Friday, May 30, 2008

Even More Posturing on Prayer

Apparently raising of hands to God was a common practice in Job's time:

As for you, if you redirect your heart
and lift up your hands to Him [in prayer]...
(Holman Christian Standard Bible)
Yet if you devote your heart to him
and stretch out your hands to him ...
(New International Version)

-- Job 11:13

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Women in the Church

Here's something written by a friend of mine that I found very thought-provoking.
Imagine if Paul said (which he does) “there is now no Greek nor Jew, for you are all one in Christ” but then in another book he says only Jews may be teachers and preachers and sayers of prayers, and only Jews may become elders/deacons, but Greeks may teach and pray if they teach and pray in front of other Greeks only and not in front of Jews. It is shameful for a Greek to speak in church. That is blatantly obviously not equality then, is it?
We have also watered down the “anti-woman” passages to make them more palatable. So instead of women really keeping quiet in church, we allow them to make a comment or two so long as it is in the Bible study and not the main Worship service and so long as it does not contradict what the preacher says. IF it really is shameful for a woman to speak in church, then why are we allowing it at all?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Heads Up - In Jesus' Name Productions

I'm not ready to sign up, but it's an interesting idea.

Basically, the group, In Jesus' Name Productions, wants to get 100,000 members to donate $10/month so they can make films for Christians, rather than relying on a-Christian Hollywood to do it. They claim that with that kind of money, they can make Hollywood-class blockbusters that are God-honoring. (Ag! I think about the Noah's Flood movie made by NBC a few years ago with Jon Voight; it was horrible!)

Anyhow, I think the idea is interesting, and I thought we should all at least be peripherally aware of the potential culture-change something like this could accomplish.

Their web site.

A quick explanation of how it works.

A short video of how it works (5.5 mins).

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Drama of a Promised Heir

In Genesis 12 we read of a promise from God that Abraham would have a son, even though Abraham and his barren wife were childless and too old to have kids any more.

As recently pointed out to me, there's some drama in this story that I've never noticed before, because of the way I was educated about the story.

As a kid in pre-school Bible Class, when you first start learning about Abraham and Isaac, you learn about Isaac before any of the other potential heirs. So when as an adult you actually read the book of Genesis, and you learn of a promised son, you automatically know it's going to be Isaac, and there's therefore no drama involved in reading the story about the other potential heirs. But if you were just reading the story for the first time without any fore-knowledge or preconceived notions, you see something like the following, a summary by Warren Rogers of material by one Dr. Rendsburg:
III. The Abraham story brings a host of potential heirs into the picture.

A. First, we are directed to focus attention on Lot, but he is a nephew. Thus, we ask ourselves: Can he count as offspring? Perhaps, but then Lot departs in Genesis 13.

B. We next are introduced to Eliezer, an adopted son (to be discussed further). Is he the one? The answer is no, because as soon as Eliezer is introduced in Genesis 15, We are told that he will not be Abraham's heir.

C. At last, after much travail, Abraham gains a natural born son-Ishmael, son of Hagar, a servant woman presented to Abraham by Sarah.

D. But wait, in Genesis 21 another son is born to Abraham. Isaac, son of Sarah, confirming the more specific promise made to Abraham in Genesis 17 that Sarah would bear him a son---especially noteworthy.
I think it's good to introduce small children to interesting Bible stories, but this makes me wonder if we're not short-circuiting the educational process sometimes by "jumping to the chase". I have no solutions to this issue; I'm just making an observation.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Divorce, Jewish Style, Part 2

In an earlier post, I had mentioned that I wasn't quite sure what to do with the wholesale divorce that the Jews performed under Ezra when the Babylonian captives started returning home to Judah.

I was googling for some different information when I ran across a document that addresses the issue. In essence, the author claims that while in captivity in Babylon, a new generation of Jews arose who, not having access to the old way of worship revolving around the Temple, developed new ways revolving around the Torah (the Law of Moses). Some of the basic, fundamental, unbreakable rules were
circumcision, the celebration of holy days, the observance of every seventh day (the Sabbath) as a day of rest, abstention from the flesh of swine and other "unclean" animals, and much else. The same text prohibited a Judahite from worshiping any god but the Lord, from partaking of sacrificial food offered to "graven images" (cult statues), and from marrying a gentile.
The Jews who had been taken as captives to Babylon developed into a completely different set of people than the ones they were before they were captured. Ezra, having been born and raised in this Babylonian world, returned to Judah and was appalled that the peasant Jews who had been left behind were not the "good, upright" Jews he had known as Jews growing up, and he made it his task to reform them into Torah-abiding citizens.

In Ezra's mind, purifying his people according to the mores he knew was more important than the sanctity of the family unit. And in retrospect, his actions led to a unified, Torah-respecting nation that prepared the way for the arrival of Jesus. As an arm-chair quarterback, I'm not sure I would have handled things the same way Ezra did, but then, as an arm-chair quarterback, I'm not qualified to judge his plays, especially considering that he won the game.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Darwin Was a Creationist

Many Evolutionists believe that any time a Creator is mentioned in regard to the origin of our world, that explanation is equivalent to "Creationism". This allows the Evolutionists to automatically lump Intelligent Design and Creationism and the Flying Spaghetti Monster into the same pile of "unscientific rubbish".

The problem with this faulty maneuver is that it also consigns their hero, the Father of Evolution, Charles Darwin, into the same rubbish pile, for in his book, "On the Origin of Species", in chapter 14 (search for "impressed"), Darwin writes:
To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual. (emphasis added)
These fanatical ant-creation fundamentalists have just declared Darwin a Creationist. I reckon that means he's not qualified to teach in our schools or work in our science labs. Shame.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Worshiping by the Riverside

In Bible class this morning it was asked why Paul and his companions would expect to find a place of prayer near the river when they arrived in Philippi. The only real "answer" offered is that people spent time at the river doing laundry, implying that it was laundry day.

Being as it was the Sabbath, when menial housetasks such as laundry were forbidden, that answer didn't sit well with me. So I did a bit of research, and the short answer seems to be that since the Babylonian Captivity, when the Jews were separated from their house of worship, the Temple, the Jews had developed a custom of meeting by rivers whenever a formal meeting place was unavailable. I've been unable to find much support for this idea, but it "feels" right.

One thing my research highlighted is that it was required for ten Jewish men to be in a town before a synagogue could be built. Presumably that also meant that in order to continue synagogue meeting, ten men must be present.

Two chapters after the story referenced above, in Acts 18, we learn that Claudius had expelled all Jews from Rome. I think it's reasonable to assume that may have included Roman colonies, of which Philippi was one (Acts 16:12).

So it may be that there were not ten Jewish men available in Philippi to conduct a synagogue meeting, so the few Jewish stragglers in town, or at least worshippers of God such as Lydia (16:14), who as a businesswoman with her main home in another town was able to remain in Philippi, may have met, as the custom seems to have been, near the river.

=== UPDATE ===

According to
Therefore, in order to help hold the people together religiously, synagogues were established in locations where ten or more faithful men could be found. Where fewer than ten men could be found, a Proseuche ("place of prayer") was set up, usually by a river and outside the walls of the city....
and according to The New Testament Greek Lexicon, the word "proseuche" means:
  1. prayer addressed to God
  2. a place set apart or suited for the offering of prayer
    1. a synagogue
    2. a place in the open air where the Jews were wont to pray, outside the cities, where they had no synagogue
      1. such places were situated upon the bank of a stream or the shore of a sea, where there was a supply of water for washing the hands before prayer

Old Testament History in a Nutshell

Nehemiah 9 says it all.

Next time you need a very brief synopsis of the Tanakh, from Creation to the return of Babylonian prisoners/slaves to their homeland, go read this chapter.

Some More Posturing on Prayer

Nehemiah reports on a worship assembly after Jewish exiles returned home to Jerusalem and rebuilt their temple:
Ezra praised YHWH, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshiped YHWH with their faces to the ground.
Why is it, ya reckon, that my church culture is so against raising of hands in prayer?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Non-Distinctions in the Church

A friend of mine has just finished reading the book "Beyond Sex Roles" by Gilbert Bilezikian, and some notes she shared with me struck me as being noteworthy. Here they are:
The church of Jesus Christ celebrates its own birthday on two occasions. The first is collective and embraces all Christians of all times. It is the day of Pentecost. The second is individual and concerns each person at the moment of his or her inclusion into the body of Christ through confession of faith and baptism. Every time a believer is formally inducted into the church through baptism, the body of Christ celebrates a new birth into the kingdom of God.

The two inaugural statements

Pentecost - Acts 2:17-18 (birth of church)

“I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh”
.... Lesson: Racial distinctions are irrelevant in the church.

“And your sons and daughters shall prophecy”
....Lesson: The sex difference is irrelevant in the church.

“Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”
...Lesson: Differences of rank are irrelevant in the church.

“And on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy”
..Lesson: Class differences are irrelevant in the church.

Baptism - Gal 3:26-29 (birth of Christian)

“There is neither Jew nor Greek [or Gentile]”
... Lesson: Racial distinctions are irrelevant in the church

“There is neither slave nor free.”
...Lesson: Class distinctions are irrelevant in the church.

“There is neither male nor female.”
..Lesson: Sex distinctions are irrelevant in the church.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Divorce, Jewish-Style

In the last couple of chapters of Ezra, when the Jews were returning to their homeland in Judea after seven decades as displaced captives in the land of their conquerors, one of the reforms to get the struggling nation back on its feet was to purge foreigners from their midst. In doing so, the men of the nation made a pact to send their foreign wives away, some of which had borne children.

What strikes me is that this action could not have been healthy for the kids of those marriages, and likely resulted in not a little anguish as husbands and wives were separated. We know from other passages (such as Malachi 2:16) that God hates divorce, yet here we have an entire nation committing divorce wholesale, presumably with God's blessing.

I'm not sure what to do with this information.

Some Notes about Biblical Covenants

Professor of Bible and Old Testament, Irvin A. Busenitz, in TMSJ 10/2 (Fall 1999), pg 173-189, writes some interesting things about Biblical Covenants in his "Introduction to the Biblical Covenants; the Noahic Covenant and the Priestly Covenant". The bulk of the rest of this post is lifted from that document.

He says there are six covenants that provide the foundation for understanding God's working in human history:
  • The Noahic
  • The Abrahamic
  • The Priestly
  • The Mosaic
  • The Davidic
  • The New Covenant
I would add the Adamic covenant, although the term "covenant" does not appear to be used in this case. (There are other Biblical covenants as well, but they don't have as much influence on our understanding as do these six or seven covenants.)

The English word "covenant" comes from the Latin "covenire", meaning "to convene, meet together, to assemble for a common purpose", but the Hebrew word, "berit", has a more obscure meaning, possibly meaning "to bind, fetter", or being related to "food, eating", but its usage in the Tanakh (Old Testament) doesn't really fit these two definitions. Instead, there seem to be two basic usages therein: as an agreement between two equal parties, and as an agreement in which one greater party does something for or to a lesser party.

The equal-party covenant is seen in such cases "as David and Jonathan (1 Sam 18:3-4), between families such as Jacob and Laban (Gen 31:54), or between nations such as Israel and the Canaanites (Exod 23:32, 34:12, 15). Similar terminology describes the marriage covenant (Prov 2:17; Mal 2:14) or international trade agreements (1 Kgs 20:34)."

The unequal-party covenant "depicts an arrangement imposed by a superior on subordinates (e.g., Joshua 9; 1 Sam 11:1-2). It usually designates an agreement made to or for, not with, the subordinate, depicting a legally binding promise which one party makes toward an other. In other words, parity between the two parties is absent. Second Kings 11:4 describes a covenant made by Jehoida the priest and the Carites to protect young Joash from the wicked queen Athaliah. Ezra 10:3 speaks of making “a covenant with our God to put away all the [foreign] wives and their children.”

When this type of covenant is instituted by God between Himself and Man (the usual usage, although sometimes it's instituted by Man, between himself and God, or between himself and other men), it usually acts as a "grant" when the emphasis is on the greater party's obligation to the lesser party, as in the Noahic Covenant when God promises certain things such as not flooding the earth again, and as a "treaty" when the emphasis is on the lesser party's obligation to the greater party, such as in the Mosaic Covenant when Israel is obligated to observe God's laws.

In the New Testament, the word generally used for "covenant" is "diatheke", and refers to a "last will and testament". The main concept to be noted in this usage is that the covenant is the "declaration of one person's will, not the result of an agreement betw[een] two parties".

A major difference in the Hebrew and Greek usages is that in the Tanakh, the death of the person making the will was not required in order to put the will into effect, whereas in the New Testament, the term requires just that. In fact, the death of the covenant-maker in the Hebrew usage nullified the covenant.

Whereas covenants were sometimes granted, or given, or made, the "predominant verb associated with covenant-making" is "karath", "to cut", and most likely refers to the ancient practice of cutting a sacrifice in pieces and walking between them.

Sometimes the making of a covenant included a one-time "pledge", or gift, such as when Abraham gave sheep and oxen to Abimelech, or when "Jonathan gave David his robe, armor, sword, bow, and belt (1 Sam 18:4)."

Sometimes the making of a covenant included a repeatable "sign", such as the rainbow, or circumcision, or Sabbath observance.

Covenants were often made in the presence of witnesses, whether human (Gen 23:16; Ruth 4:9), divine (Gen 31:50), or inanimate (Josh 24:27).

Covenants had consequences. They were intended to be kept, and if so, then would result in blessing; if broken, they could result in cursings. "In the case of a covenant between individuals, walking between the pieces of the sacrifice (e.g. Gen 15:12-18) provided a visual threat of similar dismemberment should the covenant obligations go unmet", and is probably the source of the phrase "may God do so to me and more also", such as is found in Ruth 1:17 and other passages.

A covenant could be unilateral (only one party has responsibilities) or bilateral (both parties have responsibilities). Five unilateral covenants are found in Scripture:
  • the Noahic
  • the Abrahamic
  • the Priestly
  • the Davidic
  • the New
"Scripture has no evidence of any obligations required of the recipients of these five covenants. It should be noted, however, that this does not deny the possible need for consequent obedience. But it does establish the fact that obedience is not a contingency for its fulfillment."

Friday, May 09, 2008

A "Winning Strategy" for Teaching Science

Paul Nelson writes:
Here's an example. Natural selection, as Darwin discovered, explains the origin of biological complexity, novelty, and innovation. There's a stock phrase that populates any number of official statements about evolution. One could utter that statement in any biology classroom around the USA, and no one would blink. You know: Darwin found the process by which new structures evolved, where they did not exist before.

Now here's the opening argument from a research paper I happen to be reading this week, from the evolutionary theoretician Armin Moczek (2008):
Given its importance and pervasiveness, the processes underlying evolutionary innovation are, however, remarkably poorly understood, which leaves us at a surprising conundrum: while biologists have made great progress over the past century and a half in understanding how existing traits diversify, we have made relatively little progress in understanding how novel traits come into being in the first place.
What happens to the credibility of the science establishment -- on the subject of the bona fides of standard evolutionary theory -- when "Darwin already explained that, put your hand down" comes into contact with "Well, we don't really know?"

Not letting the kids talk about it...there's a winning strategy.
In other words, while the mouthpieces for the scientific establishment keep insisting that there's no reason to question that Evolution has created all of Life as we know it, the actual scientists who do the lab and field work are forced to admit that Evolution explains variations-on-a-theme, but does not explain how the "theme" got there in the first place.

The latter view is consistent with the story of the Bible, with the claims of Creationists (both Old Earth Creationists (OECs) and Young Earth Creationists (YECs)), with the claims of Intelligent Design (ID) theorists, and with everyday observation and experience. It seems that the "On the Origin Of Species"-thumpers are the only ones who refuse to face reality.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Worth Watching

A short 6-minute video, with humor, talking about the issues of Creationism, ID, and Evolutionism.
There are other, quite entertaining, videos at this site also, about all sorts of things.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A New Name

Quite a few times in the past couple of years I've heard the claim that the name "Christian" is the new name referred to in Isaiah 62. Most often it happens in the context of studying Acts 11, in which verse 26 states:
The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
Then the teacher typically has his students turn to Isaiah 62:2b, which states:
You shall be called by a new name,
Which the mouth of YHWH will name.
At first glance, this concept makes sense: God promised the believers a new name; now we're known by the name "Christian".

But when considering the context of Isaiah 62, I believe this idea does violence to the text of God's word. Reading just a couple of verses later, in verse 4, we find that whereas the believers were currently known as "Forsaken", and their land as "Desolate", the new name for believers would be "Hephzibah" ("My Delight Is in Her"), and the new name for their land would be "Beulah" ("Married").

It seems to me that the "new name" of Isaiah 62 is a poetic way of saying that believers have been like the lonely and sad woman who is "never a bride, always a bride's maid", but who would one day find happiness when she is finally loved and wedded.

To force-fit this passage as a prediction of a literal new name for believers, no matter how nice it sounds, is a mangling of the context of Isaiah.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Jesus Sums Up Haggai

The new preacher did it again. He preached from the Tanakh ("Old Testament").

Yo soy muy impressed.

I've read Haggai several times in my life, but before yesterday, I could not have told you what the book was about. But because I was exposed to this short, two-chapter book yesterday, I realize that Jesus summed it up with the simple phrase, "Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you" (Matt. 6:33, paraphrased).

Whereas Jesus puts it in positive terms, and relates it to the spiritual kingdom of God, Haggai puts it in negative terms and relates it to the physical Temple of God:
"You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares YHWH Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands."
This also reminds me of Malachi 3:9-11 (which is often misquoted to mean that an individual will benefit from being generous - the passage actually says that the nation will benefit when its individuals are generous (which, of course, would in turn benefit most of its individuals)):
You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says YHWH Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says YHWH Almighty.
In other words, as Jesus says, seek first the Kingdom of God, and the rest will take care of itself.


A couple of side notes about our new preacher:

A woman mentioned to me that she has been made to consider moving to this church because she sees a humility in this preacher that is attractive. I don't remember her exact wording, but she added something to the effect of "He's a man of God" as opposed to one just "going through the motions".

When I told him he had a good sermon that morning, his response was to deflect the glory to God. Reminds me of Jesus' injunction to "shine your light so that the people may see the glory of the Father in Heaven" (Matt. 5:16, paraphrased).

I bless YHWH for our new preacher.