Monday, December 31, 2018

A Few More Thoughts Pertaining to Exodus 34:29 ("Radiant")

"As Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, he did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant* while he spoke with the LORD." (Exodus 34:29, Catholic NABRE)

Footnote: Radiant: the Hebrew word translated “radiant” is spelled like the term for “horns.” Thus the artistic tradition of portraying Moses with horns.

"Moses came down, after this, from Mount Sinai, bearing with him the two tablets on which the law was written; and his face, although he did not know it, was all radiant after the meeting at which he had held speech with God" (Knox Bible).

"Cumque descenderet Moyses de monte Sinai, tenebat duas tabulas testimonii, et ignorabat quod cornuta esset facies sua ex consortio sermonis Domini" (Latin Vulgate).

The Douay-Rheims Bible famously reports that Moses' face "was horned from the conversation of the Lord."

Menahem Haran reviews the historical developments that led to the Vulgate and DR rendering "was horned," but then Haran writes:

However, most commentators, both the older and the more contemporary, have already concurred that the verse refers to rays of light radiating from the brilliance of Moses' face, just as in Habakkuk 3.4 it is said of God himself: 'rays of light, qarnayim [cognate with qaran], flash from his hand' (before which we read that 'his brightness is like the light'). The splendour surrounding the image of God is alluded to in several additional biblical passages: the seventy elders of Israel saw God 'and under his feet there was the likeness of a pavement of sapphire, like the very sky for purity' (Ex. 24.10), Ezekiel saw 'radiance all about him' (Ezek. 1.27-28), while the psalmist describes the Lord as 'wrapped in light as with a garment' (Ps. 104.2; see also below). Something of the divine radiance was imparted, then, to Moses' face, which thereafter also shone. Later on the passage relates how the people, being repulsed by this radiance, were afraid to get close to Moses, but he dispelled their fears, and after telling them the Lord's message he put a masweh over his face. The substantive masweh, also mentioned only in this passage, is mostly explained, according to the context, as a veil or scarf hung over the face, though the etymology is uncertain.

To understand the wider context of Haran's remarks, see Barrick, W. Boyd, John R. Spencer, and Gösta W. Ahlström. In the Shelter of Elyon: Essays on Ancient Palestinian Life and Literature in Honour of G.W. Ahlström. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984. Pages 159-160.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Different Approaches to Mentality and Materialism/Physicalism

Philosophers of mind wonder if mental properties can be reduced to neural states. For instance, is it possible to reduce my perception of redness to a particular brain state? The answer to these questions is not simple, but some potential approaches that could be taken are:

1) Supervenience theory which has been given the label "property dualism." It posits that there are not two substances (body and soul) but two kinds of properties (mental and physical attributes) which stand in some kind of dependent relationship that preserves their distinctness but coequal real status.

2) Eliminative materialism (EM) which entails completely reducing mental states to brain states (usually in an ontological sense). But one downside to EM is that it wants to do away with talk of emotions and subjective states (qualia or raw feels), thereby replacing them with neuroscientific terminology.

3) Biological naturalism which is John Searle's take on the philosophy of mind says that all conscious states arise from lower-level brain processes. So consciousness is then a higher-level brain process that arises from neuronal activity.

Reductionism is not always wrong, but one problem is that it normally oversimplifies complex phenomena. Josef Seifert wrote an overlooked book about getting back to the things themselves (based on a saying by Edmund Husserl). In that work, Seifert demonstrates why reductionism could be problematic. The bottom line is that many think the reduction of subjectivity to synaptic connections and neural firings is overly simplistic, but I personally am inclined to favor this kind of reductionism. I am a Christian materialist, so I have to reconcile physicalism as it pertains to humans with my belief in God. Yet I see no genuine conflict between these two ideas.


Friday, December 28, 2018

Jesus, A Perfect Man?

In light of recent discussions here about divine and human perfection, I want to offer scriptural evidence that Christ was a perfect human. I understand that Christendom normally calls Christ, "the God-man," (Deus homo) but this blog entry is not intended to address that issue. Rather, I want to establish that Jesus was a perfect human and being perfect in his case meant, being sinless.

The apostle Peter identifies Jesus as a man used by God: "Israelite men, listen to these words! Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—" (Acts 2:22 LEB)

However, Jesus was not just any ordinary man; like Adam, he was sinless:

"For what was impossible for the law, in that it was weak through the flesh, God did. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the law would be fulfilled in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:3-4 LEB).

What does Paul mean when he writes that God the Father (apparently) "condemned sin in the flesh"?

Numerous articles, commentaries, and papers have been written about this verse. Here's one suggestion from Colin G. Kruse:

"because the apostle has just said that God sent his Son 'in the likeness of sinful flesh and as a sin offering', it is best to think of sin being condemned in the 'flesh' of Jesus Christ, that is, when God presented his Son as a sin offering, the condemnation that humanity's sin deserved was absorbed by the incarnate Christ when he died on the cross (cf. 2 Cor 5:21; Col 2:14-15)."

I don't believe that Christ was God incarnate, nor do I believe he died on a cross. Yet Kruse captures the spirit of how I partly understand Romans 8:4: God condemned sin through Christ by presenting his Son as an offering for our sins. Secondarily, Christ fulfilled the Law of Moses by perfectly obeying its precepts. Other verses confirm that he did not sin:

2 Corinthians 5:20-21; Hebrews 4:15-16; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 2:21-25.

So, I emphasize that at least one way Christ was perfect was through his sinless course. Compare 1 Timothy 3:16.

Hebrews 5:8-9 proclaims that Christ learned obedience from the things he suffered and that he became perfect. But the context there suggests the writer is discussing Christ becoming perfect in his capacity as high priest.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Professor Joseph Kelly, Saturnalia, and the Inception of Christmas

Joseph Kelly, who has written a book on the origins of Christimas, also states:

"Many Romans venerated the sun, whose birthday was Dec. 25, or a virility god named Mithra with the same birthday. Also, the Romans observed a raucous celebration called Saturnalia Dec. 17-23. Thus, Dec. 25 offered a date with a good theological basis that also would counter several pagan holidays.

Although we don't know the final steps, in 336 the church at Rome officially observed the 'birth day of Christ' Dec. 25. This tradition spread."


Sunday, December 23, 2018

God's Perfection and Human Perfection

One cannot talk about the biblical concept of perfection without including God's perfection. Even Matthew 5:48 mentions God prior to giving the command for Jesus' disciples to be perfect like God the Father is perfect. God and man's perfection are two different things, but we cannot understand one without comprehending the other. Not only does Jehovah not lack anything, but he is also morally perfect: without moral blemish and with no wickedness residing in him. God's activity is perfect and he is fully just (Deuteronomy 32:4). That is not a mere abstraction. Let us not overlook the moral component of God's perfection. And what about the moral component of Jesus' perfection? Perfection in the case of Jesus did not simply mean that he lacked any old generic quality: the Christ was sinless. Deny that datum and one abnegates Scripture and subverts the Christian ecclesia. Divine and human perfection have multiple facets that encompass the moral dimension. I refuse to water down that aspect of divine or human perfection.

The ancient Hebrews also tried to observe Torah, but could not do it perfectly. However, Christ did (Romans 8:1-5).

Wine and Glad Hearts?

ESV renders Psalm 104:15, "and wine to gladden the heart of man," but I understand this usage of "heart" to be figurative like Deuteronomy 6:5ff. Also see how the Greeks used kardia (compare Romans 2:28-29; 1 Peter 3:4).

Since God made wine to gladden the human heart and Jesus even turned water into wine, there's apparently nothing wrong with being "merry/glad" from wine; however, being drunk is another matter, and problem drinking is still another story. In my humble estimation, moderation is the key: "Give me neither riches nor poverty." We likely need to avoid extremes when it comes to eating, drinking, our clothing or anything else (1 Corinthians 10:31). The main thing is whether we're glorifying Jehovah God by our eating and drinking habits.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

War/Battle Motifs in Revelation

Revelation 1:16, 2:21-23; 9:7-9; 11:7; 12:1-17; 13:7; 14:19-20; 16:13-16; 19:11-21; 20:1-10.

David Aune's Remarks on Revelation 19:11:

καὶ ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ κρίνει καὶ πολεμεῖ, “With justice he judges and wages war.” The use of the present tense in the verbs κρίνει, “he judges,” and πολεμεῖ, “he wages war” (here the general or gnomic present, used to express customary actions and general truths; see Burton, Syntax, § 12), often used in explanatory remarks in Revelation, suggests that this phrase is a narrative aside. The phrase κρίνειν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ, “to judge with righteousness,” is not used here exclusively in connection with the destruction of the rider's enemies (contra Beckwith, 732; Mounce, 344) but also has the positive connotation of the salvific action of Christ toward his people, i.e., as judge of his Church (Holtz, Christologie, 169– 70; Rissi, Future, 22). When God is described in the OT as “judging with righteousness,” it can be applied to the nations as well as to his people (Pss 9: 8; 72: 2; 96: 13; see Prigent, 292).

Aune, Dr. David. Revelation 17-22, Volume 52C (Word Biblical Commentary) (p. 1234). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

For more commentary pertaining to these war motifs, see Aune's 3-volume Word Biblical Commentary.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Parallelism Among the Hebrew Poets

There is a literary phenomenon that appears in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) known as parallelism. A simple way to explain the subject is that one may find a) synonymous parallelism, b) antithetical parallelism and c) synthetic parallelism. Examples of type a (synonymous parallelism) include:

Job 38:7; Psalm 150:1-2; Micah 5:2.

Job 3:3 exemplifies antithetical parallelism, and Psalm 42:1 illustrates synthetic parallelism.


Wilderness Motifs in Revelation (ἔρημος)

1. She gave birth to a male child who is to shepherd all the nations “with a rod of iron”. Her child was snatched up to God and to his throne, while the woman fled into the desert where she has a place prepared for her by God’s command. There they will take care of her for twelve hundred and sixty days. (Revelation 12:5-6, J.B. Phillips NT)

Greek: καὶ ἔτεκεν υἱόν, [a]ἄρσεν, ὃς μέλλει ποιμαίνειν πάντα τὰ ἔθνη ἐν ῥάβδῳ σιδηρᾷ· καὶ ἡρπάσθη τὸ τέκνον αὐτῆς πρὸς τὸν θεὸν καὶ πρὸς τὸν θρόνον αὐτοῦ. καὶ ἡ γυνὴ ἔφυγεν εἰς τὴν ἔρημον, ὅπου ἔχει ἐκεῖ τόπον ἡτοιμασμένον ἀπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ, ἵνα ἐκεῖ τρέφωσιν αὐτὴν ἡμέρας χιλίας διακοσίας ἑξήκοντα. (SBLGNT)

But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.
(Revelation 12:14, ESV)

Greek: καὶ ἐδόθησαν τῇ γυναικὶ αἱ δύο πτέρυγες τοῦ ἀετοῦ τοῦ μεγάλου, ἵνα πέτηται εἰς τὴν ἔρημον εἰς τὸν τόπον αὐτῆς, ὅπου τρέφεται ἐκεῖ καιρὸν καὶ καιροὺς καὶ ἥμισυ καιροῦ ἀπὸ προσώπου τοῦ ὄφεως. (SBLGNT)

And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns.
(Revelation 17:3, ESV)

Greek: καὶ ἀπήνεγκέν με εἰς ἔρημον ἐν πνεύματι. καὶ εἶδον γυναῖκα καθημένην ἐπὶ θηρίον κόκκινον, [a]γέμοντα ὀνόματα βλασφημίας, ἔχων κεφαλὰς ἑπτὰ καὶ κέρατα δέκα.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Did Jehovah Replace Faithful Apostles Too?

Why did Jehovah replace unfaithful Judas but not the faithful disciple James when he was martyred?

Jesus' apostles fill an important role in Jehovah's purpose: they are secondary foundation stones for the holy city, New Jerusalem, which started to be formed on the day of Pentecost (Revelation 21:14, 19-20). Revelation 21 states that exactly 12 figurative stones are needed to support the holy city. So then, what if one of the twelve apostolic stones draws away from Jehovah? Would that stone then need to be replaced?

For the answer to these questions, see Acts 1:15-17; 1:21-26. (Compare Ps. 69:25; 109:8). In fulfillment of these psalms, the Apostles made the decision to replace Judas Iscariot. They were undoubtedly directed by holy spirit.

On the other hand, the faithful disciple James martyred by Herod was not replaced (Acts 12:1-2). The special role played by the Twelve also explains why faithful apostles were not replaced. The Twelve were meant to be witnesses of Christ's life, death and resurrection. For example, the inspired Apostles Paul and John relate that the Twelve along with certain other Christians saw, touched and heard God's Son before and after his resurrection (1 Cor. 15:8; 1 Jn. 1:1).

In this way, the valuable witness of the Twelve was substantiated; however, as faithful apostles like James, John, and Peter died, it eventually became impossible to fill their apostolic office with someone who had personally witnessed the resurrected Jesus. Only a miraculous divine act could mitigate that situation. Therefore, Jehovah saw fit to replace Judas Iscariot, but he did not fill the spot of faithful apostolic witnesses or martyrs.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Aquinas' Five "Proofs" for God's Existence?

There's a question about the status of Aquinas' five ways to "prove" God's existence. Are they really proofs after all?

The five ways are:

1) The argument from motion
2) argument from efficient causes
3) argument from possibility and necessity
4) argument from degress of perfection/gradations of being
5) argument from the governance of the world

Concerning these five ways, here's what I once wrote to a colleague:

In Prima Pars, Quest. 2, Articulus 3 of the Summa Thelogiae, Aquinas does write: "Respondeo dicendum quod Deum esse quinque viis probari potest."

But I would agree that reason is limited; a posteriori demonstrations (like the five ways) can only show that God's existence is possible or maybe probable.

For the potential sense of the Latin word, probari, see

Compare the words of Cicero (Ver. 2.1.10): "his ego iudicibus non probabo C. Verrem contra leges pecuniam cepisse?"

Friday, December 07, 2018

Did Jesus Practice Voluntary Poverty? Examining 2 Corinthians 8:9

Before answering the question concerning Jesus and whether he practiced voluntary poverty or not, some important distinctions need to be made. Firstly, poverty could be relative or absolute. Relative poverty means that one's poverty is to a degree; for example, if someone makes $20,000.00 annually while supporting a family of six, he or she is considered poor in the USA although that would not be the case in other lands. On the other hand, absolute poverty means someone does not have life's essentials: not enough money for food, water or adequate clothing (see 1 John 3:17-18).

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary makes the following distinctions:

"POVERTY, INDIGENCE, PENURY, WANT, DESTITUTION mean the state of one with insufficient resources. POVERTY may cover a range from extreme want of necessities to an absence of material comforts. INDIGENCE implies seriously straitened circumstances. PENURY suggests a cramping or oppressive lack of money. WANT and DESTITUTION imply extreme poverty that threatens life itself through starvation or exposure."

So it is possible to be poor in one sense without being impoverished in another sense, and there are different levels of poverty. Morover, we could include a distinction between involuntary and voluntary poverty. That is, some people are poor by dint of circumstances over which they have no control; others choose to be poor for a sense of vocation, whether to God or for some other cause. What about Jesus Christ? Did he choose to be materially poor?

2 Corinthians 8:9 reads:

BDAG Greek-English Lexicon defines PTWXEUW this way: "to be or become poor as a beggar, be (extremely) poor . . . of Christ in ref. to renunciation of transcendent prosperity EPTWXEUSEN PLOUSIOS WN he became poor (for the [aorist] cp. Tob 4:21; B-D-F section 331; Rob. 834) 2 Cor 8:9 . . ."

This Greek lexicon obviously suggests that Christ voluntarily became poor in that he renounced his transcendent or heavenly glory and privileges. In other words, he emptied himself, taking on the appearance and form of a man (Philippians 2:6-7). Therefore, I will grant that Paul is probably not using the Greek terms PTWXEUW or PTWXEIA to describe Christ's socioeconomic status although he makes a contrast between Christ's being EN MORFHi QEOU and his existing hWS ANQRWPOS.

Nevertheless, I have always been under the impression that Jesus' family was not that well off from a financial perspective: neither was Jesus after his ministry started in 29 CE. Granted, Jehovah God always made sure that his beloved Son had bread for each day and Jesus was certainly no advocate of an encratic lifestyle, which is to say he was no severe ascetic (he enjoyed social events and apparently drank wine). However, I believe it is possible to say that Jesus was poor in the sense that he have lots of currency on his person and his net worth likely was close to zero.

Christ did not have any money set aside for a rainy day; he was quite impecunious, it seems. Why the Son of Man did not even have a place to lay his head and apparently only had one fine garment to his name when he died.

In closing, I'd just like to say that I remember doing some research on Luke 2:22-24 some years ago and I believe that these verses suggest that Jesus' family was not well to do. Maybe they were not even lower middle class. For they offered "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons" at the temple in Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years old. I'll need to go back and check out those sources again. At any rate, I am not arguing that Christians should renounce everything and become impoverished. But I do believe that we have the supreme example of a self-sacrificing worshiper of God in the PERSONA CHRISTI. It is also evidently incumbent upon all Christians to imitate Jesus' fine example of
not pleasing one's self in order that we might enrich others spiritually.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Is It Possible for Imperfect Humans To Be Perfect?

Perfect in the appropriate sense of the word is not that hard to define or understand within a biblical context. Something/someone can be absolutely perfect or relatively perfect; absolute means to be fully complete/mature without qualification. Only Jehovah God is absolutely perfect in the fullest sense. On the other hand, relative perfection means something/someone is well suited for the task at hand; that is, perfect to a degree, with qualifications.

Noah was relatively perfect. He led an overall righteous life, but he once got intoxicated, thereby becoming in some way exposed because of his error (Genesis 6:9; 9:20-27; Hebrews 11:7). Job was "perfect" (Job 1:1 KJV). However, Job had to repent in dust and ashes since he committed mistakes by overly defending his righteousness instead of God's (Job 42:6). John the Baptist's parents were perfect in a relative sense because they were Torah-observant Jews (Luke 1:5-6). Yet only God is perfect in the absolute sense without qualification. These words from J.A. MacDonald (Pulpit Commentary) are worth consideration:

"The power of man is formative. He can mould, he can combine, he can disjoin. He cannot create. He cannot destroy, God can create. He can reverse the act of creation."

As for Jesus, he was fully human (both Trinitarians and non-Trinitarians agree on that point). Yet he was separated from sinners, without sin, and morally unblemished: "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth" (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22-23). Furthermore, Jesus was the unique/only-begotten Son of God (John 1:18; 3:16).

Regarding Matthew 5:48, much has been written on the verse, even by the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses. The simple answer is that Jesus was encouraging his disciples to be perfect (mature, complete) in love as Jehovah is perfect in love. Analogies don't presuppose that both things being compared are exactly the same. For instance, when Jesus states that his disciples should be one as he and his Father are one; the oneness in each case does not correspond exactly 1:1 (see John 17:21-23).

I think Jesus was perfect insofar as he was sinless just like Adam initially was. Christ was sinless, but that does not mean he was incapable of sinning--those are two very different things.