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.]