Saturday, November 30, 2013

Answering Questions from Someone Wanting to Know More About God

Has science solved the problem of why something exists rather than nothing?

1) Gottfried Leibniz famously asked why is there something rather than nothing. I know that certain scientists have tried to answer this metaphysical question, although I'm not sure that science can satisfactorily reply to Leibniz. I respect the place of science in rational discussions. However, why something exists when it's possible that nothing might have existed is a question that seems to exceed the purview of science. We must also remember that "nothing" is being used by Leibniz in a metaphysical rather than scientific sense.

2) Is light-speed still the cosmic speed limit? The notion of things going faster than light seems to have been refuted for now. And the second video link you included is less than clear about what "nothing" means. In other words, the term "nothing" can be defined within a quantum context or it can be fleshed out metaphysically. To make the discussion fair, a term needs to be used monosemically as opposed to being used equivocally.

3) I personally do not believe that free will is an illusion. It's somewhat of a mystery how free will exists, but one could argue for free will by appealing to moral responsibility and counterfactual freedom. Peter van Inwagen has written extensively on incompatibilist free will. Nancey Murphy also provides evidence that free will may possibly arise from an initially deterministic system. Think about the robot in "I, Robot" that learns how to wink; maybe free volition can be produced in a similar way from a system (the brain) that's supposed to be wholly deterministic.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

John 1:14 and Temple Theology: Why the Resistance?

Lately, I've been asking myself why I'm so resistant to seeing temple theology in John 1:14. The claimed allusion is a viable possibility to me--but it's more of an inference (IMO) than a result of solid exegesis. Alford (et al) presents a strong historico-exegetical case for making a connection between 1:14 and the shekinah presence of YHWH. However, to jump from there to the idea that Christ is YHWH appears to be rather hasty or premature. There are also lines of evidence that suggest one should not think the Shekinah presence of God is at play in 1:14 of the Fourth Gospel.

A.T. Robertson certainly sees an allusion to the Shekinah in John 1:14:

"First aorist ingressive aorist active indicative of SKHNOW, old verb, to pitch one's tent or tabernacle (SKHNOS or SKHNH), in N.T. only here and [Revelation] 12:12; 13:6; 21:3. In Revelation it is used of God tabernacling with men and here of the Logos tabernacling, God's Shekinah glory here among us in the person of his Son."

And there are plenty of other recent studies affirming the same idea. On the other hand, Benny Thettayil refers to a number of studies that might refute the common interpretation of John 1:14. See his work In Spirit and Truth: An Exegetical Study of John 4:19-26 and a Theological Investigation of the Replacement Theme in the Fourth Gospel, pages 369ff. He evidently accepts the common understanding of the text but does review evidence to the contrary.

Temple theology could be present in 1:14. I just believe the evidence (at this time) cuts both ways.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Apanthsis and 1 Thessalonians 4:17

Here is a little more information about 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and what it potentially teaches us about life in the heavens for all eternity.

C. A. Wannamaker remarks concerning this significant textual unit:

"Since they are to be taken up into the air to meet Jesus this can only refer to their being led to heaven with Jesus"(The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek text. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1990. Page 176).

(1) As I pointed out in an earlier post, there is no apodictic or even compelling evidence that demonstrates ἀπάντησις is a terminus technicus used to delineate the action of meeting and subsequently accompanying a dignitary. There was once a custom of engaging in such actions; however, proof for the custom being practiced is not necessarily evidence for a terminus technicus. Notice that the LXX (Exodus 19:17) applies ἀπάντησις to the Israelites "meeting" with God at Sinai.

(2) The GNT use of ἀπαντάω/ἀπάντησις could have been influenced by LXX usage more so than Hellenistic lingual usage. We simply do not know with any degree of certainty as Joseph Plevnik writes: "The term PAROUSIA was hence used in the technical sense neither by the apostle nor in Hellenistic or Roman sources" ("1 Thessalonians 4,17: The Bringing in of the Lord or the Bringing in of the Faithful?" Biblica, Vol. 80 [1999]: 537-546).

(3) We are told that the virgins in a Matthean parable 'go out to meet'(EXHLQON EIS hUPANTHSIN TOU NUMFIOU) the bridegroom. See Matt 25:1. Matt 25:7 even adds: IDOU hO NUMFIOS EXERXESQE EIS APANTHSIN. Later Matthew writes that the bridegroom arrives (HLQEN) and the discreet or wise virgins go in with him to the marriage feast (KAI hAI hETOIMOI EISHLQON MET' AUTOU EIS TOUS GAMOUS KAI EKLEISQH hH QURA). See Matt 25:10.

We must remember that Jesus is relating a parable and some of the details cannot be pressed too far. Therefore, while Matthew does say that the bridegroom arrives and that the imprudent virgins seek to get in the door of the wedding feast after it has been shut, we have no reason to believe that the wedding feast is celebrated on the earth. One piece of information that is withheld from the reader is the general setting of this parable. Where is the wedding feast celebrated? Is it at the bridegroom's house or at the house of Christ's bride? Do the virgins accompany the bridegroom back to his residence or does he feast at the bride's house? See John 14:1-3.

Blog Posts on Melito (Links)

I enjoyed reading these posts. Please visit these blogs:

You'll find insightful remarks made about Melito of Sardis

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Does John 1:14 Allude to the Shekinah?

I contend it's less than self-evident that John is referring to the Shekinah glory or some other manifestation of divine glory in the Fourth Gospel's Prologue (specifically, 1:14). While some commentators have tried to demonstrate an allusion to the Shekinah in the Johannine Prologue by relying on the Greek word ἐσκήνωσεν, BDAG Greek-English Lexicon simply notes that there may possibly be an allusion to the Shekinah in John 1:14.

However one chooses to understand the apostolic words in John's famed Prologue, the theme of Messiah's glory is admittedly a prominent one throughout the Fourth Gospel: "This beginning of his signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him"(John 2:11 WEB).

There is no doubt that Jesus displayed glory during his earthly existence, but this glory was derived as John 1:14 makes clear: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth" (ASV).

Irenaeus of Lyons correspondingly writes: "But what John really does say is this: 'And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us; and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.'" (See AH 1.8.5)

In fact, even prior to the Logos becoming flesh, he subsisted in a position of glory alongside the Father; but John does not necessarily say that the glory of the Son WAS the glory of the Father or vice versa.

Regarding the glory of the Messiah, the book Insight on the Scriptures (Published by the WTBTS) states: "Concerning Jesus' first miracle, the Bible says that 'he made his glory manifest.' (John 2:11) Glory here refers to an impressive evidence of miraculous power identifying Jesus as the promised Messiah. (Compare Joh 11:40-44.)"

As for John 17:5, Insight makes the following observation: "Jesus used the term [glory] to refer to the exalted state that he enjoyed in heaven before coming to earth" (Cf. Insight, 1:964).

The Insight book teaches us that the term glory must be defined in harmony with its literary context. It obviously does not mean the same thing in all contexts.

A number of commentators want to see allusions to the Shekinah glory in John 1:14. From this concept, it's often inferred that Christ is equal (consubstantial) with the Father. For example, Clarke's Commentary makes the following claim:

"And dwelt among us - Και εσκηνωσεν εν ἡμιν, And tabernacled among us: the human nature which he took of the virgin, being as the shrine, house, or temple, in which his immaculate Deity condescended to dwell. The word is probably an allusion to the Divine Shechinah in the Jewish temple; and as God has represented the whole Gospel dispensation by the types and ceremonies of the old covenant, so the Shechinah in the tabernacle and temple pointed out this manifestation of God in the flesh. The word is thus used by the Jewish writers: it signifies with them a manifestation of the Divine Shechinah."

But there might be other ways to explain a Shekinah allusion.

A) One could view John 1:14 as an implicative account that points to the prophet greater than Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15). Such an interpretation can be substantiated by considering the apostolic words recorded at John 1:17. Cf. 2 Corinthians 3:7-18; Acts 3:19-26.

B1) Another OT text that may be pertinent here is Exodus 23:20-26. It could point to Christ serving as the Angel (MAL'AK) of YHWH, that personal agent who carries out duties as the Leader of God's people through the spirit of YHWH. Personally, I do not believe that the Angel of YHWH is identical with YHWH since Zechariah 1:12, 13 makes a distinction between God and His angel. In that fateful passage, the angel poses a question to YHWH and God replies with comforting words. While one could argue that the angel simply functions as a mediating agent in this account (with no ontological implications), I do not think that this explanation tells the whole story. David L. Petersen (in his commentary on Zechariah) points out that the angel's words have a penetrating quality to them: "How long will you be without mercy for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah that have felt your anger these seventy years?"

B2)The text indicates that the Angel really is perplexed over the current state of Judah. He does not know what YHWH knows and so poses the aforesaid question to Him. The angel sees that seventy years have passed by and the whole earth is tranquil while God's people still appear to be experiencing the heat of divine anger. "How long," he wonders. By uttering these words, God's angel sounds forth a lamenting request that has been echoed by God's people throughout human history. If he is the preexistent Christ, then the biblical evidence would suggest that the Lord Jesus Christ is perhaps not consubstantial with the Father.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

More on Jeremiah 51:41 (Paronomasia)

"O how She′shach has been captured, How the Praise of the whole earth has been seized! How Babylon has become an object of horror among the nations!" (Jeremiah 51:41, Revised NWT, 2013)

NWT footnote states: "This appears to be a cryptographic name for Babel (Babylon)."

“See how Babylon has been captured! See how the pride of the whole earth has been taken!
See what an object of horror Babylon has become among the nations!" (Jeremiah 51:41, NET Bible)

"Heb 'Sheshach.' For an explanation of the usage of this name for Babylon see the study note on Jer 25:26 and that on 51:1 for a similar phenomenon. Babylon is here called 'the pride of the whole earth' because it was renowned for its size, its fortifications, and its beautiful buildings" (Footnote in NET Bible).

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Jeremiah 51:41 and Paronomasia (Beitzel)

"How is Sheshach taken? and how is the praise of the whole earth surprised? how is Babylon become an astonishment among the nations?" (Jeremiah 51:41 KJV)

Barry J. Beitzel writes:

"Atbash. Atbash is an oratorical device according to which letters of one or more words, counted from the beginning of the alphabet, are exchanged for corresponding letters counted from the end of the alphabet (e.g.' = t, b = s, etc.). Embedded in Jeremiah's grim oracle of doom directed against Babylon and the king of Babylon (chaps. 50-1) is the enigmatic Sheshak (51:41). Enigmatic, that is, until one recognizes that the letters which comprise the word ssk are actually atbash for bbl, 'Babylon' (cf. 25:26). In this same chapter (v 1), Jeremiah describes the inhabitants of Babylon by means of the otherwise mysterious lb qmywhich, through atbash, becomes ks'dym, 'Chaldeans,' known to have been contemporary inhabitants of the great city."

Atbash is a form of paronomasia. See Beitzel, "Exodus 3:14 and the Divine Name: A Case of Biblical Paronomasia." Trinity Journal 1 NS (1980): 5-20.

We read the following in John Calvin's commentary on Jeremiah and Lamentations:

"But he calls Babylon here Sheshach, as in Jeremiah 25. Some think it to be there the proper name of a man, and others regard it as the name of a celebrated city in Chaldea. But we see that what they assert is groundless; for this passage puts an end to all controversy, for in the first clause he mentions Sheshach, and in the second, Babylon. That passage also in Jeremiah 25 cannot refer to anything else except to Babylon; for the Prophet said, 'Drink shall all nations of God's cup of fury, and after them the king of Sheshach,' that is, when God has chastised all nations, at length the king of Babylon shall have his turn. But in this place the Prophet clearly shows that Sheshach can be nothing else than Babylon. The name is indeed formed by inverting the alphabet."

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

"Storing Up Earthly Treasures" and Greek Aspect

“Stop storing up for yourselves treasures on the earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal. Rather, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:19-20 Revised NWT).

A friend once asked me if this verse describes a punctiliar event or a durative (ongoing) one. Should Jesus' followers "store up treasures in heaven" once or do it continually?

My answer: θησαυρίζετε is present imperative active 2nd person plural.

Our current knowledge of aspect and Aktionsart leads me to believe that context (or cotext) must determine whether Jesus' words should be understood as denoting continuous action--durative or progressive--over against believing that he had in mind singular or punctiliar action.

It seems likely that Jesus meant the Christian activity of storing up treasures is an ongoing process and not a one-time event. Not only does the present "tense" suggest this understanding, but verses such as Mt 6:33-34 buttress this view.

In conclusion, relational markers in the text must elucidate a speaker's intended meaning along with the morphological forms of Greek verbs.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

The Simplest Explanation of Biblical Greek Is the Best One

Ockham's Razor (the law of parsimony) is a handy tool that can be used in many academic fields. Sorry that it can't be used to literally shave anything away.

But to illustrate how the famed "law of parsimony" works, consider some explanations that have been given for the kind of Greek we find in the New Testament. There was a time when some thought that the form of Greek encountered in Matthew or Revelation was "Holy Ghost Greek." That is, a special type of Greek produced by the Spirit of God. But that position eventually softened and it was then claimed that the Greek of the NT is special (unique) because it contains Hebrew-Aramaic idioms throughout the text.

We now know that the simplest explanation for NT Greek--this is where Ockham's razor comes into play--is that Matthew-Revelation was written in Koine Greek (the common Greek of the day) and not some SUI GENERIS dialect unknown to the Hellenes: the simplest explanation is probably the most likely and best one. However, we don't have to speculate what type of Greek the NT writers used; there is strong textual evidence from the first century era. On page 10 of their well-known grammar, Dana and Mantey inform us that the NT writers employed "the language of the masses," as might be expected.

We have numerous Greek inscriptions and papyri that add weight to this conclusion. We don't need some extravagant hypothesis to explain NT Greek. Ockham's Razor wisely teaches us that all other things being equal (CETERIS PARIBUS), the simplest explanation is normally the best one (don't multiply entities unnecessarily).

Friday, November 01, 2013

Brief Commentary on Daniel 9:24 (Most Holy)

"Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy" (Daniel 9:24 NIV).

"There are seventy weeks that have been determined upon your people and upon your holy city, in order to terminate the transgression, and to finish off sin, and to make atonement for error, and to bring in righteousness for times indefinite, and to imprint a seal upon vision and prophet, and to anoint the Holy of Holies" (NWT, 1984).

It's interesting, but not all that consequential exegetically speaking, that NIV treats the Hebrew for "everlasting" as an attributive. But the NWT construes the same term predicatively ("for times indefinite"). The NET Bible favors the reading, "perpetual righteousness" in its text (also treating the Hebrew attributively). Darby's translation and Young's Literal Translation arrange the construction with syntax resembling NWT (1984).

Of course, those familiar with NWT also understand why OLAM is rendered "times indefinite" rather than "everlasting" or something to that effect. Yet the revised NWT (2013) has taken a different approach to translating this Hebrew word.

One Biblical website offers these insights on Daniel 9:24:

"Everlasting (05769) (OLAM) means forever, eternity, i.e., pertaining to an unlimited duration of time, usually with a focus on the future.

The Amplified Bible serves as a 'mini' commentary adding that the seventy sevens will...

bring in everlasting righteousness (permanent moral and spiritual rectitude in every area and relation)"