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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: Prosperity Gospel and the Bailout

An interesting story on discusses churches subscribing to the “Prosperity Gospel” in the wake of the economic situation.Am I the only who thinks that if God wanted you to have a house, God could manage to provide it without making you go into debt for 30 years?

I find it hard to believe that the Lord of the Universe is so strapped for cash as to refer recipients of divine favor to the nearest B of A. On the other hand, I realize my “radical” view that Christians should avoid acquiring possessions so valuable as to require borrowing is not held by many.

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: Pearls Before Swine

I’ve been meaning to blog regarding my thoughts on Christ’s words in Matthew 7:6,
Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before swine; otherwise they wll trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces.In my experience, people have taken this as an excuse for not trying to persistently teach the unresponsive about God. The idea being that the “pearls” are “pearls of wisdom,” and that certain people are simply not capable of appreciating them.

You can read something of this typical interpretation here and here. Just google “dogs pearl swine” to find more.

The thing is, when read in context this really does not make much sense. Look at what is going on in the passage. Jesus is winding up His Sermon on the Mount. At the time, the Jews thought Jesus was a gifted rabbi who was reinterpreting the Torah. This happened from time to time, and such people were said to speak “from authority” [see Matthew 7:29]. In reality, we can see this as Jesus giving a portion of the new covenant’s law. Moses brought the old covenant’s law (the 10 commandments) down from mount Sinai, and Matthew portrays Jesus giving new commands on a mountain.This sermon was mostly a discussion of commandments for God’s people, but it also included reproaches upon the Jewish leadership who had warped God’s law (Matthew 5:20 being a pretty clear example). This is what we read in the verses immediately coming up to Matthew 7:6. In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus lambasts those who among the Jewish leadership who would attack people for breaking some of the lighter parts of the Law when they themselves were neglecting the “weightier points” of mercy, protection of the weak, and faithfulness (see Matthew 23:23 for another such example).

So, given this context, why on earth would Jesus be giving advice about whom to speak wisdom to? Everything in the context suggests Jesus does not see His listeners as having much in the way of wisdom. He just got through saying they had a plank in their eye! Evangelicals, in their quest to turn everything into a discussion of getting people into heaven, sometimes say Jesus is talking about spreading the gospel to people who are not receptive…how could Jesus possibly have that in mind here? The people listening to Jesus just thought they were hearing an enlightened teacher, and not even his disciples had been told of what would happen to Jesus in the future. No, this is not about evangelism.

There are several clues that point to what Jesus has in mind. First, He speaks of not giving what is holy to dogs. We have managed to bastardize what the term holy means, and Jews rightfully chide us for doing so. Holy does not mean perfect or sinless. Holy means set apart. It means special or dedicated to a particular purpose. The Jews were to be a Holy people because they were to be dedicated to God.

And “dogs” was a standard epithet for non-Jews. Jesus uses the term in this way in Matthew 15:26, and understanding this usage is the key to understanding the Parable of Lazarus.And what about “pearls” and “swine”? Matthew would later relate a parable where a pearl represents the coming Kingdom, and swine is, of course, yet another way of referring to those who were outside Judaism. Pigs are the standard example of an unclean animal, an animal only Gentiles would eat. Jews would not even eat at a table on which pork was served.When we put these together we see that Jesus is not merely giving some random wisdom about how to divvy up our words to different people. We’ve turned His words into that because we are trained to ignore the crucial Gentile-Jew issues pervading apostolic Christianity.No, Jesus is warning the Jews that their special place as God’s chosen people is in danger. His words are an admonishment presaging what would ultimately occur later when the Gentiles are allowed in due to the unfaithfulness of the Jews (Romans 11:20, and Romans chapters 9 through 11 in general). This is the same fate Jesus would later describe in Matthew 21:33-46 and Matthew 22:1-14.It turns out that this notion of Jesus warning the Jewish nation is further verified if we go back to the original passage and read further. What does Jesus say after this pearls before swine verse? Matthew 7:1-11 recounts Jesus’ exhorting the Jews to “Ask, Seek, Knock,” with the promise in 7:11

If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?

But what does the “good gifts” refer to? People today assume this passage is about praying for things we need and having God give them to us. But the word “gift,” (as I described in a recent blog entry) was the term that referred to the Holy Spirit, the sign of the new covenant!

Once again we see Jesus pleading with the Jews to repent for the Kingdom is at hand (just as He did in Matthew 3:2). He is asking them to seek the inclusion in the new covenant by turning back to God.You probably think this is all just a little shaky… interpreting this “good gift” as the Holy Spirit here… and you will probably think that up until the time you read the parallel passage in Luke 11:13!

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will {your} heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?

In Christ, God was reaching out to the unfaithful people who had spurned the Almighty for so long. The new covenant is about to commence through the power of the Spirit. This blessing is the birthright of the Sons of Jacob. However, they were in danger of rejecting that gift without realizing it through their lack of faith.

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: Should Christians Support Public Prayer?

With today’s inauguration and its attendant events, the question of whether public prayer should be illegal has come up up again. An atheist group has filed suit to prohibit prayers or the inclusion of the “…so help me God” portion to the presidential oath.This effort is part of a continuing movement to abolish religion from the public sector. The basic principle offered is that people have a right not to be considered excluded at public events, and that occurs when prayer or other actions are part of the official ceremony.The first basic problem with this view is that the same logic could prohibit all sorts of things. Any ideological point of disagreement becomes verboten. Pacifists could attack any official presentation that assumes war is sometimes required. Those who believe global warming is a hoax [including now hundreds of scientists] could object to any publicly-sponsored discussion of man-created greenhouse affect. Those who believe in supply-side economic could protest anything publicly endorsing demand-side thinking. The list goes on and on. It’s just that somehow people think religion should be treated differently from other ideological points.Which leads to the second problem…

The second basic error is the assumption that the country was set up as a purely secular enterprise. People have created a notion of separation of church and state that really has come from nowhere. You certainly cannot suggest the founding fathers had in mind a religion-free government when one of the two mottos on the great seal of the United States is “He (God) has favored our undertakings” (taken directly from a prayer by Ascanius in Virgil’s Aeneid) and the entire basis for our independence was due to “inalienable rights” endowed by our “Creator.”

Benjamin Franklin’s choice for the great seal: “Moses standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity.”Benjamin Franklin’s choice for motto: Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God”Thomas Jefferson suggested for the front of the seal the children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day and apillar of fire by night.However, there is a greater question behind this. Rather than answering the question “Should people be allowed to pray?” There is the question “Should the church support it?”I was recently contacted by a member sympathetic to the blocking of the inaugural prayer, and she made a pretty good case for Christians not being in a position to support public prayer of the type shown at the inauguration.Jesus’ discussion of the matter in Matthew 6:1-8 cannot be easily dismissed. While it is true that the hypocrisy discussed in the first portion [Matthew 6:1-4] only relates to the obvious evil of praying for show (which, sadly, if we are honest with ourselves, the right-wing cannot really claim general innocence regarding), the second half, Matthew 6:5-8, is an entirely different matter.Christ points out that praying to God should really be all about our faith that God knows our needs. Praying should not be for the purpose of giving God information about our needs but rather showing our belief in God’s providence. Since a single person’s prayer can never testify to a nation’s faith in God, it’s unclear what relevance an inaugural prayer has.I would think what would make the most sense is for Obama to give a prayer. After all, if prayer says more to God about the individual praying than the needs being prayed for (and certainly more than those being prayed in front of!) wouldn’t it make the most sense for the new commander and chief to pray his own prayer?The most perfect solution would be some situation where it could be nationally recognized that our leaders genuinely depend on God’s providence without it becoming an opportunity for show.Perhaps a prayer-time where Obama prayed silently and everyone else was asked to do the same…surely the genuine prayer of millions each separately praying on behalf of the country, one of whom is the now-leader of that country, does more good than a single person praying on behalf of everyone else.A case could be made that Jesus is speaking regarding praying for our own needs, and different rules apply when praying for another. In theory, that is what Rick Warren is doing. Fair enough, there is biblical support for praying for another, and leveraging those who are righteous to do so (e.g. James 5:16). The question then becomes “If this is really the idea, why not invite a hundred of the most righteous people and them all pray (silently) with Obama and the millions there?” Surely 100 righteous people plus a million others in attendance plus Obama all praying silently has more pull then a single vocal prayer that has tinges of politics and display to it.Furthermore, this would make the prayer a bit less than a show. Surely praying at inauguration cannot be supported if our best defense is “we still want to show those no-good atheists who’s running this country!”

Other solutions, comments?

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: What Does “Agnostic” Mean to You?

Imagine asking one scientist (Scientist A) “Which theory do you support: Neo-Darwinism or Creationism,” and the scientist said he had not come to a conclusion.

Then imagine asking another scientist (Scientist B) the same question, but she answers “The question makes no sense. Neither Neo-Darwinism nor Creationism is a scientific theory. They are historical reconstructions. Science describes how the universe in general works, not what may or may not have happened on this particular rock. We call that branch of knowledge ‘history.'”

Would you consider these two answers similar?

Now, imagine asking someone (we’ll call her Jessica) “Jessica, do you believe in God?” And Jessica answers “Well, I read The Case for Christ and Evidence that Demands a Verdict, but in the end I think we humans just cannot know about God or if there is one…regardless of what we might have as evidence.”

Now, imagine asking someone else (will call him Kevin) “Kevin, do you believe in God?” and Kevin answers. “I haven’t decided what I believe.” And then you ask him what he has done to investigate the question, and he says he hasn’t really done anything. He has more important things to do.Would you consider these answers similar? I wouldn’t.People use the term “Agnostic” to refer to a wide variety of belief holdings. I personally think people who are “undecided” like to call themselves “Agnostic” because it makes them feel more complete…it lets them “fill out their profile” with something other than a question mark.The problem is that there is already a perfectly good word for not personally having made up your mind [or not personally caring one way or the other], which is the state that many are in. We already have the term “undecided.”We don’t have another good word for someone who has had a more serious introspective dialogue and come to the conclusion that such things are not knowable.Another problem is that adhering to a religion, or even claiming the theology of atheism (which is not a religion), at least is a claim. It means affirming something. Saying you are “agnostic” in the sense of “we cannot know” is also at least a philosophical affirmation, but saying “agnostic” when you really just haven’t figured it out yourself, and perhaps don’t care to, is not a claim about anything.

What do you think Agnostic should mean? If people use “Agnostic” to mean “undecided,” then what should we use to mean “no one can know”? We could use the terms “Strong Agnostic” and “Weak agnostic,” but that seems a rather unfortunate option…especially since one says nothing at all and the other says something profound about epistemology.

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: 5 Myths Christians Perpetuate

It’s unsettling how often Christians tell each other things that simply are not true. Here are five examples of varying import.

1. Satan was an angel who fell to Earth after a cosmic failed coup against God.

It’s some consolation that most conservative theologians will readily admit that the verses that are misconstrued to support this (Isaiah 14:11-14, Ezekiel 28:13-19] have nothing to do with Satan. The first referring to the King of Babylon, the second to the Kingdom of Tyre. However, even with this admittance, the idea that Satan is an “Angel gone bad” is still clasped.The Bible does not indicate that there was ever a time when Satan was good. We are told he has been “sinning from the beginning”[1st John 3:8] and a “murderer from the beginning”(John 8:44). [Where we have to assume “murder” is used in the enlightened sense of having hatred in his heart.]Further, the Bible never calls Satan an Angel, nor does it indicate that Satan was thrown out of heaven before the creation of man. In fact, Satan was in heaven up until the time of Christ’s resurrection. [Note in Job 1:6, the angels and Satan come to present themselves in front of the Lord and Revelation 12:7-11 is about as clear as one could hope for in terms of pinning Satan’s fall to a timeline.]Christians cling to the idea that Satan is a fallen angel for two reasons…both having to do with Human philosophy. First, it is convenient to think the only categories of rational beings are God, angels, and humans. Admitting the need for something outside these neat boxes is resisted. Secondly, saying that Satan was evil from the beginning sounds too close to saying that Satan is inherently evil. Most people are okay with that idea, but not Evangelical Theologians…for that would suggest that God created something that was inherently evil. That idea does not sit well with many people…so it is far more convenient to just say Satan is a fallen angel…even though he is never called an angel nor is it suggested that he “fell” from being a servant to God.

2. Belief in Christ is the only way to receive forgiveness of sins.

Contrary to this, the Bible gives several ways for which forgiveness of sins might be accomplished (not even counting the sacraments):

A. By forgiving others [Matthew 6:14, and elsewhere. Note this was spoken without condition to masses of people before there was even a notion of what it meant to be a “Christian.”]

B. By repenting [Luke 3:3, before Jesus was even preaching.]

C. By power of the church [John 20:23, since Jesus and Stephen both asked god to forgive those ho were killing them, this certainly extends outside the realm of believers.)

D. By having another pray for you [1st john 5:16]

E. By confessing our sin [1st John 1:9, once again something that could be done without any knowledge of Christ.]

3. God never suffers a change of mind.

Christians often feel it would suggest something unsavory regarding God’s omniscience should it be suggested that a change in mind occurred. It seems God has the power to do anything except change plan.In reality, though, it is easy to find examples of this in the Bible.An important one is switching from sons and grandsons incurring the debt of their fathers. God proclaimed an end to this in Ezekiel 18. Compare this to the story up until then when one generation of Israel could be punished until the sins of the previous generations had been offset through suffering. [A recurring idea in Isaiah, but Exodus 20:5 clearly describes the process.]In Jeremiah 18:5-10, God goes out of the way to be as clear as possible regarding the flexibility of divine decree.There are many other examples, but the above is the hardest to ‘get around:’

  • God regrets creation of humanity Genesis 6:6
  • God plans to destroy all Israel and start over with Moses Exodus 32:14
  • Eli’s family promist renounces [1st Samual 2:30]
  • Judah/Israel are told that after God delivers them, they are never to be shamed again. It appears that their lack of acceptance of Christ robbed them of that promise.
  • Judah is to be saved from Babylon after 70 years but the promise is nullified due to their lack of repentance [Daniel chapter9]
  • Christ [and Paul] give every indication that the second coming is coming very, very soon. Paul had to write a letter to the Thessalonians just to calm their fears that they had missed out. 2000 years later, we are still waiting.

I want to clarify that I’m not accusing God of breaking promises here. The covenants of God [even the New Covenant!] have understood, implicit requirements. That is why Daniel knew Judah was in danger of not receiving her deliverance. The problem for the Calvinist (but not a problem for someone with a less chiseled view on predestination) is that this point doesn’t really get them out of the fire. If God knew beforehand that these promises would have to be nullified due to Israel’s not repenting, then it makes God look foolish for proclaiming them in the first place. 4. Profanity is Inherently Sinful Various verses are given to legitimize this, but none of them are particularly compelling unless you are trying to read into the Scripture this cultural idea. This is rather frustrating, as I know very serious Christians who put this as one of the top things they think of when imagining a “solid” Christian. There’s no clear reason why curse words in general violate the overarching commandment of love toward God and neighbor as they are simply an artifact of human philology.Most importantly, Paul uses profanity himself. In Philippians 3:8 the word translated “filth, rubbish, refuse, dung,” etc. is really just the Greek word for “shit.”

5. The Pharisees were “Legalistic”

Christians heap all manner of insults upon the Pharisees. while this is not in and of itself much different from the Gospel of Luke, the problem is that we do not criticize the Pharisees for the things they were actually doing wrong.We paint Pharisees as people who “tried to be saved by works” or put emphasis on doing ritualistic things that are not important. We use the same term to refer to ultra-conservative Christian churches who forbid drinking, dancing, watching Hollywood movies, profanity, or voting Democrat.This is very much a false comparison.Christ did not take the Pharisees to task because they required people to keep the law. He attacked them for not showing the Jewish people [or realizing themselves] the greater aspect of the Law that was meant to be conveyed through the written Law.

It would have been very wrong of the Pharisees to not require the Jews to keep the Sabbath or eat only clean foods, etc. These signs of Israel’s holiness [which means simply “to be set apart”] were extremely important to God. The prophets put these requirements in the same category as idolatry and murder [though with less emphasis to be sure.]

The problem is not that the Pharisees were observing or requiring these things, but rather that they were not at the same time teaching others the spiritual aspects of the law such as justice, mercy, and compassion. Matthew 23:23 describes this pretty well.For that reason, the Pharisees should not be compared to those today who simply make up requirements or ordinances that have either no basis in Scripture or rather dubious support.

On the other hand, it is certainly not wrong to specify what is required of believers. Jesus had no qualms about doing that. He tells us that no one is worthy to be His disciple unless he or she renounces worldly possessions [Luke 14:33], and faith-not-works Paul has some rather strident points to say on church discipline [1st Corinthians 5:1-7] and the danger of sin in general [Ephesians 5:5-6].

What myths do you hear other Christians say?

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: “Odd” Teachings of Christ: #2

Evangelicals [and Protestants in general] believe the “Judgment” is one that none of us passes, for we have all sinned. The idea is that God must judge each of us against a standard of perfection. We all fail and are therefore destined to Hell but for the forgiveness available through Christ.

Doesn’t Matthew 7:2 more or less completely contradict this idea? We cannot both be judged “as we judge others” and against the impossible standard of God’s perfection.

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: Odd Teachings of Christ: #1

I believe many of Christ’s teachings look “odd” when compared to the beliefs generally espoused by the Christian church. They are therefore the least likely to be discussed in church, so in the interest of equal time, I’ll share them occasionally.

A comment made by Thinker on an article at Between Two Worlds got me to thinking.

How do those subscribing to Orthodox Christianity understand Luke 13:23-24 or Matthew 7:13-14, both of which suggest few people are actually saved.

How does this compare with most Christian’s viewpoints on Salvation? The number of evangelicals worldwide is estimated as at least 250,000,000.


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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: Interesting Scriptural Find of the Day

I’m going through the Tanakh, and I found this interesting verse Jeremiah 7:22-23 .
For when I freed your fathers from the land of Egypt, I did not speak with them or command them concerning burnt offerings or sacrifice. But this is what I commanded them: Do My bidding, that I may be your God and you may be My people; walk only in the way that I enjoin upon you, that it may go well with you.

I find this an interesting observation…that the sacrificial system was not even originally a part of “The Plan” so to speak.

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]

No, John 14:2 is not one of those “I am in you, you are in me” or “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” verses, but it did make me think of it.It’s easy to see these phrases (John 10:38, John 14:10-11, 1st John 2:24, John 6:56, John 14:20, John 15:2, John 15:4-7, John 16:33, John 17;21) and sorta just take it as saying that some “relationship” is involved. Of course, many Christians try to turn some of them into a Trinitarian message, but that would imply that all believers were of the same substance as God, so we’ll leave that to the side.But it came to me that perhaps there is a finer point to be made here. After all, it is one thing to say “Jesus is in me,” but what does it me to say that “I am in Christ”? What does that mean, really?This brings me to John 14:2. What does it mean when Jesus says there are many abodes in His Father’s house?The word “abodes” is itself a theologically interesting term to look into (the translation “mansion” is rather bizarre), but what does Jesus mean when He says “Father’s house.”?I think we generally think of “heaven,” but if that is what Jesus meant, He could have just said “heaven.” The interesting thing here is the Jewish conception of “house” is different from what we think of. The focus there is on the people inside. So when we say “The house of Jacob,” we don’t mean a structure, but a people.So, the “Father’s House” in that sense would referring to “God’s people.” This gives an “adoptionist” metaphor that I will not go into.

But the term “Father’s house” also refers to the temple. For example John 2:16 and other discussions of the temple cleansing [and perhaps is what is meant in Luke 2:49, but that is certainly not clear.] In the OT we see several examples of God calling the temple “My house:” 1st Chronicles 28:6, Isaiah 56:7, and later when abominations are described.

Thus the notion of “house” can have an external, umbrella-type meaning of “Everyone under God’s banner,” or an internal meaning of “The temple where God resides among God’s people.”In that latter sense, Jesus is referring to entering the temple [much as described in the theology of Hebrews]. Indeed, the theology of Hebrews helps us understand what “prepare a place for you” means. It appears Jesus is referring to the cleansing of the temple(s) of our souls so that we can receive His Spirit…but receiving His Spirit is what brings us into the New Covenant (and hence makes us a member of the Father’s House in the other sense of the term.) Note that the word for “abode” in John 14:2 is the same as the word in John 14:23I just found it striking how both uses (interior and exterior) of the term “House” can be combined in a single statement…without apparently anyone realizing it.I actually see an interesting allegory here between:Exodus -> Sinai -> Davidic KingdomPassover -> Shavuot -> Building of TempleCrucifixion -> Pentecost -> 2nd coming of ChristThe first of all 3 of these refer to a freedom [Freedom from Egyptian rule, Freedom of bondage to Sin], the second regards the beginning of the covenant and its requirements [Command to keep the Mosaic Law, Command to keep the Spirit’s Law]. In between the second and the third we have the “temple” being a temporary tabernacle (that “abodes” in John 14:2 and John 14:23] where God resided (as our current bodies are), and in the last we have a kingdom purged of ungodliness where God’s Temple can be moored.

Note that the Crucifixion occurred on Passover and Pentecost is the same day as Shavuot.

So, not exactly likely to still the tongues of naysayers, but still something you might be interested in:

Scientists find shark that has no father.

Recently a post at Between Two Worlds discussed a letter written by Dan Wallace describing the angst he feels over maintaining the hard gender roles described by Paul, in particular in 1st Timothy 2:11-15. He writes I may not be comfortable with my complementarian position, but I am unwilling to twist scripture into something that it does not say. He then describes And my conscience tells me that after all the exegetical dust has settled, to deny some sort of normative principle to 1 Tim 2:12 is probably a misunderstanding of this text. Unfortunately, Wallace falls into the same practice that many pastors do when delivering a sermon. The letter says what he believes and why without giving any indication as to what might be said for the other side. It is this kind of “This is what the Bible says, and if you don’t like it, you’re a liberal” mentality that I cannot stand in the modern church.The above may sound like I’m demonizing Wallace. I’m not. He sounds genuinely apologetic regarding his beliefs, and I completely affirm those who defend unpopular positions based on Biblical principles. My belief here is that he, like many others on this and other views, has allowed the beliefs of those Christian thinkers who came before us to unduly marginalize the importance of a raft of Scripture arguing against the conservative viewpoint.Most of the time when people try to defend women in positions of authority they appeal to anthrocentric or sociologic reasons. They wonder why we restrict women who are willing to do good. They wonder why we allow the church to implicitly support gender inequality elsewhere. I do not find these arguments personally compelling, as they attempt to interpret and judge biblical principles through human ones.Others make deductions based on passages like Galatians 3:28. While these can add support to an argument, they are so broad that we wonder what other principles we could deduce.Paul’s verses are very specific [actually, not as specific as might be thought, but we will get to that later], and this is why they are exalted so highly in the debate. But are there other passages of specificity that argue against the notion that women should be so barred?Yes. Yes there are.

First, there is the important case of Deborah, the 4th Judge of Israel.

The fact that Deborah was raised up by God[Judges 2:16], spoken to by God[Judges 4:6], led Israel [Judges 4:4], did so ably, and was venerated for doing so [Judges 5:7] is an insurmountable, thoroughly biblical objection to the absolute exclusion of women in positions of authority.How does the complementarian respond to Deborah? Does he [or she] lament “Oh, what great sadness that God did not have Paul to warn The Almighty against calling a woman to rule. If only God had waited so that Paul could disclose this wisdom, the Lord would not have done something so embarrassing”?

No. Instead, amazingly, Wallace claims that Deborah’s presence actually supports his view! He (and others, such as Piper (I am told)) say that it was shaming to Israel that it had to have a woman rule them. Nevermind that such poppycock is never stated in the Bible. Nevermind that Israel got into trouble when they didn’t follow the Judge raised up [Judges 2:17]. Nevermind that it is God who chose the Judge. It wasn’t an election. There were not nominees.

The discussion between Deborah and Jael indicates that Jael was unfaithful (for it should have been enough to have been told God would deliver the enemy to him), but that hardly says anything about God’s decision to have a woman rule over Israel.

If you brought Deborah up to a random evangelical, my guess is that the best response he or she could give is “Oh, but that was the Old Testament.” So, are we to believe that New Testament Christianity [where there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave or free, man or woman, etc.] is somehow more restrictive than the God of the Old Testament?

But there is plenty of New Testament passages regarding women…many written by Paul himself. In Acts 18:26 we read of Priscilla and her husband Aquilla both teaching a man who was already teaching others. This same Priscilla was very dear to Paul. He called her a “co-worker” in Romans 16;3, and he references their church in 1st Corinthians 16:19 and 2nd Timothy 4:19.Priscilla is not the only woman teaching the Gospel to others. Paul refers to 2 more in Philippians 4:2, and the “book” of Philemon is actually written to 3 people who run a house church, one of whom is a woman. Nympha also had a church in her house [Colossians 4:15], to whom Paul wrote.

Finally, in a disputed passage (Romans 16:7), Paul appears to refer to a woman, Junia, as an apostle! [Many Bibles read “Junias” here, claiming that it is actually a male’s name. There are many problems with that view, not the least of which being that no one anywhere has been able to find a single example of “Junias” ever being used as a name in any Greek or Latin writings.

What is interesting about this last bit is not so much that Paul called a woman an apostle [it is possible that Paul just meant that she had a good reputation among the apostles, but my guess is that the first Bible you pick up will say that “Junia(s)” actually was an apostle.]

The interesting thing is how much of a historical coverup has ensued trying to turn Junia into a man.But getting back to the point regarding women. Not only did they teach and preach, but they also prophesied [Acts 21:9], and were deaconesses/ministers of churches [Romans 16:1.] (Note, this word can be translated as merely “servant,” but strangely enough the ONLY time the word is translated as servant when discussing someone in church is when a female is mentioned. The other 23 times, it is translated “minister” or “deacon.” Greek has a perfectly good word for “servant,” used over 100 times in the New Testament.)One has to wonder why Paul is commending and greeting all these teachers and deaconesses and why the prophetesses were not rebuked. One also has to wonder, while we’re at it, how Paul can say women should only “pray” and “prophesy” (which can also mean “teach”) with head coverings [1st Corinthians 11:3] if they are not supposed to speak at all!!! [1st Corinthians 14:35]Keep in mind a couple other things about the early church.

  • Prophets were not mere seers. They also taught and preached about God, as well as selected officers in churches.
  • In the earliest churches, the “teaching” was, in fact, evangelism. The idea of a “message” to those who already believed did not come about until later.

So, all the descriptors of women as evangelists and prophets also made them teachers as well.So, what are we to make of all this? What is the real story here? It would be an incredible task to convince yourself that God appointed Deborah in a moment of insanity and multitude of women Paul mentions all somehow avoided having any authority or teaching while being ‘co-workers’ and “sharing [his] struggle,”…and somehow the women “prophesy” and “pray” without speaking, etc.Instead, I give some alternatives:i) The Greek word for woman is the same as the word for wife. Given the wording in 1st Timothy 2:12 and 1st Corinthians 14:35, Paul might be more concerned with women not submitting to their husbands. The poor widow would have little recourse based on the “woman” reading as she has no husband to enlighten her. Perhaps Paul does not want a wife teaching her husband.Note, just as the word for wife is the same as the word for woman. The word for man is the same as the word for husband, so “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” would have the same Greek as “I do not allow a wife to teach or exercise authority over a husband. You might say “hey, but wouldn’t you say “her husband,” instead of “a husband.” In English you would, but in Greek you never say the “a” and the “her” can be implied. In fact, that is exactly what happens in Ephesians 5:33. There is no “her” in front of the “husband” there. Same thing in Romans 7:2, 7:3, 1st Cor1nthians 7:3, 7:10, 7:11, 7:34. In fact a quick look only shows one place where Paul actually put the possessive there.]Also note that Paul uses the singular. He says for a woman/wife not to have authority or teach a man/husband. Of course the situation where a woman is actually preaching in church is one where a woman is preaching “men.”This explanation (possibly mixed with iii below) is the best way of making Paul not look like a moron. If the point is that a wife should not have authority over her husband, then all the cases where Paul personally greeted women who taught [as prophets and evangelists and perhaps apostles] and where Priscilla taught Apollo would all dissolve. This solution also lets God off the hook for allowing a woman to lead Israel.ii) Paul could be more concerned with married women not fulfilling their roles as women. This would make sense in the context of Paul’s teaching in 1st Corinthians 7:34. This would not really get around Priscilla, though.

iii) I do not like to bring it up, but it should be pointed out that 90% of critical scholars believe 1st Timothy, 2nd Timothy, and Titus were not written by Paul [or so says the late Fr. Raymond Brown, who was a member of the Vatican’s Roman Pontifical Biblical commission and was considered by many to be not only the the premier Catholic scholar of North America but the most important theologian [of the Catholic church] to ever arise in America. The 4 “pastoral” epistles are the only Pauline works missing from the earliest known suggested Canon [Marcion’s. While Marcion’s views are very far removed from the views of the church expressed just a century later, Marcion absolutely loved Paul, so the absence of the pastorals strongly suggest they either were not known, or were known to be pseudonymous at the time.]

This would not get around the 1st Corinthains verses [some say they were inserted later.] I know of no one of note who doubts the Pauline authorship of 1st Corinthians.iv) Paul could be simply be wrong. He appears to have been wrong about suggesting people not marry because “the time has been shortened” [1st Corinthians 7:29]. Paul appears to have been wrong about the innocence of eating food sacrificed to idols [1st Corinthians 8:4-8, 1st Corinthians 10: 19-28], that is to say if Jesus is any judge on the matter [Revelation 2:14, Reveation 2:20]. However, this would not explain why he would refer to women praying and prophesying in church in one breath while in the other he says they should not speak at all.What’s your theory?

[Incidentally, why are there so many churches who are willing to have Paul tell them not to let women speak…but yet those same churches (in general) do not require their women to wear head coverings? The message about head coverings is even more clear than the message of 1st Timothy 2:12, and none of the scripture I mention here really contravene it?]

I recently read Four Views: The Nature of Atonement, which describe four rather farflung theories of the Atonement.

I thought the responses of each author to the others’ views were generally helpful in showing how unclear the Bible is regarding how atonement works. On the other hand, I would have liked to see more than just “objective” version of the atonement.

Jason at Glower Street discusses Mark Driscoll’s comments regarding his concerns for the near future of Christianity. In those comments Mark sees a prevalence of focusing on a meek, “cultural” Jesus. He brings up pictures of a formidable Christ “In Revelation, Jesus is a pride fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”In an effort to defend some fragment of the idea behind Mark’s comments, I pointed out the importance of not portraying a version of Christ that did not paint Him as unique. The danger being that a Church can easily fall in love with an incomplete [or simply incorrect] portrayal of Christ by focusing on those aspects they like to dwell on rather than His hard edges. If the entire fellowship buys into this, it can lead to no one feeling impelled to gain a fuller understanding of Christ.

In that exchange, I pointed out that confrontational, aggressive, critical, and powerful aspects of Jesus exhibit His singularity because they derive from His authority. Compare this to the meeker version of Jesus that is less interested in rocking the boat.

In response to one of my comments, Jason said:

Also – and I don’t think I can put this strongly enough – there is nothing unique about violence or blunt force.

I thought that was profound enough to deserve spotlight and consideration. Thanks, Jason.

Most people are taught that the demons Jesus and His apostles cast out are fallen angels. But there is no passage that actually says that [to my knowledge.]This came to me today as I was thinking about Jude 6 And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day2nd Peter 2:4 is similar.The issue here is that Satan and his Angels are cast out of heaven immediately after Christ’s resurrection [Revelation 12:9]. If Jude and Peter claim that these angels were put into Hell, then they could not have been around tormenting people during Acts, and Paul would not be too concerned about their teaching people in 1st Timothy 4:1.

The issue here is that if demons are not fallen angels, then what are they, and where do they come from? Some might find this just an odd question of no real relevance but some would find it very relevant because many teach that God cannot create anything evil. [The Bible itself says no such thing, but people think it would go against God’s goodness. This is the same reason people claim Satan had to be an angel at some point. Actually, it seems the above verses would suggest that Satan is not, in fact, a fallen angel, as he is not confined in hell at the moment.]

Perhaps demons are evil souls of Nephlim who died.*shrug*

Anyone else have some ideas?

Greg Boyd describes a work by M.M. Campbell, Light on the “Dark Side of God”, aiming to show that God is never actively violent but rather allows unsavory things to happen to people by removing divine protection.

One problem with discussing this view is that its flexibility allows it to explain more or less anything. No matter how obviously God acts as an agent in a given Biblical narrative, one can generally come up with some way to show that it wasn’t really God implementing violence, but rather evil spirits. The author suggests that God sees and describes Himself as doing what he merely permits. Clearly, it’s going to be hard to show that God actually does any violence if you make such an idea a universal principal. Just think, what evidence would you find available if everything God is described as doing something it didn’t actually mean what it says?

Take, for example, the author’s own explanation for how the killing of the firstborn takes place during the passover:

The midnight hour arrives. Invisibly God’s “death angel” appears, carrying in its hands the destroying weapon from the eternal Throne. He looks at one house, sees the blood and passes over. He sees no blood on the house next door, and he comes down. What does he carry in his hand? Is that a sword? Perhaps a laser or a lightning bolt? No. It is a document on which is stamped the name of God. He shows it to the guardian angel, throughout the years stationed at the door of the house devoid of the saving blood. “Release,” says the document. Together the angels fly away, exposing the firstborn within to the destroyer, waiting eagerly without.

The author promises to explain later why the destroyer could be limited to killing the firstborn when all the protection is gone… but I don’t actually see where she does so. I hope this illustrates the difficulty in assailing the position when one can posit such scenarios. Nevermind that God explicitly says “I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night and strike…” [Exodus 12:12]

The author derives her version of the events from Exodus 12:23, where the verbiage is a little different: “…then the Lord will pass over the door and not permit the destroyer to enter your house and smite you.”

As this hypothesis is clearly spawned from a desire to make God more palatable to us (a property shared by several doctrines of Orthodoxy), it should not be too hard to show it untenable. Even given the challenges inherent to debunking such a hypothesis, the following objections leap to mind.

  • The author claims that God simply “backs off,” leaving people to the realm and power of evil forces when they reject the Living God. One obvious problem with this idea is that several times the destruction was not based on the sins of the victim. For example, the individual citizens in Egypt are punished in the passage described without there being any allusion to their sin.
  • Violence is often demanded by God, which is rather different from God simplying allowing violence to take place without stopping it. Examples abound.

    • God required Israel to sacrifice animals, not all of which were sacrifices for sins
    • God required Israel to stone murderers, adulterers, etc.
    • God demanded Israel to totally annihilate certain nations they came into contact with[Deuteronomy 7:2]. Astoundingly, the author attempts to deal with this language by claiming the Israelites forced God into such choices by choosing military action. The problem with this viewpoint is that the sparse evidence given (where God tells Israel it need not use its armies[Joshua 24:11-12 is the first]) occurs after God has already decreed this destruction. Furthermore, no admonition or reproach is given to Israel the first time they do take up the sword to suggest God had another plan.[Exodus 17:8-11] It’s further simply unreasoable to assume God would scrap an entire policy of non-violent conquering because Israel choose to use force in a single battle. God also directs people to battle in other prophetic messages [Jeremiah 49:28]
  • Often violence is not only demanded by God, but is clearly done by one of God’s agents. This includes the “Angel of the Lord” being the specific agent who killed 185,000 Assyrians [Isaiah 37:36, 2nd Kings 19:35]. Remarkably the author mentions this as a type of “Exercise for the reader.” Indicating the reader should figure out how this could really be someone else. I find it rather bizarre to envision an angel walking through the camp, having personal discussions with each of 185,000 other guardian angels so that some third-party evil spirit could come in and slaugher 185,000 soldiers, and instead the “Angel of the Lord” is given credit for the slaughter. Similarly, Nebuchadnezzar is called My servant several times and God speaks of specifically calling him to attack others [Jeremiah 25:9, Jeremiah 43:10.]
  • Often violence attributed to God in the Bible is prophetic. Given the general strength [and one would assume intelligence] of Satan and his forces, one is hard pressed to understand why they would willfully act to legitimize God by showing such prophecies to be true.
  • The author attempts to show, concomitant to God’s lack of violence, that Hell is not a place of eternal suffering. To do this the author shows that the word “eternal” could be being used metaphorically given the magnitude and terror of annihilation. There is some merit in this given that the Greek word translated “eternal” in most places does not really mean “eternal.” However, there is no way to get around Jude 6, where the Greek word used is actually the real word for eternal and it is not destruction that is described but imprisonment [literally “chains.”]
  • In Revelation 20:15 we read “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the Lake of Fire.” My question for the author is “by whom?” Satan, Death, and Hades were already in hell…there were no more evil spirits around to blame for the “throwing.” As far as I can tell, the author skips from the other wrath [the pre-judgment wrath on the earth] to the question of “how long Hell lasts,” skipping this rather obvious [and some would say most troubling] vignette of God’s violence.
  • In an effort to defend Christ’s death, the author is forced to see Christ’s words My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me as actually referring to God having forsaken Christ, a viewpoint that is far less Scriptural (for when did God really forsake the Word…and HOW could that be ontologically possible?) than seeing this as a final exhortation of encouragement as Christ quotes the first and last verses of psalm 22 [Matthew 27:46, John 19:30], essentially givng His followers one final reason to believe that Christ had fulfilled the prophecies, even those in the Psalms.
  • Contrary to the author’s beliefs, the Judaic viewpoint of God’s righteousness was inextricably linked to the notion of retribution and vindication. In fact, the same Hebrew word is used for both. Consider for example Isaiah 10:22, where the NASB translation [using the word “righteousness” instead of “retribution”] makes little sense. For how can “righteousness” overflow in a verse smack dab in the middle of a passage where God is referring to destroying most of Israel. Surely it is not the “righteousness” of God’s people [elsewhere described as shining to the nations] for very little of Judah would survive. No, the Jewish Publication Society’s translation of this, speaking of the “retribution” or [“just punishment” as described by the NET] is more accurate. The situation is shown even more starkly in Isaiah 5:23, where the KJV in particular makes no sense. In any event, given how much language there is God having retribution for sins against The Almighty, it is hard to ascribe those acts of violence as merely the acts of evil forces.

I’m sure there are more problems to be found, but the above should suffice.