Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Like angels

23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching (Mt 22:23-33).

i) I've discussed this before, but I have some additional things to say. V30, and its counterpart in Mark and Luke, became the basis for the traditional view that the world to come is sexless. That interpretation may be correct, but a huge theological edifice has been erected over a tiny foundation. It's generally considered dubious to put much doctrinal weight on a single verse of Scripture. Multiple-attestation gives us greater context. 

ii) Apropos (i), the flow of argument in this exchange is rather enigmatic. That may be in part because the Synoptics don't give us a full transcript of what was said, but only the gift. So some connections are missing. We must fill in the gaps.

In addition, real conversations and real debates are often choppy as they can abruptly veer off in different directions. The account may preserve that.

iii) However you construe it, the passage raises questions about life in the world to come. To a great extent, that's speculative. Within certain boundaries, there's nothing wrong with theological speculation. It's natural for Christians to be curious. And Christian metaphysics opens up many possibilities that atheism cannot not. So long as we stay within the parameters of what Scripture allows and disallows, and keep in mind that this is conjecture.

iv) Apparently, the Sadducees thought this life is all there is. They were physicalists. They denied the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body. As such, they deny both the intermediate state and the final state. Therefore, Jesus may touch on both in his response.

They may have felt the closest thing to immortality is to "live on" through your children. 

v) In context, the immediate topic of consideration isn't marriage in general but Levirate marriage in particular. So it's possible that "marriage" in this passage is shorthand for Levirate marriage throughout the exchange. 

That would make sense. Procreation was sole rationale for Levirate marriage. If, in the world to come, there will be no death, then Levirate marriage is moot. 

vi) One problem with the traditional interpretation is lack of consistency. On the traditional interpretation, the most logical explanation is not that saints will be like angels because they won't marry or die; rather, saints won't marry or die because they will be like angels. That's a more direct explanation. If the saints are discarnate souls, then that's why they won't died or get married. They won't because they can't. The soul can't die. And conjugal relations require bodies. 

That grounds the new order in nature. Their future existence is fundamentally different because their nature will be fundamentally different. 

By contrast, the traditional interpretation says humans will be essentially the same. They will have bodies very similar to their original bodies, only their glorified bodies will be immortal. 

vii) But there are problems with that straightforward explanation. It sabotages what Jesus says about the "resurrection". If saints are like heavenly angels in the incorporeal sense, then there is no resurrection of the body. Yet it's highly unlikely that that's what Jesus means, even though it would simplify the inference. 

viii) In principle, the logic could operate in reverse. There is no intermediate state. When the patriarchs died, they passed into oblivion. They will live again when the resurrection of the just takes place. 

But in context it would be very jarring for Jesus to indicate that death terminated the existence of the patriarchs. He seems to imply continuity of existence. Not future existence, but present existence, at the very time Jesus is responding to the Sadducees. 

ix) On the traditional interpretation, the saints will still have gendered bodies. Christian men and women will be resurrected as men and women. As what they were, with some improvements! But their relationships will be Platonic. 

Yet you have to ask how realistic the traditional interpretation is. If they have bodies with sex organs and sex hormones, then the sex drive will be intact. 

x) An advantage of making allowance for marriage in the world to come is that it would compensate for childless couples in this life, or eunuchs (Isa 53:6; Acts 8) who never had a chance. And analogous situations.

xi) A potential objection to the alternative interpretation I'm floating is that procreation in the world to come would eventually result in overpopulation. However, infertile couples can be sexually active. That's a natural contraceptive. Procreation might be confined to saints who never hand the opportunity in this life. So it might plateau. 

xii) Another potential objection to the alternative interpretation is that it leaves the Sadducean dilemma in place. There are, however, answers consistent with the alternative interpretation. Maybe death, or remarriage, or both, or either one, dissolves a preexisting marriage. On any one of these explanations, the deceased wife of seven husbands is either single or married to her last husband.

Killing Pope Francis

“Killing Pope Francis” (or at least, killing his agenda) is the unstated theme in a similarly named article in First Things, the self-annointed America’s Most Influential Journal of Religion and Public Life, “Burying Benedict”. Of course, in today’s terror-soaked world, no one in his right mind would suggest killing a pope in public. Or would they? But now, Matthew Schmitz, “literary editor of First Things”, is certainly implying that “Pope Francis” wants to kill off “Pope Benedict”. Or at least to kill off his agenda:

Though Benedict is still living, Francis is trying to bury him. Upon his election in 2013, Francis began to pursue an agenda that Joseph Ratzinger had opposed throughout his career. A stress on the pastoral over against the doctrinal, a promotion of diverse disciplinary and doctrinal approaches in local churches, the opening of communion to the divorced and remarried—all these proposals were weighed and rejected by Ratzinger more than ten years ago in a heated debate with Walter Kasper. For better or worse, Francis now seeks to reverse Ratzinger.

Or kill him and bury him.

This article reminded me of something that Jason Engwer first posted some years ago. It was bad news being a pope in the 900’s. Eamon Duffy, writing in his History of the Popes, “Saints and Sinners”, describes one of the most sordid periods in papal history:

Deprived of the support of empire (of Charlemagne), the papacy became the possession of the great Roman families, a ticket to local dominance for which men were prepared to rape, murder and steal. A third of the popes elected between 872 and 1012 died in suspicious circumstances – John VII (872–82) bludgeoned to death by his own entourage, Stephen VI (896–7) strangled, Leo V (903) murdered by his successor Sergius III (904–11), John X (914–28) suffocated, Stephen VIII horribly mutilated, a fate shared by the Greek antipope John XVI (997–8) who, unfortunately for him, did not die from the removal of his eyes, nose, lips, tongue, and hands (Saints and Sinners, Second Edition, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, © 1997, 2001, and likely others, pg 104).

At least the succession remained unbroken. The world needs a “Successor of Peter” to be a visible sign of unity in the church.

And Schmitz is now noticing that same theme – yes, popes are in the habit of killing off other popes – and Schmitz himself seems to want to kill off Bergoglio the Kasper fan (and by extension, the evil thug Hans Küng, of whom Kasper is a student). He does not say that outright, but the intention is there.

By the way, this opposition between Bergoglio and Ratzinger is something that I detailed in the blog article I entitled Bergoglio’s Gig, Part 3: Opposing Ratzinger. Yours truly was saying just four days after Bergoglio was named pope that he was “Opposing Ratzinger” and supporting Kasper. It has taken Schmitz some four years to get up to speed.

I, at least, did not posit that one pope would be killing another one.

Regarding Duffy, I have an older version, and so if you have or purchase a newer version, the pagination may be different. Duffy has continued to update the work as new popes come and go. Perhaps if Schmitz gets his way, Duffy will have to update yet again.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Wheat and tares

A recent exchange I had with an unbeliever on Facebook:

Its impossible to explain away unnecessary suffering like child cancer without appealing to unsatisfying answers like 'its a mystery' or 'child cancer is part of God's plan'. We can all imagine a world in which unnecessary suffering like child cancer does not exist yet freewill does. Thus such suffering is gratuitous and unnecessary.

I don't subscribe to the freewill defense. That said, your objection is superficial. Sure, we can all imagine a world without children dying of cancer. The problem is that people who imagine a better world mentally eliminate the evils while leaving everything else in place, including the goods. But removing some evils removes second-order goods that are contingent on the existence of the underlying evils. So that's the dilemma. 

To take your own example, childhood cancer is an opportunity to develop certain virtues which would never exist in an idyllic world. 

Likewise, if a couple had a child who dies of cancer, they may have a replacement child to compensate. And the replacement child may have kids of his own, and grandkids.

That compensatory good would not exist if the older child hadn't died. So it's a tradeoff between one life and another, or one set of lives and another. Moreover, the cancer created the opportunity for two children to exist instead of one.

How is it NECESSARY that we need unnecessary suffering to have goodness?

That's a loaded question since you smuggled your own assumption into the formulation of the question. Sure, it's tautology to say unnecessary suffering is unnecessary, but that simply begs the question regarding the existence of gratuitous suffering.

but i'm saying CUT OUT THE MIDDLE MAN. Have the good without the tragedy.

But it wouldn't be the same good. Evil is gratuitous if God could prevent it without losing some distinctive good or permitting some equally grave or greater evil. 

Once again, the cancer analogy. You are saying we shouldn't eliminate cancer or polio because of all the secondary good it has. Why can't that good happen without the cancer or polio?

i) The argument from evil is not about what humans should do but about what God (allegedly) should do. God and humans don't have the same responsibilities. God has foreknowledge and counterfactual knowledge. We don't. Therefore–unlike God–we're in no position to consider long-term outcomes. 

Likewise, as social creatures, we have emotional investments that God does not. 

There's some overlap between divine goodness and human goodness, but they don't overlap. 

ii) Would a world in which children never die be a better world? Better in some respects. But better for whom?

If humans were immortal from the outset, then humans would have to stop reproducing after a few generations. That means most humans who exist in a world with infant morality wouldn't exist. Is it better for them never to have the opportunity to enjoy the gift of life?

It may be better for the children who don't die, but it's hardly better for the children whose existence is edged out under that alternate scenario. 

Every child is unique. Those are incommensurable goods. 

iii) Moreover, a world in which no one died from illness or senescence would be a world chockfull of selfish people who'd never risk their life or health to save someone else from, say, a house fire. There'd be too much to lose. 

iv) A future without childhood cancer might be better, but a past without childhood cancer wouldn't be better for the people you care about, since they wouldn't exist. Better relative to whom? It is better for your loved ones if the past is the same up to their birth and maturity, then diverges after they have their prime of life. 

v) Unfortunately, there's a human tendency to take friends and family for granted. We act as though they will always be available. There are so many lost opportunities.

When, however, a friend or family member gets cancer, we make up for lost time. That intensifies the remaining time we have with them. 

vi) Regarding polio, many healthy people squander the gift of life. To be disabled can prompt people to make the most of fewer opportunities. 

vii) Suppose one teenage boy has polio while another teenage boy from the same general vicinity is a football star. He comes from a dirty poor family. He's counting on a football scholarship to pay his way through college and make a better life for himself.

Now let's change a variable. Suppose the other boy doesn't have polio, and he's a better athlete. The boy from the poor family who was banking on a football scholarship loses that opportunity. 

In each of these scenarios, there are tradeoffs. Each scenario has second-order goods. By eliminating the evil, you eliminate a distinctive good. Evil can be both beneficial and harmful. 

vii) In general, it's good for humans to work to eradicate polio. But there are situations where we wouldn't eliminate a short-term evil if we knew the end-result. Normal people will avoid actions that harm their loves ones. Yet what is good for my beloved may be bad for your beloved, or vice versa.

I have greater responsibilities for my family than I have for your family. By contrast, God doesn't have greater responsibilities for any particular family.

How God balances out good and evil is different from how a conscientious human might.

You've got a hidden assumption in there. Its like the old cliche of you can't have joy without suffering. Well yes, yes you can.

Since I didn't use that in my argument, you're objection misses the target.

but must appeal to a mystery (God knows all counterfactuals but we don't so it must be hiding in that knowledge!) and have no reason to believe it besides the fact that rejecting it is really damaging to your view on God.

Responsible humans would sometimes make difference choices if they knew the long-terms consequences of their actions. There's nothing mysterious about that principle. Naturally, God has a different perspective. The proverbial God's-eye view.

Well I can easily imagine a world identical to ours WITHOUT child cancer.

Actually, you can't. A world without childhood cancer would not be identical to ours. A world without childhood cancer with have different genealogies. 

It's like the parable of the wheat and the tares (Mt 13:24-30,36-43). Human lives are mutually entangled. It isn't possible to uproot the tares without uprooting some of the wheat. Pull out the evil and you pull out some of the good that's intertwined with the evil.

Sagan's slogan

Recently I debated an atheist on Facebook. Here's part of the exchange:

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. 

Simply parroting Sagan's slogan doesn't make it true or even meaningful. Once again, you don't get to take intellectual shortcuts.

It's funny how atheists imagine that just repeating Sagan's slogan automatically shifts the onus onto the Christian. What they fail to appreciate is that Sagan's slogan is, in itself, a claim, and therefore, when they quote the slogan, they themselves are assuming a burden of proof to defend his claim. You need to define what you mean by "extraordinary claims" and "extraordinary evidence." 

You then need to defend the assertion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The onus is on you to justify your slogan. 

What does it even mean? By what standard of comparison is the supernatural extraordinary? If we're living in a world where the supernatural exists, then in what respect is it extraordinary that the supernatural exists in a world where the supernatural exists?

Likewise, if God exists, is it extraordinary that God would make his existence manifest through miracles, or answered prayer? Is that unexpected, or is that to be expected?

The more extraordinary the claim, the more evidence is needed to back it up.

If supernature exists, then nature is contingent on supernature. Supernature is more fundamental, more ultimate than nature. So it's counterintuitive to demand that we need more evidence or extraordinary evidence for something fundamental, on which other things depend.

Genesis 1:1 is the first event, not a summary

"Genesis 1:1 is the first event, not a summary" by Vern Poythress.

Beyond this horizon

As many already know, CRISPR/Cas9 as well as gene drives are revolutionary tools which hold tremendous promise. However, with promise sometimes comes peril, and that's doubtless the case with CRISPR. Desiring God's article "What's Wrong with Designer Genes?" maps out a brief lay of the land in terms of the more conspicuous bioethical concerns and considerations. Likewise "Gene Editing: New Technology, Old Moral Questions". I don't agree with everything, but the articles are a decent start. Apart from the bioethics, scientific and technical material could be recommended if need be.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Together forever

Catholic apologists mock the Protestant category of the invisible church. The Catholic alternative is a visible church that's corrupt and chockfull of nominal members, even by Catholic standards.

To speak of the invisible church is not to deny a visible church. Rather, these are overlapping entities. But they don't coincide.

Catholic apologists like to quote Jn 17:21 ("that they may all be one"). But on their interpretation you have to wonder, 2000 years down the pike, when, if ever, the Father plans to grant his Son's request. 

I used to take afternoon walks at a nearby cemetery. I usually went around the same time. Based on that unscientific sample, I noticed that a few of the same people came nearly everyday, a few of the same people came nearly once a week or once a month, plus people who rarely came, in addition to people who never came–to judge by neglected graves. 

Especially in reference to the regular visitors, even though they are strangers to each other, they share a hidden affinity. An invisible unity. 

They share a common grief. They share a common hope. All of them are waiting for the same thing. They can't see their dearly departed again unless they die, and they won't see their dearly departed again until they die. 

If you were a Martian, if you didn't know the purpose of a cemetery, if you didn't understand human nature, you'd be puzzled by why these unrelated humans visit the cemetery. What draws them? What do they find there? You'd be unable to discern the common bond of unity. For that can't be seen. Yet it's real and powerful. 

And it's analogous to the Eucharist:

Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes (1 Cor 11:25-26).

Like the Eucharist, they visit the cemetery in remembrance of lost loved ones, and they do so in the hope of reunion. Both backward-looking and forward-looking. Separately, singly, and collectively.  

Outwardly, these seem to be random individuals with nothing in common. But appearances are deceptive. 

Life under the sun

To understand Ecclesiastes, we need to understand recurrent catchphrases like "under the sun". In his new book on The Christ of Wisdom (P&R, 2017), O. Palmer Robertson has an interesting take on that phrase. He thinks it refers to the diurnal cycle (253-55). I'd like to expand on his observation and perhaps develop it in a somewhat different, though probably complementary direction, than he does.

Given that Ecclesiastes alludes to Gen 1-3 in some other respects, it's quite possible or even probable that "under the sun" evokes the creation account, where God makes the sun, thereby generating the recurrent alternation between dawn and dusk, day and night, light and darkness.  

So "under the sun" may refer to human life as regulated by the alternation of day and night. Especially before the advent of electrical lighting, you'd rise at sunrise and retire at sunset. Unlike nocturnal animals, humans need sunlight to see by. 

To some degree, the need to sleep every night breaks up the monotony of continuous existence. We take a break, then get a fresh start the next day. 

At the same time, the inexorable repetition of the diurnal cycle can be somewhat deadening. It's inescapable. Like it or not, there's always another day that you must get through. Another day waiting for you. An unrelenting challenge. 

Especially in a fallen world, this can be a challenge. That ties into something else Robertson says. He thinks the meaning of hebel varies according to the context. It means more than one thing. That includes "ephemeral, incomprehensible," enigmatic", 249n79. And that suits some passages in Ecclesiastes. 

But he thinks it also has the sense of "frustration". And he thinks that suits many other passages in Ecclesiastes (1:14; 2:1,11,15,17,19,21,23; 3:19; 4:7-8; 5:10; 6:2; 7:15; 8:10).

And indeed, life in a fallen world is often aggravating for believers and unbelievers alike. A source of intermittent or even chronic frustration. 

When Christians die, they put that behind them. They enter peace (Isa 57:2). They rest from their labors (Rev 14:13). They enter God's eternal Sabbath.  

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Lord said to my Lord

I saw a video clip by unitarian apologist Anthony Buzzard: 

He says Jews very carefully distinguish between the Lord God (i.e. Adonai, divine name, alternative for Yahweh) and human lords (i.e. Adoni, non-deity lord).

This raises a raft of issues:

1. Unitarians like Buzzard grant that Ps 110 is a Davidic psalm and a messianic psalm. So I can take that for granted in my post.

2. His argument in v1 relies on the MT. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that. However, the vowel points are editorial additions. So we need to distinguish between the original consonantal text and the MT. In both v1 and v5, the same root word is used. 

If, moreover, the MT is reliable in v1, then it's reliable in v5. 

3. Buzzard commits a common semantic fallacy by failing to distinguish between sense and reference. Even if Adoni generally refers to human masters, it doesn't mean human master. It simply denotes someone in authority over another or others. 

4. The term is used in Josh 5:14 and Judg 6:13 for the Angel of the Lord. In context, that's arguably a theophany. So it can be applied to the Deity.

5. The fact that a human or neutral descriptor is used does not imply that the individual so designated is not the Deity. The Bible uses human or neutral descriptors for Yahweh. It describes Yahweh a husband, father, potter, farmer, and shepherd. Those aren't divine descriptors. To the contrary, they are customarily and primarily human descriptors. They derive their meaning from their use in human roles and occupations. 

There's a logical difference between:

i) Not saying X is the case 


ii) Saying X is not the case

If v1 refrains from saying the messiah is deity, that's not equivalent to saying the messiah is not deity. It just means v1 doesn't speak to the question of his deity one way or the other.

6. In v5, Adonai is used, which Buzzard himself says is an alternate divine name for Yahweh. Who's the referent of Adonai in v5? The messiah, or Yahweh is distinction to the messiah? On the face of it, there are multiple reasons to think v5 designates messiah as Adonai:

i) There's the parallel between v1 and v5. Both passages use the righthand imagery, and both passages use the same root word. So it's logical to construe their interrelationship this way:

v1: Yahweh's oracle to my [David's] master [i.e. messiah]: Sit at my right hand

v5 Adonai [i.e. messiah] by your [i.e. Yahweh's] right hand

ii) In addition, that would preserve a consistent subject throughout the psalm. In vv2-4, messiah is the military conquer. Messiah is evidently the military conqueror in v7. And there's no textual clue that the subject changes from v6 to v7. 

To say that Adonai in v5 refers to Yahweh in v1 rather than messiah represents an abrupt shift. That interrupts the flow of thought, the corollary metaphor (to the right of), and the same root word. 

7. Whether Ps 110 predicts a divine messiah doesn't solely turn on who Adonai is in v5, but on the threefold comparison and contrast between Yahweh, David, and messiah. There's only so much metaphysical furniture in the OT worldview. You have God, angels, humans, and the subhuman order. In what sense is messiah David's master? Unless he's an angel, he must be on the divine side of the categorical divide, rather than the mundane side. And he's not an angel. So, by process of elimination, he must be the Deity.

Graduating To What?

Earlier this week, I saw Ken Temple link a good commencement address by John Piper, for the students of Boyce College at Southern Seminary. It's about Mark 8:34-8:

The best address I've seen Piper give to students is this one from 2000:

Friday, May 19, 2017

Dawkins, Fermat, and Jesus

  17 hours ago17 hours agoMore 
Missing verse. Jesus said, no three positive integers a, b, and c shall satisfy the equation a^n + b^n = c^n. Now that would be impressive.

Apparently, Dawkins is alluding to Fermat's Last Theorem. Several issues:

i) It's prudent not to endeavor to be more clever than you are, because a failed attempt will make you look less clever than you aspire to be. 

ii) I'm no expert, but it's my impression that Dawkins bungled the formulation by omitting n>2. He should leave math to mathematicians and stick to evolutionary biology.

iii) What is the implicit argument in his tweet? I suppose it's something like this: Gospel writers can fabricate reported miracles, but a scientific or mathematic theory, theorem, conjecture, or discovery that's centuries ahead of its time can't be faked. It would be unmistakably anachronistic and undeniably impressive. Assuming that's in the ballpark of what he was gesturing at:

iv) Since modern mathematical and scientific notation didn't exist in the 1C, how could that be expressed in Aramaic or Koine Greek?

v) Since the formula would be unintelligible to Christian scribes (as well as readers), it would almost inevitably be miscopied. 

vi) Unbelievers don't think the Gospels reliably record the sayings of the historical Jesus. So even if the Gospels contained something like Fermat's Last Theorem, unbelievers could chalk that up to the narrator, or his hypothetical source, rather than Jesus. He just put that in the mouth of Jesus.

vii) Assuming (ex hypothesi) that Jesus said that, it might prove that he was a mathematical genius, but human genius is no proof of deity, and it's irrelevant to his mission as the Redeemer and eschatological judge.

viii) Is Fermat's Last Theorem especially impressive–or the solution! 

ix) Premature scientific and mathematical theories and discoveries would alter the future course of history by kickstarting math and science. It's like those scifi scenarios in which the time-traveler inadvertently changes the future because he carries his modern knowledge with him when he goes back in time, where he says or does something that seeds the past with future know-how or technology. Indeed, he becomes trapped in the past because the future from which he came no longer exists, so he's now unable to return to that point in the erstwhile timeline. 

Too Skeptical To Be Reasonable

Here are some of Guy Playfair's comments about a report on the Enfield Poltergeist that he and Maurice Grosse delivered to a meeting of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). This occurred on March 29, 1978:

He [Grosse] kicked off with a very concise and factual account of the case to date, summarising the types of phenomenon we had observed or recorded from eye-witnesses under seventeen headings. These included knocks, movement of small and large objects, interference with bedclothes, appearance of water, apparitions, levitation of persons, physical assaults of several types, automatisms, psychological disturbance, equipment malfunction and failure, the passage of matter through matter, unidentifiable voice phenomena - both embodied and disembodied, and spontaneous combustion.

While he was reeling off this list, I looked around the audience. Some, like Professor [Hans] Bender, were listening intently, while elsewhere I saw a number of raised eyebrows. Clearly, this was a bit much for some SPR members, who had never witnessed anything paranormal all their lives.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Comey firing overdue

Trump, Mueller, and Muslims

The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture

Today, our guest on EWTN is Christian Smith, author of The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture.

Interviewer: What's your basis thesis?
Smith: Interpretive pluralism disproves sola scriptura. 
Interviewer: Can you give an example?
Smith: Take "amen". 
Interviewer: What about "amen"?
Smith: The Bible uses "amen", but unlike a dictionary, it never provides the correct pronunciation. 
Interviewer: And how is that a problem?
Smith: It's spawned pluralistic pronunciations of "amen". That's a fundamental dividing line between Anglican and Baptist theology.
Interviewer: Can you illustrate?
Smith: Baptists use the déclassé pronunciation, where "a" rhymes with "grape", while Anglicans use the more elegant pronunciation, where "a" rhymes with "father" or "Chicago". Have you ever been in a Baptist service where you thought everyone around you was Baptist, but when the time comes for the congregation to say "amen" in unison, someone behind you uses the Anglican pronunciation? It's a dead giveaway that they strayed into the wrong church by accident.
Interviewer: And that's why we need the Magisterium?
Smith: Absolutely! The Bible writers are dead, so you can't ask them for the right pronunciation. That's why a living teaching office is indispensable. Absent that, there's no way of knowing for sure whether the gauche Baptist pronunciation is right or the Oxbridge Anglican pronunciation. 
Interviewer: And you think that's a big deal?
Smith: Are you kidding? "Amen" is the password to get into heaven. Millions of evangelicals have been turned away from the pearly gates because they couldn't give Peter the right pronunciation.  

The binding of Isaac

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen 22:1-2).

There's a striking similarity between the ordeal of Job and the binding of Isaac. Both accounts exhibit dramatic irony. In both cases, God puts an individual to the test, but he doesn't know it's a test. The reader knows something Job, Abraham, and Isaac don't, because the narrator explains to the reader what God is up to. But Job, Abraham, and Isaac aren't privy to that key piece of information.

In addition, the reader has the benefit of hindsight. He knows how the story ends. He knows that God has no intention of letting Abraham go through it with. But, of course, Abraham doesn't know the outcome in advance. He doesn't know that God will rescind the command at the last moment. 

Although expositions of Gen 22 often focus on Abraham's submission to the will of God, the success of the test depends as much on Isaac's submission to the will of God. In a way, Isaac's submissive attitude is more impressive because God didn't even speak to him. At best, he's getting his information secondhand from his father. 

Isaac was old enough to either overpower his elderly father or at least run away. Yet he cooperates in what appears to be his premature death. If anything, it's harder for a teenager to face the prospect of death. He had his whole life ahead of him. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Pope Francis dissing Marian apparitions

Concerning the alleged current apparitions, the report expresses doubts.  Personally, I am more “mischievous”: I prefer Our Lady to be a Mother, our Mother, and not a telegraph operator who sends out a message every day at a certain time… this is not the mother of Jesus.  And these alleged apparitions have no great value.  I say this as my personal opinion.  Who thinks that Our Lady would say: “Come tomorrow at this time and I will give a message to that seer”; no.

Depicting the Tempter

There's a conventional interpretation of Gen 3 which visualizes the Tempter as a bipedal reptile that's able to communicate with Eve due to Satanic possession. I'm curious about the historical origins of that tradition.

In my limited knowledge, aery artistic representations of the Tempter depict a zoological snake (e.g. Trinity sarcophagus, sarcophagus of Junius Bassus) while later artistic representations depict the Tempter as a hybrid creature: a human-headed snake (e.g. Ghiberti, Mantegna, Masolino, Michaelangelo, Holbein the Younger)–although later artists sometimes continue to depict the Tempter as a zoological snake (e.g. Cranach). 

In Milton, the Tempter is a fallen angel who's cursed to become a snake, after the Fall. Hugo van der Goes depicts the Tempter as a human-headed lizard, standing on its hindlegs, leaning on the tree of knowledge. 

In none of these examples is the Tempter a Satanically possessed bipedal reptile that became a snake after the Fall. So I wonder when that exegetical tradition developed.

Luke, the beloved physician

Here are two useful excerpts on Luke as a physician or medical doctor:

1. Norval Geldenhuys' writes in his dated commentary The Gospel of Luke (1951) in the old New International Commentary on the New Testament series:

Fortunately, from very early times in the history of the Christian Church, there exists straightforward evidence that Luke2 was Paul's fellow-traveller who wrote the Gospel and Acts3. The anti-Marcionite Prologue to the Third Gospel (between A.D. 160 and 180), which survives in both Greek and Latin, gives the following account:

"Luke was an Antiochian of Syria, a physician by profession. He was a disciple of the apostles and later accompanied Paul until the latter's martyrdom. He served the Lord without distraction [or 'without blame'], having neither wife nor children, and at the age of eighty-four he fell asleep in Boeotia, full of the Holy Spirit. While there were already Gospels previously in existence - that according to Matthew written in Judaea and that according to Mark in Italy - Luke, moved by the Holy Spirit, composed the whole of this Gospel in the parts about Achaia. In his prologue he makes this very point clear, that other Gospels had been written before his, and that it was necessary to expound to the Gentile believers the accurate account of the [divine] dispensation, so that they should not be perverted by Jewish fables, nor be deceived by heretical and vain imaginations and thus err from the truth. And so right at the beginning he relates for us the nativity of John - a most essential matter, for John is the beginning of the Gospel, being our Lord's forerunner and companion both in the preparation of the Gospel and in the administration of the baptism and the fellowship of the Spirit. This ministry [of John] had been mentioned by one of the Twelve Prophets [i.e. Malachi]. And afterwards the same Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles."


The statement by numerous church fathers and by Paul that Luke was a physician is also corroborated in the Gospel and in Acts. In 1882 W. K. Hobart, in The Medical Language of St. Luke, defended the thesis that the third Gospel and Acts are permeated by the medical terminology current during the first century. Harnack, Zahn, and Moffatt also, after a careful sifting of Hobart's data, came to the conclusion that the author of Luke and Acts was a physician. Later on Cadbury4, who is exceptionally critical and unwilling to assume Luke to have been the author of the Gospel and of Acts, maintained that the so-called medical words and terms in Luke and Acts also occur in the non-medical writers like Lucian and Josephus and that in those days there existed no noticeable difference between the technical and non-technical language.

Cadbury is right to the extent that the language of Luke and Acts does not of itself prove that the author was a physician. Nevertheless the fact remains that the language and terminology of Luke and Acts are of such a nature that they corroborate5 in a striking manner the tradition that the author was Luke the physician. The following may be cited as a number of examples of medically tinted language and terminology from Luke: Luke iv. 38 describes the disease of Peter's mother-in-law as a "great fever", while Mark merely describes it as "fever". Now it is a well-known fact that medical writers of those times were accustomed to describe fever as a "small" or as a "great" fever.6

Luke v. 12 describes the leper as "a man full of leprosy", while Mark and Matthew merely say "a leprous man". Here also the expression of Luke is typically medical, as is evident from the writings of Hippocrates.7

In the same way the precise manner in which Luke describes different cases of disease (e.g. xiii. 11, viii. 42, vi. 18, xiii. 32; Acts vi. 22, ix. 33, etc.) fits in with the fact that he was a physician.8

Taking all the data into consideration, one cannot but come to the conclusion that, although the language and style do not per se prove that the author of the books was a physician, the statement by Paul9 in Colossians iv. 14, and the unanimous assertions of the ancient church fathers that Luke was a physician, are clearly corroborated by the nature of the contents of the books.10

2 That the name "Lukas" is the abbreviated form of "Lukios" is generally accepted (cf. Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, p. 435). Zahn, however, thinks it is the abbreviation of Lucanus (Introduction to the New Testament, iii, p. 5).
3 Cf. Jülicher-Fascher, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 330.
4 The Style and Literary Method of Luke, pp. 39-72.
5 Plummer, Moffatt, Creed and several others also favour this view.
6 Cf. Creed, op. cit., p. xx.
7 Ibid.
8 It seems probable that Luke, even after he became a companion of Paul, continued with his practice as a physician. "It is also possible that he rendered valuable services as a physician to the apostle himself, who was often severely ill" (Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, English transl., vol. iii, p. 1). This would make it clear why Paul calls Luke "the beloved physician" (Col. iv. 14). For would he have called him so if he had discarded his practice as a physician years before? And by calling him the beloved physician, does that not point to personal gratitude Paul felt towards him for services rendered to him by his physician companion?
9 That the Luke of Colossians, iv. 14 is the same as the author of Acts (and so of the Gospel) "is completely established by the content [of Acts], the thoroughly Pauline conception of Christianity, the accurate acquaintance with Paul's fortunes and the central role which is accorded to Paul" (Ed. Meyer, Ursprung und Anfränge des Christentums, i, p. 3). Only a companion of Paul, and a very close companion at that, could and would have written the book of Acts, in which so much prominence is given to the apostle.
10 Cf., for a fuller exposition, Harnack, Luke the Physician, pp. 175-98; and Ramsay, Luke the Physician, p. 16.

2. D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo write in their An Introduction to the New Testament (2nd ed.):

Analysis of the Greek of Luke and Acts has been used to bolster this identification, the argument being that the books use a great deal of medical language.13 But H. J. Cadbury has called this argument into question, noting that most of the alleged medical vocabulary appears in everyday Greek writings of the period.14 Nevertheless, if the language falls short of proving that the author was a doctor, it certainly is compatible with the hypothesis. And some passages may indicate the particular outlook of a doctor, as, for example, when Luke speaks of a “high” fever, where Matthew and Mark speak only of a fever (Luke 4: 38; Matt. 8: 14; Mark 1: 30).15

13 See especially W. K. Hobart, The Medical Language of St. Luke (Dublin: Hodges, Figgis, 1882), and note also Adolf von Harnack, Luke the Physician (New York: Putnam, 1907).
14 H. J. Cadbury, The Style and Literary Method of Luke, HTS 6 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1919).
15 Alfred Wikenhauser agrees that the language does not prove a medical author, but then adds, "Nevertheless the tradition need not be abandoned, and it may still be sustained, for the author displays familiarity with medical terminology (cf. e.g., Lk. 4,38; 5,12; 8,44; Acts 5,5 10; 9,40), and he indisputably describes maladies and cures from the point of view of a medical man (e.g., Lk. 4,35; 13,11; Acts 3,7; 9,18)" (New Testament Introduction [ET New York: Herder, 1963], 209); his conclusion is only slightly softened in the latest (German) edition (Wikenhauser, 254-55). Loveday Alexander has argued that Luke’s preface finds its closest parallels in the technical prose or "scientific treatises" of the Hellenistic world - just the kind of book for a doctor to write (The Preface to Luke's Gospel, 176-77).

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

For the love of God

To an outside observer, God's providence is often unaccountable. For instance, why does God keep some Christians here after they live too long for their own good even though he takes others when they had so much to offer, so much unrealized promise?

I don't pretend to have the official answer. But I think it illustrates a comforting principle if we think about it and take it to heart: God doesn't love us because he needs us.

God isn't dependent on any particular individual to achieve his aims. There are others who could do the same job. Or God could do it himself.

There's a certain insecurity which comes with the knowledge that people love you because they need you. I had an elderly relative who used to be very considerate, conscientious, and helpful. She tried to be helpful to as many people as she could over the course of a long lifetime. But age finally caught with her. She become bedridden. Somewhat senile.

I used to lean over and hug her in bed so she wouldn't feel so isolated and alone, lonely, or abandoned. I don't know for sure what she felt.

Sometimes, when she sat lengthwise on a park bench, I sit right behind her and briefly cradle her in my arms to make her feel loved and cherished at a time of life when it's easy to feel unloved and unwanted.

Will people still love you when you've outlived your usefulness? When you used to help others, but you become helpless, and depend on others to do everything for you, will you be an object of affection or resentment?

Yesterday I was standing in line at the DMV. It was a long line when I got there. There was an elderly woman right ahead of me. About 80, give or take. Elegant, but I could see the strain in her face. I offered to let her sit down, then I'd motion her to resume her place ahead of me as I advanced to the front of the line. She was grateful for the offer and took me up on the offer (one of my fleeting finer moments).

What happens to you if people only love you for what you could do for them, when you can no longer help out? This is why many men find unemployment so devastating. This is why many elderly women are apprehensive about their situation. They're just one broken hip away from disaster.

But God doesn't love us because he needs us. Rather, God loves us because we need him.

Did Adam and Eve Exist? A New Population Genetics Model of Human Origins

Sheet lightning

For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Mt 24:27). 

The imagery may be describing sheet lightning. That phenomenon lights up the sky because lightning inside clouds illuminates the clouds, diffusing brilliant light over a wide expanse–like a light behind a screen. If clouds cover the night sky, a lightning flash embedded in clouds will instantly radiate out to illuminate the entire sky. In addition, some electrical storms have constant flashes of lightning, so that light and dark momentarily alternate in a continuous cycle until the storm passes over. 

The imagery of lightning emanating from the east may suggest an electrical storm approaching from the east. The eastern orientation has positive connotations because the sun rises in the east. Sunrise has positive connotations, whereas sunset and nighttime have naturally apprehensive connotations, especially for primitive people. But even in the modern age, nighttime is more dangerous than daytime.    


Nabeel spoke to us on the opening morning. He told us that the doctors have given up hope and that there will be no surgical intervention (which was to have happened only if the chemo and radiation had worked). Medicine feels it has done all it can.

Too many people, including charismatics, fed him false hope. What does it say about their "revelations" that God would heal him? They need to examine themselves regarding what they take to be divine revelations. 

From the time he first received the dire diagnosis and prognosis, he needed to prepare himself intellectually for the likelihood that he had terminal cancer. He needed to make preparations for death.

That doesn't mean he had to give up hope–even now. But you can do two things at once. Throughout the process he was grasping at straws. That makes the landing far harder when medical options fail. Coming to terms with the eventuality of death, early on, would soften the landing. Too late for that now. 

One of Nabeel's stated concerns is that Muslims will say Allah struck him down as punishment for his apostasy from Islam. Although it's precarious to speculate on why God might cause Nabeel to die young, yet since people are bound to speculate, including malicious explanations, I'll offer a few suggestions. I don't think there's anything inherently disreputable about theological speculation, especially in reference to theodicy, so long as we admit at this outset that this is conjectural:

i) Cancer is hardly unique to Christians. Muslims die of cancer. Do Muslims die of cancer at lower rates than Christians? Is there any demonstrable correlation between immunity from cancer among devout Muslims and liability to cancer among devout Christians? It would be self-incriminating for Muslims to attribute Nabeel's plight to divine judgment, since that allegation will ricochet. 

ii) Nabeel is at high risk of being abducted and tortured to death. He's a prime target for jihadis. And this wouldn't be a garden variety honor-killing. Rather, they'd make an example of him to deter others. Make a video. Upload it onto YouTube. "This is what happens to traitors!" So they might well execute him by the slowest, most painful method imaginable. And as ISIS has demonstrated, Muslims can be very imaginative when it comes to excruciating ways of killing the infidel. 

I found it concerning that he's in a doctoral program at Oxford. Very prestigious, but England has a far higher concentration of Muslims than the USA, so it would be much easier for him to be spotted there by jihadis. Kidnapped. Videotaped. 

Although gastric cancer is an unpleasant way to go, it's better to die with the benefit of IV painkillers and anti-nausea medication than death by torture. So perhaps God is taking his life to spare him a far more gruesome fate at the hands of jihadis.

iii) Sex scandals have ruined not a few Christian ministries. In one of his vlogs, I think Nabeel said, before his ministry was sidelined by cancer therapy, that he spent something like 250 days a year on the road. That's a lot of time in hotels and motels. Presumably away from his wife for most of those junkets. 

That presents opportunities for sexual temptation. Imagine if he gave into temptation. If he's anxious about how Muslims will gloat over his untimely death by cancer, that's nothing compared to what would happen if he was caught in a sex scandal. 

iv) His celebrity could go to his head. That happens. 

If he dies of cancer, that may actually be a merciful act of divine intervention–to protect him from greater harm, or preserve his reputation intact.

Atheism and immortality

There are atheists who try to make a virtue of necessity by saying mortality is what makes life precious. It's actually immortality that cheapens the value of life.

However, you have secular transhumanists who hope to achieve immortality by digitizing the mind, then uploading the contents into video games. An indestructible simulated paradise. 

If atheists who say mortality is what makes life valuable had a shot at immortality, would they turn it down? Really? Eventually, they might become bored and commit suicide, but would they turn down the initial offer? 

The dove and the flood

In his recent book on Genesis, Iain Provan recycles a number of stock objections to Noah's flood, specially on a global interpretation. I'm not going to respond to most of those objections, in part because I've discussed that issue on multiple occasions, in part because these don't pose the same challenge for the local flood interpretation, and in part because young-earth creationists (e.g. Jonathan Sarfati, Andrew Snelling, Kurt Wise) have propose solutions–which Provan simply ignores. But I'd like to comment on one particular objection, which is somewhat unusual:

At its most extreme, this approach results in a highly literalistic reading of the flood story that leads us into  very problematic areas when it comes to squaring its perceived truth-claims with what is otherwise known (especially nowadays) about reality…If the sea level rose all over the earth as high as the peak of Mount Ararat (c. 16,946 feet), the oceans would have had to triple in volume in the corse of 150 days and then speedily return to normal…And after the floodwaters receded, how did the dove fly down the mountain to find an olive tree (only found at low elevations) and then back up again to the top of the mountain, given that doves are not physically equipped to fly at such altitudes? How did Noah, his family members and the animals make the trek down such a formidable mountain? I. Provan, Discovering Genesis (Eerdmans, 2015), 117-18.

A few issues:

i) I don't know what Provan means by "literalistic". Does he mean the account is stylized? Or does he mean the account is legendary? 

ii) Since I'm not an ornithologist, I can't assess Provan's claim. Sarfati says:

Doves and pigeons have very strong light muscles, around a third of their weight. So they are powerful flyers… J. Sarfati, The Genesis Account (2015), 574.

iii) Be that as it may, the text doesn't say the ark ran aground on Mt. Ararat. Rather, it bottomed out somewhere in that general mountain range:

4 and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5 And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen (Gen 8:4-5).

Many of us have seen mountain ranges from above when we flew over them in airplanes. At least in my experience, arial views of mountain ranges frequently show rows of mountains with a trough in-between. Parallel ridges. Small areas may be encircled by the massif. 

I can envision the ark becoming caught within a mountain range. Mountains on all four sides would be higher than the draught of the ark. The ark wouldn't rest on a mountain peak, but in a basin within the massif. Water would drain through slopes. As the waters lowered, the ark lowered until it bottomed out on the floor of the basin. So it wouldn't be at anything like the elevation of Mt Ararat. 

Do the "tops of the mountains" refer to all the mountains the region, or just the cluster that trapped the ark within their well? 

Noah's party and the animals could climb out or climb down the slope or dip, between mountains, which functions like a natural mountain pass. 

I'm not saying that's necessarily correct. I wasn't there. I don't know exactly or even approximately where the ark came to rest. But on the face of it, Provan's objection lacks imagination. Is he really trying to visualize the scene? 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Abraham, Isaac, and extraterrestrials

Atheists, as well as "progressive Christians", commonly attack the binding of Isaac (Gen 22). One challenge is to ask, "What would you do if God ordered you to sacrifice your child?"

I've discussed this before but now I'd like to approach it from a different angle. This is not a uniquely Christian dilemma. It's easy to recast the dilemma in secular terms. 

For instance, many atheists subscribe to ufology. Ufology is basically a secular hobby. Indeed, a secular alternative to religion. The hope that extraterrestrials will parachute in just the nick of time to save the human race from its self-destructive impulses.

Suppose a secular ufologist begins to hear voices. The voice tells him that he must assassinate the president to avert WWIII. Unless he does so, the president will trigger WWIII, causing a thermonuclear exchange that will plunge our planet into a nuclear winter. Only high-ranking government officials will survive in underground cities, as they, or their descendants, wait for surface radiation to drop to hospitable levels. 

Should the ufologist act on what the extraterrestrial voices are telling him? Perhaps an atheist will say the ufologist should ignore the voices. Extraterrestrials aren't really in communication with the ufologist. Rather, hearing voices is symptomatic of psychosis.

Of course, a problem with this response is that a psychotic is in no position to make that evaluation. If he was in his right mind, he wouldn't be hearing voices in the first place. He lacks that objectivity. The psychotic diagnosis has to be made by a second party who is not psychotic. 

Insanity can afflict the religious and irreligious alike. So it's easy to dream of a parallel dilemma for the atheist.

Now let's vary the hypothetical. Suppose that SETI picks up an outer space transmission. This was clearly sent by an extraterrestrial civilization with superior technology. The message tells earthings that if they summarily execute one billion humans, the other six billion humans will be spared, but if they refuse to do so, the human race will be wiped out. 

From a secular standpoint, should we comply with the message? Many atheists espouse consequentialism. Taking the lives of one billion humans to save the lives of six billion humans is morally justifiable according to that ethical calculus. Do we dare to defy the ultimatum of the extraterrestrials, given a credible threat, backed up by their vastly superior technology? 

From a secular standpoint, how is that different, in principle, from obeying Yahweh's command to sacrifice Isaac, or Yahweh's command to mass execute the Canaanites if they refuse to evacuate Palestine?