Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Quotes About Birthdays and a Reference

Since this subject arises from time to time:

The Jews "regarded birthday celebrations as parts of idolatrous worship . . . , and this probably on account of the idolatrous rites with which they were observed in honor of those who were regarded as the patron gods of the day on which the party was born."-M'Clintock and Strong's Cyclopaedia (1882, Vol. I, p. 817)

"The later Hebrews looked on the celebration of birthdays as a part of idolatrous worship, a view which would be abundantly confirmed by what they saw of the common observances associated with these days."—The Imperial Bible-Dictionary (London, 1874), edited by Patrick Fairbairn, Vol. I, p. 225

“Early Christians [from time of Christ until the 4th century] frowned on [celebrating anyone’s birthday], which was too closely linked with pagan customs to be given the approval of the church.” - How It Started, Garrison, copyright 1972 by Abingdon Press, p. 213

See http://searchforbibletruths.blogspot.com/2011/05/why-do-jehovahs-witnesses-not-celebrate.html

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Apostle John's Use of "Soul" in Revelation

I want to post some thoughts regarding the word "soul" as it is employed in the book of Revelation. I think that most uses of this signifier are rather obvious and somewhat non-controversial. The only set of verses that might constitute a possible sticking point is Rev. 6:9-11. We will come back to that account, but let us now list John's other uses of ψυχή in the book of Revelation:

"And a third of the sea became blood, a third of the living creatures [τὰ ἔχοντα ψυχάς] in the sea died [ἀπέθανε], and a third of the ships were destroyed." (Rev. 8:9 RSV)

Please note that John here describes figurative sea creatures with the words τὰ ἔχοντα ψυχάς. By employing the word "soul" in this way, the apostle demonstrates that he was familiar with Judaism's attribution of the term "soul" to humans and animals as shown by such texts as Gen 1:21-24; Num 31:28. Notice that John also tells us the "souls" which he saw in vision "died," indicating they were not immortal.

"They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives [τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτῶν] so much as to shrink from death." (12:11 NIV)

John records the words of the heavenly chorus commending the loyal and fastidious spiritual brothers of Christ, who conquered Satan the Devil through the ransom sacrifice of Christ Jesus and "the word of their testimony." Such ones do not even love their own "souls" in the face of death. That is, they are willing to lose their lives in order to glorify God and Christ so that they may discover the authentic life given freely by Almighty God. John clearly employs ψυχή here to denote "life" or human vitality. It is also important to note that the soul can die-- according to John.

"The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became blood like that of a dead man; and every living thing in the sea died." (16:3)

This passage again shows how the apostle utilizes the term ψυχή. He professes that "every living thing in the sea" (πᾶσα ψυχὴ ζωῆς) died.

"And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men. And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all." (18:13-14)

Observe how "soul" is employed in this text when it refers to men (ψυχὰς ἀνθρώπων).

"And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them, and the souls of those who have been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus, and because of the word of God, and who did not bow before the beast, nor his image, and did not receive the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand, and they did live and reign with Christ the thousand years . . ." (20:4)

This passage clearly suggests to me that souls can die and be brought back to life.

As I mentioned above, I will deal with Rev 6:9 in a separate post. But for now, I chose to examine John's usage of ψυχή and to show how it should govern our understanding of Rev 6:9. What is more--there are certain discourse or cultural features of Revelation that suggest Rev 6:9-11 is not teaching the immortality of the soul.

Friday, April 25, 2014

John Calvin on the Incarnation of Christ

"Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be borne in the virgin's womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning!" (Institutes 2.134)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7)

In his work The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993) Bart Ehrman explains why he 'felt constrained' to leave the Comma Johanneum out of his book.

Although (Ehrman writes) the famed Comma "represents the most obvious instance of a theologically motivated corruption in the entire manuscript tradition of the New Testament," (page 45, note 116) its appearance in the MS tradition "can scarcely be dated prior to the trinitarian controversies that arose" subsequent to the period of time examined in his monograph. In other words, the Comma is a late and spurious interpolation that does not belong in Holy Writ.

Ehrman (page 45) then references Catholic scholar Raymond E. Brown's excellent delineation of this textual issue in his Anchor Bible Commentary on The Epistles of John. See Brown, pp. 775-87. I heartily recommend Brown's thorough analysis of the issues surrounding the Comma Johanneum. Brown also shows that the Comma is an interpolation.

Rudolph Bultmann (_N.T Epistles of John_ [Die drei Johannesbriefe]. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1969. Edition 8. Aufl.)--whatever you may think of his theology--seems to be on the mark (for the most part) vis-a-vis the textual tradition when he notes:

"The so-called Comma Johanneum (vss 7f) is found in Latin [MSS] dating before A.D. 400, the text of which(it varies in details in individual manuscripts) was also taken up into the Sixto-Clementine edition of the Vulgate in the following form: 'Quoniam tres sunt, qui testimonium dant in coelo Pater, Verbum et Spiritus Sanctus, et hi tres unum sunt.' ('For there are three who bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three who bear witness on earth, the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three are one.') Although the decree of the Holy Office in 1897 decided in favor of the authenticity of the Comma Johanneum, today its spuriousness is also recognized by Catholic scholars. The passage is unknown to the entire Greek tradition" (Bultmann 81).

I am not sure about Bultmann's last observation in the quote above. Maybe he means that the JC does not appear in any of the early Greek MSS. For we know that it evidently does occur in the 14-15th century and it likewise appears in the 16th century. At any rate, it is more surely a late corruption of the Greek text as Ehrman
and Brown note: the Comma does not belong in Scripture. This is also the judgment of Westcott.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Is "Christianizing" Pagan Altars and Practices Okay in the Sight of God?

Scripturally I have problems with construing Acts 17 so that it supports using former pagan altars or temples in the worship of God because of what 1 Cor. 10:14 says: "Therefore, my beloved ones, flee from idolatry." No, we are not to "Christianize" idols and baptize them (as someone once told me). Stating this point even more forcefully is 1 Thess. 1:9: "you turned to God from [your] idols to slave for a living and true God."

The believers in first century Thessalonica did not "baptize" their idols or "Christianize" them; they abhorred, shunned, rejected or turned away from them. Their example is totally at odds with an interpretation of Paul's action in Athens that would imply he "baptized" Athenian altars (cf. 1 John 5:21).

Commenting on Rev. 9:20, David Aune writes that "Antagonism to idolatry is also expressed in the NT (1 Cor. 14:15), and critiques of idolatry (often borrowing from Hellenistic Jewish apologetic) are also found among the early Christian apologists (Tatian Oratio 4.2; Theophilus Ad Autolycum 1.9-10; 2.2). Celsus charged that Christians cannot bear to see temples, altars, and images" (Origen Contra Cels. 7.62).

"When a Christian passes through temples, he will spit down upon the smoking altars and blow them out. As to rooting out the strange gods in every way, it has been commanded, 'you shall utterly destroy all places where the pagans sacrifice to their gods. You shall overturn their pillars and dash them to pieces. You shall cut down their groves. You shall burn their graven images. You shall destroy their names'" (Tertullian, On Idolatry II; Scorpiace 2).

Bible Verses That Are Potentially Connected to the Great Crowd's "Washing Their Robes in Blood" (Revelation 7:9-17)

I am grateful for G.K. Beale's large commentary on Revelation. It helped me to track down these passages as they possibly relate to the great crowd of Revelation 7:9-17.

"Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine, he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes" (Genesis 49:11, 21st Century King James Version).

"And Jehovah said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to-day and to-morrow, and let them wash their garments" (Exod 19:10, ASV)

"And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their garments" (Exodus 19:14, ASV).

"Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people. Again they all responded, 'We will do everything the Lord has commanded. We will obey.' Then Moses took the blood from the basins and splattered it over the people, declaring, 'Look, this blood confirms the covenant the Lord has made with you in giving you these instructions'" (Exodus 24:7-8, NLT).

"Come now, and let us reason together, saith Jehovah: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18, ASV).

"When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and purged the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning, then the LORD will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy. There will be a shelter to give shade from the heat by day, and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain" (Isaiah 4:4-6)

"For we are all become as one that is unclean, and all our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment: and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away" (Isaiah 64:6, ASV).

"And he was clothed with a robe dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God" (Revelation 19:13, KJV 2000 Bible).

See also Zechariah 3:1-5

Beale writes that the metaphor of the great crowd washing their robes in the Lamb's blood "primarily connotes the objective reality that the saints have been cleansed from their sin by their persevering faith in Christ's death for them, that faith having been refined by trials" (page 438).

Monday, April 07, 2014

A Dialogue about God's Foreknowledge and Our Free Will

Here is part of an extended dialogue I had years ago (in 2002) which provides insight on why some people have difficulty accepting a modified view of God's omniscience. My comment initiates the discussion. The subject is Paul's shipwreck at Malta--an event that was foretold before it happened.

>Sure, Paul and his buddies were free to swim or free
>to not swim. Nevertheless, God could know what these
>human souls would do without "peeking" into the future
>or knowing their actions eternally.

Okay, we have to distinguish our points of view
here, since you're viewing God as temporal (not having
to "peek" into the future). But assuming your view, how
could God's "knowledge" of what these passengers
would do once their ship wrecked and they sunk into
the water be called anything more than a supremely
"well-educated guess"? How could he have "known"
(without "peeking") that this or that passenger wouldn't
panic and freak out, or that those who couldn't swim
would encounter a piece of floating timber at just the
opportune moment, or that a freak wave wouldn't smash
the mast down upon the heads of two swimmers and
instantly kill them? I just don't see how this could be
called "knowlege" at all, even in what Hume would call
the relatively "weak" epistemic sense with which we
declare ourselves to "know" that the sun will rise tomor-

>God knew what the
>sons of Israel would do [in the wilderness] by reading their collective
>hearts. He infallibly knew what Esau would do before
>birth, probably based on His knowledge of the human

Say WHAT? This sounds something like reading
tea leaves! How could knowledge of Esau's embryo
in the present furnish God with all the variables (of time,
place, relation, quality, and circumstance) necessary for
Him to know that Jacob would happen to be making an
appealing "mess of pottage" at the precise moment when
Esau would come in starving hungry from an unsuccessful
hunting trip?

>My point is that God is capable of knowing the
>future without necessarily "foreknowing" the future. That is, God
>can predict [or foretell] with certainty what will happen based on
>one's track record or one's present desires and thoughts, etc.

I don't think this can work, because even
omniscient knowledge of a "track record" doesn't
account for the infinite number of variables involving
conditions of chance (future contingencies of weather,
earthquakes, famine, circumstance, and human choices)
that, on your view, God can't know before they are actual-ized.

>And, FWIW, I do not deny God's foreknowledge or foreordination.

Except when you do.

>Only timeless theists say that God does not literally foresee or foreordain events.

Not necessarily: we speak of God "foreknowing"
events just as the Bible does and as you and I, long
after the Copernican Revolution, continue to reasonably
speak of "sunrises." We just don't take such language
without due philosophical qualification when theorizing.

1 Thessalonians 4:1 (Robertson and Milligan)

Λοιπόν, ἀδελφοί, ἐρωτῶμεν ὑμᾶς καὶ παρακαλοῦμεν ἐν κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ, ἵνα καθὼς παρελάβετε παρ' ἡμῶν τὸ πῶς δεῖ ὑμᾶς περιπατεῖν καὶ ἀρέσκειν θεῷ, καθὼς καὶ περιπατεῖτε, ἵνα περισσεύητε μᾶλλον (1 Thessalonians 4:1 W-H Text of 1881).

From Robertson's Word Pictures: Finally (loipon). Accusative of general reference of loipo, as for the rest. It does not mean actual conclusion, but merely a colloquial expression pointing towards the end (Milligan) as in 2 Corinthians 13:11 ; 2 Timothy 4:8 . So to loipon in 2 Thessalonians 3:1 ; Philippians 3:1 ; Philippians 4:8 . We beseech (erwtwmen). Not "question" as in ancient Greek, but as often in N.T. ( 1 Thessalonians 5:12 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:1 ; Philippians 4:3 ) and also in papyri to make urgent request of one. How ye ought (to pw dei uma). Literally, explanatory articular indirect question (to pw) after parelabhte according to common classic idiom in Luke ( Luke 1:62 ; Luke 22:2 Luke 22:4 Luke 22:23 Luke 22:24 ) and Paul ( Romans 8:26 ). That ye abound (ina perisseuhte). Loose construction of the ina clause with present subjunctive after two subordinate clauses with kaqw (as, even as) to be connected with "beseech and exhort." More and more (mallon). Simply more, but added to same idea in perisseuhte.

George Milligan says the following about 1 Thess 4:1:

λοιπόν] a colloquial expression frequently used to point forward to a coming conclusion (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:11, 2 Timothy 4:8; τὸ λοιπ. 2 Thessalonians 3:1, Philippians 4:8), but in itself doing little more than mark the transition to a new subject as in late Gk. where it is practically equivalent to an emphatic οὖν: cf. Polyb. 1:15. 11 λοιπὸν ἀνάγκη συγχωρεῖν, τὰς ἀρχὰς καὶ τὰς ὑποθέσεις εἶναι φευδεῖς, Epict. Diss. 1:22. 15 ἄρχομαι λοιπὸν μισεῖν αὐτόν, and the other passages cited by Jannaris Exp. 5. 8. p. 429 f.: see also Schmid Attic. 3. p. 135. As showing its frequency as a connecting particle in the κοινή (cf. B.G.U. 1039, 8 (Byz.)), Wilcken remarks that it has passed over into Coptic in this sense (Archiv 3. p. 507). In mod. Gk. λοιπόν has displaced οὖν altogether.

In the present passage οὖν is retained in the text by WH. mg., Tischdf., Zimmer, Nestle. It might easily have dropped out after the -ον of λοιπόν: on the other hand the combination λοιπὸν οὖν is found nowhere else in the N.T., cf. however B.G.U. 1079, 6 ff. (a private letter—1./a.d.) λοιπὸν οὖν ἔλαβον παρὰ το(ῦ) ἄραβος τὴν ἐπιστολὴν καὶ ἀνέγνων καὶ ἐλυπήθην.

See http://www.studylight.org/com/gmt/view.cgi?bk=51&ch=4

Jason Beduhn on Hebrews 1:8 (Originally Posted on BGreek)

In fact, I say in my book, "Both translations [the conventional and the one found in the NWT, as well as in notes to the NRSV and TEV] are possible, so none of the translations we are comnparing [SIC] can be rejected inaccurate. We cannot settle the debate with certainty" (99) and "Let me repeat that both ways of translating Hebrews 1.8 are legitimate readings of the original Greek of the verse. There is no basis
for proponents of either translation to claim that the other translation is certainly wrong. All that can be discussed is which translation is more probable" (101). I hope that is clear. I argue in the book that "God is your throne" is more probable based on the following points:

1. preponderance of use of hO QEOS as a nominative, rather than as a vocative;
2. lack of parallel to using EIS TON AIWNA as an absolute predicate phrase;
preponderance of its use as modifier of other elements within the predicate;
3. the existence of an alternative way to convey the vocative if it is

1. literary context in Hebrews fails to supply another reference to Jesus as
"God"; functionality of the verse in its context without taking hO QEOS as a
2. literary context of original passage in Psalm 45 shows that God is not
being addressed; rather a king is being praised by cataloguing the attributes
of his life in the palace.

Let me add that this argument in presented in just two pages written at a
popular level.

Dr. Conrad has gone to the trouble of carefully investigating my statement
that "There is no other example in the Bible where the expression 'forever'
stands alone as a predicate phrase with the verb 'to be' . . . 'Forever'
always functions as a phrase complementing either an action verb, or a
predicate noun or pronoun" (99, part of Linguistic argument 2 above). He cites
what he considers contrary examples, and this leads to his conclusion that my
statement is in error. It is in error only in the way I sometimes let the
popular level at which I am writing in the book oversimplify, namely, (a) I
use "Bible" and "New Testament" interchangeably in the book, and (b) once I
have given an English rendering for a Greek phrase, I use the English to stand
for the referenced Greek wording. I can see now that his needs to be handled
more carefully in future editions of the book. My statement, within the
context of how the book is written (with the two practices of simplification I
just mentioned) is correct. None of Dr. Conrad's examples refute it, and I am
surprised no one else on this list has noted that fact. In none of Dr.
Conrad's examples does the phrase EIS TON AIWNA stand alone with an explicit
or implicit EINAI in the predicate. Instead, his exampled involve either the
dative of possessor which the phrase complements (in the doxological formulae)
or the adverbial phrase MEQ' hUMWN, which again the phrase complements. Now
we all know how easy it is to quibble about what is or is not a true parallel.
But all I wish to assert here is that Dr. Conrad's argument falls short of
demonstrating a failing in mine.

On the other hand, Dr. Conrad's instincts were right, even if he did not
succeed in supporting them sufficiently. That is the case because if we take
the Septuagint into account, then my statement would need to be qualified.
Because there, in that part of the Bible that I did not take into
consideration in my analysis, we do find the phrase EIS TON AIWNA used
absolutely with either explicit or implicit EINAI, namely, in Psalm 80.16
(81.15), 103.31 (104.31), 134.13 (135.13), and repeatedly in the expression
"his mercy (is) forever" in Psalms 99, 105, 106, 117, 135, and 137). So this
information would require me to speak here, as I do in connection with hO
QEOS, of preponderance of usage rather than claiming that there are no other
examples. EIS TON AIWNA usually and regularly modifies some other element of
a predicate, but it can stand alone, and so this part of my argument looses
much of its force. A survey of the Psalms does show, however, that the
preferred way to make an existential statement about the subject with EIS TON
AIWNA is with MENW (e.g., Psalms 9.8, 32.11, 88.37, 101.13, 102.9, 110.3,
110.10, 111.3, 111.9, 116.2).

With that, let me just repeat that there is no objective, linguistic way to
determine which of the two possible translations of Heb. 1.8 is the correct
one, and one's choice must always be qualified by this fact. I have made an
argument for preferring one translation as more probable, and even with a
retraction of one part of it as too sweeping an assertion, that argument is
still stronger than any with which I am familiar on behalf of the other
possible translation. I would be interested to hear any argument that could
be made on linguistic and literary grounds for preferring the "conventional
translation" to the other.

best wishes,
Jason BeDuhn

Jason BeDuhn
Associate Professor of Religious Studies, and Chair
Department of Humanities, Arts, and Religion
Northern Arizona University

Saturday, April 05, 2014

More on Luke 17:21

Concerning Luke 17:21 and its syntax (word order):

οὐδὲ ἐροῦσιν Ἰδοὺ ὧδε ἤ Ἐκεῖ· ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστίν (NA27).

The NIV reads: "nor will people say, 'Here it is, ' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."

The margin offers the alternative: "Or among."

Ralph Earle writes: "Some commentators and translators prefer 'in your midst' (NASB). But the Greek preposition here is not EN, 'in'; it is ENTOS (only here and Matt. 23:26), which means 'within.' Alfred Plummer discusses both translations. His conclusion is that if 'within you' is adopted, the meaning will be, 'Instead of being something externally visible, the Kingdom is essentially spiritual; it is in your hearts, if you possess it at all' (p. 406). It would seem that this is what Jesus meant" (Earle, Word Meanings, page 72).

Louw-Nida, however, lists the semantic domains of ἐντὸς as follows:

(a) among
(b) what is inside

This reference work then notes:

83.9 "ἐντὸς: ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστίν 'the kingdom of God is among you' or ' . . . in your midst' Lk 17:21. For another interpretation of ἐντὸς in Lk 17:21, see discussion at 26.1."

83.17 "ἐντὸς: pertaining to being within an area - 'the contents of, that which is inside.' καθάρισον πρῶτον τὸ ἐντὸς τοῦ ποτηρίου 'clean what is inside the cup first' Mt 23:26. It is also possible, though not probable, to understand ἐντὸς in Mt 23:26 as the inside surface itself rather than the contents."

26.1 "In Lk 17:21 the phrase ἐντὸς ὑμῶν in the statement IDOU GAR hH BASILEIA TOU QEOU ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ESTIN 'look, God's reign is within you' may constitute a reference to the same inner being designated by the phrases hO ESW and hO EN TW XRUPTWi. On this basis some scholars have suggested that the phrase ENTOS hUMWN can be interpreted as a potentiality for participation and hence be translated 'within your grasp,' but it is more likely that one should understand the phrase ENTOS hUMWN in Lk 17:21 as a spacial relationship, for example, 'in your midst' or 'among you' (see 83.9)."

See the full discussion of ENTOS in BDAG, which says in part: "Lk generally avoids ref. to God's reign as a psychological reality. The passage has invited much debate" (BDAG 340-341).

Does God Know the Future Contingently?

I want to share a dialogue that I had with a colleague and friend some years ago. I've slightly altered part of my response because I believe a reformulated answer makes more sense.

My interlocutor believes that God must fully (exhaustively?) know the future or else, God is less than omniscient. I obviously disagree; so my comments below are designed to address this particular objection. It is my belief that there are at least some things about the future that God knows contingently. Comments are appreciated.

In brief, knowing a proposition contingently (future or otherwise) is not the same thing as saying that one does not know a certain proposition at all. If God contingently knows that Abraham will offer up Isaac, how can it be said (legitimately) that He has no knowledge of the fact that Abraham will offer up Isaac?

(1) Whether Abraham will offer up Isaac or not is contingent.
(1) Necessarily, a contingent event can only be known contingently.
(2) Therefore, necessarily, God contingently knows that Abraham will offer up Isaac.

How is it possible for a contingent future event or proposition to be known in any other way except contingently? It is by its very nature contingent.

In answer to your second question about omniscience, I point to the old atheological question, "Can God make a rock so big that He can't lift it?" One problem with this query is the definition of omnipotence that it assumes. My point is that there is a similar problem that has plagued the traditional definition of "omniscience." As S.T. Davis says, divine omniscience does not mean that "God knows all facts." Rather, IMO, it refers to God's (exhaustive) knowledge of all epistemic possibilia.