Friday, July 20, 2018

Lectures on Philosophy

My intention is to slowly accumulate video lectures introducing philosophy from one Christian point of view. Here is the introduction to philosophy that I wrote.

0. Is Philosophy Christian? (18 minutes)
1. The Questions of Philosophy (25 minutes)

2. Thinking Clearly (logic)
3. The Existence of God (philosophy of religion)
4. The Question of Evil

5. What is a Person? (philosophical psychology)
6. Human Freedom
7. Perspectives on Ethics
8. Perspectives on Society
9. Perspectives on Truth
10. Philosophy of Language
11. Philosophy of Science
12. Philosophy of History
13. Philosophy of Art

Friday Science: Hawking 10 (Unification)

It always feels good to finish a book. Here is the last review of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time.

Chapter 1: Heliocentric
Chapter 2: Spacetime
Chapter 3: Expansion of the Universe
Chapter 4: Uncertainty Principle
Chapter 5: Elementary Particles and the Forces of Nature
Chapter 6: Black Holes
Chapter 7: Black Holes Ain't So Black
Chapter 8: The Origin and Fate of the Universe
Chapter 9: The Arrow of Time

Chapter 10: The Unification of Physics
As the title suggests, Hawking in this chapter is looking for a grand unification theory (GUT). He spends a little time on string theory, which is probably where he put his bet at one point. My sense is, however, that enthusiasm for string theory has waned these last few years as some of the particles it predicts have not been discovered during tests that should have produced some.
  • The difficulty is to combine general relativity with quantum mechanics.
  • He mentions old problem of renormalization. The math says "infinity," but we know what it should be from experiment. So you just substitute the experimental value and keep going.
  • String theory: open string, closed string, two strings join. Two strings separate. Graviton's cross. Strings, strings, strings.
  • String theory suggests there may be either ten or twenty-six dimensions. We don't see the others because they're two small.
  • He goes into the anthropic principle again. Life can only exist when three dimensions predominate, so we're just lucky.
  • It would take too much energy to find out what it would have been like near the big bang.
  • Even a GUT would not predict everything about the future--uncertainty principle, some equations are just too hard to solve.
Here endeth Hawking.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Acts 5 Explanatory Notes

Previously on Acts:

Acts 1
Acts 2
Acts 3
Acts 4

Now here are my notes on Acts 5, with the video links at the bottom. You can follow my daily podcasts on Acts on Patreon.

2. Early Church Life (4:32-5:42)
a. All things in common (4:32-37)
b. An exception to the rule (5:1-11)
  • 5:1-11. In contrast to the righteous story of Barnabas, these verses give us the unrighteous story of a husband-wife couple, Ananias and Sapphira.
  • 5:1-2. These verses present the problem. Ananias and Sapphira did as Barnabas did. They sold some land and they gave some to the Jesus-community. But they held some of the value back. As we will see in a moment, they seem to have lied about the amount.
  • 5:3-4. Peter exposes the problem to Ananias. It is not that he only gave part of what he sold. It is that he lied about it. Peter indicates that he has tried to lie to the Holy Spirit... which of course you can't.
  • Peter indicates that Satan had filled Ananias' heart. This can never happen without the cooperation of human will. 
  • 5:5-6. Here is the consequence. Ananias immediately dies and is carried out and buried. Understandably, a great fear comes on all those who hear of this event.
  • The judgment of Ananias and soon his wife suggest that God continues to judge in the New Testament. The Old Testament may emphasize the "wrath of God" a bit more than the New Testament, but the judgment of God is in the New Testament as well.
  • In my theology, God's justice in such cases does not change the eternal destiny of someone. That is to say, God knew that neither Ananias or Sapphira would actually make it into the kingdom. I suppose someone might also argue that they were saved "as it were by fire" (1 Cor. 3:15), a punishment without eternal consequence.
  • God's justice is more often 1) redemptive, to get a person back on track, or 2) protective, to protect people from evil.
  • 5:7-10. The parallel now happens to Sapphira, his wife. About three hours later, she comes in. Peter asks her a question to which he already has the answer. She lies. She dies and is carried out like her husband.
  • 5:9. Ananias and Sapphira are "testing" the Spirit of the Lord." This is not a bet one wants to take. The whole world is "naked and exposed" before God's eyes (Heb. 4:13).
  • 5:11. A great fear comes over the church and anyone who hears. Of course those who are in Christ need not fear (cf. 1 John 4:18). But the holiness of God is fearsome, in the same way that you would take care when you stand next to an elephant. 
c. Signs and wonders (5:12-16)
  • 5:12. The apostles continue to do signs and wonders under the power of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus did, just as Paul will do.
  • The apostles continue to meet in Solomon's Portico in the temple, on the outer east side of the temple complex, in the Court of the Gentiles.
  • 5:13. The awe factor is real. The crowds consider them to be of God and accordingly stand their distance.
  • 5:14. We see more multiplication in the church. On the day of Pentecost there were 3000 (Acts 2:41). After the lame man there were 5000 (Acts 3:4). Now a number isn't given. It is a multitude and it included women as well. 
  • 5:15-16. As with Jesus, those who were sick are brought to Jesus, including those from surrounding villages. Interestingly, they apparently have enough faith that even coming under Peter's shadow led to healing.
  • The mention of unclean spirits indicates that Peter and the apostles also cast out demons as Jesus had.
d. Before Sanhedrin again (5:17-42)
  • 5:17-18. Once again, the Sanhedrin jails the apostles for the night, intending to deal more sternly with them the next day. This verse seems to confirm that the high priest and the priestly leaders of the Sanhedrin were Sadducees. They were jealous of the apostles.
  • 5:19-21a. In what will not be the last time, an angel delivers Peter and the other apostles from prison. They are instructed to go back to the temple and continue preaching "words of this life." At daybreak, they continue.
  • 5:21b-25. The Sanhedrin convenes and realizes that the apostles are not in the common jail any more. The high priest, the Sanhedrin, the council of elders are ready, but the apostles are not there.
  • 5:23. The guards are even present, but the apostles are just gone.
  • 5:25. Then they get word on where the apostles are. They are back in the temple preaching.
  • 5:26. The captain and the guard and his servants now go to get them gingerly. They don't force them because they are afraid of getting stoned by the people, which shows how popular they have become.
  • 5:27-28. The high priest asks the question. Why haven't you obeyed our orders? Why are you continuing to preach in this name? The high priest infers that the apostles are trying to bring guilt for Jesus' death on them. They of course are not trying to do this. In fact, they have already indicated that the leaders of Israel crucified him in ignorance (3:17).
  • 5:29-32. This is Peter and the apostles' response. Of course only one person would speak at a time, so probably we should picture Peter speaking.
  • 5:29. Again, echoing Socrates' answer to the Areopagus (Apology 29d), Peter indicates that they will obey God rather than mortals.
  • This is a clear indication that obedience to authorities is not an absolute. There are exceptional situations. The definition of an absolute is "no exceptions."
  • 5:30. The resurrection is again the key point of all the sermons in Acts, except for Stephen's sermon in Acts 7.
  • The mention of hanging on a tree may be an allusion to Deuteronomy 21:23, which Paul uses in his argument in Galatians 3:13.
  • 5:31. Following the resurrection is the exaltation, which is the enthronement of Jesus as Messiah (2:36), Lord (2:36), and Son of God (13:33). Here he is also called "leader" and "savior." 
  • Notice that at this point Peter is thinking of the corporate restoration of Israel and the forgiveness of its sins. 
  • 5:32. The apostles are witnesses to these things. That is what apostles are--individuals who give witness to the resurrection, which they have personally seen. The Holy Spirit witnesses to it as well through the signs and wonders he empowers.
  • 5:33. The Sanhedrin is predictably enraged. They want to kill them.
  • 5:34-39. Before the Sanhedrin can follow through, one of their members, a Pharisee has the apostles removed from the room and warns the council. 
  • 5:34. The Pharisee in question is Gamaliel, a well-respected teacher of the Jewish Law. 
  • Gamaliel the Elder is well-known from Jewish tradition. There were two schools of Pharisees, the schools of Hillel and Shammai. The School of Hillel tended to be more deterministic, tolerant, and lenient. The School of Shammai was more militant and strident. We see the "fatalistic" flavor of the School of Hillel in this passage (which might have sounded a little Stoic to a Greek audience). Later Jewish tradition would come to suggest that Gamaliel could have been a grandson of Hillel. 
  • Acts says that Paul studied "at the feet of" Gamaliel (22:3). In general, however, the pre-Christian Paul had more the flavor of the School of Shammai than the School of Hillel.
  • 5:35, 38-39. Gamaliel's basic premise is that God can fight his own battles, while it is impossible to fight God and win. If the Jesus movement is of God, they will not be able to stop it no matter how hard they try. But if the Jesus movement is not of God, God will stop it himself. There is of course a flaw in Gamaliel's argument, namely, that God sometimes leads his people to action and stops evil through his people. Nevertheless, this is the right word for the Sanhedrin at that moment, and the book of Acts implicitly endorses it.
  • 5:36-37. Gamaliel gives two examples. The first is Theudas. Interestingly, Josephus places Theudas in the 40s under Cuspius Fadus. This would actually be about ten years after the scene in Acts. Some have suggested this is intentional--Acts is writing for the point not the exact chronology. Others suggest there was another Theudas or that Josephus made a mistake.
  • The second revolutionary mentioned is Judas the Galilean, who was active around AD6. Both movements were defeated by the Romans.
  • 5:40. The Sanhedrin surprisingly listens to Gamaliel. They beat the apostles, command them again to stop preaching in Jesus' name and set them loose.
  • 5:41-42. Meanwhile, the apostles count it a privilege to be dishonored in the name of Jesus. Like the Beatitudes, they are blessed in relation to God's kingdom at the same time that they are dishonored in the world.
  • 5:42. But they continue to preach the word and meet in the temple. They continue to meet in homes and teach. They obey God and disobey the word of mortals.
Podcasts on the English of Acts 5
Videos on the Greek of Acts 5

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Acts 4 Explanatory Notes

Previously on Acts:

Acts 1
Acts 2
Acts 3

Now here are my notes on Acts 4, with the video links at the bottom. You can follow my daily podcasts on Acts on Patreon.

b. The Aftermath (4:1-31)
  • 4:1. They prayed. The Spirit came. They received power (cf. 1:8). They then witnessed in other languages with boldness as an expression of that power. In Acts 3 they heal a lame man as an expression of that power.
  • Now come the reactions. One reaction is growth--three thousand on the Day of Pentecost (2:41). Another reaction is opposition, and we see it begin here in Acts 4.
  • The priests, captain of the temple, and the Sadducees check up on them. The Sadducees were a group most known in the New Testament for not believing in resurrection. They tended to be priestly and very upper class. They tended to form the ruling class in Jerusalem, and the high priest seems often to have been Sadducee in this era. The Sadducees thus seem to have been collaborators with the Romans, not least so that they could remain in power.
  • 4:2. The Sadducees would be annoyed at the preaching of resurrection not just because they did not believe in resurrection but because resurrection implied the upheaval of the current world order. Resurrection implied the overthrow of the existing powers by an apocalyptic breaking of God into history. It was a revolutionary doctrine, as N. T. Wright has recognized.
  • Perhaps even more concerning is that they were gaining traction with the people. Insurrection is always something that ancient leaders watched carefully and often feared. The Romans were particularly hard on unapproved public gatherings and so, as in the case of Jesus, the leaders of Jerusalem would have been keen to keep things from escalating to where the Romans would get involved.
  • 4:3. They put them in jail for the night to break up the momentum of their popularity and interrogate them the next day.
  • 4:4. But the movement is growing immensely. Their number is now about 5000. Notice the language of faith. 
  • 4:5-6. We meet the interrogators. It is possibly a smaller subset of the larger Sanhedrin. Annas is called high priest here, but more likely Caiaphas is officially high priest (AD17-36). Annas is his father-in-law who officially held the high priesthood from AD6-15 but continued to hold great influence. John and Alexander seem to be of the same priestly family. Elders and scribes are also there.
  • 4:7. The question they ask is simple. On what authority, by what name have they healed the lame man.
  • 4:8-12. This is Peter's response. The third sermon of sorts although it is rather short. 
  • 4:8. A key observation is that Peter is full of the Holy Spirit, giving him boldness and authority in speech.
  • 4:9-10. The name by which the lame man was healed (in Greek, "has been saved") is Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Peter reminds them that this was the man that they put to death. 
  • More importantly, he is the one whom God raised from the dead. This is the key point of all the sermons but Stephen's (who doesn't get to finish the sermon). Note that God is the active agent, Jesus the object.
  • 4:11. An allusion to Psalm 118:22. Also quoted in Matthew 21:42. Jesus is the stone that the leaders of Jerusalem rejected, but God had made him the cornerstone, the Messiah.
  • 4:12. A key verse of Christian soteriology. There is no other path to salvation but Christ. Jesus is the only name under heaven by which one can be saved.
  • 4:13. Peter and John did not have a formal education. They were agrammatoi, unlettered, untrained in Greek. They were idiotes, formally untrained. But they had been with Jesus. Some of course take these words to mean that they did not know Greek and/or were illiterate.
  • The ancient world was an oral world not a literary one. Being illiterate was thus the norm and did not mean one wasn't intelligent. The memory in an oral culture is much greater than that in a literary culture.
  • 4:14-16. There was no plausible deniability of what had happened. So they needed to strategize what to do. They did not want the movement to spread, but couldn't lie about what had happened.
  • 4:17-18. They decided simply to command them not to speak in Jesus' name any more. For many, this tactic might have worked. The high priest and council had great power and no doubt would have normally been fearsome to a common person.
  • 4:19-20. Full of the Holy Spirit and boldness, Peter and John cannot obey. They must obey God. They are apostles, whose very meaning is to witness to the resurrection of Jesus. 
  • There could be an allusion here to the trial of Socrates where he says, "Men of Athens, I respect and love you, but I shall obey god rather than you" (Apology 29d).
  • Notice how often "Peter and John" have been mentioned as speaking. Obviously they are both not talking at the same time saying the same words. Peter is probably the one literally speaking and no doubt John agrees with what he is saying. It may imply, however, that these are not the exact words said. Perhaps more words were said (including words by John). This is the gist of what was said, likely abbreviated.
  • 4:21-22. They release them. The best they can do is threaten them and speak sternly to them. The man was over 40 years old. Everyone knew who he was and who he had been.
  • 4:23-31. These verses give the response of the believers.
  • 4:23. They return to "their own." They are not of the sort of the priests and leaders.
  • 4:24-30. They pray. That is their response. They pray "together."
  • 4:25. They reference Scripture, through which the Holy Spirit speaks to them.
  • 4:25-26. This is a quotation of Psalm 2:1-2. At the time, David was understood to be the author of this psalm, although in terms of the original meaning, this psalm was probably an enthronement psalm, a psalm for the enthronement of a king.
  • The psalm addresses a situation where outside political forces oppose the king anointed by the LORD, in this case Jesus.
  • 4:27-28. Here they apply the Scripture. Herod, Pontius Pilate and other Gentiles gathered against Jesus, God's holy servant (pais again, entailing a likely allusion to Isaiah 53).
  • 4:28. Acts uses deterministic language fairly often, which we have to process theologically in terms of the whole counsel of God in Scripture. However, in this case he is speaking of the overall plan of salvation, which certainly was predetermined by God.
  • 4:29-30. The prayer ends with a petition for boldness and for an empowerment to continue to perform signs and wonders.
  • 4:30. The miracles are authorized by Christ. They are done "in the name of Christ," who is once again called pais, servant, alluding perhaps to Isaiah 53. There could be the implication that the righteous suffering of Jesus authorizes the performance of miracles.
  • 4:31. They are filled with the Holy Spirit again, indicating that being filled with the Spirit is a repeatable event, especially when one is in need of power to face a particular event or challenge. 
  • Signs accompany the filling, and boldness is the chief manifestation here of the power that comes from the Spirit.
2. Early Church Life (4:32-5:42)
a. All things in common (4:32-37)
  • This paragraph again summarizes the nature of the life of the earliest church (cf. also 2:42-47). It is perhaps a somewhat idealized picture. In keeping with the nature of ancient history writing, it is not merely reporting but reporting with a moral. The "evaluative" perspective of Acts wants the reader to see this description as good and as something to be emulated.
  • 4:32. They are of one heart and soul. 
  • The church treats their possessions like a healthy family would. They share their possessions.
  • 4:33. The apostles continue to give witness to the resurrection, which again is what an apostle is in Acts, someone to whom the risen Christ has appeared and commissioned to go as a witness to the resurrection.
  • There is great favor on them all... or perhaps great grace. The first suggests that they were favored by the people. The second suggests that God was giving them great power. Both are probably true.
  • 4:34-35. Acts probably wants us to see this as the way the church would ideally function. There should be no needy in the church when those who have excess help out those who have fallen on hard times. Perhaps Luke wants Theophilus to think this way too, since he is likely someone of some wealth and status.
  • Certainly history has also proved that it does not go well for millennial communities whose persons of means divest themselves of all their property (often because they believe the Lord is immediately going to return). Similarly, it does not well to develop an unnecessary dependence among the needy. It does not contradict Acts for those who can to continue to generate resources for the community, nor to expect the needy to work as part of the community (e.g., 2 Thess. 3:10). Luke does not say that this model must be enacted exactly in every time and place.
  • 4:35. The apostles seem to have served as the roundhouse for the proceeds of sales and distribution. 
  • 4:36-37. Here we are introduced to Barnabas, who gives us a specific example of what was happening in the church. His example is considered entirely positive, and he is depicted entirely positively in the book of Acts and almost entirely positively in Paul's writings.
  • 4:36. Barnabas is apparently a name the apostles have given him, "son of encouragement." He will bear out this name in the story of the early church. 
  • He is a Levite, originally from the island of Cyprus. His point of origin presumably played a role in the itinerary of the first missionary journey in Acts 13.
  • 4:37. He owned a field, sold it, donated it, in keeping with the familial, communal nature of the earliest believers.
Videos on the English of Acts 4
Videos on the Greek of Acts 4

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Friday Science: General Relativity 1

A little over four years ago, I found a great book on relativity. Peter Collier's A Most Incomprehensible Thing: Notes Toward a Very Gentle Introduction to the Mathematics of Relativity. I've gone through a little less than half of it.

His concept is to introduce all the math needed for special and general relativity in the first 100 pages or so. He tries not to assume that you've had any of the math beyond algebra. He does pretty well although I think you probably need to have done some of it before to get it.

BTW, I first saw an approach something like this in the summer of 1983 at Rose-Hulman. I was given a physics textbook by Marion and Hornyak that interspersed calculus lessons with the physics. I thought it was brilliant--introduce the background math as you need it. It's something like problem-based learning.

I've basically finished Hawking. So on Fridays I hope more or less to alternate between Susskind's book on quantum mechanics and Collier. I don't entirely have down everything from his 58 pages on special relativity. Maybe I'll go back at some point. But I want to move forward through his 180 or so pages on general relativity.

4.1 Introducing the Manifold
a. Special relativity functions on the basis of what is called "Minkowski" space, which is flat.
  • 3.2.2 Time for a flashback. In chapter 3, he introduces Minkowski space or spacetime. In Newtonian mechanics, we talk about three-dimensional space, Euclidean space. 
  • For special relativity, Einstein drew on the idea of four-dimensional space, with time as the fourth dimension (spacetime). 
  • This is named for the German mathematician, Hermann Minkowski (1864-1909).
  • In Minkowski space, parallel lines never meet, so it is still flat space.
In general relativity, space curves, so we need some new math. Einstein, with the help of David Hilbert, found this math in the work of the German Bernhard Reimann (1826-66).
b. In general relativity, matter and energy curve spacetime. Gravity is not considered a force but a property of the curvature of spacetime. The idea of a "Riemannian manifold" is used to model this. A manifold is a smoothly curved space that is locally flat.

It would be like an ant walking on an apple. The ant thinks it is walking straight, but it is curving around the apple. Such a path on a sphere or curved surface is called a geodesic.

A circle is a one-dimensional manifold. If you walk on the perimeter and the circle is large enough, it just seems like you are walking straight. A sphere is a two-dimensional manifold. We can speak of a manifold as n-dimensional when locally it can be described by n dimensions.

Patrons only: Gamaliel and Revolutionaries

My weekly podcast and video are now available for my patrons on (that is, for $5 dollar or more a month donors). This week looks at Gamaliel, Pharisees, and revolutionaries in Acts 5.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Acts 3 Explanatory Notes

For about 13 weeks now I have been studying Acts. Here are my notes and videos on the previous chapters covered:

Acts 1
Acts 2

[I am changing my format a little starting this week. I will be doing daily podcasts (Monday through Friday) on the English translation of a chapter a week of Acts. These will be available to everyone on my Patreon site. Then the equivalent videos will be available on YouTube for everyone showing the Greek from which I am translating, possibly with a little extra engagement with the Greek at the end. Finally, I will continue my deeper dive material on Saturdays for patrons only (i.e., those who donate at least $5 a month to the cause on Patreon).]

Here are some notes on Acts three, with the video links at the bottom.

B. Manifestations of the Spirit in Jerusalem (3:1-8:3)
     1. The Healing of the Lame Man (3:1-4:31)
          a. The Healing (3:1-26)

1) The Event (3:1-10)
  • Acts 3 is a consequence of the Spirit coming in Acts 2. They have spoken boldly as a result. They received the ability to speak in other languages on the Day of Pentecost. Now the power of the Spirit (cf. 1:8) that leads to witness will show itself in a miraculous sign. Such signs were understood to demonstrate the endorsement of God and entailed an implicit comparison with Jesus (cf. 2:22). Just as Jesus did signs through the power of the Spirit, now Peter and John would perform signs through the power of the Spirit.
  • 3:1. The continued use of the temple by the Jerusalem apostles seems significant. They do not preach against the temple. Acts 21:24 seems to imply that they continued to sacrifice there. In general, it seems unlikely that they as yet understood Christ's death to imply the finality of sacrifices. Christ's death probably at this point was only stood to have the power to reset the spiritual state of contemporary Israel, not to atone for the sins of the whole world as we find finally in Hebrews.
  • Notice again the significance that prayer plays in Luke's theology.
  • 3:2. Those who were unable to fend for themselves, such as this lame man, had to rely on the generosity and grace of others for their survival. This man lives off the "acts of mercy" or alms that are given to him at the temple.
  • There is some debate as to which entrance Luke has in mind by the "Beautiful Gate." Most scholars opt for the Nicanor Gate that separated the Court of Women from the Court of Israel. However, traditionally it is identified with the more outer Shushan Gate.
  • 3:3-5. The normal exchange takes place between a beggar and someone entering. Peter and John are mentioned as a unit, although Peter does all the talking. The fact that Peter speaks to him makes the lame man think they are going to give something to him.
  • 3:6. This verse has often been used as an indictment of a church that has become affluent but lacks spiritual power. A legend is especially told of an exchange between Thomas Aquinas and the Pope in the thirteenth century. The Pope remarks to Thomas that the church no longer need say it lacks silver and gold. Then Thomas responds, "But can we still say rise up and walk?"
  • 3:7-10. The man is healed, a consequence of the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2. 
  • 3:8. The response of the man is appropriately to praise God. They continue into the temple to worship.
  • 3:9-10. The people recognize him and see the sign. They are filled with wonder and amazement. 
2) The Sermon (3:11-26)
  • 3:11. As on the Day of Pentecost, the people come together to see and inquire about the powerful event that has taken place. People come "together," which seems to happen often in this part of Acts.
  • Solomon's Portico seems to be the part of the temple in which the Jesus followers will gather regularly. This was on the eastern side of the Court of the Gentiles.
  • 3:12-26. The rest of the chapter is the second sermon of Acts, also delivered by Peter.
  • 3:12-16. In the first half of the sermon, Peter explains what has happened.
  • 3:12. Peter makes it clear that they have not performed this miracle on the basis of their own power or godliness. 
  • 3:13. God has performed the miracle in order to glorify Jesus. There is a sense of the continued vindication and legitimization of Jesus by God. 
  • Peter and John are addressing Jews, and God is identified as the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the fathers of Israel. This comment implies again the continuity of what God has done through Jesus and what he was doing with Israel in the past.
  • The use of the word pais suggests that Isaiah 53 and the suffering servant is in the background here.
  • 3:13-14. By contrast, they handed him over. They denied him, even though Pilate would have released him. They asked for a murderer instead and in effect killed Jesus (3:15).
  • 3:14. Jesus is the "holy and righteous one." Although it is not clear, Richard Hays would like to think that Romans 1:17 is thinking of Jesus as the "righteous one will live because of his faithfulness" in Habakkuk 2:4.
  • 3:15. Jesus is called the "author of life," an implication of his resurrection for Luke.
  • God raised Jesus from the dead. This is the climax of all the sermons of Acts, except for Stephen's sermon, which was ended abruptly.
  • The apostles are witnesses of the resurrection. This is in fact what an apostle is, someone who witnessed the resurrection who is sent to give witness to that event.
  • 3:16. Faith in the name of Jesus is the mechanism that has brought the power of healing to this man. The name is the source of power. Jesus' name authorizes the miracle.
  • 3:17-26. This is the second half of the sermon, in which Peter tells them how they should respond to the event.
  • 3:17. More than once in Acts, the idea is presented that God is willing to overlook the ignorance of the past, as long as the audience responds in repentance (cf. 17:30). Interestingly, Peter even suggests that the rulers of Israel even acted in ignorance.
  • 3:18. The theme that these events were all part of God's foreknowledge and plan is mentioned, a common theme in the sermons of Acts. Isaiah 53 seems to have been a key text for Acts foretelling Jesus' sufferings.
  • 3:19. Here is the course of action the crowd needs to take (cf. 2:38). They need to repent. The "you" is plural, perhaps suggesting especially a corporate repentance of Israel here. 
  • 3:20. The result will be times of refreshing will come. It is quite possible that these words are directed at Israel. If Israel will corporately repent, then God will restore the kingdom to Israel, as the disciples inquired in 1:6. 
  • Intrinsic to this refreshing is the sending of Israel's Messiah, the Christ, back from heaven. If Israel will return to God, God will send Jesus back to reign on earth and Israel will experience a time of restoration and "refreshing" (cf. Rom. 11:26-27). Unfortunately, as the book of Acts moves forward, the Jews increasingly reject the good news.
  • 3:21. The plan is for Jesus to wait in heaven at God's right hand until the appropriate time for this restoration to take place.
  • 3:22-23. Peter understands Deuteronomy 18:18-19 to be a prophecy of Jesus. (It is sometimes speculated that when the Book of the Law/Deuteronomy was discovered during the reign of Josiah in 2 Kings 22:8, this passage could have been understood to be about him.) John 6:14  and 7:14 also seem to identify Jesus with this passage (cf. John 1:21, 25). Did John know Acts?
  • Peter's version of the quote does not follow either the Hebrew or Septuagint text exactly.
  • Peter's sermon seems to connect the verses in Deuteronomy with the later reign of Jesus after he returns from heaven.
  • 3:24. Peter invokes prophecies of Jesus in the Old Testament, starting from Samuel. It is not clear whether he means Samuel's anointing of David as king or whether he means the book of Samuel. 2 Samuel 7:14 for example is taken in a spiritual sense to foreshadow Jesus in Hebrews 1:5. Most of the Scripture fulfillments in relation to Jesus are OT passages taken in a "fuller sense."
  • 3:25. As in Paul, Acts 3 sees in Genesis 12:3 a foreshadowing of the good news reaching the Gentiles. Peter perhaps foreshadows that as well in this verse. All the families of the earth will be blessed because of the covenant God made with Israel.
  • 3:26. The good news is "to the Jew first" (cf. Rom. 1:16), and Israel is first to get a chance to turn from its wickedness. God blessed them by sending his "servant" Jesus to them first. 
  • God raised Jesus, his "servant." Once again, the word for servant/son here (pais) evokes the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.
Videos on English of Acts 3
Acts 3:1-13
Acts 3:14-26

Videos on Greek of Acts 3
Acts 3:1-3
Acts 3:4-6
Acts 3:7-8
Acts 3:9-11
Acts 3:12-13
Acts 3:14-15
Acts 3:16-18
Acts 3:19-21
Acts 3:22-24
Acts 3:25-26

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Patrons Only: Barnabas

My patrons only post this week on Patreon was about Barnabas in the New Testament. I did it in both video and podcast form for my patrons:

Starting on Monday (dv), I'm going to do a new format on Patreon:
  • The daily installments on weekdays will be podcasts on the English translation, available to all, covering about a chapter a week. So instead of the weekly overviews on Sundays, I will be be doing podcast commentary on about 10 verses a day.
  • This podcast will also be available daily on YouTube with the Greek text on the screen. These may be a little longer than the podcast if there are some interesting Greek forms or syntax.
  • I will continue to do a deeper dive for patrons only on Saturdays.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Independence Day 2018

Happy Independence Day!

It is a strange feature of America right now that one segment of the population--almost entirely white, heavily evangelical, older, and middle/south country--thinks that America is finally back on the right path to becoming great again. Probably a majority of the country--those of other ethnicities, younger, coastal and big cities--think our democracy is in serious danger. If it weren't so important, it would be fascinating. I hope I will be able to look back on these days in fascination.

What are the points of disagreement?

Race and Immigration
1. Given many comments made on the campaign trail, the majority of non-whites in America do not feel like the current President has a particularly positive view toward them. Accordingly, racist views that people knew to keep to themselves before (or at selective water coolers) are now said openly. Ironically, refugees fleeing the violent to our borders are painted by the president as being the very people from whom they are fleeing.

Since most whites--especially older whites--are mostly blind to the experiences of non-whites anyway, the promotion of norms that favor a white majority is not experienced as injustice but as "making America great again." In truth, America had actually been on a slow process toward becoming greater. Slavery lasted almost a hundred years into our existence, but was abolished at great cost. Jim Crow laws were a backlash in the south that lasted almost another hundred years, but the civil rights laws of the 60s did make America a greater nation by getting rid of them. America had been moving toward a more level playing field.

Evangelicalism does not have an untainted history here. The Southern Baptist Church was explicitly founded to stand for slavery against the northern baptists. The modern states' rights movement that Jerry Falwell fused with abortion in the early 80s has deeper roots in opposition to the civil rights movement--that is, its roots are in southern racism. The linkage with abortion has only made it seem righteous.

2. The current administration represents a nativism that we have seen before in our history against Irish, Italians, Polish, Catholics, Chinese, etc (remember Polack jokes?). The statements are there from the president, for example, portraying all illegals as rapists or gang members. These things are as plain as day to millennials but somehow play into the fears and/or prejudices of older whites. They do not fit the spirit of the Old Testament toward the stranger in the land or the Parable of the Good Samaritan or the inclusivity of Acts and Paul. There is no biblical ground to stand on here, although the ingenious twist the Scriptures to fit their inklings.

Apt is the phrase, "make America hate again." Ask a person of color. It's not for a white person to say, "No, you're wrong about what you're experiencing." And the church will pay a price for it, regardless of its motives. "I didn't realize" won't cut it then. There will be consequences and already are. It will prove an obstacle to evangelism. Smiling white Trumpists trying to spread the gospel and shocked at the doors slammed in their faces and the steadily declining overall attendance in their churches. "What did I do? I only wanted to share the good news with them?"

As a millennial who isn't attending church told me recently, "I bet only conservatives go to church now."

The Rule of Law
3. The president is under investigation. It is the consensus of those across our government and in the governments of our allies that Putin tampered with our election. This is not surprising as we no doubt have tried to tamper in their business as well. What is at first surprising is that it has been very difficult to get our president to admit it.

Indeed, while our president says bad things about pretty much everyone--probably more about our historic allies than our historic enemies--he has never a negative thing to say about Putin. The Republican platform was altered in this regard. You get the gnawing feeling that he owes something to this guy. And somehow the segment of the American population that was most anti-Russia in the past is not alarmed at our sudden coziness with Putin.

This is not a little bit frightening. Former military generals sound the alarm. Former intelligence leaders sound the alarm. But for some reason these people are dismissed. Indeed, the fever of support for the current president among evangelicals reminds me of end times teaching I grew up with where "even the very elect" are deceived by the antichrist.

The Justice Department, full of Republicans appointed by the president, find themselves the object of his smear campaigns and of previously unknown inquisitors in the House, finding their moment in the sun by becoming attack dogs for the president. It's like the Justice Department is expected to serve like the lawyer of a mob boss, not as an independent balance of power.

4. Republican leaders in Congress say little until they decide to retire and aren't running for re-election. Then they speak more freely in critique. Again, this dynamic is striking. We get the impression that the problematic nature of the situation is known but unspoken. Meanwhile, when a John McCain speaks up, he is smeared. And somehow his own people buy it.

Why don't more Republicans in Congress speak? At first they didn't speak because they were getting things they thought they'd never get, like tax cuts that accelerate the gap between the incredibly rich and the incredibly not. Rules on businesses meant to keep us from another Great Recession or worse are pealed back. The EPA is dismantled and business is booming without the cost of protections to keep things like Flint, Michigan from happening.

But now they don't speak because the shrinking Republican party has become incredibly unified behind the president. This man whose deadly sins were once seen for what they are--lust, greed, pride--has been sanctified as a baby Christian who sins just like we all sin. Meanwhile, formerly staunch Republicans are becoming independents or Democrats, people like Joe Scarborough and Steve Schmidt. Nicole Wallace is just one example of a commentator who was in the Bush administration and is soundly Republican but is so clearly alarmed by the current administration.

Schmidt, a staunch supporter of Republican values, in what no one could have anticipated two years ago, declared that the Republican party was now the party of Trump and had become "corrupt, indecent, and immoral." The zero tolerance policy at the border was the last straw for him. Laura Bush also mourned what was happening at the border. These are not Democrats. These are life-long Republicans. Reason suggests that there is a reality here that can't be dismissed by a conspiracy theory or by blaming Democrats, who have no power whatsoever at this moment in time.

The rule of law is only as strong as the people. And it is only as strong as the people in power are willing to enforce it. With the current Republicans in office, paralyzed by constituencies under the spell of a charismatic leader, the rule of law is teeter-tottering. de Tocqueville foresaw these dangers. The tyranny of the majority is when the majority uses its power to run over the interests of minorities--or to ignore the Constitution.

5. I love the Constitution. I love the Statue of Liberty. I love the ideal of the Republic, a representational democracy with a Bill of Rights. But we are sick right now, and half the country is in denial, including vast portions of the church. We are in a moment of decline because we have lost our sense of the Constitution, the Statue of Liberty, and the Bill of Rights.

Is it to reverse Roe v Wade? Mike Pence would serve as well to do that, so it is no excuse. Indeed, by any standard Mike Pence is the more likely Christian of our two current leaders.

God has used these last two years to try to free me of the idol of America. He hasn't completely succeeded, for I haven't lost all hope yet. But he is telling me we are just another nation in thousands of years of the salvation story. Why should I think he loves us more than the believers in China? He is telling me we aren't always going to be a shining beacon to the world. God can bring justice to the world through Canadians and Germans just as well as through Americans. What right do I have to live in a place where these ideals of equality and freedom prevail? Most Christians in history haven't lived under such circumstances. I've been spoiled by growing up in the era I did.

I have not lost hope for our future, although I have had moments of despair these last two years. I pray the Lord will indeed make America great again. But if he doesn't, Jesus is Lord, not Caesar.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Patrons Only: High Priests, Sanhedrin, "Unlettered"

This is a glimpse of my "patrons only" post this week on my Patreon page. I'm game to provide for patrons all sorts of information and presentations. Feel free to join and ask away!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Friday Science: Hawking 9 (The Arrow of Time)

Friday reviews of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time so far.
Chapter 1: Heliocentric
Chapter 2: Spacetime
Chapter 3: Expansion of the Universe
Chapter 4: Uncertainty Principle
Chapter 5: Elementary Particles and the Forces of Nature
Chapter 6: Black Holes
Chapter 7: Black Holes Ain't So Black
Chapter 8: The Origin and Fate of the Universe

Chapter 9: The Arrow of Time
Getting close to the end. The problem we are dealing with in this chapter is the fact that, on the quantum level, nothing prevents a forward or backward movement in time. In the macro-universe, time only can move in one direction. In the micro-universe, this simply is not the case.

The first reason for this is what Hawking calls the "thermodynamic" arrow of time. We easily identify with a cup shattering on the floor. We do not identify with a cup unfalling and unshattering.

Another arrow is the "cosmological" arrow. The universe is expanding. My sense is that Hawking, writing this book in the late 80s, hoped that eventually this expansion would stop and recontract, making possible an oscillating big bang of sorts. That view has largely been eliminated in the last twenty years

A third arrow he mentions is the "psychological" arrow. This one I am less convinced of. It seems to be related to the anthropic principle. Basically, he argues that our brains are just wired to see time moving in only one direction.

Short chapter. I'm sure I don't fully know the depth of some of what he is saying. But I think I know enough to know that subsequent developments have trashed some of what he said.

The universe has a prevailing arrow of time, based on the second law of thermodynamics and its expansion. On the micro-level, this may not always be the case.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Acts 2 Explanatory Notes

For about 12 weeks now I have been studying Acts. Here are my notes and videos on Acts 1.

And now my notes and videos on Acts 2.

II. Acts 2-7 Jerusalem
A. Acts 2 The Coming of the Spirit
  • 2:1. We can assume from Acts 1:14 that these believers have been praying as important context for the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is also significant that they are "together." That is, they are unified.
  • 2:2. The word for spirit (pneuma) is related to the word for wind (pnoe). Spirit is something that is blown. The metaphor of "filling" is frequently used with the Holy Spirit, like a cup that is filled.
  • 2:3. The idea of tongues of fire is attested by Philo at the event of the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai and we can find in some places an association between Pentecost and Sinai. It is thus at least possible that we should hear new covenant overtones to the Day of Pentecost.
  • 2:4. A number of expressions are used in Acts for the event that takes place here--being "filled" with the Spirit, being "baptized" in the Holy Spirit, "receiving" the Holy Spirit. These would all seem to be synonymous expressions. 
  • Being filled with the Holy Spirit is an initiatory experience in the book of Acts. That is to say, a person has not truly become part of the people of God until he or she has received the Spirit. This baptism in the Spirit is the means by which one's past sins are cleansed (cf. Acts 15:9). 
  • Within the narrative world of Luke-Acts, this event is the fulfillment of Luke 3:16. That is to say, we would introduce foreign elements into Luke's story if we insert John 20:22 here. In the story world of Luke-Acts, this is the first time that the disciples receive the Spirit.
  • For Acts, Paul, and Hebrews, receiving the Holy Spirit is the initiatory experience for a Christian. Faith (Paul), repentance (Luke), and confession (John) are important precursors to inclusion in the people of God, but they are not the borderline per se. "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they are not his" (Rom. 8:9). The Holy Spirit is a seal indicating God's ownership of us (2 Cor. 1:22). He is the earnest of our inheritance, serving both as a down payment and guarantee of our salvation (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5). 
  • One is thus not a Christian unless you have received the Holy Spirit, and if you have received the Holy Spirit, you are a Christian. Therefore, in the narrative world of Luke-Acts, the Day of Pentecost is the birth of the church. 
  • The primary manifestation of receiving the Holy Spirit is power, as indicated in Acts 1:8. The first manifestation of this power is speaking in languages. These would seem to be human languages in Acts 2. The word for utterance here seems to suggest divinely revealed messages.
  • 2:5-6. We should picture this crowd as an overwhelmingly Jewish crowd. Pilgrimage to Jerusalem was a feature of the Judaism of the day, thus the picture of Diaspora Jews from all over the Roman Empire coming at some point to the temple. The volume of the noise from the rushing wind must have been quite spectacular.
  • 2:7-11. In these verses we get a sense of how many nations were represented in Jerusalem on feast days. This cross-section of Diaspora Judaism will serve as a conduit for the Jesus movement spreading throughout the world. 
  • 2:7. We get an overtone that Galileans were not particularly thought of as likely to speak in so many different languages.
  • 2:8. This verse clearly indicates that the languages spoken were human languages and that the use of tongues here served the purpose of evangelism. Although the other instances of tongues speaking do not indicate the nature of the tongues, Acts 2 may tip the scales toward them being human languages in the other instances too.
  • Acts never indicates that tongues always accompanied receiving the Holy Spirit. The believers at Samaria are not said to speak in tongues in Acts 8, nor is Paul said to in Acts 9. 
  • 2:11. The content of what they were saying seems to have been the "great works of God."
  • 2:12-13. There seem to be two basic reactions to the event. Some are perplexed and want to know more. Others immediately reject the spiritual nature of the event and propose that the men are drunk. In other words, some have ears to hear and others do not.
  • 2:14-36. This is the first and most important sermon in Acts, giving Peter's response to the crowd. We call the basic gospel message of this sermon the "kerygma," that which is preached. 
  • We probably shouldn't think of this sermon as a verbatim. It would be in keeping with the practices of ancient history writing for Luke to summarize, paraphrase, even at times create material for such speeches (cf. Thucydides). 
  • 2:14-21. The main parts of the sermon each begin with a word that addresses the crowd. The first is "Men, Jews, and all those dwelling in Jerusalem."
  • 2:15. Peter first rejects the claim that they are drunk. It is only 9 in the morning. There may be some implied parallel between being filled with the Spirit and being drunk with wine (Eph. 5:18).
  • 2:16-21. Peter offers by contrast that the event is the fulfillment of the words of Joel 2. In the prophets, the Day of the Lord was a day of the Lord's judgment, one that could occur as often as needed. Acts presumably relates this to the Day of the Lord, the final judgment. In that sense, the entire age of the church is syncopated into this moment.
  • Language of the moon darkening and the sun turning to blood is eclipse language. It is not clear that Luke foresees a literal eclipse at some time but this is apocalyptic language. He may actually be saying that the Day of Pentecost fulfilled the thrust of those signs.
  • 2:17-18. These are key verses indicating that the age of the Spirit is one in which both men and women will preach. Preaching is often a form of prophesying, that is, speaking forth the word that the Lord has given to a particular group of people, a divine utterance. Prophecy is much more "forth-telling" than it is "fore-telling." The Spirit is the great equalizer, and since men and women possess the Spirit in full measure, there is no spiritual activity that is limited to a certain gender or type of person. "In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free. There is not male and female" (Gal. 3:28).
  •  2:21. One of the main themes of Acts is that anyone can now call on the Lord, and anyone who does will be saved. Luke also uses deterministic language but these two types of language should not be connected philosophically as in Calvinism. In keeping with the fatalism of the day, Luke assumes that those who are called have been chosen by God and yet also believes that the gospel is for everyone and anyone merely need call upon God to be saved.
  • 2:22-35. These verses focus on Psalm 16:8-11, which Luke uses in conjunction with Psalm 110:1 to indicate that Jesus' resurrection is also the fulfillment of prophecy, just like the day of Pentecost.
  • 2:22. Luke's Christology focuses on the empowered humanity of Jesus. In this verse, for example, Jesus is said to be a man whom God endorsed by empowering him to do signs and wonders through the Holy Spirit. In this sense Jesus the man gives us an example of what is possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • 2:23. One feature of the sermons of Acts, of which this one is the most important and central one, is that the enemies of Christ did not prevail. Jesus' death was in accordance with the foreknowledge and plan of God.
  • 2:24. The climax of every sermon in Acts except one (Stephen's sermon--he is stoned to death before he can get to this part of the sermon) is the statement that "God raised him from the dead." Notice again that the agency is that of God the Father rather than Jesus himself.
  • 2:25-28. Here is the quote of Psalm 16. 
  • 2:25. The Greek version of Psalm 16:8 differs a little from the Hebrew. The Hebrew reads, "I put the LORD" but the Greek reads, "I foresaw." While Peter might have known some Greek, it seems more likely that he would have spoken Aramaic on the Day of Pentecost, suggesting that Luke is at the very least making Peter's sermon conform to the text in which his audience would have read the psalm. 
  • More importantly, this different wording leads Luke's Peter to see these words as a prophecy by the psalmist, understood to be David, rather than a statement about the psalmist himself, as it likely was in its original meaning.
  • 2:26. The version Luke's Peter quotes in 2:26 also follows the Septuagint with the expression "in hope" rather than the likely Hebrew, "securely." 
  • 2:29-31. Now Peter gives a spiritual interpretation of the psalm. The original psalmist was likely expressing his confidence that God was going to save him from dying. Luke's Peter takes the psalm spiritually to mean that God would not leave the Messiah dead.
  • 2:32. An apostle is of course someone who is sent, but in Acts the apostles were sent with a very clear task to give witness to the resurrection. In the vast majority of cases in the New Testament, an apostle is someone to whom the risen Christ has appeared, who has been sent to witness to his resurrection, which means to witness to his Lordship.
  • 2:33. There are a number of places where the Gospel of John seems to echo themes in Acts, making us wonder if John had read Acts. Here we see a theme that John will develop in the later part of John. Jesus ascends to heaven and then sends the Holy Spirit.
  • 2:34-35. Here we have a foundational interpretation of Psalm 110:1 for the early church, one that may have been central to early Christian understanding of the resurrection. Jesus' resurrection is understood to be a cosmic enthronement whereby Jesus is exalted to God's right hand in the highest heaven. 
  • The key to this interpretation is to see "my Lord" as David referring to the Messiah. In the original meaning, the psalmist was probably referring to an earthly king. In the spiritual interpretation, YHWH speaks to the Messiah.
  • 2:36. Here is the final climax of the sermon. Jesus has been enthroned as Lord and Messiah. God "has made him." They crucified him. God enthroned him. The timing of the enthronement in context is post resurrection. Thus we might say that Jesus was heir apparent up to this point, but then is seated on the throne after his resurrection, ascension, and exaltation. This is the "session" of Christ.
  • 2:37-41. Here we have the response to Peter's sermon. We should note that the boldness of Peter to preach is one of the manifestations of the power that has come on him because of the filling of the Holy Spirit.
  • 2:37. The crowd has the response. Upon realizing that they have participated in the crucifixion of their own Messiah, they want to turn and see restoration.
  • 2:38. This verse unfolds how to call on the name of the Lord. First one repents or turns from one's self-destructive path. Repentance is a major feature of Luke's theology (as opposed to Paul's, who hardly mentions it). Then one believes or exercises faith. The crucial moment, however, is when one receives the Holy Spirit. This is the moment when one actually becomes part of the people of God, is cleansed of one's past sins, and is going to be saved on the Day of the Lord.
  • 2:39. The promise is first for the Jews. In Acts 10 we will learn it is for the Gentiles as well.
  • 2:40. By contrast, the generation of which they are a part is "crooked" and destined for destruction.
  • 2:41. About 3000 people respond positively to the message and join the Jesus movement.
  • 2:42-47. These verses give us an idyllic picture of the earliest church, and Luke wants us to see this picture as the ideal. He is not merely describing the early church. The evaluative point of view of Acts is entirely positive toward this picture.
  • 2:42. This community involves teaching and teaching by the apostles. The source of their teaching is presumably the Holy Spirit, although they have also been apprentices of Jesus.
  • Community life involves fellowship (koinonia) and prayer. The importance of fellowship should not be underestimated. The breaking of bread suggests a level of mutual approval and intimacy.
  • 2:43. The apostles performed miracles, which brought a fear at the seriousness of the power of the Spirit. It is interesting that it is not suggested that all the believers performed miracles.
  • 2:44-45. There was a communal aspect of the early church. Those who had more possessions than they needed sold them and gave them to others who had need. The sense probably is not that they sold everything, although it is possible that some did. Those who think the Lord will return immediately or soon sometimes rashly do such things. The sense is probably more that they shared their excess with those in need. In other words, the early church behaved as a family, and they helped each other out accordingly.
  • 2:46. They continued to pray at the temple. We get no sense that they realized the temple was going to be destroyed. Indeed, if Acts 21:24 suggests they continued to participate in the sacrificial system, perhaps implying that they did not yet understand the full scope of Christ's atoning death.
  • Again we see the centrality of fellowship and eating in each other's homes. The church is a new family.
  • 2:47. New people were being saved daily. The sense is not one of "progressive salvation," as if we are gradually being saved. Rather, people were being saved daily, one by one, salvation event by event.
  • They also held favor with the people. Under peaceful circumstances, non-believers should respect and admire believers for their wholesome and peace-loving nature.
Videos on English of Acts 2
Acts 2:1-13
Acts 2:14-23
Acts 2:24-36
Acts 2:37-47

Videos on Greek of Acts 2
Acts 2:1-2
Acts 2:3-4
Acts 2:5-6
Acts 2:7-11
Acts 2:12-13
Acts 2:14-15
Acts 2:16-17
Acts 2:18-19
Acts 2:20-21
Acts 2:22-23
Acts 2:24-25
Acts 2:26-28
Acts 2:29-30
Acts 2:31-33
Acts 2:34-35
Acts 2:36-38
Acts 2:39-40
Acts 2:41-42
Acts 2:43-45
Acts 2:46-47

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Happy 50th Birthday, Wesleyan Church!

On June 26, 1968 the Pilgrim Holiness Church and the Wesleyan Methodist Church voted to merge and become The Wesleyan Church. Happy Birthday!

1. The late 60s were a divisive point in American history, and yet they were also a time when there was a movement toward unification in a number of churches. Just a couple months earlier in 1968, the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Brethren Church had merged. Earlier in the decade, the Roman Catholic Church had changed its sense of non-Catholics to where we could finally go to heaven. :-)

Of course there were those who saw the merger as a movement toward a one world religion, which has of course since taken place. Everyone in the world is now Wesleyan. I had a relative who told my Dad he would pray for his soul if he went with the merger. My Dad was a delegate at the merging conference, and my family was in attendance.

The merger also reminds us that two groups that have almost the same beliefs can still have significant differences in culture and flavor. Personally, I think the merger has worked well for us and was a very positive event. There has only been the occasional ribbing over the years among IWU religion faculty about being either entrepreneurial Pilgrims (Keith Drury, Russ Gunsalus, me) or intellectual Wesleyan Methodists (Bud Bence, Steve Lennox).

Bill Hudson, AP
2. Wesleyans on both sides were pretty absent from the most pressing social issues of that moment. You won't find hardly a word about the civil rights movement in any of the district journals or official records of that time. There were the outliers, like Joanne Lyon, who was working that day in the aftermath of the race riots in Kansas City to try to get people jobs.

But most either felt uncomfortable at being forced to confront the systemic injustices of the time or, at worst, blamed those "trouble makers" for being law-breakers. We are facing some of the same dynamics again today with regard to race and immigration, and many Wesleyans are making the same mistake again. We cannot control how history will view us, just as those who were part of the merging conference cannot control how most young Wesleyans today view their lack of engagement with civil rights back then.

3. The 70s and early 80s were a time of emphasis on evangelism in the church. We are coming back around to an emphasis on it again today in the form of church planting and multiplication. Everything cycles. I grew up in the 70s with John Maxwell and Evangelism Explosion. We had two buses that competed to get as many children on board for Sunday School as possible. Now I have Wayne Schmidt as general superintendent and Mark Gorveatte as DS, and we are innovating like a Pilgrim again. :-)

The focus on doing largely kept us out of intellectual and fundamentalist controversies. The culture wars did affect us though. We can hardly remember what it was like before Jerry Falwell weaponized abortion as an issue, even though most probably did not embrace Jerry Falwell at the time. The culture wars of the 80s formed the psyche of most older Wesleyans, unlike the younger millennials that Robert Webber once called the "younger evangelicals." The problem with doers is that they can easily absorb the ideology of the day without even knowing it.

Today, churches like 12Stone are leaders in the area of church multiplication. The move of the church toward networks of innovative church multipliers (over rigid and unproductive structure) is amazing and ground-breaking. The innovative Pilgrim DNA strikes again!

4. Meanwhile, there were other forces driving us to become more respectable. Here I think especially of figures like J. D. Abbott, who emphasized that everything be done "decently and in order." I haven't seen anyone run the aisle for about forty years, and altar calls were scarce there for a while. Tongues were rejected, although we softened our position on divorce. The impulse toward respectability has led various church and educational leaders to move toward more generic evangelicalism over the years. They have wanted to go play with the big dogs. When someone a few years ago at IWU asked some of us who our aspirational benchmarks were, I remarked under my breath, "We're the benchmark." After all, I'm a Pilgrim. That person was a Wesleyan Methodist. :-)

We started a seminary in 2009. My own by-line in those days was, "Real denominations have seminaries. Are we are real denomination? If not, we should join one." The founding vision of the seminary was to right the balance of ministerial education toward the skills you actually needed to have to do the work of the ministry. "May it never be said of us, 'I didn't learn anything there that I actually needed to know to be a minister.'"

Of course my own thought was never that Wesley would not also create the thought leaders of the next generation of Wesleyans. The problem is only that I can't convince anyone that my thoughts are what those thoughts should be. :-) That's the frustrating thing about free will.

5. I think we created the International Conference of the Wesleyan Church with good motives in 1972. I remember thinking what a great move of empowerment it was to let the Caribbean and then Philippines be their own general conferences, running their own show and contextualizing the gospel and mission for their own cultures. I have been proud that our denomination has increasingly emphasized national leaders and moved away from the older "colonial missionary" approach. We have come a long way from insisting that young native Americans wear Wesleyan wads to letting the Native American church work out its own salvation with fear and trembling.

6. We saw great strides toward recovering the Wesleyan Methodist heritage of social justice these last fifteen years, especially with Joanne Lyon as GS. God also led Wayne Schmidt toward a vision for a Revelation 7:9 community at Kentwood Community Church, a work now continued by Kyle Ray. I sense that Wayne has had to temper this vision because of resistance in the church.

But this is the kingdom trajectory. The current climate is a predictable push-back on the majority culture losing power as America becomes more and more diverse. But this is the future of any thriving church. You can pay the Lord now, or you'll pay him later. :-)

Happy birthday, Wesleyans! We are not the largest of churches. Being Wesleyan doesn't make you holier than someone else. We have some halos and some warts. God does not need us to save the world.

But he loves us and would like to use us, if we are willing.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Patrons Only: Prophet like Moses, Samuel's Prophesy of Jesus

This week's "patrons only" post on my Patreon site discusses who 2 Kings might have thought the prophet like Moses was in the Book of the Law found in the temple. Also, I speculate on what prophecy of Samuel Acts 3:24 might have had in mind.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Wittgenstein 4: Between the Wars

I'm continuing to read Wittgenstein's biography. My first two posts are

1. Childhood and Engineer
2. Student at Cambridge
3. World War I and Teaching

I'm on course to finish this 580 page biography by the end of next week. Don't feel like going into great detail but here are some highlights of chapters 10-18.

Chapter 10: Out of the Wilderness
Wittgenstein had failed as a teacher. On June 3, 1926, his mother died. This produced a profound change in his attitude toward his family. From now to the Anschluss of 1938, he would spend Christmas with them. At first he returned to gardening with the monks in Huttledorf.

Then his sister Gretl had him design a house for her. So he became an architect for a time. He sounds horrible. For example, made them raise a ceiling three inches after it was done. She moved in in 1928. Then there was the market crash. Then she moved to New York after the Anschluss. It is currently used by the Bulgarian Embassy.

He fell in love during this time with one Marguerite Respinger. He must have been horrible because he believed that physical contact destroyed love. He did kiss her though. He would have been a horrible husband, he was so Sheldon-esk.

In this time period he began a good friendship with Moritz Schlick, the key member of what would become the Vienna Circle. This group, for example, discussed a paper by Frank Ramsey trying to restore the credibility of Russell and Frege's sense that mathematics could be reduced to logic. The Vienna Circle, by the way, was surprised to find that Wittgenstein did not fully agree with them, even though he had greatly stimulated their ideas.

A counter proposal we might call "intuitionism" was advocated by Brouwser in Holland. Brouwser did not believe mathematics needed to be grounded in logic. Wittgenstein did not fully agree with Brouwser, but it may have suggested to him that there was more work to do in philosophy. During this time also Wittgenstein developed a desire to go work in manual labor in Soviet Russia. He wasn't a Marxist. He just admired what he thought the way of life was.

Part III: 1929-41 Chapter 11: The Second Coming
Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge in 1929 to work with Ramsey. Keynes was instrumental in getting him to come back. He was still not on good terms with Russell. He visited the Bloomsbury group in London. He was not pleasant because of his argumentative style. W's official status was that of an advanced student reading for a PhD.

A key moment was when an economist friend, Piero Sraffa, made a rude Italian gesture and asked W to picture it (a la his picture theory of language). This moment began to break Wittgenstein of the notion that a proposition and what it describes must have the same logical form. Sraffa would lead W to look at philosophical problems from a more "anthropological" perspective.

Wittgenstein's relationship with G. E. Moore was resumed. It had broken after a rude letter W had sent from Norway.

At this time began W's first real student circle of influence. Maurice Drury would become a doctor rather than a priest because of W. A close foolish friend of W's was Gilbert Patterson--the two would write nonsense back and forth to each other. The word "bloody" was sure to be in almost every letter.

Having given away all his money. He needed some. He ended up applying for a grant. He was awarded a PhD for the Tractatus. Russell came up to be his external examiner. They hadn't seen each other for 7 years. In November 1929 he gave the only popular lecture of his life, on ethics.

Chapter 12: The Verificationist Phase
Christmas 1929 Wittgenstein began to realize that Marguerite did not want to marry him. W met with the Vienna circle. One of them Waismann was going to write a book on the Tractatus. Unfortunately, W was a perfectionist and was quickly abandoning some of his earlier ideas. Also, he believed that many of its key ideas needed to be shown and couldn't be told. The book would never be published.

During this time, though, W did come up with a principle of verification. If a proposition is to have a meaning, we must have some idea of what would be the case if it were true. "The sense of a proposition its means of verification." Funny that W would inspire these logical positivists even though he didn't agree with where they took the concept at all. In any case, his thinking would quickly move on.

In 1930 he returned to Cambridge, and Frank Ramsey died. The following day, W gave his first lecture. His courses were usually titled simply, "Philosophy." At the end of term, W needed funds again. He asked for Russell to look at a manuscript and vouch to Cambridge that his work was worthy of support. These notes would become Philosophical Remarks, his most verificationist work and most phenomenological (published after his death).

Chapter 13: The Fog Clears
In 1930, he came to the crucial conclusion that a philosopher has nothing to say but instead something to show.

He received a five year fellowship on the basis of the work he showed Russell.

He rejected Hilbert's metamathematics. Anticipating post-modernism, he suggested that Hibert's language was not an explanation but "another calculus just like any other one" (307). "You cannot gain a fundamental understanding of mathematics by waiting for a theory." The connection between a word and its meaning is not in a theory but in a practice, namely, in the use of the word.

Chapter 14: A New Beginning
We hear the end of some of the threads I've already mentioned. The end of his relationship with Marquerite. The end of his collaboration with Waismann.

"What replaces theory is grammar" (322). In 1932, he has collected notes that would be posthumously published as Philosophical Grammar. Wittgenstein tries to undermine the logicist school of the philosophy of mathematics (Russell, Frege), the formalist group (Hilbert), and the intuitionist group (Brouwer). To him, math does not need foundations at all. The search for such foundations is the cause of confusion.

Chapter 15: Francis
In my opinion, W would ruin the life of one Francis Skinner. Skinner was utterly infatuated homosexually by W. He could have been a mathematician but ended up working on a factory because W did not think the academy was healthy. There is no air. You can't breathe. But he manufactured his own air.

They tried to go to Russia together to work at a factory. W even went to Russia to explore. Once he had seen it, he never tried again.

Chapter 16: Language Games: The Blue and Brown Books
In the term of 1933-34, Wittgenstein's lectures on the Philosophy of Mathematics garnered to many students, maybe 30-40. So he proposed to dictate lectures to five students who would write up the notes and distribute them to the others. The result was the first publication in any form of W's new method of philosophy, published as the Blue Book.

In it, he develops his notorious sense of the language game. And he replaces the notion of essence of things to that of family resemblances. These are the most important ideas for me in all of W's work. They have fundamentally formed my hermeneutic and epistemology.

From 1934-35, the Brown Book was produced. W dictated it to Skinner and Alice Ambrose. It is divided into method and application. Part I introduces language games. Alice presented the ideas in an article in Mind, much to W's wrath. The Brown Book wouldn't be published until after W's death.

Chapter 17: Joining the Ranks
This chapter talks about W's attempt to go to Russia. The previous chapter mentions that he did not believe in Marxism in theory, only in practice (343). They might have given him a lectureship in philosophy, but he lost interest in moving there.

W began to debate what to do next as his fellowship came to an end in 1936. Should he become a doctor? It was at this time that Moritz Schlick was murdered outside Vienna University. W decided to go to Norway for a year again. Francis did not go with him, which tormented Francis horribly.

Chapter 18: Confessions
In Norway, W formulated what would become the first 188 paragraphs of Philosophical Investigations, his most important work, also published posthumously. He also stupidly forced his key friends to listen to a confession he made. It seems horribly neurotic. Rather than simply pray or go to a priest. He made his friends squirm as he told them uncomfortable and generally insignificant sins of his life.

The most important was when he went back to Austria and asked forgiveness for the girl he hit so hard in the head that she bled. He told about having sex with a woman as a young man. He confessed that three of his grandparents were Jews and thus that, according to the Nuremberg laws, he was a Jew.

Despite his confessions, he still ended up inviting Francis to Norway, where they had a trist.

In the second half of his time in Norway, he wrote Part I what would later be published as Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics. The criteria for correct or incorrect reasoning are not provided by some external realm of Platonic truths but by "a convention, or a use" (381).

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Patrons Only: Some Notes on Acts 3:1-13

I'm just finishing up my tenth week of Greek and commentary on Acts on my patreon site. My "patrons only" post for the week has a little on the Beautiful gate and some odds and ends of commentary note. Eleven minutes for my five patrons this week.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday Science: Hawking 8 (Universe Origins)

Friday reviews of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time so far.
Chapter 1: Heliocentric
Chapter 2: Spacetime
Chapter 3: Expansion of the Universe
Chapter 4: Uncertainty Principle
Chapter 5: Elementary Particles and the Forces of Nature
Chapter 6: Black Holes
Chapter 7: Black Holes Ain't So Black

Chapter 8: The Origin and Fate of the Universe
Here are some points of interest in this chapter:
  • Hawking presented a paper at the Vatican in 1981 apparently arguing that the universe was finite but had no boundary, meaning no beginning.
  • He recounts the path I've been trodding a lot lately. The universe started at a point, virtually infinitely hot. Then it cooled a little to where there were mostly electrons, photons, and neutrinos. About a hundred seconds protons and neutrons would start binding into deuterium and helium...
  • George Gamow suggested in 1948 that we should be able to detect background radiation from this beginning. This was discovered in 1965.
  • Then he builds to Alan Guth's idea of inflation. Why is the universe so uniform, but with significant fluctuations?
  • He mentions two versions of the anthropic principle. He does not like the strong one, although I find it hard to distinguish the two versions. What he calls the strong one basically argues that the universe is the way we see it because otherwise we would not be here. The weak one seems more to say that in a universe there is bound to be life developing somewhere.
  • He gets to Guth and inflation. In the hottest time of the universe, all the forces would have coalesced into a grand unification. Then gravity would separate out, then the strong force, then the weak force leaving the electromagnetic force working.
  • He shares a little about some papers in Moscow. He's reminiscing. Aww.
  • He ends the chapter with some suggestions toward a grand unified theory. This was in the late eighties so I'm not sure how helpful they are. Mainly, they have to do with imaginary time. I don't know enough to follow completely.
  • "If Euclidean space-time stretches back to infinite imaginary time... One could say, 'The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary' It would neither be created nor destroyed" (136).
  • Hawking suggests that the imaginary time may actually be the real time. He suggests that while this universe looks like it had a beginning and will have an end, maybe this is an illusion. 
  • Of course he ends the chapter asking then why we would need God.
  • He seems to look to a big crunch. He was wrong.