 2:16-17).

* Interestingly, Paul was not alone in his thoughts regarding the change of status or make-up of the law relating to the Messiah. Many rabbis thought that the Torah was for the age prior to Messiah, and that a new Messianic age would mean changes of some sort to the law (Kaiser et al, pp 564-565).

Sources:

Cabal, Ted, General Editor. The Apologetics Study Bible. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.

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

Kaiser Jr, Walter, et al. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

MacDonald, William. Believer’s Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995 (1989).

The Samaritan Woman

The Water of Life Discourse between Jesus and ...
The Water of Life Discourse between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, by Giacomo Franceschini, 17-18th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story of the Samaritan woman, or the woman at the well in the gospel of John, chapter 4, is a good example of two items related to our topic:  what Jesus thought of women and what later interpreters have done with this (you will need to know the story to understand this article, and it can be read here).  Many commentaries you can read today, or pastors whom you can hear, unfoundedly portray the woman at the well in a very negative and biased light, which both degrades and takes away from the full meaning of the event.

For people who focus on belittling others and judging, the woman is seen as a (very big) sinner – apparently one that is worse than they are.  They claim that Jesus was making the woman realize her sin to feel guilty about it, in order to come to salvation – but this goes against at least some theological views about repentance and salvation.  “If repentance is cited as a condition of salvation in terms of feeling sorry for one’s sins, then it is wrong usage of the term” (Enns 342).

There is nothing in the story to actually confirm the view that the woman was “loose,” which could be an explanation for her having had many (five) husbands and current “common law” spouse.  It would seem easier to think this of a woman with such a background today, but how in biblical times?  Women could not divorce.  A man could divorce his wife easily, however.  This woman could have been married to some that died, and some that divorced her.  She could have been divorced for fairly simple things, or for not producing children.

Did this woman come to the well with any of her children?  No.  If she had older children, it would seem that at least one would help her.  If she had no children, she would feel shame for this (one could only imagine how she’d feel if they were taken from her, which was common in divorce, or had died in some way).  Being barren would be shameful for a woman at this time, as much of a woman’s worth was based on her producing children.  If she were barren and divorced, then she would have a very hard time of it in life.  It seems possible that she lived with a man because she simply needed to survive, and for whatever reason (legal or social), the man did not marry her.  All of this could be shameful to the woman, and it could simply be her “lot in life” without her being intentionally immoral.  We don’t know, but all these things are possibilities, and maybe more probable than the hussy theory.

And, it is biased for commentators or pastors not to mention that it would not exactly be righteous for a man to divorce a woman for being barren.  Men could have caused her, through no fault of her own, to be in the predicament she was in.  Remember Abraham and Sarah?  Abraham did not divorce her for not producing a child (Sarah was quite old when she gave her handmaid to Abraham so that “she” might have a child); is was not until she was considered beyond the age of conceiving that Sarah became pregnant as God said she would, with Isaac.  Remember John the Baptist’s parents?  Zechariah was a priest, and his wife Elizabeth had been barren.  Zechariah did not divorce Elizabeth because she was barren; she was quite old when she gave birth to John.  Abraham and Zechariah (and Elizabeth, too!) are called “righteous” in the bible (Genesis 15:6; Luke 1:6).

So this woman, who came to the well outside of town, alone, is feeling what?  We can’t know for sure.  The fact that she came to this more distant water source (Bruce 106), in the middle of a hot day, seems to indicate that she was in shame and perhaps something of an outcast.  She must not have had a great outlook on life.   Probably childless, older now, living in shame . . .  And what happens?  The creator of the universe meets her there.  Did he need to do that to make her feel guilty?  No.  He came for something much better.  He came to lift her up.  If indeed her husbands had died and/or divorced her, Jesus came to bring her new life, removing the sadness and disgrace.  Did she repent of her sins there?  No (not outwardly, anyway) — she got happy.

If you read the story, you will see that Jesus said some things that could have made any Samaritan quite angry.  But she was starting to guess that he was the Messiah, not just a prophet, since Samaritans did not believe in any prophets accept the One to come after Moses.   She called him a prophet, but the only prophet possible was the Messiah.  So then, what truly remarkable thing did Jesus do?  He told HER that he indeed was the Messiah!  An “unclean” Samaritan woman; at this time, many Jewish men held both women and Samaritans in contempt.  Search the New Testament and you will find that Jesus told very few people who He really was.  What happens next?  She believes him, loses all her shame and goes and tells the whole town about Jesus!  No doubt it was her transformation, and her seeming sheer nerve, that so impressed the townspeople who they believed her.

Jesus is delightful.  He did not trudge all the way to Jacob’s well in order to condemn the woman for her sins, whatever they might have been, but to transform her.  Transformed she was, running to town and preaching to and teaching men.  Both Origen (died 254) and Theophylactus (died after 1071) considered her an apostle.  That other church leaders have not thought this, or acted upon their knowledge, has nothing to do with God’s view of women, but everything to do with men’s view of women.

Sources:  The Gospel & Epistles of John (FF Bruce); The Moody Handbook of Theology (Paul Enns); Believer’s Bible Commentary (W MacDonald); How Christianity Changed the World and Veiled and Silenced: How Culture Shaped Sexist Theology (Alvin J Schmidt).

Vicki Priest (c) 2012.