Saturday, December 26, 2009

Back from Christmas Cabinning

Nancy and I spent Christmas in a cabin over at Douthat State park. The icicles were longer than my leg and thicker than my arms...amazing!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Virginia has some crazy "abortion" laws

Evidently, Virginia allows fourth-trimester abortions...

After this incident, perhaps this law will change and mothers will no longer be able to kill their babies after they are born.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jesus on Cross gets 8-year-old in trouble

A kid got sent home and ordered by the school to undergo psychologic evaluation because he drew Jesus on the cross when asked to draw something that Christmas reminds him of.
The teacher accused the child of drawing a "violent" image.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Interesting Note on the Passover

I'm just finishing up a book on the effect of Judaism on Early Christianity, and the author made what might be a profound observation.

The Passover (which many people consider Communion a form of) was the only sacrifice in ancient Israel where everyone got to take the role of a priest (or at least a position in a priest's household).

In the most commonly described sacrifices, someone would either pay money for an animal to be sacrificed or bring a sacrifice to the Temple. The priest would then be given the sacrifice as a representative of God. The priest would then given part of that sacrifice to God as a tithe and eat the rest.

The Passover was different. The head of each family would bring a sacrifice into the temple courts and sacrifice it themselves and then take the sacrifice back to their household to be eaten.

I find this interesting, but I'm wondering what conclusions one could draw are valid interpretations and which are simply fancy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Interesting discussion on Amazon forum

A discussion topic I started a long time ago on Amazon's discussion board has recently gained new life. If people want to join in, click here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Interesting Connection in Mark: Bartimaeus, John, James, and Jesus

This past sunday, Pastor Larry pointed out something in Mark 10:35-52 I had never seen before.

When reading Mark's version of James' and john's request in 10:35-45, I had previously been struck with the question as to whether Jesus was referring to the two thieves who were "on his left and right" when coming into his glory (and more recently the point that Jesus says James and John will drink the same "cup" he does and undergo the same observation with significant soteriological ramifications.)

But Pastor Larry pointed out something more direct and obvious.

The sermon text was the gospel text for the day, and as it was being read, I realized Mark 10:51 is pretty silly. A blind beggar cries "Have mercy on me Son of David" and Jesus asks "what do you want me to do for you?"

Well...duh. Blind beggar.... No points for guessing the answer.

But then in the sermon the pastor pointed out Mark's purpose here, and Jesus' question makes a lot more sense. Jesus asked Bartimaeus the same question as he asked James and John.

In other words, we have another example of Mark casting the disciples in an unenviable light.

So, clearly we are meant to compare/contrast the interaction of John/James with Jesus and the interaction of Bartimaeus with Jesus. The question is...what are the conclusions Mark intends for us to draw?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New Book in the work, readers wanted

Hi all,
I'm working on a new Christianity book. This one will be softer, easier, and shorter than TGYNH. It is, in fact, structured like a small group study devoted to understanding how apostolic Christians conceived of their own faith.

The aim is to help people read the New Testament in context, but it also has a separate set of questions for those more interested in seeing their own faith journey in this context as well.

Right now it is just a word document. If anyone is interested in taking a read (and is willing to make comments and note typos or other things that need to be changed or clarified), please email me. [you can contact me by clicking on my "profile" in the sidebar.]

The book is about 1/3 as much text as TGYNH, about 100 small book pages.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lord of the Sabbath

I think I had a revelation last night. This was not one of those "I was thinking about this for hours and came to this conclusion" revelations...but more like a "out of nowhere, I cannot even tell you what I was doing or thinking and BAM it hit me" revelations.

In each of the synoptic gospels, Jesus says that "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." [Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, and Luke 6:5]

What does He mean?

As far as I know, commentators always claim that Jesus is referring to His power being above the limitations of the Sabbath, that He is saying that He has the prerogative to determine the bounds of the Sabbath as part of His Lordship.

But that makes no sense.

Throughout the gospels we see nary a trace of Jesus breaking Torah in any form. He does things that go against the interpretations of the scribes or the "traditions" of the elders (Matthew15:2-6, Mark 7:3-13], but every indication is that Jesus keeps all aspects of the Torah, just as Paul, Peter, and every other Jew (Christian or otherwise) were to do. (Note Acts 21:20-28)

The action that Jesus is doing (or, rather, that His disciples were doing) was picking grains of wheat from off the ground (and perhaps rubbing them in their hands to free the kernels to eat). This was considered "work" by the Pharisees who accosted Him, but there is certainly nothing in the Torah proscribing this activity.

In other words, Jesus was not doing anything that would have required an alteration of the Torah, nor would doing so have matched every other indication we have about His following the written Torah throughout His life.

In the other examples where He is accused of breaking Torah (e.g. Luke 13:14-16, Luke 14:5) , Jesus does not excuse His actions by claiming executive privilege. He simply shows using logic that the Pharisee's interpretations are wrong. Such disagreements about interpretation were common among Jews of the day.

Finally, Jesus asked His followers to imitate Him. He was as far away from being a "do as I say, not as I do" type teacher as you could find. So, suggesting that He had some mandate to live above the Law or modify the Law as He saw fit makes no sense (and would manifestly go against Matthew 5:17-18). In any event, it is His disciples who are breaking the Pharisee's expectations of Sabbath observance, and we nowhere else see them claim any rights over Sabbath observations.

Let's stop and look at that passage I mentioned in passing: Matthew 5:17-18. Note the odd wording: Jesus came to "fulfill" the Law, which will remain in whole until "all things are accomplished."

That "fulfill" word actually has four different meanings:
i) It was a Jewish idiom for "interpret correctly" [which Jesus was about to do in His sermon.]
ii) It could also refer to "building up" or "tightening" the Law, which He was also about to do...but I'm not sure that was its intended meaning here in any event.
iii) It can refer to Jesus own keeping of the Torah (but that is also not too significant since most Jews saw themselves as keeping the Torah, note Luke 1:6 and Philippians 3:6)
iv) It can (finally) refer to Jesus fulfilling the Torah as an unrealized, deep collection of shrouded prophecies meant to show the Jewish people who the Christ was. This is what Paul means in Galatians 3:24 when speaking of the Law as a tutor. Most Christians (and even some Bibles) hopelessly gentilize this passage. Paul is clearly speaking of the Mosaic Law here (See Galatians 3:17)

It is this final meaning that no one picked up on until Jesus clarified it [Luke 24:27, Luke 24:44-45], and I think Christ's reference to the Son of Man being "Lord of the Sabbath" is a similar such allusion where an aspect of the Law is a prophecy to something greater concerning the Christ.

I think the same could be said of Jesus use of David as an example. In every case [Matthew 12:5-8, Mark 2:25-28, and Luke 6:2-5], Jesus refers to how David and his companions ate the consecrated bread "that only the priests could eat," a story that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Sabbath.

He didn't say this to mean that David had rights to break the Torah because he was David. If that were the case, he would have had no guilt for murdering Uriah. No, the point is not that David had special rights, nor even is it that special circumstances can allow someone to abandon Torah (note the other example given in Luke 6:2). Indeed, if Jews could abandon Torah whenever they were in danger of death, there would have been no need for them to be persecuted for their faith! Note also that such a claim would make Matthew 24:20 ludicrous, and in any event the disciples who were picking up grain were not famished or near death, so one could hardly say such "circumstantial" reasoning was the point of Christ's allusion to David or to the story in general.

I think Jesus' point with David is that He was cluing people into the fact that David was a priest-king (note again the separate example in Luke 6:2) and that was why it was okay for him to eat the bread reserved for priests and to "give it to his companions" [probably an allusion to the Word of God Jesus was giving to His.] Since David was a type of Christ, this really reflects on Jesus as a priest-king [highly relevant to Jews of the day who saw the Messianic Kingdom as coming when both a priest (Elijah) and a (separate) King came forward to rule the realm.

But I digress... getting back to "Lord of the Sabbath"

I think Jesus is making a prophecy (or an outright-yet-veiled claim to Messiahship) regarding the coming Kingdom. The coming coming Kingdom of God is referred to as "God's rest" (in particular, see Hebrews 3-4, but also consider Luke 5:17). I think that Jesus' talk of being Lord of the Sabbath refers to His Kingship over that Kingdom after the Father has given the burden of the crown over to Him.

If we see the Sabbath this way, it becomes an age-old promise of the coming Kingdom, yet another veiled aspect of Torah that is both normative and prophetic.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Off to Hungary

In less than half an hour, I'm carrying my wife off to Hungary for a week-long honeymoon.

Yes, you can all be envious now.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Director Quits Planned Parenthood out of Conscience

Interesting article about Abby Johnson who was a director of planned parenthood for 8 years. She just quit after watching an ultrasound of an abortion. She also mentioned chagrin regarding the recent change in focus on pushing abortions over prevention due to economic pressure.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Discussion Question: David, Blood, Jesus, and the Temple

Just throwing this out there: is there a significant connection between Israel not being able to build the Temple until after David died due to the wars and blood spilled by David at God's command (1st Chronicles 28:3) and the temple of the second covenant not being consecrated until Christ's death (which meant the Holy Spirit could not come until that time) Hebrews 9:17-23 and John 16:7?

Note that Stephen specifically refers to David asking to build a house but Solomon doing it in his long defense before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:46-47)

Highly recommended Reading

I recently finished reading Justin Martyr's first and second apologies. [Note "apologia" here refers to a defense of a position...not an indication of regret.]

For anyone with even a mildly open-minded view on theology, I would heartily recommend them as a good window into how early Christians, prior to the politicization and codification in the church, saw their faith. It is truly a break from either what is considered "liberal" or "conservative" today.

Apologies are particularly important because they often assume a certain level of ignorance in their audience, so you get a fairly large picture of how someone views the critical components of a position [in this case, Christianity.] In the case of early followers of Jesus, this is especially the case because the biggest problem Christians had to counter was simple ignorance of what they really believed and did.

The copy I read was translated by Leslie William Barnard [ISBN: 0809104725], but I would hope that almost any decent translation would expose some of the more unorthodox (by today's standards) views, though various translators might try to soften some of the specifics.

I noticed that the entirety of Justin Martyr's known work is available at google print (The works now extant of S. Justin the martyr), though some of the work there might be from works now considered spurious.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Two Awesome Verses found for me today

I'm reading David Flusser's "The Sage from Galilee" and a verse was pointed out that I find incredibly important.

Micah 2:13 speaks of the Messiah leading God's people out of a gate after having the strength to break it. The interesting part of the verse is its emphasis on the Messiah going out before them, in advance. John 10:4 holds much the same idea.

This is important to me because I claim the earliest Christians saw Christ as a "trail-blazer" or "pioneer," giving proof of blessings available to them by experiencing them first. Christ was baptized. Christ received the Holy Spirit. Christ put his trust in God ("He who judges righteously" in 1st Peter 2:23) rather than call on angels to save Him, providing an example of how Christians should live. And then Christ was resurrected with a transformed body. These are the elements of Christian salvation as understood by the early Christians (in particular the receipt of the Holy Spirit and then resurrection with a transformed body).

This idea of "trail-blazer" or "pioneer" for the purposes of providing example is, in fact, what the Greek word "archēgos" means. The one used in Acts 3:15, Acts 5:31, Hebrews 2:10 and Hebrews 12:2, but most translations do not convey the notion of "trail-blazer" or "pioneer" because there is a general interest in under-playing Christ as an example or seeing Him as the first Christian martyr.

Instead, the word is translated as "Prince" or "Author" in these verses [the other two meanings according to Thayer's Lexicon.

This discussion of the first verse is linked to another verse shown to me when reading a completely different book. I am also reading the apologies of Justin Martyr. He pointed out a verse commonly used by early defenders of the faith to refer to the idea of Jesus submitting to unjust death out of confidence that God, being good, would not allow a righteous man to be ashamed. This is the idea found in the 1st Peter 2:23 verse I mentioned earlier, but is found throughout that letter.

A crystal clear OT prophecy of Christ submitting to suffering for that purpose is given in Isaiah 50:5-7 !

I really love this aspect of Christ's submission. It really speaks of Christ's faith rather than merely His faithfulness to God's plan. If we think of Christ as merely going through the whole suffering and death for purposes of fulfilling God's plan, it really speaks nothing at all about faith. Faith is confidence in something unseen. If we picture Christ as being absolutely certain of the aftermath [in the way that the Almighty Father was], there is nothing to have faith in because there is nothing unseen to rely on.

However, if we allow Christ to have the dimension of a righteous follower of God who believed so strongly that the Father, being righteous and good, would not allow the extremely shameful crucifixion to be the end of the story, then we see Christ having faith in the in God's attributes. This is exactly the kind of faith Christ calls for in others: "you believe God is powerful, cares about the poor, and is inclined to reward those who do His will...then why don't you act like it?"

I could see that the above depiction of Jesus might seem a bit too humble for some. A "middle road" would be that Jesus had been told by God what would happen and then we see Jesus not having faith in God's attributes but rather God's willingness to do what He said.

However, I think the above is both absurd and very close to what might be reality: Christ had faith in God's Word as shown in the Old Testament. He believed the sketch portrayed there was authentic and could be trusted. Note that this is precisely the kind of faith He attacks His disciples for not having in Luke 24:25-27.

Given that Jesus is the incarnation of God's Word, it would be (in some way I cannot fully wrap my head around) fitting for this latter type to be the kind of faith Jesus had.

I realize this whole discussion may grate on some people who feel it makes Jesus too human by claiming there were things he did not know [in the sense of have evidence for rather mere confidence in.] But He has no problems evincing His ignorance of some aspects of the Father's plan in Mark 13:32 (and note Luke 2:52).

P.S. The content of this passage is not meant to suggest that the only reason Christ submitted to death was for purposes of example.

Monday, October 26, 2009

How can you "murder" the unborn if we say they are not human?

I find this story very odd. A guy is being charged with murder for causing a miscarriage. Doesn't that go against more or less all of our currently accepted understanding of the status of the unborn?

[Note: I'm personally all for considering the unborn as living human beings...I'm just saying this story seems remarkable given how our justice system does not take the same view.]

Saturday, October 24, 2009

California Marriage Protection Act [Outlawing Divorce]

This is an interesting item on the 2010 agenda for California voters.

Essentially, there are many people who are upset by California voting not to allow same-sex marriage last year, so a joke-petition (for lack of a better name) is being considered.

The video advertising for this is both inane and incisive.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

NY Times: Scientists believe faith = dementia

Interesting profile on the head of the Human Genome Project, Dr. Francis Collins. He is now the director of Britain's Universal Healthcare regime.

The NY Times writer claims that many scientists believe that outspoken faith is a sign of mild dementia.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Relying on God?

Is this relying on God too much?

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Gospel Story and Wandering in the Desert

The question of what counts as “the Gospel,” is oft-debated among Christians, but most of those debates come down to questions of “how much is included” rather than questions of what the core narrative underlying salvation history is.

Many people have been told a version of the gospel that is summarized in five steps:

1. God creates everything, and all is well.

2. Adam rebels against God’s command, causing all creation to fall. God’s sense of perfect justice mandates that, outside mitigating circumstances, the all-powerful Almighty would be forced to punish all people for all eternity.

3. God curses the serpent who brought about this calamity (Genesis 3:15), promising that the woman’s “seed” and the serpent’s “seed” would be at odds, but the woman’s “seed” would crush the head of the serpent’s while the serpent would strike the heel of the woman’s offspring.

4. Fast-forward 4000 years. Jesus comes as the promised “crusher of the serpent’s head,” and through His sacrificial death, God now has the ability not to roast everyone forever.

5. Fast-forward to either the day of Judgment or the death of the believer, where said believer is pardoned/forgiven of all sin through Christ's sacrifice and allowed into heaven.

Anyone who reveres the Bible should take significant exception to the above version of the Gospel story. There are several problems with it from a scripture-based perspective, but I will just mention a few.

First, it casts as marginal about 80% of the Bible. If the gospel story is rooted in scripture, one has to be rather skeptical of any version that considers incidental everything from Genesis 4 to Matthew 1.

Second, if we step off our 20th century perch, we recognize an immediate chronological issue preventing the above from being the “Gospel” Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Peter, Paul and Co. were spreading. If the above represents the Gospel story, then someone in 50 AD trying to spread such a tale would be claiming that nothing that has happened in the last 6000 years (give or take) is critical. Imagine someone today trying to start a theological/philosophical/sociological movement that claimed nothing essential to the overall scheme of things has occurred between now and the first generation of humanity.

Thirdly, it is a very self-serving, anthro-centric gospel. It is a story revolving about how we are blessed in the way we want. Note there are two separate issues here: both that we are the primary beneficiary and the manifestation of that blessing is exactly what we humans think of as the greatest gift: immortality.

While there are many, many more problems with the above (as shall become evident later in this article), I am going to finish here with what is perhaps the most obvious biblical problem with the above: it suggests as core concerns items that have practically no presence in the evangelical writings of the apostles themselves!

Mark wrote his entire gospel without reference to the fall or the curse on the serpent. So did Luke. So did Matthew. So did John. Furthermore, neither of these items appear anywhere in the many evangelism periscopes found in Acts. If numbers 2 and 3 of the above 5-step gospel are critically important, you would think they would show up somewhere in the actual writings of the apostles to those they were trying to convert! Indeed, the only place Genesis 3:15 shows up in the entire New Testament is Romans 16:20, where Paul depicts the prophecy as neither fulfilled by Christ’s sacrifice nor, even, by Christ Himself!

Indeed, not only does this 5-step gospel not match the evangelistic sermons found in Acts, but it suggests a purpose for the Christ altogether alien from the Later Prophets [Isaiah, Jeremiah, …, Malachi] who spoke through the Spirit of the coming savior. We Gentile Christians tend to plunder these books to prove that Jesus is the Christ while ignoring completely what the same prophets describe as the reason and purpose for the Christ’s coming. There are many deeds and accomplishments ascribed to the Christ throughout those many, many pages of scripture, but “saving us from God’s eternal, righteous judgment” is not one of them.

This is not to say the 5-step gospel has no inkling of truth behind it. The fall is, at least indirectly, the principal calamity subverting creation. There is a promise involved, and an afterlife, and Christ’s work is certainly at the gospel's heart. I want to describe here an alternative less alien to the apostle’s preaching and scripture as a whole.

Fundamentally, the gospel story is a description of how God blesses Jesus and, secondarily, how both humanity and all creation are blessed through that blessing. This might sound odd, that we are not the primary targets of God’s love and blessing, but Christians in general need to get used to putting Jesus as the center of the universe instead of themselves.

Paul hints at this blessing in Galatians 3:16 as part of an explanation as to why it was possible for Gentiles to have any part in Christ's salvation. His point is that the promised blessing was not to Abraham’s descendants (plural) but to Abraham and his descendant, who is Christ.

And if we tug on these promises, and try to see things from the perspective of a 1st century Jewish Christian instead of a 21st century Gentile, many things become much clearer. Let’s do just that.

The Basis for the Gospel

The center of the gospel is not a problem to be a solved but a promise to be fulfilled. To be sure, there is a problem to be fixed, but its solution is a secondary item. The center of the gospel was a promise made to Abraham (which the promise made to David is an extension of). This sounds harsh to us Gentiles, but scripture very much defends the view. I would cite in particular Hebrews 2:16, but the Bible is rife with discussions placing the promises made to Abraham and David at the root of salvation, not the curse of the serpent. [Isaiah 37:35, Jeremiah 23:5, 30:9, 33:15-21, Ezekiel 34:23-24, 37:24-25, Hosea 3:5, Amos 9:11, Matthew 1:1, 9:27, 12:23, 15:22, 20:30, 21:9, Mark 10:47-48, 11:10, Luke 1:27, 32, 69-76, 3:8, 13:16, 18:38-39, 19:9, 24:49, John 7:42, Acts 2:33-39, 3:25, 7:17, 13:23-24, 26:7, Romans 1:3, 4:16, 9:7, Galatians 3:7-8, 14:29, 2nd Timothy 2:8, Revelation 5:5, 22:16.]

It would not be too much an exaggeration to say the Bible is a description of the fulfillment of these promises. But what was promised? And how were these promises actualized?

The First Promise

The first promise to Abraham was an inheritance in Canaan, aptly called “The Promised Land.” God showed that the time had come for that fulfillment by breaking the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. This Exodus was not the fulfillment of the promise, but was proof to those who had a stake in the inheritance that God planned on making good on the promise. The signs in Egypt, the successful escape, the manna, the covenant on Sinai, these were all pledges or indications that the Living God has the power and the desire to fulfill the promise made to Abraham.

However, that in-between-time in the wilderness was a very taxing one for the Israelites. They had a stake in the inheritance and they had been saved from their oppressors, but they had not received the inheritance or life of ease that had been promised to them. They were wandering around with only manna to eat and only God’s signs as proof that God would see them through.

We Christians should meditate on the story in Exodus 16-33 and Numbers 1-14. The Israelites were pulled in two directions. They had had better food and stability in the servitude endured in Egypt, and they were looking forward with only the promise of God that eventually they would have something better to do than wander around with only bread to eat. We might see them foolish today, but in reality they were just a people having trouble keeping their eyes on the promise in the straits of difficulty.

They did not have the faith to obey God. That might sound like a strange statement because we generally separate “faith” from “works,” and “obey God” sounds like “works.” But the writer of Hebrews 3:17-19 describes it in exactly that way. They did not have faith that God would provide for them, so they refused to go into Canaan [see Numbers 14:1-30]. They had a stake in the inheritance, but they forfeited that stake through disobedience. They died in the desert, never entering the Promised Land. They had been saved from Egypt, but did not receive the blessing they had been saved for.

The Second Promise

The second promise was that all the earth would be blessed through Abraham’s descendant. Before going forward on this, it is very useful to summarize the first promise:

  • Abraham was faithful to God and God freely promised the land to him. [Note that this is the biblical understanding of "grace," not that God "forgives" or that our righteousness is irrelevant to God. The Biblical understanding of "grace" is that God chooses to do what God wills without obligation to us. God can be swayed by our good deeds, but is under no requirement to be. Paul's point in many of his epistles is that Christ's coming was not part of the Mosaic covenant, so even if the Jews had kept the law, they would have no exclusive claim on the Messiah. Christ's coming was based on a promise freely given without regard to the Law (Galatians 3:17-18), so God had every right to save the Gentiles through Christ as well as the Jews.]
  • His physical offspring piggy-backed on this promise and received a stake in the inheritance.
  • The purpose of the whole Exodus was that God would have a righteous people of God’s own.
  • There were two blessings: one in which a group was saved from oppression and given a pledge of the coming fulfillment of the promise, and the second was the fulfillment itself (possession of Canaan).
  • Being a descendant of Abraham gave someone a stake in the inheritance, but disobedience could prevent someone from receiving this inheritance.

I have taken pains to call out these matters because Christ’s salvation mirrors them and is described by them so well. Christ was faithful to God and so God exalted Him, giving Him Lordship over heaven and earth [see Philippians 3:8-9, among other places], He is thus the principal benefactor of the promise, as He has inherited the world [Romans 4:13]. Those who have faith become adopted sons of Abraham and receive a stake in this inheritance (Romans 8:16-17, Galatians 3:29).

Just as Abraham’s physical children piggy-backed on his faith and received a stake in his physical inheritance, those who have the same kind of faith he had, become his spiritual children and can piggy-back on Christ’s merit to receive what He has received, a resurrected body free of selfish temptation. Romans 6 discusses this at length, but in general it was this reward that was the focus of early Christian evangelism: Acts 23:6, 24:21, 26:6-8, 1 Corinthians 15:13, 21, 2 Corinthians 1:9, Philippians 3:10-11. Today we conflate "afterlife" with "physical resurrection," because all we care about is immortality, but for the Jews these items were quite different. The Jews and the nation of Israel in general had an understanding of a spiritual existence of some sort for many, many centuries [see 1 Samuel 28:15], but belief in an actual physical resurrection only started to spring up during the exile period, a few centuries prior to Christ.

Moving on to the third bullet, the purpose of Christ’s exaltation is the same as the purpose of the original Exodus, to have a righteous kingdom for God [Jeremiah 33:15-21, Ezekiel 37:24-25, Hosea 3:5, Malachi 3:3, Acts 3:26, Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 2:24, Revelation 22:3-4, among others].

Regarding the fourth bullet, Christ’s teachings, model life, and (most importantly) His resurrection are the manna now, showing God’s power and desire to fulfill the promise. The Holy Spirit is many times called a “pledge” and “the promise.” These are the signs and proofs for our faith.

The Israelites were enslaved externally in Egypt. They were put under forced labor, and they had Egypt’s idols thrust upon them. These external slaveries were broken in the exodus. The New Covenant breaks the internal slavery to sin. This is not slavery to the “punishment of sin.” When I speak of “slavery to sin,” I refer to what Paul describes in Romans 7:15-25: the inability to do God’s will and refuse to buckle under our desire to serve ourselves. Paul refers to this as a type of spiritual "death" that all inherited from Adam's rebellion. [See Romans 5:12-21]

It was this weakness and concomitant refusal to repent that had caused Israel’s downfall. This behavior is given as the reason for the new covenant [Jeremiah 31:31-34]. This is the problem cited again and again in the Old Testament: even when God’s people were freed externally, they did not have the internal strength to do God’s will. This is the slavery Christ speaks of John 8:34, the slavery He says He will free people from. And it is this slavery that Paul says Christ’s death was meant to end in Romans 6:6 and Romans 7:6.

It is the Spirit that breaks us free of these things, the ‘first fruits” of the more glorious existence we will have later when we are no longer dogged by the selfish flesh.

And, just as the Israelites did, we too are wandering in a desert. We who have received the Spirit have been freed from captivity to sin, but we have not received the inheritance. We have the promise of a renewed body in an eternal kingdom to look forward to, but we live in a dying, decaying world that tests this faith. We live in a world that teaches us to rely on what we can see and touch (like our retirement accounts) rather than on God to provide. We live in a world that tells us God is not real and those who live by God’s commands are wasting what precious time we have. We are constantly called to look back at our own Egypt, a much worse existence, but one that requires no faith in the unseen. We are tempted to live by the laws of this world, the lies that say our image before other people is more important than our image before God.

These temptations are dangerous, just as they were to the Israelites in the desert. For, while the Spirit is a pledge of the “Promised Land” (Our resurrected bodies: See Romans 8:23), we risk forfeiting this inheritance by not following Jesus’ commands. This is why Paul uses the words he uses in Ephesians 5:5, Colossians 3:24-25, Galatians 5:21, and 1st Corinthians 6:9-10 to describe why even believers are in danger if they continue in sin. Hebrews 10:26-31 also speaks on this topic, but the clearest description on the fifth bullet (which we have now progressed to) is given by Peter in quoting a prophecy about Christ in Acts 3:22-23, the latter verse reads:

And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.

To "heed" Jesus does not just refer to the commands we think of, like not stealing, but also refers to our having the kind of faith that Jesus refers to in, say, Matthew 6. Faith that God has the power and inclination to take care of us so we do not choose to depend on the power of the world. Some of the greatest punishment visited upon Jerusalem was due to the Jews seeking aid from Egypt when their enemies attacked them. God was incensed that Judah would seek aid there rather than trust in the Almighty. When we hoard up excess wealth in our barns rather than give to the poor (which Christ demands) and trust God to navigate our future, we are essentially doing the same thing that caused judgment to reign down on Judah. [See Isaiah 31] When we try to live by the rules of the world, we are turning back to Egypt, just as the murmuring Israelites did in the wilderness. We should not expect this epic of our existence to be all fun and games. It certainly wasn't for Paul, John the Baptist, Peter, etc.

We cannot simply live in this world with the perspective of this world and wait for our inheritance to come to us. We have to accept that Christ calls us out into the desert to rely on God to provide. And while we are in the desert we cannot live by the conventional wisdom of Egypt. We must, instead, live by the commands of Christ, even when they seem foolish. It was hard for the Israelites in the desert to rely on God, and it hard for us to do so now. It was hard for the young man in Luke 18:22-23 to sell his possessions and give to the poor. It is hard to put our priorities and insecurities to the side and take on God's priorities instead.

Thus, the gospel is not a story about how God saves us from God’s own justice, but rather a story about Christ’s exaltation to lead a Kingdom of people after God’s own heart, a kingdom those who believe have an inheritance in, but that inheritance can be forfeited, as the writer of Hebrews remarks, through disobedience. We are not being saved from God, but rather we are saved from spiritual infirmity for God.

The Judgment, then, is not about God’s justice but about Christ’s choosing those who will contribute to the society He is lord over. Given that the aim of that society is to do God’s will, it is no surprise that Christ says in Matthew 5:19,

Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others {to do} the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches {them,} he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Christ as Ransom

Everyone knows that Christ refers to giving His life as a ransom for many. This "ransom" term is often taken to defend any number of various salvation theories. One thing I find interesting is that the Old Testament separately rather clearly the idea of "ransom" from "sacrifice." The term "ransom" is used rather sparingly, and in trying to understand this phrase I thought it might be linked to the "ransom" described in Exodus 30:12.

The interesting thing about this ransom is that it is not meant as a payment for the life [based on other Mosaic law, it appears that a person's life is actually worth 5 shekels apiece [Numbers 3:46].

One could make a case that it was a payment for the Israelite's freedom, but that would go against the idea that God saved the Israelites purely out of the promise to Abraham.

I was thinking it might be a bit more complex:
i) When the Israelites move into the promised land, they will have to keep the ordinances of the covenant, or else they will fall prey to the covenant curses.
ii) In order to fulfill these ordinances, they will need a temple.
iii) The ransom payment used to build the temple.

I find some interesting tie-ins with Christ here, whose life was given to consecrate the heavenly temple [Hebrews 9-10] to allow people to receive the Spirit.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Gospel You've Never Heard now available in multiple e-book formats [for free]

I have used Smashwords to convert the book into a variety of ebook versions. All of these are available for free. The formatting, etc. is not as nice as the "real thing," but you can now read it on practically any device.

Links available here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Radio Interview today

I got to spend a while on WINA around lunchtime.

There is a streaming version available at

A downloadable mpeg is available here:

I come in about 11 minutes into the clip.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

New version online and completely free

Hello all,

I have revised the book Who Really Goes to Hell - The Gospel You've Never Heard, and the entire book is available for free PDF download.

I have broken the book into chapters, with each chapter given a very short summary on the download page.

Chapter 11 is a complete rewrite and incorporates the Merit-Based atonement theory I've developed a bit here on my blog as well as a description/model of how the early apostles saw Christ as "a prophet like Moses."

Bev Parks was a very great help in the proofreading of this version, and I thank her muchly for it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Jail Time for Praying on campus!

This is going to be an interesting fight to watch.

There is a case where a principal and coach are threatened with actual jail time because they prayed (after being asked to) at a school employee lunch. Note that no students were present, though some parents were.

Read the story here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Follow up to Intercession Propitiation: Awesome Verse!

Hey everyone, I found an amazing verse today regarding the question of whether the actual "propitiation" of wrath/punishment/consequences/whatever was due directly to the sacrifice or due to the intercession/prayer of the righteous priest who offered them.

[I gave various reasons for the sacrifices themselves... see last post.]

Check this out: the context is that David ordered a census of Israel, which was a major sin (likely because it suggested a lack of faith in God's ability to save Israel, but that is beside the point.)
David is being punished because of this sin...or rather the entire land is being punished.

Gad tells David to offer sacrifices. After he does so we read 2nd Samuel 24:25,

David built there an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. Thus the LORD was moved by prayer for the land, and the plague was held back from Israel.

Isn't that awesome? Even in a verse where a sacrifice is given, we are told the actual reason for the relenting of wrath was the prayer/intercession. (Same word in Hebrew.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A New Model for Levitical Propitiation [Comments Wanted!]

I hit upon an interesting model for how God's wrath was addressed in Mosaic covenant. I wanted to put it out there for comments. I think this model matches scripture better than the most commonly rendered ones.

Good scholarship on the cultic sacrifices is hard to find due to how long ago they were instituted and the intra-church politics involved. If someone knows of solid scholarship on the matter, please let me know.

Note: This model is strictly one dealing with propitiation, not the much more important notion of protecting the Temple from defilement. That is to say, this model looks at how danger to the individual sinner is addressed, not the effect the sin has on the sanctuary. The purification and protection of the sanctuary is an altogether different matter. Indeed, if one looks through all the references to sin offerings, it should become clear that this was their intended purpose: to purge the Temple and make ritually clean those who would enter there. This understanding harmonizes Hebrews 9:22 with the rest of scripture. (Since, as I point out below, there were any number of ways to attain forgiveness in general without resorting to blood sacrifices.)

Quick Critique of Common Models
Before moving forward, I wanted to give some indication as to why a better model is even needed. To do this, I'll just fire off some problems with the two most common ones. (If you are only interested in the model I'm kicking around, skip down to the "New Model" heading.)

Model 1: Propitiation through Payment
One model of propitiation is that someone "pays back" God or appeases God through the "soothing aroma" of the sacrifices.

Overall, this is not such an untenable view. The sacrifices were seen originally as a type of "food and drink" for God, and there are many discussions of a "soothing aroma." Furthermore, this model at least explains all the instances where someone could gain forgiveness without sacrificing a living creature (unlike Model 2, below). However, it does have some problems:

The first problem for this viewpoint is that the details of the various sacrifices suggest the opposite. If the goal of the sacrifices were to appease God, we would expect the "sin offering" and "guilt offerings" to be the ones where the entire creature is burned up to provide a "soothing aroma" to God. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. The regulations are very strict and clear that the sin offerings and guilt offerings (as opposed to the "burnt offerings") had only a very small amount burned up to God. These offerings look to be instead payments to the priests, who were allowed to eat the meat. The offerings that were given wholly to God on the altar were the "burnt offerings" instead, which had different regulations.

Similarly, the phrase "soothing aroma" shows up time and time again with regard to the offerings of the Levites, but only 1 of the 13 examples of offering for particular sins use this phrase. This phrase was much more associated with the burnt offerings (which makes sense, for that was the offering where the animal was fully given to God.)

The second problem with this model is that it does not adequately explain why the sacrificial aspect of the ritual is the same for sin offerings made for individual sins as it is for purification offerings where there was no sin in sight...or even offerings meant to consecrate the Temple. [This gets back to the sin offerings being designed to purge the Temple, not by themselves address the guilt for specific sins.]

The third problem with this model is that the wording in Leviticus 19:20-22 [sacrifice for quasi-adultery], presents the offering as a type of fine or punishment itself. Rather than seeing the sacrifices as an effort at "paying God back," it is perhaps more reasonable to see it as a deterrent introduced by God for the good of the society.

The fourth problem with this model is that it is clear from scripture that righteous people can intercede for pardon without any sacrifice at all. As James says, the prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much [James 5:16]. Since righteous people could interceded for sinners without any sacrifice present, it is hard to understand why a sacrifice was needed by statute for forgiveness or pardon. [Once again, this is no longer a problem if we see the sacrifices as primarily intended to cleanse the Temple.]

In addition to these, there are a few passages that would look odd were this the proper model for atonement [see the "My Model" section for examples.]

Model 2: Vicarious Punishment
The second model commonly given is that the animal being sacrificed received the guilt/sin of the person who gives it. Then the animal receives the punishment for the sins it has been made forensiccally guilty of.

The biblical problems with this model are so obvious and easy to articulate that a simple bullet list suffices.
  • If the animal received the guilt/sin of the person, its very presence would defile the Temple and the Altar.
  • The treatment of the animal's remains shows the animal maintained its innocence throughout [sin offerings for sins made by the whole congregation had to be discarded to a clean place, the other sin offerings had to be eaten in a clean place and actually made the eaters clean...hardly possible if the animal had become guilty.]
  • There is no indication whatsoever that the sins were laid on the animal. The exception to this, of course, was the scapegoat which was not sacrificed in the Temple. In the case of the scapegoat, the scriptures make clear the iniquity is put on the animal...and yet such verbiage is unseen anywhere else for those sacrifices killed in the Temple.
  • The Bible specifies the priests, not the animal, bore the guilt of the people.
  • Obviously, if this was the way that guilt was defused, it would not explain how grain, silver, incense, etc. could procure propitiation.
  • Other examples where God's wrath is clearly in view show that this wrath is not turned away by its execution. For example, God's wrath was upon all of Israel in Numbers 25:7-8, and is turned away by Phinehas by killing the guilty party. This is clearly not Phinehas being the agent of God's wrath, for God's wrath was "turned away" and had been upon all of Israel, not just one person. Phinehas turned away God's wrath through showing the same jealousy for righteousness that God has [see Numbers 25:11], not by simply being the hatchet-man for God.
  • An extention of the last: God does not need a priest to execute God's wrath. God has shown God is perfectly capable of executing wrath Godself. Hence, when a priest does a sacrifice, he is not executing God's wrath.
  • Once again Leviticus 19:20-22 provides a problem. The text goes out of its way to specify that some punishment is required, but not the full punishment of adultery [which would be death]. However, the "propitiation by vicarious punishment" view would suggest that death was, in fact, the fitting punishment for the sin involved. This is not an isolated incident, for there were other sins where the punishment was specified as something less than death [for example, barrenness of womb in Leviticus 20:20], yet those who claim the creature recieves the punishment for someone's sin have to say that all sins have death as the only punishment. Indeed, the penal substitution interpretation gets everything backwards because the sins requiring a sacrifice were less offensive than those that were punished by barrenness of womb, yet the vicarious punishment interpretation would indicate the opposite. [Of course, if we see the sacrifices as a fine, this all makes sense...for losing a lamb is less a punishment than dying childless, and the offences specified for loss of a lamb are less than the offense specified for dying without children.]
My Model [Provisional, of course]
In my model, all propitiation is through intercession by a righteous party. Sometimes that intercession includes components that speak to the righteousness involved [for example, Phineas' killing of the rebel (Numbers 25:11) or Moses' command to light the censers in Numbers 16:46.]

This is the model:
The priests are chosen by God to be linked to Israel as a whole [just as the Temple is linked to the nation as a whole, so that sins by the people can bring impurity to the Temple]. This means that the priests share the burden of iniquity [Leviticus 10:17] when the people sin. But this link goes both ways, so that the sin of the high priest brings guilt upon the entire nation [Leviticus 4:3]. (Compare that to the sin by the political leader which does not bring guilt upon the entire nation: Leviticus 4:22-26.)

This notion of sharing the burden of guilt (without actually the sin itself) in an effort to turn away wrath is seen in Moses' own intercession (which required no sacrifice) before God. "But now, if You will, forive their sin - and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written" (Exodus 32:32).

The priests are charged with continually offering up prayers for the community and "making intercessions" (as Jesus is said to do as the High Priest of the new covenant in Hebrews 7:25). Paul's wording in 1st Timothy 2:5 probably gets at this as well... indicating that the earthly priests are no longer the mediator between God and man. Samuel's remarks in 1st Samuel 12:23 suggest something similar.

So, the priests share in the burden of iniquity, and by their righteousness and purity turn the wrath of God away [as Moses did]. This situation creates two problems:
i) Obviously, if the priests are intercessing before God, they are not earning their own bread...which means both they and their families are without food.
ii) While the priests are sharing in the guilt, they are also tending to the Temple, which requires cleanliness and purity from sin.

The Sin, Guilt and Grain offerings appear to serve both these goals!

The sin, guilt, and grain offering regulations specify:
i) The meat could be eaten by any priest. This provides a payment "in return for bearing the iniquity of Israel" (Leviticus 10:17)
ii) Eating the meat and the grain actually cleanses the priests who eat it. (Leviticus 6:18, 27) We see an interesting demarcation here. The grain, sin, and guilt offerings in Leviticus 6:14-7:7 (and reiterated in Numbers 18:9-10) can only be eaten by male descendants of Aaron and they make pure those who eat them, whereas the other offerings [peace, votive, etc.] can be eaten by anyone in the priest's family who is clean.

This idea that the eating of the sacrifice contributes to the priest's cleanliness might seem bizarre to us, but there are other places where holiness or cleanliness is conferred in such a way [obviously it goes the other one has a problem with the notion of uncleanliness being communicative]. Isaiah 6:7 shows such an example, Matthew 9:21 is a NT example. Indeed, the consecration of the Temple itself shows this, the blood of clean animals confers holiness to the Temple.

The Lynchpin

There is one event in the Old Testament that, I believe, gives very strong credibility to this setup. After Phinehas' righteous deeds in Numbers 25:7-8, God makes a covenant with him that his descendants would serve him forever. We see a declaration that this covenant has become nullified by Eli's sin in the prophecy recounted in 1st Samuel 2:28-36.
This is shown again in God's words to Samuel in 1st Samuel 3:12-14, where God tells Samuel to tell Eli "On that day I will carry out against Eli everything that I spoke about his house --- from start to finish" and this is summaried in a single phrase "Therefore I swore an oath on the house of Eli, 'The sin of the house of Eli can never be forgiven by sacrifice or grain offerings.'"

Later this prophecy is fulfilled in 1st Kings 2:27 when Solomon dismisses Abiathar as priest.

Now, the odd thing here is if the punishment upon Eli is the loss of the priesthood from his house, why is the version Samuel given simply "the sin of the house of Eli can never be forgiven by sacrifice of grain offerings"?

If we think of the sacrifices and offerings as designed to forgive the sin of everyday people in Israel, this makes little sense. However, if the forgiveness of sin through offering and sacrifices is synonymous with being a priest, it makes perfect sense. Note how the curse given in the 2nd chapter dwells so much on the house of Eli losing the position and allottment of the priests while still remaining in the temple itself. It ends with a description of how they must beg for work in the temple to receive a scrap of bread. This all makes more sense if we see the grain, sin, and guilt offerings as the payments to the priests, where the eating of the sacrifices cleansed them from the iniquity they bore for the entire society.

If we read what caused this curse in the first place, we also see why this bit about "sins will not be taken away by sacrifices or grain offerings" refers to the eating of those offerings --- that was the thing that caused the curse in the first place! Eli's sons were eating part of the offering that they were not supposed to be eating. It thus makes sense for the punishment to be that they were no longer given the privilege of doing so.

Relation to Eucharist
Seeing these sacrifices as cleansing by eating allows the eucharist to make sense in an entirely new way. A major problem with understanding the Eucharist is that it appears to create a situation where we drink the blood of a sacrifice. That was a major no-no in ancient Judaism, and it is hard to understand how anything that is remotely related to the drinking of blood could have become a ceremony in early Christianity [which was entirely Jewish]. Indeed, the proscription against drinking blood is one of the regulations agreed to in Acts 15 as being relevant to Gentiles as well as Jews.

However, if we understand the eating of the sin offering as part of the cleansing of the Temple, things become clearer.

In the Sin Offering, the blood of sacrifice was put on the horns of the altar to cleanse it and the rest was poured out at the side of the altar. The meat of the offering was given to the priests to cleanse them. Hence we see the flesh and blood as the ways in which the Temple and its denizens were cleansed. The Eucharist, then, becomes a perfect parallel to these sin offerings. The temple "drank the blood" and the priests "ate the flesh" in the old covenant, and each of these actions sanctified the item. Now we are the temple and we are the priests, and the sanctifying sacrifice is Christ.

Summary and Bigger Picture
The above model would work well in the following general understanding of what each of the sacrificial elements meant:

i) The sinner brings the sacrifice to the Temple: This represents a confession of guilt [e.g. Leviticus 5:5--keep in mind that most of these offerings were for unintentional sins or sins done unwittingly.] It also represents a loss to the person, for he will receive nothing from the offering (the priest will end up being the one who eats his ram/goat/lamb). This loss is a deterrent and memorial that sin is a serious issue with serious consequences. It is also an easement of sorts --- the priests are bearing the guilt of the community that he has contributed to. They are praying on the behalf of the community. Thus his sacrifice both subsidizes their work and is meant to undo some of the damage (for the priests that eat of the sacrifice will be sanctified.)

ii) The animal is killed and the blood is applied to the altar: This cleanses the altar (and by extension the temple) from the taint of the individuals sin. This makes the temple a more fit house for God's spirit to rest in.

iii) A very small amount of the animal is burned up (the fat, kidneys, and appendices): This represents "God's share" of the payment to the priests. The sinner has given the animal to the priests as a payment for bearing their sin. The blood and fat are God's portion. This goes back all the way to Abel [Genesis 4:4] and is part of the submission lifestyle priests had to live. It was the breaking of this regulation that caused the curse on Eli (1st Samuel 2:16 and later). Eli's sons were eating the meat before the fat had been boiled off. Note that by now the original sinner is out of the picture. The fat is given to God because the priest gives some part of everything to God, regardless of what kind of sacrifice it is [c.f. Leviticus 2:2 5:12, 6:15].

iv) The priest makes atonement for him, and he is forgiven. The priest intercedes on his behalf, praying for the wrath to be turned away. Moses said "perhaps I can make atonement for your sin" in Exodus 32:30 before going to pray for his people, when the Levitical accounts say "The priest will make atonement for him" it refers to the same.
Note that in the case where the High Priest himself sins, no such intercession is possible and there is no atonement. (Compare Leviticus 4:3-12 with the other 12 descriptions of offering in response to a particular sin.)

v) The priests eat the sacrifice. It is not only a form of sustenance, but an act of sanctification to balance the sin whose guilt they have born.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Very Interesting Omission

I was struck by a very profound nothing last night.

No, I was not in the midst of existential despondency. I noticed a very interesting "which one of these things is not like the other" situation.

Taking a look again at those Levitical sacrifices, we see many of them were in response to specific sins people did. There is a standard progression:
1) Someone realizes a sin (one way or the other)
2) Someone brings a sacrifice to the temple
3) The sacrifice is made
4) The priest "makes atonement" for the person
5) The person "is forgiven."

This plays out over and over again in Leviticus 4 and 5:

Sin by the entire community: Leviticus 4:13-20
Sin by the leader: Leviticus 4:22-26
Sin by the common person (Goat) : Leviticus 4:27-31
Sin by the common person (Lamb): Leviticus 4:32-35
Slate of specific sins: Leviticus 5:1-6
Slate of specific sins (poorer): Leviticus 5:7-10
Slate of specific sins (poorest): Leviticus 5:11-13
Sin against holy things: Leviticus 5:15-16
Guilt offering regulations: Leviticus 5:17-18
Fraud: Leviticus 6:2-7
pseudo-adultery offering: Leviticus 19:20-22
Offerings for sin in Canaan (Community): Numbers 15:22-26
Offering for sin in Canaan (Individual): Numbers 15:27-28

In every one of these examples, the text specifically says the priest will "make atonement" and it also specifically says (with one exception) that the person will be "forgiven." [Though our understanding of what "forgiven" means is actually probably rather off-base.]

But there is one example of sin where an offering is made, but neither of these is claimed. In the very first sin offering regulation, the one for the high priest, there is no such text. There is still an offering commanded, but there is nothing about "the priest will make atonement for him and he will be forgiven."

I think this bolsters my view of propitiation-through-merit. I would claim that the "forgiveness" described in all these rituals have more to do with the intercession of the high priest than they do with the sacrifice. That the merit and purity of the priest is leaned on to gain forgiveness [just how prophets and righteous men pray for pardon and forgiveness throughout the Bible...without any sacrifice around]. So, in the case of the high priest, there is no such righteous person around to lean on.

The sacrifices (among other things) would mark the confession and contrition of the parties rather than be primary instruments of propitiation. At least in the case of the High Priest, that seems to be the case. For it appears there was no forgiveness or atonement to be had, but yet a sacrifice was called for to mark his recognition of sin.

I also find Leviticus 4:3 particularly interesting, for it shows that the Priest's sin can bring guilt upon the people. As I pointed out in my last post, the priests generally "bear" or "bear away" the sins of the people.

This suggests that, rather than transfer, there is more of an association going on here. The priests are willing to be associated with the rest of Israel in their guilt, allowing them to shoulder the load by virtue of their greater righteousness and purity. However, in the odd case where the High Priest sins, it ends up somewhat backfiring.

Note that this "association" is already present in Moses' intercession with God and in Daniel's intercession as well. In Moses' case, he does not take on the sin or guilt, but is willing to be associated in their punishment. [Exodus 32:32 --- But now, if You will, forgive their sin--and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!]

I think this notion of association is highly prevalent in the cultic rituals, with perhaps the Temple being in association with the land and the priests being in association with the people...
Another possible link-up is that the altar itself is a representation of the Temple, while the area around the altar is a representative of the nation. [one major set of sacrifices cleansed the altar itself while another set cleansed the area around it.]

In any event, extrapolating to Christ would give tangential support to what was the dominant view prior to Augustine (but after Origen), where Christ shared in human suffering so that humans could share in His glorification. In particular, Athanasius claimed atonement occurred via Christ suffering the same death humans do so that humans could enjoy the exaltation that rightfully only belongs to Him. [This was before people started thinking of atonement in terms of deliverance from God's eternal wrath. Back in the early church, the question was how can there be bodily life after death at all? not How can God allow someone imperfect into heaven?]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

6 Quick Levitical Points against Penal Substitution

I've been doing a bunch of reading as I revise the "Atonement" chapter of my book, and recently this has focused on the Levitical sacrifices.

These sacrifices are often cited as a defense of Penal Substitution. The claim is that a perfect animal has the sins transferred to it and is then killed, bearing the punishment of the sinner.

I already knew of a few problems with this effort at defending PSA, but closer reading opened up some issues quite new to me that I thought I would share. I'll start with the ones that I had already pointed out and move to the new ones.

1) The idea of sins being moved to the animal would upset the entire sacrificial system, as then the animal would no longer be blemishless and would be an unworthy sacrifice.

2) An animal that had sins transferred to it would contaminate the temple and its altar. The sanctity of the temple was so important that someone who was ritually unclean (say, from menstruation or touching of a corpse) would be killed if they even stepped foot inside. (Several examples of this, Numbers 19:13 is one).

3) Sometimes atonement was made with grain or simply money, where it is harder to understand how there was any transfer of sin. In the case of Leviticus 5:11, this is clearly a sin offering. In other cases the word 'atonement' is used even if it is not called an offering. (Exodus 30:15, Numbers 31:50)

4) The Bible clearly states that the PRIEST, not the animal, bears the iniquity of Israel. [For example, Leviticus 10:17 and Numbers 18, both of which speak about very general affairs.]

5) That the animals used in the sin offerings retained their perfection is made clear in what happened to their remains. Their blood was often taken into the more holy places of the temple, even the holiest of holies. Their flesh was EITHER burned outside in a ceremonially clean place OR actually had the affect of purifying those that ate it! (Leviticus 6:18, 27) This is the only case of a sacrifice making an unclean person clean by eating and is a presaging of the Eucharist. In other sacrifices [sacrifices that were not for sin], it was the opposite: you had to already be clean to eat it, and if you weren't, you were killed. Another example of this is the red heifer, whose ashes would consecrate someone well after it had been sacrificed.

6) This last remark actually shows again that the priests bore the iniquity, because the eating of the flesh occurred only after a sin offering was made. The priests in question were not unclean for anything they had done, but yet eating the sin offerings made them clean.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A new favorite passage

As I am revising my book, I was reminding of what has recently become a favorite passage of mine.

Luke 1:67-75 is breathtakingly powerful in putting Christ's salvation in the context of 2nd temple Judaism. We have a prophet being "filled with the Holy Spirit" and proclaiming (of Christ):

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, because he has come to help and has redeemed his people. For he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from long ago, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us. He has done this to show mercy to our ancestors, and to remember his holy covenant -- the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham. This oath grants that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, may serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him as long as we live.

This passage is breathtakingly powerful in clearly describing salvation as a fulfillment of the promises to Abraham while delineating in specific terms what that promise was. In particular the as long as we live part places the blessing squarely in the present. We see the end goal not our immortality but rather God's glory. Not deliverance from God's wrath but protection from anything that would hinder our serving God.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Revising Book

I'm in the midst of revising my book. I then plan on post it online in full.

If anyone who currently has a copy of my book wants to throw some suggestions at me, now is the time to do it.

You can email me directly if you wish.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Black Kids thrown out of swim club

I don't normally post on this type of thing, but I was so shocked at the bald-facedness of this, that I figured I'd post a link.

I was also mildly amused that Drudge Report (of all places) was posting this.

Black Kids kicked out of swim camp.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Authority of the Bible: a matter of faith or logic?

I'm on a couple liberal/progressive email list-servs and a heated debate came up recently about the authority of the Bible, the Old Testament in particular. That debate brought into clear distinction the notions of accepting the Bible as a principle of faith versus accepting the Bible as a necessity of logic.

It seems clear to me that one cannot claim that acceptance of scripture is a matter of faith or requirement for Christianity. For example, the Christians of the Apostolic church had no New Testament as such, and they were surely Christians. The Greek Christians John wrote to did not necessarily even have much of the LXX (notice how in John Jesus calls the OT "your law" when speaking to the Pharisees, as though John is consciously trying to raise Christ above the parochial boundaries of the Hebrews.)

More importantly, to claim that one absolutely must accept the Bible to be a Christian necessarily means that somehow belief in Christ is no long "good enough." When the matter is put that way, it seems pretty preposterous.

A common defense is "But the Bible speaks of Christ, so refusing to accept the Bible is tantamount to refusing to believe in Christ." I wish I could say that I was just making that up. That is honestly the kind of logic so many people appeal to. By that view one could take any document that refers to Christ and make the same case. "You don't believe in IV Maccabbees? You must not believe in Christ! You don't accept the authenticity of The Book of Enoch, you must not accept Christ."

Greek mythologies speak of Tartarus, Jude also spoke of Tartarus. Does this mean that we now have to accept all the Greek mythologies because they speak of something referenced in our New Testament?

However, while belief in the Bible cannot and should not be demanded as a "matter of faith," the Christian who wants to discount it, especially the Old Testament, is in a rather difficult position. The idea that the Old Testament, at least, must be accepted as a logical consequence of following Christ seems a rarely broached topic.

Jesus regularly affirmed the Old Testament (as codified in the LXX, which was generally what was studied by Jews during that time) and quoted from 22 of its books directly. Jesus was considered (at first) as a gifted rabbi, and then later a prophet. It would have been impossible for any Jew in that tme period to have a following if there was any hint in his teachings that went against Torah. It simply didn't happen. It was perfectly acceptable to debate the interpretation of Torah, but to suggest it was wrong was unimaginable.

When Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin, His opponents had problems finding anyone who could testify against Him. In the end, various people lied, claiming Jesus said He was going to destroy the temple. Had Jesus ever claimed the Torah was faulty or wrong, that by itself would have easily been enough to condemn Him before the Jewish council.

People point to various stories as proof that Jesus was subverting the Old Testament, but none of these are valid. Most of the time, Jesus is attacking the traditions that had built up around the Torah. An example is the washing of hands before meals. Nowhere is this required in the Torah, but it had become a practice among the Pharisees.

A particularly clear example of this is when Jesus and his disciples were walking through a grain field, hulling the grains in their hands on the Sabbath. Now, obviously there is no specific law against rubbing grains in your hand to remove the hull so you could eat it on the Sabbath. However, the Pharisees claimed this counted as "Work" and hence was not proper to do on the Sabbath. And how does Jesus respond? He defends His disciples actions by appealing to Scripture. He spoke of David's eating of the holy bread when he was in need.

Jesus reasons from the OT, quotes the OT, and constantly refers to how the Jews should have gathered from the OT all that would happen to the Messiah. When Jesus excoriates the Pharisees it is not becaue they were "legalistic." He does not attack them for relying on God's Law for salvatiohn. He attacks them for subverting and perverting God's law for their own political and personal gains. Matthew 23-23 is a wonderful illustration of both sides of this coin.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Word, the eternal life, and the spirit

I'm going through my book again, looking for things I should revise, and the study I did yesterday on John 1:1 made me see something I don't know that I would seen normally.

In my book I make the claim that John and other NT writers us the term aiōnios zōē to refer to the "Holy Spirit" or the indwelling thereof. In our bibles that term is translated "eternal life," but a better expression would be "boundless life" or "life in the age to come."

Anyways, I showed in Who Really Goes to Hell three linkages between the way NT writers spoke of the Spirit and the way they spoke of "eternal life."

What floored me last night was a linkage between "the eternal life" and "the Word." [Yes, there are many places where the "the" is there in the Greek...yet another reason why translating aiōnios zōē as "eternal life" should be considered a bit odd.

Anyways, check this out:

John 1:1b "The Word was with/toward/near/related to God"
John 1:14a "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us,"

Now, compare that with

1st John 1:2 "...and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us"

the eternal life was "with the father" and the life was "manifested to us."

What's my point, John uses the same language to talk about "The Word" [an abstract concept] as he does to refer to "the eternal life" [another abstract concept]. They are both seen as being "with" God and being sent and manifest to us.

This makes perfect sense if we see (as I do) "the eternal life" as a reference to the Spirit (or its indwelling). Jesus speaks of the Spirit as another helper God will send after Jesus "goes away" (John 16:7) and could only come when Jesus had died (John 7:39 as well as the John 16:7 again).

Furthermore, we are told that "God has life in Himself and has granted that the son could as well...almost certain a reference to Jesus' baptism by the holy spirit [one of the few items that occurs in every Gospel. The early church focused on this far more than we do today.] (John 1:4, John 5:26)

Anyways, I just thought it was interesting that John treats "The Word" and "The 'eternal life'" in similar ways, as abstract principles that became manifest in the agents of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

New Bible Study Tool

I normally use Blue Letter Bible for scripture checking [in particular for looking at the Greek].

But today I found something that is far more useful for Greek study,

A few things has over BLB:
i) It includes all the Greek words, not just the "important" ones. [BLB leaves out many prepositions, etc.]
ii) It indicates the case/tense for nouns/verbs.
iii) It shows what different Greek manuscripts have [rather than just using one.]

A sister site [arrived at by clicking the "Multilingual" button] even has the LXX. The one thing that is missing that would be extremely helpful is a searchable LXX. I've emailed the director to make this request.


The director wrote me back and showed me how to search the LXX!

If you enter "theos OT" in the box, it will bring up all the places "theos" is used in the Greek of the LXX.


Italians, John 1:1, and Colwell's Rule

There's a new woman working at my office. She is Italian. I think I'll ask her out.

Now, the above is completely fictional. There is no new woman at my office...I don't even work at "my office" but rather telecommute, and I just got married.

But think about that phrase "She is Italian."

Skip to John1:1-2, an oft-referenced verse that much has been made of. Standard translations go something like:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning."

The actual Greek of this statement is:

"En arche en ho logos kai ho logos en pros ton theon kai theos en ho logos. Houtos en en arche pros ho theos"

Translated interlinearly we get:

"In the beginning was the word and the word was [toward] the god and a god was the word. That one was in the beginning with the god."

(The "toward" here is one of several options.)

Now, the odd thing is John's use of "the god" and "a god." (I mean this interlinearly...not that "a god" is the proper real translation.)

"In the beginning was the word and the word was [toward] the god and a god was the word. That one was in the beginning with the god."

Now, the first thing to know is that the Greeks used "the god" to mean God [big "G"] and they used merely "a god" as a more general term to refer to idols, fictional gods, or merely powerful beings. For example, 2nd Thessalonians refers to the anti-christ exalting himself above "every god" (little g), putting himself in the Temple of God (big "G" for it is the Temple of the Living God) and claiming he is "a god" (little g).

The second thing to know is that there is really no such thing in Greek as "a god." There is no "a" in Greek. Either a noun has the article "the" in front of it, or it doesn't.

Anyway, the question is, what does John mean by using "God" in the first part of John 1:1, switching to "god" in the second, and then going immediately back to "God" in John 1:2.

Traditional translations have managed to take this grammar and claim it supports the Trinity doctrine. They claim that word order matters and the this is the only way John could have expressed exactly the trinitarian notion.

The claim [straight out of "Basics of Biblical Greek" Chapter 6 by Mounce] is that:

A god was the Word would mean Jesus was a god separate from "the God."


The Word was a god
means that all the attributes God has, The Word has as well without exhausting what it means to be God... so the Word was "fully" God without being the same as God.


The Word was the god
would mean The Word = God as though father and son were the same

[this of course already suffers from the obvious problem that it presumes "God" means "The father," which would in itself give the Orthodox version of The Trinity problems. Indeed, even if John had literally said "Jesus is the same as God," it would not really pose a problem for the Trinity, right? John would have to have said "Jesus is the Father" to do that...]

How does Mounce and others get away with turning "a god" into "the god"? The claim is something called "Colwell's Rule."

Colwell's "Rule" states that when predicate noun {god in this case} comes BEFORE a "be verb" (like "was"), it never has the article, even if it is meant to.

The problem with using Colwell's rule in this way is that Colwell's rule is wrong. There are many, many examples where a definite noun comes before a "be verb" and has the article. Even within the Gospel of John, this rule fails in John 6:51, 15:1, 21:7, and 21:12.

But there are other problems as well. Let's pretend Colwell's rule is right and can be used in the way Mounce and others claim it can. In that case we could derive other similar claims from the grammar that make no sense.

For example, consider John 4:19. The Greek of this verse is

"a prophet are you" translated in our bibles as "you are a prophet."

This matches the end of John 1:1c: "a god was the word"

The useful thing to note about "prophet" is that it is like "god" in that it has a special meaning when you put the "the" next to it. "The Prophet" was a very special figure in Jewish thought. John refers to "The Prophet" often. [See John 1:21 among others].

So, if what Mounce and others were saying is true, when the woman says "a prophet are you" she means "you have all the attributes of The Prophet without actually being the same as him."

That would be a rather odd statement!

Other examples can be found throughout John (including two I will mention later).

But lets get back to the Italian woman in my office that I might ask out. Notice the difference between:

"There's a new woman working at my office. She is Italian. I think I'll ask her out."


"There's a new woman working at my office. She is an Italian. I think I'll ask her out."

There is a subtle difference here. Indeed, in the first sentence I get to do something I normally don't get to do in English. Normally every noun in English has some sort of modifier in front of it. I cannot say "I picked up pencil" I either have to say "I picked up a pencil" or "I picked up the pencil."

That is the same as Greek. Normally there are just two options: either the word has the article before it or it does not. Either "god" or "the god."

But there is nothing wrong with saying "She is Italian." The Italian is an "adjective noun." It does not describe a category so much as a quality. The idea is not that she was born in Italy but rather that she has the personal attributes one associates with Italians.

However, saying "She is an Italian" suggests more that she was actually born in Italy [or at least is "full blood" Italian]... it does not really emphasize anything about her disposition or personal traits.

I think that is what is going on in John 1:1c. The statement is not a description of category. It is not saying "Jesus is a god." Nor is it a statement of identity. It is not saying "Jesus is God" [John appears to go out of his way to get away from saying this.] Rather it is a qualitative statement indicating Jesus' essence.

There is actually a very good verse that backs up this view. Consider the first part of John 4:24... the Greek is "a spirit is the god."

Now, if we were following Mounce's logic here, we really would be in trouble! Note that "God" has switched over from being the predicate nominative and is now the subject. According to Mounce's reasoning, this would be saying "All the attributes the Spirit has, God has as well without exhausting what it means to be the Spirit." [this is backwards from what Orthodoxy would want.]

But that isn't what Jesus means in John 4:24 at all. Jesus is not saying God is the Holy Spirit...nor is Jesus saying God is merely some random spirit [God is "a spirit"]. No, what Jesus means is that God has the quality of spirit-ness.

Note that John 4:24a has the exact same grammar as John 1:1c.

I would claim, then, that when John writes "a god was The Word," He is not claiming Jesus is "a god" (separate from God the Father), nor is he identifying Jesus as God (which he appears to go at lengths not to do) but rather claiming that Jesus has the quality of "god"-ness.

Whatever that means.

Much of this information comes from BeDuhn's excellent book Truth in Translation, but some of it is original to me [in particular the linkage to modern English and the discussion of what "The Prophet" means.]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Another brief delay

I'm getting married this Saturday, but starting next week I should be back here more often.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A New Blog to read

Hi all,
I just want to let you know that I found a well-written, intelligent new blogger you might be interested in checking out. He's only written 2 blogs so far, but I would keep a look out for more worth-your-while posts.

Take a look at: Andy's Stand Up Blog.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Comparison between Biblical and Evangelical Christianity

Bev had early suggested I create a more clear presentation of how my views on the Bible differ from the modern version of the gospel.

I spent today doing that very thing.

Any feedback is welcome.

I would welcome'request that anyone who finds the page interesting link to it on their own site.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Should Christians Enable?

Nancy brought up an exquisitely interesting point the other day. The Bible does not appear to say anything about enabling. One could make an argument, of course, that enabling is unhealthy and hence we should obviously steer clear of it. But I wonder if things are at all that simple.

Is the wisdom that says we should withhold from those who lean on us because giving to their detriment an earthly wisdom or a heavenly one? Might it be that we conjure up this notion of enabling as an excuse for ourselves so we can determine who is "really" in need and whom we can in good conscience ignore?

Labeling a particular charitable act as "enabling" essentially calls on us to become judge over whether someone "deserves" our help. But isn't that completely against most of Christian theology? Sure, you could claim that giving in certain cases is not really doing anyone any favors, but that seems to be a dangerous conclusion to draw (especially given how easy and attractive of a conclusion it is).

I once heard a talk at a Navs retreat by a large black man who talked about giving money away to people who might use it to buy alcohol, etc. He said "that is between him (the person receiving the money) and God." I think that viewpoint has much to commend it. I personally also believe that people are rather loathe to really ask for help in the first place...and someone generally has to be in a pretty bad way before finding the humility to ask for help.

Anyone have any scripture references on this?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What does "Son of Man" mean?

Given that it dominates Christ's discussions about Himself, particularly in John, it is surprising how little discussion occurs over what Jesus meant by the term "Son of Man."

There have been a few explanations given. A particularly biased answer is that Jesus is making a claim to Messiahship [or even divinity] by using the expression because it is an homage to Daniel 7:13, where the apocalypse is described with "a son of man" riding on clouds.

To claim "son of man" was a title of sorts due to this single reference is rather a reach since just a chapter later in the same book Daniel himself is referred to as a "son of man" [Daniel 8:17].
To suggest more and claim the cloud imagery means that this figure is actually God goes beyond merely "puzzling" for in the verse we are told the "son of man" is presented to God [the Ancient of Days]. (And it also is confounded by Numbers 23:19 that says "God is not a son of man."

Some research has suggested the term "Son of Man" is an aramaic idiom that means "me." This would make it similar to "Yours truly" when used to refer to oneself. The problem with that idea is that the Jews do not seem to understand what Jesus is referring to when He speaks of the "son of man" in John 12:34. Indeed, that verse makes nearly impossible that the expression is just an idiom for "me."

Another option that has been put forward is that it is just a way of saying "a human." That certainly makes sense given the many, many times the expression is used in the OT. However, it once again does not make sense with its usage in John 12:34 or elsewhere.

I think that perhaps Jesus is calling attention to Ezekiel. Throughout Ezekiel, God addresses the prophet as "son of man." The phrase is used there about 80 times, more than five times as often as all the other books of the OT combined. This is illuminating because it means we can see Ezekiel as a Type of Christ and gain an understanding of Christ's work by looking through Ezekiel's actions in the OT.

Mark 13:20 --- Salvation not about the afterlife

The central tenet behind The Gospel You've Never Heard is that the Jews who wrote the New Testament did not think of the term "salvation" in the way we have been led to believe. The Jewish understanding of salvation (as made clear in the Later Prophets, among other places) is that of God vindicating God's people. It is then, of course, about what it means to be "God's people," which leads us into the discussion of the Holy Spirit and the cleansing of the New Covenant temple.

Anyways, Mark 13:20 is a stark exposition of this primary Jewish understanding of salvation, blatantly showing that the modern understanding of "deliverance from Hell" is totally out to lunch.

Mark 13:19-20 discusses God's Judgment that is coming against the world. Jesus says "In those days there will be suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of God's creation until now, or ever will happen. And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no on ewould be saved. But because of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut them short."

This is the setting for the oft-quoted "He who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." [Acts 2:21, Romans 10:11, both quoting Joel 2:32 (or 3:5 depending on which Bible you have).]

Now, if "saved" here refers to "deliverance from Hell after death," then the importance of this wrath being short-lived "for the sake of the elect" is absurd. To say that "no one would be saved" if this wrath were prolonged upon the earth makes no sense with the modern understanding of salvation, for the modern understanding of salvation only has jurisdiction after the grand resurrection. Christ's focus is not on the Judgment that comes after the resurrection but on the wrath that comes before it. This is the focus of apostolic Christianity and dominated early church thought for the initial generations of the church. This is why Paul calls Christ "our savior from the coming wrath." This is why Peter has to inform his readers not to be perturbed that the day of God's vindicating them has been postponed. The early church, must as the Jews who came before them, were focused on God's vindicating them over their oppressors. Luther wasn't around to tell them that they all begin "by default" in hell and needed deliverance from it. Such a notion would have seemed ludicrous to Paul.

This notion of salvation as "deliverance from the coming global, physical wrath" is linked to the other primary notion of salvation as "deliverance from domination by our flesh" because they both are connected to the idea of being in covenant with God, for the Holy Spirit is the seal of the New Covenant and is sent to help this covenant succeed where the earlier one failed. This second definition of salvation, the one Christ describes when saying "Those who sin are a slave to sin, but if the Son makes you free, you are free indeed" is connected to a rather secondary definition of "saved" as the physical transformation achieved after the resurrection. The receipt of the Holy Spirit is a type of salvation in that we are no longer enslaved to sin. The receipt of a new body is the completion of this.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Old Testament Passover cannot be Vicarious Atonement: A Logician's Proof

I'm back, and I'm devoting a big chunk of today to catching up on blog stuff.

The authors of Pierced for Our Transgressions enthusiastically attempt to make a case for the Old Testament passover to be an instance of vicarious atonement. Their entire efforts lean on a snippet cut from a single verse, Exodus 12:12.

For those who have not read Pierced for Our Transgressions, the authors' handling of this is sadly representative of how they handle the entire topic (Penal Substitution) throughout their book. I hope to publish some sort of summary review of that soon.

Exodus 12:12 reads "For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments--I am the LORD."

Put the authors do not provide this entire verse (which is understandable given how long it is). What is much less acceptable is what they do say. They tell their reader: "...the plague on the firstborn is described specifically as 'judgment on all the gods of Egypt.'"


That's not what Exodus 12:12 says at all. It might be a reasonable conclusion to draw if we already believe in Penal Substitution AND we ignore that the Exodus story described an event from 3500 years ago within the context of world-wide idolatry.

When God says "I will strike down the firstborn... AND on the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment," it means exactly what it says. God will do two things. The firstborn will be struck down and the idols of the Egyptians will be toppled/destroyed, etc. Had the authors quoted the entire verse, it would be more obvious (I hope) that this is what was meant... it's hard to understand how the destruction of donkeys, goats, etc. could be construed as "judgment upon Egypt's gods."

Moses did not crater to idolatry, yet his household would have been vulnerable to the plague on the the death of the firstborn could not be merely the way God was executing judgment on the "gods of Egypt." No. When God says judgment on the "gods of Egypt" would ensue, it means precisely that: the gods of Egypt (the idols) would be destroyed. To someone in 1500 BC, that would make perfect sense. Indeed, the Old Testament has a long history of discussing this judgment on other gods in terms of destruction of the idols to which people bowed
(e.g., Jeremiah 50:2, 51:47, Ezekiel 6:6, 30:13, and of course the story of Dagon in 1st Samuel 5:4)

However, it would still be possible for the Old Testament passover to be a vicarious atonement, even if there is absolutely no evidence of it in the actual account. It would be, as Dan Martin put it, extrascriptural conjecture. I made that exactly conjecture in The Gospel You've Never Heard.

But recently I realized there is a simple proof that the Old Testament passover could not be a case of vicarious atonement. It is based primarily on the idea that you cannot pay for something with money you don't have. Or, to put the matter in the language of Calvinist, wrath can only be redirected to an object that would not have otherwise felt it.

This is one of the reasons given for Jesus having to be super-human and sinless. Jesus was taking upon Himself a punishment that He would otherwise not have had to bear. You cannot sacrifice something that is already marked for death. If the idea is that Person(s) A are being delivered from wrath because Person(s) B receive that wrath in their place, then none of the members of B can be members of A or else the situation is not vicarious and would not make much sense as an atonement either.

To use a courtroom analogy, we often think of all of humanity as guilty and subject to punishmen for it (of course, this courtroom drama is never portrayed in the Bible anywhere, but that's another story). Then an innocent person takes the blame instead. In the case of Jesus the idea is that Jesus was so awesome that He could adequately receive the punishment of millions or billions, etc.

Now, imagine a different courtroom drama where instead some of the guilty stand up and offer to take the punishment for the rest. Well, that makes no sense because they are already slated for punishment. If 20 people are slated for death, one of them cannot stand up and say "Hey, just take me and leave the others alone" because we only see the innocent as being able to take the debt from another. [And, of course, it is not really vicarious to receive the punishment that was due to you.]

So, what does any of this have to do with the Passover? Well, the simple truth is that some of the lambs that were sacrificed were the ones that were slated for death. As I've mentioned already (though the authors of PFoT do not give it much ink), not just humans but animals as well were slated for death. It was not merely the firstborn of each Israel household, but also the firstborn donkey, lamb, goat, etc. That means that many of the lambs slaughtered in the passover were themselves going to die anyway. If the firstborn plague were actual wrath that had to be averted, then many of the lambs slaughtered in that massive first passover were themselves already the bearers of judgment.

But we've already established that someone who is already bearing judgment cannot atone for others. So, if the passover lambs were meant as vicarious atonement for judgment on Israel, we would reach a contradiction because we would find that someone already bearing judgment (statutorily guilty) was somehow able to atone for others.

Of course, if we allow Exodus 12:12 to mean what is says (in the context of 1500 BC culture), we would not see the passover as a case of vicarious atonement at all, and all the above problems are vanquished.