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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Why Does God Send an Evil Spirit on Saul?

QUESTION:  In 1 Samuel 19:9, an evil spirit is said to come from the Lord.  One translation says, "of the Lord".  How can a good God have or send an evil spirit?  Or is the Message translation right in calling this a "bad mood" from God?

RESPONSE:  No, the most natural reading is that Saul is tormented by an outside spiritual agent.  And this agent is evil - a demonic spirit.  So the problem as you noted, is this impression that God is seeming to act in demonic or evil ways.

1 Sam 19:9 is not the only time the writer of Samuel uses language that seems to indicate God is a source of evil.  Also, in 1 Sam 16:14 another time an evil spirit "from the Lord" came on Saul.  And in 2 Sam 24:1 it says that God’s anger was incited against Israel and caused David to sin in the census he took.

I want to focus on that last event because it'll help us understand the others.  Interestingly, there's a parallel account of the census in 1 Chron 21:1, and there, the author explicitly notes that it was Satan – not God – that incited David to sin.  And that dichotomy looks like it creates a whole new problem of a contradictory account.  But actually it helps us understand how the ancient Bible authors looked at causation.  And the way they looked at it, was very fluidly through the lens of the supremacy of Yahweh.

When it comes to causes, we know at least three kinds:  necessary, conditional and contributory.  A necessary cause is required for a certain effect, like the temperature being below 32 degrees is NECESSARY to cause water to freeze.  A conditional cause is needed, but not absolutely, like sex is a needed CONDITION to cause pregnancy, but other conditions are needed too, like ovulation etc.  Contributory causes may CONTRIBUTE to an effect, but alone they do not cause it, like not smoking is not a cause of long life, but may contribute to it.

So when it comes to God, the authors had no problem smashing together all these kinds of causes.  The reason is that they looked at the Lord's permission as the conditional cause for any effect.  If something happens, Yahweh must have permitted it – even if other conditions are needed too.  Now, if they were to explain all causes, they’d say that nothing happens without God, but some effects, like evil effects, must have other conditions in order to come about.  Why?  Because the Bible writers are absolutely unbending on the idea that God is completely righteous (Judg 5:11; Ezra 9:15; Ps 7:9; Rev 16:5), hates evil (Zech 8:17), and never does anything unjust (Rom 9:14).

However, the authors don’t take time to tease out all this theology in every narrative.  Thus, their very high view of the Lord's power as a conditional cause  for everything, meant that their language could slip into God seeming to do everything, including evil things, like in 2 Sam 24:1, causing David to sin. 

But as we see, another inspired author (of Chronicles) looks at the same event and knows that God’s permission was only a conditional cause, the actual cause of the sin was Satan, for they knew that “God tempts no man” (James 1:13).  Of course, even Satan, technically is only a conditional cause, for the final or necessary cause of sin, requires an actual sinner!  David.  Sin can’t be sin, unless you have one who commits it freely, even if other causes are needed conditions.  In this case, David is the necessary cause of the sin, not God.

So, back to Saul and the evil spirit “sent by the LORD”.  Here, the author distances God’s causation of Saul’s torment one step, in that he makes clear God is not the one actually causing the torment.  Who is?  The evil spirit is.  The question then is this: is God being unrighteous if he sends an evil spirit to accomplish some task?  Only, if the task itself, which God has permitted, is unrighteous.  But is it wrong for God to use an evil spirit to achieve a good end?  No.

Saul had lived a life of chronic disobedience to God, and therefore had opened himself to demonic oppression.  That was Saul’s choice.  And it was God’s just punishment, because of Saul’s disobedience, to torment him, using a spirit’s free choice to do so.  So three wills are choosing freely in this scenario:  God is choosing freely to discipline a wayward King, an evil spirit is choosing freely to torment a human (God is not forcing the spirit to do that - it's an evil spirit after all), and Saul is choosing freely to be wayward.

But just because this is true, doesn’t mean that God’s end is punishment alone.  We know that Paul “hands people over to Satan” for the ultimate end that disobedient teachers or believers are “taught not to blaspheme” and to be “saved” (1 Tim 1:20; 1 Cor 5:5).  So we can rightly surmise that God’s ultimate design in using that evil spirit (doing what it wanted to do) was to drive Saul to repentance.

The evil spirit does not know it’s being used for a good end.  We humans also can freely do evil, which God uses without our knowledge for some good end (Gen 50:20).  Evil spirits are no different than humans, as far as that goes.  God is not doing the evil, but he is taking the freely chosen evils and in his grand design, orchestrating or using them for good.  He’s that awesome.

So the spirit is a dog on a chain doing what dogs do, bite.  And God is at the end of the leash, doing what God does, orchestrating good ends.  God himself doesn’t “bite” (that is, sin), but in a fallen world, God uses sin he doesn't necessarily cause for redemptive purposes.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Should I Read Genesis as Fact or Poem?

QUESTION:  With all the evidence for the Big Bang, the moon coming from the earth or some other planet, humans evolving from an early ape-like ancestors, etc, how should I view Genesis?  The bible says nothing about God making dinosaurs or other planets, it seems to portray Earth as the center of the universe. It says that humans all came from two humans that had no earthly parents or ancestors, and a lot of other things.  Noah’s Ark was also nearly an impossible event with a lot of “plot holes,” as well as the tower of babel and several other events.  It seems one can't see them as fact, so should I look at these as merely stories or epic poems, like Jesus’s metaphorical stories and hyperbole?

RESPONSE:  You're choosing between fact or poem, but this leaves out a third way to see a story: myth.  Myth can be both poetical and factual without it also being in all places literally true.  It's important to define "myth" properly, because in our vernacular, myth often means “fictitious tale” and even more strongly we sometimes mean, “a lie”.  Like when we say, the “myth of a flat earth” or the “myth of Bigfoot”.  We mean, something opposite of the truth. 

But in literature there are many cases where myth actually pointing at truth.  In two ways:  First, myth could be like the parables of Jesus, which you mentioned.  These are non-historical stories which nevertheless reveal a “spiritual” truth.   These stories didn’t happen, they were non-historical events made up out of Jesus head, but they convey divine truths.  

If you look at Genesis this way, you are at least showing some respect for the text, but you wind up vacating it of any historical veracity at all, and (as I'll explain below) that runs into problems for the veracity of the global Christian story.

So I think you should open up to another kind of myth genre for some parts of Genesis.  Namely, 'a true event that really happened, or refers to people who really existed, but the facts are conveyed using non-literal settings or incomplete data or using exaggerated language that if taken literally would be inaccurate, but if taken in its proper context or genre (like exaggeration, or metaphor, or poetry, or dream) is conveying actual facts.

Speaking of lenses, it is not a test of Christian orthodoxy to look at Genesis through the lens of strict, 6 day, young earth creationism.  And I concede this, not because of the pressures of modern scientific discoveries.  The Church Fathers Augustine and Origen both thought that the days of Genesis were non-literal.  IE: not 24 hour solar days.  Writing in the 300’s they were obviously not influenced by modern geology or astronomy!

Augustine’s view was affected by philosophy and by the text.  He believed God to be timeless, so, he asked, why are there any days of creation at all?  These must reflect some kind of creative potencies inside of God himself, he thought, and not convey actual time passing.  Also he noted the text itself suggested that the “days” were non-literal.  He noticed, as all Bible students do in a surface reading of Genesis one, that the sun shows up on day 4.  How can one have 3 solar days before there’s even a sun? 

Other reasons the text suggest a non-literal understanding of Genesis one:  the text says, “let the earth bring forth fruit/seeds” and the original audience would understand that plants take many days and months, sometimes years to produce their seeds and fruit.  This can’t be a literal day, even to the first readers.  

Also “let the land bring forth…” sounds strangely like some kind of natural development is happening without God directly bringing things into existence out of nothing.  Ironically, if you take this very literally, it looks like vegetation somehow comes out of the land by an ability God infused into the land.  There are serious Christians who are theistic evolutionists who take note of this.  There are biblical literalists who here might say, but everyone knows that God is bringing forth these creations instantly.  Yes, but that's not what it LITERALLY says.  Even a young earth perspective does not view the text literally at every turn.

Once Genesis is unhinged from strict literalism for good reasons that Christians have cited for literally millennia, we’re sort of free to follow the evidence wherever it leads.  If we find out the universe is old, can Genesis accommodate that?  Yes.  Could God have imbued nature with some creative properties?  Genesis can accommodate that too.  Ironically, I think there are more serious scientific problems with thinking that inert matter can do all the work of making the complex bio-diversity of planet earth, than there are theological problems because of Genesis 1.

God could have used the natural processes and laws which he built into creation at the outset (the fine tuning of which powerfully suggests design), OR he could have interfered in creative acts by infusing new information into the system over time.  These creative epochs, could be what’s meant by the creation days where each one is set apart with:  “Then God said…”

Here, I would just caution against thinking that because Genesis 1 may be non-literal it must therefore be a “mere story”.  Even if non-literal, Christians believe Genesis is communicating enormous truths – and not merely theological truths:  

For example, Big Bang cosmology is a massive confirmation of Genesis cosmology.  Think about it:  for centuries ancient pagans believed in an eternal universe, that the primal titans were forces of nature that preexisted everything else including the gods and men.  In other words, matter came first, mind came second.  Modern atheistic thinking repeated this model with steady state theories of eternal universes without beginning or end.  But when the universe was found to be expanding, suddenly Moses, a Bronze Age nomad turns out to be the only ancient who got his cosmology right:  “in the beginning”.

In fact, here are five truths that come out of the creation “myth” of Genesis One if you look beyond the “literal” level.  Each of these revelations disagreed with pagan mythology and modern cosmology until Einstein, and yet now are all considered unchallengeable facts:
  1. The universe has not always existed but began at a finite point in time. 
  2. The universe began in an explosion of light
  3. The universe evolved from chaos, emptiness and formlessness to order, filling, and form. 
  4. The unfolding of creation did not happen all at once, but gradually over time
  5. Youngest of all creatures on earth is mankind who is made, not out of nothing, but out of preexisting material, all of which can be found in the earth itself (dust).

This is uncanny!  Mythical?  Sure.  Untrue?  Nope.

Then we get to Adam and Eve.  Here again, the fact that they are made “from the dust” can be an open door to harmonize the evolutionary picture with Genesis if we think that’s where the evidence points.  How exactly did God “form” them from the dust?  Genesis doesn’t say, so we’re free to investigate that problem and suggest theories.  Christians are deeply divided as to the “how”.  Some will insist we need two persons made without preexisting forms.  Some suggest Adam and Eve (literally "man" and "mother") could be titles for a group of individuals set apart somehow from the rest of the animal kingdom.  If we turn to science, the idea of a two person “bottle neck” in human history is debated based on modern genetics, but science hasn't ruled it out either..

But why even bother to try to prove Adam and Eve might be historically plausible?  What’s really at stake in the Adam and Eve story?  Well, there is at least a couple of very important things theologically at stake that matters for the whole Christian story, without which Jesus' work on the cross just doesn’t make sense.  So what are those indispensable parts of this story to Christianity and therefore to you if you become a Christian?

Simply this: Man, as God made him, was completely good and completely happy, but he disobeyed God and became what we now see.  A creature in need of redemption, forgiveness, and restoration back to his creation design.  That is a bare minimum of what we must believe to be true about Genesis or else Jesus is out of a job.

Now, many people think even that simple premise is proved false by modern science.  They take Darwinism to imply that a “Fall” is the opposite of what science allows.  That rather than fall from a primeval state of virtue and happiness, people have slowly risen from brutality and savagery.

At this point, I would simply point you to CS Lewis' Problem of Pain where he offers up a very convincing harmony between Darwin’s account of the rise of mankind, and the Bible’s account of the fall of mankind.  Significantly, what he rejects about Darwin is Darwin's "unguided" philosophical underlay.  Common ancestry, change over time, preexisting hominid forms?  To Lewis, none of those things refuted the fact of creation, or the discontinuity of people with the rest of the animal kingdom, nor an actual, historical fall from harmony into sin.

I'll include a link where you can read this below.  Start reading the chapter “The Fall” on page 41, but jump to his Creation Myth on page 46.  He begins with: “For long centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself…”

I think his is a legit way Christians can read Genesis in view of natural history, a true creation myth.  Along with Lewis, I invite you to read the two books of the Word and the World honestly, with the assumption the same Author has written both.  If they seem to be in conflict, it's not because one is telling us lies, it's because we are reading one or both of them wrongly. 

Regarding the Bible and Geocentrism, yes, there are suggestions of this in the Bible, like the language about the sun rising and setting, and about the earth being “laid upon unmovable foundations”.  No Christian today thinks this language contradicts modern astronomy – because no Christian takes those passages literally.  Just as we never took “God will hide you under his wings” to mean that God actually has literal wings (Ps 17:8). 

Obviously at the time of Copernicus, those verses were cited as proof texts of geocentrism.  But the irony is that the Church believed it not so much because the Bible overtly teaches it, but because Greek philosophers – whom they admired – did!  Ironically, while finding passages to confirm the science of the time, they completely ignored several prescient passages that suggested heliocentrism:  Isa 40:22 and Job 26:7.

This old controversy speaks volumes to us about how to handle the new controversy about the days of creation.  It’s OK that natural science gives us insight to modify how to understand certain Bible passages – provided we understand that science’s readings are provisional and also subject to philosophical bias.   So just as we should avoid knee jerk rejections of the Bible based on provisional scientific theories, we should also avoid tying the Bible’s statements too strongly to any scientific theory (which should include Flood Geology and Darwin's insistence that biology develops solely by mutation/selection).

Finally how to read Noah’s ark… For Christians to reject this as in any way historical puts severe strains on the reliability and authority of any part of the Old Testament which Jesus endorsed.  So I think we have to approach it as historical by default, since it is clearly not meant to be mythical in the “it’s just a story” sense.  And it's also not offered as a parable or symbol of anything.  

However, its language can be understood to be hyperbolic.  The Bible often uses "the whole earth" to mean, "alot, but not necessarily the whole."  So we don’t have to believe that the flood was global.  There is evidence against a global flood that makes the story hard to accept.  But, there is actually key evidence that would lend credence to a formative, catastrophic flood event in the Ancient Near East, which may have seeded the flood legends carried literally around the world.  Also, at roughly the right time-frame, there’s geological evidence for a great Mesopotamian flood.  

So, good bible study allows us to identify hyperbole and metaphor, and then we don't have to be resistant to legit scientific insights.  But also, we don't have to reject the fundamental truth claims either, which are critical to the Christian worldview being coherent and being true.

Did Eve Have to Leave The Garden with Adam Or Could She Stay?

QUESTION: Did Eve have to leave the garden when Adam was kicked out? Did she have the option to stay? Or did God spell out that she would go with her husband because her desire would be for him?  Also the question has come up....was she only deceived by the serpent (Satan)? Or did Adam play a part in deceiving her as well?

RESPONSE:  It's clear that Eve left the Garden with Adam. The very next verse after the banishment, they are together forming a family (4:1). The Bible never says Eve was forced out, but it's reasonable that they are both included in the banishment.  There's no good reason to think she either had the opportunity to stay or wasn't indicated in the same banishment verses with Adam (Gen 3:22&24).
This is made clear from the fact that both Adam and Eve are cursed for sin and God makes them both skin coverings (- they both carry shame which God covers by sacrifice, presaging the grace of the cross). So she goes with him, not because she freely chooses to go with him, but because she shares equally with Adam in the guilt that forced them from Paradise.
Adam never decieved Eve.  However, much has been made of the fact that in Genesis 3:6 she gives fruit to Adam who "was with her". If he was right there, why isn't he protecting her? Why is he not clarifying God's command for her? This is a real failure of his role as one-flesh mate, and his role to be her source as "head", but it's not active deception.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Are Mormons Christians?

QUESTION:  I really enjoy watching Glenn Beck, and a while back he was talking about different faiths an he made a comment about how people probably don’t look at him as a real Christian because of his Mormon faith. He made a point in the middle of his political segment to point out that he personally was saved by the grace of Jesus Christ atoning for his personal sins.  Mormons do have different beliefs that most Christians don’t believe. But I have a hard time seeing a man who is by far a better man than I, and has asked Christ to come into his life and forgive him of his sins being a “non Christian” and I personally see him as being a part of God’s family.  I don’t understand why people believe him to be more wicked then them. Your thoughts.

ANSWER:  Your question is simple, are Mormons, Christians?  That’s not an easy question to answer, and I’ll dive into it below.  But first, it's helpful to clarify the biblical definition of "Christian".  You’re speaking directly to that definition, when you talk about being saved by the grace of Jesus Christ and faith in Him.  

However, when dealing with Glenn in particular, you move quickly to discussing his moral achievements - several times in fact.  You say he’s “far better man than you” and that some think he can’t be a Christian because he’s “more wicked than them.”  When we discuss biblical Christianity, true Christians are those who are saved, not because of good works, or lack of wickedness on their part, but only through the merits of Jesus Christ.  (Acts 15:11)

This merit is imputed to the believer who by faith and repentance has welcomed this saving work, and as a result has been washed, forgiven, set free and filled with God’s Spirit to walk in newness of life. (Rom 3:21, 22)

So Glenn being a decent man is not really the issue.  We mustn’t judge Glenn’s salvation (or anyone else’s) based on his good works or lack thereof.  They may or may not be an indication of new birth.  A man may be unsaved, though he does many good works, and a man may be among the saved (a true Christian) even if he has done many bad works.  A man may even confess Christ verbally and not be saved (Matt 7:21-23).  Jesus said, on the day of Judgment, there will be surprises (Matt 21:28-32).

Now, some would like to make this simple and categorically deny that any Mormon can be a true Christian.  Why?  Because Mormons use the same words as Christians but often mean different things.  Who is Jesus to them?  And what is Salvation to them?  Some would immediately say that once you understand what a Mormon means by Jesus (not the Unique Son) and Salvation (not by grace alone), it settles the question – the Mormon is not saved.  

I don't think it's that simple.

We all walk around with errors in our theological knowledge.  If I am mistaken on the exact formulation of the two natures of Jesus, am I worshiping the wrong God?  Am I lost?  If God is open to the future, but I believe in a fatalistic God behind the universe, am I lost?  I don’t think so.  This is not to say that what we believe doesn’t matter.  I’m saying that among the lot of us who don’t have all our beliefs correct (that's 100%!), there are two categories:  

There is the person whose untrue beliefs are a matter of ignorance that is gradually being dispelled on issues not central to his response to the offer of God’s grace.  In the other category are people whose untrue beliefs are a matter of deliberate suppression of the truth, or deceptions believed about very core Truths regarding himself or God that are needed for them to be reconciled.  The person in the former box is saved and the one in the latter is not, but neither have all their doctrine straight.

When in conflict with another human, for example, there are many things the two of us believe that may conflict but none of those things preclude us from reconciling.  Yet if we disagree on certain matters of the heart between us, or disagree about the severity of the offense, or on the standards that were violated, or on the right path forward, or if we disagree on purity of motives in the other, we cannot reconcile.  

So, with two categories of people who hold false beliefs, we are not great judges of which category a heart may be in at any given moment. Especially when judging is dependent on words people have in their heads that may carry vastly different meanings.  God knows the heart and whether false beliefs constitute rejection of salvation or (like with Apollos) areas of ignorance in a true believer needing correction.

I know a fine Christian teacher and apologist who has worked with many Mormons who are sold out to the Jesus of the New Testament and who will say they are trusting in His Grace and His shed blood to be saved.  Now, if we really make them describe what they mean by all these things, some will go outside of biblical Christian teaching.  For many, their practical works-based program is a fundamental denial of the gospel of grace that we believe is at the center of what it means to be a true Christian (see Eph 2:7-10).

But for other devout Mormons, their day-to-day experiential walk with the Lord really lines up with Biblical Christianity – more than some Evangelicals would like to admit.  I don't fully know what to do with that, but my tendency is to give their devotion to Jesus the benefit of the doubt.

Now, this does not apply to all Latter Day Saints – my friend would say, in his experience, "only to a handful".  Unfortunately, the Mormons I meet are explicitly trusting in their Church and their good works to prepare them for life as a divine being.  This is the official doctrine of the church, it’s polytheism, and it’s a serious diversion from the Christian faith and if believed, it’s no different than being a Muslim or any other kind of moralist.  This is not Christianity.

And this doesn’t begin to dive into the LDS stance on truth in general which I would describe as "elitist" and "closed to critical inquiry".  Elitist because the official stance of Joseph Smith (his very first revelation) is that all other Christian sects are an abomination to God.  Closed to critical inquiry because they refuse to acknowledge how the central historical tenant of The Book of Mormon (that native Americans are actually emigrated Semites from the Ancient Near East) has been repeatedly refuted by sound and unbiased scholarship, putting all of Joseph Smith’s prophetic work in question.

So with regards to Glenn Beck, who knows where he might fall on all this.  His comments about trusting in the finished work of Jesus and his grace are encouraging.  We can give that the benefit of the doubt, because it’s God’s job to judge his heart.  We however, are called to break down proud arguments that set themselves up against the knowledge of God and part of that calling is to resist perversions of true faith that may look similar but are in reality way off.  And wouldn’t Satan want some of his diversions to look quite similar to the truth, to be the more powerful delusion? (2 Cor 11:14,15)  Of course. 

So where a LD Saint explicitly says:  “I’m trusting in my tithing to the Temple and my good works and my church to save me, and by 'save' I mean, I will be a god someday and populate my own planet in the celestial heavens” we know we're dealing with a non-Christian.  And as with all outsiders to faith, we should be ready to correct their misunderstandings with Truth and demonstrate in love the full freedom of the biblical Gospel.  Where a person says, “I’m saved by the atoning blood of Jesus Christ”, and you don't know whether that's a true-hearted commitment of faith in Jesus as revealed in the Scripture and the Creeds?  We can and should suspend judgment.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Is 'Real' Judaism On Hold Without a Temple?

 QUESTION: I heard you say there are no 100% traditional Jews anymore because there’s no Temple.  I was trying to explain this to my (partially) Jewish co-worker (raised Baptist) who was thinking that maybe the temple could be spiritual or metaphorical?  Also, she made a comment about it could be inaccurate because the bible was written by men!  Can you re-explain it to me and direct me to the exact passages in the bible that talks about Temple being integral to Judaism?

RESPONSE: What the Bible is clear about is that not only were the Jews given an elaborate sacrificial system put in place to atone for sin, the location to implement this system was clearly spelled out.  Moses says that sacrifices could only be brought to the “entrance of the tent of meeting” per Lev 17:2:

“Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel and say to them, This is the thing that the LORD has commanded. 3 If any one of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp, 4 and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it as a gift to the LORD in front of the tabernacle of the LORD, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man. (Lev 17:2-4)
The Jews could not just make their own sacrifices wherever they wanted after the Lord had provided the Tabernacle.  But the tabernacle was mobile – it was just a tent after all – so Moses anticipates a time when they are no longer nomadic and on the move after they’ve entered the Promised Land.  So he tells also them to be ready for God to establish a permanent, non-mobile place of worship for the sacrificial system to be located. 

Deut 12:5-6: But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go, and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. (ESV)
Now, it was literally hundreds of years between when Moses wrote that, and when Solomon built the first temple, which God sanctioned through his father David as the place he chose to “make a habitation for his Name” (2 Sam 7:12-13).  But once there, that was the place – and the only place – to fulfill the Mosaic system.

All this means that “real” Judaism is Temple Judaism.  There is nothing in the Law or Prophets that sanctions the sacrificial system to be relocated or “spiritualized”.  So what happened when the Jews were exiled and Solomon’s first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians?  Did they just do the sacrifices some place else, or do them "metaphorically"?  No, they just stopped performing the sacrifices.  The sacrificial system was in some sense, “on hold”. 

They still did everything else that Moses commanded, obey the moral law, the ceremonial law, the food laws – but the center of the covenant, every Jew knows, is the burnt offering system to atone for sin.  And that system was suspended when the Temple was destroyed.  Then, when it was rebuilt, the Jews were ecstatic because, in some sense, their religion was restored to them (Zech 8:7-9). 

That is also why the Jewish authorities in Jesus time (when Herod’s second Temple reconstruction was completed and operational) are so anxious about Jesus stirring up the crowds.  The people wanted revolution to save their freedom, but the Jewish leaders wanted the Temple to save their religion - the latter being far more important than the former.  And they knew that too much trouble and their precious, all-important Temple would get destroyed. 

Eventually, that’s exactly what happened: the Temple was utterly leveled by Rome in 70 A.D., and for the last 2000 years all that remains are some foundation stones which can still be seen today (that’s the famous “Western Wall”).

Now, that obviously doesn’t mean that Judaism is dead totally.  After the Temple was demolished and the Jews were exiled (again), Rabbinic Judaism developed which leaned on the Rabbi’s interpretations of Moses (the Talmud) in order to encourage the practice of Judaism in the absence of Temple sacrifices and other practices which were no longer possible.  But make no mistake, even this radically reordered form of Judaism awaits the Third Temple, and now most faithful Jews believe it will take the coming of the Messiah to rebuild it.

Therefore, there is no such thing as a “spiritual/metaphorical Temple” in serious Judaism.  The idea of transferring the Temple rites to other places or other ways, was exactly what the people tried to do in early Israelite history.  They decentralized the Temple idea by taking religious rites and sacrifices to local “high places” like the pagans, and God strictly forbade it.  (1 Kings 12:31).  Good kings are judged as good or bad almost solely by whether they tolerated or eliminated such “high places”.  In the Bible, taking the central place of worship away from Jerusalem = bad.

So the Temple is not a metaphor for Jews.  When she says that, she’s just channeling her Christian roots.  That’s not a Jewish way of thinking, that’s a Christian way of thinking.  For Christians understand that all the good things God did in the Temple by making a place for his name, showing that he wanted to be “with” us by placing his literal “habitation” on earth – is all FULFILLED spiritually through Jesus who is “Emmanuel” (God with us) and who comes to dwell inside his Children by his Spirit as spiritual temples. (1 Cor 6:19)  

And most Christians take it as a great sign of God's approval on the new epoch of making "spiritual Temples" through God's perfect "Lamb" (John 1:29), that Jesus perfectly predicted the destruction of the Temple, resulting in the end of sacrifices, which remains a fact to this very day.  Thus, there is no true or original Judaism today, only 'Judaism Interrupted'.

I’m not sure what part of this she thinks could possibly be inaccurate.  
  • The idea that a real temple ever existed?  
  • The idea that it was the mandated center of Jewish worship for centuries?  
  • The idea that Herod’s 2nd Temple was destroyed in 70 AD and devastated the Jewish people?  
  • The idea that the dispersed Jews had to radically reorder their whole religion in the 2nd century to account for an absence of a Temple? 
These are all well-established historical facts.  Or does she mean that the importance of the Temple as Moses and the Prophets spell is out is inaccurate?  Well, in that case, she doesn’t have to think that Moses and the Prophets speak accurately for God, what's in question is whether Jews believe that Moses and the Prophets speak accurately for God.

And regarding the transmitters of this message being "mere men", both Jews and Christians believe a writer can convey a message accurately for God, even of that person is "just a man" IE, fallible and sinful.  Or does she think that the only thing that she would ever consider “accurate” is if God bypassed people totally and took up a pen himself and wrote something?  But now were onto the very different subject of inspiration.  And even if God wrote about the Temple himself, it would be people who would be responsible to copy that and pass the instruction along.  So basically by her logic nothing could be considered trustworthy as revelation.  In fact, by this logic you couldn’t trust any history, not just revelation, because we get all our knowledge of history from…. men!

Maybe you can help her reason backwards from the certain to the less certain.  That there was a Temple is certain (accurate).  That this Temple matters to true Judaism is also certain.  Whether true Judaism is “accurate” in that it expresses God’s actual will for mankind is what she has to decide.  But waving her hand and saying “Temple Judaism is inaccurate because fallible people probably made it up” is just sloppy thinking. 

Meanwhile, based on Jesus, we Christians believe Temple Judaism is not inaccurate, it’s just Part I missing its Sequel.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Is the Doxology From the Lord's Prayer Authentic?

QUESTION:  In an AC3 small group we were discussing the doxology at the end of the Lord’s Prayer and noting that modern translations put it in the footnotes.  Three problems I have with this.  I checked out a site defending the KJV and they think the phrase is authentic.  Could you comment on that?  Also, I’ve had instances of saying the Lord’s Prayer during a time I sensed dark spiritual forces and when I got to the doxology God unleashed real spiritual power and a stronghold was broken.  Third, I’ve heard the early Roman Catholics were super controlling and might have twisted the Word to their liking for religious purposes.

RESPONSE: Thanks for your question and I appreciate the attachment to the whole prayer as you memorized it and used it throughout your Christian life. 

This dispute about the doxology (Matthew 6:13) is about whether it was original with Matthew or added later by a scribe or copyist.  Scribes and copyists of the Biblical writings did, in fact, make errors (we have no promise that these would all be inspired as the original authors were!).

  • Some were intentional errors, where they took a phrase from another gospel (for example) and inserted it into the one they were copying because it was a parallel passage.  (Like one copyist inserted Matt 6:13b into Luke 11:4 so that the two accounts of the Lord’s Prayer would match better.)
  • Sometimes the errors were simply mistakes, slips of the pen, omissions of whole lines or spelling errors (in fact this is the vast majority of them).
  • Other times they are honorific, and therefore “pious errors” like when the copyist adds titles to Jesus (Lord or Christ) or God when just a simple name was in the original (Eph 3:14).
  • Other times a note is made in a margin of a copy which functioned as a clarification or commentary, but a later copyist would see fit to insert the non-inspired note into the main body (1 John 5:7).
But you might ask, how do we know which reading to consider original if there is more than one reading?  This can be very difficult with all the variants.  But because there are so many hundreds of copies, they can also be cross referenced thoroughly and checked against each other (one of the benefits of having so many copies!).  Inauthentic readings show themselves by this kind of document cross referencing.  If you have a 100 renderings of a text and 90 agree, you have a clue that the other 10 probably follow a scribal error.

But there are two other textual principles that help us discern the original reading. 

  • One is age of the copy.  

The older is usually preferred as more reliable.  Why?  Basically, the telephone game idea is applied.  The longer a chain of communication goes along in an informal matter (and remember there’s no printing press, it’s all hand transcribed copying for most of Church history) the larger the chance of message degradation.  Thankfully, the Bible has the oldest copies compared to time of writing of ANY ancient work!

  • The second principle is brevity.  

Although this article makes the case that lines are often omitted by pure oversight, generally if there’s intentional changes, an editor is going to add material, not take material away.  Why?  Because the received tradition was considered so sacred.  That’s why pious errors almost always add – the scribe is not evil, trying to destroy the message, he is devout and trying to make the message clearer.  Thus, the kinds of errors I mentioned above are common – adding titles, adding verses to harmonize similar accounts etc.

What this means is that we should prefer the older and the shorter renditions of the text as more authentic.  Are these principles foolproof?  No.  But in principle and in many other contexts, these filters, "earlier" and "shorter" have proven to be sound ways of weeding through multiple accounts that have discrepancies to find the original reading.

The article you cite, defending the doxology, admits that it is not found in the earliest two manuscripts.  So they have to argue against the commonly accepted textual principles of Earlier and Shorter.  Their theory is that the doxology was simply skipped by the copyists of the two oldest manuscripts we have.  While it’s true, whole lines are sometimes skipped, when this happens scholars can see it is usually inadvertent.  Usually because two lines look similar, beginning or ending with the same word, and so as a scribe moves from original to copy, he mistakenly skips a whole line in between.  The context usually shows such inadvertent omissions for what they are: Oversight.

To maintain that the doxology is original, you have to believe that it was omitted by accident.  Since there’s nothing theologically interesting that hangs on the doxology, no theological agenda can be inferred for leaving it out.  But there’s also no parallel structure in the lines of the text that suggests why a scribe could conceivably overlook the line by mistake.  And it’s hard to imagine the exact same omission happening to two independent manuscripts that also happen to be the oldest ones.  And it’s hard to imagine why, if it’s original, that most of the earliest Church Fathers do not include it when they quote the passage.

This is why we shouldn’t put any stock in suggesting intentional corruption from church leadership. If the image of the Catholic Church as big powerful institution, ready and able to change the Word for its own purpose ever reflected reality, it most certainly does not apply in this time period.  When the oldest copies of Matthew were being written, the Church was mostly underground and decentralized.  There was no conspiracy possible, because too many copies were being written, and no means of control over them.  That's partly why they vary so much!

So, I think it’s unwise to jettison the sound principles of Earlier and Shorter simply to defend a version of the Bible translated in the 1600’s.  I love the KJV’s simplicity and beauty, but Christians who love the truth more, should want to know what Matthew actually wrote and defend that, not any version of that, no matter how cherished for sentimental reasons.

The website you cited is committed to defending the whole the King James Bible, every one of its renderings.  But this bias to protect King James’ translation at all costs and at every point, compromises objective scholarship.  For example, the doxology is just one instance of the KJV relying on documents that break the earlier/shorter rules.  The most highly disputed reading in the KJV is 1 John 5:7.  The so called “Johannine Comma” is basically a direct reference to the Trinity.  Which would be cool, but it’s not in any manuscript of 1st John made before the 12th century.

This is such a late variant that almost no scholars, believing or skeptical, think John wrote that phrase.  To defend this late addition as authentic proves that their bias for a specific version of the Bible has overruled their love for the Bible.  And that gives us reason to question why they’re arguing against accepted principles (Earlier and Shorter) anywhere else, like with the doxology in Matt 6.

Their blanket policy of defending the KJV begins to equate the King James Version of the Bible with Holy Spirit inspiration, which is very dangerous indeed.  In other words, it puts the level of authority for King James and his translation team on par with the Apostle Paul or Peter himself!  Why then cannot I claim this same level of authority to pick and choose the copies I deem favorable, and come up with RST – Rick’s Standard Translation?!  No, we need objective, logically sound, common principles that apply to textual criticism regardless of our rooting interest for this or that translation.

Of course, no one faults the KJV for passing on some non-authentic additions to the text.  They were working with the best text they had.  And not a single case of interpolation that the KJV passes on, affects Christian doctrine.  The Lord’s Prayer for example, teaches nothing different with or without the doxology.  It simply adds force to the call to honor the Father when we pray, which the prayer already included with “Our Father... hallowed be thy name…”

Also, using the doxology in public is not heretical or anything like that, so long as we know it was likely not original with Jesus – and yet using it can unite us, not so much with Jesus, but with the millions of Christians in the Church over the centuries who prayed Jesus prayer and from early on (from the 5th century) often added this line to express our wonder and praise in response to his instruction.

As for your personal sense of spiritual power in the doxology, you may have discerned spiritual power for all sorts of reasons.  First, is your faith in Jesus. The spiritual power inside of communion and baptism, for example, is not the magic of the rite, but the faith the person brings to the rite which God responds to in grace and power. Remember, Jesus just warned us in the sermon (Matthew 6:7) about praying repetitive phrases thinking they somehow make you heard or blessed by the magic or amount of words.

Second, the phrase itself is actually scripture, even if it wasn't part of Jesus teaching here originally. See, the doxology sounds allot like a prayer from David: 
“Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting.  Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.  Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.  Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name". 1 Chronicles 29:10-13

Sound familiar?  Read the bolded phrases in reverse order.  You are praying scripture, when you pray the doxology, it's just probably not what Jesus originally taught in Matthew 6. Like I said earlier, the scribes were devout Christians and many of their errors were inserting other scripture into scripture.

So the bare facts about the doxology in the Lord’s Prayer are these:  the oldest copies do not have it and neither do the oldest church fathers who comment on the passage. But if it feels right and powerful, that’s probably because it is a rough summary of David's beautiful and powerful prayer from another part of God's powerful Word.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What Your Opinion of Artificial Intelligence? (Siri etc)

Thanks for your question. 

My opinion of A.I. is that it will become more and more powerful and bring computing power to a very high level to more and more people.  But I don't believe it can ever become sentient as many people fear (Like Elon Musk for example).

Also, I think SIRI and Alexa are currently laughably far away from anything remotely resembling real intelligence or sentience.  Though such programs may get much closer to "feeling" like real people, I don't believe they ever could be.

As far as potential dangers involved in A.I., I believe they mostly involve prematurely entrusting too many processes, or life or social functions to the dictates of a program, no matter how sophisticated.  

The only reason we might launch ourselves into such a dangerous future is because A.I. will probably create increasing credibility in areas where we specifically take control out of the hands of people with greater and greater success.  For example:  with self driving cars.  Or in flight controls.  In some applications, the amount of data that a human operator has to sort through in a moment is just too great, and our machines can and will do a better job of it.  

The Boeing Osprey one example - a hybrid helicopter/plane, the idea was brilliant, but it crashed a lot early on for various reasons, but often because no pilot could manage the changing flight characteristics between rotary and winged flight, especially in difficult conditions.  The Osprey was about to be trashed before engineers developed an A.I. to manage flight control and now the aircraft is viable again.

However, we shouldn't forget what a computer is.  It runs algorithms.  An algorithm is a program, a set of rules that intelligent agents provide, followed by problem solving operations.  A computer is a really complex "if this, then this" machine.  When attached to all sorts of inputs, like images, temperature, air speed, language, musical notes, math laws, or sound waves, programs can crunch numbers a lot faster and enhance many human functions that approximate intelligence or even personhood.  

But a computer just runs programs, it doesn't think for itself.  Or, if you insist that future computers could have "thoughts" it never can have thoughts about its thoughts.  If you fear a computer could somehow become conscious, imagine a computer inside a room, then ask yourself where its mind is located.  You can't do it.  What will forever separate Mind from "A.I."?  Free will, and creativity.  Innovation.  There is an autonomy in real intelligence that A.I. can't imitate.

Part of the fears of A.I. come from people buying into a materialistic worldview ideologically.  Because I don't believe consciousness is an emergent property of matter, I don't believe it can be an emergent property of A.I.  If you believe that all there is, is matter then you must believe that mind emerged from matter over long millennia.  That's just an article of faith - regardless if no observation or science says it can.  And if you buy that, as many do, then you will believe much more easily that the collated matter inside computers could spontaneously evolve into minds as well.

The only problem with this is that we become super confident in materialism at preciously the point where it's the weakest.  Evolution can tell us how genomes change over time due to shifting frequencies of certain genes due to survival differences in offspring.  That's it.  Meanwhile, the facts show the gene itself is a book, it's data!  The gene is written in a 4 letter chemical alphabet, but it's "meaning" transcends the chemical components it's written on.  That's what information is.  And right now, we don't have a clue how information could arise spontaneously from non-living, random chemicals.  Nevertheless, if you are told enough times that information can come from random bits, and that free thinking entities came from non-living matter, we become susceptible to the idea that mind and consciousness could come from a Turing Machine! 

Not possible.

We see this exact same assumption-set in our overblown fears about the Alien question.  At preciously the point in the theory of evolution where it's the weakest (a self-reproducing cell arising spontaneously from non-living chemicals), we imagine that this unsupported theory is in operation all over the universe producing life randomly.  We don't have any working model for how it happened here yet, but that doesn't stop of us from postulating that it HAS to be happening all over the place.  Come up with a viable way non-living chemicals self-assembling into self-replicating complex biological machines could happen here first, then I'll believe the same process is making little green men all over the galaxy.

Science is now pointing to the fact that Mind underlays the universe, from its finely tuned laws to its irreducibly complex machines, to its code at the center of life.  Atheist Thomas Nagel surprisingly makes this very point in his book, Mind and Cosmos.  So it seems, Mind is fundamental, matter an emergent property of mind.  To turn all that observation around and begin to think matter could generate mind is not logical.  

I believe A.I. could kill us only if we prematurely entrust too much responsibility to our machines, but make no mistake, A.I. is just a machine.  Machines that enhance preexisting human intelligence and abilities, using human language, bound by rules given by human developers and having all its goals set by free thinking, creative humans.  The result is an obedient machine - like a car or a calculator - a really complex awesome machine, but a machine nevertheless.  You can't get a person out of these machines, even if they can produce music (which they can) or can outwit a Jeopardy champion (which they can).

The Discovery Institute challenges the prospect of "strong A.I." here: and  here: