Monday, May 02, 2016

Veneration of Images - Affirmative Constructive

The question today is whether image veneration is Biblical and Historical. Well, of course, in a sense it is. In Genesis 31 we have the first reference to people having “gods” when Rachel stole them from her father’s house. Then, in Genesis 35 we have the first purge of them. Jacob hid them under the oak in Shechem.

They were again forbidden during the Exodus, but when Moses delayed coming down from the mount, the people demanded an image, and Aaron complied by making one (Exodus 32). And the Old Testament law is very explicit in forbidding these objects of veneration – not just in the second commandment, but also in Exodus 34:17, Leviticus 19:4, 26:1, and so on.

The Old Testament contains numerous warnings against idolatry, both explicit and implicit. Jeroboam, the first king of the ten tribes, was a mighty man of valour and was ordained by God himself to be their king. But as soon as Jeroboam put up idols for the worship of God, God turned against him (1 Kings 14) and he became known as Jeroboam who made Israel to sin because he set up the veneration of the golden calves.

There were, of course, images in a religious setting in the Old Testament. There were angels above the ark of the covenant, for example. But these images were not venerated. Another example would be the brass serpent. Looking at the brass serpent miraculously cured those bitten by the firey serpents. However, when the people started venerating that serpent (by burning incense to it), Hezekiah was praised for destroying it (2 Kings 18).

Indeed, Hezekiah was praised in the same place for removing all the unauthorized worship, including the high places, the groves, and the images. And that’s the constant theme in the Old Testament.

Even the Apocrypha or “Deuterocanonical” books and parts are not an exception. The story of Bel in Daniel 14 makes a mockery of the veneration of idols in a way that is roughly consistent with the canonical view of idol worship as improper and ridiculous – and reflects the views of Jews in the intertestamental period.

We see the same thing in Tobit, which predicts: “And all nations shall turn, and fear the Lord God truly, and shall bury their idols.” (Tobit 14:6)

We see the same thing in the added part of Esther, which associates idols with heathen worship (Esther 14:8-10).

We see the same thing in Wisdom 14:11-30 and 15:15, which includes a long explanation of the foolishness of venerating images.

We see the same thing in Ecclesiasticus 30:19
We see the same thing in the Letter of Jeremiah 1:73 “Better therefore is the just man that hath none idols: for he shall be far from reproach.”

Both first and second Maccabees contain only negative references to idols as well.

But what about the New Testament. Well, no surprise, the New Testament continues to be anti-idol. The dozens of references to images for veneration in the New Testament all depict the use of such images negatively.

Paul repeatedly distinguishes Christian worship from that of the pagans by comparison to worship via images. For example:

1 Corinthians 12:2 Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.

And let’s be clear the idols and icons you see in churches today are just as unable to speak as those that Paul confronted.

Thus, when preaching to the idolaters on Mars Hill, Paul said:

Acts 17:24-31
God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

The point of Paul’s diatribe is not that the Athenians should start worshiping crucifixes instead of statues of Jupiter. Instead, the point is that idol worship should altogether shunned and the living God should be worshiped.

Do you remember the opposition that Paul got in Ephesus? It was because Demetrius, the silversmith, realized that Paul’s message was iconoclastic. He wasn’t going to have to melt down the silver shrines for Diana, if Paul’s religion was right there would be no more demand for his work.

John’s first general epistle contains a blunt admonition:

1 John 5:21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

So then, the New Testament is fully consistent with the Old on this point. The incarnation did not change the rules – it didn’t suddenly make the veneration of images ok. Instead, they remain forbidden.

But what about the early church? Eventually, image worship crept into the church as well.

Augustine, in Sermon 198, explains:

Why have I said this? Please consider carefully the chief point I’m making. We had started to deal with the apparently better educated pagans — because the less educated are the ones who do the things about which these do not wish to be taken to task — so with the better educated ones, since they say to us, “You people also have your adorers of columns, and sometimes even of pictures.” And would to God that we didn’t have them, and may the Lord grant that we don’t go on having them! But all the same, this is not what the Church teaches you. I mean, which priest of theirs ever climbed into a pulpit and from there commanded the people not to adore idols, in the way that we, in Christ, publicly preach against the adoration of columns or of the stones of buildings in holy places, or even of pictures? On the contrary indeed, it was their very priests who used to turn to the idols and offer them victims for their congregations, and would still like to do so now.

So, by Augustine’s day such veneration of images had begun to creep in, but was being resisted. We have other examples from church history of some of the opposition to image worship as it crept in, but eventually it became quite widespread.

It’s not really until the end of the patristic period that we see John of Damascus (8th century) defend the veneration of images. And that’s not just based on my own reading – I checked the Jurgens quote book to see what Roman Catholic patristics folks could identify – there were only three quotations on the topic in the entire collection, none of those were from before Nicaea, one of them was an erroneous categorization, one was alleged to be from Basil (but is from a fragment found in an a later catena) and the one from John of Damascus.

What’s the exact day? It’s hard to be precise, but consider this – they found what appears to be some kind of ancient church at an excavation site called Dura Europos. Those excavating it concluded that it was destroyed around the middle of the third century. If that dating is correct, and if the building was really a church, it would be the earliest example we know of, of a church being decorated as it was.

We don’t seem to know anything about whatever group worshiped there. Thus, I think it would be optimism to suggest that anyone was venerating the murals in that building. Is it possible? Of course it’s possible – men have been inclined toward idolatry since at least the time of Jacob and probably earlier.

Is the veneration of such images Biblical and historical? It’s certainly been done a lot in history, and it’s mentioned in the Bible, but the Bible condemned it and our best historical reconstruction of the early church based on their writings suggest that they didn’t venerate images.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Theonomy vs. Contemporary Christian Legal Norms

Using the Bible to define what laws are just and unjust can lead to a number of conflicts with contemporary legal systems and even legal systems favored by Christians today.  This post will mention two that I think are more controversial but under mentioned:

1) No Inchoate Crimes

The general rule of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" is a principle of retributive justice.  In a case where a person attempts to knock out your tooth but misses (and doesn't harm you), there is no punishment in this system.  The same goes for attempted murder.  The principle is "he who sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed" rather than "he who tries to shed man's blood ... ."

2) No Conspiracy, Solicitation Crimes

Also, there is no provision in the Bible for punishment of people who merely plot a crime or pay someone else to commit a crime.  Asking someone to kill someone else for you was not itself a crime.

There was one exception.  It was a crime to solicit apostasy (see Deuteronomy 13).

In both of the above examples, contemporary Christians are comfortable with punishing people both for inchoate crimes, like "attempted murder," and for distant participation in crimes, like "soliciting murder."  There are at least two good explanations for this: both of those activities are sinful (and heinously so) and they grew up in a place where those sinful activities are criminal.

-TurretinFan

Monday, March 28, 2016

Confucianism, Islam, and Christianity - One Point of Contrast

Qin Shi Huang (260 - 210 BC) is the most prominent of the Chinese emperors. He united China through conquest, began the Great Wall of China, and had the Terra Cotta warriors built. He's significant to Confucianism - and especially the textual transmission of Confucius' works - because toward the end of his reign he engaged in a process of burning books and burying scholars. The scholars that were allegedly buried alive were apparently Confucian scholars, and Confucian works were apparently largely destroyed by the Emperor's decree.

The Qin dynasty ended shortly after Qin's death, and was replaced by the Han dynasty. In A.D. 9, Wang Mang (45 BC - A.D. 23) usurped the throne from the ruling family and set up his own short-lived dynasty. During Wang Mang's reign, it was alleged that some of Confucius' writings had been rediscovered. Wang Mang apparently used these texts in an attempt to support his own reforms.

Robert Greene (in "The 48 Laws of Power," p. 397) explains it this way:
Reigning from A.D. 8 to A.D. 23, the Chinese emperor Wang Mang emerged from a period of great historical turbulence in which the people yearned for order, an order represented for them by Confucius. Some two hundred years earlier, however, Emperor Ch'in had ordered the writings of Confucius burned. A few years later, word had spread that certain texts had miraculously survived, hidden under the scholar's house. These texts may not have been genuine, but they gave Wang his opportunity: He first confiscated them, then had his scribes insert passages into them that seemed to support the changes he had been imposing on the country. When he released the texts, it seemed that Confucius sanctioned Wang's reforms, and the people felt comforted and accepted them more easily.

Burning Books, by Matthew Fishburn similarly reports:
The first recorded state-sponsored book burning is the destruction ordered by Grand Councillor Li Ssu in Ch’in China in 213 BC. The country had been newly unified under Ch’in Shih-huang-ti, and he signified his rule with the order to burn the books of any historian or partisan of the defeated Shih or Shu. The Emperor is also known for beginning construction of the Great Wall, and even forced people convicted of protecting books to work on its construction; condemning, as Borges incisively commented, ‘those who adored the past to a work as vast as the past, as stupid and as useless’. This was not, as Lois Mai Chan has emphasized, unmediated destruction. There were exemptions for all manner of practical or scientific works and, just as importantly, even the objectionable books were preserved in imperial archives and allowed to be kept by the official scholars. As is often the case with such suppression, it is difficult to assess the extent of the initial destruction, but it is certain that this centralization of the written record increased the devastation when the Imperial Archives were attacked and destroyed in 206 BC. The association between censorship and aridity has its symbol in the legend that grass never grew on the spot where the books of the scholars were burned.
(p. 2)

While there is controversy (apparently to this day) about the nature and extent of Qin's burning of books, and of Wang Mang's (or others') possible editing or forging of Confucian writings, these controversies were all made possible by the fact that Qin had control of the geographic area where Confucius' works circulated, and the means for effectively destroying those works.

This parallels the history of the transmission of the Qur'an. The first caliph of Islam, Abu Bakr, is said to have collected the Qur'an in A.D. 634. Nevertheless, various versions of the Qur'an were apparently circulating during reign of the third caliph, Uthman (reigned A.D. 644 - 656). Uthman created a standard text of the Qur'an and had the other copies burned. This was possible because Uthman had control of the geographic area where the Qur'an circulated and the means for effectively destroying competing copies.

There is, however, no close parallel in Christianity. Christianity rapidly spread copies of books of the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) beyond the reach of the Roman Empire. Christianity had no centralized earthly ruler and by the time emperors like Constantine or Roman bishops tried to operate in such a capacity, the text of the New Testament was so well established and widespread that any attempt to edit or control the text would have been ineffective. While this uncontrolled transmission of the text may seem messy it is one of the means by which we can have confidence in the text today, without the need for a continued prophetic witness.

P.S. For your interest:
There is considerable debate about which, if any, of these books were directly written by Confucius himself. The main source of his quotations, the Analects, was not written by him. As with many other spiritual leaders such as Siddhartha Gautama, Jesus, or Socrates, our main source of Confucius' thought, the Analects, was written down by his disciples. Some of the core canon is argued to have been written by Confucius himself, such as the Spring and Autumn Annals. There is considerable debate about this, however.
This factor is further complicated by the "Burning of the Books and Burying of the Scholars", a massive suppression of dissenting thought during the Qin Dynasty, more than two centuries after Confucius' death. The emperor Qin Shi Huang destroyed a great number of books, possibly destroying other books written by Confucius or his disciples in the process.
The current canon of Four Books and Five Classics was formulated by Zhu Xi. Many versions contain his extensive commentaries on the books. The fact that his specific version of the Confucian canon became the core canon can be seen as an example of his influence in Confucianism.
Other books are not included in the current canon but once were. The major example is the Xun Zi.
(source)


See also:
In AD 9, Wang Mang usurped the throne and created the Xin Dynasty. The Western Han dynasty had ended after 198 years of consecutive rule.
Wang Mang hoped to gather support from the peasantry be introducing reforms. Wang Mang announced the discovery of books written by Confucius, which were supposedly discovered after Confucius’ house, was destroyed more than two hundred years ago. The discovered work supported the same kind of reform that Wang Mang sought.
Wang Mang defended his policies by quoting from the discovered books. Following what was portrayed as Confucian scripture; he decreed a return to the golden times when every man had his measure of land to till, land that in principle belonged to the state. He declared that a family of less than eight that had more than fifteen acres was obligated to distribute the excess amount of land to those who had none.
(source)

Monday, March 07, 2016

Further Evidence of Jesus' Divinity from the Modern Versions

Jude 5 provides another evidence of Jesus' divinity in the modern versions. In the KJV, Jude includes the following pair of pericopes:
Jude 3-7
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
In this version, Jude is stating the "the Lord" saved the people out of Egypt.

Moreover, the KJV leaves some ambiguity as to what "Lord" refers to there, because of some ambiguity in the expression "only Lord God, our Lord Jesus Christ." While that expression is itself an affirmation of Jesus' divinity, a reader might mistakenly view the "and" as suggesting that "only Lord God" refers to the Father, while "Lord Jesus Christ" refers to the son, instead of recognizing that both refer to the son.

By contrast, in the ESV, the pericopes are as follows:
Jude 3-7
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
In the second pericope, it becomes unequivocal that Jesus is the one who saved the people out of Egypt and keeps the fallen angels in the place of darkness, things that require Jesus' pre-incarnate personal existence.

It's not just his pre-incarnate personal existence, though. The redemption from Egypt is the key identifier of YHWH as the God of Israel in the Old Testament:
Exodus 20:2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Exodus 29:46 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them: I am the Lord their God.
Leviticus 11:45 For I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
Numbers 15:41 I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God.
Deuteronomy 5:6 I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
Joshua 24:17 For the Lord our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed:
Psalm 81:10 I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.
Daniel 9:15 And now, O Lord our God, that hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten thee renown, as at this day; we have sinned, we have done wickedly.
This is why it is no small thing for Jude to identify Jesus as the one who brought up Israel out of Egypt.

The interesting thing about this example is that while the ESV strengthens the identification of Jesus as God in the second pericope, the ESV arguably weakens the identification of Jesus as God in the first pericope. After all, the word "God" is no longer used in the expression, even though it is more clear that both references to "Lord" are to Jesus.

This argument for Jesus' divinity works in either version, and does not depend on the text one chooses. If one chooses the Textus Receptus, keep in mind that the Greek is this:
... καὶ τὸν μόνον δεσπότην Θεὸν, καὶ Κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἀρνούμενοι ὑπομνῆσαι δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, εἰδότας ὑμᾶς ἅπαξ τοῦτο, ὅτι ὁ Κύριος λαὸν ἐκ γῆς Αἰγύπτου σώσας, ...
First, the construction "τὸν μόνον δεσπότην Θεὸν, καὶ Κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν" is an example of the Granville Sharp construction, and consequently both "μόνον δεσπότην Θεὸν" (only master God) and "Κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν" (our Lord Jesus Christ) refer to the same person.

Even setting aside Granville Sharp's Rule, and assuming for the sake of argument that δεσπότην Θεὸν referred to the Father as distinct from Christ, the term used in verse five is Κύριος, the term used of Jesus in the immediately prior pericope. In other words, while the KJV obscures the fact that there are two different words for Lord used in verse 4, there are two different words for Lord used there, and it is the latter one - the one used for Jesus - that is then used again in verse 5. Thus, even if verse 4 itself does not provide that Jesus is God, verse 5 provides that Jesus is God, even in the KJV (assuming one is willing to refer back to the Greek).

The NA28 Greek text (the current "critical text") reads: "... καὶ τὸν μόνον δεσπότην καὶ κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἀρνούμενοι. Ὑπομνῆσαι δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, εἰδότας ὑμᾶς ἅπαξ πάντα ὅτι Ἰησοῦς λαὸν ἐκ γῆς Αἰγύπτου σώσας ... " Those seem to be the readings followed by the ESV translators, although actually in this case I think that the ESV translators adopted the "Jesus" reading before the Nestle-Aland editors adopted it.

In case you were wondering, the New World Translation does its best to further obscure this testimony to Jesus' divinity. The translation the NWT provides is: "... who prove false to our only owner and Lord, Jesus Christ. Although you are fully aware of all of this, I want to remind you that Jehovah, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, ... "

Nevertheless, the 1969 Kingdom Interlinear provides evidence of the selective translation going on:

Notice that on the interlinear side the word for "Lord" in "Lord Jesus Christ" is the same word as is used in the very next verse as being the "Lord" who brought the people out of Egypt.  The NWT translators selectively translated the latter one as "Jehovah," because they recognized that it was a reference to YHWH.  However, in the original Greek it becomes clear that this is referring to the person of Jesus Christ mentioned in the immediately previous verse.

-TurretinFan

You can find the two previous articles in this series here: (John 14:14)(Mark 9:29)



Thursday, February 25, 2016

Dichotomies and Options

Apparently some atheists with whom Matt Slick deals have been accusing him of presenting a false dichotomy. He's not. Let me explain.

Matt has correctly identified the following as a dichotomy:

1) It is the case that God created the universe; or
2) It is not the case that God created the universe.

Matt has pointed out that if either of those statements is false, then the other is true.

The atheists have objected based on the fact that there are several possible ways by which (2) may be true, while (1) is false. For example:

(a) statement (1) is false if something other than God created the universe;
-- (a)(i) statement (1) is false if Odin created the universe;
-- (a)(ii) statement (1) is false if Zeus created the universe;
-- (a)(iii) statement (1) is false if Krishna created the universe;
-- (a)(iv) statement (1) is false if Allah created the universe;
(b) statement (1) is false if the universe is uncreated; and
(c) statement (1) is false if there is no universe.

While it's true that there are (logically speaking) these various options, it does not follow that the dichotomy is not a true dichotomy.

Where the atheists would have a point is against the case where Matt demonstrated that (c) is false, and consequently affirmed that (1) is true. That would be a fallacious way of arguing - but that's not what Matt does. Similarly, Matt doesn't simply demonstrate that (a)(ii) is false, and consequently affirm that (1) is true. Instead, Matt demonstrates that (2) is false and consequently affirms that (1) is true.

In other words, the dichotomy is:

1) It is true that all of A, B, and C are true; or
2) It is not true that all of A, B, and C are true.

But it is still a dichotomy, and Matt's argument is valid so long as he doesn't simply jump from A is true, therefore 1 is true.

-TurretinFan

Friday, February 19, 2016

Another Evidence of Jesus' Divinity from the Modern Versions

John 14:14 provides another evidence of Jesus' divinity that is not found in the King James Version. Now, even the KJV at John 14:14 includes an evidence to Jesus' divinity, as can be seen in the following, Jesus' teaches us to pray in Jesus' name, something that would be inappropriate if Jesus were not divine:

John 14:13-14 (KJV)
And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

The modern versions maintain this, but go one step further:

John 14:13-14 (ESV)
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Notice that the ESV specifies that Jesus is the recipient of the prayer. Thus, not only is the prayer through Jesus, but also to Jesus in the modern versions. This is even more evidence that Jesus is divine, since it would be inappropriate to pray to a mere creature.

Is this a lock-tight argument in every aspect? Obviously not. The argument relies on a question of a textual variant. Nevertheless, as past of a cumulative case of evidence of Jesus' divinity, it is useful to know.

-TurretinFan

(Part 1 of this series)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Charitable Reading

No one can force you to read people charitably, giving them the benefit of the doubt when they are ambiguous or make statements that sound heterodox. Indeed, even if you want to read charitably, you may not find it easy, particularly if you are a person prone to perpetual suspicion. It may be a habit you have to cultivate by careful practice of extending grace to those you read, especially when you don't feel they deserve it.

If you choose to exercise charity, you can still note red flags - statements that raise some suspicion or doubt about the charitable assumptions you are giving the author. Reading people charitably is not the same thing as automatically accepting everything they say as correct, or being blind to their potential faults.

Charitable reading should lead to a response of speaking the truth in love. In other words, charitable reading can lead to charitable responses. Those responses can be critical responses, but they need not be caustic responses.

Christian duty demands charitable reading and responses, particularly when it comes to the brethren, and most of all when it comes to elders. This duty, however, has to be fulfilled in the heart, a place where no church discipline can fully penetrate.

When you are trying to read charitably and you come to a head-scratching comment from the author, ask yourself: how could that be understood in an orthodox way? am I missing some context that would make that statement legitimate? Avoid rushing to judgment, but instead exercise circumspection.

Don't be afraid to ask the author what he meant, if you can. This should be done in an honest and forthright way of trying to identify the author's intent. The goal is not to trap the author, but simply to discern what he actually meant by what he said. The goal is not harass or accuse the author, but instead to flesh out the meaning, identify the context, and perhaps define the nuance that the author may have been intending.

With dead or famous authors, this won't always be possible. You may have to investigate for yourself what this person said in the context and on other occasions about the same subject.

When you see a red flag, and you are considering whether this red flag is more than just a red flag, consider the gravity of the fault implied. If the conclusion would be simply that the person is an inexact speaker or has a minor error in doctrine, that's one thing. If the conclusion is that the speaker is a lost person, or a deliberate wolf in sheep's clothing, that's a more serious situation.

The more serious the situation, the more it behooves us to make sure we are correct before leveling a charge. While "innocent until proven guilty" may only be mandatory when you're on a jury, it's a handy reference for us to use in life. Moreover, while for minor things we may simply express a conclusion when we're persuaded it is correct, it would be wise for us to use a higher standard when a more serious charge is being made.

Does charity demand that we always use "beyond a reasonable doubt"? That's not my contention. Rather I'm suggesting that we should use discernment in the use of our tongue. James warns us of the dangers of the uncontrolled use of our tongues. We need to tame that monster, and it's no easy task.

Proverbs 10:19 In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.

Ecclesiastes 5:2-7
Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool's voice is known by multitude of words.
When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.
Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands? For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.

-TurretinFan

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Critical Text: Extra Evidence of Jesus' Divinity

Listening to someone preaching from the gospels, I noticed an interesting evidence of Jesus' divinity I had previously overlooked. I generally use the King James Version, but this pastor was using the ESV or some other modern translation based on the critical text. In this particular passage, the critical text underlying the ESV is different in a small but important way from the text underlying the KJV.

Immediately after recounting the mount of transfiguration, Mark provides the following account:

Mark 9:14-29 (KJV)
And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them. And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him. And he asked the scribes, "What question ye with them?"
And one of the multitude answered and said, "Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; and wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not."
He answereth him, and saith, "O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me." And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. And he asked his father, "How long is it ago since this came unto him?"
And he said, "Of a child. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us."
Jesus said unto him, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth."
And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."
When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, "Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him."
And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, "He is dead."
But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, "Why could not we cast him out?"
And he said unto them, "This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting."

Mark 9:14-29 (ESV)
And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?”
And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”
And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?”
And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.”
But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?”
And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

My initial thought was that possibly this was just a case of so-called parallel corruption, where the "and fasting" was probably borrowed from the account in another Gospel. And indeed, in Matthew 17:21 the KJV has "prayer and fasting." The full account there is as follows:

Matthew 17:14-21 (KJV)
And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, "Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him."
Then Jesus answered and said, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me." And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.
Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, "Why could not we cast him out?"
And Jesus said unto them, "Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting."
However, it turns out that the final verse of this passage is entirely omitted in the ESV:

Matthew 17:14-20 (there is no 21) (ESV)
And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.”
And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.
Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”
He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

This account is also in Luke's gospel, but lacks any comment about prayer and/or fasting, in both the KJV and the ESV.

The significance of all this is that in the ESV, the "fasting" reference is entirely gone. With the "fasting" reference gone, Jesus' comments at Mark 9:29 become more clear.

Jesus said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” But where is prayer in this passage? Jesus simply rebukes the spirit and the spirit comes out. Jesus does not pray to the Father. Nor in the immediate context had Jesus been involved in prayer. Who then had prayed? The answer becomes clear in the context. The person praying is the father of the demoniac, and he was praying to Jesus.

Notice the indicia of prayer: the expression of faith and the entreaty in Mark's immediate context. Moreover, we find further confirmation of this from the kneeling posture and the reference to Jesus as "Lord," in Matthew's account (neither of which are mentioned in Mark's account).

Thus, not only does Jesus receive prayer (which is something that God alone should receive), he attributes the success of this miracle to the prayer offered to him by the demoniac's father!

Is this a lock-tight argument in every aspect? Obviously not. The argument relies in part on a question of a textual variant. Moreover, while the most apparent reference to prayer in the context is the father's prayer to Jesus, one could interpret this text as suggesting that Jesus had a life of prayer that the nine disciples did not. Indeed, if the text "and fasting," is not original, it would certainly seem as though the scribe who inserted it had that kind of understanding of the text.

Nevertheless, despite not being a fully lock-tight argument as to the variant verse, it still remains the case that Jesus received prayer, that Jesus accepted that prayer without rebuking the man who prayed to him, and that God's response to the prayer was to answer it with healing. That part of the argument stands in both the KJV and the ESV. So, the only difference between the two is that the ESV provides a little extra evidence for the divinity of Christ - something we hardly need (given the superabundance of such evidence in the Bible) but something we can still treasure.

-TurretinFan

Friday, January 08, 2016

We are all children of God? Pope vs. Jesus

In his first video, Pope Francis asserts: "In this crowd, in this range of religions, there is only one certainty we have for all: we are all children of God."

But Jesus' rebuttal of this view is set forth in John's gospel:

John 8:39-47
They answered and said unto him, "Abraham is our father."

Jesus saith unto them, "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father."

Then said they to him, "We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God."

Jesus said unto them, "If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God."

Neither the pope nor the followers of the other religions he cites in the video (Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, etc.) are children of God. If God were their Father, they would love Jesus and hold to Jesus' words. But the others explicitly reject Jesus as God, and while the pope claims to follow Jesus, he contradicts Jesus' clear teachings.

Contrast that with our situation as the sons of God, distinct from the world, a privilege bestowed by the Father through the power of the Spirit and faith in Christ our Savior:

Romans 8:14-17
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

Romans 9:8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.

Romans 9:26 And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.

Galatians 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 4:6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

1 John 3:1 Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.

-TurretinFan

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Origen Against the Innovation of Christmas? Check your sources!

I came across the following statement, which immediately sparked my interest (source):
Speculation on the proper date began in the 3rd and 4th centuries, when the idea of fixing Christ’s birthday started. Quite a controversy arose among Church leaders. Some were opposed to such a celebration. Origen (185-254) strongly recommended against such an innovation. “In the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners who make great rejoicings over the day in which they were born into this world” ( Catholic Encyclopedia , 1908 edition, Vol. 3, p. 724, “Natal Day”).
I tend to agree with the overall point of the author of the page, namely that the celebration of Christmas is an innovation that lacks any authentic apostolic tradition. Nevertheless, I thought that the patristic quotation would be very interesting, if indeed Origen were against the celebration of Christmas.

There are, however, a number of problems with this citation. First, the citation is not to any of Origen's works, but to the "Catholic Encyclopedia," a secondary source. Thankfully, one can look up this secondary source (link to "Natal Day" entry).

Second, the work of Origen being cited is his Homilies on Leviticus. We don't have the original Greek of this work. Instead, we have Rufinus' Latin translation. Moreover, this work is one that Rufinus himself acknowledged heavily editing. Accordingly, while this may be Origen, it might instead be Rufinus. Moreover, Rufinus translated this in the early fifth century. Thus, if this expresses Rufinus' views, it may represent a fifth century view, rather than a third century view.

Third, the context of the discussion is not the celebration of Christ's birth by his contemporaries. In other words, Origen's words (or Rufinus' words) were not addressed as a correction to his contemporaries.

Fourth, while Christ's birth is mentioned in the homily, it is mentioned as the sole exception to the standard case. In other words, applying the logic of Origen/Rufinus may cause us not to celebrate our own birthdays, but it would not similarly require us not to celebrate Christ's birthday.

For those interested, I've posted a modern English translation of the text and the Latin original, as well as some related quotations from the same homily at my "Ancient Voices" blog:

On Celebrating Birthdays and Original Sin
Unique Conception of Jesus
Original Sin and Infant Baptism

- TurretinFan