Friday, December 17, 2010

New Book Available

Hi all,
I wanted to alert people that I have a new book available. It is volume 1 of a 3-volume work on common science myths and misconceptions. It is now available on Amazon. You can read the introduction and see the table of contents here.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

It is about that time again... [readers wanted]

I know I have not been blogging much recently [understatement].

I've been working on a science book that is now about 6 months past due. However, I've also begun much-needed revisions to WRGTH.

If you are interested in being a volunteer reader for the new edition, please send me an email. You would receive PDFs with new material in red so you can see quickly what has been changed and comment on it.

Thanks!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Noah's Ark?

Interesting find in Turkey.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Man sentenced for murder of unborn

Evidently, at least in some instances, the killing of an unborn is considered murder.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Good News

On the discussion board for my book, someone asked the question "What is the gospel."

And at first I gave the answer representing what the gospel Jesus spread would have been: the idea that the time of the Kingdom was at hand to a people who had been yearning for it for centuries. By the way, I discuss this gospel in a youtube video here.

But then the person asked me "But what is the good news for me?" And that is an excellent question...what is the Good News today...I decided I'd give my answer here for anyone who cared.

Well, there are several pieces of good news for you:

First piece of good news:
God has declared through Christ that God's Kingdom is now open to all races. You, as a Gentile, no longer are excluded from God. You are no longer a second-class citizen simply because you do not follow the covenant given to Abraham's heirs. That's a HUGE piece of good news that people today simply take for granted. But consider the situation of 1st century Gentiles, many of whom were attracted and respected the Jewish faith but could not bring themselves to convert. The idea that the Jews no longer had God's favor cornered is a huge bit of Good news.

Second piece, related to the first:

God has declared through Christ a new covenant whose joiners receive the holy spirit as a "signing bonus." This is an INCREDIBLE piece of good news if you put yourself in the mind of a 1st century believer. The Jews had only rarely tastes the Holy Spirit, and only for short bits of time. This person or that person of old may have been "in the spirit" for a time, receiving special revelation...but now EVERYONE in God's community has access to it. UNBELIEVABLE. Note that the Spirit is what Christ refers to at the end of Luke when he says "That which was promised" and in John he says it can only come if he dies...and in Acts it is repeated referred to as "the gift"

Third piece of Good News:
God has declared through Jesus' resurrection what God intends to do to everyone later on. Jesus resurrection is proof that God raises the dead (and it also is a warning to those who think they can do anything they want in this life without consequences). Note Paul's words to Felix in Acts 24:14-21 .

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount

I was asked by the church I attend to write a short study/meditation for the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. It was part of a larger, 14-week study the entire congregation had been doing.

Having just finished it, I wanted to post it here in case anyone is interested. Each day was supposed to have some specific reading, either from the Sermon on the Mount itself or from a separate passage relating to it. The guide was supposed to also offer opportunities for meditation, reflection, and response.


The Upshot: Concluding the Sermon on the Mount


Day 1: Matthew 7:7-28

What do you expect at the end of a sermon? We all give sermons to others, or at least we imagine giving them occasionally. How do you finish yours?

Matthew 7:24-28 is not really the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. It is the conclusion of the conclusion. The larger passage from 7:7-28 is the conclusion of the sermon. In the body of the sermon (5:21 to 7:6), Matthew reports specific teachings and admonishments, the commands Jesus mentions in 5:19. The conclusion, though, includes no such specific requirements and possesses a different texture.

Does Matthew 7:7-28 incorporate the aspects you expect in a sermon’s conclusion? How?

What do you consider the basic purpose of the Sermon of the Mount (either in Jesus’ ministry or in Matthew’s presentation)? Does your reading of the conclusion support this view or ask you to alter it?

Day 2: Matthew 28:18-20
What common themes can be found by comparing the end of the Sermon on the Mount (verses 7:24-29) to the end of Matthew’s gospel (28:18-20)?

What imperatives are given in both? What justification is given for the commands discussed in both?

How does the wording of Matthew 5:19 connect the introduction of the Sermon on the Mount to the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel?

Jesus asks Peter, John, and the rest to make disciples of all nations. What does this word mean to you? Is this meaning reflected in the passage? Are there ways you see yourself fulfilling the call to make disciples? Are there endeavors you are considering that would fulfill Jesus’ call to make disciples of others?

What aspects of the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel (28:18-20) do not appear to have counterparts in either the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount or its conclusion?

Day 3: Luke 11:9-13
Comparing Matthew 7:7-11 to Luke 11:9-13 reveals something interesting. The “good things” that the Father will give according to Matthew’s gospel are rendered as “The Holy Spirit” in Luke’s account.

How does this relate to the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel mentioned in yesterday’s meditation? In particular, how does it relate to those aspects that might not have obvious parallels in the introduction or conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount?

Very rarely, a rabbi would arise who was said to have “authority” (Jewish term: semikhah, though many other transliterations are possible.) Such a rabbi had the right to promulgate new interpretations or rabbinical traditions. These teachings would then be passed down to later rabbis. This practice maintained a certain degree of consistency among the teachings of Judaism since rabbis were not generally free to make up their own interpretations.

But occasionally someone received special revelation for a short time and would do or say things while being “in the Spirit.” We normally think of this in terms of prophecies, but often it was for instruction. An utterance made while “in the spirit” was cherished and given special authority. The biblical writers use this idiom in Matthew 22:43, Luke 2:27, and Acts 19:21 to describe actions or words provoked by God’s call. The idea that the Spirit of God would be available to everyone all the time was probably incomprehensible, and it is unsurprising that the apostles spoke in such humbled terms of the Spirit’s availability. It is called the “gift” and the realized “promise” multiple times in Acts, and chapters 13-16 of John put the Spirit in the spotlight as well.

If we temporarily set aside the mental pictures Matthew 7:7-11 plants in our Western, individualistic minds, we can grope for how Jesus may have intended this message on a community-wide scale. The Sermon on the Mount repeatedly speaks of the “Kingdom of Heaven” that the Jews were expecting to come upon them as God’s people. The Jews of Jesus’ day commonly prayed for their national salvation. If Matthew 7:7-11 is an allusion to that, we see in the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount the first hints at one of the most amazing nuances of the coming Kingdom: that it would be a revolution by spiritual revelation. Instead of suggesting his Jewish brothers ask for an army to bring about their deliverance, he asks them to pray for the Spirit to come.

Just imagine living in a faith society where the Spirit of God had been almost silent for centuries, very rarely possessing anyone and only for short periods of time. How amazed early Jewish Christians must have been to find the Spirit pervading their community and touching all believers! That which was once desperately rare had become abounding, as though diamonds were falling like rain.

What role does the Spirit have in your life?

Day 4: Matthew 7:1-6 and Romans 11:11-21
In the sermon’s conclusion, Christ discusses the twin dangers of following those who should not be followed and failing to follow those who should be.

Christ’s final admonition, Do not judge lest you be judged, leads into this conclusion by suggesting the Jews in general are not being a good example to others. He tells them to remove the plank from their eye so they can see to remove the specks from their brothers’. And he follows that up with a curious statement: Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs, otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces.

When this phrase is quoted today, people often think Christ is saying “don’t waste your time on those unreceptive to your message,” but there is nothing anywhere near Matthew 7:6 that suggests he has this in mind. It would be rather strange for Jesus to ascribe pearls of wisdom to those he had just called hypocrites and accused of having planks in their eyes. Furthermore, the idea that we should not engage those we do not believe are receptive would go against Christ’s own model. He debated the scribes and Pharisees in his own ministry and even addressed the aristocratic Sadducees, who were probably even less receptive to his views. His later disciples would similarly engage all manner of people, not allowing their prejudices determine who was fit to hear the gospel.

Instead, Matthew 7:6 is probably a reference to the danger of God’s favor passing to the Gentiles [“pigs” and “dogs” were both Jewish epithets for Gentiles, the former emphasizing their living outside God’s law, the latter emphasizing their idolatry]. By continuing in disobedience, the Jewish nation risked having their inheritance retracted and given to someone else. This theme has already come up earlier when Jesus asks in Matthew 5:13 (the only other place where “trampled” appears in his gospel): You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. This concern shows up several times later as well, in Matthew: 21:33-41, 22:1-10, 23:37-39, and perhaps 25:28.

We might think that his concern for the Jews is an academic one, irrelevant to us today. However, Matthew saw fit to capture this concern (as did Luke) in gospels many believe were written long after the Jewish leadership rejected Christ. How do Paul’s words in Romans 11:11-21 interpret the loss the Jewish nation suffered? Do Christians run the same risk?

Do you see the modern Christian church prone to dangers like those Christ and Paul warned their audiences against?

Day 5: Luke 6:46-49 and Exodus 23:20-32

Luke’s version of the conclusion to Christ’s sermon (note how Luke 6:37-49 matches up with Matthew 7:1-27 if verses 6-14 are omitted) can aid our interpreting of Matthew’s account. Fitting together Luke 6:46-49 with Matthew 7:21-27 suggests that Luke 6:46, Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I tell you? is Luke’s version of Matthew 7:21-23.

How does Luke 6:46 guide your interpretation of Christ’s words in Matthew 7:21-23?

In addition to comparing Matthew’s version to Luke, we can compare it to the scripture Matthew undoubtedly had in mind when portraying Jesus preaching laws on a mountain, an obvious reference to Moses on Sinai. The commandments given there composed the statutes for the Mosaic covenant, a “lease” of sorts between God and Abraham’s descendents for their occupation of the promised land.

Covenants between rulers and vassals in ancient times shared a common structure. After the stipulations describing what was required of the vassal came a set of blessings, a set of curses, and provisions for the ongoing validity of the covenant. In the case of the Mosaic covenant, the stipulations were the Mosaic Law (e.g. Exodus 20:1 – 23:19) and a short version of the blessings, curses, and continuity provisions can be found immediately afterward (Exodus 23:20-32). (A longer version can be seen in Deuteronomy, where the Laws span from chapter 5 through 27, the blessings, curses, and provisions for the continuity are found in chapters 28-32.)

The body of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-7:2) parallels the commandments given on Sinai, the stipulations for Israel’s occupation. It is unclear if the conclusion of the sermon is intended to be analogous to the blessings, curses, and provision for continuity typical for a covenant. Still, there are interesting parallels between Exodus 23:20-32 and Matthew 7:7-29.
What points of contact do you see between these two passages?

In the Exodus passage, the Israelites were told to destroy the altars of their pagan neighbors, and God promised to drive those idolaters from the land. How does this apply to us today? What altars are you called to smash down? What do you yearn for God to drive out from within you?

Day 6: Matthew 5:13-20
A common formula for public speaking is “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them what you told them you would tell them, and then tell them what you told them,” referring to the introduction, body, and conclusion of a speech. So far, we have looked at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount as its own entity, in comparison to Matthew’s conclusion to his gospel, in comparison to Luke’s account, and in comparison to the account of Moses giving the Torah. The final place to look for confirmation that we understand the sermon’s meaning is in its introduction.

How do specific sections of Matthew 5:13-20 match up with Matthew 7:1-29?

We tend to read the Bible in a piece-meal fashion, often remembering just a verse or short passage that speaks to us without reference to what part it plays in the writer’s overall design. When we see individual passages as relating to common themes in a letter, it can change our views on a passage’s intended meaning. Verses we assumed meant one thing we can find were really aimed at a different objective entirely. For each match-up you find, explain how seeing the introduction and conclusion in parallel modifies how you have viewed/interpreted the individual parts.

The Sermon on the Mount is a well known phrase. Many people have heard of it without being able to identify any particular part, other than perhaps the Beatitudes. If you overheard a group of people in a coffee shop laughing about how they all knew the phrase “Sermon on the Mount” without really knowing anything about it, what would you tell them?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The mundane Holy Spirit

I wanted to give air to an idea that has captured my thoughts from time to time. Today people talk blithely of the Holy Spirit and ascribe to it this wonder and that duty, but there is a decided lack of appreciation for its effect on early Christianity.

We live in a faith tradition where the Holy Spirit is a commonplace article. We are familiar with it as one of the many gifts of God. What we don't take into account is that the people of God did not always have it. We read our New Testaments as though they were textbooks describing this or that function of the Spirit without fully realizing how profound of a change the advent of the Spirit was to the earliest Christians.

For centuries prior to Christ, the "Spirit of God" was said to have been silent. The idea of being "in the Spirit" referred to occasional divine revelation or provocation to do or say something. Christ refers to David speaking while "in the Spirit" in Matthew 22:43. Other examples are presented in Luke 2:27 and Acts 19:21. It was exceptionally rare both in terms of possessing people very rarely and in terms of only possessing people for a limited amount of time.

It had to be shocking, utterly shocking, then for early Christians to find out that, in the new covenant, EVERYONE could have the Spirit ALL THE TIME. I don't think we really appreciate how significant a change this was to their views on God's providence. I further believe that the more we realize this, the more we can find in the Bible indication that the sending of the Spirit was considered the gift obtained by Christ's work.

Christ refers to it as "what was promised," and that term "promise" is used several times in Acts to refer to the Spirit. The term "gift" is practically synonymous with Holy Spirit throughout the teachings of the apostles in Acts. John's account has Jesus saying that the Spirit's advent was contingent on his death. Once your eyes are open to it, these types of allusions show up all over the place.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The philosophy of Jesus

I am taking a screenwriting class in which each participant is invited to present one screenplay or idea for a screenplay. I wrote up an idea for an allegory of the Christian faith, and part of that allegory presents a teacher [Poima] discussing what belief in their god [Diacyntanis] means when it comes to making life decisions. It is essentially a representation of what it means to be "wise" in terms of Christianity, which is nothing more or less than answering the question "what does it mean to live by faith." In particular this is not a faith that God exists, but rather a faith that God possesses certain qualities (it is also a statement of faith in Christ's return).

I think that is a major disconnect in Christianity today, the idea that faith impacts our life not merely because we believe God exists, but that our beliefs in God's attributes modify what decisions we make. When Jesus chastises his Jewish brothers in the parable of the clever steward (Luke 16:1-13, and 16:8 in particular), this is what he refers to: those who believe in God were not acting in a way that makes any sense with those beliefs...just as someone who believes in gravity is unlikely to let go of a glass vase in mid-air --- the person's general beliefs about gravity, when applied to the specific situation of the vase, should cause the person to come to a realization that letting go of the vase in mid-air is unwise. In the same way, our beliefs about God's attributes, when applied to individual situations we face, should lead us to find that the wise course of action is different from what those who do not hold those beliefs about God.

I am pasting below what I wrote for that class regarding this screenplay, which puts a finer point on the ideas above:
----------------------
This screenplay addresses gross misrepresentations of Jesus’ story, which has all too often been hopelessly pulled from its Jewish context. It also provides an alternative view to the fundamental nature of Christianity.

In addition to this, and interleaved within it, is the philosophy of Christianity, which is seen in Poima’s teachings. Within this philosophy, people are enslaved two things:

1) Intrapersonally, they are enslaved by a futile egoism married to psychological baggage that causes them to treat others (and themselves) in ways they are not proud of. They are not the people they want to be because, for whatever reason, they cannot bring themselves to act in the way they wish they could.

2) Interpersonally, they are hindered by external agents due to those agents’ own intrapersonal enslavement. In any oppressive or unjust scenario, both the victim and the aggressor are dominated. The victim is dominated by the perpetrator, and the perpetrator is dominated by whatever is causing him to partake in his behavior.

The above might look quite reasonable and not particularly exclusive to Christianity until one gets a fully picture of what the actions in category 1 include. Poima teaches that this futility comes primarily by a lack of faith in the goodness and power of Diacentanys, that people act the way they do because they do not truly believe that:

i) Diacentanys desires the good and has the power to effect the good.

ii) Because Diacentanys desires the good (for all people), so should we.

Thus, at its heart, her teaching is against selfishness because selfishness comes from a belief that the only way one can be fulfilled is to put one’s own happiness before that of others. Contrarily, a belief that Diacentanys desires and has the power to effect the good suggests that one is most fulfilled by caring about the happiness of others. Thus, belief that Diacentanys has these qualities (a desire for, and power to effect, the good for all) makes unselfish behavior the natural and wise choice.

For example, Poima teaches that the people should give their excess money to the poor rather than save up for retirement. This is an example of how our desire to dominate our future (and our need for security in case Diacentanys cannot provide or does not want to provide) leads us to abandon others in their need. Poima teaches that people should desire the good of all because, in this, we emulate Diacentanys.

Thus, fundamentally, Poima teaches a type of liberation from slavery-to-self by fully recognizing the desire and power of God to provide. Part of this philosophy is that one can fulfilled and happy within the confines of that desire. This is the liberation from number 1 above.

Regarding liberation from number 2, which can only occur when people live in a society where all have been liberated in the sense of number 1, Poima indicates such a kingdom is coming.
Poima also tells her disciples that through her obedience to Diacentanys’ will, she has earned her prophesied position as Queen over not just the traditional land of the Draed’s, but over all land.
She will be returning to claim this kingdom, not merely to overthrow the Morka. When she returns, all governments will be dissolved, and there will be only one kingdom. That kingdom will operate along the same principles as her teachings [that actions designed to benefit others are wise] and hence only those whose previous behavior suggests they will contribute to this society will be allowed in.

Poima tells her disciples to take her teachings to everyone, both for their liberation in the current time, and so they know of her future coming. Diacentanys resurrected her from death, and the same shall be done to everyone else when Poima returns.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Addendum to Grace Post

A long time ago, I posted a blog on the meaning of grace.

You can read the whole thing, but essentially it comes down to a discussion of "favor that is granted outside the bounds of contractual obligation." However, this does not mean it is necessarily "unmerited" or "uninstigated." In my book I give the example of Cornelius [among others]. In the case of Paul, the point is that Christ's coming was not a blessing obtained (and hence exclusive to) the Jews based on their keeping the Mosaic regulations and ordinances (and hence Gentiles are not bound to convert to Judaism to benefit from Jesus' work.)

Someone wrote me a question regarding this topic, and in answering it I noticed a place where Christ refers to grace/favor (Greek = charis) in terms where it is clear that the grace is not without instigation: Luke 6:32-35

Indeed, if one reads the Matthew version in parallel to Lukes (c.f. Matthew 5:46- 6:4) we see Matthew using the term "reward" in the same way that Luke is using the term "favor/grace/credit"

Of course, this is not to say that favor/grace/credit always refer to an instigated boon, but does show that the principal idea of the term is not "without reason," as is often thought.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Why was the forbidden fruit forbidden?

I've been attending a new church for a while, and I'm guardedly optimistic that this one could be as good of a match as I could ever hope to find. There was an orientation class of sorts to help new people know more about the church, and that 3-night class was held each of the past three Wednesdays.

In the second class, a woman asked the intriguing question as to why the tree in the Garden was forbidden in the first place. Why did God tell Eve not to eat from the tree?

This is a rather interesting question! Of course, if you are a Calvinist, these types of questions have no interest for you. Calvinists have no problem believing God planned for the race to fall from the beginning, so there needn't have been any reason for the tree being verboten. It could just have been the needed statutory law so that humanity would fall as part of God's overarching plan.

I'm not a big fan of that view, though of course I cannot claim it is utterly impossible. I don't think the Bible gives us enough information to be certain as to the wherefore behind the law given to Adam and Eve, but perhaps we can take a guess...

We are told in Genesis 2:17 that God explained to Adam "On the day you eat of the tree, you will surely die." The tree from the beginning is called "The tree of knowledge of Good and Evil."

One then asks the question: Why does having knowledge of Good and Evil cause death? Angels have knowledge of good and evil, and they do not die. What is the linkage between this knowledge and the death? If the linkage is "God said not to do this, and you did it, so you are punished," then that gets us no further into understanding why the tree was off-limits in the first place. If the death was not a punishment but a natural outcome, then it is a reasonable question as to wonder why.

We get another piece of information later. People often say that sin caused the death directly, but the view of Genesis 3:21 is rather different. That verse indicates God threw Adam and Eve out of the garden explicitly because it would have been possible for them to (otherwise) gain immortality by eating from the tree of life.

Based on Genesis 3:21, one could claim that God, for whatever reason, did not want Adam to be BOTH immortal AND aware of good and evil. Perhaps this was to separate humanity from the angels or perhaps it was for some other reason. Who knows?

Paul references the fall in Romans 5:12-14, and my claim is that Paul refers to spiritual death there (which explains why God was not wrong for saying "on the day you eat of it, you shall die")

With this in mind, I'm venturing to give as a conjecture that we were told not to eat from the tree for our own benefit. As Paul discusses in Romans 5, the thing that causes death is not sin itself but sin going against a known law. He separates "sin" in general from "rebellion." Thus, while people sinned after Adam and before Moses, they were not "rebelling" against God, thus their spiritual depravity could not be blamed on their own sin but must have come from Adam's.

Note this is a very important point for Paul. He is making a case for all being saved in the same way: through Christ. And part of the way he is arguing for this is to say that all were thrown into spiritual death through the action of one person, (Adam) so it makes sense that all could be healed by the action of one person (Christ). This is why he speaks about people sinning after Adam but not "sinning in the way Adam sinned," which he calls "transgression" or "Rebellion:" The sin against a promulgated, declared law.

So, if that is the case, perhaps the idea is that, without knowledge of good and evil, humanity would be "sinning in ignorance" whenever someone did something wrong, and those sins are still sins but do not cause separation between the person and God. That is the big difference between the type of sin Adam did (and later the Jews did after receiving the Law of Moses) and the type of sin people do in ignorance: outright rebellion against something you have been told by God not to do leads to a spiritual weakening and separation from God.

Note that there was plenty of sinning going on prior to Adam and Eve eating the apple. Eve appears to lie to the serpent about what God had said (changing God's command from "do not eat" to "Do not even touch"), the Jews would have considered Adam and Eve's nakedness to at least be shameful if not an outright sin, and both Adam and Eve committed covetousness before ever eating the apple [that is what covetousness is: the desiring of something that is not yours to have.] Indeed, I think covetousness was considered the father of all other sins by Jews for this reason [and note Paul's description in Romans 7:7-12, which is related to this whole topic of the danger the law poses.]

Anyways, I think it is an interesting question and one pretty open to discussion, what do you guys think?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Zuke 'Em up for "Book of the Year"

Hi all,
As some of you may know, I also write chess books. I just wanted to post that a later edition of my very first chess book is being considered as a finalist for chesscafe.net's book of the year contest! (The winner is chosen by votes emailed in).

You can read the details here: http://www.chesscafe.com/Reviews/botyr2.htm

Now...if only people received my Christianity books as warmly as they received my chess ones...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Sweetdreams asked a question on a previous post, and after writing up my response I decided I wanted to make it a full blog post.

Jeremiah 31:31-34, is one of the most important in all the prophets as it describes most fully the new covenant. It is an amazing passage in that it describes:

1. The partakers of the covenant. (verse 31)
2. The reason for the covenant. (verse 32)
3. The timing of the covenant (verse 33a)
4. The content of the covenant (verse 33b-34a)
5. The boundary between the last covenant and this one (verse 34b)

But I think the above is not even the best way to look at the wording (though it certainly suffices)

Instead, consider verses 31-32 as one block put in parallel with 33-34. The each indicate:
A. A timing
B. Who the covenant is with
C. How this covenant differs from the last.
D. An indication as to why this new covenant can stand over the last.

In the first chunk we are told:
A. The covenant is in the future.
B. The covenant is with Israel and Judah (“Israel” later stood in metonymy for all nations outside Judah).
C. The covenant will be unlike the first one because it will succeed where the first had failed to produce a godly nation.
D. The new covenant is allowed because Israel and Judah violated the older one.

In the second chunk we are told:
A. The covenant is “when Israel is planted back in the land.”
B. The covenant is with the “whole nation of Israel.”
C. The covenant will be unlike the first in that the laws would be written on the hearts of Israel.
D. The covenant is allowed because God will forgive all the sins Israel and Judah had done prior to it.

This last part is standard fare in the prophets: After Israel/Judah suffers, God forgives them…and then delivers them or proffers a hand of reconciliation. We see the same thing in the Exodus: the Israelites are forgiven for all their past idolatry, which allows God to start anew with a clean slate. The Israelites are never punished for any sins done prior to crossing the Red Sea, when they were “baptized into Moses.”
This has a strong counterpart in Jewish philosophy of Jesus day. When someone converted to Judaism, it was considered their own person crossing of the Jordan/Red Sea and everything about the prior life was blotted out (even to the point that a Gentile converting to a Jew could, in theory, marry those people who were his blood relatives, for the new convert was considered not to have a mother or father). The most common day for such conversions were on Passovers, which has other obvious connections to the crossing from the dead life of Egypt to the new life found in the wilderness with God.

The point of all this is to understand the “For I will forgive their sins and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done.” It refers to God’s setting aside the sin done by Israel and Judah to allow for the new covenant and a new slate, just as was done in the Exodus, and just as Paul refers to in Romans 3:25 when Paul (already speaking in the past tense) refers to the sins “previously committed.” [In other words, sins committed previous to Christ’s death, the event he refers to. However, just as in the Jewish conversion, this forgiveness would apply on an individual level upon conversion: the sins done by a Christian prior to entering the New Covenant are washed away.]

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Penal Original Sin and Ezekiel 18

I was walking home from a bar last night (first time I had gone out to shoot pool in a long time!) and I had an imaginary theological conversation in my head. I do this pretty often, envisioning discussions that could occur after someone cites a prooftext taken out of context that has nothing to do with the point being discussed. I don't get to have these in real life often because I don't hang around proselytizing evangelicals very often any more.

Anyways, the verse I had in mind was Ezekiel 18:4 or Ezekiel 18:20. A snippet of the first says "The soul who sins will die." The other says "The person who sins will die." They could each be used (and have been used) to suggest that death is the appropriate punishment for any sin.

But that isn't what Ezekiel 18 is saying at all. Ezekiel 18 is laying out that the punishment for sin will lay on the sinner rather than his offspring. Furthermore, it is indicating that righteous conduct done in the past does not insulate someone from the danger of death as punishment for sin in the present. It is most definitely not saying "Once someone has sinned one time, that person is subject to death." Indeed, Ezekiel 18:21-22 (among other places) indicates the exact opposite:

But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live.

The realization I made last night is that this whole chapter argues against one interpretation of Original Sin. Some people believe that we are actually liable for the sin of Adam because Adam is the father of humanity. The whole point of Ezekiel 18 is that one generation is not punished for the sin of its ancestors.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Another interesting "eternal Life" connection

I haven't been doing much theology blogging recently. Sorry guys.
However, I realized something pretty interesting recently. It actually strikes me as something I may have seen earlier and forgotten.

As most of you know, a central premise to my first book on Christianity is that the term "Salvation" is misunderstood today, taken to mean something that 2nd temple Jews living in Jesus day would not have meant. Indeed, even the church did not see "salvation" in the sense of "saving people from hell" sense for hundreds of years. [Note, for example, Athanasius' understanding of the term presently indirectly on page 18 of my extra topics pdf.]

Anyways, part of the argument for this understanding comes from the way that John [and I think Paul, but it is less clear] used the Greek term often translated "eternal life." My claim is that this referred to the Jewish O'lam Ha-ba in general and the New Covenant and its attendant indwelling of the Holy Spirit in particular.

I give several reasons for considering this plausible in chapters 3 and 4 of my book, but one that I don't think I referenced is this interesting pair of verses:

John 4:13-14 says:
Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life."

And then John 7:37-39 says:
Now on the last day, the great {day} of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.' " But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet {given,} because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Note how similar these passages are...not only do they both speak about water, but they also speak about the water flowing out from the inside him, they both include a message about people coming to receive something from Christ, and they both come right before a reference to Jesus as Christ. If we can take these as being connected in their metaphor, we are left with another at least reasonable argument for "eternal life" being a reference to the indwelling of the Spirit.

Monday, January 4, 2010