Saturday, February 28, 2015

Whence the view that words have innate power?

"According to a number of biblical scholars the spoken word in ancient Israel 'is never an empty sound but an operative reality whose action cannot be hindered once it has been pronounced'" (Thiselton on Hermeneutics, p. 53; the quoted material is from Jacob, Theology of the Old Testament, 1958). He provides a list of authors, including Jacob, von Rad, Zimmerli, Eichrodt, Ringgren, Knight, even Bultmann!

I don't know about you, but that list includes most of the people on my Old Testament Theology bibliography from when I took it in 1983. No wonder I adopted the idea that words have innate power! It was in the air I breathed. But that doesn't make it right...

"What are we to say about such an attitude towards language and words? Von Rad implies that this primitive outlook offers a positively richer view of language than that found in modern Western culture. He comments, 'One could ask whether language has not become impoverished because it has lost functions which at an earlier cultural level had once belonged to it.' (von Rod Old Testament Theology 2:81)...But the verdict forced upon us by modern general linguistics since the work of Saussure is that far from being 'richer', such a view of words is simply wrong." (Thiselton, 56–57)
Thiselton proceeds to lay out four criticisms (58–66), but I'm only going to mention two of them: the second and third. You'll have to read the article/chapter for yourself to get the other two : )
The nature of the second problem has not, it seems, been clearly recognized. Arguments are put forward about the nature of words in general on the basis of passages which speak not about words as such but about words which have been uttered usually by a god or sometimes by a king or a prophet. But such arguments break down if words that have been spoken by Yahweh, or by Marduk, or by Atum or Khnum, are in practice regarded as 'power-laden' not because of the supposed nature of words in general, but precisely because these words proceed from the mouth of a god. We suggest that a generalizing argument has misleadingly been put forward on the basis of selected paradigms of a very special nature. (p. 60, emphasis original)
Did you catch that? Most of the examples usually cited for the innate/magical power of words in the ancient world and the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament were spoken either by gods or by people in authority who could give substance to the words. Yep, that's right. They had the power to make them stick. The words had a derived authority, not an innate one.

The third criticism has to do with what is called speech act theory (you'll have to look that one up on your own; it's way too involved to explain right now!). Here's what he says about blessings and curses specifically, since that is what triggered this whole excursion in the first place:

First, most writers stress that the effectiveness of blessing and cursing depends in a large measure both on the strength and status of the speaker who pronounces the blessing, and also on the receptivity of the person who is being blessed. In other words, the 'power' of the pronouncement is by no means automatic. Indeed, Murtonen believes that the reason why Isaac did not try to recall his blessing from Jacob was not because of word-magic, but because, on the one hand, he believed that Jacob rather than Esau had 'ability to hold what was promised to him', and on the other hand, already 'God himself was called upon as the final authority.' Thus Murtonen convincingly argues that a supposition about word-magic 'does not seem necessary' (Murtonen, VT 9 [1959], 158–77). (Thiselton, p. 63)
I'm not sure I buy Murtonen's explanation, but that isn't the point, as Thiselton says. What matters is that falling back to the magical power of words isn't necessary. Here's another extended quotation:
Seen from one viewpoint, a blessing is supposedly power-laden if and when it is the blessing of God. But even if we leave theological beliefs in Israel out of account, we are still left with the concept of blessings and cursings as performative utterance which do things on the basis of conventional procedures in which the appropriate persons take part. Pronouncements by prophets or kings may now be seen in this double light. They are effective because they are spoken by someone in authority, and may often take the form of performative utterance. (p. 64)
And a final parting shot, "The words themselves effect an award, a sentence, or a commitment. But they no more depend on primitive notions of word-magic than a modern judge and jury do when their words actually consign a man to prison or to freedom." (p. 64, emphasis original)

I think that last line sums it all up. Words do have power, no doubt about it. But they do not have innate or magical power. Their power is because of who spoke them and context in which they were spoken.

Friday, February 27, 2015

I like this

I'm editing a discourse handbook right now and ran across this little gem:
James provides an important qualification to the type of faith he is referring to with the phrase ἐὰν μὴ ἔχῃ ἔργα (if it does not have works). Though one could argue that this qualification is unnecessary—since he goes on to say "faith … by itself"—the nature of the content is not completely redundant: it adds more precision and leaves no room for mistaking which type of faith he is talking about. It is important to note—and though perhaps often overlooked—that James does not compare faith and works. He compares two different types of faith: on the one hand "a faith with works", and, on the other "a faith without works."
<idle musing>
An often overlooked fact...I know I'm guilty!

No, I can't link to the book right now because it doesn't have one!
</idle musing>

Name it! Claim it!

Wow! James was a real Word of Faith preacher (2:15-16a):
ἐὰν ἀδελφὸς ἢ ἀδελφὴ γυμνοὶ ὑπάρχωσιν καὶ λειπόμενοι τῆς ἐφημέρου τροφῆς εἴπῃ δέ τις αὐτοῖς ἐξ ὑμῶν· ὑπάγετε ἐν εἰρήνῃ, θερμαίνεσθε καὶ χορτάζεσθε...

If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill” (NRSV)

What would a real Word of Faith preacher say as the final apodosis? Of course, he would say, νόμον τελεῖτε βασιλικὸν κατὰ τὴν γραφήν· ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν (2:8)

[You] fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (NRSV)

Right? Isn't that what you expect? I've heard it. So have you.

But what does James really say? Not that! Here it is:
μὴ δῶτε δὲ αὐτοῖς τὰ ἐπιτήδεια τοῦ σώματος, τί τὸ ὄφελος;

and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? (NRSV)

Personally, I would prefer to translate it, "What's the use?"

Yep. James was a real Word of Faith preacher...

Such a choice

In order to counteract problems of this type [a curse being directed against you], a person had two management options. First, he or she could consign the rābiṣu to an associate demon that is equally “evil.” Because two negative beings, both hostile to life, naturally nullify each other, then the result enhances existence. It cuts off the evil and creates a blessing. A “medical text” from the same period affirms the notion…

The second strategy petitioned a deity who had power over these beings. The suppliant in the above “medical text” prays to Dumuzi: ‘Separate me from the Sentry, an evil demon who has attached itself to me to cut off my life’. A petitioner in another Neo-Assyrian text pleads with Marduk to eliminate a stalking ghost in the following manner: ‘Drive it away from my body, cut it off from my body, remove it from my body!’ Here a positive force, Marduk, is to attack a negative force, the ghost, by severing it from the victim’s person.— Cursed Are You!, pages 334–35

<idle musing>
Not exactly my idea of great options. No wonder Christianity had such an appeal...
</idle musing>

Speaking of marriage

For our marriage, God’s grace is there when we need it. We have both changed so much in the last 35 years that I can only thank the Lord. Forgiving each other helps. Forgiveness is the key to building and maintaining a healthy relationship. God gives us the grace to survive the many difficulties.— This Day We Fight!, page 103

<idle musing>
Disclaimer: This book is full of bad theology and American Exceptionalism. I don't recommend it at all! It was written shortly after 9/11/2001 and reflects the reigning sentiments of that time (when the church failed dramatically to stand up for peace and reconciliation, sadly). But, it does have a few good lines, so I'll be putting those up over the next few days.
</idle musing>

As much as it might hurt...

I have had lively debates with friends over questions like “Should a cheating spouse tell their spouse what they have done if they have the help they need? Won’t it preserve the family if the spouse doesn’t know?” The reality is that the truth must be told, not just to a pastor or accountability partner but also to the spouse whose trust was betrayed. Without honesty, the trust in any relationship isn’t real! Confessing our sins allows us to build authentic trust that leads to true intimacy.

Some might reply: “But I will create a huge mess by letting the wronged parties know about my sin. Aaron, your Swatch story is child’s play compared to the mess I would make and the people I would hurt.”

The key is to understand that, as Andy Stanley said, “confession doesn’t hurt people, sin and concealment hurt people.”—What’s Your Secret? pages 68-69

<idle musing>
As much as it might hurt, he's right. There was a line by Billy Crystal in City Slickers. His macho buddy was giving hypothetical situations where sex outside of marriage might be ok. He creates a real whopper: some alien comes to earth and wants to have sex with him. No one will ever know; the alien will step off the spaceship, then back on without detection. Billy Crystal's response was excellent, "I'll know." That sums it up.

You will know. It will haunt you and overshadow your life. Unconfessed sin always does... (No, I haven't sinned against my wife sexually, but I've done sinful and hurtful things against her and tried to keep them secret. It doesn't work...)
</idle musing>

The Messianic age

Righteousness and faithfulness, peace and security: these are the traits of the Messianic age. In 11:10–11 Isaiah extends these benefits beyond Israel to the Gentiles; he internationalizes the messianic peace.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 158

Reality begs to differ

The clash of the prophets was between the ideal and the actual. The people to whom they brought the message believed they were okay. They bought into the idea that if they had pleasant thoughts everything would be all right. Indeed, such is the case today. If you keep positive thoughts in your mind, so we are told, you will have a positive outcome in your life. Nobody wants a prophet to come and bring reality into his or her life.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 181

Wow! Just wow!

Wow! I just saw an abstract of an article by Udo Schnelle about early Christianity, with thanks to Evangelical Textual Criticism for the link. Unfortunately it is behind a pay wall so I can't get the full details, but it is sure to stir up a controversy.

Here's the extract. The article is entitled Das frühe Christentum und die Bildung (roughly translated Early Christianity and Culture):

Early Christianity is often regarded as an entirely lower-class phenomenon, and thus characterised by a low educational and cultural level. This view is false for several reasons. (1) When dealing with the ancient world, inferences cannot be made from the social class to which one belongs to one's educational and cultural level. (2) We may confidently state that in the early Christian urban congregations more than 50 per cent of the members could read and write at an acceptable level. (3) Socialisation within the early congregations occurred mainly through education and literature. No religious figure before (or after) Jesus Christ became so quickly and comprehensively the subject of written texts! (4) The early Christians emerged as a creative and thoughtful literary movement. They read the Old Testament in a new context, they created new literary genres (gospels) and reformed existing genres (the Pauline letters, miracle stories, parables). (5) From the very beginning, the amazing literary production of early Christianity was based on a historic strategy that both made history and wrote history. (6) Moreover, early Christians were largely bilingual, and able to accept sophisticated texts, read them with understanding, and pass them along to others. (7) Even in its early stages, those who joined the new Christian movement entered an educated world of language and thought. (8) We should thus presuppose a relatively high intellectual level in the early Christian congregations, for a comparison with Greco-Roman religion, local cults, the mystery religions, and the Caesar cult indicates that early Christianity was a religion with a very high literary production that included critical reflection and refraction.
<idle musing>
Wow! Fifty percent literacy?! Most scholars think that literacy was under 10%, and closer to 2–3% (at best) if you want anything more than a bare functional literacy the equivalent of being able to read street signs.

I can't wait to see the responses. And maybe even grab the article itself, although my German is so bad right now that it would be a painful process to read it...
</idle musing>

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Take no chances

Esarhaddon is inclusive in his anxiety and describes two ways a malediction is rendered impotent. First, a curse could be ‘turned back’ (târu, lines 377, 379). Undoubtedly, this refers to the procedure of returning a curse to its source. Second, a curse could be ‘undone/released’ (parāšu, lines 378, 379). Both of these strategies are mentioned in the next phrase, turtu turri māmīt pašāri taḫassasani teppašani ‘you shall not (even) think of or perform (a ritual) either to reverse or undo the curse’. The statement could not be more explicit. Certain rites could nullify maledictions. In all likelihood, these are the rituals vassals performed to extricate themselves from the treaty’s chafing constraints.— Cursed Are You!, pages 322–23

Stay humble

The key is staying humble. I don’t believe most people intentionally hurt each other, but it does happen. I sincerely do not want to hurt her [his wife] or my children in any way. If we can remove the hurt, we can cultivate the love.— This Day We Fight!, page 101

<idle musing>
Disclaimer: This book is full of bad theology and American Exceptionalism. I don't recommend it at all! It was written shortly after 9/11/2001 and reflects the reigning sentiments of that time (when the church failed dramatically to stand up for peace and reconciliation, sadly). But, it does have a few good lines, so I'll be putting those up over the next few days.
</idle musing>

Double ouch

The Bible talks more about confessing to others than it does about confessing to God. We must not forget the need to confess to God as a step toward repentance, but we must also tell someone else. Much of our Christian culture advises us to tell God and be forgiven, or maybe even just tell a spiritual leader (such as a pastor or priest); but the Bible teaches us to go to a much more demanding and uncomfortable place. … God knows that His people will disobey the law and hurt one another, so He tells us to confess to Him, confess to the one who was wronged, and also to give back what was taken … and more.—What’s Your Secret? pages 66-67

<idle musing>
Double ouch! Yesterday's was tough, but this one is even tougher. Especially in our easy-believism culture.

Yet, when I read about some of the revivals in the 19th century, they preached restitution and going to the one you wronged. I remember reading where one revivalist was told to stop preaching restitution by the local shipyard because they now had too many tools! People had brought back all the tools that they had stolen over the years and the shipyard didn't know where to put them all! Not likely to happen after any of the current revival services I attended...

When I was at Asbury Seminary, I had the unique privilege of studying for a semester under Dr. Kinlaw. He was the president of Asbury College during the famous revival of 1970. He told us during one class about sitting in the back of the chapel in awe at what God was doing. A young co-ed approached him, asking for advice. She was under conviction for how she had treated some of her classmates. Kinlaw wisely advised her to go to each of them and ask for forgiveness.

A few days later, he saw her on campus and she shouted out to him, "Number nineteen and I'm finally free!" Can you imagine preaching that in some places today? Can I imagine doing that in my own life? Kind of humbling, isn't it? Lord, set us free!
</idle musing>

Messianic age

The phrase “Peace and righteousness (or justice)” is frequently shorthand for the eschatological or messianic age in both the OT—including Isaiah specifically—and in at least some Second Temple texts. Paul both knows this slogan and develops it, as Rom 5:1, 14:17, and several other texts make clear.

For Paul, then, Jesus is indeed the Prince of Peace, the one through whom God has made and is making the messianic shalom a reality, the covenant of shalom to which the scriptures of Israel bear witness.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 160

Wisdom from Tozer

I do not like the kind of evangelism that gets people in by cards. I think there ought to be a cry of pain. There ought to be a birth within. I feel there should be the terror of seeing ourselves in violent contrast to the holy, holy, holy God. And if it does not go that deep, I do not know how deep our repentance will ever go. And if our repentance does not go deep, our Christian experience will not go deep.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 171

<idle musing>
Indeed! Maybe we should reintroduce the anxious bench?
</idle musing>

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Passive

The problem is that too many Christians have confused peace with passivity. They have hollow peace instead of hallowed peace. Their lives are prayerless and they live in perpetual compromise with heaven’s enemies. This is not peace; it is bondage.— This Day We Fight!, page 44

<idle musing>
Disclaimer: This book is full of bad theology and American Exceptionalism. I don't recommend it at all! It was written shortly after 9/11/2001 and reflects the reigning sentiments of that time (when the church failed dramatically to stand up for peace and reconciliation, sadly). But, it does have a few good lines, so I'll be putting those up over the next few days.
</idle musing>

It's the fine print that will get you

Apparently, the ever-cautious Esarhaddon assessed a conditional self-curse on the citizens of Sippar. Yet the character of this particular malediction is very ominous. It is an arrat la napšur ‘a curse that cannot be released” (N of parāšu). Because Esarhaddon felt it necessary to include this statement, then we may read between the lines and conclude that, unless otherwise qualified, most imprecations were able to be undone in one way or another.— Cursed Are You!, page 321

<idle musing>
We're always looking for the escape clause, aren't we? Esarhaddon closed that one, but I'll bet somebody found another one. Remember that the Assyrians would sometimes adjust the calendar to avoid an ominous day...of course we would never do that! That's why there's so few 13th floors in public buildings...
</idle musing>

This is tough

This is going to require soul-searching courage. Not only the courage to face it yourself but also the courage to show someone else. By keeping the secrets of our hearts locked behind closed doors, we think we can avoid what lurks in the depths. Maybe we try to avoid it because we’re scared that we won’t be able to bear the pain or shame of its revelation. Maybe we want to avoid it because we’re concerned about what people will think. Our avoidance can even be so powerful that we don’t see ourselves as we really are, living out of what we wish we were instead. As appealing as this might sound, it will only give greater control to the very thing we are trying to avoid.—What’s Your Secret? pages 44-45

<idle musing>
Ouch! This is a tough one, isn't it? We think we can hide—but we can't...this is really a tough one, but true. Lord, may I have the faith to do this always and trust you with the results...
</idle musing>

A strange Messiah

As we have examined the practices of faithfulness and love that the predictions of Jesus’ death generate, and that are the essence of participation in that death, we have seen that these practices are all counterintuitive and countercultural. They are also inherently political, if we define that word as referring to the public life of a community. Moreover, these practices also clearly represent a politics of nonviolence, of suffering and of suffering love. This politics would support neither a theology of Roman, imperial domination nor a theology of messianic hatred and violent overthrow, since the “Lord” and the “Messiah” of the passion predictions, and of the New Testament writings more generally, is the Lord who willingly dies at the hands of the imperial authorities after subverting their theology and practices in his life and teaching. A strange sort of Lord and Messiah indeed.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 131

True repentance

One of the things wrong with us today is that we do not repent enough. The reason we do not have more repentance is that we repent for what we do instead of for what we are. The repentance for what you do may go deep, but the repentance for what you are goes deeper. It was the sharp contrast between what God was and what Isaiah was—the absolute holiness of the deity, and the spotted, speckled impurities of Isaiah’s nature—that brought this feeling of being absolutely profane to this man of God.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 167

What's with this translation?

I read the NIV2011 of Prov 3:5–6 yesterday that made me do a double take. Here it is; tell me what's wrong with it:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Hint: it's in verse 6a. Maybe this will help:
Here's the Hebrew:
‮בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶ֥יךָ דָעֵ֑הוּ וְ֝ה֗וּא יְיַשֵּׁ֥ר אֹֽרְחֹתֶֽיךָ׃

and here's the Greek (first half of the verse):
ἐν πάσαις ὁδοῖς σου γνώριζε αὐτήν

Just for fun, here's the Latin:
in omnibus viis tuis cogita illum

And just to complete it all, here's the Syriac:
ܕܥܝܗܝ ܒܟܠܗܝܢ ܐܘܪ̈ܚܬܟ (that font is so small I can barely read it, so it might not have pasted correctly...)

Any of those say "submit"? Hardly! For those of you who can't read the languages, here's a bit of help:
The Hebrew דָעֵ֑הוּ is an imperative from ידע which means "to know" with the object of knowing attached at the end, "him." The Greek is a bit different, coming from the root γνωρἰζω with a meaning of "make known, reveal" which causes some to think the the LXX translator read the Hebrew as a Hiphil (causative) instead of a Qal and that wisdom is what you make known (wisdom is feminine in Greek and the pronoun is feminine) Here's what Fox says in the HBCE volume:

[The LXX translator] uses γνώριζειν only for the H- and A-stems of ידע (or a synonym), never for the G-stem, and there would be no reason for דעהו to throw the translator off track. Once he understood the verb in 3:6a as “make known” rather than “know,” he took the direct object to be wisdom (hence the feminine αὐτήν). The result, “In all your ways, declare [or ‘teach’] it,” accords with G’s assumption that the wisdom mentioned in 3:5 is of the virtuous sort. Proverbs, pages 98–99
What about the Latin? Jerome gets the Hebrew right, using the standard Latin word for "know," cogito. That just leaves the Syriac, which uses the same root as the Hebrew, yd`, which means "know" in Syriac as well. The Targumim in Proverbs are just a translation back into Aramaic from the Syriac, so they are no help.

So where does the NIV2011 get "submit"? I checked my handy old 1978 version of the NIV and it says "acknowledge"—just like almost every other translation. But, when I checked the TNIV, guess what? Yep, here's what it says: "in all your ways submit to him." So where did the TNIV get it from?

That I don't know, but it certainly wasn't from any of these versions...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Which are you?

God calls us to be prayer warriors, not prayer worriers!— This Day We Fight!

<idle musing>
Disclaimer: This book is full of bad theology and American Exceptionalism. I don't recommend it at all! It was written shortly after 9/11/2001 and reflects the reigning sentiments of that time (when the church failed dramatically to stand up for peace and reconciliation, sadly). But, it does have a few good lines, so I'll be putting those up over the next few days.
</idle musing>

The web of words

From the ancient Near Easterners’ point of view, a spell’s sturdiness and effectiveness would find additional reinforcement through similes that compared its “string” of words to the strings of a net or twine. As the twined threads of a net are twisted and knotted together, so are the words of an incantation. As a net can be “cast,” so can an incantation. As a net can be laid out as a trap, so can an incantation. As a net can ensnare someone, so can an incantation. As a net can be a divine weapon, so can an incantation. As a net can entangle birds or fish in its fine mesh, so can an incantation snare demons and other malevolent forces.

When such an incantation needed to be reversed, then the ritual practitioner would merely unravel it like twine and dispose of its individual parts. Specialists could also annul the “spell” by untying the “knots” of the incantation’s net. Should speed be a factor, then the expert could rip apart the twine or tuft of wool. Throwing it into fire would assure its complete destruction.— Cursed Are You!, page 291

Just try harder

Notice David’s blunt honesty and decision not to sugarcoat the truth. He doesn’t deny, deflect, minimize, or rationalize. David lets it all hang out. He calls himself sinful and evil and admits his inability to fix the problem. David’s honest confession is a model for us. When we’re caught doing something wrong, most of us will quickly promise not to do it again rather than repent for what we’ve already done. Chastened by discovery rather than conviction, we buckle down and determine to work harder.—What’s Your Secret? page 36

<idle musing>
But isn't that the way it's supposed to be? Pull myself up by my own bootstraps. Or, maybe more accurately, try harder to figure out how to conceal the sin so it won't be discovered next time : (

I pray that the latter isn't true of me—or anyone else, for that matter. Lord, send you cleansing fire upon us!
</idle musing>

Imitation falls far short

To pick up one’s cross and follow Jesus in suffering, generosity, and love (the essence of the three passion prediction-summonses) is not to imitate as much as it is to participate.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 124

Thought for the day

Man craves that which is holy and tries to manufacture it to satiate his thirst.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 165

Monday, February 23, 2015

Vowel changes

A morphological oddity that is evident in all I-E languages is the alternation of the vowel e with the vowel o. This is not a sound change but a morphological marker of Indo-European: thus the Greek verb pherō “I carry” has an e in the stem pher-, but the related noun phoros “tribute” has an o (stem phor-): the same process in the same root can be seen in English bear versus burden.—A Brief History of Ancient Greek, page 9

<idle musing>
I didn't know that. Interesting, isn't it. I put the book on order from interlibrary loan (I read the first chapter on the link above).
</idle musing>

Let's be honest about it

So in this case [the letters of Ignatius] one is actually dealing with eleventh-century manuscripts witnessing to a second-century writing which often loosely cites the text of the NT in the (vain?) hope of trying to glean insights into the state of the text of various NT writings prior to, or contemporary with, the earliest hard evidence of actual texts of these writings. From the outset the potential of this approach to yield decisive results should be judged for what it really is—extremely limited. Rather, at best, the quotations in these writings, if cited accurately rather than loosely, if transmitted faithfully rather than freely, if randomly preserving units of text that are known to preserve variation units that allow a differentiation between text forms, may then at best provide corroborative evidence to supplement observations about the state of the text in the second century. The probability that anything decisive may be adduced is incredibly low.—The Early Text of the New Testament, page 283

<idle musing>
It makes looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack seem easy! Interesting book, by the way. It certainly doesn't lend itself to excerpting, though—too many charts and tables. But, you really should read the fourteenth chapter: "'In These Very Words': Methods and Standards of Literary Borrowing in the Second Century" by Charles E. Hill (available here). Well worth the effort. I was trained as a Classicist, so nothing he said was new, but if you are unsure about the stability of the text of the New Testament in the second century, this article will reassure you. Check it out!
</idle musing>

Baptism symbolism

I'm working on a project for ASOR and ran across this:

"[The new life of a baptized believer is] symbolized in many ways, both in ritual and text, this is also illuminated through the octagonal shape of baptisteries and fonts, as the number eight indicates the first day of the new creation."—ASOR blog (unfortunately, you have to be a member to read the whole article)

<idle musing>
I never noticed that before, had you? So much to learn...
</idle musing>

It's cold!

Separation as curse. No. Wait. This is wrong

What is most curious about the Exodus account is the disjunction between the traditional interpretation of separation due to heavenly malediction and affiliation due to benediction. Typically, what is cursed is banished from the deity, and what is blessed is kept near the deity. It is peculiar that the “blessed” Israelites are expelled into the wilderness in a manner synonymous with those who are “cursed.” As we have seen, the feature of separation associated with expulsion into the wilderness is synonymous with two fundamental precepts related to curses: (1) divine absence and (2) advancement toward death. In this case, the opposite occurs. The Israelites not only find life in the wilderness but they also encounter Yahweh himself in the very place where deities are thought to be absent.

The Exodus account has turned a conventional maxim on its head. The Israelites, whom the Egyptians believed were cursed and whom they treated as such, turn out in fact to be blessed. This flies in the face of ancient customary wisdom, which held that the target of divine curses, the Egyptians, should have been expelled and not the Israelites, who were the object of heavenly blessings. One might classify this narrative as an exceptional example of positive separation, because it ultimately benefited those who were dismissed.— Cursed Are You!, page 244

Tolerance/intolerance in perspective

[T]o say that we should be intolerant of Acts’ intolerance is simply to replace one scheme of life with another (tolerance, remember, always gets its meaning from the larger schemes in which it occurs). What then is the justification for this intolerance? Presumably it would be the truth of the scheme. But that of course is just the point at issue. Acts confronts its readers with a claim to a total scheme. To confront Acts with a counter-claim is not to be more “tolerant” (this is an illusion) but to be intolerant in a different way, and to claim (a) that Acts is wrong, and (b) that the different scheme is right (the possibility that neither one is right is but a subset of (b)—you are right that Acts is not right, even if you are wrong about your own alternative). So it seems that we are left with the decision that Acts wants to enjoin us to make.—World Upside Down, page 264 n. 91

<idle musing>
Food for thought, isn't it? The book of Acts is trying to get us to decide whom we will serve. It's either Jesus Christ as God or Caesar and Rome as god. No alternatives. One or the other. And we are still being called. Either Christ as God or our culture as god. One or the other. You can't have both.

What a great way to end a book...it leaves you thinking and considering the ramifications. I hope you enjoyed the excerpts from it and will consider reading it.

By the way, I ran across a good post late last week about the kind of missionary the world needs. Here's an extended quotation:

Christianity in so many parts of America has been blended together with American, nationalistic culture to the point that the Jesus many believe they are following is just a false American caricature of the real thing. In many ways, the tradition of Jesus has become a civil religion that is able to exist in complete harmony with American ideals instead of being something that was designed to turn culture on its head– showing those within culture a totally different way of living and being.

This week my heart feels particularly broken for this obviously unreached people group. Case in point: I issued a call to love our Muslim neighbors in our communities– loving neighbors being what Jesus called the second greatest commandment– and it was met with outright hostility, and even calls for acts of violence against Muslims. One Christian minister said that telling people to love their Muslim neighbors was a “slap in the face” and that we should do no such thing. Others said it is impossible to exist with Muslim neighbors. And, even some “Christians” said that the only approach to Muslims is to kill them before they kill us.

Or, there’s the response I get when I suggest that we should actually love our enemies (a core aspect of the message and life of Jesus): outright disgust, and immediately objections that surely, Jesus didn’t really mean that. Better yet, there’s the times when I suggest that Jesus invites us to give our loyalty to God’s Kingdom instead of earthly nations, and the Christian response is quite predictable. “Go somewhere else” I’m often told, or as one internet commenter said recently, I’d do better to just “shut my mouth and pay homage to our soldiers.”

Day in and day out, I am faced with the heartbreaking reality that perhaps the last unreached people group has been sitting right in our very pews– those who have succumbed to an Americanized, civil religion, that is only loosely based on Jesus.

Heartbreaking, isn't it? We've elevated culture above the words of Christ...Lord, forgive us!
</idle musing>

Condemnation, conviction, what's the difference?

Condemnation comes from the enemy, is all about guilt, and asks the question, What good are you? or, How could you? The end goal of condemnation is to draw you away from God.

Conviction comes from the Holy Spirit, is all about redemption, and simply asks the question, What did you do? This is the same question that God asked Adam and Eve in the garden after they had sinned (Gen. 3). The end goal of conviction is to draw you back to God.—What’s Your Secret? page 33

The way of discipleship

[D]iscipleship forms an alternative way of life to the quest for power and position, the domination and defeat of others, that characterizes “normal” human life, particularly existence in imperial mode.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 116

Tozer on a cold Monday

What a peculiar and confused theology buzzes in and out of the heads of people today when God has been reduced to a good-sized man! We become offensively personal and intimate in our dealings with God; we joke about Him and call Him our business partner, our copilot, and what have you.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 156

Who needs an army?

Then I called for a fast there at the Ahava River so that we might submit before our God and ask of him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our possessions. I had been ashamed to ask the king for a group of soldiers and cavalry to help us in facing enemies on the way, because we had told the king, "The power of God favors all who seek him, but his fierce wrath is against all who abandon him." So we fasted and prayed to our God for this, and he responded to us.

Then I selected twelve of the leading priests, Sherebiah and Hashabiah and ten of their relatives with them. I weighed out to them the silver and the gold and the equipment, the offering for the house of our God that the king, his counselors, his officials, and all Israel present there had offered. I weighed out into their keeping six hundred fifty kikkars of silver, one hundred silver containers weighing a certain number of kikkars, one hundred kikkars of gold, twenty gold bowls worth one thousand darics, and two containers of highly polished copper, which were as precious as gold. I said to them, "You are holy to the Lord, and the equipment is holy; the silver and the gold are a spontaneous gift to the Lord, the God of your ancestors. Guard them carefully until you weigh them out in Jerusalem before the officials of the priests, the Levites, and the heads of the families of Israel, within the rooms of the Lord’s house." So the priests and the Levites received the silver and the gold and the utensils as they were weighed out, in order to bring them to Jerusalem, to our God’s house.

Then we left the Ahava River on the twelfth day of the first month to go to Jerusalem. The power of our God was with us; he saved us from the power of the enemy and ambushes along the way. (Ezra 8:21-31 CEB)

<idle musing>
OK, how much money were they carrying, really? Well, those "kikkars" are the same as "talents" in other translations, so they were carrying about 3.75 tons of gold and 24 tons of silver—not including the other gold bowls and other stuff. You can't hide that nuch stuff in you luggage!

I would say this is probably a robbery waiting to happen, wouldn't you? And Ezra doesn't ask for an armed escort! Crazy man! And they are on the road for 4 months! In wilderness. With no policemen or soldiers in sight. And they get there with nothing lost along the way. Because "The power of our God was with us."

That, my friends, is what faith looks like.
</idle musing>

Friday, February 20, 2015

Quick! Duck!

The ancient Near Easterners also assumed that once an angered deity departed, he or she would do so using a flurry of curses. Since this is a typical reaction among outraged human beings, there is no reason to believe that the deities behaved any differently. Accordingly, like their human counterparts, if a deity did utter imprecations, it was more than likely that he or she delivered them in a gust of multiple expletives. True anger never allows for only one malediction. A deep seated fury is hot and vociferous. It naturally produces many curses.— Cursed Are You!, page 227

<idle musing>
And, as always, we reason from the given—what we see around us—to the divine. The given is what we know, so we figure that the divine must be like what we already know. Makes sense, right?

Well, it does unless there is divine self-revelation, that is. No wonder we see curses thrown at us in Genesis 3. No wonder we end up with a mad god who needs to be placated. No wonder we can't fathom a doctrine like theosis. No wonder we can't fathom the incarnation as emptying. No wonder we can't imagine any method other than coercive violence and war to be effective. No wonder...and the list goes on and on.

We end up huddling in our little walled city, scared to death of everything. We use any means we can to protect ourselves. Any means that is except embracing a loving God who willingly died so that we might really live. That is unfathomable, too good to be true. But it is true...

Well, that rabbit trail went a long way from the angered deity throwing curses, but I think it illustrates the radical difference between a monotheistic viewpoint with an all-loving deity and a polytheistic outlook that by necessity is always looking over its shoulder, waiting for the other shoe to fall...
</idle musing>

Yes or no?

Those who want to speak of polytheisms must at least acknowledge that whatever it would mean to speak of polytheisms, it would not mean that they could—together or individually—incorporate a metanarrative that would mean their extinction. In this sense, they are unified, and we may be justified in speaking of polytheism. With respect to their intolerance of the Christian way of life, they are all united. They oppose it. What this turns out to mean is that the true/false distinction cannot be eliminated without making a true/false judgment about Christianity—that it is false.—World Upside Down, page 262 n. 73

<idle musing>
As you probably have gathered if you read this blog much, I am not a fan of the "culture wars." But what Rowe is talking about here is much deeper than what the people waging the culture wars are talking about. What Rowe is talking about is the philosophical foundation of the whole system. He is not talking about moralism or certain practices. He is talking about the very ideas that undergird the system. And in that respect, there is a culture war—and there always has been.
</idle musing>

It's above our pay grade

Confessing our secrets to God takes the sin and shame out of our hands. We are not capable of getting rid of our own messes— that process belongs to the Lord.—What’s Your Secret? page 32

<idle musing>
Amen! As much as we'd like to think that if we created it we can fix it, it just isn't true. We can't fix our mess. Only God can. And to acknowledge that is the beginning of wisdom...
</idle musing>

Downward mobility

Cross-shaped discipleship has a Christological, counterintuitive, and countercultural character that is marked especially by hospitality and service to those without status, which implies a decisive predisposition toward the weak rather than toward the powerful. The normal path to greatness—to power and honor—is replaced by a path to “lastness,” a path of downward mobility that takes one, paradoxically, both to greatness and to God.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 109

It doesn't work that way

[W]e have overlooked one little thing. Along with man’s strange and wonderful ability to take the forces of nature and combine them to make modern toys to make life easier, we have been led to believe that along with our progress in scientific subjects we should also have advanced in moral matters. That notion is our greatest failure.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 147