Featured Post

The Oldest Books in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible

As anyone with even a cursory familiarity with the Judeo-Christian Bible knows, that book is composed of a collection of writings which were...

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Trumpets and the Bible

Trumpets are a prominent symbol in the King James Version of the Bible. Unfortunately, this symbolism is too often overlooked or intentionally ignored within the Christian Church. Within Judaism, however, Rosh Hashanah is the "Head of the Year." (See Chabad.org's What Is Rosh Hoshanah?) To the Jews, it is the "Day of Shofar Blowing," "Day of Remembrance," and "Day of Judgement." (Same article) To be sure, a few Christians have observed the "Feast of Trumpets" and have offered various interpretations of the day's significance for Christians. Even so, one is left with the distinct impression that the trumpet does not occupy a very prominent place within the thinking of most of the Judeo-Christian world!

This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the place which this imagery occupies in their Scriptures! The word "trumpet" occurs 61 times in the KJV of the Bible, and the plural form occurs 51 times! (See Trumpet(s) in Blue Letter Bible's online version of Strong's Concordance) Now, admittedly, not all of those uses of the English word "trumpet(s)" refers to the same Hebrew word. More often than not, this is a translation of the Hebrew word "shofar" - the curved ram's horn used by the ancients. (Same source) However, it is also used to designate the Hebrew word "hasosra" - a silver wind instrument. (Same source) Even so, trumpets were employed by the ancient Israelites to 1) announce the presence of God, 2) summon the people to gather together, 3) move their camp when they were wandering in the wilderness, 4) signal the people in times of war, 5) announce sacrifices and celebrations, 6) praise God, and 7) announce the appointment of a new king after the kingdom was established. (See Zipporah's Meaning of Trumpets and Bible Den's Trumpets in the Bible)

Of course, understanding the various ways that "trumpets" were used by the ancient Israelites is essential to fulfilling the Torah's instructions regarding the Feast of Trumpets. In the book of Leviticus, we read: "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation." (23:24) Notice that this was to be a "memorial" or "zikaron" (Hebrew, see Blue Letter Bible's Strong's article on zikaron). So, we see that the sense of the original Hebrew was that this was to be a memorial or reminder of this practice (sounding the trumpet). In other words, this Holy Day was intended to force the people to remember the role which God had assigned to the blowing of these trumpets in the practice of both their national and religious lives.

In the writings which we now refer to as the New Testament, we can see how this familiar symbolism was employed in the Christian faith and message. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that Christ said that his return to this earth and the gathering of the elect would be accompanied by the blast of a trumpet (24:30-31). Additionally, the apostle Paul wrote to the saints of Corinth that the resurrection of the righteous dead to immortality would follow the sounding of the last trumpet (I Corinthians 15:52). Likewise, he wrote to the saints of Thessalonica that Christ's return and the resurrection of "the dead in Christ" would be preceded by the "trump of God" (I Thessalonians 4:16). Finally, in the book of Revelation, John describes seven trumpets which announce a series of events prior to the end of the age and the establishment of God's Kingdom on this earth (see chapters 8-11).

Interestingly, in his booklet Pagan Holidays - or God's Holy Days -Which?, Herbert Armstrong noted the trumpet's connection to the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead and speculated that Christ may even return on that day! Likewise, in his excellent book The Thread: God's Appointments with History, the late Ron Dart emphasized the Feast of Trumpets connection to the resurrection and speculated about the joyous celebration which that event might engender among God's saints. Unfortunately, both men appeared to believe that the observance of the actual festival was as important to Christians as what the blast of that final trumpet actually symbolized. Even so, both of them also appeared to understand the trumpet's symbolic connection to the way that it had been used by the ancient Israelites (e.g., as a means of summoning/gathering, announcing, celebrating and praising).

Unfortunately, while the Church of God International mentions the resurrection and return of Christ in connection with the Feast of Trumpets, it adds a disturbing element which seeks to justify a very negative and controversial element of the beliefs of some of its members regarding that organization's messaging! In their summary of the Feast of Trumpets, we read that: "This festival represents the preaching of the gospel to the world by God’s faithful watchmen who have the responsibility of arousing the people from their spiritual slumber (Ezekiel 33:1–16). At this point, God has ceased to let mankind go his own way. The time has come to sound the alarm and attempt to save as many as we can—to save man from himself. Otherwise, man will succeed in self-destruction."

Never mind, that God was speaking to Ezekiel about his message to ancient Israel - they believe that the United States and Great Britian represent the modern manifestation of Israel on this earth! In the passage which they quoted above, God compared Ezekiel's commission to the job of the watchman - who was responsible for warning the people of impending danger (like the approach of an army). In other words, Ezekiel would be responsible for presenting God's warning message to the people of Israel, and God would hold him personally responsible if he failed to do so. Of course, the thing which CGI (and many other ACOGs) fails to comprehend is that the Christian message is completely different from the one which Ezekiel was expected to deliver to Israel! At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, we read that Christ told his disciples: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you..." (28:19-20) I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound anything like a warning message for Israel to me!

In similar fashion, CGI likes to appropriate God's instructions to Isaiah. In that Old Testament book of prophecy, we read: "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins." (Isaiah 58:1) Of course, CGI focuses on the "lift up thy voice like a trumpet" in this connection. Once again, their attachment to Anglo-Israelism has convinced them that their primary responsibility is to take up the mantle of Ezekiel and Isaiah and warn the Israelites away from their sins. Moreover, this compulsion appears to be so strong that it has caused them to abandon any feeling of responsibility to fulfill Christ's commission to his disciples - to preach his gospel (good news) to the world. Instead of sharing Christ's good news, they are dedicated to warning English-speaking people about their sins! I don't know about you, but that seems like quite a contrast to me!

Unlike Herbert Armstrong and the folks at CGI, I prefer to think of trumpets announcing Christ's return and the resurrection of the Christian dead. While I no longer share their view that Christians are obligated to observe the Feast of Trumpets (or the other festivals outlined in the Torah), I continue to see a great deal of value in this symbolism for Christians. I continue to look forward to the blast of that final trump.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Using God's Name for Falsehood

You shall not use the name of Jehovah your God irreverently, nor use it to swear to a falsehood. You will not escape punishment if you do. -- Exodus 20:7, Living Bible

According to the Jewish Virtual Library's Article on The Name of God, the above referenced commandment "refers solely to oath-taking, and <it> is a prohibition against swearing by God's Name falsely or frivolously (the word normally translated as "in vain" literally means 'for falsehood.'" Hence, from the Jewish perspective, proclaiming a message in God's name is serious business.

In this connection, it is interesting to note that Herbert W Armstrong was in the habit of signing his letters "In Christ's Name," and by claiming that he was "Christ's apostle." In light of the fact that we now know that many of the things that he taught were falsehoods, what does that suggest to us about Armstrong's relationship to this commandment? What's more, what does that suggest to us about those who continue to perpetuate those falsehoods in Christ's name? And, finally, what does that suggest to us about those who have worked to underscore and correct those falsehoods? In other words, who is misusing God's name? and who is honoring it?

Sunday, September 18, 2022

What's Wrong with Watson's and Davis' Current Events Messaging?

According to Church of God International Pastors Bill Watson and Adrian Davis, the policy prescriptions of Biden and the Democrats are anti-Christian and pro-totalitarian. For them, Biden and the Democrats are busily putting the finishing touches on the demise of America. Indeed, they see all of this as the beginning of the end (as in the Apocalypse). For Watson and Davis, the current policies of the governments of the United States and Great Britain are facilitating the long-ago prophesied declines of these two nations. For them, the Culture War is a real war between good and evil.

What's wrong with their assessment of the situation? After all, don't a great many conservative and Republican Americans agree with what they have to say about Biden and the "Demoncrats?"

First, the peoples of Great Britain and the United States are NOT the descendants of the ancient Israelites (history, genetics, archaeology, linguistics, and Scripture all prove that they are NOT Israelites)! Hence, NONE of the prophecies concerning the ancient Israelites apply to them or our time. In short, Watson and Davis have misapplied and misinterpreted Biblical prophecy (which has rendered ALL of their prophetic pronouncements suspect)!

Second, like their Republican counterparts, Biden and the Democrats are worldly politicians. They are no better or worse than other worldly politicians! Also, their policies are no better or worse than those of their conservative/Republican colleagues. ALL human governments are flawed. All human politicians are imperfect and cannot discern the full impact of their policy prescriptions. To illustrate this point, one only needs to open his/her eyes and look at the problems that these policies are meant to address.

What are those problems? Are things really as bad as Watson and Davis portray them to be? And, if their guy/party was in power, would that really solve all of our problems and forestall the Tribulation? Moreover, if it did forestall the Apocalypse and Christ's return, is that something that Christians should actually wish to happen? After all, aren't we supposed to be looking forward to the complete overthrow of the governments of this world and the establishment of God's Kingdom on this earth?

The problems are familiar to all of us: climate change, pandemic, pollution, energy production, societal violence, the global economy, societal morality, wars, a lack of respect for the rule of law, the erosion of freedom/rights, deficit spending, wars and various conflicts between various nations of the earth, illegal immigration, and the decline in religious affiliations throughout the Western World. Ironically, both sides of the political spectrum in the United States and Britain have offered their own policy prescriptions to deal with many of these challenges. Even so, both sides tend to disparage the other as evil, totalitarian, ignorant, unpatriotic, or some combination of all of the above!

Of course, most of the policies which both sides present to deal with these problems are simplistic, superficial, and designed to advance the power and influence of the party(s) who are advocating them! For instance, the issue of illegal immigration does not always lend itself to easy solutions or moral clarity. After all, the Torah makes clear in a number of places that strangers/aliens in the land were to be treated fairly and hospitably (see Exodus 22:21, 23:9, Leviticus 19:33-34, Deuteronomy 10:18-19). As for taking care of those less fortunate than us, what could be more Christian than that? Likewise, women have been having abortions throughout human history (sure, it was very often illegal in times past, but there have always been those who have been ready and willing to terminate unwanted pregnancies). And, what do we do with a Christian or Jew who believes that human life begins when we draw our first breath? (See Genesis 2:7) As for pollution, what about God someday destroying those who destroy the earth? (Revelation 11:18) Likewise, as for Globalism, isn't the Kingdom of God going to be a kind of globalist regime? (See Daniel 2:44, Zechariah 14:9)

In conclusion, the problem with the messaging of Davis and Watson should be apparent to all - they have confused their responsibilities as citizens of God's Kingdom with the rights, privileges and responsibilities which they enjoy as citizens of Canada and the United States respectively. In short, they have forgotten that Christians are NOT supposed to be helping/propping up/participating in the realms of this present world! They both insist that everyone should see the world the way that they do and claim that anyone who doesn't is deceived, ignorant, or actively supporting these evils! Oh, if only they had eyes to see and ears to hear! 

Friday, September 16, 2022

The Ten Most Popular Posts in This Blog's History

It has been my experience, that only about one in ten of the people who decide to visit this blog actually bother to comment on a post (and many of those choose to do so privately). Hence, the only real means available to me to measure a post's impact is to look at the number of views it has generated over time. What follows is a list of the posts that have generated the most interest since this blog began back in 2014:

The Regression of CGI (2019)

God's Imperfect Apostles (2014)

Who is Miller Jones and why does he write this stuff? (2014)

God doesn't care which religion you profess! (2014)

Is suicide a one-way ticket to the Lake of Fire? (2014)

Conclusive proof that God didn't have anything to do with writing the Bible? (2015)

Soothsayers and Prophets (2019)

The Two Covenants (2019)

A few questions about God and homosexual behavior (2015)

God and Dinosaurs (2015)

And, since 2014, 2015 and 2019 took the all-time honors, here are the popular posts from those other years:

In 2016, the most viewed post was Pagan Holidays or God's Holy Days - Really?

In 2017, the most popular post was The Bloomington Statement

In 2018, the most popular post was SHOULD CHRISTIANS BE EATING LUCKY CHARMS?

In 2020, the most viewed post was Herbert W Armstrong: A Dangerous Cult Leader 

In 2021, the most viewed post was Two More "Prooftexts" for Unleavened Bread

In 2022 (so far), the most popular post has been Is that Christian?

Once again, the above picks reflect the interests of my readers. They do NOT necessarily reflect my own opinions about the posts which I consider to be the most important. Even so, I think that they reflect a kind of impartial commentary on this blog's content. These are the posts which my audience has deemed the most important!

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

NO, Christians Are NOT Obligated To Observe Torah Dietary Laws!

Pastor Mike James of the Church of God International has posted an article on their website entitled Did Jesus Keep the Kosher Laws? Unfortunately, the article perpetuates Mr. Herbert Armstrong's heretical teachings about a Christian's obligation to observe Torah Law. Like Armstrong, James frames the question in terms of "What did Jesus do?" Behind this question, of course, is the unspoken one: "Shouldn't we be following his example?" This line of reasoning, however, is deeply flawed and has caused some folks who are sincerely trying to follow God's will to reach some erroneous conclusions about what God expects from them! I know, because I was one of them.

James begins his post by defining what he means when he refers to "kosher laws." For him, that term encompasses both the Scriptural designations of clean and unclean foods found in the eleventh chapter of Leviticus and the oral traditions which Orthodox Jews claim to have derived from Moses. And, while Mike acknowledges that Jesus may have followed some of these oral traditions, he insists that only those guidelines which appear in the Scriptural Torah are actually binding upon Christians. For Pastor James (and most Armstrongites), it is crucial to differentiate between what is found in Scripture and these oral traditions of the Jews in determining what is or isn't binding upon Christians. Indeed, Mike made this all very clear in his article when he wrote: "This distinction is very important because it gets at the root of arguments on the law of God and whether we still need to observe it. We believe you need to keep God's law until heaven and earth pass away (Matthew 5:17–19). The law does not save us, but it helps us understand God's character and what sin is. By observing it, we are following the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ."

Unfortunately, what Mike and his associates fail to understand is that Jesus Christ HAD to perfectly fulfill ALL of the requirements of the Torah in order to pay the penalty for our sins! Moreover, in that passage that Mike referenced in his remarks (Matthew 5:17-19), we see that Christ said that nothing would "pass from the law till all is fulfilled." Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law! Heaven and earth didn't pass away before he accomplished that feat! It wasn't that Christ abolished or did away with the Law as the ACOGs claim that Traditional Christians teach, he filled it to the full - magnified it - distilled it - transformed it! And, in an ironic twist, it should be pointed out that even Mike is NOT suggesting that the entire Torah is still in full force and effect - still binding on Christians! Later, in this same post, Mike noted that "We know through the New Testament that the Old Testament sacrificial law is no longer required because Christ's sacrifice took all of that on (Hebrews 10:1–10)." So, we're NOT arguing about whether the whole law is carried forward into the terms of the New Covenant under Christ, we're arguing about which parts of it should be carried forward!

In this respect, Christ made very clear that the entire law was based on two principles: 1) Love for God, and 2) Love for each other. Later, both he and his disciples further clarified the Christian's responsibility in this respect by stating that the best way to demonstrate their love for God was by completely loving each other! For the Christian, both Jesus and his apostles declared that THIS would fulfill the requirements of the Law! In other words, for these new creatures in Christ, fulfillment would no longer be found in all of the dos and don'ts of the Torah, but by living in the Spirit of the Law. Moreover, even this obedience would NOT accomplish their reconciliation to God - earn them salvation - THAT WOULD BE ACHIEVED ONLY THROUGH THEIR ACCEPTANCE OF THE LIFE AND SACRIFICE OF JESUS CHRIST! Their obedience to the Law of Love would demonstrate that they had accepted Christ and were henceforward walking in the newness of the life which HE had given them!

Returning to the narrower question of the Christian diet, Mike said that Jesus remarks in the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Mark have been misunderstood by mainstream Christians. With all due respect, I believe that Pastor James has missed the point of Christ's remarks there! Indeed, Christ himself summarized the meaning of his remarks - once publicly, and once privately for the benefit of his disciples. We read there: "When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man." (Mark 7:14-15) Continuing, "When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, 'Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?' And He said, 'What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.'" (Verses 17-23) In other words, in spiritual terms, washing and eating aren't what makes a person clean or unclean!

Later in his post, Pastor James also mentioned the great council which the Church held at Jerusalem for the purpose of confronting the issue of a Christian's obligation to the Torah once and for all. Unfortunately, Mike attempts to circumscribe (pun intended) the issue which that assembly addressed to whether or not Christians should be circumcised. Never mind, that even this narrow reading of the council's purpose would still be nullifying the requirement for Christian males to be physically circumcised. It should also be noted that this procedure was required by the Torah (Genesis 17:11) and was also performed on the Christ child (Luke 2:21). Hence, if we are being logically consistent, shouldn't Christians also be following Christ's example in this instance? Nevertheless, Scripture makes clear that the Jerusalem Council was about much more than circumcision.

Although the text of the fifteenth chapter of Acts, makes plain that the original confrontation arose over circumcision (Acts 15:1), it also makes clear that the debate quickly expanded to comprehend the entire question of a Christian's responsibility to the Law. We read that "some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses." (Verse 5) During the council, we are informed that Peter stood up and asked "why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they." (Verses 10-11) Peter's speech was followed by a report from Paul and Barnabas about their missionary work among the Gentiles. (Verse 12) Next, James stood up and said: "Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath." (Verses 19-21) In other words, let's NOT make them responsible for observing all of the dos and don'ts of the Torah - Moses already has enough advocates for the covenant he outlined among the Jews! Moreover, this is reiterated in the actual text of the letter that was sent by the council to the Gentile Churches (see verses 23-29).

This understanding is also confirmed by what Paul wrote to the saints of Galatia about this early controversy in the Church. When he later confronted Peter about his backsliding in this regard, he wrote that he told him: "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified." (Galatians 2:14-16)

What Herbert Armstrong, David Pack, Gerald Flurry, Roderick Meredith, and Mike James have never seemed to understand is that the Torah points to Jesus Christ, and it was FULFILLED perfectly by him on our behalf! It's NOT that Christ nullified/abrogated/did away with the Law - He observed, fulfilled, magnified, and distilled ALL of its precepts for us! Under the terms of the New Covenant, we have received the salvation of our souls through Jesus Christ; and we obey the Law of Love (for God and each other) to demonstrate that we are a new creature because of what Christ has done for us. In other words, our obedience to that Law is the fruit or evidence that we have truly received God's gift - the Holy Spirit and are walking in the Light! And, for the record, the Law of Love also summarizes and fulfills the requirements of all of those individual dos and don'ts found in the Torah! This isn't about Law vs Lawlessness. It's about Christians observing the Law which applies to them and for the reasons given by Christ and his apostles!


Sunday, September 11, 2022

The Oldest Books in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible

As anyone with even a cursory familiarity with the Judeo-Christian Bible knows, that book is composed of a collection of writings which were composed by a number of different authors and editors over a great span of time. Hence, it is no great wonder that many of us would be interested in the first contributions to both the Hebrew and Christian canons. After all, in identifying and exploring these works, we understand that we are looking through a window into the distant past and seeing a view of God and religion that is unadulterated and diluted by the inevitable evolution in thought and revelation which followed - a glimpse at the origins, the foundations of the whole! Moreover, as with so many other things associated with the study of the Bible, our suppositions about which books came first are skewed by the arrangement of the Bible as it appears in our time - the chronology and narrative of the book that we hold in our hands.

For example, most of us would suppose that the book of Genesis is the oldest document in the Hebrew Bible - the collection of writings which Christians refer to as the Old Testament. After all, that book recounts the story of creation, the prehistoric flood, and the ancestral origins of God's people (the Israelites). However, although these assumptions appear to make perfect sense at first glance, a scholarly deep dive into the various documents which make up the Hebrew canon has demonstrated that the book of Genesis was composed hundreds of years after the book of Job was written! That's right, a book about an extremely righteous and wealthy Gentile - with NO mention of Israel, covenants or laws - is the oldest book in the Hebrew canon!

 In beliefnet's article What is the Oldest Book in the Bible? by Stephanie Hertzenberg, we learn that there are a number of good reasons to believe that Job is the oldest book in the Hebrew canon. In brief, scholars point to the language, content, and things that are noticeably absent from the book. Hertzenberg observed that "Job is written in a form of Hebrew that is even older than the ancient Hebrew that makes up most of the Old Testament. In fact, the language used in Job is not even usually referred to as ancient Hebrew. Instead, it is called “Paleo-Hebrew.” The book also contains Syriac and Arabic expressions which point to a period of time between 1900 and 1700 B.C. when the Shemitic tribes had not yet separated into speaking separate Syriac, Hebrew and Arabic dialects." She went on to note that "Job also mentions several creatures and conditions that are unknown today. The phrases may refer to animals that have gone extinct or, more likely, were called by a different name in later books of the Bible." Finally, Hertzenberg points out that "There are no mentions of the covenant, the Law of Moses or the priesthood. There are not even any mentions of the Israelite people or the Promised Land. Instead, Job offers sacrifices himself for his sons without the use of a priesthood, temple or consecrated altar. His wealth is measured by the size of his herds and the amount of 'qesiytah,' unique silver coins, he possesses. Both herds and silver were used as ancient systems of money between 1900 and 1700 B.C."

Another feature of Job which sets it apart from the other writings of the Hebrew canon relates to its subject matter - the age-old dilemma for people of faith: Why do the righteous suffer? In stark contrast to the folks who occupied the pre-flood world, the people who built the tower of Babel, the Sodomites, and the children of Israel, Job isn't subjected to pain and suffering because of his sins or misconduct - he suffers as a consequence of Satan's interest in him, and the subsequent challenge which he (Satan) offered to God regarding him. In other words, the familiar sin followed by punishment formula (which is so prominent in the rest of the Old Testament) is conspicuously absent from this book! This is obviously an important feature in distinguishing this book from its companions, but it is also significant in terms of its impact on our theology more generally speaking. In short, this other perspective on suffering serves as an important counterbalance to the "sin causes suffering" narrative. More to the point, it is the book of Job which prevents us from attributing all human suffering to sin/wrongdoing and forces us all to be more empathetic toward each other!

Even so, in light of this understanding, it is perhaps more comprehensible to us that this book has been a source of consternation among some Jewish scholars and Christian legalists. In the Torah.org article on the book, we read: "Job is a book that ranks as one of the most difficult books in the Tanach (Bible), for two reasons: 1) Its incredibly complex and obscure Hebrew – allowing for multiple translations and meanings. 2) The complex and delicate nature of the subject matter." Likewise, the My Jewish Learning article on the book notes that "The book of Job challenges the simple equation of suffering with punishment." Also, one has to imagine that the absence of any reference to the patriarchs, Israel, and God's covenants with them has to be a source of some consternation among God's people, and probably accounts for its assignment to the Ketuvim (Writings) - which are largely concerned with wisdom and worship. Interestingly, in both of the articles just referenced, the respective authors divide the book into a number of distinct sections in their attempts to explain the Jewish perspective on it. Roughly speaking, they note that there is a prologue (Satan's conversation with God about Job), "friendly" advice and Job's responses to that advice, and an epilogue (God's answer to Job, Job's reaction, and God's restoration of Job).

In his book The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction, Bart Ehrman expresses his opinion that the prologue and epilogue belong to one author, and the "friendly advice" and Job's responses to that advice belong to another author. Ehrman believes that the works of these two authors were later spliced together, and that this accounts for some of the book's complexity. In his view, the two authors had very different perspectives on "how to deal with the problem of suffering." (pg. 212) Personally, I think that the book reflects a number of very different ways that the faithful deal with the "problem of suffering," and that the overarching message of the book is that ALL of our human perspectives on this issue are flawed - that we simply cannot see the ends of all things or truly appreciate the extent of God's mind or his plans and purposes for humankind. Similarly, I also see the book of Job as an object lesson in the WRONG way for people of faith to comfort each other in times of loss and distress!

In broader terms, for Christians generally, the book of Job demonstrates that there is a Godly righteousness that exists apart from the Law, or any covenants associated with it. The non-Israelite Job was clearly considered righteous by God. There is no indication that Job was circumcised, kept the Sabbath, had access to ANY Scriptures, or required the services or mediation of ANY priesthood! And, before we move on to the oldest book in the New Testament, it should be noted that Job is very unlike the Torah in terms of its presentation of the Devil. Outside of a highly symbolic representation of a Serpent in the Garden of Eden, Satan is simply ignored by the Torah. In another stark contrast which has great significance for Christians, Satan is front and center in the story of Job! This portrayal of Satan as "Adversary," "Accuser," and "Afflicter" is central to the theology of the New Testament.

Just as most casual students of the Bible are drawn to the book of Genesis as the "oldest" book in the Hebrew canon, many Christians would probably point to on one of the Gospels as the earliest New Testament text (the more serious ones would probably mention Mark in this connection). The reasons, of course, are obvious. After all, the gospels tell the story of the founder of the religion, Jesus Christ. Once again, however, the majority of Biblical scholars point us in an entirely different direction.

In the preface to his book The Earliest Christian Text, Gerd Ludemann wrote: "This book deals with I Thessalonians, a document that most scholars consider to be the earliest extant Christian writing, a judgment I believe to be well founded." Likewise, in Bart Ehrman's The Bible, we read: "I Thessalonians is usually dated to around 49 C.E., about sixteen or seventeen years after Paul's conversion and about twenty years after the death of Jesus." (Page 328) And, when we compare these statements with what most scholars believe about the timing of the writing of the gospels (most scholars believe that the Gospels were penned between 60-100 C.E. - with Mark generally being acknowledged as the first of these accounts*), we can be fairly certain that the majority of Paul's letters were composed well before the Gospels were written. What's more, there exists a rare and high degree of agreement among scholars regarding the timeline of Paul's writings, and the book of I Thessalonians is almost universally regarded as his earliest surviving "genuine" epistle.

*See Bart Ehrman's The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2018. Also, please see:  When Were The Four Gospels Written?)

Why is all of this important? Once again, because it gives us a glimpse into the origins of Christianity - what the religion was like before everything got nailed down! It also gives us some insight into what Paul and Gentile Christians knew and/or believed about the historical Jesus and his teachings. Likewise, obviously, it informs our understanding of what Paul was preaching during the middle portion of his own ministry, and what kind of organization/structure existed within the congregations of this period.

Although many modern scholars have focused on how Paul's conception of Jesus and his teachings were significantly different from Jesus and the earliest Jewish Christians*, I have always been more interested in the similarities between them. After all, there is little to no evidence that there ever was an open breach between the Judean and Gentile branches of the Early Church (James, Peter and Paul never publicly excommunicated each other), and this earliest of Christian writings certainly demonstrates a high degree of harmony with regard to the beliefs of the earliest Christians.

* See James Tabor's Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity, Simon and Schuster, 2012

Indeed, when we take a closer look at the book, we see that the basic outlines of the Christian story were already well-established within twenty years of Christ's death! For instance, in the very first chapter of this epistle, Paul informed his audience that Christ" had suffered on their behalf, had rescued them from the coming judgment, had been resurrected from death by God, was currently in heaven, and would eventually return to this earth. In the same chapter, Paul also mentioned the Holy Spirit, gospel (or "good news"), evangelism, the fact that God had chosen the Thessalonians to be his, and that they should regard him as their "Father." I don't know about you, but that sounds like a fairly comprehensive list for the first chapter of a short epistle to me!

Likewise, in the second chapter of this epistle, Paul wrote about great opposition to the Christian message and persecution. He also mentioned the apostles of Christ, and that God had called them to share in his Kingdom and glory! Paul went on to note that his audience already regarded his message as the word of God. He then reiterated that both Jewish and Gentile Christians had experienced persecution, and that Satan himself had prevented him from visiting with them.

In the third chapter of his letter, Paul wrote "may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow" (which corresponds nicely to Christ's "new commandment" in the Gospel of John). He also reveals in this chapter that the Lord will one day return "with all his holy people." Continuing into the fourth chapter, Paul went on to state that Christians should be living their lives in a manner that is pleasing to God. He wrote that it was God's will for them to be holy, and that they should consequently stay away from all sexual sins. He went on to reveal that God had given them his Holy Spirit and reiterated the importance of them loving each other, "for God himself has taught you to love one another." Then, once again, Paul reiterated that "we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again."

Next, Paul's theme returned to Christ's second coming to this earth. In what would eventually become one of the most famous passages of the New Testament, Paul wrote: "the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever." This same theme continues into the next chapter where Paul echoes Christ's prediction that "the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night."

And, if all of that wasn't enough to convince you that the basic message of the Christian Church wasn't already set within twenty years of Christ's death and resurrection, Paul's concluding remarks in this epistle serve to nicely summarize the core of the Christian message. He wrote that Christians should avoid the darkness and live in the light. He went on to say "For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever." Then he went on to encourage them to respect their leaders (so, the church did have some kind of structure/organization), to always be joyful, never stop praying, avoid quenching the Holy Spirit, and to remain blameless "until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again." Finally, Paul concluded his letter by expressing his desire that "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" would remain with them.

I don't know about you, but that reads like a super Reader's Digest condensed version of the New Testament to me! Of course, we must remember that the focus of all of the epistles is fairly narrow and parochial - they were, after all, originally meant to address circumstances/problems within specific Christian communities of the First Century. Even so, the narrow window that this epistle provides into an early ekklesia is extremely revealing and reassuring to the thinking faithful of today.

Indeed, the oldest writings of both the Old and New Testaments force us to think of Scripture in new and vibrant ways. These documents force us to "think outside of the box" - to imagine the traditionally arranged narrative of the canon in new and different ways. In fact, when we understand and fully appreciate that they came first, our ability to differentiate between what is important and what is superfluous has to be enhanced. Of course, this post is NOT intended to denigrate or downplay the importance of the book of Genesis, the Torah, or the Gospels. On the contrary, I believe this understanding can enhance our understanding and appreciation of those other writings if we rightly divide the word of truth! What do you think?

Friday, September 9, 2022

Elizabeth II: An Example of Servant Leadership

Since receiving the news of the Queen's death, we have seen a number of documentaries about her life. The images and clips of speeches have been extraordinary, and they have evoked many memories of her and the various events which we have experienced in our own lives during that period. Indeed, many of us have had a ringside seat for so many of the events of her long reign. When we think about these things, we are immediately struck by her devotion to duty, and the unprecedented high regard and affection for her which so many people across the globe are left with after so long a time in the public eye! How many public figures can we say that about?

Why do so many of us feel this way about her? What accounts for the esteem, respect and affection that she has engendered in so many of us?

The adjectives which have been used in describing her begin to give us some insight into answering those questions. She has been described most often as being gracious, dedicated, faithful and kind. Also, her carefulness in remaining above partisan politics, and her vigilance in never publicly offering her own opinions in matters of state has been a recurring theme in the tributes that have been offered since her passing. This, of course, goes a long way toward explaining how someone who stood at the pinnacle of political and religious power (Head of State, Head of the Commonwealth and titular head of the Church of England), arguably the most divisive of all human endeavors, could be held in such high esteem among her own people and those in the wider world.

In considering these things, we think too about what Christ told his disciples about leadership. He said: "Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else." (Mark 9:35) And a little later, when two of his disciples asked to be made leaders immediately under Jesus, he told them: "You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45) Clearly, Christ envisioned a "servant" leadership model for his Church. In the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus also told his disciples: "There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15:13)

Elizabeth II personified these concepts. Before she ascended the throne, she said: "I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong." The Queen kept that promise. Moreover, her devotion to serving her people and the wider world stood in stark contrast to her uncle, King Edward VIII, who was the poster boy for self-interest. Widely regarded as a great romantic, after abdicating his throne and his responsibilities, the former king declared: "You all know the reasons which have impelled me to renounce the Throne. But I want you to understand that in making up my mind I did not forget the country or the Empire which as Prince of Wales, and lately as King, I have for twenty-five years tried to serve. But you must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love." Unlike his niece, he was not interested in self-sacrifice on behalf of his people.

Hence, as is always the case in looking back over a life well-lived and given in service to others, we can only hope to follow the late Queen's good example. We must continually ask ourselves: "How can I best serve others?" "Am I being the best example that I can be to others?" "Will I leave this world having made a positive difference in the lives of my loved ones?" "Will I leave this world with the esteem and affection of my loved ones?"