Saturday, April 22, 2017

My Wrestling Match with an Immoral God


Image result for boy scout churchWhen I was a boy, I firmly believed that virtue was the highest way. I was a Boy Scout, I was a leader in my church's youth group, and I was certain that God saw how good I was being and was pleased by it. I was disgusted by my friends who behaved as immorally as they wanted, and felt sure God was displeased with them.

Image result for jacob bibleThen I read about Jacob. Jacob was a liar, and a thief. He swindled his brother, he was a lazy momma's boy, he stole the blessing from his father, he cheated his employer, and GOD BLESSED HIS SOCKS OFF. Seriously, he was extremely wealthy. Plus, he had four women with whom he fathered TWELVE SONS.

God was clearly blessing Jacob, and I couldn't figure out why.

It became a crisis of faith for me.

I came to the point where, if I were going to demand answers for Jacob, I was either going to leave Christianity altogether (Because the Christian God was far less moral than I was) or I was going to stop looking for answers to this question.

I decided to stop looking for answers.

Image result for united methodist church logoTwenty years later (literally, not figuratively), I'm married and I have applied for Pastoral Candidacy in the United Methodist Church. And through a strange series of coincidences, I find myself sitting in the car while my family is eating dinner. I turn on the radio, and a pastor is talking about Jacob.

He is just as angry at Jacob as I had been for twenty years. And he's preaching up a storm, and I'm along with him for the ride, because I'm angry at Jacob. Then he says (I paraphrase)

Image result for jacob bible"Jacob had his wrestling match with God, and when the sun was coming up, Jacob demanded God bless him. And God said "What's your name?" Did God not know Jacob's name? Of course He did. So what does "Jacob" mean? It means "he cheats." In telling God who he was, Jacob fulfills the pattern of confession of his sins, and God forgives Jacob and begins pouring out blessing upon him."

After 20 years, I got the answer I needed. If I had left the faith, how different my life would have been! But the more important answer I got that day was this: There ARE answers. And we may not get them. But there ARE answers.

Our part is not to know everything, our part is to be faithful. And God has earned that trust.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Pain, Suffering, and the Cross

Image result for crucified christDear Christians,

Who are you?

Seriously, who do you think you are?

We Americans live in an Epicurean society.  That is, we consider comfort at the chief virtue.  If we're not comfortable, then we blame God.

When we hurt, we seem to think that it is against the will of God that we are in pain.

But what if it's not?

I love the Catholics for their stance on this:  That in our suffering, we can, in some way, identify with Christ.

Christ, who suffered and died for us.

That in our pain, we are in some way united with Him.

I'm not suggesting we shouldn't do what we can to alleviate the pain... doctors and medicine are a good thing.  But that in our time of suffering, may we identify with Him who suffered for us.  And may we draw closer to Him because of it.

Peace of Christ to you.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Thoughts on the personhood of God


Increasingly, I find myself meditating on the 27th verse of Genesis 1.   In the English Standard Version translation, that verse very simply reads:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
Male and female he created them.

We've all read that verse, of course, and we've all heard the sentiment expressed.  "We are made in the image of God," they say.

But, to begin at the very beginning, what does God look like?

Dr. Frank Turek, in his presentation "I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist" (based on his book of the same name), builds a logical case for God being a timeless, space less, immaterial, powerful, personal being who is the origin of all things.  He says that, according to Einstein, space, time, and matter are all co-relative.  That is, you cannot have one without the other two.  If you had matter but no space, where would you put it?  If you had space but no time, WHEN would you put it?

Dr. Stephen Hawking agrees, as does most of modern science.  The Universe had a beginning, because all of these things came into being at the same time. Dr. Turek says "I believe in the Big Bang, I just know who banged it."
If time, space, and matter all came into being together, then whatever created them must be timeless, space less, and immaterial.

That is, God.

Ok, so let's ask again... What does God look like?

Certainly, He does not look like I do.  I am 5'8'', 260 lbs of out of shape mess.  God does not look like that.  My best friend is 6'2'', 280 LBS of Irish Awesomeness.  But God does not look like that either.  And I have another friend who is a beautiful young woman, probably 130 lbs of smiles and sunshine... But God does not look like her either.

So how is it that we are created in the Image of God?

simply, we are in God's moral and spiritual image.  Think about this... Animals cannot be guilty of sin.  When Praying Mantises mate, the female literally kills the male in the process of their mating.  Male lions who rise to the top of their pride will sometimes kill off the young of the previous leader, so they do not grow up and challenge his position.  Some species of monkey use sex as a common greeting, the way we would use a handshake, and they're not particular about gender.

But in all of these things, monkies do not sin.  Lions do not sin.  Mantises do not sin.  Why?

Because they are not made in the image of God.  They do not have the capacity to sin.

We do.  We are, and we do.

What do we do with that, then?

We learn from it.  The essential thing that separates us from the animals is the Image of God... The Imago Dei... that is on each one of us.  Animals are not people, but we are.  From whence does our person-hood come?  From the Imago Dei.

Thus, God is a person.

What does it mean to be a person?  It means to have preferences.  Likes and dislikes.  A sense of humor.  The ability to be happy or sad.

I have friends who insist that God is bigger than that... But I think they misunderstand emotion.  I think that God is a person (not a human being, but a person) and that personhood is the ultimate state of being.

Now, before this blog becomes unwieldy, I think I'll stop there.  Please comment below if this line of thought interests you and if so, I'll continue with it.  Because there are some fascinating implications, I think, to this idea.

Peace of Christ,
AJ

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A brief discussion of KJV Manuscript History

The Textus Receptus, from which the KJV is translated, was actually three different full manuscripts of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures... the Old and the New Testament.  Here's the thing most KJV Onlyists don't understand... there were variances in the Textus Receptus.  In fact, no two manuscripts of the Bible IN EXISTENCE are exactly alike.

I know that sounds troubling, but it's actually not.





Let me give you an example.

1) I can do things through Christ who gives me strength. 

2) I can do all things through Christ who gives strength. 

3) I can do all things through Him who gives me strength. 

Lets assume that these are three different manuscripts.  Each sentence has been altered in some way.  Number 1 is missing the "all."  Number 2 is missing the "me."  Number 3 is has "Christ" changed to "Him."

This represents three textual variants.  How do we know what the original said?  We compare them, and see what the majority of texts say, giving weight to the earlier manuscripts.  For example, sentence 2 and 3 say "I can do all things...."  so that is the most likely wording of the original.

That's how the KJV translators dealt with textual variants.  But they only had three manuscripts.  What did they do if they came to a place where they had three different readings?

They guessed at which one was right.

That's it.  They guessed, and hoped they were right.

Since 1604, when the KJV was commissioned, or 1611, when it was completed, however, we have found more manuscripts.  Like, a LOT more.  At last count, there were nearly 7000 manuscripts and manuscript fragments.

"But a fragment can be a tiny scrap of paper!" you might object.  And you're right.  But what is the average size of the manuscripts we've found?

400 pages.  That's the average.

If you staked them all up, the stack would be a mile high.

So now, instead of comparing three different manuscripts, we can compare 7000.  And where 500 or even 2000 of them say something different, we can generally rely on the rest to say the same thing.

The KJV is a great translation, don't misunderstand me.  But the modern translations are significantly closer to the original writings than it is.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

De-Paganizing Christmas

St Boniface (680–754)

After being appointed by the Pope as a missionary to the Germanic tribes, Boniface spent the rest of his life evangelizing the areas of modern Germany and parts of the Netherlands. He also became a friend of the Frankish court and helped reform and reorganized the Church in that area. From his missionary travels, Boniface knew that in winter the inhabitants of the village of Geismar gathered around a huge old oak tree (known as the “Thunder Oak”) dedicated to the god Thor. This annual event of worship centered on sacrificing a human, usually a small child, to the pagan god. Boniface desired to convert the village by destroying the Thunder Oak, which the pagans had previously boasted the God of Boniface could not destroy, so he gathered a few companions and journeyed to Geismar.
His fellow missionaries were scared and fearful that the Germans might kill them, so they balked when they reached the outskirts of the village on Christmas Eve. Boniface steadied the nerves of his friends and as they approached the pagan gathering he said, “Here is the Thunder Oak; and here the cross of Christ shall break the hammer of the false god Thor.”[4] Boniface and his friends arrived at the time of the sacrifice, which was interrupted by their presence. In a show of great trust in God and born from a desire to enkindle the fire of Christ in the German pagans, Boniface grabbed an axe and chopped down the Thunder Oak of mighty Thor.
The Germans were astounded. The holy bishop preached the Gospel to the people and used a little fir tree that was behind the now felled oak tree as a tool of evangelization. Pointing to it he said,

“This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace… It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points upward to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.”

Awed by the destruction of the oak tree and Boniface’s preaching, the Germans were baptized.
Because of this, the practice grew of German families bringing a Fir (or pine) tree into their homes instead of worshiping the "Thunder Oak."  This also ceased the practice of child sacrifice to the "thunder oak."  Thus, this victory over death and this promise of eternal life is the birth of the Christmas tree.

Another famous German, Martin Luther, who was the father of the Protestant Reformation, is credited with something else... one evening, Martin was walking outside and, looking up, saw the majesty of the stars in the sky and the glory of God in the heavens.  Desiring to have that beauty in his own home, Martin went back to his house and began to hang candles on his Christmas tree, making him the first person to light the tree.

The first Christmas trees began appearing inside Buckingham Palace in the early 1800s, and solidified as a practice of the Royal Family after Queen Victoria married her German cousin, Prince Albert.  Thus, with Albert, the practice spread from Germany to England, and given the popularity of the Royal family, who were not only the authorities but also great celebrities, soon many homes had a Christmas tree in them.

Thus, the origin of the Christmas tree is not only entirely Christian, but also very anti-Pagan.




Santa Clause

In the Third century, in Turkey, a boy named Nicholas was born.  Nicholas was raised by wealthy parents as a devout Christian, but both parents died of a plague sometime before the boy reached adulthood, and he inherited a substantial sum of money.

But moved by Christ's words to the rich man to "sell everything you have and give to the poor," Nicholas gave away his entire fortune.  One story goes that a father of three daughters had nothing to give for their dowries, and thus was unable to have them married off.  Unmarried women at that time were often forced to support themselves in whatever way possible, and this usually meant working in some very un-Christian areas.  Nicholas, moved with compassion for these three girls, tossed bags of gold through the window to pay for their dowries.  Some versions of the story say that the gold landed in socks which were hung by the fireplace to dry, and it is from these stories what we get the modern practice of hanging stockings by the fireplace and filling them with gifts.

Nicholas, because of his extreme generosity and excessive piety, was quickly promoted to Bishop of Myra, and was later cast into prison during the persecution of Diocletian. He was released after the accession of Constantine and was present at the Council of Nicaea, in 325 AD.  This council was responsible for solidifying the understanding within Christianity of the Deity of Christ and of Christ's relationship with the Father... in essence, the early understanding of the Trinity.  The council was also responsible for fixing the date of Easter on the church calendar, and for early work on the codification of the Cannon... that is, deciding what books belonged in the Bible.

There is a story from the Council of Nicea regarding Arias, who is the father of the Arian heresy. Arias taught that Jesus was created by the Father, and thus was a subordinate being... that is, that Jesus was little more than a great prophet or a mighty angel.  Bishop Nicholas, so incensed at this teaching, leapt from his seat, rushed to the stage, and punched Arias in the mouth.

Bishop Nicholas died on December 6th, but the year is not well known.  It was sometime between 343 and 352 AD.

Bishop Nicholas was later confirmed as a Saint by the church, and the idea of "Saint Nicholas" was born.  There are many other stories of St. Nicholas, many of which are likely fabrications as his legend grew, but St. Nicholas soon found himself as the patron saint of many things, including bakers, pawn brokers, sailors, and especially, Children.

Over time, as the fame of St. Nicholas spread, so too did the pronunciation of his name.  In Norway, for example, he became known as "Scinter Klause," which is a minor evolution of the name in the Norwegian tongue, and when the Norse immigrated to America, the brought with them the legends of Santa Clause.

Then, in 1823, a poet named Clement Moore wrote the work we all remember him for, "A Visit from St. Nicholas," which begins "T'was the night before Christmas, and all through the house..."  The legends of St. Nicholas grew from there, and later Santa Clause took shape when Coca Cola adopted him for their advertising.  The story goes that St. Nicholas acquired his trademark red hat, coat, trousers, and boots from the red and white coca cola cans, but this isn't the case... ancient depictions of St. Nicholas show him wearing a very similar garb long before Coke made him and advertising figure.  He wore a Bishop's Miter instead of the stocking cap we know him with, and instead of the coat and trousers he wore a long red robe with white trim, but red and white are the traditional colors of the clergy of Turkey, probably because red symbolizes the Blood of Christ and white symbolizes the righteousness Christ brings.


Is Christmas pagan?

No.  There is no sense in which Christmas is a pagan celebration.  The world often accuses us of co-opting the Roman winter festival of Saturnalia for the date, but even this is incorrect.  Saturnalia was a week-long festival beginning on December 17th and going through December 23rd.  If we were going to borrow the date for Christmas, we would likely have use one of those dates.

There is no sense in which Christmas is a pagan holiday, and every sense in which is it not.  Although it is not ordained in the bible as a commanded holiday, it is the one season every year where we hear the gospel message on every radio station and loudspeaker in the country... Joy to the world, the LORD has come.  Let Earth receive her King!  Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing.



Monday, August 1, 2016

Correcting the WWUTT guys on the NAME of God




Normally, the WWUTT guys are spot on. This one is problematic, though. In the past, the letter "J" has done double duty by making the "Y" sound, as in the word "Hallelujah." We have retained both the "Y" pronunciation of the "J" as well as the old spelling of "Hallelujah," and that makes this just about the perfect example for this illustration.

So, in antiquity, the English "J" has done double duty as a "Y." (In the same way the "C" does double duty as both an S and a K, as in the words "city" and "cat.")

In the second century, after the fall of the Temple, the Jews continued to rebel against the Romans. So Rome made it a crime to speak the name of the Jewish God in public... Read THIS article on "Rabbi Haninah ben Teradion" to find someone executed for "speaking the NAME as it is written." The Romans wrapped him in a Torah scroll and lit him on fire. Shortly after this comes the ban on speaking the NAME from the Jews.

How do I know?

For a very clear example, take a look at Ruth 2:4, where both Jewish nobility and Jewish peasantry speak the name openly to one another.... but really, in the OT, the name appears almost 7000 times, and was obviously in very common use.

So how is it pronounced? Take a look at the following image:





 This is the NAME of God written, with all the vowels, from the Aleppo codex from the 10th century... a thousand years ago, and 600 years before the video suggests that someone borrowed the vowels from another word and changed the HOLY NAME of God.

From right to left, those letters are

Yud........... י

Hay............ה

Vav.............ו

Hay............ה

or "YHVH" like we transliterate them. But every Hebrew letter must be followed by a vowel... the vowels are the dots and dashes above and below the letters.

so the Yud is followed by a "schwa," which makes the same sound as the "schwa" in English.. that is, a short "eh" sound.

The next letter is an "Hay." It has no vowel either above or below it... its vowel is above the "Vav," which follows. That vowel, the dot above the Vav, is called the "Cholem," and makes the "o" sound.

The final vowel is below the Vav, and is the "Kamatz." it makes the short "a" sound, or "ah."

The final letter is another "hay," which ends the word by slightly extending the "ah" sound of the "Kamatz."

According to the Aleppo codex, published in the 10th century, the proper pronunciation is

Yehovah.

Now, remember how the "J" used to do double duty as a "Y?"

Jehovah is the ancient English spelling of Yehovah, which actually is the proper NAME of God.



For MUCH more information on this (and MANY other Hebrew topics!!) check out the work of my good friend Nehemia Gordon at his site, www.nehemiaswall.com

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Language of Heaven

While doing preparation for a recent Bible Study on Revelation 19, I discovered an amazing thing.
I know what language they speak in Heaven.

Let me show you.

Revelation 19:1-2a reads:

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, 
“Hallelujah! 
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 
for his judgments are true and just;

The author, commonly thought to be St. John the Apostle, is looking into the end times with the help of the Holy Spirit, and the last judgments on the earth are about to be completed.


But look what he says in 19:1...

"After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,"

He's telling us what the voices from Heaven said, and that's all well and good, but the interesting thing is this word...

Hallelujah!"

I thought that was an interesting word, so I dug into it a bit to see what I could find.  The Greek word is "Ἁλληλουϊά," and in the ESV (English Standard Version, my preferred translation) the word appears exactly 4 times.  All four of those occurrences are right here, in Revelation 19.

That can't be right, I thought.  "Hallelujah" is a Hebrew phrase, meaning "Praise the LORD," or more specifically, "Praise Yah," where "Yah" is the poetic form of the Holy NAME of God.

But the Revelation was written in Greek, according to most scholars.

Well, I thought, surely it appears elsewhere in the Bible, possibly in the Hebrew?

Since the phrase means "Praise the LORD," I looked for that, and found the Hebrew phrase

הַלְלוּ־יָהּ

occurs 23 times in the Old Testament, all in the Psalms.  The first occurrence is in Psalm 104:35, the final occurrence in Psalm 150:6.  150:6 is the final verse of the Psalms, and so the book ends with the phrase
הַלְלוּ־יָהּ, or "Praise the LORD!"

So, armed with this knowledge, I went back to the Revelation and looked more closely at the Greek.

The Greek word "Ἁλληλουϊά," pronounced "Alleluia," has no meaning.

None.

Then it hit me, suddenly; John is recording what he is hearing from Heaven.  Ἁλληλουϊά is not a translation, it's a transliteration.

By this, I mean, John records the sound of the word he hears, rather than its meaning.

What sound did he hear?

הַלְלוּ־יָהּ

Hallelujah

Heaven speaks Hebrew.

The great Rabbi, Rashi, called Hebrew "לשון הקודש"... Lashon haKodesh.  The Holy Language.

I completely agree.