March 23, 2008

Revelation - week 3 (concluded)

7 "To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write the following:

"This is the solemn pronouncement of the Holy One, the True One, who holds the key of David, who opens doors no one can shut, and shuts doors no one can open:

8 'I know your deeds. Look! I have put in front of you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, but you have
obeyed my word and have not denied my name.
9 Listen! I am going to make those people from the synagogue of Satan who say they are Jews but are not—but are lying! Look!—I will make them come and bow down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.
10 Because you have kept my admonition to endure steadfastly, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come upon all mankind to test the ones living on the earth.
11 I am coming soon/swiftly. Hold on to what you have so that no one can take away your crown.
2 The one who conquers I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never depart from it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God (the New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from my God), and my new name as well.
13 Let the ones having ears hear what the Spirit
says to the churches.'
The church at Philadelphia, like the church at Smyrna, receives unqualified praise from Jesus in this 6th letter. And like the Smyrnan church, the Philadelphian church is promised suffering before glory. This, as we have noted, is a major theme in Revelation and all of the faithful followers of Jesus in the book are described as suffering or having suffered for their faith.

The Philadelphian church is also comforted in their persecution by the "synagogue of satan", just as the Smyrnan church was. This is worth commenting on for a moment if for no other reason than to offset the sinful antisemitism that this passage has been used to justify in the history of the church. In Ancient Rome, citizens were all required to pay homage to the Roman gods and goddesses. To do otherwise was seen as an act of treason because there was no hint of separation between religion and government. All Roman citizens were required to honor Caesar as Lord...except the Jews. As the Greeks had found out 2 centuries earlier when they tried to make Israel honor their gods and leaders, the Jews were fiercely monotheistic and would fight to the death rather than pay homage to any other gods. Rome, in pragmatic fashion, arranged that all the Jews had to do was pray to their God for Caesar rather than to Caesar or the gods of Rome.

So how does this apply to Revelation? Well, the majority of early Christians--including John himself--were Jewish. Therefore, they were protected from having to worship according to Roman law by their status as Jews. Gradually, however, non-Christian Jews shunned Christian Jews from their synagogues. They did not consider them true Jews (a situation that is true to this very day!). Therefore, in the eyes of Rome, Christians were not Jews--and therefore not exempt from Roman worship. As a result, they were accused of not only heresy or "atheism" (because they didn't believe in the Roman gods), but also of treason and sedition. They were persecuted as a result of having been cast from the Jewish community and its protection. The word "satan" means "the accuser/adversary". Thus, Jesus is telling His people in Philadelphia that despite being labeled as not a part of Israel, they are absolutely God's people. Furthermore, those who claim to be Jews but who do not follow their Messiah, Jesus, are not actually Jews in the theological sense of the word, but rather are functioning in the role of accuser/adversary (i.e. "satan"). This is quite in line with Paul's argument in the early chapters of his letter to the Romans and is another major theme in Revelation--true "Israel" consists of everyone (both Jew and Gentile) who is in Covenant with God through faith in Israel's Messiah. This is sometimes labeled "replacement theology" and contested by those who hold to a Dispensational form of theology. However, it is not a "replacement" of Israel with the Church that Revelation teaches; it is a widening of the boundaries of "Israel" to include those who are not Jewish by birth, but who are "offspring of Abraham" nonetheless because of their faith. Likewise, it is a clarification that despite being ethnically or religiously Jewish, those who do not follow Israel's Messiah, Jesus, are not actually Israel. This was, and continues to be, a shocking and politically incorrect statement (which is why many Christians have abandoned it in favor of a "two peoples of God" theory); yet it is a major theme in Revelation and was the message of Jesus' followers from day one.

A final point of interest is the phrase found in v.10: "the ones living on the earth" (Gk: katoikountas epi tes ges). As we will see throughout the book, this does not refer to everyone living literally on earth. Rather, it is used to denote those who are not "the ones following the Lamb", or God's people. Some translations attempt to bring out the technical feel of this phrase by translating it as "earth-dwellers" or something similar. Regardless of how it's translated, it's important to keep this distinction in mind as we continue through John's vision. Jesus is promising the Philadelphian church that He will protect them from temporal events that are soon to take place around them. They have already been suffering and will continue to do so, but they will be spared this particular form of suffering, whatever it may be.

14 "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write the following:

"This is the solemn pronouncement of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the originator of God's creation:

15 'I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you
were either cold or hot! 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth!
17 Because you say, "I am rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing," (but do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked!), 18 take my advice and buy gold from me refined by fire so you can become rich! Buy from me white clothing so you can be clothed and your shameful nakedness will not be exposed, and buy eye salve to put on your eyes so you can see!
19 All those I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent! 20 Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me.
21 I will grant the one who conquers permission to sit with me on my throne, just as I too conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.
22 Let the ones having ears hear what the Spirit
says to the churches.'"

The final church Jesus addresses in Revelation is the church at Laodicea. Much has been written about this passage and for a full treatment, I recommend the commentaries mentioned at the beginning of this week's study. For now, we will only address two points: "lukewarm" christians and Jesus' "standing at the door knocking."

I was always taught, based on this passage, that there are 3 types of people with respect to God. Those who are "hot" (i.e. "on fire for Jesus"; follow God passionately), those who are "cold" (i.e. spiritually dead, actively rebelling against or ignoring God completely), and those who are "lukewarm" (i.e. "fence-sitters"; those who sometimes follow Jesus, but only when it's convenient for them or doesn't demand anything of them). Thus, Jesus was saying here that He would rather people be completely against him, "headlong into Hell" as I once heard it put, than to half-heartedly follow Him. But the more I grew and studied Scripture, the less Biblical this idea sounded to me. But I couldn't say why...until I learned about the city of Laodicea itself and its historical setting.

Laodicea was known for many things in the ancient world: wealth, fine fabrics, culture. They had even invented a cure for certain eye diseases in the form of an ointment or salve. What they were not known for, however, was an abundant water supply. Laodicea had no natural source of water nearby. However, since they were so wealthy, they could afford to have their water piped in via aqueducts from two surrounding cities miles away. They received water from Heiropolis, a city 6 miles North which was renowned for its amazing natural hot springs (which you can still visit today and which are pictured below).

Likewise, they received their cold water from Colossae which was 10 miles east and have an abundant supply of fresh cold water from snowmelt and runoff in the Lycus Valley.

Thus, Laodicea had a source for hot water as well as a source for cold water...with one minor problem. By the time the water traveled the distance it was no longer hot or cold! In addition, whatever debris may have fallen along the path got carried along with the water into the city. Thus, Laodicea's water was unable to quench one's thirst (like Colossae's cool water) and unable to soothe and heal (like Hieropolis' hot water) and if someone from out of town took a swig of Laodicean water, they would likely spit it out or vomit after swallowing it!

This makes Jesus' warning to the Laodiceans all the more poignant. Though they were known in the eyes of the people as being wealthy, well-dressed, and even able to cure blindness, in the eyes of the King of Kings they were poor, blind, pitiful and naked. And just like their water supply, they were not good for anything. If they remain that way, they should not expect anything but judgment.

But there is hope! Jesus loves His people enough to discipline them and chastize them when they rebel or become complacent. Even for a church as spiritually tepid as the one in Laodicea, Jesus "stands at the door knocking." Notice that contrary to popular usage, this verse is not written to unbelievers in order to get them to pray Jesus into their hearts (though there may very well be Biblical support for that notion elsewhere in the NT). Rather, He is telling the Laodicean church that He is waiting for them to let Him into their midst. Those who hear His voice and open up to Him will dine with Him in fellowship. It's quite likely that this is a reference to His spiritual presence at their worship gatherings which consisted of, among other things, a Love Feast--what we would call Holy Communion or the Eucharist. But Jesus will not force His way into their gatherings. His grace is quite resistable! But to those who allow Him to reign in their life, will in the end reign with Him over all creation.

And it is that universal reign from the Heavenly throneroom that John is about to have revealed to him in the next chapter!


March 21, 2008

Passover, Blood, and Bunnies...oh my!

This is from an older blog I wrote on Easter about 2 years ago. After teaching tonight at our Good Friday service, I felt it was worth revisiting for the sake of any who may have missed it the first time around. As usual, comments always welcomed!

Though Passover is a Jewish holiday, it is equally important for Christians. Passover commemorates the incredible display of God's power that brought Israel out of Egypt and formed them into a nation. Passover reminds us that our relationship with God is always one of faith leading to obedience. Any Hebrew family that did not believe Moses' word from God and did not cover the door of their home with the blood of the passover lamb was not spared--regardless of their ethnicity. The door of a home represented the entire household. By following Moses' instructions, the family was believing in faith that God would free them from bondage and protect them from death.

Fastforward 1,400 years or so... Jesus celebrates His last meal with His followers. That meal is the Passover Sedar. He lifts the final cup of the Sedar and says, "This is the blood of the new blood poured out for you." Only later would the disciples remember this event and connect it with John the baptizer's first words about Jesus 3 years prior to that--"Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!"

Lamb of God, Blood, new covenant, all came together for them now! Jesus was claiming to be the Passover lamb for the entire world--Israelite and gentile--and just as in Egypt, those who believed Him in faith and "covered themselves" with His blood by entering into the new Covenant of God with His people, were trusting that God, through Jesus, would free them from spiritual bondage and protect them from spiritual death.

They would join Him and form the New People of God--those who belong to God and are in Covenant with Him through the final Covenant Mediator--Yeshua' Hamashiach (Jesus Christ).

Something to think about this week instead of bunnies, eggs, and pastel bonnets!

Be blessed,

March 20, 2008

Revelation - week 3 (cont'd again)

18 "To the angel of the church in Thyatira write the following:

"This is the solemn pronouncement of the Son of God, the one who has eyes like a fiery flame and whose feet are like polished bronze:

19 'I know your deeds: your love, faith, service, and steadfast endurance. In fact, your more recent deeds are greater than your earlier ones.
20 But I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and by her teaching deceives my servants to commit sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent, but she is not willing to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Look! I am throwing her onto a bed of violent illness, and those who commit adultery with her into terrible suffering, unless they repent of her deeds.
23 Furthermore, I will strike her followers with a deadly disease, and then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts. I will repay each one of you what your deeds deserve.
24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, all who do not hold to this teaching (who have not learned the so-called "deep secrets of Satan"), to you I say: I do not put any additional burden on you. 25 However, hold on to what you have until I come.
26 And to the one who conquers and who continues in my deeds until the end, I will give him authority over the nations– 27 he will
rule them with an iron rod
and like clay jars he will break them to pieces (cf. Psalm 2:8-9)
28 just as I have received the right to rule from my Father– and I will give him the morning star.
29 Let the ones having ears hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'
The next church Jesus addresses is the church of Thyatira. And once again, as in His message to the church at Pergamum, Jesus uses a well-known character in the Hebrew Bible to illustrate their sinful compromise with surrounding pagan culture. Jezabel, like Balaam and Balak, was a powerful gentile who was against God's people and sought to infiltrate Israel with idolatry and sexual immorality (two terms which were often synonymous, they were so closely related). Both Jezabel and Balak were successful in corrupting Israel and leading them further into idolatry and wickedness. At Thyatira, however, "Jezabel" is not as obviously idolatrous as she was in Ancient Israel. This "Jezabel" was apparently emphasizing some type of hidden or esoteric knowledge in order for one to be truly spiritual. This was common among mystery religions of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. However, instead of being divine secrets, these "deep secrets" were not from God, but rather from the Accuser, Satan.

Those at Thyatira who rightly rejected this infiltration of idolatrous compromise with the surrounding paganism, however, are commended by Jesus and told to remain faithful in order that they might share in Jesus' ultimate Messianic reign over all the earth (the original context of Psalm 2, which is quoted in part here).

3:1 "To the angel of the church in Sardis write the following:

"This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars:
'I know your deeds, that you have a reputation that you are alive, but in reality you are dead. 2 Wake up then, and strengthen what remains that was about to die, because I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.
3 Therefore, remember what you received and heard, and obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come against you.
4 But you have a few individuals in Sardis who have not stained their clothes, and they will walk with me dressed in white, because they are worthy.
5 The one who conquers will be dressed like them in white clothing, and I will never erase his name from the book of life, but will declare his name before my Father and before his angels.
6 Let the ones having ears hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'

Jesus now turns His attention to the church at Sardis. Unlike Thyatira or Pergamum, the Sardis church does not seem to be struggling with rampat idolatry or sexual immorality. They are a church with a good reputation among 1st century Christians. They seem like a thriving community. However, the fiery eyes of Jesus are able to burn throuh this facade and expose the Sardis church for what it is--a community on the verge of spiritual death.

Not every member of the Sardis church is guilty of this however. There are some who have remained faithful, their spiritual garments clean. These are who Jesus promises will share in His victory at His return. What's especially interesting, from a theological point of view, is Jesus' reassurance to His faithful that if they remain faithful their names will never be erased from the book of life. This would be an odd promise for Jesus to make to His followers if it were, as later theologians supposed, impossible for believers to experience such loss of eternal life (the presumed meaning of having one's name written in the Book of Life).

Those who find themselves within this theological tradition must allow this passage to have its full effect rather than dismissing it as either hypothetical but not possible or referring to a loss of "rewards" of some kind rather than a loss of eternal life. Though this verse alone is not a "proof-text" for the idea that actual Christians can, if they choose to turn away from God, throw away their salvation (the technical term for this is "Apostasy"), it does count heavily in favor of the reality of such a danger.

5 down, only 2 to go...

Be blessed,

March 19, 2008

Revelation - week 3 (cont'd)

As we continue in Revelation's letters to the 7 churches, we next come to the church at Pergamum:

12 "To the angel of the church in Pergamum write the following:

"This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who has the sharp double-edged sword:

13 'I know where you live– where Satan's throne is. Yet you continue to cling to my name and you have not denied your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was killed in your city where Satan lives.
14 But I have a few things against you:
You have some people there who follow the teaching of Balaam, who instructed Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel so they would eat food sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality.
15 In the same way, there are also some among you who follow the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
16 Therefore, repent! If not, I will come against you quickly and make war against those people with the sword of my mouth.
17 Let the ones having ears hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will give him some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it.'

Pergamum's church receives a mixed review from Jesus in this letter. They are first commended for their faithfulness in not denying their faith in Jesus--even to the point of death! We don't know anything about Antipas except that he was a "faithful witness" (the same title, incidentally, given to Jesus in 1:5). He stands in good company, to say the least!

However, the church is warned for compromise with their pagan surrounding culture. Pergamum was the center of the Roman Emperor cult, along with many other temples to various gods and goddesses. Idolatry was woven into the fabric of everyday life in Pergamum. And just as the prophet Balaam advised the pagan king Balak to lure the people of Israel into syncretistic sexual idolatry (see Numbers chs. 22-25) in order to compromise their purity and bring about their downfall from within, so to in Pergamum there were those advising the church to compromise with the surrounding idolatry which would totally compromise the very essence of the Gospel message. (The fact that pagan worship was often sexual in nature or involving special food and drink makes the Balaam story of sexual immorality and idolatry even more apt as a depiction of the Pergamum condition).

But what is this second reference to the "Nicolaitans" describing? As we saw with the first reference in the Ephesian letter, the precise identity or practices of the Nicolaitans is unknown. However from these two contexts we can certainly infer that it centered around idolatry and/or compromise with surrounding pagan worship. It is also worth noting that the Hebrew word "Balaam" and the Greek word "Nicolaitan" are similar in meaning. Balaam means "devours the people" and Nicolaitan means "conquers the people." Thus, both terms would be a fitting description for the threat of idolatrous compromise which would result in the church's spiritual downfall. This is possibly reinforced by the final exhortation and promise of hidden manna (what Israel lived on during their time in the wilderness--which is when they encountered Balaam) and a personalized white stone (likely associated with the temple stones of the various Pergamum) to "the one who conquers".

Next up, Thyatira...


March 15, 2008

Revelation week 3a

2:1 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus, write the following:

"This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who has a firm grasp on the seven stars in his right hand– the one who walks among the seven golden menorahs:

2 'I know your works as well as your labor and steadfast endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have even put to the test those calling themselves Apostles (but are not!), and have discovered that they are false.
3 I am also aware that you have persisted steadfastly, endured much for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary.
4 But I have this against you: You have departed from your first love! 5 Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place– that is, if you do not repent.
6 But you do have this going for you: You hate what the Nicolaitans practice– practices that I also hate.
7 Let the ones having ears hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will permit him to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.'
The first church the Risen Jesus addresses is the church at Ephesus. There are plenty of excellent resources on the historical background of Ephesus at the end of the 1st century, so I won't attempt to reinvent the wheel here. I refer the reader to the commentaries on Revelation by Ian Boxall, Ben Witherington, Greg Beale, G.B. Caird, Eugene Boring, Justo Gonzalez and John Stott for a fuller discussion.

The Ephesian church receives a mixed review. They do some things good. They are doctrinally orthodox, full of endurance, and have a love for truth. They don't tolerate the Nicolaitans' practices (which we will look at a few paragraphs below in more detail) and they have not caved in to the pressure from their surrounding city culture to honor other gods and goddesses (Ephasus was quite idolatrous, as a reading of Acts and the book of Ephesians tell us, along with secular historians).


Like many churches that strive so hard for truth, doctrinal integrity, and theological correctness today, the Ephesian church had overlooked the most important aspect of the Body of Christ--Love! Some have used this verse to warn about not forsaking love for Jesus (one's "first love"). However, as important as that is, it is not what this verse is referring to. The commendation by Christ in the first paragraph makes pretty clear that it's not Jesus they were not loving. It was most likely one another that they had gotten away from loving! This happens when we focus so much on the vertical nature of the faith (love of God); we end up not practicing the horizontal nature very well (love of people).

But if the Ephesian believers can remember both aspects of Christian love and practice them faithfully, they will end up receiving that which humanity was originally intended to enjoy--the tree of life in the paradise of God. The very thing that Adam forfeited, Jesus promises to restore to His people...if they abide in love. Anyone doubting the importance of love for one another should reread John 14-17 and the book of 1st John in its entirety.

8 "To the angel of the church in Smyrna write the following:

"This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who is the first and the last, the one who was dead, but came to life:

9 'I know the distress you are suffering and your poverty--but you are rich! I also know the slander against you by those who are calling themselves Jews but are not (but are a synagogue of Satan!)
Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. The devil is about to have some of you thrown into prison so you may be tested, and you will experience suffering for ten days. Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself.
11 Let the ones having ears hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will in no way be harmed by the second death.'
The next church Jesus addresses is the church at Smyrna. The Smyrnan church is one of two churches of the seven which receives no rebuke from Jesus. In fact, they are categorically praised! However, they will continue to face persecution despite this (a main theme in Revelation!). The reference to "those who are calling themselves Jews but are not (but are a synagogue of Satan)" is not in any way an anti-semitic slander of Jews in general (as some ignorant Christians have believed), rather, it is the stating of another of Revelation's main themes--the followers of Jesus the Messiah are the true people of God, both Jew and Gentile together! Those who persecute or slander Jesus' followers, no matter what their ethnicity or religious practice, are actually doing the work of Satan, not God (the word "satan" itself simply means "one who accuses" and was a title rather than a proper name in the Hebrew Bible).

An interesting allusion is the reference to a period of testing for "ten days." This is most likely drawing on Daniel 1:12-15 where the faithful followers of God living in a pagan setting, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and
Azariah (aka. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo) are "tested for ten days" in order to show the faithfulness of God to their Babylonian captors. And just as these men were tested and ultimately vindicated and elevated to a status of ruling by God, the Smyrnan faithful are promised that though they may be killed bodily, they will be saved ultimately from the far worse 2nd death and they will be vindicated and elevated as well, symbolized by the mention of the "crown of life."

Two churches down, five to go!

Until next time,

March 12, 2008

Revelation - week 3

As we continue in Revelation, we now come to chapters 2-3. These are messages to 7 churches (and thus, symbolically all the churches) from Jesus Himself. These are His revelations regarding each of their present situations.

The letters are addressed to "the angel of the church at..." and the meaning of this phrase is debated. Some believe the "angels" (Greek: angelos, which literally means "messenger") are human leaders of the churches, such as a bishop, pastor or teacher. Others see this as teaching that each church has its own "guardian angel" and it is this angel that is being addressed (though why this "angel" would be threatened for the sins of the people in the churches makes this extremely unlikely!). Another view, which I find most compelling, is that just as in other Apocalyptic writings (i.e. Daniel), earthly institutions or groups are symbolically represented by heavenly counterparts. Thus "the angle of the church" represents the, for lack of a better word, "personality" of the church as a whole. A way to speak of the church in general, yet to allow for the individuality of its members who may or may not act in line with the larger church (for good or bad, depending on the church being addressed).

Rather than an in-depth exposition on each letter in these chapters, we'll just note a few points of interest and move on. The main reason I'm doing it this way is because there's SO much written on these early chapters elsewhere that I don't want to reinvent the wheel.

ONE POINT before beginning that I find worth addressing...

Many of my brothers and sisters in Christ who read Revelation constantly speak of "just reading it literally" and "taking the literal meaning of the text" instead of looking for any symbolism or dischronologization. Author Tim LaHaye, for instance, in his book on Biblical Prophecy charts and timelines makes the following comment:

"Many teachers today are confusing Christians by teaching that Scripture was never intended to be interpreted literally. Instead, they call for a spiritualizing or allegorizing of the Bible's prophecies. This only leads to confusion! Did God mean what He said and say what He meant? The study of fulfilled prophecy says a resounding yes." ("Charting the End Times", Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice 2001 p.13)
But what I find so bizarre is that for Revelation chs. 2-3, by far the most concrete or historic chapters in the whole book, LaHaye and others immediately read them as "symbolic" of the history of the church up to our present day. This completely contradicts the key tenent of their supposed method of Biblical interpretation, which is to take the text absolutely literally unless it is completely impossible to do so. For instance, in the very same book, LaHaye and Ice make the following claim about Revelation 2-3:

"Revelation 2-3 refers to the program emphasis theirs] of the church (rather than the kingdom). Thus its overview of seven churches begins at Pentacost and ends with the Rapture (as indicated by Revelation 4:1-3). These seven historical churches of the first century provide a pattern of the types [emphasis mine] of churches that will exist throughout church history." ("Charting...", p.48)

They even give a nice colorful chart showing how the 7 churches correspond to world history, timeline and all, on the next page!

My point in this is not to attack LaHaye and others who hold such views (though it is to combat the extremely unbiblical and less than two century old interprative method that underlies such pop-theology as "Left Behind"), for they are definitely sincere and seeking to teach truth and advance God's Kingdom as best they can. However, in the spirit of dojo training, we strike where our training partners are weakest in order to sharpen their defense. In the case of Premillennial Dispensational readings of Revelation, their most glaring weakness is in chs. 2-3.

It's to those chapters we will turn in the next post.

Be blessed, train hard.


March 6, 2008

Why so much Old Testament scholarship is so far off

Last night in our Passage class BS 101 - "The Bible for the Rest of Us" I taught on the subject of the authorship of the Hebrew Scriptures--particularly the first 5 books of the Bible (the Torah, or Pentateuch). I told the class that I would post an older entry from another blog I wrote on the validity (or lack thereof) of the Documentary Hypothesis. The following is a slightly altered version for anyone in the Dojo who may be interested:

Most critical scholars in mainline seminaries and college religion departments follow what's called the "Documentary Hypothesis" whereby supposed "redactors" or editors have combined at least 4 different works of literature--often quite poorly, resulting in "contradictions"--into what is now the 5 books of Moses. They even have names for these hypothetical authors: "J" (the Yahwist), "E" (the Elohist), "D" (the Deuteronomist) and "P" (the Priestly writer).

The only problem with all of this is that it is completely based on the subjective assumptions of scholars in and around 19th-early 20th century Germany (Interesting how right before the most massive engagement of persecution against the Jewish people in history broke out i that very area the Scriptures which Jewish people have always cherished were deemed inauthentic, untrustworthy, and clumsily compiled...hmmm...)

Anyway, I came across a paper that one of my former Professors wrote in order to demonstrate the absolute silliness of the Documentary approach to Pentateuchal scholarship. It's by Dr. Jeff Niehaus (Ph.D, Harvard; professor of OT at Gordon-Conwell) and consists of his "Critical study" of a story his 5-year-old son made up during one of their nightly story times before bed. He even uses the format and note abbreviations commonly found in Documentary commentaries.

Since many in the Dojo may not be up on their scholarly abbreviations (shame on you! ;)) here they are:

dl - Doublet
(dttg) - Dittography
> omn Mss et vers - All existing Manuscripts and versions

For anyone familiar with this discussion or OT scholarship in general, it's absolutely brilliant satire! Enjoy:


from Paul & Father

2There was once a farmer who was out in his field. 3While he was out in his field he felt that it was starting to rain. 4He thought he would stay out just a little longer. 5But aat lasta he kept thinking bhe would stay out a little longerb, until at last it turned into a thunderstorm. 6Then the farmer said, "I'm going to hurry in."

7After he had gone in, he thought about his farm, and what he had done I his farm, and all that he had done that day in it. 8Then, when he was tired of doing that, he started to read his books. 9And after he had read two of his books, then he had his Bible study and prayer time.

10After he had his Bible study and prayer time, he went to the window to see if the thunderstorm was over. 11He saw that it had stopped. 12So he went out again. 13But in one hour it started to rain again. 14Then he went in and had supper.

15After supper he went to bed. 16He slept, sound asleep, that night.

17The next morning he woke up and got his clothes on. 18And then he had breakfast. 19And then he went into his field. 20After he had gone into his field, he came back in. 21He had gotten a mosquito bite while he was out there. 22Then he put on some Caladryl where he had gotten the mosquito bite. 23And then he stayed sitting down for fifteen minutes. 24And then the Caladryl was all dried up. 25Then he had his Bible study and prayer time. 26Then he looked at three of his books. 27Then he went out in his field again. 28Then he came in and looked at another book of his. 29Then he went on a walk. 30Then he came home and put some manure around his plants in his farm.

31Bye. This is the end of the story.a


1a-31a > omn Mss et vers

5a-a dl (dttg)

b-b dl (dttg)



Although this story appears in no other Mss or versions (cf. 1a-31a), it still deserves attention as a typical example of a doublet, and of two sources rather clumsily connected, the seam of which editorial work is still visible.

The two sources, in the order presented by the editor, may be termed T (for "thunderstorm," which figures so prominently in the first source) and M (for "mosquito," which plays an important role in the second).

The T source (vss. 2-16)[1] has a smooth, flowing style, marked by generally longer sentences. The narrative is well-rounded and well-constructed. The story begins with a conventional introduction, in keeping with the stylistic canons of language ("There was once a farmer"). Likewise, it ends with an appropriate concluding action (the farmer goes to sleep).

The T source also has a loftier theology, and a more advanced view of humanity. According to T, the farmer is driven indoors by a thunderstorm. Thunderstorms have long been regarded as embodiments of the sublime (cf. Longinus, Kant), and even as symbolic of the numinous. Moreover, his encounter with the thunderstorm drives the farmer indoors, where he reads two books and studies the Bible—clear indications of a high regard for the contemplative life and for spiritual development.[2]

The M source (vss. 17-31) has a staccato style easily distinguished from that of T. The sentences are generally shorter. The abrupt effect of the shorter sentences is enhanced by stereotyped sentence introductions: "And then" (vss., or simply, "Then" (vss. By contrast, T uses "Then" only four times (vss. 6.8.9 [differently, not to being the sentence but in the middle of it].14), and never uses "And then" at all.

M's narrative is obviously tacked onto the T source, and is poorly constructed. The last action has the farmer manuring his plants (vs.30). This is followed abruptly by the highly artificial conclusion, "Bye. This is the end of the story." M obviously was not acquainted with, or at least was not a skilled practitioner of, the received literary conventions of his culture. This contrasts his style sharply with that of the more urbane T.

M is theologically and philosophically more mundane. A mere mosquito bite drives the farmer away from his labors, and toward his Bible study. M has the farmer "look at" three books, unlike T, whose farmer actually reads two books. For the more intellectually advanced T, reading is more important than just looking. In fact, M's "looking" may reveal a scant acquaintance with books, and the higher number, "three" in his account may indicate a source with less access to education, and more likely to be impressed by mere numbers of books (contrast the two books in T).

Despite the obvious differences, there are important similarities. The narratives are broadly the same. Both describe a day in the life of a farmer. Both show the farmer initially in his field, but then driven indoors by some natural cause. Both include episodes of book and Bible time. In both cases, the farmer goes out into the field a second time. There can be little doubt, when we take all the similarities into account, that we are dealing here with two independent accounts of the same event, with undeniable stylistic and theological differences, but clearly rooted in some legend or saga, now lost to us in its original form.

[1] The title, vs. 1, is most likely an addition by the editor. The identities of "Paul and Father" are not known. Probably the title and attribution of authorship were added later to give the story the ring of authenticity.

[2] There are some text-critical difficulties in vs. 5, but these can be explained as dittographies and need not mar our appreciation of the text. 5a-a ("at last") is doubtless a dittography from the same phrase later in the verse; similarly, 5b-b ("he would stay out a little longer") can probably best be accounted for as a dittography of the almost identical phrase in vs. 4 ("he would stay out just a little longer"). If these are removed, vss. 4-5 in their most likely original form then read: "He thought he would stay out just a little longer. But he kept thinking, until at last it turned into a thunderstorm"."

March 1, 2008

I don't do this very often...

...and want to handle it in the most compassionate and sensitive way possible without adding further fuel to a long-burning fire, but as I'm reading the Biography of William Wilberforce right now, I can't NOT say something as a Teacher of God's Word, a follower of Jesus, and a citizen of this country. This is not meant to be a political statement of any kind endorsing any candidate or party during this election year. In my mind, this is far beyond a political issue. This is simply meant to educate us and, if need be, open our eyes to a horrible reality that like our British counterparts 2 centuries ago, we prefer to leave behind closed doors or tucked away under a rug somewhere out of sight.

The British slave-trade was ended by the efforts of people like William Wilberforce who spent their lives getting into the hearts and minds of the British people and politicians what the true horrors of the slave-trade consisted of. Many people were offended or preferred to remain blissfully unaware of the savagery being carried out under the banner of their flag. That didn't stop Wilberforce or the abolitionists from speaking out and pursuing every avenue for change available to them.

Today we face an injustice that makes the slave-trade pale in comparison.

[Warning: this may--rather, should--be extremely disturbing to those who are unfamiliar with what is currently taking place legally in our land. But there are some things that we who will one day stand before our Creator and give an account of what we did with what we were given simply cannot turn a blind eye toward.]

If anyone reading this has experienced the horror of abortion firsthand, or knows someone who has, hear this:

You are not an "enemy".
You are not "spoiled".
You are not "a murderer".
You are not "unloved".

These are lies that have heaped shame, guilt, and fear on millions of women for years now by some who oppose abortion-on-demand. This is not the way Jesus faced injustice! If you have had an abortion, paid for an abortion, or knows someone who has done either, hear this:

You are loved.
You are valued.
You are precious.
You are someone Jesus gave His life for.
And because of that...
You are forgiven.

If you need help, assistance, or prayer regarding or related to this issue, we are here to walk together with you through it.

Forget the rhetoric. Forget the politics. Remember humanity.


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