Monday, December 5, 2016

Should the Christian God be called, "Mother"?

David,

When I think about God or pray to Him, the word I use is "Father" or "Heavenly Father." The reason I do that is that Jesus used "Father" when talking about, or to, God.

However, in the two church communities with which I have relationships, First Methodist and St. Luke's Methodist, the image of God as also our mother seems to be creeping in. A couple of examples are below:

(In a prayer) "God, who is both our father and mother..."

(In a course book) "When we say that God is "creator" rather than "Father" (yes, Mother would work, too)...

Frankly, I'm bothered by this for a number of reasons, not the least of which has to do with the radical feminist movement. So, I ask you this question.

Is there a Biblical basis, especially in the New Testament, for referring to God as our Mother?

What say you?

In Christ (and still in my prayers),

Byrom


Hi Byrom,

Thanks for your question.

It’s interesting to me: considering the thousands of times God is spoken of, rarely is God described as Father or Mother. But, it happens a few times. And it happens when a simile, metaphor, or analogy is being employed.

Sometimes, other people describe God as a Father. For example, Moses is reported to have said, “Is this how you repay the LORD, you foolish, unwise people? Is he not your father, your creator? He has made you and established you.” (Deut. 32:6 NET)

Only a few times in the entire Bible is God said to refer to God’s Self as a “Father” or the like. For example, Jeremiah, speaking on God’s behalf, says, “They will come back shedding tears of contrition. I will bring them back praying prayers of repentance. I will lead them besides streams of water, along smooth paths where they will never stumble. I will do this because I am Israel's father; Ephraim is my firstborn son.'" (Jer. 31:9 NET; cf. 2 Sam. 7:14)

Other times, other people describe God in Mother-like language, like in Deuteronomy 32:11: “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, so the LORD spread out his wings and took him, he lifted him up on his pinions.” (Deut. 32:11 NET)

Other times, God describes God’s self in Mother-like language, only in Hosea and Isaiah (Hosea 13:8; Isaiah 42:14; 49:15; 66:13).

Of course, Jews (and Christians) were, and are, adamant that God is not a creature, and thus, does not have a particular sex. The prophet Balaam said it like this: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a human being, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not make it happen?” (Num. 23:19 NET) Jesus said that God is “Spirit” (i.e., does not have a body, John 4:24). Only God-kind can create, judge, answer prayers, perform “miracles,” etc.. Thus, only God-kind should be worshipped. (BTW: This is exactly the opposite of what Mormons (falsely) teach. They teach that God is, in fact, a creature. For more, see http://www.bible.ca/mor-adam-god.htm)

It’s not clear why the Jews didn’t use sexual language much. Yet, it’s probably for two main reasons: (1) their non-Israelites neighbors typically believed that their gods were biologically related, and the Jews did not; (2) God wasn’t human-kind, and thus, didn’t have a particular sex.

What’s amazing is the overwhelming amount that Jesus speaks of God as “Father.” It’s Jesus’s chief way of addressing Him (only once is God spoken of as Mother, in Matt 23:37//Luke 13:34). Moreover, it’s the chief way the earliest Christians spoke of God.

So, following the example of Jesus and the early church, it’s “Christian” to refer to God chiefly as “Father.” We shouldn’t avoid using “Father” language because of an attempt to be more inclusive of women. I appreciate how Robert Stein said it:

Yet to avoid the metaphor of father as a description and designation for God is to lose sight of the fact that Jesus chose this as his metaphor to address God and that he taught this as the metaphor by which his disciples should address God. It also loses sight of the continuity established by the use of this metaphor with those who have called God "Father" over the centuries. These include the disciples; the earliest congregations (Rom 8:15Gal 4:6); the earliest church councils ("I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth"); and Christian churches all over the globe who over the centuries have prayed together "Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed by thy name."

ἐν χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τῷ κυρίῳ ἡμῶν,

David

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

"The Book of Nothing" - An ironic critique of the New Atheists

This is a piece composed by my very talented brother, Stephen. I asked to publish it here. (You can listen Stephen's powerful testimony in my podcast.)


The Book of Nothing (Chapters 1-10)

1
Before Nothing existed, there existed nothing. No mind, no intelligence, no matter, no energy, no space, no time, no thing. Not even the concept of "no thing" existed, as there was nothing. But as the Prophet Lawrence Krauss hath proclaimed, since “nothing” is the opposite of “something,” Nothing must be Something. And because of that, The Multiverse came into being. Praise be to Nothing! Mighty and Majestic is It.

2
Over eons, the Multiverse, the offspring of Nothing, produced it's own pointless offspring. The Multiverse accidentally begat Universe 1, Universe 2, and so on, until infinity. Indeed, many university chalkboards filled with numbers and mysterious symbols written by Great Prophets eager to avoid intelligent design have shown that so many Universes exist that we cannot begin to fathom their numbers. And even though we cannot observe these other Universes, or measure Them, or interact with Them, or possibly know anything about Them, our faith remains strong in the existence of these Parallel Universes. For without the Multiverse, Our Universe would be a unique creation. Praise be to Nothing, and all thanks be to It. May You continue to produce in great number both Parallel Universes and Prophets that popularize the idea, as it brings great joy to many potheads to imagine themselves doing something really cool in a Parallel Universe. Praise be to Nothing! Mighty and High are Its Ways!

3
Now some Prophets hath proclaimed that life on Earth originated from the Sun warming up a pool of soup to just the right temperature. But as the Great Prophet and Evolutionary Biologist, Holy and Perfect be his Name, Richard Dawkins, saw in a great vision, a highly-evolved civilization from outer space may have travelled to Earth and went on to engineer, with meticulous, accidental precision, the complex conditions and materials needed to produce the first single-celled organism. But regardless of how Nothing accidentally caused life to form, the first cell would accidentally lead to the development of highly-complex animals known as Humans, the most incredible of which would become the Great Prophets of Nothing. Peace be upon them.

4
Among the Greatest Prophets of Nothing was the Naturalist Charles Darwin, Hallowed be Thy Name. Early in life, Darwin was a believer in God, but one day he noticed that not all birds are the same height, nor do they all eat the same thing, which made it obviously clear that God could not exist. Praise be to Nothing. Then, in a vision received from Nothing, Darwin saw a process that would open the door for moral relativism in a new way, a combination of Random Mutation and Natural Selection, that would accidentally produce millions of species of plants and animals, even Humans, over hundreds of millions of years and without design. Revelations from this vision would later be written down in the book, “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life,” a Holy Book that that would help many world leaders justify, on scientific grounds, racism and the murder of over one hundred million people in the 20th century alone! Thanks and praise be to Nothing!

5
And it came to be known that it is mathematically impossible for Random Mutation and Natural Selection to produce Humans from a single-celled organism if the Earth is only hundreds of millions years old. So it came to pass that the Earth should be billions of years old instead. And if it is it ever found that billions of years is not enough time for Us to avoid intelligent design, then our Universe shall be trillions of years old, and if necessary, bagillions. And anyone who questions these age estimates or the methods used to arrive at them shall surely lose their teaching job and be ridiculed online! This is the will of Nothing. Unintentional and Not-Designed is His name.

6
And Nothing said unto to his Prophets, “Go and make all nations of the world believers in Me. Thou shalt reap great rewards in the form of respect from those who are eager to avoid absolute morals, as well as favor among left-wing politicians and journalists whose political views benefit from the absence of God. And if thou art ambitious enough, thou shalt be offered book deals and television appearances. Thou shalt also have a great number of devoted followers who shall support you with great fervor online.” And the Online Atheists did appear, and continue to spend countless hours of their limited time on Earth going to YouTube, searching for videos about God, watching those videos about God, then reading the comments below the video, then typing and submitting their own comments or even producing their own videos in which they argue that anyone who wastes their time arguing over God is an idiot. Peace be upon these Online Atheists, for their inability to see the irony in that is priceless.

7
And it came to pass that the Humans begat a subspecies known as creationists, the most evil of infidels, for they see purpose and design in the Universe, and even worse: objective morality. And among them came many false prophets of Science, who claim that God and Science are not in conflict. Among these creationist liars are Nobel Prize winners, medical doctors, surgeons, cosmologists, biologists, mathematicians, engineers, physicists, molecular biologists, paleontologists, geologists, and geneticists. Through some type of trickery, these creationists somehow continue to successfully practice Science in their respective disciplines. And even more woe to those scientists and researchers who are skeptical of Darwin, for they are increasing in numbers!

8
Praise be to Nothing! And woe to the Christians and their God!  For it shall come to pass that Nothing, in Its infinite power, shall strike these false prophets with a vengeance at a time and place unknown to anyone because Its revenge shall be the result of an unguided, undirected process, and will be separate from the wrath of the Online Atheists, who will surely post something daily.

9
Go, therefore, and read the Books of the Great Prophets of Nothing. And put your faith in these Atheist Scientists alone, and accept as truth anything they say, including what is outside the parameters of Science, else you are doomed to wander astray and begin to see design and eternal purpose in life, or even worse, guilt for certain behaviors. And if Thou are not much for reading books, it is acceptable in the eyes of Nothing to study Its Word found routinely in the news or on PBS, BBC, and The History Channel. These one-sided, clearly biased articles and television shows do much to popularize the belief in Nothing, going so far as to perpetuate a myth that Jesus never existed. After pouring over the Word of Nothing, it is also acceptable in the eyes of Nothing to watch other shows on the above networks, including “Downton Abbey” and “Pawn Stars.”

10
All praise and thanks be to Nothing, which in order to avoid design, accidentally created a Multiverse, which accidentally created our Universe, which accidentally created a bowl of soup (or Aliens), which accidentally created a single-celled organism, which accidentally created You. And if you do not accept this as the only reasonable explanation, the Great Prophet Richard Dawkins, peace be upon Him, hath made it clear that you are “ignorant, stupid or insane.” All praise and thanks be to Nothing, for It is the Opposite of Something!


Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Was John the Baptist really Elijah?" -- My Response

David

I have been hung up the past few weeks on Matthew Chapter 11. Specifically where Jesus references John the Baptist as Elijah. At first it escaped me as being just more of a reference to John being likened to a prophet. As I read more in the commentaries and researched a bit online and YouTube it is more confusing to me.

Some argue that, no John is not Elijah and the proof is in Revelations chapter 10 or 11 (?) when they mention the two prophets. The two are supposed to be Moses and Elijah.

And others are on the side of no because of the fact that Jesus was not accepted by the Jews and therefore Elijah could not have yet returned I believe this was referencing Malachi 3:1

But there are those who argue that indeed Jesus was stating that John was Elijah as stated in Matthew 11:13-15. The argument is that one would have to believe in the events to mark the coming of Jesus and the fact of Jesus' identity.

Anyway I have now gotten over my head on this and would really like your clarity on this subject.

I also want to thank you for your help always. I know I am at a snails pace going through this material but so much seems to be new to me. I appreciate that you are there to bounce questions off of. This means a lot to me sincerely.

Mark 


Hey,

Good question.

Because of 2 Kings 2:11, Jews developed the belief that Elijah was still alive in the heavenly realms. They believed he didn’t die. In Jewish apocalyptic literature, it was common to state that Elijah would return right before judgment (which is evidenced as early as Malachi 4:5, and then appears in later Jewish literature often).

If you read Matthew 11:13-15 at “plain meaning,” which is sometimes the proper way to interpret, then it would mean that Jesus really thought his cousin, John the Baptizing One, was Elijah the prophet.

I’m not sure if I find the “plain meaning” compelling. Why? Because Jesus would have certainly known that John was his cousin, born of his aunt, Elizabeth (in Luke 1). John didn’t come from the heavenly realms…he came from Palestine. Jesus would have played with John at family reunions and religious holidays. They would have grown-up together, you might say. Moreover, Jesus calls John, “John,” almost every single time he’s mentioned. He only calls John, “Elijah,” in one instance.

Moreover, I don’t think anyone believed that John was the actual Elijah, since Elijah was still in the heavenly realms (as made explicit in the so-called “Transfiguration” scene in Mark 9:4).

So, I don’t think Jesus really believed that his cousin was the actual Elijah.

Instead, I believe that Jesus meant that his cousin, John, was functioning like Jews believed Elijah would function. Like Elijah was supposed to call people to repentance (Malachi 4:6), so, too, John does with the Jews. Jesus is referencing John symbolically (though Jews of his time would probably not have understood Elijah’s return symbolically, which is one reason it’s so hard for them to accept it, I think).

Then why not say that? Why say that “he is Elijah” (Matt 11:14) instead of “John is like Elijah”? Because of the force of that language. Jesus also said that a person must eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53), and that his disciples must “hate his father and mother and brother and sister” (Luke 14:26), and on and on. The point is, it was common for Jesus to speak this way. It’s completely appropriate to interpret this saying by Jesus to mean that John is like Elijah in the fact that John acts like Elijah in his role.

And…that reference to Revelation 11 is irrelevant in my opinion. John the prophet didn’t write Matthew, nor seem to consult Matthew in his theology. So, I let Revelation speak for itself, in the language of apocalyptic (which is a whole other issue!).

So, for those “who can accept it” (Matt 11:14), we accept John’s role as the one who prepared the Jews for the Kingdom message of Jesus.

These are my thoughts!

In Christ,
David


"Can Christians play Pokemon Go?" -- My Response

Hi, thank for your time.

There is a hot debate among Christians regarding the game Pokemon Go. Usually one of the concerns that some Christians have against this game is some of the Characters in the pokemon world. Some will say that some characters are demons or spirits based from Japanese folklore or has some connection with the occult. Others have said that every person's situation is different. Every person's heart is different. One person may be able to play a certain game with no ill effects while someone else might play the same game and become obsessed. We must each ask God for wisdom about our individual situations and what is best for us. There is no blanket rule when it comes to playing video games. Therefore perception is required here like certain movies,video games,clothing apparel,etc... Like to hear how other Christians feel about this and how you deal with these issues when there is a disagreement with other Christians? Thank you 


Thanks for the question. I’ve never heard people oppose that game, so this is new to me.

Can Christians be involved with things that are associated with foreign beliefs or religions (like yoga, or Halloween, or certain movies or video games)? The NT gives different responses depending on the what the association does to the Christian. On the one hand, if we are associated with something that causes us to worship other gods, then it should be abandoned. This was called “idolatry.” This is what’s going on in Acts 15:20; 1 Cor 5:11; 6:9; 10:7, 14, etc. However, if we are get involved with something that is associated with other gods/religious ideas, but we do not worship them, then that depends on the person’s conscience. That is, if a person isn’t tempted to worship other gods because of what she’s doing, then it’s OK if your conscience says it’s OK. This is what’s going on in 1 Cor. 8. I encourage you to read those texts for yourself.

So, I think it depends on whether or not playing Pokemon Go causes you to worship other gods or do something immoral. If it doesn’t, I see nothing wrong with doing it based on the New Testament.

In Christ,
David


Saturday, October 15, 2016

"What's the difference between temptation and sin? And, can thoughts be sins?" -- My response

David,  In bible study this last week we were talking about anger - study in James on the tongue.  One of the ladies said she only had a problem with anger in her mind, her thoughts.  There was a discussion on "sinning" by thinking.  In the same book where it talks about temptation - let no man say when he is tempted he is tempted by God, for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.  but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full grown gives birth to death.   having said this,  my thoughts were that temptation is/can be the thoughts of sin, however the actual sin is the action or behavior or the carrying out of the thought (temptation).  So I said let me encourage you - if you only thought of acting in anger but chose not to then you did not sin ( i was clearly in the minority of this view)  If thoughts are sin - what is the difference between temptation and sin? obviously most of the women in the bible study disagreed with me  citing Jesus teaching in Matthew about if a man looks on a woman with lust in his heart he has sinned. What are your thoughts?

Regards,
Angela 


Hey!

That's a great question.

Temptation is the enticement to do wrong. One could translate the same Greek term as “seduce” or “entice.” It’s when a person or an evil force suggests that a person sin.

Yet, defining “sin” is a big issue. In a generalized sense, “to sin” means “to do wrong, offend, to be in error.” Based on every instance of the term in the Bible, it sure seems to me that sinning is only a behavior.

Therefore, I do not think thinking can be a sin. I concur with you. This is certainly true with anger. Controlling our anger is a very righteous thing to do! It’s why we’re supposed to “control our tongue.” Anger is a feeling. (I just preached on this topic: http://fcclawrence.org/resources/sermons/ )

Matthew 5:28 might suggest that a person’s “strong desire for” (which is typically translated, “lust”) is a sin. But, it doesn’t specify if that “strong desire for” is an action (remember, Jesus says when a “person looks upon” – “looking upon” is an action!), a thought, a feeling, or something else. However, even if it does refer to a thought, it’s the only place in the Bible that I can find that suggests one particular thought is a sin. So, it wouldn’t apply to all thoughts at all times as being open to sinning. In any case, I don’t think Jesus really meant that to be understood as a thought equals sin. I’m convinced that Jesus was being hyperbolic. I don’t think Jesus really thought that if a person had a strong desire for someone it really meant the person had an affair. Instead, I think Jesus’s point is that affairs begin within a person’s desire for someone else. Instead of just being on guard for actually having an affair, each person should be on guard about wanting to have an affair in the first place.

My interpretation might be wrong, but I don’t think so.

Those are my thoughts!
David

Monday, October 3, 2016

"Daggum it" -- I lost a podcast listener

Hi Dr.D.
I've been listening to Glimpse of the Kingdom podcast for a while now, and aside from a few theological points I don't agree on I've been enjoying them.  Until I heard you say "dadgum."  Which is slang for God damn.  I really don't appreciate hearing a man of God (or anyone, for that matter) blaspheme.  The proverbial last straw was your "sermon" on Worry, which you said it about three times in the same sentence.  I'm afraid I can't listen to your podcast anymore because of that.  It's really turned me off of your work and made me sad that someone of your education and standing would take God's name in vain.  I feel especially wrong listening as I have small children around while I listen.

Anyway, I wanted to let you know... Just because we are raised hearing certain words and have become accustomed to them doesn't give us the right to use them, whether it's gosh darn, goldang or dad gum it's all derivative of God damn.

Thank you for your time, and blessings to you, Sherri

Regards,
Sherri


Hi Sherri,

I'm sorry to hear that you'll no longer be listening to my podcasts, especially for the reason that you gave.

Actually, "dadgum" is the corruption of "God damn," not "daggum," which is the term that I actually use. In any case, I'm aware of the etymology of the term, "dadgum." However, the origin of a word in no way implies that it's used the same in different times and different cultures. Terms change usage. A "bachelor" originally referred to "young knight," but I don't use the term that way today. "Awful" originally meant, "worthy of awe," but I don't use the term that way today. One could cite copious such examples.

What matters is how I'm using the term in linguistic context. And I have never used the term, "daggum" to mean "May God damn something to hell" (which is what it originally referred to--it was shorthand for a prayer that God condemn/"damn" someone). Instead, I use it in its common Southern US usage, as an exclamation of intense emotion.

Moreover, "God damn" isn't blasphemy in any biblical sense of the term. So, I'm uncertain what you think "blasphemy" means or how it is to be used. In the Bible, to "blaspheme" means "to slander" (e.g., Mark 7:22; Rom 3:8, et al.). When it's used of things relating to God, it means to "slander God's character or activity." It's to claim that something human is divine or visa versa, or that something human claims divine prerogative (e.g., Mark 2:7; 14:64). I have never claimed that a human was divine or that God (the Father) was human. Thus, I am not guilty of blasphemy.

So, I'm uncertain which biblical mandate you think I've violated. I know of none. (And Exod. 20:7 is irrelevant because I'm not mentioning God's name, nor would I ever do such a thing. And if a person were to “use God’s name in vain,” that is certainly not the definition of “blasphemy.”)

Of course I believe that cursing God’s name or using various expletives isn’t Christian. All words should be beneficial for “building up” (Eph. 4:29). It’s just that I don’t share your definition and usage of the term, “daggum,” and never have in my whole life heard it used to mean what you say it means. In the South, no one used it that way where I was from. I respect your view; I just don’t see any reason to hold your view. (I once had a woman very upset with me because I used the term, “crap,” in a sermon, because to her it was a horrible slang term for excrement. Where I was raised it meant, “junk” or “that which is worthless,” or at other times, it was also an exclamation of intense emotion. Nevertheless, because of her own definition, she was upset.)

Thanks for your time! I certainly wish you the best.

I pray God uses you mightily in His Kingdom,
David 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Was it OK to beat slaves in the Old Testament?

Hi David,

I was talking to my husband about what we learned tonight, and when i got to the bit about slavery he immediately brought up Exodus 21:20-21. I have to admit, it does paint a rather ugly picture, but I'm hoping you'll have some insight you can share to help me explain it better. I've no doubt this is not the first time someone has come to you with this verse. :)

Thanks!
Sarah

Hey,

I’m not sure what bothers him.

These verses come within a larger context of legal code given to the Israelites by Moses. And, since I don’t know what bothers him, I’ll only say a couple things that might be bothering him…but I’m only guessing.

(1)    In nearly every single instance of the OT, a “slave” is really a “debt servant.” These were people who either (a) owed a person so much money that they had to go work for the master to pay him off; (b) were sold into that kind of slavery by a parent or relative to help work off the debt; or (c) were just so very poor that they sold themselves into slavery in order to survive (have something to eat, have shelter, etc.)

(2)    These legal codes are not moral prescriptions. These are not ways that the Israelites “should behave.” So, in this passage, the text is not saying or suggesting that masters should go around beating their servants. This is telling the Israelites that in the case that a master beats his servant, what the punishment would be. It in no way condones beating slaves. Masters were supposed to be good to their servants, but not all of them were.

So, does this help?

Sorry, I should have been more specific.  The part that bothers him is that the master is only to be punished if the servant dies. He understands that the servant is paying off a debt, but doesn't feel that they were expected to be treated well if the master could basically do whatever he wanted to the servant, free of punishment, as long as they survived it.

I was trying to explain to him the various ways that God took care of the servants in the Old Testament, but he brought up these verses, asking why there's no punishment for beating a slave as long as they don't die. Maybe it's the wording, or just the harsh truth. I just don't know how to make it sound less barbaric to him.

Hey,

No doubt that when you gave yourself up to a master in order to pay off your debt, you lost certain rights. Yet, while slaves were certainly not supposed to be beaten, the debt-slave was the “property” of the master at that point. 

However, there is no reason at all to think that “the master could basically do whatever he wanted to the servant.” In fact, these verses curtail abuse. I think that, in general, if you treated a slave poorly, they were to be set free (as is made explicit in 21:6). This punishment isn’t to encourage them to “go beat your slave.” Instead, this is to curtail the abuse of discipline when the slave did something wrong that demanded some consequences. That is, some debt slaves would do immoral/illegal things and there were negative consequences to pay for it. And, beating them with a rod was common punishment for doing something immoral or illegal. (Remember, there were no jails back then! And, the slaves couldn’t pay a fine to make up for whatever they did wrong since they were in debt slavery.)
DP

Okay, that makes sense. Thanks for the clarification! As you know, nonbelievers tend to pick apart every little verse, and this is one I struggled with explaining. I appreciate your time and insight.



Thursday, August 25, 2016

"What's the story behind fasting?" My response to a question

"Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2. “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you”. 3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth."

What is the story behind fasting?  I do not remember reading anything in the Bible from God saying we should fast.  Just a tradition? 

Even Jesus seemed neutral; he just said if you do it - do not do it to be seen by others as sacrificing for your own personal benefit.

Dennis



Hey Dennis,

In the Old Testament, and in later rabbinic Judaism, fasting was practiced for several reasons: as a sign of mourning (i.e., “I’m too sad to eat), as a sign of repentance (i.e., “I gave up sinning and food”), to increase the efficacy of prayer, supplication for others, or to pursue heavenly wisdom.

So, while I doubt the entire city of Nineveh repented of their sins in mourning and fasting, Jews would have assumed that fasting was a part of mourning over sin.

You’re right: the Bible never gives a moral commandment to observe fasts. Instead, it is assumed in ancient Judaism to be a part of religious life for the reasons I mentioned above. Moreover, Jesus never commands it; he just regulates it (Matt. 6:16-18).

This is why I don’t teach/preach that Christians should do it. They certainly can do it; and, perhaps it helps them. I know some people really enjoy fasting—it helps them re-gain focus. Instead of eating/drinking, they pray and/or read their Bibles.

Of course, modern fasting is almost always partial. In ancient Judaism, it seems, fasting was total (like Muslims today during Ramadan, at least during the daytime). Ancient Jews don't seem to have just skipped a meal: they didn’t eat or drink all day long, or even for a few days in a row!

For the Kingdom,
David

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Was Jesus omniscient? What does it matter?

Hey David!!  I really enjoyed reading your response to the question about the validity of the Flood narrative (found here)!!  I thought it was a great response!  You mentioned that Jesus made an "error" when He claimed that the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds.  I'm assuming you don't believe in biblical inerrancy, which is totally fine, but do you think this (http://christiananswers.net/q-aiia/mustardseed.html) is a reasonable, compelling response to the mustard seed "error"?  Thanks David!!  

Ryan

Yeah…I’ve heard that explanation before. :)

It seems we have a two options:
1) Jesus was ignorant of (at least) botanical information of all the earth’s seeds and plants, or
2) Jesus did have complete botanical knowledge and chose to say the wrong thing.

It just seems like option #1 is the most probable. He says that the seed is the smallest “upon the earth,” not “in Israel” or “in Palestine” or “in this region of the earth.”

If He chose to say the wrong thing so that the local people would understand Him, then where is the evidence for this? We have no indication in the text. It would be merely an assumption of Jesus’s knowledge.

That is the real rub, in my experience, for certain Christians. Can Jesus be ignorant? Or, is He omniscient during his earthly ministry? If we assume Jesus was not omniscient, in my view, it makes the best of sense of all the data. (I also think Jesus didn’t know about nuclear physics or black holes or everything else that’s been discovered in the previous 2,000 years.)

So, I think it’s this issue, rather than inerrancy, that is really at stake (unless a person were to argue that Jesus really said something else and the Gospel authors wrote down the wrong thing…but I don’t hear this option).

I do think the Bible is “inerrant” in what we need to know about God. It’s clearly not inerrant when it comes to some other things (like believing there are massive, cosmic water sources below and above the earth, that the sky is a hard "firmament," etc.).

That’s my view!
David


Hey there!!  I had a couple sorta follow up questions to Jesus' omniscience, which are completely hypothetical questions and would never be possible to actualize (unless time-travel were somehow invented, preferably using a Delorean!  Lol! ;-).  But, say I was to go back in time and meet Jesus, and I started talking to Him in English.  Do you think He would look at me strangely because He would have no idea what I was saying to Him?  I think that answer would be most assuredly yes.  My second question, though, is would He be able to know my thoughts?  My thoughts are essentially in English, although I suppose many of my thoughts could be understood solely by visuals.  So, maybe He would be able to see them but not fully understand them.  I don't know, it's just something I thought would be fun and interesting to speculate on, even though I don't think it has any practical application in my walk with Christ.  I'm assuming He had people from outside Palestine and the Roman Empire come to see Him during His ministry who had no knowledge of Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew, but they wanted to see who this amazing man was anyway.  I wonder if knowledge of their languages was supernaturally bestowed upon Him during those moments so He could communicate with them and teach them?  Anyways, pretty bizarre questions, but was just interested what you thought of them.  Thanks David!!  Have a great weekend and a great service this Sunday!!! :-)


Hey Ryan,

These are good questions. They actually surface a great topic: was the earthly Jesus omniscient, and if not, to what kind of knowledge did He have access?

Usually, in my research, people usually are polarized. It's binary: all or nothing. Either Jesus was omniscient or He wasn't. So, typically, interpreters who believe Jesus was NOT omniscient typically don't think Jesus could understand other languages, understand botany, astrophysics, etc. For those who DO believe Jesus was omniscient, they typically say that Jesus knew all of those things, but just didn't teach about them. And, those texts which seem to demonstrate Jesus's ignorance can be explained away.

The real theological impetus behind this question has to do with Jesus's divinity. It's an issue of christology, particularly in Christian philosophy. In Christian philosophical circles, it usually goes like this:

1. Christian orthodoxy maintains that Jesus is the God-Man, Second Member of the Trinity;
2. To be considered deity, one must possess the "great-making properties" that only deity possesses (e.g., omnipresence, omniscience, aseity);
3. If Jesus does not possess even one of these "great-making properties" of deity, than Jesus was not deity;
4. Therefore, Jesus MUST have possessed these properties.

Then, the REAL rub comes from texts like Phil. 2:7, which speaks of Jesus "emptying" Himself. An enormous amount of literature has been written on how to reconcile Jesus "emptying" Himself while still maintaining the great-making properties of deity. The best example of this that I know is The Logic of God Incarnate by Thomas Morris. Morris methodically denounces all theories that attempt to reconcile this issue and offers his own explanation (that William Lane Craig endorses). (In case you're interested, Morris's suggestion is that Jesus must have had subconscious omniscience--it was there below the surface, but He could not access it.)

Here are my quick thoughts about all this (and these are just quick thoughts).

First, Jesus was/is most certainly the God-Man. I hold to the Social Trinity Model (for a great explanation, read here). I hold to the neo-Apollinarian Christological view (i.e., that the divine Logos was/is the "soul" of Jesus. The Logos united with a human body, and thus, Jesus became the God-Man. To contrast, I also hold the view that human souls are created new. Jesus's soul was NOT created new--it's the eternal Logos/Word.)

Second, the "great-making properties" that is common in Anselmian philosophy holds some value. However, I typically don't make much of them. Why? Because (1) philosophers are still not in agreement to what counts as "great-making" so that causes confusion in the theological discussion; (2) great-making properties seems largely culturally determined, which is deeply problematic; and chiefly, (3) they are foreign to how ancient Jews thought (in many regards). 

Ancient Jews thought of deity primarily (though not only) in function, not in ontology (or "essence"). So, they would say that deity creates, judges, rules over the cosmos, issues moral commandments, etc.. I tend to stay with the Biblical text and the way they thought. (To be clear, I'm NOT against the Christian philosophical tradition!)

Third, and this is a big one!, I'm convinced that everyone who reads Phil. 2 as "emptying" great-making properties or "deity-ness" in some sense are completely wrong. I'm convinced that Paul was not talking about that whatsoever. Rather, in context, Paul is simply speaking of Jesus's role of Ruler over the cosmos. Remember, to Jews, only God rules over all. So, for Jesus to "exist" in utter "equality" with God (the Father) (2:6) is NOT to be a slave, but a Ruler. This is precisely the contrast Paul is making in 2:7. Jesus let go of His rule over the cosmos and became humanity's servant.

So, the only thing Jesus "emptied" Himself of (in this Philippian hymn, at least) is His function of ruling over all the cosmos. Nothing of His "essence" (or ontology) changed in this hymn. (What precisely happened in reality--what it takes for a divine soul to reside in a human body--is unknown to me. I just know that this hymn doesn't tell us!)

So, bottom line, I think every single author on this topic among Christian philosophers has completely mis-read Paul. I know--that's a big charge--but I'm convinced they're wrong. They are importing into this text WAY more than Paul could have possibly imagined. He was a first-century Jew, not a post-Anselmian philosopher!

Therefore, I see no dilemma to resolve. We don't have to reconcile great-making properties with deity if we avoid the later philosophical categories, and instead employ biblical terminology, and then properly read Philippians 2.

This is why I have no problem believing that Jesus was not omniscient during His earthly ministry. I don't need omniscience as a great-making property of Jesus so that He can still be considered deity to me. Why? Because first-century Jews didn't need to understand Jesus as omniscient in order to believe He was deity. If they didn't need it, neither do I.

So, when when Jesus demonstrates ignorance (e.g., Mark 4:31; 5:30; 13:32), I think it's OK. What matters to a first-century Jew are things like whether or not Jesus really can forgive (Mark 2:5-7) or judge/gather the "elect" (Mark 13:26-27; Luke 9:26; John 12:48) or create (Mark 6:43). 

I think (most of?) Jesus's earthly knowledge was limited to His training and education just like yours is and mine is. I don't think Jesus would understand one word that I spoke to Him if I were to travel back in time. English wasn't invented yet. 

Moreover, I don't think Jesus could read minds (verses like Mark 2:8 don't demonstrate He could read minds; it demonstrates Jesus knew how people thought--He could tell what they were thinking, not read their minds). (Also, it's much more likely that Jesus simply knew the man who would have a room prepared in Mark 14:13, rather than Jesus made some prophecy. Remember, Jesus had spent considerable time in Judea during His life. John's Gospel has Jesus almost exclusively in Judea, rather than a Galilean locale as in the Synoptic Gospels.)

Now, I certainly believe Jesus had wisdom and insight from the Spirit. He seems to have received this insight when He prayed (as is implied in texts like Mark 1:35-38 and 14:36). I also am convinced, along with N.T. Wright and others (though this is a hotly debated topic in scholarship!), that Jesus really had a deep-seated, intuitive sense that He wasn't a normal human. I'm convinced Jesus really did believe that He was God's anointed One who was to usher in the Kingdom of God, and upon whom the sins of the world were to be placed for our salvation. It's just that this kind of knowledge or awareness doesn't mean that Jesus could teach you calculus or the the nature of quantum mechanics.

So much for my "quick thoughts." I know this might generate new questions--which is fine!--but I wanted to spend a little bit of time unpacking my view because you asked.

In Christ,
David

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Do I have to prove that the flood happened?

I have another question for you and it is a theological one. What are your thoughts on the Validity of the story of the ark? I have a hard time taking it in a total literal sense given that it was recorded so long ago. I'm a believer that has struggled with doubt many times in my life as I know you have from listening to your podcasts. Part of me says it doesn't matter but when I get into debates with people of "science" it gets a little difficult. My theory is that in the time of the event they said the entire earth was flooded but If they didn't have an accurate knowledge of how big the entire earth was. How do you deal with the debate on this subject? I do believe the bible is Gods word. And from my experience when you start doubting some people get really offended by your doubt. Any answers on that would help. 

Thanks, 
Friend


Hey brother,

That’s a good question. I do think some type of major flooding occurred since a flood narrative appears in a few ancient sources in the Mesopotamian world. How “global” it was, I’m not sure, for the same reason you stated. There is simply no reason to believe that they understood the earth like we do. They thought the earth was much, much smaller, hard, flat, and contained in a small, hard dome. They thought the flood occurred because God re-opened the cosmic "flood gates" from above and below (see Gen. 7:11 and cf. 1:2). (Of course, we know that no such bodies of water exist.)

One might argue that God revealed to them that the entire earth (as moderns understand it) was flooded. This is certainly possible. I just don’t find it compelling. God seems never to change a biblical author’s “scientific” view on anything (even Jesus got a botanical fact inadvertently wrong in Mark 4:31, since the mustard seed is not the smallest seed on earth).

So, I do think a flood occurred. I don’t know how much land was affected.

(Recall how in Luke 2:1, the “whole world” clearly doesn’t mean the “whole world,” since the Roman empire didn’t cover the “whole world.”)

Concerning how to talk to skeptics, I ask the question, “What’s at stake in this question? If I demonstrate to you that the flood occurred, does that mean you’ll repent of your sins and become a disciple of Jesus? If not, then why are you interested in this topic? What’s at stake?”

In my experience, what’s really at stake is attacking some simple issues so that they can throw the baby out with the bathwater. If a skeptic wants to dismiss the entire collection of biblical books because there is no hard scientific evidence for a massive, Mesopotamian flood, then I always respond, “I don’t find that convincing whatsoever. I see no reason to judge the historical verisimilitude of at least 66 various books in the Protestant Bible because of an ancient flood narrative. If I couldn’t offer scientific evidence for some fact given in a book in the library, I would never say, ‘We now know that the entire library is false.’ That’s silly. Moreover, if you’re genuinely interested in the Christian worldview, I’d love to chat about Jesus and his resurrection. That’s the basis of my faith—not an ancient flood narrative.”


For people who need every single fact in the Bible to be scientifically demonstrable in order to trust in the authority of Scripture as a whole, then that person has huge problems in my view since we lack that evidence for a whole range of biblical “facts.”

That’s my view! We can chat more in person if you’d like about it.
David

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