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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: November 2012

I recently began another excursion through the Bible, with an eye toward a deeper look at the soteriological topics that piqued my interest beginning in Winter ’01 (I think), and upon reaching Leviticus I spent a good deal of effort trying to work the various sacrifices into a single, cohesive structure; a goal I had sought off-and-on for quite some time. This was very important to me because it was my hope that a genuine, self-consistent understanding of these sacrifices would shed light on Christ’s work. Too often the reverse occurs, someone has a certain view on Christ’s work and goes back to find some isolated bits that match it when taken out of context.

I was unable to get the various sacrifices and their meanings to fit together. The fact that the ritual conducted after someone was found to be healed of skin disease included a “sin” and “guilt” sacrifice was particularly hard to fit into frameworks that otherwise looked to make some sense. This ritual may be quite important to fully understand because it is the only one that abstractly matches the key “Day of Atonement” ritual. (Two birds, one dies, the other flies free.)

I decided to break off reading and investigate what others had written on the topic. Two books I found particularly helpful were Milgrom’s commentary on Leviticus (Continental Commentary Series) and Purification Offerings in the Priestly Literature: Its meaning and function by Kiuchi. Interestingly, Milgrom also could not make any sense of the bird rite and chalked it up to a Pagan holdover that the priests felt compelled to keep. That’s “higher criticism” for you.

Anyways, I certainly did not go into this study seeking information about animal cruelty, but the books made some key observations that had flown under my radar. I’m relaying them here in case they have also alluded y’all. A. The sacrificial system was intimately woven into a larger cultic law (more on this in “C” below), and should be considered in context.Abstractly, the set of large land animals the tribes of Jacob could eat was determined by two questions: Does it chew the cud? Is it’s hoof split? However, for all practical purposes, the requirements meant that the tribes could only ranch 3 types of animals. Everything but goat, sheet, and ox was more or less off limits. (There were a very restricted set of wild animals, like the gazelle, that were also allowed.) Thus, the food laws (and the general value of these animals) greatly limited ranching. Also, the relative value of these animals meant that the typical person ate almost no ranched quadrupeds, eating red meat only a few times a year. [They did have domesticated birds and fish.]

B. It must be recognized that the “sacrifices” of these animals do not match what we might think of sacrifice. In fact, “sacrifice” is perhaps not even the best word to capture what is going on here. It focuses on the notion of “loss” or “payment.” Contrary to what many might make of these texts, that is not where the value of these animals lay. The focus of these sacrifices (to the extent that we can speak in general terms) was in the cleansing power of the blood.  The connotation of “sacrifice” might lead us to believe that the animals were simply destroyed or wasted without any practical value being gained (much as some might consider recreational hunting today). However, this is not the case. For the vast majority of sacrifices, only the fat was burned up. The rest of the meat was eaten, either by the priests or the person who brought the sacrifice.

[I reiterate here a point I have made before: outside the Day of Atonement (and perhaps the bird-rite) scape-goat, there is no transfer of sin going on in these sacrifices. If the animals received the sin of those who brought them, they would have defiled the temple and altar on which they were sacrificed. The scape-goat, of course, was not brought into the temple, nor killed as part of the rite. Jewish theologians note a key difference in the “laying of hands” ceremony done by the priest for the scape-goat offering as compared to others. One theory claims that the two-hand version done on the scape-goat represents transfer of sin/guilt/iniquity but that the one-hand version done in other sacrifices (including those that have nothing to do with sin) are a marking of sorts, so that the good done by the animal, or the favor it found in God’s eyes, was credited to the one who marked it by the laying of a hand. So Ibn Ezra.]

C. The idea in point B actually works in reverse as well. Not only were (most) sacrifices eaten, but all of these ranched animals had to be “sacrificed” before they could be legally eaten! This is a key and amazing point that is easy to miss. It might be better to term these sacrifices as “consecrations,” because they represented the only way any of the animals could be eaten. If an Israelite killed a sheep for food, but did not bring the sheep to the temple to be “sacrificed,” then he was liable for murder. [See Leviticus 17:3 ff].

This redoubled the effect mentioned in A. It reduced the actual amount of ranching and killing that occurred by adding to the expense involved in raising animals for food. In some sense you could consider the temple sacrifice as a type of tax on eating meat, because anytime someone slaughtered an animal for food, they had to give some of it to the priests.

D. Finally, once again in the vein of thinking of these rites as not being “sacrifices” in the typical use of the term, one should consider the Israelite mind when contemplating the meaning of these rites. As mentioned above, much of the point of the sacrifices lie in the cleansing effect of the blood on the sanctuary (and, perhaps, on the people who brought the sacrifice). The life of the animal was “in the blood” and by bringing the animal to the tabernacle, sacrificing it, and spilling its blood on the altar, the owner and priest were bringing the animal into communion with God. Recall that the Israelites did not have our understanding of the afterlife. At this point in time, there were two competing frameworks for thinking about the “soul.” In the older of these frameworks, which may have been predominant at the time, there was no such thing as an individualized “soul.” Living men were animated by the “breath of life” received from God (c.f., Adam becoming a living being when God breathed into him). Upon death, that life went back to join God.

For animals, the “life was in the blood,” which is why the Israelites were not allowed to eat any blood, and the “sacrifice” rite can be viewed as returning the essence of the animal being killed to join in communion with God when its blood was dashed upon the altar to cleanse it. Thus, attempting to put these things into a modern context, one could conceive of the cultic law as essentially demanding that every rancher perform an individual funeral of sorts for every animal they killed.

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: March 2009

The evangelism of the apostles revolved about three main notions: The Gift, The Hope, and the Promise. To often Christians see these as merely vague terms [or they assume they all mean “life in heaven after I die.”]Putting a fine point on these terms allows not only to interpret individual passages better, but also grants a richer understanding of what apostolic evangelism was about.

Christian Hope

When the apostles speak of “Hope,” they do not refer exactly to “eternal life in heaven for believers.” The hope they refer to is the idea that what God had done to Jesus already [bodily resurrection], the Almighty would do to everyone later.

To understand why this Hope is so exclusively Christian, you have to understand the culture of 1st century AD. Some Jews believed in a bodily resurrection that would occur far in the future, and many Jews did not. Those outside Judaism generally did not believe in a bodily resurrection at all.

What no one believed was that the Messiah would come, die, and be resurrected before everyone else. Not even Jesus’ disciples understood that [which is why they deserted Him… the Messiah was supposed to lead the Jews to victory over the Romans [and everyone else who had oppressed them: Luke 1:71 ] How could He do that if He were dead??

This is why they wonder in Mark 9:10 what Jesus means, since He cannot possibly mean He is going to literally die. It also comes through loud and clear in Luke 24:20-21, they had hoped (but no longer)…and what did they hope for, that the Christ would redeem Israel. Like David, they were waiting for Jesus to take His position as true King. Having Jesus die crushed these beliefs, for they did not understand He had to die [John 20:9, Luke 24:25-27]

So, the resurrection not only proves that the Christian God lives, but gave hope in their own resurrection later. Note the wording of Acts 4:2 and Acts 17:32 — this was the central message of their evangelism (as well as Jesus as the Christ and Jesus as Judge, see post on evangelism in Acts.) Paul also avers that belief in resurrection of the dead is absolutely required of believers [1st Corinthians 15:12-14].

This Hope in the resurrection of the dead was the main reason Paul was in so much hot water in Acts. It was, after all, directly opposed to the beliefs of the ruling sect of Judaism. [Acts 23:6, Acts 24:15, Acts 24:21, Acts 26:6-8.]

The Gift

People use the term “a free gift” often in evangelism today, but for Paul and the other apostles, the term had a different meaning. The Gift is nothing other than the Holy Spirit.Jesus uses this to refer to the Holy Spirit in John 4:10, Peter refers to the Spirit as “The Gift” three times: Acts 2:38, Acts 8:20, and Acts 11:17. Luke uses the term in this way in Acts 10:45, and Paul does so in 1st Timothy 4:14, and 2nd Timothy 1:6. The writer of Hebrews follows suit in Hebrews 6:4.[Note it is important to separate “The Gift” (with the “the”) from situations where there is no “the,” also there are 3 words for “gift” common in the NT, and only 2 of them appear to be used in this way, the other is more of a term for “offering.”]

The (Promised) Promise

And now we come to an interesting term. “The Promise.” We know that God promised Abraham to bless the world through his seed, but how was God going to do that? Peter answers this question for us as well, in Acts 2:33. This is the promise Jesus refers to in Luke 24:49, and in Acts 3:26, we find that it is, in fact, the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham.The Holy Spirit is further referred to as “The Promise” in Acts 2:39, Galatians 3:14, Ephesians 1:13, Ephesians 3:6, Hebrews 9:15-(The writer views us as receiving the Holy Spirit as an inheritance from Christ. Note this is definitely referring to the Holy Spirit available now that was not available earlier before Christ died: see Hebrews 9:16, Hebrews 9:8, and, most notably Hebrews 11:39-40, where the Spirit is once again referred to as what was “promised.”)But, the Holy Spirit is not only the fulfillment of a promise, it also acts as a promise…a reminder of the full salvation available when our bodies are transformed and New Jerusalem arrives [ Revelation 21:2]. The Holy Spirit, in granting us power over the desires of a flesh set against God [Romans 6:6] grants us a slice of our transformed future. It allows us to already begin living the life of the next era today. Indeed, it calls us to do so, for we are no longer to live for ourselves, but rather live for Christ.In this way, the Holy Spirit is then a Promise itself. Not on an individual basis wherein we “know we are going to heaven because we have the Spirit.” The Spirit allowed those in Matthew 7:22-23 throw out demons and prophesy in Christ’s name, but it did not see them through the Judgment, and Hebrews 6:4-6, Hebrews 10:26-27, and 2nd Peter 2:20-21 all describe that the Spirit is not a personal guarantee but a global one. God will not be mocked.

Understanding “The Promise” is crucial to getting a handle on Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Romans, where the term is used very often.

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: October 2008

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?]

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: New Covenant

Sweetdreams asked a question on a previous post, and after writing up my response I decided I wanted to make it a full blog post.Jeremiah 31:31-34, is one of the most important in all the prophets as it describes most fully the new covenant. It is an amazing passage in that it describes:1. The partakers of the covenant. (verse 31)2. The reason for the covenant. (verse 32)3. The timing of the covenant (verse 33a)4. The content of the covenant (verse 33b-34a)5. The boundary between the last covenant and this one (verse 34b)But I think the above is not even the best way to look at the wording (though it certainly suffices)Instead, consider verses 31-32 as one block put in parallel with 33-34. The each indicate:A. A timingB. Who the covenant is withC. How this covenant differs from the last.D. An indication as to why this new covenant can stand over the last.In the first chunk we are told:A. The covenant is in the future.B. The covenant is with Israel and Judah (“Israel” later stood in metonymy for all nations outside Judah).C. The covenant will be unlike the first one because it will succeed where the first had failed to produce a godly nation.D. The new covenant is allowed because Israel and Judah violated the older one.In the second chunk we are told:A. The covenant is “when Israel is planted back in the land.”B. The covenant is with the “whole nation of Israel.”C. The covenant will be unlike the first in that the laws would be written on the hearts of Israel.D. The covenant is allowed because God will forgive all the sins Israel and Judah had done prior to it.This last part is standard fare in the prophets: After Israel/Judah suffers, God forgives them…and then delivers them or proffers a hand of reconciliation. We see the same thing in the Exodus: the Israelites are forgiven for all their past idolatry, which allows God to start anew with a clean slate. The Israelites are never punished for any sins done prior to crossing the Red Sea, when they were “baptized into Moses.”This has a strong counterpart in Jewish philosophy of Jesus day. When someone converted to Judaism, it was considered their own person crossing of the Jordan/Red Sea and everything about the prior life was blotted out (even to the point that a Gentile converting to a Jew could, in theory, marry those people who were his blood relatives, for the new convert was considered not to have a mother or father). The most common day for such conversions were on Passovers, which has other obvious connections to the crossing from the dead life of Egypt to the new life found in the wilderness with God.

The point of all this is to understand the “For I will forgive their sins and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done.” It refers to God’s setting aside the sin done by Israel and Judah to allow for the new covenant and a new slate, just as was done in the Exodus, and just as Paul refers to in Romans 3:25 when Paul (already speaking in the past tense) refers to the sins “previously committed.” [In other words, sins committed previous to Christ’s death, the event he refers to. However, just as in the Jewish conversion, this forgiveness would apply on an individual level upon conversion: the sins done by a Christian prior to entering the New Covenant are washed away.]

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: February 2013

During an Ash Wednesday service last week, the pastor brought up the notion of signs in the Old Testament and spoke of Jonah. This got me thinking about Christ’s discussion of Jonah’s fish challenges as “the only sign given to this evil generation.” Matthew saw this as important enough to mention two separate times. (Matthew 12:59, Matthew 16:4, and Luke provides it in Luke 11:29-30.) The relevance of Jonah may also be linked to Jesus’ stress on Peter’s lineage, which the gospel writers pass along “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.” (Matthew 16:17, John 1:42, John 21:15-17.) Note how in Matthew’s gospel this note on Peter follows nearly immediately the proclamation to the crowds about Jonah and Nineveh. For decades I had assumed that the only relevance of this passage is that Jesus was in the ground and rose on the 3rd day as Jonah was in the “great fish” for the same length of time. It just seemed like Jesus was predicting His own resurrection and the gospel writers were providing evidence that this resurrection was a sign from God. However, that seems now like a rather naive view. Jesus’ resurrection would be recognized as a sign of God regardless of whether it was predicted to the masses, and there are plenty of other instances where the gospel writers indicate to their audiences that Jesus’ resurrection was foretold. Also, the version given in Luke 11:30 suggests a closer connection between the sign of Jonah and the sign of Jesus. As I thought about this, two separate points came to mind. If Jesus’ resurrection is a sign like Jonah’s, what would that mean, especially to a Jewish audience who fully understood Jonah’s whole story?

The first connection is clear (though it was actually the second one I thought of). Jonah was sent to call Nineveh to repentance [c.f. Luke 11:32]. The story of Jonah is interesting because it shows that simple repentance has authentic value even when done by a people who have no notion of Christ whatsoever. Nineveh was not in Judah. They were neither cognizant of nor had any portion of the promised salvation for the Jews. The repentance they showed was based only on a belief that the God who sent Jonah was real and a hope that if they showed humility toward God and changed their ways to do works pleasing to God, then maybe God would relent.

This is important because most evangelists today suggest that repentance has no effectual value in itself. (Repentance is portrayed as a by-product and not directly dispositive toward how we are judged by God.) Similarly, it is highly suggested that it is impossible to do works pleasing to God without faith in Christ. The story of Jonah in Nineveh disproves both assertions.

The second way in which Jesus’ resurrection is linked to Jonah is subtler. It is the first one that came to me, partially because of something the pastor had mentioned. The story of Jonah shows the value of repentance in two ways. One is the effect that Nineveh’s repentance had on God. The second is the effect of Jonah’s own repentance inside the fish, which led to his own deliverance. What struck me about this aspect of the story is the possibility (perhaps tenuous) that one can draw a connection between resurrection and repentance. When the evangelists of the New Testament speak of the value of being in Christ, they speak of three things:

  1. Being delivered from the physical wrath that will come against the world when Christ returns. (C.f. Matthew 24:22, which makes no sense at all if the Final Judgment were in view rather than deliverance from the physical destruction of the last days.)
  2. The “baptism of repentance” (the holy spirit). (c.f. Acts 5:31, Acts 11:18, Acts 13:24, Acts 26:20 and many other places)
  3. The resurrection of the body, which is their full inheritance when their “adoption is complete.” (c.f. Romans 8:23)

Paul’s letters show that these last two items are really just stages of a two-part glorification. We are given the spirit today that strengthens our will to do God’s works, though our flesh still fights against this. Then, in the next age, we will receive a renewed body that no longer pushes us against God.

The specific repentance that we receive from Christ is a renewal of the spirit (c.f Hebrews 6:6) that Paul links to both Christ’s own resurrection and our future one in Romans 6-8. That particular discussion is worthy of its own blog post.

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: Christology

There’s a new woman working at my office. She is Italian. I think I’ll ask her out.Now, the above is completely fictional. There is no new woman at my office…I don’t even work at “my office” but rather telecommute, and I just got married.But think about that phrase “She is Italian.”Skip to John1:1-2, an oft-referenced verse that much has been made of. Standard translations go something like:”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning.”The actual Greek of this statement is:”En arche en ho logos kai ho logos en pros ton theon kai theos en ho logos. Houtos en en arche pros ho theos”Translated interlinearly we get:”In the beginning was the word and the word was [toward] the god and a god was the word. That one was in the beginning with the god.”(The “toward” here is one of several options.)

Now, the odd thing is John’s use of “the god” and “a god.” (I mean this interlinearly…not that “a god” is the proper real translation.)

“In the beginning was the word and the word was [toward] the god and a god was the word. That one was in the beginning with the god.”

Now, the first thing to know is that the Greeks used “the god” to mean God [big “G”] and they used merely “a god” as a more general term to refer to idols, fictional gods, or merely powerful beings. For example, 2nd Thessalonians refers to the anti-christ exalting himself above “every god” (little g), putting himself in the Temple of God (big “G” for it is the Temple of the Living God) and claiming he is “a god” (little g).The second thing to know is that there is really no such thing in Greek as “a god.” There is no “a” in Greek. Either a noun has the article “the” in front of it, or it doesn’t.Anyway, the question is, what does John mean by using “God” in the first part of John 1:1, switching to “god” in the second, and then going immediately back to “God” in John 1:2.Traditional translations have managed to take this grammar and claim it supports the Trinity doctrine. They claim that word order matters and the this is the only way John could have expressed exactly the trinitarian notion.The claim [straight out of “Basics of Biblical Greek” Chapter 6 by Mounce] is that:

A god was the Word would mean Jesus was a god separate from “the God.”

and

The Word was a god means that all the attributes God has, The Word has as well without exhausting what it means to be God… so the Word was “fully” God without being the same as God.

and would mean The Word = God as though father and son were the same[this of course already suffers from the obvious problem that it presumes “God” means “The father,” which would in itself give the Orthodox version of The Trinity problems. Indeed, even if John had literally said “Jesus is the same as God,” it would not really pose a problem for the Trinity, right? John would have to have said “Jesus is the Father” to do that…]How does Mounce and others get away with turning “a god” into “the god”? The claim is something called “Colwell’s Rule.”Colwell’s “Rule” states that when predicate noun {god in this case} comes BEFORE a “be verb” (like “was”), it never has the article, even if it is meant to.The problem with using Colwell’s rule in this way is that Colwell’s rule is wrong. There are many, many examples where a definite noun comes before a “be verb” and has the article. Even within the Gospel of John, this rule fails in John 6:51, 15:1, 21:7, and 21:12.But there are other problems as well. Let’s pretend Colwell’s rule is right and can be used in the way Mounce and others claim it can. In that case we could derive other similar claims from the grammar that make no sense.For example, consider John 4:19. The Greek of this verse is”a prophet are you” translated in our bibles as “you are a prophet.”This matches the end of John 1:1c: “a god was the word”The useful thing to note about “prophet” is that it is like “god” in that it has a special meaning when you put the “the” next to it. “The Prophet” was a very special figure in Jewish thought. John refers to “The Prophet” often. [See John 1:21 among others].So, if what Mounce and others were saying is true, when the woman says “a prophet are you” she means “you have all the attributes of The Prophet without actually being the same as him.”That would be a rather odd statement!Other examples can be found throughout John (including two I will mention later).But lets get back to the Italian woman in my office that I might ask out. Notice the difference between:

“There’s a new woman working at my office. She is Italian. I think I’ll ask her out.”

and

“There’s a new woman working at my office. She is an Italian. I think I’ll ask her out.”

There is a subtle difference here. Indeed, in the first sentence I get to do something I normally don’t get to do in English. Normally every noun in English has some sort of modifier in front of it. I cannot say “I picked up pencil” I either have to say “I picked up a pencil” or “I picked up the pencil.”

That is the same as Greek. Normally there are just two options: either the word has the article before it or it does not. Either “god” or “the god.”

But there is nothing wrong with saying “She is Italian.” The Italian is an “adjective noun.” It does not describe a category so much as a quality. The idea is not that she was born in Italy but rather that she has the personal attributes one associates with Italians.

However, saying “She is an Italian” suggests more that she was actually born in Italy [or at least is “full blood” Italian]… it does not really emphasize anything about her disposition or personal traits.

I think that is what is going on in John 1:1c. The statement is not a description of category. It is not saying “Jesus is a god.” Nor is it a statement of identity. It is not saying “Jesus is God” [John appears to go out of his way to get away from saying this.] Rather it is a qualitative statement indicating Jesus’ essence.

There is actually a very good verse that backs up this view. Consider the first part of John 4:24… the Greek is “a spirit is the god.”Now, if we were following Mounce’s logic here, we really would be in trouble! Note that “God” has switched over from being the predicate nominative and is now the subject. According to Mounce’s reasoning, this would be saying “All the attributes the Spirit has, God has as well without exhausting what it means to be the Spirit.” [this is backwards from what Orthodoxy would want.]

But that isn’t what Jesus means in John 4:24 at all. Jesus is not saying God is the Holy Spirit…nor is Jesus saying God is merely some random spirit [God is “a spirit”]. No, what Jesus means is that God has the quality of spirit-ness.

Note that John 4:24a has the exact same grammar as John 1:1c.I would claim, then, that when John writes “a god was The Word,” He is not claiming Jesus is “a god” (separate from God the Father), nor is he identifying Jesus as God (which he appears to go at lengths not to do) but rather claiming that Jesus has the quality of “god”-ness.Whatever that means.

Much of this information comes from BeDuhn’s excellent book Truth in Translation, but some of it is original to me [in particular the linkage to modern English and the discussion of what “The Prophet” means.]

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: Cult

I recently began another excursion through the Bible, with an eye toward a deeper look at the soteriological topics that piqued my interest beginning in Winter ’01 (I think), and upon reaching Leviticus I spent a good deal of effort trying to work the various sacrifices into a single, cohesive structure; a goal I had sought off-and-on for quite some time. This was very important to me because it was my hope that a genuine, self-consistent understanding of these sacrifices would shed light on Christ’s work. Too often the reverse occurs, someone has a certain view on Christ’s work and goes back to find some isolated bits that match it when taken out of context.

I was unable to get the various sacrifices and their meanings to fit together. The fact that the ritual conducted after someone was found to be healed of skin disease included a “sin” and “guilt” sacrifice was particularly hard to fit into frameworks that otherwise looked to make some sense. This ritual may be quite important to fully understand because it is the only one that abstractly matches the key “Day of Atonement” ritual. (Two birds, one dies, the other flies free.)

I decided to break off reading and investigate what others had written on the topic. Two books I found particularly helpful were Milgrom’s commentary on Leviticus (Continental Commentary Series) and Purification Offerings in the Priestly Literature: Its meaning and function by Kiuchi. Interestingly, Milgrom also could not make any sense of the bird rite and chalked it up to a Pagan holdover that the priests felt compelled to keep. That’s “higher criticism” for you.

Anyways, I certainly did not go into this study seeking information about animal cruelty, but the books made some key observations that had flown under my radar. I’m relaying them here in case they have also alluded y’all. A. The sacrificial system was intimately woven into a larger cultic law (more on this in “C” below), and should be considered in context.Abstractly, the set of large land animals the tribes of Jacob could eat was determined by two questions: Does it chew the cud? Is it’s hoof split? However, for all practical purposes, the requirements meant that the tribes could only ranch 3 types of animals. Everything but goat, sheet, and ox was more or less off limits. (There were a very restricted set of wild animals, like the gazelle, that were also allowed.) Thus, the food laws (and the general value of these animals) greatly limited ranching. Also, the relative value of these animals meant that the typical person ate almost no ranched quadrupeds, eating red meat only a few times a year. [They did have domesticated birds and fish.]

B. It must be recognized that the “sacrifices” of these animals do not match what we might think of sacrifice. In fact, “sacrifice” is perhaps not even the best word to capture what is going on here. It focuses on the notion of “loss” or “payment.” Contrary to what many might make of these texts, that is not where the value of these animals lay. The focus of these sacrifices (to the extent that we can speak in general terms) was in the cleansing power of the blood.  The connotation of “sacrifice” might lead us to believe that the animals were simply destroyed or wasted without any practical value being gained (much as some might consider recreational hunting today). However, this is not the case. For the vast majority of sacrifices, only the fat was burned up. The rest of the meat was eaten, either by the priests or the person who brought the sacrifice.

[I reiterate here a point I have made before: outside the Day of Atonement (and perhaps the bird-rite) scape-goat, there is no transfer of sin going on in these sacrifices. If the animals received the sin of those who brought them, they would have defiled the temple and altar on which they were sacrificed. The scape-goat, of course, was not brought into the temple, nor killed as part of the rite. Jewish theologians note a key difference in the “laying of hands” ceremony done by the priest for the scape-goat offering as compared to others. One theory claims that the two-hand version done on the scape-goat represents transfer of sin/guilt/iniquity but that the one-hand version done in other sacrifices (including those that have nothing to do with sin) are a marking of sorts, so that the good done by the animal, or the favor it found in God’s eyes, was credited to the one who marked it by the laying of a hand. So Ibn Ezra.]

C. The idea in point B actually works in reverse as well. Not only were (most) sacrifices eaten, but all of these ranched animals had to be “sacrificed” before they could be legally eaten! This is a key and amazing point that is easy to miss. It might be better to term these sacrifices as “consecrations,” because they represented the only way any of the animals could be eaten. If an Israelite killed a sheep for food, but did not bring the sheep to the temple to be “sacrificed,” then he was liable for murder. [See Leviticus 17:3 ff].

This redoubled the effect mentioned in A. It reduced the actual amount of ranching and killing that occurred by adding to the expense involved in raising animals for food. In some sense you could consider the temple sacrifice as a type of tax on eating meat, because anytime someone slaughtered an animal for food, they had to give some of it to the priests.

D. Finally, once again in the vein of thinking of these rites as not being “sacrifices” in the typical use of the term, one should consider the Israelite mind when contemplating the meaning of these rites. As mentioned above, much of the point of the sacrifices lie in the cleansing effect of the blood on the sanctuary (and, perhaps, on the people who brought the sacrifice). The life of the animal was “in the blood” and by bringing the animal to the tabernacle, sacrificing it, and spilling its blood on the altar, the owner and priest were bringing the animal into communion with God. Recall that the Israelites did not have our understanding of the afterlife. At this point in time, there were two competing frameworks for thinking about the “soul.” In the older of these frameworks, which may have been predominant at the time, there was no such thing as an individualized “soul.” Living men were animated by the “breath of life” received from God (c.f., Adam becoming a living being when God breathed into him). Upon death, that life went back to join God.

For animals, the “life was in the blood,” which is why the Israelites were not allowed to eat any blood, and the “sacrifice” rite can be viewed as returning the essence of the animal being killed to join in communion with God when its blood was dashed upon the altar to cleanse it. Thus, attempting to put these things into a modern context, one could conceive of the cultic law as essentially demanding that every rancher perform an individual funeral of sorts for every animal they killed.

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: Noah

What is the point of the Garden of Eden story? Many Christians believe the point of the story is to explain how humanity fell into sin. While there may something to that, it must be always kept in mind that NONE of the New Testament evangelism even mentions the fall of Adam. If the Garden of Eden is a key part to the story of Christina salvation, you would never know it from reading the Gospels and the many evangelistic sermons in the book of Acts. In fact, I claim the text makes clear in flashing neon lights what the story is about, and we only fail to see it because we have been taught to read Protestant theology into the story.

It is true that the Garden of Eden story is linked to man’s mortality (which is different from his damnation), but not in the way people often are taught. Even after sinning, humanity could have had immortality had Adam eaten from the tree of the fruit of life. [Genesis 3:22] and the principal reason God kicks Adam out of the Garden is that (for whatever reason) God did not want Adam to both know the difference between good and evil and be immortal.

But the story answers other questions as well. For example, it explains why snakes have no legs [Genesis 3:14], more importantly it explains where our conscience, our ability to determine right and wrong, comes from [Genesis 3:5-7, and Genesis 3:22 again].

Most importantly, it acts as a key lead-in to Noah’s story!!

Yes, I believe it is not an over-estimation to say that the single most important theme of the Garden of Eden is that it acts as a prequel to Noah’s work. It does not appear that way to us because we focus on the least important aspect of Noah and miss a key point to the Garden of Eden story. When you think of Noah, you think of the flood. And when you think of the flood story, the conclusion everyone remembers is the rainbow as a proof that God will not destroy the Earth by flood. To us Americans living in the land of plenty, where true poverty and hunger are extremely rare, the dramatic story of the flood and the destruction it wrought on the Earth is the key point. But to the Israelites/Hebrews reading the story of Noah, the flood is not the real point. When we look at the passage where God makes a covenant with Noah [8:21-22] we note two blessings given to Noah. The one everyone knows (the rainbow, etc.), and another one “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the intention of his heart is evil from his youth.”

Recall that in Genesis 3:17-19 the ground is cursed because of Adam’s sin. Prior to this curse Adam was still expected to work in the garden and tend it [Genesis 2:15]. The curse made the work much harder. Indeed, Noah gets his name because he was appointed to reverse this curse: Genesis 5:29 reads “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.” [The Hebrew word Noah sounds like the word for “bring us relief” and there are several puns made on this in the ensuing story of the flood.]

This reference to agriculture is also found in Noah being the first person to plant a vineyard.  In fact, Noah more than reverses the curse because not only does God remove the curse on the ground, but for the first time God allows humanity to eat animals rather than only plants. [Genesis 9:3] This is another reason why the curse on the ground was so onerous: humanity depended completely on agriculture rather than ranching. So I think the most significant part of the Garden of Eden, at least for the original readers, was its role in the general drama of sustenance. Before the garden, no plants were cultivated because it had not rained and there was no one to tend them. Adam is made and put in the garden to tend the plants there. Adam’s sin causes the ground to be cursed, making life hard. Noah gets his namesake from the hope that he will break the curse, and sure enough that is what happens. He more than breaks the curse because the ground is no longer cursed and humanity can now eat animals as well. How very different we read the story.

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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: Satan

After May I took a month or two “off” from writing and research. Then I began reading a bunch of theology texts dealing with Judaism around the time of Christ. Then I took another short break because the next thing on my agenda was starting again at Genesis 1:1. I had postponed this for a couple reasons. First, it is obviously a big undertaking. Second, when I was doing my theology reading, I could do it anywhere I had my tablet computer. All I had to do was mark certain passages of interest. However, going through the Bible again requires more note-taking, so I use my desk-top computer in my office, so it cuts into my schedule in a different way from bedtime reading of theology texts. But I’ve begun, and immediately things jumped out at me about the Garden of Eden. I try as much as I can to read the Bible with “open eyes,” not making presumptions about what I’m going to read. This type of reading lets passages jump out at you that might otherwise have been overlooked because they don’t fit the narrative you expect.

One thing that struck me about the Garden of Eden story is that there is no indication at all that the serpent who deceived Eve was actually Satan. In fact, a little research shows that “Satan” as a personification of evil [or at least an adversary of humanity] simply did not appear to exist in Jewish thought until many centuries later. Assuming that the Books of Moses existed [in some form] to be used for the teaching of the Israelites and their immediate progeny, we can clearly draw the conclusion that those early readers had no notion of the serpent as Satan. [Whether or not the serpent WAS Satan, a claim that gets some strong support from Rev 12:9 (and weak support from other passages), is another question entirely.]