Saturday, September 05, 2009

430 Years from the Promise - A Response to Fred Butler

I have indicated that I think that the Israelites were in Egypt for only about 215 years, as opposed to 430 years. Mr. Fred Butler disagrees (link to his post). Mr. Butler's response is friendly, and I hope he'll take my response as being in a similarly amiable vein.

First of all, Mr. Butler points out what he sees as the primary argument argument regarding the length of the stay. In some ways it is the primary argument. I'll reiterate, and perhaps expand upon it here.

Galatians 3:17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

What Galatians tells us is that from the the promise to the law was 430 years. The law was given the same year as the Exodus out of Egypt, so we know that the time from the promise to the Exodus was 430 years. What promise is Paul talking about?

Let's check what the context of the verse informs us. After all, the correct way to understand the verse is by examining the context.

Galatians 3:6-18:
6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. 7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. 9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. 15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. 16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. 18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
The promise in question is the gospel, and specifically this promise: "In thee shall all nations be blessed" set forth in verse 8. This is reiterated in verse 14 "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." Notice how Paul links the promise and the in-gathering of the Gentiles.

That promise is recorded for us in Genesis 12.

Genesis 12:1-3
Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

Here's the timeline based on that promise:

0. Abram was 75 years old when he departed out of Haran (Genesis 12:4).

11. Abram was 86 years old when Ishmael was born (Genesis 16:16).

25. Abraham was 100 years old (and Sarah was 90 years old) when Isaac was born (Genesis 21:5).

[?]. Isaac weaned (we're not told how old he was when he was weaned), Ishmael and Hagar the Egyptian banished and went to Paran & Egypt (Genesis 21:8-21).

55. Sarah was 120 years old when she died (Genesis 23:1-2).

85. Isaac was 60 years old when Jacob was born (Genesis 25:26).

100. Abraham died at 175 years old (Genesis 25:7-8).

169. Isaac died at 144 years old (Genesis 35:29).

215. Jacob was 130 years old when he went into Egypt (Genesis 47:28).

(which is half of the 430 years, the other 215 years being the time in Egypt)

Notice, however, that there is no reference to "seed" in that particular promise. Paul makes reference to the expression "to thy seed." That issue is easily remedied. Chapter 12 of Genesis explains that when Abraham arrived at Sichem God added to what was said in verses 1-3.

Genesis 12:7 And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.

That promise to Abraham and his seed gets repeated several more times, for example, in Genesis 13:15-16 and more dramatically in Genesis 15. Interestingly, the promise is also applied (at least to some degree) to Ishmael:

Genesis 21:13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.

But I digress. The primary argument is that the promise in question is the promise made to Abraham, not some other promise.

Some have seized on the verse 16's comment: "to Abraham and his seed were the promises made," to suggest that perhaps a promise to someone other than Abraham is in mind (specifically a promise to Jacob). There are several problems with this objection. First, the repetitions of the promise (or the division of the promise in Genesis 12) can be considered the "promises," alternatively the various blessings can be considered the promises. There is no need for there to be other promises made to other people. Second, the "his seed" comment is immediately followed up - in the very same verse - by Paul explaining that the seed is Christ: "He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ."

The only promise that I can see that God made to Jacob at the time of entry into Egypt was this:

Genesis 46:3-4
And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation: I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.

That promise does not mention the seed (so relevant to Paul's discussion) nor does it mention the nations (also highly relevant to Paul's discussion). In short, while it is a promise, and while Jacob was from Abraham, it seems strained at best to say that this is the promise to which Paul is referring.

This is the first argument, but there is a second like it. The second argument deals with the time in Egypt.

[?1 - at some point before 169 in the first list] birth of Levi (one of the 70 who came to Egypt - Genesis 46:11)

[?2] birth of Kohath (one of the 70 who came to Egypt - Genesis 46:11)

0. Entry into Egypt

[?3] birth of Amram

[?1 + 137] Levi died at 137 years old (Exodus 6:16)

[?4] Aaron born

[?4 + 3] Moses born (Exodus 7:7)

[?2 + 133] Kohath dies at 133 years old (Exodus 6:18)

[?3 + 137] Amram dies at 137 years old (Exodus 6:20)

[?4 + 83] Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 7:7)

As you can see from the use of the designation "?" there are a number of uncertainties over the precise dates in the chronology. There are, however, a few hooks that prevent the chronology from shrinking or expanding excessively. For example, a child cannot be born before his father, and it is not reasonable to expect that a child is born before the father is at least about 13 years old.

Furthermore, the child cannot be born much after the father dies, and it is pretty much normal for the child to be born before the father dies, unless the father dies quite young (which is not the case with any of the men here). Finally, at the start of the chronology, we know from Genesis 35:27-28 and Genesis 32:22, which show that Jacob had his first eleven sons (including Levi) before Isaac died.

One further item should be noted. I've placed the birth of the grandsons before the deaths of their grandfathers, since this seems to have been normal at the time. There is, of course, no absolute requirement that the grandfathers in each case lived to see their grandsons.

I want to draw your attention to one fact of central importance to this discussion. There is only one person in the chronology who both was born and died in Egypt. That was Amram. His entire life fits within the endpoints of the time in Egypt, but his father was born in Canaan and his sons died in the wilderness on the way to Canaan.

It should be plain that this time-line is perfectly consistent with there being 215 years in Egypt. That duration permits there to be a comfortable amount of time before Amram was born and after he died while the Israelites were in Egypt.

As noted above, though, this timeline has a lot of play in it - it can be expanded or contracted by quite a bit. How much?

Well, using the most extreme assumptions, the maximum time that there can be between 0 and the Exodus in the timeline is if Kohath is born the same year as the entry (and comes in consequently as a newborn) and then if Amram is born the year following Kohath's death, and Moses is born the year following Amram's death. None of these seem probable, but they provide us with an outside limit. Under those assumptions, the time from the entry to the Exodus would be: 133 (life of Kohath) + 1 + 137 (life of Amram) + 1 + 80 (age of Moses at Exodus) = 352 years.

Plainly, 352 years is not enough to make 430. However, perhaps someone will point out that Joseph went down to Egypt first, and try to expand the time in Egypt by adding the time that Joseph was there. How much can that help?

Joseph was 17 years old when he received his coat of many colors (Genesis 37:1). To maximize the times involved, we will assume he was enslaved the same year. Joseph died at 110 years old (Genesis 50:26). However, Joseph did not die in the year of the entry into Egypt. Jacob died 17 years after the entry into Egypt (Genesis 47:28). Joseph survived Jacob by at least 70 days (Genesis 50:1-4). So, the most time that Joseph was in Egypt prior to the entry was 93 years (assuming he died the same year as his father and was enslaved the same year he got his lovely coat).

352 + 93 = 445, which would actually permit a play of about 15 years. If we go ahead and remove the 15 years to end up at 430, we have Joseph being 78 years old at the time of the entry of Jacob into Egypt. However, Jacob was 130 years old when he went into Egypt (Genesis 47:28). Thus, for that scenario to work, Joseph would have to have been born when Jacob was 52.

Yet Scripture tells us:

Genesis 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.

While 52 is a bit old for folks to be having children now, it really wasn't that old in the age of the patriarchs. Furthermore, remember that Jacob had left the home on his own to flee from Esau when they were at least forty years old (Genesis 26:34-35, remembering that Jacob and Esau were twins), had worked fourteen years for his wives, and then had had children after that (Genesis 29:31-32), with Rachel having children only after Leah had given birth seven times (six sons and one daughter) (Genesis 30:19-22). In short, such a thesis is impractical.

On top of that, when Joesph goes down into he Egypt, he is sold to Potiphar, and then imprisoned after being falsely accused by Potiphar's wife. He there interpreted two dreams. Two years later (Genesis 41:1) Joseph was called before Pharaoh to interpret a dream (it was one dream in two dreams) and was thirty years old at that time (Genesis 41:46). The dream announced 7 coming years of plenty followed by 7 coming years of famine (Genesis 41:26). Furthermore, the year of the entry into Egypt was the 2nd or 3rd year of the famine (Genesis 45:6). While Scripture does not say the the years of plenty started immediately after the dream's interpretation, that seems to be the implication. If so, then it should be plain that Joseph was about 40 years old at the time of the entry of Jacob into Egypt. That would mean that Joseph was born when Jacob was about ninety years old, which would make him a son of Jacob's old age.

On these two arguments from Scripture, the idea that the 430 years should be counted from the first promise to Abraham seems to be pretty strong. There are two lesser arguments, however.

The first of the lesser arguments, and our third point in this discussion, is one that is of relatively minor interest. Recall that Genesis 15 is one of the places where the promise to Abraham is reiterated. At that time, Abraham is given a date for the length of the sojourning, namely 400 years.

Genesis 15:13-14
And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.

As you may note in the first chronology above, the date at which Ishmael is driven off is about the year 30 in the chronology (assuming Isaac was weaned at age 5, which does not seem very unreasonable). If that's the case, then 400 years of affliction would begin with Ishmael's affliction and end with Israel's exodus. This seems a little too neat, but perhaps it is correct. The more usual explanation for the difference between the 400 and the 430 is that the 400 is simply a round number, and that we should use the birth of Isaac (which would be 405 years) rather than his weaning as the date for the fulfillment of the 400 year prophecy.

The fourth argument (and the second of the lesser two arguments) is an argument from the fact that Exodus occurs in the fourth generation.

Genesis 15:15-16
And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

As can be seen from the first chronology above, Abraham lived to see the birth of Jacob. Thus, the first generation after what he saw was Levi, then Kohath, then Amram, and finally in the fourth generation there was Aaron and Moses. Thus, the prophecy was fulfilled in a way that is fully consistent with the sojourning period being counted from Abraham's initial sojourn out of Haran in Canaan (Genesis 12:5) and Egypt (Genesis 12:10).

Finally, there is one textual objection that is made. The one objection that is made is that Exodus 12:40 states unequivocally that the Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years. This argument seems to be based on the particular readings found in many modern translations. The King James Version translates the verse in question as follows:

Exodus 12:40 Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.

With this reading, the sojourning is 430 years and the "dwelt in Egypt" modifies the children of Israel, though not necessarily their stay in Egypt. Thus, the text of the KJV is ambiguous as to whether the sojourning all took place in Egypt or not. Some (perhaps all!) the other versions phrase the verse such that all the 430 years are in Egypt. Mr. Butler is quite insistent that the only way to read this verse is as saying that the entire time of the sojourning was in Egypt, but when I've questioned him on the issue of translation of the text (i.e. whether the KJV's translation is a reasonable translation) he does not seem to have any answer.

Aside from textual arguments, I had noted that John Gill, John Calvin, and Matthew Henry agree with my position on this matter. I could have added others, such as Matthew Poole, Martin Luther, John Chrysostom, and John Owen. It doesn't seem to have been a particularly contentious point of exegesis historically. If there are any reputable Reformed, Reformation Era, or Patristic commentators that took a different view, Mr. Butler hasn't pointed them out (I should note that one of the articles noted that Hippolytus took a long-sojourn view, and at least one of the articles indicates that Josephus inconsistently seemed to support both views).

Mr. Butler's response instead was to lead by dogmatically insisting that the verse regarding the 430 year stay can only be read one way:
First, there is absolutely no other way to read Exodus 12:40 but that Israel sojourned in Egypt 430 years. In fact, the Exodus record even places the termination of Israel's sojourn in Egypt at the 430th year (vs. 41).
With all due respect to Mr. Butler, the text of the Authorized Version can be read in another way, and has been so read. Moreover, it seems to be the case that the Hebrew is similarly ambiguous.

Mr. Butler's second argument is to suggest that we should downplay the significance of the Galatians passage:
Next, Galatians 3:16, 17 should not be made the controlling passage over Exodus 12:40, 41. Thus, Paul may have had something else in mind when he spoke about the 430 years before the giving of the law, quite possibly the last promise of the covenant made to Jacob in Genesis 46:3, 4 before he went down into Egypt to live.
This argument is not feasible, as discussed above. The promise in Genesis 46:3-4 is not the promise that Paul has been talking about, nor does it contain either of the elements ("seed" and "all nations") that are germane to Paul's discussion.

Mr. Butler's third argument relates to a counter-argument that I have not presented above. Very briefly, the counter-argument is that the LXX reading of Exodus 12:40-41 includes the phrase "and in the land of Canaan" into the middle of "who dwelt in Egypt." This reading suggests at least the possibility that the original reading included the time in Canaan as well as that of Egypt. Alternatively, the reading suggests that there was an ancient marginal note that confirmed that the expression "in Egypt" shouldn't be understood in the exhaustive sense that Mr. Butler contends. Thus, some ancient commentator likewise confirms the 215 year thesis. Mr. Butler's response is this:
Third, we need to keep in mind that the LXX is a translation of the Hebrew text. Applying the normal rules of textual criticism, the shorter reading of the original language text should be preferred over the longer reading of a translated text that wasn't published until some 1300 years or so later. Moreover, the fact that the additional phrase "and in the land of Canaan" is just found in a few editions of the LXX and not others makes this even more of a questionable reading in my mind.
"Published" is probably not the word he means to use. It's worth noting that the Hebrew manuscripts that we have are not 1300 years earlier than the LXX manuscripts that we have. Thus, the date issue is a bit moot. From what I can tell the Dead Sea Scrolls give support to the idea that Masoretic text was preserved well at least back to that date (more on the Dead Sea Scrolls below).

Mr. Butler's fourth argument is this:
Fourth, as much as I appreciate the writing ministry of Gill, Calvin, and Henry, and the great treasure of their commentaries they have left to the Church at large, let's be honest, they are seriously dated with regards to current archaeological information. Our understanding of Egyptian history, the sojourn of Israel, and the Exodus has advanced dramatically since those men wrote.
I'm quite hesitant to use the external evidence of archaeology to trump the text of Scripture. Mr. Butler goes on to identify several articles, which we can take a look at, but he does not point to any specific or concrete archaeological data that suggests that we know the entry and exodus dates via the historical records of Egypt. If such data has been conclusively established, I know at least one friendly South African atheist who will be chomping at the bit to review it.

But, in fact, there is at least some additional archeological evidence that has come to light since the time of Gill, Calvin, Henry, et al. that confirms the 215 year stay. Specifically, 4Q559 (Biblical Chronology) provides the following at fragment 3:
[... And Levi was 3]4 [years old] when he [begot Qahat.] [And Qahat was 2]9 years old when he begot Amram. And Amram [was] [110 years old when he begot] Aaron. And Aaron left Egy[pt ...] [...] these thousand and 536
Leaving aside, for the moment, the complexities of reconstructing those fragments and simply plugging those numbers into the second chronology above, we would have:

0. birth of Levi (one of the 70 who came to Egypt - Genesis 46:11)

34. birth of Kohath (one of the 70 who came to Egypt - Genesis 46:11)

[??] Entry into Egypt

63 birth of Amram

137 Levi died at 137 years old (Exodus 6:16)

167 Kohath dies at 133 years old (Exodus 6:18)

173 Aaron born

176 Moses born (Exodus 7:7)

200 Amram dies at 137 years old (Exodus 6:20)

256 Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 7:7)

Note that this approach is all relative to Levi's birth, not to the entry itself. If the entry were 215 years before the exodus, then the entry would be at year 41, which fits within the appropriate window (Kohath is not yet old enough for his own children, but he is already born).

It should be readily apparent that the fragment cannot bear out the 430 years in Egypt hypothesis.

Additionally, fragment 2 of the same document is provided thus:
[Abraham was 99] years old [when he begot Isaac] [And I]saac was [60 years old when he begot Jacob. And Jacob] [was] 65 ye[ars old when he begot Levi ...] ...
This piece would provide the final link necessary to connect the Levi-based second chronology with the Abraham-based first chronology. If Jacob were 65 years older than Levi then Levi would be 65 year old at the time of the entry into Egypt. The problem is that it seems that Amram born when Levi was 63 (based on fragment 3) and consequently the numbers don't quite line up. Since we don't view 4Q559 as inspired, this is not a particularly severe problem.

The first article to which Mr. Butler links is The Duration of the Egyptian Bondage by Harold Hoehner

Contrary to Mr. Butler's apparent argument, almost all of the arguments in the article are exegetical and lexical (with support being given to the Authorized Version's reading) and not archaeological.

The next is The Length of Israel's Sojourn in Egypt by Jack Riggs

Again, the arguments are not archaeological, and the other material that may not have been available to some of our Reformed fathers (though Gill seems to mention it) is the Samaritan Penteteuch, which confirms the LXX reading as to the 430 years including the time in Canaan.

The final article is The Duration of the Israelite Sojourn in Egypt by Paul J. Ray

This one finally refers to some additional archaeological material, but the material is far from compelling. Essentially, the final article provides a thesis for how the time in Egypt could have occurred within a particular window of Egyptian history, as well as how Abraham's sojourning could fit in the century in which it would fall under the 430 years in Egypt scenario. While certain of the arguments could be critiqued (for example, the idea that Joseph received the "second chariot" of Pharaoh, for example, almost certainly refers to an honor, not a shortage of chariots at the time) since the arguments do not suggest a significant preference for a long stay over a short stay, it is difficult to see what Mr. Butler finds so compelling about the arguments. His summary:
Though I commend TF's efforts to stick with scripture, I think consideration of further historical information helps to illuminate more of what the biblical text is saying, and in my mind, the 215 year theory is extremely problematic. Even for debunking a false teacher like Camping.
seems unjustified.

Mr. Butler sums up his arguments thus:
1) There are other editions of the LXX which do not contain the phrase "and in the Land of Canaan," particularly, A, F, and M.

2) All of the Hebrew texts of Exodus 12:40 do not contain the additional phrase.

And 3) Well established extra-biblical evidence also supports the 430 year sojourn, not the 215.
As noted above, however, those first two issues are not particularly central to the argument. The short reading of Exodus 12:40-41 is consistent with the 215 year stay in Egypt just as the longer reading is (though the longer reading complete destroys the theory of the 430 year stay in Egypt). The idea that the extra-biblical evidence does not support the 215 year stay or somehow provides a preference for the 430 year stay seems inaccurate, and the idea the timeline of Egyptian history is well-established from contemporary archaeology seems slightly naive.

What's more, Mr. Butler seems to present the articles in favor of the long stay in Egypt as though they were the scholarly consensus on the topic. In contrast, however, the articles themselves make reference to the fact that there scholars who come down on both sides of the issue.

The above should have addressed most of the arguments that Mr. Butler has raised. There are, however, a few other points to be noted. First, the issue of the sojourn is also mentioned by Stephen in Acts:

Acts 7:6 And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years.

This is simply a translation of Genesis 15. The most natural reading of the Authorized Version here is that the four hundred years relates to evil entreaty. However, another reasonable reading is to understand the "four hundred years" as referring to the entire period of sojourning in a strange land, being in bondage, and being treated harshly. And again, the 400 years may be viewed as approximate (based on Isaac's birth) or exact (based on Isaac's weaning and Ishmael's exile, either on the basis of treating Ishmael as the seed, or as treating the exile of Ishmael as being the revelation of the true seed status of Isaac).

Second, Paul makes reference to a time period in his speech at the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia.

Acts 13:16-24:
Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience. The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it. And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness.
And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot. And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet.
And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years.
And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.
Of this man's seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus: When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.
The time period in question is the four hundred fifty years mentioned at verse 20. Sometimes this verse is presented as though it is relevant to the discussion. That time period, however, is plainly referring to a time period after the exodus.

Ray, in his article, provides the following comment in a footnote:
On the basis of MSS B, [Aleph], A, and C, the text should indicate, according to B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort a[] period of "about 450 years" (or more precisely 447 years)--i.e., 400 years of bondage in Egypt, 40 years in the wilderness, and 7 years of conquest of Canaan. See Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Original Greek (New York, 1948), p. 276.
Even if, however, the 400 year period should be started before the exodus, it works better to select the 215 year hypothesis and use as the starting point the weaning of Isaac/exile of Ishmael as the start of the 400 year period.

Nevertheless, the flow of the passage seems to suggest that Paul is trying to refer to the period of the judges (including, perhaps, Joshua), since Paul has already specifically enumerated the 40 years in the wilderness, and subsequently gives the time period of Saul.

There is a slight problem with respect to the number that Paul gives, because the time from the coming out of Israel from Egypt to the building of the temple of Solomon is 480 years. In order for the time of the Judges to be 450 years (approximately), one would need to assume that in that instance, the coming out from Egypt is reckoned according to Joshua's death 30 years after the 40 years of wandering. Then back-subtracting the 80 years of David and Saul from the 480, we would have 400 years from the death of Joshua to start of Samuel/Saul. That 400 years plus the 30 years of Joshua could be viewed as the "about 450 years."

The problem, however, is not fully resolved because the typical accounts of the time of the judges proper is given around 350 years rather than 450 years. In any event, that particular difficulty is one that can be addressed at another time.

Third, a few of the articles raise as an objection the increase in the number of the people of Israel during the time in Egypt. I have dealt with this issue at greater length in a previous post. In brief, however, several replies are called for. First, Scriptures make abundantly clear that the time in Egypt was accompanied by extraordinary multiplication of families. As I noted, if we simply go by the ratio of first-born males to total men, the family sizes would have been enormous by modern standards. Even if that number is too high, much smaller families of 10-12 children would have been sufficient to produce the necessary multiplication.

Additionally, as at least one of my readers pointed out, there is the possibility that a large number of proselytes were made via the plagues, either among the Egyptians themselves or more likely among their other slaves. In support of this argument it is asserted that we find folks like Caleb (who might have been a descendant of Esau's grandson Kenaz) and that there are described those who "feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh." (Exodus 9:20)

Moreover, the very high level of fertility among Israelite women helps to explain why there are some folks during the exodus who, like Moses and Aaron are in the fourth generation from Jacob, whereas there are others who are in the sixth or seventh generation. Notice, for example, that Joseph saw Ephraim's children of the third generation and some of the grandchildren of Manasseh before his death. (Genesis 50:23) Thus, that in some cases the number of generations would be only four, but in other cases six or seven should not be thought to be the result of inaccurate chronologies, but rather of the varying ages at which the patriarchs and their children begot children of their own.

As a next-to-last point, some contention is made that the fourth generation referenced in Genesis 15 should be interpreted as four lengthy periods of time rather than four generations in the usual sense. This interpretation seems quite strained. The reckoning of generations in the usual sense seems both more natural and consistent with other uses in the Torah, such as in Deuteronomy 23:2, where an illegitimate son is prohibited from entering into the congregation of the LORD to his tenth generation.

That particular prohibition becomes important because of the following genealogy:

0. Judah
1. Pharez (illegitimately by Tamar)
2. Hezron
3. Ram
4. Amminadab
5. Nahshon
6. Salma
7. Boaz
8. Obed
9. Jesse
10. David

Some have argued that the crown was deferred until David's generation specifically because of the prohibition in Deuteronomy 23:2. In any event, the idea that the illegitimate person would himself be excluded for 10 periods of time of about 100 years each sounds a bit bizarre.

Finally, a few articles and commenters attempt to make an issue of the idea that sometimes the genealogies are questionable in that they sometimes have gaps or questionable items. One example of these is the issue of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, as reported in Luke 3:36. In the genealogy of Genesis 11 (in the Masoretic text) that Cainan is omitted.

While this is a significant issue for those who think the KJV was specially inspired, it is a less significant issue for those who do not have that same persuasion. After all, the Septuagint provides the details for Cainan and some early manuscripts of the New Testament omit that particular Cainan in the genealogy.

More significantly, there is no similar variant present in any of the manuscripts or versions (of which I'm aware) with respect to the genealogy of Moses from Levi. Furthermore, the genealogy is repeated in Scripture, and in every case it is the same. Thus, it does not seem to be reasonable to suppose that this is a case of a corrupted genealogy through some sort of scribal error.

In conclusion, I respectfully maintain the 215 year period in Egypt on the strength and clarity of the Scriptural testimony both in Exodus 6 and Galatians. In both cases, the Scriptural evidence rules out the view of the 430 years being exclusively by Jacob's children in Egypt.


Friday, September 04, 2009

The Importance of Genealogies

The whole of the Bible is useful for doctrine, reproof, and so forth. Sometimes, when read a genealogy we can become bored, because its value is not immediately apparent. One use for these genealogies is responding to groups who make false historical claims. I recently have been using them in response to Harold Camping. However, in the video at the following link, the historical evidence about the date of the destruction of Jerusalem is used in a similar manner to undermine the Jehovah's Witnesses (link).

JWs date the destruction of the temple at 607 B.C. Modern historians place the date around 586-587 B.C., whereas Ussher places the date at 588 B.C. (link). This difference may seem trivial, but - as the author of the video points out - that date turns out to be key to the calculation of 1914 that is used by JW's to establish their authority. If that date is not right, then the rest of the system collapses like dominoes.

The same, incidentally, is the case for Camping's system. If his date of the flood is wrong (and it is) then all the dates he's been setting are wrong, and his claim to have special insight into the text of Scripture is also wrong.


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Can One Haiku in English?

The title of this blog post, "Can One Write Haiku in English?" caught my eye (link to post). It's an interesting post on the topic, and reminded me that I need to be writing more of my haikus in the medium in which I do that (link to said medium). Currently, I am working my way through a haiku version of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Blueprints for Anarchy

Patrick Madrid wrote an article attacking Sola Scriptura as though it were a "blueprint for anarchy," which is the title that he gave to the article (link to article). The phrase is catchy among contemporary Roman apologists, and it should be no surprise then that we sometimes need to respond to these claims.

Here are three gentlemen who have recently (within the last month, I believe) provided answers:

James Swan - Follow Up Post
Stanford E. Murrell - Bondage of the Blog
Steve Hays



Response to Buracker on Israeli Idols

BJ Buracker aka StupidScholar has posted a response (link to response) to an earlier post of mine on the Israeli idols of Elohim (link to my post).

BJB writes:
1. The use of Elohim (God or “gods”) is inconclusive. It may refer to Yahweh, but does not have to. Something else would have to suggest that before we make that conclusion. TF seems to recognize this in the post, but he holds that the use of Elohim suggests that the reference is YHWH.
I answer:


BJB writes:
2. The link between the calves and the Exodus event is, likewise, inconclusive. It certainly fits a Yahwistic interpretation, but it fits others, as well. If the Israelites did not intend for the calf in Exod/Deut to be YHWH, surely they would claim that this new god had been the real deliverer. This is (or could be) an instance of attributing to a false god the attributes of YHWH. For instance, if they had said, “This is the elohim that created us from nothing,” then they would simply be attributing YHWH’s creative ability/acts to the idol, not necessarily claiming that the idol was (or represented) YHWH.
I answer:

This argument is problematic because another god with the name "Elohim" is not one of the options at (1). This argument is also problematic because it is unclear why anyone would think that other gods than Jehovah were deliverers. Saying "surely they would" isn't very persuasive for me. If the Israelites are going to embrace polytheism, why attribute the acts of one god to another?

BJB writes:
Hence, I don’t find the Israelites’ reference to the Exodus to be convincing proof that they intended the calf to be YHWH. Given that the Exodus was so significant and recent and that the calf would be used as their national god, it only makes sense that the new national god would be “given” credit for that deliverance.
I answer:

I'm not sure what would be "convincing proof," but perhaps that's irrelevant. The temporal proximity of the Exodus is a double-edged sword: while it would be significant, it was also still fresh in their memory as to who did it. To transfer the credit would seem odd, to say the least.

BJB writes:
3. There is ample evidence that calves were symbols/idols of other national gods at the time, particularly of Canaan and Phoenecia. In fact, other Jewish literature (e.g. Tobit 1:5) links the calf with the idol Baal explicitly. It seems possible, if not probable, that the Israelites were adopting the gods of other nations.
I answer:

a) No, Tobit does not link the calf with Baal. It links a calf with Baal.

Tobit 1:5 Now all the tribes which together revolted, and the house of my father Nephthali, sacrificed unto the heifer Baal.

b) Baal seems to have been a generic name for false gods, not a specific god. Thus, Scripture sometimes speaks of Baalim (the plural form of Baal). But since Scripture frequently uses the appellation Baal for Baal and Baal worship, it is unclear why Scripture would not use that description if a false god was being worshiped here.

c) It also does not fit well with the Nehemiah account.

BJB writes:
Matthew Henry (see his note on Exod 32:3, 4) actually believes that the calf was an Egyptian god rather than a Canaanite or Phoenecian god, although calves were important religious symbols there too. He supports this with reference to Ezek. 20:8; 23:8, where the prophet says that they had not forsaken their Egyptian ways. This also makes sense of Stephen’s statement in Acts 7:39, 40 that the Israelites had turned back to Egypt in heart (though not in location).
I answer:

As far as the weight of Matthew Henry's opinion, I agree that it is mighty. Nevertheless I think the counter-arguments are significant. As far as the calf being taken from the surrounding nations, I agree. I would tend to think the best guess is Egypt, as Poole suggests. Yet, while that is the ante-type, they don't name an Egyptian deity here (nor any other deity), and the deliverer is the one who delivered from Egypt.

BJB writes:
4. The fact that one idol was taken to Dan and another to Bethel does not prove that they signified YHWH. It at most indicates that the calves were to signify the same god. As with point #1, further evidence would have to be used to show that this one god was, in fact, YHWH.
I answer:

The point of the argument regarding Dan and Bethel was to note that "Elohim" in that instance should not be thought to be referring to more than one deity, since the two calves were not supposed to be two different gods. That's an underminer for the argument that the use of the plural form "elohim" is indicative of a god other than Jehovah.

We find additional confirmation of the matter from 1 Kings 14:7-10

1 Kings 14:7-10
Go, tell Jeroboam, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Forasmuch as I exalted thee from among the people, and made thee prince over my people Israel, and rent the kingdom away from the house of David, and gave it thee: and yet thou hast not been as my servant David, who kept my commandments, and who followed me with all his heart, to do that only which was right in mine eyes; but hast done evil above all that were before thee: for thou hast gone and made thee other gods, and molten images, to provoke me to anger, and hast cast me behind thy back: therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone.

As Poole explains:
Other gods, and molten images, or other gods, to wit, (for so and oft signifies among the Hebrews, as hath been formerly noted,) molten images, namely, the golden calves; which he calls others gods, not as if the Israelites esteemed the calves made of their own gold to be gods indeed, which it is incredible should find belief with any man in his wits, especially with the whole body of the Israelites, who knew that the ark and cherubims, though made by God’s special direction, were not gods, but only pledges of God’s presence, &c.; nor as if they thought them to be other gods in a strict and proper sense; for it is apparent that they still pretended to worship the God of their fathers, as the Jews at Jerusalem did, though in a differing manner: but only because God rejected their whole worship; and howsoever they called or accounted it, he reckoned it a manifest defection from him, and a betaking of themselves to other gods, or devils, as they are called, 2 Chronicles 11:15, by whose instigation they were led to such idolatrous practices, and whom alone they served and worshipped therein, whatsoever pretences they had to the contrary.
Likewise, Matthew Henry (whom you found to be persuasive with regard to the Exodus account):
3. He charges him with his impiety and apostasy, and his idolatry particularly: Thou hast done evil above all that were before thee, 1 Kings 14:9. Saul, that was rejected, never worshipped idols; Solomon did it but occasionally, in his dotage, and never made Israel to sin. Jeroboam's calves, though pretended to be set up in honour of the God of Israel, that brought them up out of Egypt, yet are here called other gods, or strange gods, because in them he worshipped God as the heathen worshipped their strange gods, because by them he changed the truth of God into a lie and represented him as altogether different from what he is, and because many of the ignorant worshippers terminated their devotion in the image, and did not at all regard the God of Israel. Though they were calves of gold, the richness of the metal was so far from making them acceptable to God that they provoked him to anger, designedly affronted him, under colour of pleasing him. In doing this, (1.) He had not set David before him (1 Kings 14:8): Thou hast not been as my servant David, who, though he had his faults and some bad ones, yet never forsook the worship of God nor grew loose nor cold to that; his faithful adherence to that gained him this honourable character, that he followed God with all his heart, and herein he was proposed for an example to all his successors. Those did not do well that did not do like David. (2.) He had not set God before him, but (1 Kings 14:9), “Thou hast cast me behind thy back, my law, my fear; thou hast neglected me, forgotten me, and preferred thy policies before my precepts.
Likewise Gill:
for thou hast gone and made thee other gods, and molten images, to provoke me to anger; the two calves of gold; for however he might colour things over, and pretend he did not look upon these as gods, but as representations of God, and that he did not worship them, but God by them, yet the Lord considered it as idolatry, than which nothing is more provoking to him:
We see the same implicit understanding in the so-called "Apostolic Constitutions" (which are plainly forgeries):
For you know undoubtedly that those that are by us named bishops, and presbyters, and deacons, were made by prayer, and by the laying on of hands; and that by the difference of their names is showed the difference of their employments. For not every one that will is ordained, as the case was in that spurious and counterfeit priesthood of the calves under Jeroboam; [1 Kings 13:33] but he only who is called of God.
- [Pseudo-]Apostolic Constitutions, Book 8, Section 5, Paragraph 46

The same implicit commentary is in Athanasius:
For when the lawful Bishops, men of advanced age, had some of them been banished, and others forced to fly, heathens and catechumens, those who hold the first places in the senate and men who are notorious for their wealth, were straightway commissioned by the Arians to preach the holy faith instead of Christians. And enquiry was no longer made, as the Apostle enjoined, 'if any be blameless [Titus 1:8]:' but according to the practice of the impious Jeroboam, he who could give most money was named Bishop; and it made no difference to them, even if the man happened to be a heathen, so long as he furnished them with money.
- Athanasius, Apology to Constantius, Section 28

Sulpitius Severus (lived about A.D. 363 - 420) is somewhat more ambiguous, though he seems to have the same implicit commentary:
But, since Roboam held Jerusalem, where the people had been accustomed to offer sacrifice to God in the temple built by Solomon, Jeroboam, fearing lest their religious feelings might alienate the people from him, resolved to fill their minds with superstition. Accordingly, he set up one golden calf at Bethel, and another at Dan, to which the people might offer sacrifice; and, passing by the tribe of Levi, he appointed priests from among the people. But censure followed this guilt so hateful to God.
- Sacred History, Book 1, Chapter 41

Tertullian's comments are a bit ambiguous - he could reasonably be seen as either agreeing or disagreeing with the thesis above:
For, withal, according to the memorial records of the divine Scriptures, the people of the Jews— that is, the more ancient— quite forsook God, and did degrading service to idols, and, abandoning the Divinity, was surrendered to images; while "the people" said to Aaron, "Make us gods to go before us." And when the gold out of the necklaces of the women and the rings of the men had been wholly smelted by fire, and there had come forth a calf-like head, to this figment Israel with one consent (abandoning God) gave honour, saying, "These are the gods who brought us from the land of Egypt." For thus, in the later times in which kings were governing them, did they again, in conjunction with Jeroboam, worship golden cattle, and groves, and enslave themselves to Baal. Whence is proved that they have ever been depicted, out of the volume of the divine Scriptures, as guilty of the crime of idolatry; whereas our "less"— that is, posterior— people, quitting the idols which formerly it used slavishly to serve, has been converted to the same God from whom Israel, as we have above related, had departed. [1 Thessalonians 1:9-10]
- Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews, Chapter 1

Ambrose's comments are quite interesting. It's unclear whether he simply remembers the story wrong or whether he considers the altar at Bethel to be a temple of God (despite being unauthorized). I'd be hesitant to draw overly strong conclusions from Ambrose's comments, particularly when he refers to Jeroboam's "father" which would be no one of any particular significance. It's quite possible that he has conflated Rehoboam and Jeroboam:
But when in the temple of our God, that wicked king Jeroboam took away the gifts which his father had laid up, and offered to idols upon the holy altar, did not his right hand, which he stretched out, wither, and his idols, which he called upon, were not able to help him? Then, turning to the Lord, he asked for pardon, and at once his hand which had withered by sacrilege was healed by true religion. So complete an example was there set forth in one person, both of divine mercy and wrath when he who was sacrificing suddenly lost his right hand, but when penitent received forgiveness.
- Ambrose, Concerning Virginity, Book 2, Chapter 5, Section 38

What's more, Scripture makes it clear that the golden calves of Jeroboam were not Baal (or baalim), since Jehu eliminated Baal-worship but sinned with Jeroboam:

2 Kings 10:25-29
And it came to pass, as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, that Jehu said to the guard and to the captains, Go in, and slay them; let none come forth. And they smote them with the edge of the sword; and the guard and the captains cast them out, and went to the city of the house of Baal. And they brought forth the images out of the house of Baal, and burned them. And they brake down the image of Baal, and brake down the house of Baal, and made it a draught house unto this day. Thus Jehu destroyed Baal out of Israel. Howbeit from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after them, to wit, the golden calves that were in Bethel, and that were in Dan.

BJB writes:
5. Not one of those passages clearly identifies the idol with YHWH. The closest is the reference to the feast for YHWH, but notice that YHWH is still not associated directly with the calf, only with the feast.
I answer:

Now this is a truly curious counter-hypothesis. Israel ascribes the great deliverance to some other god or gods and then goes on to celebrate a feast for Jehovah? This seems improbable, to say the least.

BJB writes:
Now, I must admit that these passages also do not identify the calves with any other deity either. However, there does not seem to be enough in the passages to demand that the calves were representations of YHWH, as I hope I have shown.
I answer:

There seem to be a lot of evidences in favor of the calf-worship being Israel violating the second commandment as reiterated in the prologue of the Decalogue:

Exodus 20:22-26
And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. Ye shall not make with me gods (elohim) of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods (elohim) of gold. An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.

God is talking about the way in which He is to be worshiped, and excluding human artifice beyond a simple dirt or uncut stone altar (setting aside, for the moment, the tabernacle worship).

There's a much more expanded version in Deuteronomy 4, where Moses explains (I've included only a portion of the relevant discussion):

Deuteronomy 4:15-19
Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, the likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: and lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.

We also see in that same context this practice of referring to the idols themselves as "gods":

Deuteronomy 4:28 And there ye shall serve gods (elohim), the work of men's hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.

BJB writes:
In fact, those Israelites that turn to these calves do not seem to have any desire to worship YHWH at all. Rather, the people turn away from Moses and (presumably) what he represented, that is YHWH (Exodus 32); Jeroboam makes the 2 calves to rival YHWH worship in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12); and Hosea 8:1-4 indicates that the people were in direct rebellion against YHWH by setting up their own kings, princes, and (probably) calves.
I answer:

a) Wait a second. A minute ago they were celebrating a feast to Jehovah, now they have no desire to worship Him?

b) The more natural explanation is that calf substituted for Moses, and the calves for the temple of Solomon.

c) There is no question that calf-worship was rebellion, just as making any image of God would be rebellion.

BJB writes:
In other words, in each of these cases, the (self-avowed) motivation appears to be rebellion against YHWH and/or fear of some other circumstance (e.g. Moses’ absence; rivalry between the northern and southern kingdoms), rather than a desire to worship and serve YHWH. I would suggest that, in fact, they weren’t trying to worship YHWH at all but rather establishing a substitute deity.
I answer:

Again, this contradicts the "feast to Jehovah" and the seeming reverence that Jeroboam has for Jehovah despite his idolatry. We agree that this sin, like every violation of the first table, is one that is ultimately of rebellion against God.

BJB writes:
Since this whole discussion arose in response to Catholic apologetics, I feel it is important to note that the Israelites motivation is shown to be radically different than those posed by modern Catholics (and Orthodox) in their use of statues and icons.
I answer:

I would not agree, but that is neither here nor there as far as this particular discussion is concerned.

BJB writes:
Therefore (finally!), I don’t find these texts showing YHWH worship through the use of symbols/idols or even YHWH worship at all. YHWH worship is possible but not explicit, and I would argue that it is also not probable. Indeed, I believe that it looks more like the Israelites are worshiping something/someone other than YHWH when they use these golden calves.
I answer:

For the reasons given above and in the original post, I'd respectfully disagree.


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Who is Barabbas?

All four of the gospels refer to Jesus' fellow prisoner, Barabbas, by name. First, I'll present the four accounts and then some commentary:

Matthew 17:15-26:
Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would. And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, "Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?" For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.
When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, "Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him."
But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
The governor answered and said unto them, "Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you?"
They said, "Barabbas."
Pilate saith unto them, "What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?"
They all say unto him, "Let him be crucified."
And the governor said, "Why, what evil hath he done?"
But they cried out the more, saying, "Let him be crucified."
When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it."
Then answered all the people, and said, "His blood be on us, and on our children."
Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
Mark similarly provides an account.
Mark 15:6-15:
Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired. And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection. And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them.
But Pilate answered them, saying, "Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?" For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.
But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.
And Pilate answered and said again unto them, "What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews?"
And they cried out again, "Crucify him."
Then Pilate said unto them, "Why, what evil hath he done?"
And they cried out the more exceedingly, "Crucify him."
And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.
Luke also has an account.
Luke 23:13-25:
And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, said unto them, "Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: no, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him. I will therefore chastise him, and release him." (For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.)
And they cried out all at once, saying, "Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas:" (Who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.)
Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them.
But they cried, saying, "Crucify him, crucify him."
And he said unto them the third time, "Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go."
And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed. And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will.
Finally, John also has the account.
John 18:38-19:16
Pilate saith unto him, "What is truth?" And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, "I find in him no fault at all. But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?"
Then cried they all again, saying, "Not this man, but Barabbas." Now Barabbas was a robber.
Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, and said, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and they smote him with their hands.
Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, "Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him."
Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, "Behold the man!"
When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, "Crucify him, crucify him."
Pilate saith unto them, "Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him."
The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God."
When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; and went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, "Whence art thou?"
But Jesus gave him no answer.
Then saith Pilate unto him, "Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?"
Jesus answered, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin."
And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, "If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar."
When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, "Behold your King!"
But they cried out, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him."
Pilate saith unto them, "Shall I crucify your King?"
The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar."
Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.There are no further references to Barabbas in the text of the New Testament.

So, who was Barabbas? He was a robber (John's account), a notable prisoner (Matthew's account), someone who had (with others who were also imprisoned) made an insurrection/sedition and committed murder in the insurrection (Mark's and Luke's accounts). So, this man was a true brigand and a captain of them. His name appears to be taken from "bar abba" meaning "son of the father" (although some have suggested "bar rabbi" meaning "son of the teacher."

I scanned through the early church writers to see if there were any interesting legends about him. I mostly came up empty. Tertullian describes him as "the most abandoned criminal" (Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book 4, Chapter 42)
Cyril of Alexandria describes him as "a notorious robber" and "a dangerous and brutal criminal, [who was] not free from blood-guiltiness" (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John, at John 18:40) Augustine calls him "the robber," "the murderer," and "the destroyer [of life]"(Augustine, Tractate 116 on John's Gospel, at John 19:1) Even Faustus (whom Augustine opposed) called him "the notorious robber" (Faustus quoted in Augustine's Reply to Faustus, Book 14, Section 1) Chrysostom provides a characteristically colorful description:
For which was right? to let go the acknowledged criminal, or Him about whose guilt there was a question? For, if in the case of acknowledged offenders it was fit there should be a liberation, much more in those of whom there was a doubt. For surely this man did not seem to them worse than acknowledged murderers. For on this account, it is not merely said they had a robber; but one noted, that is, who was infamous in wickedness, who had perpetrated countless murders.
- Chrysostom, Homily 86 on Matthew, Section 2, at Matthew 27:11-12

On the whole, though, the early church basically leaves Barabbas alone. A couple (Origen and Rabanius) describe him as figuring the Devil, while Pseudo-Jerome goes so far as to associate him with the scapegoat which was freed. I'm told the the "Gospel According to the Hebrews" is an apocryphal work that takes the "son of the teacher" interpretation as opposed to "son of the father," but generally the apocryphal works also pretty much leave him alone or simply parrot the canonical accounts.

Gill provides similar comments, and adds:
The Ethiopic version adds, "the prince", or "chief of robbers, and all knew him"; and the Arabic, instead of a "prisoner", reads, a "thief", as he was.
He also points out that this name was a common name among the Jews, providing various citations to folks by that name. There does not seem to be much more out there on him.

Thus, I was a little surprised to see a rather bizarre comment in my comment box attempting to promote a novel view:
"Anathema" continues even unto this very day... to wit, 'Christian's' regard towards "Jesus Barabbas" (originally written in the Greek Gospel according or attributed to Matthew (27:17). But is such regard justified?

Is the depiction, contained only in the Holy Gospels, of "Jesus Barabbas" accurate or true?

Standing on the stage of ecclesiastical history's most dramatic and celebrated hour, like a potted plant of poison ivy, Jesus Barabbas said nothing whatsoever to anybody (nobody said anything to Him), -yet He is incongruently released (because Pontius Pilate honored a Jewish 'custom' -of releasing one prisoner during the Passover, -never before or since exercised).
Nevertheless, He is described as being "notorious"... to whom?
Where did He come from? Where did He go? Supposedly, He participated in the 'insurrection', -what "insurrection"? The "insurrection" wherein fanatically 'religious' Jews sought to overthrow Herod's Roman supported 'secular' governance -in an unsuccessful attempt to re-establish the ancient 'theocratic' form of governance as was instituted by David' (after the Lord rebuked the 'anointed' king Saul and replaced him with David?

I'm sure young Saul of Tarsus had something to say (and do) when 'the messiah' came riding on an ass into Jerusalem that fateful day...

It certainly wasn't "Jesus Barabbas", -which, by the way, "Jesus" was His 'name', -"Barabbas" is what He was 'called'. 'Barabbas' is not a surname (any more than is "Christ"), it is, rather, an Aramaic appellation, the meaning of which is: Bar = Son + Abba = Father (as in the Father of us all or 'God').


Roland, a reluctant iconoclast.
There are numerous errors in this comment. First, the name is just Barabbas (not "Jesus Barabbas"). Second, the fact that we don't have any historical record to which to tie this particular notorious criminal is hardly surprising: we don't have any significant records of the crimes of the day - so treating historical silence as significant is an error. Third, the whole comment is riddled with misplaced sarcasm and innuendo, compounding those errors through what seems to be some sort of iconoclastic pride. I have no idea who Roland is (or why he was using the handle "Barabbas126" to post the comment, but I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has encountered this same deviant view anywhere else.

UPDATE: I've tried to clarify the list of errors above. I found the information on textual data interesting. There are several variant spellings of the name: some manuscripts double the rho (leading to the "son of the master" interpretation) and some make the doubled betas single. Also, some manuscripts to add the name "Jesus," which is doubtless the basis for Roland's claim. However, neither the earliest nor the majority of manuscripts have this reading.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Repentance is from Sin

Mr. Greg Koukl has lots of good things to say on many topics, but I was a bit disappointed by his recent post/video on the topic of Repentance, which he titles: "Repentance Has Nothing to Do with Sin." (link to post with embedded video) [UPDATE: Mr. Koukl has pulled his video, and has posted some clarification, which you can find at the link. Hopefully the remainder of this post will be helpful as a general commentary on the nature of Biblical repentance without regard to its relevance to Mr. Koukl in particular. See his clarification in the linked post for his own take on this.]

With all due respect to Mr. Koukl, Biblical repentance (the kind we preach when preach Jesus' gospel of repentance and faith) has to do directly with sin. Repentance is a turning from sin to Christ. The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it well:

Q. 87. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.

The Westminster Larger Catechism has a similar description:

Q. 76. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, and upon the apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, he so grieves for and hates his sins, as that he turns from them all to God, purposing and endeavouring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience.

My Reformed Baptist brethen may enjoy the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689):

Paragraph 1. Such of the elect that are converted at riper years, having sometime lived in the state of nature, and therein served divers pleasures, God in their effectual calling gives them repentance to life.

Paragraph 2. Whereas there is none that does good and does not sin, and the best of men may, through the power and deceitfulness of their corruption dwelling in them, with the prevalency of temptation, fall in to great sins and provocations; God has, in the covenant of grace, mercifully provided that believers so sinning and falling be renewed through repentance unto salvation.

Paragraph 3. This saving repentance is an evangelical grace, whereby a person, being by the Holy Spirit made sensible of the manifold evils of his sin, does, by faith in Christ, humble himself for it with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self-abhorrancy, praying for pardon and strength of grace, with a purpose and endeavor, by supplies of the Spirit, to walk before God unto all well-pleasing in all things.

Paragraph 4. As repentance is to be continued through the whole course of our lives, upon the account of the body of death, and the motions thereof, so it is every man’s duty to repent of his particular known sins particularly.

Paragraph 5. Such is the provision which God has made through Christ in the covenant of grace for the preservation of believers unto salvation, that although there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation, yet there is no sin so great that it shall bring damnation to them that repent, which makes the constant preaching of repentance necessary.

Mr. Koukl makes hay of the fact that the Greek word for repentance, μετανοέω (metanoeō), does not necessarily have to do with sin. That's absolutely true: it means a change of mind. The word itself doesn't even necessarily have to do with God. Like the English word "turn" it can be applied to various things. Thus, we sometimes see it used in Scripture of things other than turning to God (God even anthropomorphically describes himself as repenting from some thing he would otherwise have done).

Those etymological and linguistic arguments miss the mark. Godly repentance, the kind that Christ preached, is two sided: it is a turning from sin, and a turning to God. It would be wrong to preach a one-sided repentance that only addressed sin, but it is also wrong to preach a one-sided repentance that does not address sin.

What's more, while repentance is toward God, that's normally only implied in Scripture, whereas repentance from sin (despite Koukl's claimed word study) is frequently expressly or indirectly stated.

In the Old Testament, we see a few examples:

Jeremiah 8:6 I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle.

Ezekiel 14:6 Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.

Ezekiel 18:30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.

We also see additional examples, that I won't provide here of the usage of the term "repentance" for other things than turning from sin. Nevertheless, it should be clear that the emphasis in those cases is normally on the negation of some prior course of action or behavior. God "repents" of his plan to destroy Israel, or something like that. I welcome folks to try to prove me wrong, but it seems like the emphasis of repentance throughout Scripture is on the negative - the turning from, rather than the turning toward (which is normally much more indirectly indicated).

We are not limited to the Old Testament, of course, and the New Testament provides even more examples of the same connection between sin and repentance:

Matthew 9:13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Mark 1:4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

Mark 2:17 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Luke 3:3 And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;

Luke 5:32 I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Luke 15:10 Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.

Luke 17:3-4
Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.

Luke 24:47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Acts 3:19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;

Acts 5:31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.

Acts 8:22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.

Acts 26:20 But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.

2 Corinthians 12:21 And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.

Hebrews 6:1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,

Revelation 2:21-22
And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.

Revelation 9:20-21
And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.

I've omitted the cases where the connection was less obvious and immediate, and so I hope that my readers will find the above examples sufficient to illustrate the matter. Repentance of the Biblical variety has much to do with sin, in fact it is a turning from sin that we preach when we tell the lost to "Repent and Believe" as Jesus our Master instructed.


Anathema Update

Somehow, in preparing my previous post (link), I had overlooked the single use of the word "anathema" in the 1917 Code of Canon Law (pointed out to me here). There is a recent (2001) English translation of the code (Peters, Edward N. 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law: in English translation, with extensive scholarly apparatus. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001.) and folks who think my translation below to be faulty are welcome to double check the matter for themselves. Also, there is a French translation (which I consulted) and which can be found here (link). I've provided the Latin, French, and English below:

Canon 2257

Part 1.

Latin: Excommunicatio est censura qua quis excluditur a communione fidelium cum effectibus qui in canonibus, qui sequuntur, enumerantur, quique separari nequeunt.

French: L'excommunication est une censure par laquelle quelqu'un est exclut de la communion des fidèles, avec les effets énumérés dans les canons qui suivent, et qui ne peuvent en être séparés.

English: Excommunication is a censure by which someone is excluded from the communion of the faithful, with the effects enumerated in the canons that follow, and from which it can not be separated.

Part 2.

Latin: Dicitur quoque anathema, praesertim si cum sollemnitatibus infligatur quae in Pontificali Romano describuntur.

French: On l'appelle aussi anathème principalement si elle est infligée avec les solennités décrites dans le Pontifical romain.

English: It is also called "anathema" - especially if it is inflicted with solemnities which are described in the Roman Pontifical.

So, unless one is going to try to argue that excommunications were eliminated in the canon law, it seems odd to try to claim that anathemas have been done away, since the 1917 code indicates that excommunications in general can be called by the name "anathema."

So, while I thank Kelly for pointing this out to me, if folks like Akin are simply suggesting that the name "anathema" is not used or that the additional solemnities have been done away with ... the issue seems extraordinarily trivial. The substance is the same, whether it is solemnized or not.


Colour Me Impressed!

This takes Scripture memorization the full distance (link). And what's even better, the person in question is not content with simply memorizing the Bible: "I want a relationship with Jesus more than just reading and memorizing verses," he's reported as saying.


Infinite Punishment and Liberalism

One adherent to liberalism/progressivism recently commented on my post regarding eternal punishment (link to my post). He wrote:
Dear Turretinfan,

Sin against an infinitely holy God deserves an infinite punishment? Why? Out of necessity? And if not out of necessity, what kind of God would purposely frame a reality so that such a barbarous claim would be true?

Yes, the Bible has many terrifying things to say about God's wrath against his enemies, as well as some very illuminating examples of how that wrath might get expressed in specific circumstances. Say, for example, the stoning of the one who picked up wood on the Sabbath, or the nice trial by ordeal of a woman accused of adultery. How about the murder of Achan's entire family? Or the (implied) butchery of the women and children of the enemies of the Jews at the end of the book of Esther? Or how about those Babylonian babies in Psalm 137? None of these even raise the issue of post-mortem punishments and they are already generally recognized as beyond the pale.

In short, the doctrine of endless punishment is one of the surest demonstrations that what passes for Christian orthodoxy in the Reformed evangelical tradition speaks falsely about God.
This comment was signed "Dean Dough" which as his blogger profile indicates, is a pseudonym with his "identity withheld to protect family members still affiliated with very orthodox Christian churches from being tarred with my brush."

Let's examine his comments:
Sin against an infinitely holy God deserves an infinite punishment? Why? Out of necessity? And if not out of necessity, what kind of God would purposely frame a reality so that such a barbarous claim would be true?
This comment contains several layers of confusion. First, the reason why sin deserves an infinite punishment is because it is an offense against the dignity of the person of God, who is a person of infinite dignity. It is not so much the absolute holiness as the infinite majesty of God that is in play here.

Second, while it is not necessary that God permit sin, it is necessary that sin offend God in this way if God permits it, because of the nature of God. Thus, it is both necessary (in one sense) and free (in another sense) with respect to God.

Third, while it is easy to label something "barbarous," it is more difficult to demonstrate that a position is incorrect. D.D. by taking the path of simply applying a pejorative label has demonstrated an apparent incapacity to address the substance.

Yes, the Bible has many terrifying things to say about God's wrath against his enemies, as well as some very illuminating examples of how that wrath might get expressed in specific circumstances. Say, for example, the stoning of the one who picked up wood on the Sabbath, or the nice trial by ordeal of a woman accused of adultery. How about the murder of Achan's entire family? Or the (implied) butchery of the women and children of the enemies of the Jews at the end of the book of Esther? Or how about those Babylonian babies in Psalm 137? None of these even raise the issue of post-mortem punishments and they are already generally recognized as beyond the pale.
This really looks more like a rebuttal argument for me to use against that "barbarous" label above. Yes, folks who think hell is "barbarous" are likely also to think that God's wrath exhibited in the Old Testament is "beyond the pale." Their rejection of the God of the Old Testament is their own condemnation. There's really nothing I need to add to show that they stand opposed to God's revelation of Himself.

In short, the doctrine of endless punishment is one of the surest demonstrations that what passes for Christian orthodoxy in the Reformed evangelical tradition speaks falsely about God.
The underlying logic seems to be:

1) If something strikes us as unpleasant, it is false;
2) The Reformed doctrine of endless punishment is unleasant;
3) Therefore, the Reformed doctrine of endless punishment is false.

The problem is with the major premise. To put it differently, the problem is with letting corrupt, human intuition substitute for revelation as the means for determining truth. No matter how "barbarous" or "beyond the pale" the doctrine of endless punishment may be, the problem is not with those who hold what the Scripture teaches, but with those who oppose the revelation of God.

What is illustrative about D.D.'s comment is that it illustrates one of many factors that have produced the diversity of denominations we see today: simple rebellion against the Scriptures. We know that Roman Catholics try to claim that the denominations are due to Sola Scriptura, but notice how liberalism is quite willing to oppose the clear revelation regarding God's wrath. Scripture is not their standard, and consequently it is improper and illogical to suggest that liberal churches are the offspring of Sola Scriptura, just as it is improper and illogical to suggest that churches with new prophets (like Islam or Mormonism) are the result of Sola Scriptura. One group throws out Scripture one way, the other group another way, but neither seeks to make Scripture the ultimate authority for faith and life.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Analogical Argument on the Object of Prayer

There are many great arguments that are presented as to why we should not pray to anyone besides God. One underused argument, however, is the analogical or typological argument. The Old Testament worship of God employed incense. That incense is a symbol and picture of our prayers. We can see its connection to prayer in the New Testament:

Luke 1:9-11
According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

Revelation 8:3-4
And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.

It was, indeed, prophesied in the Old Testament that incense would be offered unto the name of the Lord throughout the world.

Malachi 1:11 For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts.

Furthermore, Scripture informs us of the fact that prayer corresponds to incense and sacrifice:

Psalm 141:2 Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Thus, today we do not offer literal incense to God but instead offer prayers.

This understanding, of course, is not unique to me.

We see it in Justin Martyr (lived about A.D. 100-165):
What sober-minded man, then, will not acknowledge that we are not atheists, worshipping as we do the Maker of this universe, and declaring, as we have been taught, that He has no need of streams of blood and libations and incense; whom we praise to the utmost of our power by the exercise of prayer and thanksgiving for all things wherewith we are supplied, as we have been taught that the only honour that is worthy of Him is not to consume by fire what He has brought into being for our sustenance, but to use it for ourselves and those who need, and with gratitude to Him to offer thanks by invocations and hymns for our creation, and for all the means of health, and for the various qualities of the different kinds of things, and for the changes of the seasons; and to present before Him petitions for our existing again in incorruption through faith in Him.
- Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 13

We see it in Irenaeus (lived about A.D. 115 - 202):
But what other name is there which is glorified among the Gentiles than that of our Lord, by whom the Father is glorified, and man also? And because it is [the name] of His own Son, who was made man by Him, He calls it His own. Just as a king, if he himself paints a likeness of his son, is right in calling this likeness his own, for both these reasons, because it is [the likeness] of his son, and because it is his own production; so also does the Father confess the name of Jesus Christ, which is throughout all the world glorified in the Church, to be His own, both because it is that of His Son, and because He who thus describes it gave Him for the salvation of men. Since, therefore, the name of the Son belongs to the Father, and since in the omnipotent God the Church makes offerings through Jesus Christ, He says well on both these grounds, "And in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure sacrifice." Now John, in the Apocalypse, declares that the "incense" is "the prayers of the saints."
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 17, Section 6

We see it in Clement of Alexandria (lived about A.D. 150 - 215):
Now breathing together is properly said of the Church. For the sacrifice of the Church is the word breathing as incense from holy souls, the sacrifice and the whole mind being at the same time unveiled to God. Now the very ancient altar in Delos they celebrated as holy; which alone, being undefiled by slaughter and death, they say Pythagoras approached. And will they not believe us when we say that the righteous soul is the truly sacred altar, and that incense arising from it is holy prayer? But I believe sacrifices were invented by men to be a pretext for eating flesh. But without such idolatry he who wished might have partaken of flesh.
- Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, Book 7, Chapter 6

We see it in Origen (lived about A.D. 185 - 254):
Celsus then proceeds to say that "we shrink from raising altars, statues, and temples; and this," he thinks, "has been agreed upon among us as the badge or distinctive mark of a secret and forbidden society." He does not perceive that we regard the spirit of every good man as an altar from which arises an incense which is truly and spiritually sweet-smelling, namely, the prayers ascending from a pure conscience. Therefore it is said by John in the Revelation, "The odours are the prayers of saints;" and by the Psalmist, "Let my prayer come up before You as incense."
- Origen, Contra Celsus, Book 8, Chapter 17

We see it in Cyprian of Carthage (died about A.D. 258):
That the ancient sacrifice should be made void, and a new one should be celebrated

In Isaiah: "For what purpose to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? Says the Lord: I am full; I will not have the burnt sacrifices of rams, and fat of lambs, and blood of bulls and goats. For who has required these things from your hands? " Isaiah 1:11-12 Also in the forty-ninth Psalm: "I will not eat the flesh of bulls, nor drink the blood of goats. Offer to God the sacrifice of praise, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you: and you shall glorify me." In the same Psalm, moreover: "The sacrifice of praise shall glorify me: therein is the way in which I will show him the salvation of God." In the fourth Psalm too: "Sacrifice the sacrifice of righteousness, and hope in the Lord." Likewise in Malachi: "I have no pleasure concerning you, says the Lord, and I will not have an accepted offering from your hands. Because from the rising of the sun, even unto the going down of the same, my name is glorified among the Gentiles; and in every place odours of incense are offered to my name, and a pure sacrifice, because great is my name among the nations, says the Lord."
- Cyprian of Carthage, Treatise 12, Book 1, Section 16

We see it in Methodius (died about A.D. 311):
Therefore, also, it stands nearer to God within the Holy of holies, and before the veil, with undefiled hands, like incense, offering up prayers to the Lord, acceptable as a sweet savour; as also John indicated, saying that the incense in the vials of the four-and-twenty elders were the prayers of the saints.
- Methodius of Olympus, Banquet of the Ten Virgins, Discourse 5, Chapter 8

We see it in Lactantius (lived about A.D. 250 - 325):
But the worship of God consists of one thing, not to be wicked. Also in that perfect discourse, when he heard Asclepius inquiring from his son whether it pleased him that incense and other odours for divine sacrifice were offered to his father, exclaimed: "Speak words of good omen, O Asclepius. For it is the greatest impiety to entertain any such thought concerning that being of pre-eminent goodness. For these things, and things resembling these, are not adapted to Him. For He is full of all things, as many as exist, and He has need of nothing at all. But let us give Him thanks, and adore Him. For His sacrifice consists only of blessing." And he spoke rightly. For we ought to sacrifice to God in word; inasmuch as God is the Word, as He Himself confessed. Therefore the chief ceremonial in the worship of God is praise from the mouth of a just man directed towards God.
- Lactantius, Divine Institutes, Book 6, Chapter 25

We see it in Athanasius (lived about A.D. 293 – 373):
For such meditation and exercise in godliness, being at all times the habit of the saints, is urgent on us at the present time, when the divine word desires us to keep the feast with them if we are in this disposition. For what else is the feast, but the constant worship of God, and the recognition of godliness, and unceasing prayers from the whole heart with agreement? So Paul wishing us to be ever in this disposition, commands, saying, "Rejoice evermore; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks." Not therefore separately, but unitedly and collectively, let us all keep the feast together, as the prophet exhorts, saying, "O come, let us rejoice in the Lord; let us make a joyful noise unto God our Saviour." Who then is so negligent, or who so disobedient to the divine voice, as not to leave everything, and run to the general and common assembly of the feast? Which is not in one place only, for not one place alone keeps the feast; but "into all the earth their song has gone forth, and to the ends of the world their words." And the sacrifice is not offered in one place, but "in every nation, incense and a pure sacrifice is offered unto God." So when in like manner from all in every place, praise and prayer shall ascend to the gracious and good Father, when the whole Catholic Church which is in every place, with gladness and rejoicing, celebrates together the same worship to God, when all men in common send up a song of praise and say, Amen; how blessed will it not be, my brethren! who will not, at that time, be engaged, praying rightly? For the walls of every adverse power, yea even of Jericho especially, falling down, and the gift of the Holy Spirit being then richly poured upon all men, every man perceiving the coming of the Spirit shall say, "We are all filled in the morning with Your favour, and we rejoice and are made glad in our days."
- Athanasius, Letter 11, Section 11

We see it in Ephraim the Syrian (lived about A.D. 306 - 373):
Glory be to You Who clothed Yourself in the body of mortal Adam, and made it a fountain of life for all mortals. You are He that livest, for Your slayers were as husbandmen to Your life, for that they sowed it as wheat in the depth [of the earth], that it may rise and raise up many with it. Come, let us make our love the great censer of the community, and offer on it as incense our hymns and our prayers to Him Who made His cross a censer for the Godhead, and offered from it on behalf of us all. He that was above stooped down to those who were beneath, to distribute His treasures to them. Accordingly, though the needy drew near to His manhood, yet they used to receive the gift from His Godhead. Therefore He made the body which He put on, the treasurer of His riches, that He, O Lord, might bring them out of Your storehouse, and distribute them to the needy, the sons of His kindred.
- Ephraim the Syrian, Homily on Our Lord, Section 9

We see it in John Chrysostom (lived about A.D. 347 – 407):
The psalmist therefore asks for his prayer to become like that sacrifice defiled by no blemish of the offerer, like that pure and holy incense. Now, by his asking he also teaches us to offer prayers that are pure and fragrant. Hence he is also the one who touched on the stench of prayer in saying, "Because my iniquities rose up over my head, they weighed me down like a heavy load. My wounds were putrid and foul-smelling." As, then, the incense even of itself is fine and sweet-smelling, but gives particular evidence of its fragrance at the time when it is mixed with the fire, so too is prayer fine of itself but becomes finer and more sweet-smelling when offered with ardor and a glowing spirit, when the soul becomes a censer and lights a burning fire. I mean, the incense would not be added unless the brazier had previously been lit, or the coals set alight. Do likewise in the case of your own mind: first light it with enthusiasm, and then offer your prayer.
- John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Psalms, at Psalm 141:2

We see it in Augustine (lived about A.D. 354 – 430):
"Let my prayer be set forth in Your sight as incense, and the lifting up of my hands an evening sacrifice" Psalm 140:2. That this is wont to be understood of the Head Himself, every Christian acknowledges. For when the day was now sinking towards evening, the Lord upon the Cross "laid down His life to take it again," John 10:17 did not lose it against His will. Still we too are figured there. For what of Him hung upon the tree, save what He took of us? And how can it be that the Father should leave and abandon His only begotten Son, especially when He is one God with Him? Yet, fixing our weakness upon the Cross, where, as the Apostle says, "our old man is crucified with Him," Romans 6:6 He cried out in the voice of that our "old man," "Why have You forsaken Me?" That then is the "evening sacrifice," the Passion of the Lord, the Cross of the Lord, the offering of a salutary Victim, the whole burnt offering acceptable to God. That "evening sacrifice" produced, in His Resurrection, a morning offering. Prayer then, purely directed from a faithful heart, rises like incense from a hallowed altar. Nought is more delightful than the odour of the Lord: such odour let all have who believe.
- Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 141 at verse 2.

We see it in John Cassian (lived about A.D. 360 – 435):
Wherefore we ought to pray often but briefly, lest if we are long about it our crafty foe may succeed in implanting something in our heart. For that is the true sacrifice, as "the sacrifice of God is a broken spirit." This is the salutary offering, these are pure drink offerings, that is the "sacrifice of righteousness," the "sacrifice of praise," these are true and fat victims, "holocausts full of marrow," which are offered by contrite and humble hearts, and which those who practise this control and fervour of spirit, of which we have spoken, with effectual power can sing: "Let my prayer be set forth in Your sight as the incense: let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice."
- John Cassian, Conference 9, Chapter 36

Doubtless many more could be added to these. The point is that Scripture is fairly clear in making the association between Old Testament incense and prayer. In the New Testament we no longer use incense. I realize that there are churches today who use incense, but that was not the practice of the ancient churches. Arnobius (flourished about A.D. 284-305) tells us:
Having shown briefly how impious and infamous are the opinions which you have formed about your gods, we have now to speak of their temples, their images also, and sacrifices, and of the other things which are nailed and closely related to them. For you are here in the habit of fastening upon us a very serious charge of impiety because we do not rear temples for the ceremonies of worship, do not set up statues and images of any god, do not build altars, do not offer the blood of creatures slain in sacrifices, incense, nor sacrificial meal, and finally, do not bring wine flowing in libations from sacred bowls; which, indeed, we neglect to build and do, not as though we cherish impious and wicked dispositions, or have conceived any madly desperate feeling of contempt for the gods, but because we think and believe that they — if only they are true gods, and are called by this exalted name — either scorn such honours, if they give way to scorn, or endure them with anger, if they are roused by feelings of rage.
- Arnobius, Against the Heathen, Book 6, Section 1

Similarly, John Chrysostom explains: "You must worship 'in truth'; as former things were types, such as circumcision, and whole burnt offerings, and victims, and incense, they now no longer exist, but all is 'truth.'" (John Chrysostom, Homily 33 on the Gospel of John, at John 4:24)

But how does this tell us that we should not pray to saints? Let us look closely at the institution and formula of incense:

Exodus 30:34-38
And the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight: and thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy: and thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy. And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the LORD. Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people.

Notice that the incense is reserved for Jehovah: "it shall be unto thee holy for the LORD." Furthermore, God threatens with death those who used it for any other purpose: "Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people." By analogy, prayer is reserved for Jehovah as well.

Thus, as we saw above, the prophet Malachi declares that incense will be offered "unto my name ... saith the LORD of hosts." It is to God and God alone that we make our prayers. Prayers to anyone but God is an abuse of the incense of prayer. We are not free to pray to whomever we want to, but instead we are to pray to God alone by the merits of Christ alone, since he is the only mediator between God and man.