Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Potential Sources for Justin Martyr's Logos Concept

We might be inclined to believe that the Fourth Gospel primarily supplied the contextual literary background for Justin Martyr's Logos notion. However, Peter R. Forster has argued that the scholarly world is uncertain whether Justin depended on the Fourth Gospel at all. He argues that Justin's ideas of the Logos are informed by "Stoic and Platonic terms, with Stoic monism to a degree softening Platonic dualism." There appears to be a number of ideas at work in Justin: the Stoic Logos combined with the Platonic World-Soul possibly informed by late Judaic notions of the Word or Hokhmah/Sophia.

See Peter R. Forster, “Divine Passibility and the Early Christian Doctrine of God,” in The Power and Weakness of God: Impassibility and Orthodoxy, edited by Nigel M. de S. Cameron (Edinburgh: Rutherford House Books, 1990), 29.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Galatians 4:8-11 (Holidays)

One reader of this blog has made some remarks on Galatians 4:8ff regarding the applicability of those verses today. Granted, Paul was originally chastising the Galatians for keeping Jewish feast days and practicing circumcision, Jehovah's Witnesses still make the argument that the apostolic words apply in an a fortiori sense. If the Galatians should not have been observing Jewish festivals which were once commanded by God through Moses, then how much more should they and we eschew festivals/holidays that have pagan religious connections.

Some might feel that holidays are a matter of conscience. But how can the observance of days rooted in pagan religion be a matter of conscience for the Christian believer? 2 Corinthians 6 teaches followers of Christ to flee from idolatry and [spiritually] unclean things. The best evidence we have from historical sources is that the ancient Jews and the early Christians did not observe holidays rooted in pagan religion. Augustus Neander and others have documented these points.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Birthdays and Circumcision

This blog is intended to be a safe place for my fellow brothers/sisters. I like taking a scholarly approach to biblical studies, so I'm not afraid of opposing viewpoints. But I will not willingly dialogue with a Witness who does not agree with the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses or with someone, who although identifying himself/herself as a brother/sister, refuses to accept the exousia of Jehovah God's ecclesia. None of the foregoing means that I'm afraid to talk with someone who disagrees with my religious views.

Now I recently posted something about disfellowshipping which led to a side conversation about birthdays and circumcision. I'm not going to spend lots of time addressing these issues, but I will make a few brief comments in this blog entry.

1) Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate holidays or birthdays. Some object to this belief by saying that birthdays no longer have the associations they once did, where people once celebrated birthdays for reasons that involved superstition and magic. Granted, most people observing birthdays today might not be celebrating them for reasons that involve superstition. However, if someone wants to be a Christian that pleases God or he/she wants to live a life governed by Scripture, that person will consider what ancient Judaism and Christianity both thought respecting birthdays.

The evidence suggests that neither Jews nor Christians observed birthdays in times of antiquity. Besides their association with magic or superstition, there were other unsavory elements of birthdays that kept members of Judaism and Christianity from observing birthdays. We must also ask why someone would want to celebrate a birthday since the day of death is better than the day of one's birth. Most importantly, we have no divine sanction, no exhortation--not even a hint from God--concerning the approval of birthdays.

I would add that we cannot detach past associations from these days either. That would be like trying to remove the negative connotations from American slavery; something that's very hard to do.

2) I should clarify my earlier statement. Circumcision did predate Abraham by quite some time; but my point about circumcision was why the descendants of Abraham practiced it. I was not focusing on other cultures that might have had circumcision rites.

Abraham's fleshly progeny did not practice circumcision because the ancient Egyptians did. Rather, circumcision represented an agreement between God and Abraham. When the Jews observed the practice, they were following the dictates that had been given to their forefather (Lev 12:1ff). The children of Israel were not trying to imitate pagan practices when they circumcised newborn Jewish males.

3) As for baptism, it's irrelevant who might have practiced baptism before Jews or Christians did. The question is why Jewish or Christian baptism was practiced and what influenced the Judeo-Christian baptism. What evidence is there that the Jews baptized people because of pagan influence? As for Christianity, it's clear that early followers of Jesus were baptizing new disciples because their Master had engaged in the practice. Christian baptism is not a result of some pagan influence.

4) Finally, some want to quote Romans 14:5 "One person considers some days to be more sacred than others, while another person considers all days to be the same. Each person must have their own convictions."

Yet we must consider this verse within its appropriate context. It has nothing to do with approving birthdays or pagan holidays, but is likely a reference to feasts that were once commemorated under the Law of Moses. We cannot strip a verse out of context just to support our pet ideas.

Those who like to quote Romans 14:5 should also recall the words of Galatians 4:9-11: "But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain" (NASB).

Friday, January 03, 2014

Dialogue on 1 Corinthians 5:1-13: Eating with A Sinner

I must admit that a reference to the Lord's supper in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 is a possibility (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23ff). However, my analysis of this account rules out that conclusion for the following reasons.

1 Corinthians 5:1 describes the sin of a Christian brother in Corinth. He is cohabiting with his father's wife (living in an incestuous relationship); even worse, the older men of Corinth--representing the EKKLESIA--are tolerating this immoral conduct. Paul laments that the Corinthians are "puffed up" rather than mourning over the abhorrent deeds of the immoral brother in their midst.

In 1 Cor. 5:3-5, the "apostle to the nations" recommends that the one practicing sin be "delivered up to the adversary." This act is done in order to destroy the sinful "flesh" and preserve the spirit of the believer "in the day of the Lord."

Next, Paul continues to expound on the reason that the sinning believer must be turned over to the Devil. By allowing this one to remain in the midst of the congregation, the EKKLESIA will suffer corruption: it will not be able to rightly observe the antitypical passover: "for even our Paschal Lamb, Christ, was sacrificed" (Emphatic Diaglott). Therefore, the congregation of God must take the action prescribed in 1 Cor. 5:9-13. What is the thrust of this counsel? What action is the EKKLESIA urged to take?


The phrase that really catches my attention here is NUNI DE EGRAYA hUMIN

This part of the verse indicates that Paul is not simply talking about ceasing to share "the meal" with a brother who practices sin--although clearly the EKKLHIA should take this action as well.

The present infinitive middle SUNANAMIGNUSQAI tells me that all association should cease with this person (not just the Lord's evening meal). Elsewhere we are told, "do not receive him into your house nor wish him success" (2 John 10, 11). If you want to discuss the applicability/inapplicability of 2 John 2:7, we can examine that verse too. In sum, I would say that 1 Cor. 5:11 is talking about general association (i.e., "don't even eat lunch with this man"!).

Kathleen Callow makes this point concerning 1 Cor. 5:6-8:

"In this unit Paul urges the expulsion (EKKAQARATE, v. 7a) in the light of the effect of evil on their fellowship as a whole, and of their own status as AZOUMOI--a purified community" (See Linguistics and NT Interpretation, edited by D.A. Black, page 202).

Robertson's Word Pictures supplies this note on 1 Cor. 5:11:

"With such a one, no, not to eat (τωι τοιουτωι μηδε συνεστιειν — tōi toioutōi mēde sunesthiein). Associative instrumental case of τοιουτωι — toioutōi after συνεστιειν — sunesthiein 'not even to eat with such a one.' Social contacts with such 'a brother' are forbidden."

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Exegeting Psalm 74:14 (Reply to Coogan)

"You crushed the heads of Leviathan, gave him as food to the sharks" (Psalm 74:14 NAB).

I have long been familiar with Hermann Gunkel's work, but it's only been recently that I learned about his influential effect on how OT exegetes construe Ps 74:14. Rashi and others applied the verse to the Exodus; Leviathan was interpreted as Egypt or the Pharaoh himself instead of some mythological creature battling with Elohim at the initio creationis. But since Gunkel, it has been popular to understand Leviathan as a mythical sea monster. But the context of Psalm 74 causes me to believe the Exodus is the dominating motif of this song. Furthermore, note how other writers use "Leviathan" to describe Egypt (Isa 27:1; 30:7; cf. Isa 51:9-10).

Below I include some thoughts from John Trapp's (1601-1669) Complete Commentary on the Bible:

"Ver. 14. Thou brakest the heads of leviathan] i.e. Of Pharaoh himself. See Isaiah 26:1 [SIC], Ezekiel 29:3. Egypt is situated between two seas; and a great part of it overflowed by the river Nile. Pharaoh, therefore, is fitly compared to the master fish, and his captains to crocodiles.

And gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness] i.e. To the birds and wild beasts, who fed upon the dead carcases of the Egyptians cast upon the shore; the Israelites having first taken the spoil of them, whereby they were provided of many necessaries for their voyage toward Canaan."

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Exegeting Psalm 74:12-13 (Coogan)

"Yet God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. Thou didst break the sea in pieces by Thy strength; Thou didst shatter the heads of the sea-monsters in the waters" (Psalm 74:12-13).

Michael Coogan wants to apply this passage to the creation account of Genesis 1:1, and so does the NAB:

"Comparable Canaanite literature describes the storm-god’s victory over all-encompassing Sea and its allies (dragons and Leviathan) and the subsequent peaceful arrangement of the universe, sometimes through the placement of paired cosmic elements (day and night, sun and moon), cf. Ps 89:12–13. The Psalm apparently equates the enemies attacking the Temple with the destructive cosmic forces already tamed by God. Why then are those forces now raging untamed against your own people?" (NAB Notes on Psalm 74:12-17).

But the context suggests that the psalmist is recounting the Exodus drama at the Red Sea. That was my intuition when I first read the passage and I've since found that a medieval rabbi named Rashi--who is big in exegetical circles--also applies these verses to the Exodus (not to the creation account). There's plenty of material written on Psalm 74, but I found that Spurgeon's "Treasury of David" likewise views this psalm in the light of Israel's deliverance from Pharaoh in the Red Sea:

"Working salvation in the midst of the earth. From the most remote period of Israel's history the Lord had worked out for her many salvations; especially at the Red Sea, the very heart of the world was astonished by his wonders of deliverance" (Treasure of David).

Joseph Benson makes similar points about these passages:

"Thou didst divide the sea, &c. — 'The first part of this verse alludes to that marvellous act of omnipotence which divided the Red sea for Israel to pass over; the second part to the return of its waves upon the heads of the Egyptians, who, like so many sea-monsters, opening their mouths to devour the people of God, were overwhelmed, and perished in the mighty waters.' — Horne. Thou brakest the heads of the dragons — The crocodiles, meaning Pharaoh’s mighty men, who were like these beasts in strength and cruelty. Thou brakest the heads — That is, the head of Pharaoh himself. He says heads, because of the several princes who were and acted under his influence. Dr. Waterland renders the first word, which we translate dragons, crocodiles, and the latter, the crocodile, meaning Pharaoh" (Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments).