Friday, October 31, 2008

Three Christian Uses of Scripture

I'm convinced that most of the regulatory discourse certain Christian social groups use in relation to the Bible is inadequate to the hermeneutical situation. The postmodern discussion has raised issues that reveal the previous descriptions and discussions unable to address the most fundamental issue--which potential meaning and significance of the biblical text is the Christian one?

Previous discussions have tended unreflectively to treat the meaning of the biblical text as a given and have thus focused on the matter of either affirming or denying that meaning. It's now difficult even to fathom how someone could have ever thought that approach was adequate.

The question of the Christian use of Scripture leads in my view to three complementary models. I see these three as complementary rather than contradictory, and each finds a center in a different segment of the church.

1. The Spiritual Model
This approach to Scripture is most comfortable in charismatic circles and in "revivalist" circles like my own. God can say whatever God wants to say through the biblical text. Words are flexible enough for God to speak directly to you whatever He wants to say. Vanhoozer's "the Spirit can blow wherever he wants but not whatever he wants" deconstructs simply by looking at the way the NT interprets the Old. Bye bye.

Of course it is dangerous to validate this approach. More often than not, what people say is the Holy Spirit speaking to them is the enchiladas they had for lunch. Practically speaking, this approach must be tempered by wisdom, particularly the wisdom of the community of faith. But it must remain on the books.

2. The Contextual Model
This approach to Scripture maps most closely to the evangelical hermeneutic, which has become more and more complicated as the twentieth century went on and the complexity of the contextual situation became more and more apparent to those who truly wanted to listen to the biblical text.

Each book of the Bible is a moment of God addressing a situation in history, within the flow of revelation. Read in context, these moments are time-related and thus often time conditioned. Those moments of inspiration were most literally moments for them, not directly for me. Further, those were often moments of revelatory movement, when ideas and practices in tension were working themselves out in the flow of revelation (e.g., the contrasting perspectives on the afterlife in the OT).

Further, the details were not fully established even when Revelation was written. Paul teaches universal sinfulness, not total depravity. To affirm total depravity requires us to affirm the unfolding of Pauline theology in the Western church. Colossians and John model Christ on the logos, which would in the end prove inadequate as a model for the Trinity.

Scripture is the fountainhead of God's story, but it is a story that needs to be heard in full, and the story is not yet ended in history. The evangelical model eventually pushes us to see the Bible as the seminal revelation but a revelation that requires us to look beyond it into the church for some of its most crucial theological resolutions and perhaps to the kingdom for some of its ethical resolutions.

3. The church model
The Catholic and Orthodox traditions have always excelled in this piece of the puzzle. The Protestant objection to them has always been how far they were willing in the Middle Ages to move the core pieces of the story to the the period after the NT. However, the Protestant formulation of this objection as "sola scriptura" has become increasingly problematic in the latter part of the twentieth century because of the very issue we raised at the beginning of this post, namely, the fact that the meaning of a text is not self-evident until we find a proper context for that text. A "text alone" has no clear meaning until we place it in a particular context.

The current trajectory even within evangelical circles is to recognize that the proper context for reading Scripture as Christians is to read Scripture as Christians, to read the words in a Christian context. Thus the Christian meaning and significance of Scripture is not so much the meaning tied up with the circumstances of the ancient cultures in which the books of the Bible were produced but with the communion of the saints of the ages.

Read this way, it doesn't really matter whether Colossians 1:15 was comparing Jesus to wisdom or to the logos. What matters is that, for Christians, Jesus is eternally begotten of the Father, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father. This is the most Christian context against which to read the affirmation that Jesus is "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation," even though it is not a meaning Paul himself could have exactly anticipated.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

13.4 Money, Materials, and Society 1

It is with great pleasure that I jettison part of this section into the first draft stage:
For the last two thousand years, Christians have rarely had the opportunity to decide how their goods are produced and distributed. On a small scale, groups like the Shakers (1700-1900's) or the group that settled in Oneida, New York (1800's) formed small communes where their goods were shared in common. Today, the Amish live in close community as well, although they recognize the existence of private property. But for the majority of Christian history, Christians have had little choice but to live within whatever political and economic structure they were born into.

Before the industrial revolutions of the modern age, most economies were agrarian, as in biblical times. People produced goods off the land, consumed some of them, and perhaps traded some of them with others for things they did not produce themselves. However, we should not think that everyone had their own land. In medieval times in the Western world, a king or "lord" owned the land, which was farmed by others who owned no land at all. Those who worked the land might be the slaves of those who owned the land, or they might be "serfs" of one kind or another who worked the land in return for protection, basic sustenance, or some pittance of pay.

The Industrial Revolution of the 1700's and 1800's in the Western world massively transformed the economies of everything in its wake, leading to the industrialization of the East in the twentieth century as well. Industrialization is the process of becoming a society that functions off of manufactured products rather than farm products. When we speak of developing countries in the southern hemisphere today, we are referring to countries that are only now undergoing this process of transformation.

Before the rise of industry, power in Western society lay primarily with landowners and kings, the owners of the farms produced the means of living. The powerful were the long standing aristocracies, the "best" of society who owned land. This "landed gentry" gained increasing power even as the power of kings declined.

But the 1700's and 1800's saw a shift in power to those who possessed and controlled capital, rather than just land. Capital is all the resources a person has at his or her disposal for production and exchange, including things like money, equipment, products and, of course, land. The rise of railroads and steam ships facilitated this exchange over distances previously impractical.

[textbox: capital, industrialization]

It is into this world that Adam Smith (1723-1790), the "father" of capitalism, wrote his most famous piece, The Wealth of Nations. Capitalism is an economic system in which individuals and companies own capital that they use to compete against each other to make a profit off the buying and selling of goods and services. The background of Smith's economic theory was the utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham that we discussed in the previous chapter.

If you remember, the goal of utilitarianism was to make a more equitable society by basing laws on what would bring about the greatest pleasure for the greatest number. For Bentham, everyone counted the same. The pleasure of a king counted just as much as the pleasure of a child working in a coal mine. The utilitarians thus wanted to build a society where everyone's interests were taken into account.

Adam Smith formulated an economic model based on this general goal and idea. Here is a famous passage from The Wealth of Nations (I paraphrase a little to make the meaning clear). The passage is actually talking about importing goods from other countries, but we can see in it the basics of Adam Smith's economic theory.

"The annual revenue of every society is always the equivalent of what it is able to exchange from what its industry produces. It is exactly the value of its products that it can exchange. Every individual, therefore, tries to use his capital to support domestic industry, so that the amount that is produced adds up to the greatest value possible. Every individual also works so that the annual revenue of the society is as great as he can make it.

"Of course, it is not that this individual was actually intending to promote the public interest, nor does he know how much he is promoting it. When he prefers supporting domestic rather than foreign industry, he is only thinking about his own security. By making his industry produce the greatest value possible, he is only thinking of his own gain. But in this as in many other cases, he is led by an invisible hand to promote an end that was not a part of his intention.

"Nor is society always the worse because it was not his intention to benefit it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectively than if he really was trying to promote it" (Wealth of Nations 4.2)

Smith's basic theory is that as we each pursue our own economic interests, we will often find that, as if "led by an invisible hand," society as a whole will benefit, including the other individuals in that society. On an individual level, let's say that I have some goods that I want to sell to you, and you are interested in buying them. Let's say further that the government allows you and me to agree on the price, rather than telling me what to charge or you what to pay.

Here's what Smith says will often happen. As a seller looking out for my own interests, I will try to get as high a price for my goods from you as I can. Meanwhile, you are also looking out for your own interests and will try to pay me as little as you can. The result is that you and I will meet in the middle with a price that maximizes the benefit to both of our interests.

This sort of "de-regulated" approach to economics, where the government allows you and I to rankle over prices, is called laissez-faire capitalism, which is French for "to allow to do." Laissez-faire economics favors letting the business markets rankle over prices and rules rather than some government setting the boundaries for such things.


Another name for this school of thought is "classical liberalism." Today, the word liberal is more often associated with opposition to capitalism, but we should remember that the word basically means "free." The free enterprise system and laissez-faire economics were thus termed "liberal" originally because they believed individuals and companies should be free to set prices and the terms of trade without government intervention. Ironically, therefore, the economic "conservatives" of today come closest in philosophy to the classical liberals of the 1700's and 1800's.

Another principle of capitalism we should mention is the law of supply and demand. This is the idea that as the supply of a certain product goes up, the price will generally go down, since people have more venues from which to get it and thus more competition between those selling it. When the price of oil goes down significantly, sometimes oil producing nations agree to decrease the amount of oil they are producing, so the price will go back up. Similarly, the United States government in the late twentieth century actually paid certain farmers not to put their grain on the market so that the price would not bottom out from two much supply.

Similarly, as the demand for something goes up, the price will generally go up. This dynamic is especially apparent in a crisis, such as when a natural disaster interrupts the normal flow of things like gas to a particular area. Sellers of things in such high demand are sometimes accused of "price gouging" or setting a price ridiculously high because there is high demand and no competition around, so that buyers of the product have little choice but to pay the exorbitant price.

These sorts of exceptional situations are where economists begin to debate how free the market should be and whether some government regulation might actually be necessary to keep the overall system functioning the way it is supposed to function. Adam Smith's laissez-faire theory was formulated when firms were small and run by individual owners, not in a global economy with industry on a massive scale.

We saw in the last chapter that, even in the early 1800's, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) suggested some significant modifications to the utilitarian philosophy of his father and Bentham. The same was no less true of Adam Smith's economic theory. For one thing, Mill recognized that you cannot always count on people either knowing or doing what is in their best interest.

Even in the early 1800's, Mill argued that the "authorized representatives" of society would need to intervene when the interests of the buyer were jeapardized (my "translation"):

"As a general rule, the business of life is better conducted when those who have an immediate interest in it are left to make their own course... Industry is generally the best equipped to choose the path in its best interest. But can we affirm with the same universality that the consumer or person served is? ... Is the buyer always qualified to judge the commodity?

"If not, then letting competition in the market run its own course does not apply. And if it is a very important commodity in which society has much at stake, it may be preferable to have some degree of intervention, by those who are the authorized representatives of the collective interests of the state" (Principles of Political Economy).

When a person does not know what is in his or her own best interest, then certainly the basic principles of free enterprise play into the hands of the other person, who is following the principle of self-interest to get the best deal he or she can. In fact, it is--at least in the short term--in the best economic interest of a person to try to deceive or manipulate the other person if they can get away with it. Of course it may not be in the long term, for if customers come to recognize that you are a shady dealer, they will tell others and then your business will drop sharply.

In a global economy, however, where buyers and sellers do not live together, knowledge of whether you can trust the other party becomes a critical issue. Adam Smith and his compatriots could not have imagined a world where people buy things over the internet or where the seller is so far removed from the buyer. By the late 1800's, the loopholes in a purely laissez-faire approach to economics had become all too apparent to the average U.S. citizen. Government agencies such as the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Food and Drug Administration have evolved over time to ensure that industry is honest in the way it presents its products to consumers who buy them.

A second problem with Smith's economic theory that Mill addressed was the tendency of individuals to follow their habits rather than their self-interest (again, paraphrased):

"When it comes to individual property, the way products end up being distributed is the result of two determining factors: competition and custom...

"Politcal economists generally... are used to putting their entire stress on competition... and to take little account of what people are accustomed to doing...

"Because the habits of people resist competition to such a significant extent, ... even when the competition is the greatest, we can be sure that where people are content will smaller gains and find more pleasure in things other than monetary gain, competition will not allow you to calculate what they will buy... Customers are sometimes used to higher prices and they acquiesce in it" (Principles of Politcal Economy).

The basic thrust is that people don't always operate in their best economic self-interest. What this fact means is that although economics is a science, you cannot predict what the markets will actually do.

What is important to realize about these "founding fathers" of capitalism is that they really had the overall betterment of society in view. The capitalistic system was not an end in itself. It certainly was not a system set up to reward some new aristocracy of the cleverest merchants of industry, while punishing the person who wasn't adept enough to compete. It certainly was not some evolutionary scheme set up for the survival of the fittest.

Indeed, Adam Smith himself had this comment to say about how the wealth of the rich might be used to the betterment of the poor in society (my paraphrase again):

"The survival of the poor costs a society a great deal... Meanwhile, the rich spend most of their money on the luxuries and vanities of life. So it is not ridiculous to suggest that the rich might contribute to the expense that the public spend on the poor, not only in proportion to their income, but even proportionally more than their income" (Wealth of Nations).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What hath federalism to do with Christianity?

This post is not against John McCain or for Obama. McCain has called himself a federalist, but I doubt that's the main issue on anyone's mind, except as it might apply to Roe vs. Wade. This post is not exactly about Roe vs. Wade either, although it is a related issue.

This post is about these questions: What is driving rhetoric of "strict constructionism" in the interpretation of the Constitution among certain Christians? and How has federalism--which strangely has come to mean the idea that individual states should have maximum autonomy--somehow come to be connected to the Christian cause?

The surface answer to the first question--what's up with strict constructionism--is Roe vs. Wade. People might say that Roe vs. Wade represents judges "making law" rather than judging according to law. So they would say we need to get back to judges only judging according to close, literal readings of the law.

The surface answer to the second question--what's up with federalism--is that it has become the anti-abortion strategy. In other words, Christians have given up on a Constitutional amendment against abortion because they have in one way or another admitted that they will never succeed. So the next strategy is to kick the issue back to the states where they will succeed in four or five states.

I suspect that the United States is one nation. I have been known to say that in some pledge or another from time to time. I did have a roommate once in seminary who made it clear to me that Texas could fly its flag at the same height as the U.S. flag. And I went to college in South Carolina and seminary in Kentucky where it surprised me to find that not everyone in America thinks the north was in the right in that whole Civil War thing.

But the social contract that is the Constitution is a national one. That means that on fundamental issues, we should have laws in common.

Take the issue of abortion. I more and more suspect that the anti-abortion tactic of repealing Roe vs. Wade won't do much of anything to stop abortion. Very few states will pass anti-abortion laws. And these will be repealed within a decade. In the meantime, certain organizations will buy buses and drive people once a week across state lines. In short, the vote for the guy who will appoint judges to overturn Roe vs. Wade strategy is probably the biggest red herring of the last 30 years in evangelical politics.

We should remember the Dred Scot case of 1857, for when we seek to appoint federalist judges to the bench we are pursuing judges who would rule somewhat like the Supreme Court did in this case. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that the nation did not have a constitutional basis for prohibiting slavery on a nation wide basis. It was up for individual states to decide. For this reason, the fourteenth amendment was necessary to ban slavery on a national level.

If abortion is wrong, then it is wrong on the federal level. That means the "constitutional amendment" strategy was the appropriate strategy, even if also an impossible one. What all this means is that Christians against abortion should rather be investing their energies in diminishing the number of pregancies and encouraging adoption. The other option will prove to be a decades long waste of time. I may be wrong on these things, but those are my hunches.

On off shore drilling--the topic under discussion when McCain said he was a federalist--I have no problem with letting individual states decide what they do. At the same time, Anwar is a good test case for federalism versus the national social contract. I think it is legitimate as part of the national social contract for Congress to be concerned about the environmental impact of what individual states do and about the maintenance of natural preserves. Yet it is the right of Alaska to generate capital from its territory too.

So it all comes back to the weighing of priorities. It simply isn't a "one trumps the other" kind of thing. It is a matter of weighing values against values, and both values are legitimate.

I think pursuit of a Constitutional amendment against gay marriage is also doomed to failure. Any state laws passed against it will also be repealed within the next 20 years. You watch. It is another colossal red herring like Prohibition.

We should be investing our energies reaching out to people, trying to change attitudes, trying to woo people into the kingdom. The "rules" approach to righteousness is the lowest level of moral development (cf. Kohlberg).

Strict Constructionism
I have a hunch that, particularly in the South, the whole "strict constructionism" thing is not really so much about Roe vs. Wade, although that's a safe ruling to pin it on. It allows a person to avoid the underlying issues. But my hunch is that the real anger underlying advocacy of this abstract theory of constitutional interpretation is more desegregation and the humiliation the south felt during the era of civil rights. This banner, "strict constructionism," is a way to legitimize revenge for being forced to integrate.

Now I recognize that this question of constitutional law is not a slam dunk issue. The court system is there in the Constitution to weigh the intent of those who make law. But the Constitution was not perfect. Even inspired Scripture includes teaching that Jesus himself said was an accommodation to the hard heartedness of its people. So the Constitution doesn't stand a chance. A slave, 3/5 a person, really?

So I agree, judges should stick very close to being interpreters of the intent of the Constitution and lawmakers. But again, there are complicating factors. A congress is a collection of sinful individuals. If a culture has a popular sin, then the laws Congress passes will enshrine that sin. If a collection of representatives accurately represent a racist state or country, then they will enshrine racism in its laws. On such issues of the overall social contract, states cannot be allowed to decide the issue for themselves. Racism cannot be allowed in any part of the American social contract.

When fundamental principles of the Constitution conflict with cultural sins, it is very appropriate for the courts to point out the contradiction. Certainly there are aspects of the thinking of the original signers of the Constitution that we are in a better position than they to see are contradictory. The existence of slavery or the prohibition of women from voting in a nation whose Declaration of Independence holds that "all men are created equal" is a glaring contradiction to us (I recognize that the D of I is not a part of the Constitution).

I don't favor legalistic readers of the Constitution on the bench any more than I would want a Pharisee or a Judaizer interpreting the Old Testament for me. I favor judges whose thinking thoroughly embodies the values of the Constitution--equal justice for all--and thus who make rulings accordingly. That's the approach to law of Jesus and Paul. Sounds Christian to me.

Sources: Aristotle's Politics

We've hit the household codes in Colossians in my Prison Epistles class, so it seemed an opportune time to input the selections of Aristotle's Politics that provide the most relevant cultural background. The translation is a free rendering based on Ernest Barker's 1946 translation.

1.3.1 (1253b)
Since we have figured out... the elements from which the polis (city-state) is constructed, we need to first consider how the household should be managed, for every state is made up of households...

A complete household consists of slaves and freemen. But every subject of investigation should first be examined in its simplest elements. And the primary and simplest elements of the household are the connection of master and slave, that of the husband and wife, and that of parents and children.

So we must consider each of these connections and look at the nature of each and the qualities each ought to possess.

1.7.1-2, 6, 11 (1259a-b, 1260a)
... So there are three parts of the art of household management, the first of which we have discussed: the art of controlling slaves. The second is the art of exercising paternal authority, and the third is the art of exercising marital authority. It remains to discuss the last two and to discuss them separately, for while the husband as head of the household rules over both wife and children (and rules over both as free members of the household), he exercises a different rule in each case.

His rule over his wife is like that of a statesman over fellow citizens. His rule over his children is like that of a king over subjects. The male is naturally fitter to command than the female, except where there is some departure from nature. And age and maturity are similarly fitter to command than youth and immaturity.

In most cases where rule of the statesman's sort is exercised, there is an interchange of ruling and being ruled (which does not occur in regard to husband and wife)... The relation of the male to the female is permanently that in which the statesman temporarily stands to his fellow citizens...

The slave is entirely without the faculty of deliberation. The female indeed possesses it, but in a form which remains inconclusive...

We must therefore affirm what the poet Sophocles said of woman: "A modest silence is a woman's crown."

The end of the university library as we know it...

The lawsuit between Google, the Author's Guild, and the Association of American Publishers is about to be settled. Here's an excerpt from the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It signals something we've known was coming: the end of the traditional library. In the future, all books will be available online. A person like me won't have to drive to the University of Notre Dame to do research because IWU will pay a fee to let its faculty and students have online access to every book in existence.

Here's an excerpt:
"If approved by a judge, the accord would allow users of Google Book Search in the United States to see the full texts of books they can read only in snippets now. The deal would also have the potential to put millions more out-of-print or hard-to-find titles within the reach of readers and researchers. Institutions would be able to buy subscriptions so that their students and faculty members could have full access to complete texts. All public libraries in the United States would be given free portals for their patrons. (The settlement does not apply to the use of Google Book Search outside the United States.)

"Users without library or institutional access would pay a fee to preview the full text of a book. Google and the copyright holders—the publishers and authors—would share the proceeds from subscriptions and individual use. Authors and publishers could opt out of the program.
The deal will 'unlock millions of these texts for users,' said David Drummond, chief legal officer of Google, during the teleconference. Google, he said, considered the deal a great leap forward as well. 'Search simply isn’t complete without this content,' he said."

Monday, October 27, 2008

The liberal main stream media strikes again...

It reminded me of another recent interview.

Monday Editorial: Happy Birthday to Theodore Roosevelt

I came across the fact that today is Teddy Roosevelt's 150th birthday. Since John McCain has called himself a Republican in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt, I thought I ought to take a quick look at the man. All I remembered from school was, "Speak softly and carry a big stick" and the Rough Riders in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

TR considered himself a progressive, and this aspect of the man is probably part of what McCain likes about him. It is no doubt one of the reasons swing voters and independents have liked McCain in the past, although the necessity to hold the extremities of the Republican base have made it very difficult for McCain to succeed over all. He can't get elected without the silent majority of moderates in America. But he can't get elected as a Republican without the vocal minority of "death before compromise" extremities.

Some ways in which McCain is apparently not like Roosevelt are Roosevelt's approach to big business and national health care. Roosevelt lived during the last period when business had been allowed to run its own course without significant government regulation...

... And here we should be clear. I get really irritated with those who are decrying the greed of Wall Street right now. The very nature of the capitalist system is built on the principle that people will advance their own self-interest as much as they can. The entire capitalist system is built on the pursuit of one's self-interest, and greed is just another way of saying that. The theory is that if everyone pursues their own self-interest, our self-interests will cancel each other out leaving us with a compromise that maximizes everyone's "take."

The reason why I support capitalism in general is not because it is based on Christian values or Christian attitudes. I support it because it takes into account Christian beliefs like the fallenness of humanity, as well as what I believe is a healthly drive to "be fruitful and multiply." Of course the greater Christian value is to look out for the interests of others and not only for our own (Phil. 2:4). It is for this reason, as Drury has blogged this week, Ayn Rand would consider Christian ethics immoral.

History shows, of course, that in practice there has to be a referee watching to make sure that the system works. In Roosevelt's day, there was no possibility of my self-interest coming up in any way against the self-interests of a Rockefeller. Thus Roosevelt introduced the "Square Deal." He passed legislation against monopolies, where the rules of competing self-interest are eliminated.

TR worked to get the Pure Food and Drug Act passed and founded the Interstate Commerce Commission. These government organizations made sure that the self-interests of the public were fairly represented against the all powerful self-interests of big business. Alan Greenspan's admission of lack of foresight last week amounts to an endorsement of John Stuart Mill's 1800's critique of Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham--you can't count on people always doing what is truly in their long term self-interest. "Self-interest" is a many splendored thing, and should be understood to cover everything from what is rationally in my self-interest to greed.

In short, the complete deregulation of business is not only contrary to Christian values--that's a no brainer. It is economically stupid as well from the standpoint of what Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, and John Stuart Mill were trying to accomplish with capitalism.

Roosevelt was a "conservationist" in the terms of his day. His "big stick" policy, ironically, had a lot to do with being willing to negotiate with those your stick threatens. The biggest blight on his presidency would seem to be his racist attitude toward Native Americans. We can see this now in retrospect far better than they could have seen it back then.

So happy birthday to one of the top ten presidents of US history, and the fourth face on Mt. Rushmore.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday Explanatory Notes: The Colossian Hymn

1:15 ... who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,
The same questions are raised about these verses in Colossians that are raised about Philippians 2:6-11: is this a hymn? If so, did Paul or Timothy (or some pseudonymous author) compose it on the spot as they were writing this letter?

We also face the same basic evidence as with Philippians. We have a somewhat self-contained digression from the letter's train of thought set off by "who..." We have a clearly poetic structure, even if the precise structure is not fully obvious or consistent. It is indeed hard to determine the structure of this poem, even when you pose additions to it. But the likely presence of additions speaks to it being placed here from somewhere else.

Parallels are often made between some of the imagery here and the figure of Wisdom in Jewish tradition. However, the parallels with the logos or Word of God are even stronger. Since John explicitly uses logos imagery in relation to Christ, we have good evidence that some early Christians were thinking in this vein. The parallels with Philo's logos in these verses are significant.

For example, Philo certainly speaks of the logos as the image of God and the firstborn of all creation:

"Even if no one is yet worthy to be called a son of God, nevertheless work to be adorned according to his firstborn logos, the eldest of his angels… the image of God is his most ancient logos” (Conf. 146-47).

One of the most fascinating parallels appears in Her. 206:

"the logos rejoices in the gift, and... boasts of it, saying, "And I stood in the midst, between the Lord and You, neither being uncreated like God, nor yet created like you, but being in the midst between these two extremities, like a hostage, as it were, to both parties."

Here the logos stands on the divide between what is created and God who is uncreated.

In the context of Colossians, the hymn gives pre-eminence to Christ in relation to the entire creation. As God's word, Christ is God's will in action for the world. As the hymn and elsewhere in Colossians, Christ is the one who fully embodies the purposes of God for the world. He is the world's path to knowing God for he reflects all that is God for the world. And he is the authority God has appointed over the creation.

1:16 ... because in him all things were created,
(in the heavens and on the earth, the visible things and the invisible ones,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities)
all things through him and for him have been created.
If we have a poetic scheme in these verses, then the extensive delineation of those things created "in him" or "by him" is likely an addition by Paul, Timothy, etc. to the pre-existing hymn. Since Colossians seems to address a "philosophy" in the Colossian environment that involves significant interest in angels, the point here is the complete preeminence of Christ over everything in the creation, including the highest spiritual powers imaginable.

This is perhaps an issue that was bound to be addressed at some point. Jesus has been exalted to God's right hand, even though he was a human who just recently walked among us. Well, how exalted is he. He is clearly an authority over all humanity, but what authority does he have in the heavenly realm.

The Colossian hymn puts Christ in the position of the logos in relation to the creation. The logos was God's instrument of creation: "the shadow of God is his logos, which he used like an instrument when he was making the world” (Leg. 3.95). As such, all spiritual powers are subsequent to him and enabled through him.

The original point here was not likely to comment on Christ's pre-existence, and the later issue of whether Christ was the first thing God created (Arius) is not in view. The hymn would seem to equate Christ's identity in relation to the creation as that of the logos. The full purposes and will of God for the creation are embodied in Christ. He is thus God's logos for the world, that same logos by which God created all things, including all spiritual powers.

The expression "through him" is never used of wisdom in relation to creation. It is, however, a known expression for the logos as the agent of creation: “And the logos is the image of God, through which all the world was put together” (Spec. 1.81). The idea that everything holds together is attested both of God's word and His wisdom (Wis 1:6-7; Sir 43:26).

1:17-18a And he himself is before all things and all things in him have held together, and he himself is the head of the body, the church.
This verse is somewhat transitional and might not have been part of any original hymn. It serves as a nice link between the first stanza of the hymn, which focuses on Christ's preeminence over the creation, to the second stanza, which focuses on Christ's preeminence over the church.

One distinction between Colossians and Paul's earlier writings is his conception of Christ as the head of the body rather than the body itself (cf. 1 Cor. 12). We might be able to correlate this slight shift to the shift from Christ waiting for his enemies to be put under his feet in 1 Corinthians 15 and Colossians where Christ is portrayed as already preeminent in every way.

Similarly, Paul now seems to use the word church in a more universal sense than is typical of his earlier writings. In his earlier writings, church primarily refers to a local assembly such as a house church. Now it refers to all who are in Christ.

1:18b Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
(so that in all things he himself might come to be preeminent)
The parallel of this verse with 1:15 is clear, a two fold comment beginning with "who," the second line of which depicts Christ was the firstborn. Firstborn here is of course now a familiar Pauline theme from 1 Corinthians 15. Within the church, Christ is the firstborn from the dead.

Christ is thus the beginning of the new age, of the eschatological people of God. If the first stanza of the hymn is about the origins and functioning of the creation, this stanza is about the origins and functioning of the new people of God.

1:19 ... because in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
This statement is parallel to the "in him" statement in 1:16. In 1:16, all things are created "in him." Here, God's fullness dwells "in him" for all eternity for God's people, the church. Colossians will make this statement again in chapter 2. There, the implication would seem to be that the audience should not be tempted by a Jewish "philosophy" boasting special access to the spiritual realm. They are in no need of such things because all the fullness of God's presence and identity is to be found in Christ.

1:20 ... and through him to reconcile all things for him,
(having made peace through the blood of his cross, whether the things on earth or the things in the heavens).
Some have suggested a slight tension between this statement and later statements about defeating spiritual powers, which would be another indication that this poetic material was drawn from somewhere else. Here the theme would seem to be the reconciliation of all things rather than the defeat of some things.

The phrase "through him" is once again parallel to the final part of 1:16. Through him all things have been created and hold together as a creation. Now through him all things will be reconciled in the eschaton. The mechanism of this reconciliation is the blood of the cross, an interesting parallel once again to the later mention of disarming hostile powers through the cross.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Colleges the Next Bubble?

This piece on MSNBC is not the first time this thought has come up around my parts, but it is gives flesh to the fears. Historically, local community colleges and cheaper public institutions actually can see increases in the number of students during a financial crisis. But expensive private institutions are another story.

IWU's board is financially conservative, so the stock market decline will hurt us less than many other places, but it does hurt. We will have to see whether it becomes really hard to get student loans in the Spring and Fall, above the $10,000 a year the government offers. Let's just say that while IWU is less expensive than most private institutions of our sort, it's over double that when you include housing and such.

Professor Wilbur Williams has long decried the amount of debt our students are racking up, how it is almost impossible for some of them to go into ministry because they can't find a church that pays enough to pay off their student loans. We may be about to see a correction in that market!

And what of our adult programs? Did I hear just this week that GM is suspending funds for education? I know health care for their retirees is about to turn into $3000 a year and good luck. As a joke I told my parents they should vote for Obama :-)

IWU is planning to build a new dorm and to open up dozens of new adult sites. What will come of these plans if the college bubble begins to burst?

IWU's MDiv, currently pending official accreditation approval, would be very inexpensive if we can go ahead with the tuition and scholarships that we've talked about (no comment on specifics :-). It might actually do even better in hard times than it would have, although for very unfortunate reasons! As for the building we were hoping for...

Hard financial times may be ahead for the private college, and we may see some end up closing or consolidating. I sure hope not. And I'm certainly not longing for the days like my grandfather had at Frankfort Pilgrim College during the Great Depression, where sometimes his pay was watered down soup in the cafeteria.

Remembering Scare Tactics of the Past...

I remember 8 years ago when I was hearing rumors about McCain being the Manchurian candidate. You know, that he was brainwashed while he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam so that he might rise to power and then make America communist. Today (from the same people) it's that Obama is a Muslim who is going to get gay marriage in every state, nationalize health care so that people over 80 don't have access to hospitals, and is going to raise everyone's taxes--even though all these claims go against Obama's stated positions on these issues.

In the late 70's and early 80's, when I was just an unthinking lad passing on the fear tidbits of that day I had heard, it was the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). If we passed that thing, there would be unisex bathrooms before you knew it. The ERA failed--although ironically America now operates as if it had passed. HA! What truly Christian Republican would vote for Strom Thurmond or George Wallace today?

My conclusion is that people who go for conspiracy theories in an election--on either side--are gullible and the weak dimension to democracy. By their very nature, conspiracy theories require us to go with an understanding of the situation that is not as it appears. That means that while such a conspiracy theory may be correct, it is by its very nature more likely to be false than to be true.

For this reason, I am far more inclined to disbelieve an email with some juicy tidbit about some candidate than to believe it--on either side. To a slightly less extent, I am inclined to question seriously any claim on talk radio or on cable shows that tend to have experts from only one side or who consistently lampbast any guest they might have from the other side.

And if it hasn't hit the mainstream media and been discussed in a forum with representatives of both sides and a moderator letting both sides speak, then I will hold serious reservations about an idea. So the idea that Iraq's WMD were smuggled off to Syria before we invaded seems very doubtful because virtually no one is saying this in the main stream media and in fact the Bush administration itself is not saying this. Is it possible? Yes. But I will consider it very unlikely until further notice.

There's currently a rumor going around that Obama is not qualified to be President because he was "really" born in Kenya at a time when his mother was out of the country for too long a period of time. Is it possible? Sure. But I will consider it another rumor for the weak-minded for the time being. Good grief, I wasn't even able to find that story on the Fox News website, although Hannity has mentioned it on talk radio.

We hurt the democratic process when we give any credence to these sorts of rumors in an election... and we almost always end up looking stupid in the light of history.

So what are some of the scare tactics you remember from the past--that FDR is really the antichrist? that McGovern would legalize marijuana? It's fascinating to me to realize that my forebears were demonizing Democrats long before Roe vs. Wade. What was their argument that Democrats were godless back then, I wonder?

I suspect that then, as now, it really has much more to do with whatever group culture to which we belong, rather than whatever the actual arguments are that are coming out of our mouths. The words change, but I can predict right now the positions of this type of feeble minded individual in the next election. The Democratic or Republican groupee (as opposed to the swing voter and independent, the most rational elements of our democracy) will say things that make their candidate the clear hero of truth, justice, and the American way, and they will make the candidate of the other party the anti-Christ. And they will do this forgetting whoever they voted for in the primary or what they thought of the person in between elections.

Do you remember some scare tactics from the past? What are some juicy rumors you are hearing now on both sides?

Saturday Sources: Apocalypse of Weeks

Today I conclude materials in 1 Enoch of New Testament background interest that likely date to the period before the Maccabean crisis (167-64). Translations are once again taken with little modification from Nickelsburg and VanderKam.

The Astronomical Book (1 Enoch 72-82)
There is only one verse from the Astronomical Book that I wish to excerpt. It probably dates ca. 200BC or perhaps even earlier.

They (the holy ones) said to me, "Tell everything to your son Methuselah and show all your children that no human is righteous before the Lord, for he created them."

The Apocalypse of Weeks (1 Enoch 93:1-10; 91:11-17)
The Apocalypse of Weeks, with Daniel the only possible exception, is the oldest historical apocalypse that has survived from the ancient world. The great thing about such apocalypses is the ease with which they are dated. The historical "prophesy" goes amazingly accurately until you get to the time when the apocalypse was actually written. We can thus with great likelihood date this apocalypse to not long before the Maccabean crisis.

93:3-10; 91:11-17
And Enoch took up his discourse and said, "I was born the seventh in the first week, and until my time righteousness endured.

After me there will arise a second week, in which deceit and violence will spring up, and in it will be the first end, and in it a man will be saved. And after that, at its conclusion, inquity with increase, and a law will be made for sinners.

After this there will arise a third week, and at its conclusion a man will be chosen as the plant of righteous judgment, and after him will go forth the plant of righteousness forever and ever.

After this there will arise a fourth week, and at its conclusion, visions of the holy and righteous will be seen, and a covenant for all generations and a tabernacle will be made in it.

After this there will arise a fifth week and at its conclusion, the temple of the glorious kingdom will be built forever.

After this there will arise a sixth week, and all who live in it will become blind, and the hearts of all will stray from wisdom; and in it a man will ascend. And at its conclusion, the temple of the kingdom will be burned with fire, and in it the whole race of the chosen root will be dispersed.

After this, in the seventh week, there will arise a perverse generation, and many will be its deeds, and all its deeds will be perverse. And at its conclusion, the chosen will be chosen, as witnesses of righteousness from the everlasting plant of righteousness, to whom will be given sevenfold wisdom and knowledge. And they will uproot the foundations of violence, and the structure of deceit in it, to execute judgment.

After this there will arise an eighth week of righteousness, in which a sword will be given to all the righteous, to execute righteous judgment on all the wicked, and they will be delivered into their hands. And at its conclusion, they will acquire possessions in righteousness, and the temple of the kingdom of the Great One will be built in the greatness of its glory for all the generations of eternity.

After this there will arise a ninth week, in which righteous law will be revealed to all the sons of the whole earth, and all the deeds of wickedness will vanish from the whole earth and descend to the everlasting pit, and all humankind will look to the path of the everlasting righteousness.

After this, in the tenth week, the seventh part, will be the everlasting judgment, and it will be executed on the watchers of the eternal heaven, and a fixed time of the great judgment will be rendered among the holy ones. The first heaven will pass away in it, and a new heaven will appear, and all the powers of the heavens will shine forever with sevenfold brightness.

After this there will be many weeks without number forever, in which they will do piety and righteousness, and from then on sin will never again be mentioned.

Friday, October 24, 2008

SNL: Bush endorses McCain and Palin

Life is going to be so dull after the election :-)

Two of my books now in second edition...

I haven't publicized my books with IWU's publishing wing much up to this point for various reasons. But with my New Testament survey having sold about 10,000 copies, a new cover, the publishing wing finally giving in and putting its books on Amazon, I thought today is the day. The university took out a big ad in Books and Culture this month to advertise it and Steve Lennox's Old Testament introduction.

Here they are:

Jesus is Lord: An Introduction to the New Testament

This is written for people who know little to nothing about the Bible. It has been really bizarre to have people I don't know come up to me in several different contexts and tell me how amazingly easy this book was to understand and, even further, that they found it spiritually enriching! Even facilitators of IWU's adult classes--people I didn't know--have come up to me and said such things.

It is not a textbook for an honors class, and I didn't write it from a scholarly point of view (although it touches all the critical issues). Given IWU's theological affinities, it is written with a view to an evangelical reader, although it is even-handed enough that one complaint I have occasionally received is that I don't fall off the log one way or another when it comes to some disputed matters (e.g., pseudonymity).

The second book is the second edition of my Brief Guide to Biblical Interpretation. Once again, I've used this booklet in adult courses alongside Randolph Tate's Biblical Interpretation and Fee and Stuart's Reading the Bible for All Its Worth. And once again, students tell me it is the clearest and most helpful of the three, even that I should do away with some of the others.

It is not a full hermeneutics or Bible study method book, but I think it gives one of best overviews of the issues you will find out there... without all the names and terms of the more scholarly debate. I've had churches buy these for their people.

It does have some controversial examples in it (like its discussion of why polygamy is wrong)--after all, it was birthed on this blog. But that just keeps things interesting!

It is perhaps my curse that while I long to write books and articles in the scholarly ether (and am), my most lasting and impacting contributions will probably turn out to be these grass roots writings that have irritated me in process because I wanted to get on to the "bigger" projects. I certainly have made over 10 times more money off the NT Survey book than all the other books I've written combined!

13.3 Scripture and Money

We in the Western world are so used to money that it is hard for us to picture the way most societies in the history of the world have primarily functioned, namely, by trading goods. For this reason, Christians may actually misread certain passages of the Bible without even realizing it. We see words like "money," "poor," or "rich," and we read them in terms of what they mean in our world, without recognizing the dynamics they had in the various cultures to which the books of the Bible were written.

In the Old Testament, Israelite families gave a tithe or tenth of their crops to the priests (). They did not give a tenth of their income, in the manner of our modern economy, our system of producing and distributing goods and services in a society. They would rarely if ever have used money. Old Testament societies were agrarian economies, in which goods were produced and consumed directly off the land. Such land was passed along in families and, according to Numbers, was returned to these families every fifty years in the Year of Jubilees, that is, if the family had somehow lost the land during that time.

[textbox: economy]

Coinage, or money, was thus mostly associated in the ancient world with kings and political powers beyond the normal daily operations of most people. It is thus no surprise that the New Testament has virtually nothing good to say about money. When someone asked Jesus whether he believed in paying taxes, he gave the well known response, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" (Mark 12:17). He probably was not simply saying to pay your taxes. Rather, he was likely dismissing Roman coinage itself as having nothing to do with the people of God or the coming kingdom of God. It is also at least possible that the original audiences of Revelation might have understood the mark of the beast, without which they could not buy or sell, as an allusion to the coinage of Domitian, on which it was written that he was "Lord and God."

1 Timothy 6:10 has traveling teachers in mind when it says that "the love of money is the root of all evils," and the letter of James lambasts the rich throughout. "Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like the flower of the grass he will pass away" (1:9-10). Similarly, "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you" (5:1). James' assumption is that such rich individuals have treated their workers unfairly: "the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out" (5:4).

When we read passages like these, we have to remember that agrarian economies in the ancient world tended to think in terms of a limited number of resources, a "limited good." Accordingly, if one person has more, the implication is that others have less. It would be as if twenty people in a room were each given one apple, but then when they left the room some people had several apples and others had none.

It is thus no suprise to hear of the ancient Arab proverb that said that "every rich person is a thief or the son of a thief." [1] With this sort of background, it is no surprise that Jesus would tell a rich young ruler to go sell his possessions and give to the poor (Mark 10:21). If the rich were thought to have taken resources that should go to others, the poor were understood to be individuals who had lost resources that they should otherwise have had. Poverty was thus more about getting knocked out of one's inherited status than about not having money.

[textbox: limited good]

Luke and Acts seem to operate with these basic assumptions as well. One of the special emphases of Luke is Jesus' ministry to the poor and disempowered. For example, Luke uniquely has the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, where a poor beggar finds himself in a place of reward after death. Meanwhile, the rich man at whose gate he used to sit and wait for doles from the servants, finds himself in a place of torment after death.

And while the Beatitudes of Matthew have "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matt. 5:3), Luke bluntly has "Blessed are you poor" (Luke 6:20) and the added rejoinder, "Woe to you rich" (6:24). In Acts, the early Jerusalem church brings everyone back to their normal economic state by redistributing the excess of some to the poor in their community (Acts 2). This sharing is probably not strictly communal living, but a bringing of everyone to a similar amount of possessions.

We should point out that the New Testament writer Paul does not have as negative a view of those with significant resources as other parts of the New Testament. Indeed, he himself may have been born into a family with some status and wealth. Only a very small number of people in the ancient world were Roman citizens as Paul was. And Paul speaks of working with his hands as if it were a kind of lowering of himself (1 Cor. 4:12; 9:6).

As a trader of leather goods in the marketplace, Paul might have had some strikes against him among some of the earliest believers. James has strong words to say about the merchant who makes plans to travel and make large amounts of money (Luke James 4:13-17), and no doubt some of Paul's enemies found it easy to stereotype him in this way. Paul's thinking is rather that God sometimes blesses one part of the body of Christ and at other times other parts. Those who are blessed are to share with those who are not so that, when the circumstances are reversed, they will share in return (2 Cor. 8-9).

What we see is that it is the attitude of believers toward their possessions and toward each other that are most important for Christians today, while the specific economic structures of the Bible relate directly to the cultural forms of its days. We are thus to focus not only on our own interests, but also on the interests of others (Phil. 2:4). This shared interest certainly includes the material needs of others (e.g., 1 John 3:17; Matt. 25:31-46). And we are to see our possessions as belonging to God and as thoroughly unnecessary to who we are (e.g., Matt. 6:19-21).

[1] Malina.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sources: The Book of Wisdom 12-14

These source excerpts all relate to a book proposal I was invited to make 11 months ago--Ouch! I figure I'm close to a sample for the proposal in a couple Saturdays of sources from the pre-Maccabean period (Apocalypse of Weeks, Ezekiel the Tragedian, Aristobulus, Demetrius, etc...).

Anyway, we were looking at the parallels between Wisdom 12-14 and Romans 1 today in Romans, so I thought I would excerpt important parts of those chapters here (translation is NRSV). As usual, I have put in bold things of particular interest to NT study.
For your immortal spirit is in all things. Therefore, you correct little by little those who trespass, and you remind and warn them of the things through which they sin, so that they may be freed from wickedness and put their trust in you, O Lord...

12:12, 15, 18-19, 22-24
For who will say, "What have you done?" or will resist your judgment? ...

You are righteous and you rule all things righteously, deeming it alien to your power to condemn anyone who does not deserve to be punished...

Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness, and with great forbearance you govern us; for you have power to act whenever you choose. Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind, and you have filled your children with good hope, because you give repentance of sins...

So while chastening us you scourage our enemies ten thousand times more, so that, when we judge, we may meditate on your goodness, and when we are judged, we may expect mercy.

Therefore those who lived unrighteously, in a life of folly, you tormented through their own abominations. For they went far astray on the paths of error, accepting as gods those animals that even their enemies despised; they were deceived like foolish infants...

13:1-2, 8-10
For all people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know the one who exists, nor did they recognize the artisan while paying heed to his works; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world...

Yet again, not even they are to be excused; for if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things?

But miserable, with their hopes set on dead things, are those who give the name "gods" to the works of human hands, gold and silver fashioned with skill, and likenesses of animals, or a useless stone, the work of an ancient hand...

14:12-14, 22-27
For the idea of making idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them was the corruption of life; for they did not exist from the beginning, nor will they last forever. For through human vanity they entered the world, and therefore their speedy end has been planned...

Then it was not enough for them to err about the knowledge of God, but though living in great strife due to ignorance, they call such evils peace. For whether they kill children in their initiations, or celebrate secret mysteries, or hold frenzied revels with strange customs, they no longer keep either their lives or their marriages pure. But they either treacherously kill one another, or grieve one another by adultery, and all is a raging riot of blood and murder, theft and deceit, corruption, faithlessness, tumult, perjury, confusion over what is good, forgetfulness of favors, defiling of souls, sexual perversion, disorder in marriages, adultery, and debauchery.

For the worship of idols not to be named is the beginning and cause and end of every evil.

Explanatory Notes: Romans 2:5-16

2:5 And in accordance with your hardness and [your] unrepentant heart you are storing wrath for yourself on the Day of Wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God...
Some interpreters seem to downplay the role that God's wrath plays in Paul's thinking. For example, they might note the feature of Romans 1 where Paul talks of God "handing over" individuals to desires whose punishment is entailed in the very living out of the desires themselves (1:27).

But this verse seems to indicate that Paul believed that God would administer "in anger" on a coming Day of Judgment. On that day, the righteous judgment of God would be revealed, which is at least part of what Paul meant in 1:18 when he spoke of the wrath of God having been revealed from heaven against ungodliness. Whatever we do with it, the conclusion seems unavoidable that Paul looked for a coming day when God would dispense wrath in judgment.

The person with the hard and unrepentant heart is the person Paul has been addressed in 2:1-4. This is a person who sees no need to repent despite God's gracious allowance for it in the face of sin (2:4). It would seem, then, that the person with which he has a problem in 2:1-2 is the person not simply who judges others while doing the same, but who is unrepentant and refuses to admit that they are the same. The ethnic contours of this argument will become clear in 2:17, where we will get the distinct impression that the person Paul has in mind is the one who thinks that because they are a Jew who knows the Law, they will not be judged by the Law.

2:6-7 ... who will repay to each according to his works, eternal life to those on the one hand who by the patience of a good work are seeking glory and honor and incorruption,
It is tempting to think that Paul is giving the default set up for a person prior to Christ, one that no longer applies literally after Christ. If that were the case, then he would here be describing a situation that can never happen literally. Paul would be saying that, in theory, a person might be rewarded with eternal life on the Day of Judgment because of their endurance in good work seeking glory and honor. But in reality no one except Jesus has ever fit in this category.

Alternatively, if we take repentance into account, Paul could be speaking of the person who, while not perfect in their actions, was truly repentant in those instances when they sinned. God would grant eternal life to these.

For reasons we will mention below, however, we have concluded that Paul is being literal here--that those believers who have been justified by faith and have been subsequently empowered by the Spirit to do good (no doubt repenting when they do not) will be judged on the Day according to their deeds.

2:8 ... wrath and rage on the other hand to those who even because of strife disobey the truth and are persuaded in unrighteousness.
This is the opposite side of Paul's coin--the destiny of all who do not repent, the destiny of those not in Christ.

2:9-11 ... tribulation and hardship on every human person who does evil, both Jew first and Greek, and glory and honor and peace to everyone who works the good, both to Jew and Greek, for there is no respect of persons with God.
The question of how to relate "no respect of persons" with Paul's "to the Jew first" requires some thought. At least with regard to justification, ethnic status does not matter, in Paul's mind.

2:12-13 For as many as sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and as many as sinned with the Law will be judged through the Law, for it is not the hearers of the Law who are justified before God but the doers of the Law will be justified.
This is the general statement to which Paul has been building. It is the doers of the Law who are justified, not those who know the Law. The same interpretive options we have mentioned above apply.

1. Paul is building to "all have sinned" and does not believe that anyone will ultimately meet this standard on the Day of Judgment. On that Day we will simply be judged by a different standard, namely, Christ's faithfulness and our faith in Christ.

2. Paul allows for repentance in the doing of the Law. Sure, no one can keep the Law perfectly, but a (truly) repentant person changes after sinning and seeking forgiveness.

3. Paul is thinking of a combination of #2 and the fact that all can be justified by Christ's faithfulness and one's faith in Christ. No one can meet any absolute standard of innocence on the Day, but Christ has atoned for our sins, enabling our justification on the basis of his faith and our faith in him. Then we receive the Spirit, who enables us to keep the Law, then there is repentance and forgiveness from then till the Day.

Given what Paul is about to say, we favor option #3.

2:14 For whenever Gentiles who do not have the Law by nature do the things of the Law, these who do not have the Law are the Law for themselves,
The focus of debate in this verse currently centers on the phrase "by nature." Does the phrase go with the first part of the verse--"whenever Gentiles by nature do the things of the Law"? Does it go with the last part of the verse, "do the things of the Law by nature"? The second reading seems an unusual way to use the phrase "by nature."

We would opt for this sense "who do not have the Law by nature." This sense basically fits with them being Gentiles by nature. It would not seem to fit with Pauline theology in general to see him saying here that some Gentiles who do not know about the Jewish Law or about Christ might be justified because of their nature. This verse has often been taken to imply that some individuals might be accepted by God without ever hearing of Christ or Christianity, a very legitimate question of Christian mission.

But of course exegetically, the question is what Paul was thinking, and here it is not at all likely that he had that issue in mind. Many scholars basically see Paul talking about an impossible thing--there simply are no Gentiles who do this. But Paul seems to have real people in mind in the comment, so--especially given the light of other passages--it seems more likely than not that Paul has Gentile Christians in mind, who keep the essence of the Law.

2:15-16 ... who demonstrate the work of the Law written on their hearts, their conscience corroborating and withe accusing or defending between their own thoughts, on the Day when God judges the hidden things of mortals through Christ Jesus according to my gospel.
The conscience in Paul's writings is the awareness of whether or not you have done wrong. If one's conscience is clear, then one is not aware of doing wrong. By contrast, one's conscience might indicate one has sinned or done wrong.

We should not internalize the conscience too much, as is the tendency of Western culture. The context of this statement, once again, is the Day of the Lord, when one's hidden awarenesses of sin are made known. The context of judgment throughout this section, thus, is not the day one believes that Jesus is the Messiah, but at the final judgment.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sources: The Songs for the Sabbath Sacrifice

I know it's not Saturday, but I was getting some material from the Dead Sea Scrolls ready for my Prison Epistles class. The "philosophy" at Colossae involves the "worship of angels." The question is whether such Jews are worshipping angels or are interested in angelic worship of God.

The Songs for the Sabbath Sacrifice from Qumran are usually considered relevant to this debate, for it provides evidence of a Jewish community that saw their Sabbath worship as parallel to the heavenly worship of God by the angels. Further, this Jewish tradition has some mystical elements, just as the Colossian philosophy involves visions of some sort.

So I reproduce here excerpts from Geza Vermes' The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, which for more than one reason (including cost) I have found a good translation to use with undergraduate students in the intertestamental literature course I teach every other year.

I have only altered it very slightly. It it painful for me as a scholar to take the brackets out, but it is even more painful for students to leave them in! I have as usual put in bold points of particular relevance to New Testament study.
To the Master. A song for the holocaust offering on the first Sabbath, on the fourth of the first month.

Praise the God of... the gods of supreme holiness (a reference to angels, methinks). Rejoice in his divine kingship, for he has established supreme holiness among the everlasting holy, the Holy of Holies, to be for him the priests of the inner temple in his royal sanctuary (in heaven), ministers of the Presence in his glorious innermost temple chamber.

In the congregation of all the gods of knowledge, and in the congregation of all the gods of God, he engraved his precepts for all the spiritual works, and his glorious judgments for all who lay the foundations of knowledge, the people endowed with his glorious understanding, the gods who are close to knowledge... of eternity and from the fountain of holiness to the sanctuary of supreme holiness... priests of the inner temple, ministers of the Presence of the most holy King...

For he founded them (the angels) for himself as the most holy, who minister in the (heavenly) holy of holies... Their expiations will obtain his goodwill for all those who repent from sin...

In all the highest heights they will sing marvelous psalms according to all their understanding, and the glorious splendor of the King of the gods they will recount on their stations... for what shall we be counted among them? How will our holiness compare with their supreme holiness? How does the offering of our tongue of dust compare with the knowledge of the divine beings... Let us extol the God of knowledge...

For the Master. A song of the holocaust offering on the seventh Sabbath on the sixteenth of the month.

Praise the most high God, O you high among all the gods of knowledge. Let the holy ones of the gods sanctify the King of glory, who sanctifies by his holiness all his holy ones.

O princes of the praises of all the gods, praise the God of majestic praises, for in the splendor of praises is the glory of his kingship...

By a discerning goodwill expressed by the words of his mouth, all the gods on high come into being, at the opening of his lips, all the eternal spirits, by his discerning goodwill, all his creatures in their undertakings...

Celebrate O all celebrating gods, the King of majesty, for all the gods of knowledge celebrate his glory, and all the spirits of righteousness celebrate his truth, and seek acceptance of their knowledge by the judgments of his mouth...

And the chief dwelling on high, the glory of his kingdom, the innermost sanctuary... and he consecrates the seven elevated holy places... And the chariots of his innermost sanctuary will utter praises together and their cherubim and wheels will bless wonderfully the chiefs of the godly figure and will bless him in the holy innermost sanctuary....

For the Master. A song for the holocaust offering on the twelfth sabbath on the twenty-first of the month.

Praise the God of wonder... , and exalt him... of glory in the tent of the God of knowledge. The cherubim prostrate themselves before him and bless. As they rise, a whispered divine voice is heard, and there is a roar of praise... The cherubim bless the image of the throne-chariot above the firmament, and they praise the majesty of the luminous firmament beneath the seat of glory.

When the wheels advance, angels of holiness come and go. From between his glorious wheels, there is at it were a fiery vision of most holy spirits... The spirits of the living gods move perpetually with the glory of the marvelous chariots.

In the interest of balance...

Since some feel that my election posts have been one-sided, I thought I would post without comment this open letter from James Dobson.
Dear Friends,

Can you feel the tension in the air? The nation--and indeed, the world--is holding its collective breath as the final days of the presidential campaign wind down and the candidates engage in one last round of electioneering and debating. By this time next month, we'll know whether Senator John McCain or Senator Barack Obama will be inaugurated in January as the 44th President of the United States.

Considering the stark differences between the two presidential candidates and the critical issues that are hanging in the balance, it's not difficult to understand why Campaign 2008 has been such a spirited affair. I'd like to take a few moments to consider what is at stake in this year's election, particularly for those of us who embrace a biblical worldview. Please understand that I will share these thoughts under the umbrella of Focus on the Family Action™, which has supported the preparation and distribution of this newsletter. Focus Action is, in turn, supported by contributions from those who do not receive tax deductible receipts for them. Thanks so much to you who made it possible.

Let's start with the need to elect a pro-family, pro-life President. The importance of this objective cannot be overstated. Between 2009 and 2012, there will likely be two or more opportunities for the President to nominate new justices to the Supreme Court. Some court watchers say there could be as many as four resignations. That alone should give us serious pause as we consider for whom to cast our votes. In the months ahead, the Supreme Court will likely hand down rulings that will impact America for generations to come. We need a President who will nominate conservative, strict-constructionist judges to the Court. If that doesn't happen, the highest court in the land could become stacked--even more than it already is--with justices who will endeavor to legislate from the bench and impose a liberal agenda on the nation. It will likely affect the definition of marriage, religious freedom, and the protection (or lack thereof) of life in the womb.

It's probably obvious which of the two major party candidates' views are most palatable to those of us who embrace a pro-life, pro-family worldview. While I will not endorse either candidate this year, I can say that I am now supportive of Senator John McCain and his bid for the presidency. This is not because I am beholden to the Senator from Arizona or to the Republican Party. Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with my views knows that I have agonized at times during this election process, and have been strongly critical of Senator McCain and the Republican Party on numerous occasions. My concern is for the biblical and moral values that I and millions of Americans hold dear. I will gladly support politicians of any stripe who are willing to defend the sanctity of human life, support the institution of traditional marriage, protect the country from terrorism and advance the cause of religious liberty. While certainly not perfect, the 2008 Republican platform comes closest to embracing those ideals by a wide margin.

In recent weeks, I have received some measure of criticism from those who feel that my "change of heart" toward John McCain is unwarranted. I understand those views and concede that the Senator continues to embrace positions that concern me. I don't apologize, however, for reevaluating our options in this election year. John Maynard Keynes, whose views I have disagreed with strongly, said this about reversing course: "When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?"1 In this instance, Keynes' perspective is correct. Every thinking person will eventually have reason to change his or her mind as circumstances evolve, as they have done during this long political ordeal.

There are four primary--and I believe compelling--reasons why I now view the McCain presidential candidacy favorably:

During the "Saddleback Forum" on Aug. 16, Sens. Obama and McCain fielded questions from the Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren. Senator McCain gave very solid and encouraging answers to questions about the sanctity of life and the institution of marriage, whereas Senator Obama came down at the other end of the argument. You will recall the following interchange during the forum: Pastor Rick Warren: "At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?" Senator Obama: "... Answering that question with specificity, you know, is, uh, is, above my pay grade."2 With all due respect, Senator, if this question is above your pay grade, then so is the job attached to it.

The Republican Party's 2008 national platform is a remarkably conservative document.3 Indeed, it is the strongest pro-life platform in the history of the party, surpassing even the pro-life advances of the Reagan years. It was approved and sanctioned by the McCain campaign.
Senator McCain selected an astonishingly strong pro-life, pro-family running mate in Governor Sarah Palin. Although he could have embraced a liberal Vice Presidential nominee, such as Senator Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge, he made the bold decision to join forces with a VP pick whose views reflect those of the party's conservative base. I'll discuss Governor Palin's candidacy in greater detail in a moment.

The longer the campaign continues, the more concerned I have become with Barack Obama's liberal views. Certainly, he is an attractive and very charismatic candidate who has embarked on a campaign of historical proportions. However, the majority of his policies represent the antithesis of principles I hold dear. Senator Obama's record is more liberal than that of any other Democrat in the Senate4--and that's saying something! For example, when he was a state senator in Illinois, he voted four times in three years against legislation that would have saved the lives of babies that managed to survive the abortion process.5 The U.S. Senate subsequently passed similar legislation called The Born Alive Infant Protection Act by unanimous consent.6 (Obama was not a U.S. Senator at the time.) State Senator Obama was chairman of the committee that opposed this protection of babies, and in 2001 and 2002 was the only legislator who rose to argue against the Illinois Born Alive Act.7 That is an undeniable fact!

My good friend, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum published a scathing analysis of Senator Obama's pro-abortion record earlier this year. Here is an excerpt of what he wrote:
In March 2001, [Senator] Obama was the sole speaker in opposition to the bill on the floor of the Illinois Senate. He said: "We're saying they are persons entitled to the kinds of protections provided to a child, a 9-month child delivered to term. I mean, it would essentially bar abortions, because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child."8 So according to [Senator] Obama, "they", (babies who survive abortions or any other preterm newborns,) should be permitted to be killed because giving legal protection to preterm newborns would have the effect of banning all abortions.9

To further underscore Senator Obama's radical devotion to abortion rights, he has promised that "the first thing I'd do as president" would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act.10 The FOCA is a devastating piece of legislation that would overturn nearly every local, state, and federal anti-abortion law passed in the last 40 years.11 In fact, it's so broadly written that legal analysts suggest the bill may prevent institutions and physicians from refusing to provide abortion services by invoking the conscience clause.

Earlier this year, while talking about sex education and abortion, the Senator said the following: "I've got two daughters, 9 years old and 6 years old. I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby."12 In other words, a pre-born baby is viewed as a form of punishment, and can therefore be murdered in the name of convenience.

It is a matter of historic significance that Barack Obama has become the first African-American to capture the nomination of a major political party for the office of President of the United States. I applaud that remarkable accomplishment. Nevertheless, I cannot support his candidacy because the positions he holds on moral, social and family issues place him at the extreme left of the political spectrum. What the Senator believes and the policies he would seek to implement are on a collision course with the biblical principles and beliefs I have fought to defend for more than 35 years.

Turning the corner, the significance of Governor Palin to the 2008 presidential race is also worthy of further consideration. Here is a woman who is a deeply committed Christian, and who is pro-life not only with regard to her policies, but in her personal life. She and her husband welcomed their latest child, Trig, into the world even though he was diagnosed with Down syndrome while still in the womb. Approximately 90 percent of babies with Down syndrome are aborted,13 but Governor Palin carried her precious child to term and now loves and cares for him despite the challenges associated with a special needs child. Similarly, her teenage daughter, Bristol, who became pregnant out of wedlock, could have bowed to cultural pressure to seek an abortion. Instead, she and the father plan to get married and raise their child together. Governor Palin has been married for 20 years, and by all accounts, she is a portrait of Christian motherhood and womanhood.

As for Governor Palin's qualifications to be Vice President of the United States and to assume the mantle of President, should that ever become necessary, she is much better suited for the job than the talking heads on the liberal Left would have you believe. She came out of nowhere to win the Alaskan gubernatorial race against a powerful incumbent. While in office, she bravely fought widespread corruption--including that within her own party--in the face of great opposition. Govenor Palin's critics suggest that her experience as mayor of a "small town" is somehow a liability, but it is an asset. In fact, her time as Mayor of Wasilla and then as Governor of Alaska gives her a greater degree of executive experience than Senator Barack Obama can claim. Her qualifications to be Vice President, I would submit, exceed those of Senator Barack Obama, who spent only 143 working days in the U.S. Senate prior to announcing his run for President.14 He authored no significant legislation during that time.

I'm sure you have heard the shrill voices from the political Left decrying Mrs. Palin for any and every reason under the sun. They gloat over the pregnancy of her daughter Bristol and claim it as "evidence" that abstinence education, which Sarah Palin strongly supports, is somehow a sham. They criticize Governor Palin for daring to hold political office and run for Vice President while having a baby at home, even though the Left has for decades supported a woman's right to do just that. The attacks on Governor Palin and her family in recent weeks have been astonishingly unfair and mean-spirited. If she were a liberal Democrat, she would be praised and lauded for making the same decisions for which she is now being criticized. The double standard is obvious.

Governor Palin's decision to run for Vice President while raising a baby with special needs has given pause to some conservative voices as well. Some have even questioned my enthusiasm over Governor Palin's candidacy in light of these circumstances. It's important to note that although I have often said stay-at-home moms are vitally important to raising the next generation, I have never suggested that it is wrong for mothers to work outside the home. Indeed, Focus on the Family® has hired thousands of mothers over the years. I have said, however, that if a mother is going to enter the workplace, she and her husband must first find a way to meet the needs of their children. Sarah Palin appears to have done that. Todd, her husband, is actively involved in the raising of their children, and it seems obvious that Sarah will continue to be a positive force in her children's lives even as she carries out her duties in the political arena. Regardless of your political views, may I suggest that the Palins need our prayers, not our disdain, at this critical moment in our nation's history.

Senator Obama's selection of fellow liberal Democrat Joseph Biden (Del.) is also extremely revealing. While the National Journal ranked Obama the most liberal Senator last year, Senator Biden was ranked 3rd on their list--just ahead of Vermont's Bernie Sanders, a self-avowed socialist.15 While the Senator of 36 years from Delaware stands in blatant opposition to the pro-family movement, many of you will remember him from his vociferous opposition to several of our finer Supreme Court justices, namely, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Alito and Thomas.

Returning to our theme, America's future seems to hang in the balance at this time. Our next President will have a dramatic impact on countless legislative issues. Since being relegated to minority status in 2006, House Republicans have skillfully used the rules of parliamentary procedure to frustrate many of the Democrats' attempts to pass bad legislation. To this point, that effort has almost always been backed by a President who is willing to use the veto pen when necessary. The threat of President Bush's veto on hate crimes legislation and issues regarding the sanctity of life have kept a Democrat-controlled Congress from implementing its liberal agenda. Will our next President stand up to Congress in the same manner, or will he side with them, thereby giving the Democrats free reign to impose their liberal values on America?

It is likely, say the pundits, that both the House and the Senate in the 111th Congress will still be controlled by Democrats. If that party also takes the White House, a wave of anti-family, pro-homosexual legislation is almost guaranteed to pass in 2009. The bills put forward and advanced this year by Democrats reveal where they want to take the country. For example, they inserted hate crimes language into the 2008 Defense Authorization Bill, but were forced to remove it in conference, again under the threat of veto.16 While in the Illinois Senate, Senator Obama voted for a bill authorizing "comprehensive" sex education beginning in kindergarten. Defenders have attempted to downplay its significance, citing the fact that it called for the content to be "age appropriate" and "medically accurate"--dubious and subjective qualifiers given the sensitive nature of the topic and innocence of the audience!17 (When criticized for supporting this legislation, the Senator was dismissive and said proudly, I quote, "It's the right thing to do."18)

Large portions of the agenda promoted by homosexual activists will also be enacted. The implications for a federal hate crimes law are clear. People speaking against homosexuality have already been prosecuted under hate crimes laws both in the United States and abroad. If a federal hate crimes law passes, there will be little to prevent the government from endeavoring to control and curtail religious speech, especially from the pulpit. It is entirely possible that a pastor could be charged with inducing a federal hate crime simply by preaching from one of the many biblical passages that address homosexuality.

Congressional Democrats will also seek to pass the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, meaning businesses will be forced to accept and condone homosexuality--and possibly transgenderism--in making employment decisions. Further, business owners, including religious businesses, will not be able to make hiring and firing decisions based on their religious convictions. Earlier this year, Senator Barack Obama said, "I will place the weight of my administration behind the enactment of the Matthew Shepherd Act to outlaw hate crimes and a fully inclusive Employment Nondiscrimination Act."19

Finally, I am deeply concerned about the tax and spend policies Senator Obama will impose on the American people if he is elected, especially in light of the current financial crisis. This is not the time to be taking money out of the economy, yet, he has proposed enormous new federal programs and entitlements that will cost multiple billions of dollars. These initiatives cannot be effected without huge increases in taxation on businesses, which will be passed on to the public and to individual families. This will almost certainly require a return of the odious marriage penalty tax that plagued families for 34 years!

The races for the White House and the Congress are hardly the only matters worthy of concern in this election cycle. At the state and local levels, numerous policies and pieces of legislation are being put to a vote, and many of them are directly related to family and moral issues. For example, the definition of marriage is on the ballot in Arizona (Proposition 102), California (Proposition 8) and Florida (Amendment 2). Voters in Colorado will be given the opportunity to expand the definition of "personhood" to include all human beings from the moment of fertilization (Amendment 48). In South Dakota, voters will be asked to ban all abortions except those involving cases of rape and incest, or when the pregnancy seriously jeopardizes the life or physical health of the mother (Measure 11). Michigan is considering whether to legalize embryonic stem cell research, which would result in the killing of tiny human beings. In California, voters will also get the chance to decide whether minor girls should be required to give 48 hours' notice to a parent or adult relative before having an abortion (Proposition 4). Arkansas voters will decide whether to prevent couples living together out of wedlock--heterosexual or homosexual--from adopting children or serving as foster parents.

These are just a few of the important issues that, depending on which state you live in, will be on the ballot next month. I implore you to spend the few days remaining before the election researching the various amendments, ballot measures, and local and national candidates. Then, exercise your responsibility before God to vote on or before November 4th. Please, let your voices be heard. For more information, visit Focus on the Family Action's Web site.

Regardless of your political views, I want to urge Christians everywhere to be in prayer about this election. There are many scriptural references wherein King David "inquired of God" when he was faced by troubling circumstances (1 Samuel 23:2,4; 30:8; 2 Samuel 2:1; 5:19,23). It is time for Christians everywhere to turn to Him for guidance and wisdom. Find some time to be still and listen to what He wants to tell you. The National Day of Prayer Task Force, led by my wonderful wife, Shirley, has embarked on a national campaign entitled "Pray for Election Day." All around the country, individuals and groups are being encouraged to gather every Thursday leading up to November 4th between 12-noon and 12:30 p.m. Spend time with the Lord, asking Him to guide and direct those privileged to cast a ballot. If you are able, I would also encourage you to fast and pray immediately before the election. After all, it was the Reverend Billy Graham who once said that "To get nations back on their feet, we must first get down on our knees."20 Amen, Dr. Graham.

This election is about the future of the nation, but it will also go a long way toward determining the culture your children and grandchildren will come to know. I know you will vote with your children and your children's children in mind. That certainly puts the election in a different light, doesn't it?

You know my heart on these issues, and I hope you understand that I am less concerned with politicians and political parties than I am with the timeless biblical principles that those parties have the power to either strengthen or damage. No candidate is perfect, whether in this election or any other. Please don't make your decisions lightly. There is simply too much at stake. May God grant each of us wisdom as November 4th approaches.

James C. Dobson, Ph.D.Founder and Chairman

P.S. Since I began researching and writing this letter, the economic meltdown on Wall Street and congressional reaction to it has occurred. These are, indeed, difficult times for American families and businesses. Thank you for continuing to support this ministry, even though in many cases it has required sacrificial giving. You are helping to keep us afloat during this financial crisis, and we appreciate your contribution and prayers more than I can tell you.

Endnotes1 Louis Uchitelle, "2 Mavericks in Economics Awarded Nobel Prize," The New York Times, Oct. 12, 2004, (Sept. 29, 2008). Also: Alfred L. Malabre, Lost Prophets: An Insider's History of the Modern Economists (1994), p. 220. (Responding to criticism when changing monetary policy in the midst of the Great Depression.)2 Saddleback Presidential Candidates Forum, CNN Transcript, Aug. 16, 2008. (Sept. 29, 2008). 3 Republican National Committee, 2008 Republican Platform, (Sept. 28, 2008). 4 "National Journal's 2007 Vote Ratings," National Journal Group Inc., 2008, (Sept. 29, 2008).5 (September 2008).6 (Sept. 29, 2008).7 (Sept. 30, 2008).8 "Obama Blocked Born Alive Infant Protection Act," Illinois Federation For Right to Life Daily News online, April 3, 2008, (Sept. 29, 2008).9 Rick Santorum, "The Elephant in the Room: Why conservatives should support McCain," The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 21, 2008, (Sept. 29, 2008).10 (Sept. 29, 2008).11 (Sept. 29, 2008).12 "Ballot Bowl 2008: More Campaign Happenings," CNN Transcripts, March 29, 2008, (Sept. 29, 2008).13 Patricia E. Bauer, "What's Lost in Prenatal Testing: Why Encourage Testing for Down Syndrome," Jan. 14, 2007, Washington Post. 14 "Days in Session Calendars," Thomas, The Library of Congress, (Sept. 29, 2008).15 National Journal online, 2008, Ibid.16 Paul Kane, "Hill Negotiators Drop Hate-Crime Provision," Washington Post, Dec. 7, 2007, (Sept. 29, 2008). 17 Byron York, "On Sex-Ed Ad, McCain Is Right," National Review Online, Sept. 16, 2008, (Sept. 29, 2008). 18 "Obama on Sex Ed in Kindergarten: 'It's the Right Thing to Do,'" Free Republic online, Sept. 10, 2008, (Sept. 29, 2008).19 Michael Foust, "Obama: If elected I will use the bully pulpit for gay causes," Baptist Press, Feb. 28, 2008, (Sept. 29, 2008).20 Chuck Spinner, A Book of Prayers: To the Heavens from the Stars, (AuthorHouse: 2008), p. 225 (Sept. 29, 2008).
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