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Resurrection in Jewish and Christian Thought

The notion that humans who have died can be resurrected by God is found in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, and al...

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever. Psalm 136:26, KJV

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

PAUL AS AN APOSTLE?

Dennis Diehl's "Adult Sabbath School" is again in session over at Banned by HWA. In his most recent offering http://armstrongismlibrary.blogspot.com/2019/11/adult-sabbath-school-and-yes-brethreni.html, Mr. Diehl claims that the self-appointed "apostles" of the ACOG's are merely following the example of the Apostle Paul.

While Mr. Diehl's assertion that Herbert Armstrong and his "apostolic successors" have used Paul's experience to justify their own claims will not be disputed here, I do dispute the assertion that they have accurately portrayed that experience. To say that Paul appointed himself to the office of an apostle is not consistent with the accounts presented in the New Testament. In other words, Herbert (Dave, Gerald and Ron) have twisted Paul's experience to justify their claims - in exactly the same manner that they twist/pervert/torture other scriptures to formulate their various doctrinal positions.

According to the folks over at Blue Letter Bible, the original Greek term for these folks was apostolos. We are further informed by them that the term indicates one who is sent forth with orders - one who serves in the capacity of a delegate/messenger/ambassador.

According to the Gospels, Jesus designated twelve men to serve as apostolos. This designation of twelve men who had actually been with Christ and had personally heard his teachings was viewed by the early Church as having great significance and import. In fact, we learn in the book of Acts that the first order of business after Christ's ascension to heaven was to appoint someone to fill the vacancy created by the death of Judas (see Acts 1:15-26).

Nevertheless, it should be noted that the notion that Judas should be replaced is not attributed to God - it is attributed to Peter. Likewise, we are informed that the Church chose two men for this purpose, and then proceeded to cast lots for the final choice (the Old Testament method for determining God's will in a matter). Hence, the New Testament makes clear that the membership of the Church felt that they had sufficient authority to designate a new apostolos (one who had not been so appointed by Christ). Stated another way, there was clearly no aversion to confining the designation to the men whom Christ himself had appointed.

Now, in the eighth chapter of Acts, we are informed that Saul persecuted the Church. Indeed, we are led to believe that he became quite infamous in this regard within the Christian community of the time. Then, in chapter nine of that book, we learn that Saul even sought the sanction of the high priest for his work against the Church and set out for Damascus to pursue any Christians who had fled there for refuge.

This is followed by one of three accounts in the book of Acts regarding Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus. In this version, we are told that Jesus appeared to him and asked Saul why he was persecuting him. According to the account, Saul was then instructed to go into the city (having to be led there by his companions because he had been struck with blindness).

What happened next is of particular interest to the question of Paul's apostleship. We are informed that a Christian named Ananias was informed by the Lord in a vision to meet with Saul and restore his sight. We are told, however, that Ananias expressed reservations about performing the task because of the things he had heard about Saul's persecution of the saints at Jerusalem. Continuing with the account, we read: "But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake." (see Acts 9:15-16) As a consequence, Ananias proceeded to meet with Saul and lay hands on him. Finally, Saul was baptized and immediately began to preach Christ (see verses 17-22 of the same chapter).

How does all of this square with Paul's defense of his apostleship in his letter to the saints of Galatia? Paul told them that he was an apostolos "not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father." Paul went on to relate to them his experiences as a Jew and former persecutor of the Church, and that God had separated him from his mother's womb and called him to His service "to preach him among the heathen." This is consistent with what is revealed in the above mentioned account of his conversion in the book of Acts.

Paul then proceeded to tell the Galatians that he did not "confer with flesh and blood," and that he did't go to Jerusalem to receive the blessings of the original apostolos. He related to them how he had then proceeded to preach the gospel among the Gentile regions of the Roman Empire. Finally, Paul explains how he and Barnabas eventually went to Jerusalem "and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles." Unfortunately, Paul's account here of the Jerusalem Council is colored by what was then happening within the churches of Galatia (that certain individuals sought to convince them that they were obligated to observe elements of the Old Covenant).

He was quick to point out that none of his companions in his work among the Gentiles was compelled by the folks at Jerusalem to be circumcised. Paul's insecurity about his place among the other apostolos is on full display in the verses that follow. In this account of what transpired at the Jerusalem Council, Paul clearly attempted to downplay any role that the other apostolos had in amending or sanctioning his message to (and work among) the Gentiles. Even so, he concluded that "they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter." He went on to admit "And when James, Cephas (Peter), and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision."

Hence, despite Paul's personal insecurities, his account of his apostleship to the saints of Galatia is largely confirmed by the account of the Jerusalem Council recorded for us in the fifteenth chapter of the book of Acts. It is clear from this account that the Gentile congregations chose Paul and Barnabas to represent them at Jerusalem regarding the question of whether or not they were obligated to observe certain elements of the Old Covenant. It is also clear from the account in Acts that the apostolos of the Jerusalem Church (most likely no longer twelve in number) supported the ministry of Paul and Barnabas and declined to impose those elements of the OC on their Gentile converts. Indeed, after the council, we are informed that Paul and Barnabas resumed their ministries unabated by anything that had transpired at the council. Thus, even if we conclude that the Jerusalem Council did not amount to a formal endorsement of Paul's status as an apostolos, we must conclude that at the very least it amounted to a tacit acknowledgment of the validity of his ministry by what was left of the original apostolos.

Now, having examined the scriptural accounts of Paul's experience, it is clear that neither Herbert Armstrong nor any of his "apostolic successors" experienced anything remotely akin to what Paul experienced in the First Century. And, for those of us who believe that Paul and Ananias experienced something more than a hallucination, it is clear that God and Jesus Christ sent Paul forth with their message - that he was an apostolos in the sense that that word conveyed in the original Greek.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Rituals in Worship

As longtime readers of this blog know, I came out of a church (the Worldwide Church of God) that rejected most of the rituals of traditional Christianity. They reasoned that anything which had its origins in pagan religious practices should be avoided by "TRUE" Christians. And, as was the case with many of the doctrines which they adhered to, they based this belief on a prominent scripture in the Pentateuch.

In the twelfth chapter of Deuteronomy, we read: "Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the Lord thy God. When the Lord thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it." Deuteronomy 12:28-32, KJV

However, in quoting this and other scriptures to support their arguments against the use of pagan rituals within Christian worship services, they failed to mention the context of the scriptures which they were using - that these were instructions to the Israelites of old in regard to the covenant which God had established with them. If we are truly going to understand and properly employ these scriptures, it is imperative that we notice the reasoning behind the instructions quoted above. This rationale emerges in the first few verses of the same chapter.

Beginning in verse one, we read: "These are the statutes and judgments, which ye shall observe to do in the land, which the Lord God of thy fathers giveth thee to possess it, all the days that ye live upon the earth. Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place. Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God." Deuteronomy 12:1-4, KJV

We notice in these verses that God begins by instructing the Israelites to destroy the places of worship which were used by the former inhabitants of the land. YHWH clearly didn't want his people using these old sacred places. This becomes even clearer as we read on into the account. "But unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come: And thither ye shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and heave offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks: And there ye shall eat before the Lord your God, and ye shall rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto, ye and your households, wherein the Lord thy God hath blessed thee." Deuteronomy 12:5-7, KJV

Continuing, the principle that the Israelites would have one place of worship in their new home (the Promised Land) was further reinforced in the scriptures which followed. We read: "But when ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the Lord your God giveth you to inherit, and when he giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety; Then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the Lord..." Deuteronomy 12:10-11, KJV And, just to make sure they got the point, we read: "Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: But in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee." Deuteronomy 12:13-14, KJV

Now let's take a moment to review what we've just read. What have we gleaned from YHWH's instructions to the Israelites about His expectations regarding the way(s) in which they would worship him? First, God expected them to worship him in one place (eventually Jerusalem). Second, God did not want them to employ some of the abominable rituals that had been used by the former inhabitants of the land (things like sacrificing their children to their gods).

With that background in hand, an account in John's Gospel of Christ's encounter with a Samaritan woman takes on new meaning. The meeting takes place at a well, and Christ reveals to the woman there that he is the source of a "living water." John 4:5-14, KJV In the verses that follow, Christ also tells the woman (which he has just met) that she has had five husbands during the course of her lifetime. verses 15-18 Astonished that this stranger would know this about her, the woman replies: "Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." verses 19-20

Continuing with the account, we read: "Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." John 4:21-24, KJV - emphasis mine

Jesus revealed to this Samaritan woman what the Jews of his own day, and the church which I used to attend,  could not comprehend. New Covenant worship is not centered on a physical place or dependent on rituals. The kind of worship which Christ expected of his followers was to be sincere, relevant and heartfelt - the physical manifestations of which were rendered largely irrelevant.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

What the Bible is NOT!

THE BIBLE IS NOT:

Holy - that would be God, and those who belong to "Him."
The final authority in matters related to faith - that would be God.
The complete revelation of the TRUTH of Almighty God - that would be Jesus Christ.
Free of contradictions and errors.
A collection of manuscripts written by the finger of God (it was written by people inspired by God).
A book with all of the answers to the mysteries of life and the universe.
A science textbook.
A history textbook.
An owner's manual (it is not written in that style, does not provide step-by-step instructions and does not provide diagrams, charts, schematics, etc.)


Thursday, November 7, 2019

Do the writings of Paul present a problem for Christians?

My answer: They're only problematic for Fundamentalist Christians and Atheists. Yes, Paul's writings are often difficult and contradictory, and the apostle's neuroses and prejudices are sometimes very apparent. And, since these elements are anathema to the Fundamentalist's/Atheist's views of what Scripture should be, they are either ignored/dismissed, condemned or explained away by them.

However, for those of us who accept Paul as the most important apostle of the First Century Christian Church (look at how much of the New Testament is attributed to him), these difficulties, contradictions and frailties point to a very human individual to whom we can easily relate. Like the rest of us, Paul was himself a bundle of contradictions. Like many of us, he was a complex man with many gifts and not a few imperfections.

Our perception of Paul and his writings is influenced by a number of different factors. For instance, even among early Christians, his writings were regarded as difficult to understand (II Peter 3:16). The apostle's proclivity for having others write "his" epistles is another factor. The fact that Paul's understanding of Christian theology was sometimes at odds with some of the saints who were a part of the Jerusalem church is yet another. Moreover, Paul was not averse to giving his own opinions regarding certain issues within the church, and those opinions often reflected the cultural biases of a First Century Jew. Also, we must never forget that the apostle was always addressing problems within the various congregations which he had visited. Finally, we can be fairly certain that Paul had no idea that his letters would one day be regarded by Christians with the same reverence that his generation had reserved for the writings that we now call the Old Testament - that his epistles would be regarded as Scripture.

As I mentioned earlier, Paul's humanity is on full display in his writing. In his epistles, we find evidence of his arrogance and insecurities. Likewise, Paul's paternalistic and misogynistic inclinations are apparent in many of his writings. We can also see evidence there of his stubbornness and intolerance for the views of others.

Nevertheless, there is also another side of this great man that shines through in his writings. Something that he regarded as miraculous happened to him on the road to Damascus, and the details of the precise nature of what he saw and/or heard on that occasion seem insignificant to the subsequent impact of that event on him (and the billions of people who have read his writings since his death). Likewise, we must never forget that Paul was the first person to make a significant contribution to fulfilling the Great Commission which Christ had entrusted to his original disciples/apostles. It is largely thanks to Paul that the movement expanded beyond Jerusalem and Judea.

And, since we have acknowledged that Paul's writings are imperfect and very human, an objective evaluation of the evidence forces us to admit the breath of the Divine. Who can read his calls for unity within the church without being haunted by his eloquence? Who can read his accounts of his own personal trials and struggles without feeling compassion, empathy and inspiration? His writings also provide us with the earliest reference to what has become the principal ritual of the Christian Church - communion (and please don't comment here that I should use some other term to describe this - I'm well aware of the other names for the ceremony). Paul's writings have also provided much encouragement and solace for Christians down through the ages. And, how could anyone not be moved by the grand and epic nature of Paul's description of love in what we now refer to as the thirteenth chapter of his first epistle to the saints at Corinth?

Those of us who appreciate the writings of Paul should also remember that a great many of the problems we have with the apostle's writings are self-inflicted. As with the other Scriptures, we bring our own baggage and flawed understandings to these epistles when we read them. I've already mentioned how some folks regard them as infallible. Others are lazy in their study of background, scholarly criticisms and context. Finally, as any great songwriter will tell you, their lyrics are subject to many different interpretations - and most of them don't mind if you get something out of it other than what they had originally intended. This gets to the very nature of how we humans communicate with each other, and it is most certainly not peculiar to the writings of Paul!      

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Two Covenants

Some of the recent commentary surrounding posts here and at Banned by HWA regarding the Old and New Covenants got me thinking about the divergent views that different groups and individuals hold about them. I was reminded about Herbert Armstrong's views on the subject, and the way that he criticized more traditional Christian views of the covenants. In particular, I was reminded of the conclusion which I arrived at some years back now that Armstrong's understanding of the two covenants was weak, superficial/shallow and just plain wrong!

The Old Covenant was based on the Israelites' obedience to certain laws, statutes and ordinances contained in the Torah. Herbert Armstrong believed that the obligation to obey SOME of those laws, statutes and ordinances carried over into the New Covenant. In particular, he believed that only the sacrificial elements, along with some of the rituals that were peculiar to the Levitical priesthood, had been eliminated from the New Covenant. According to Armstrong, in addition to God's fundamental law (Ten Commandments), things like tithing, festival attendance and dietary laws were incorporated into the New Covenant. His primary proof of this conclusion was founded on the fact that Christ, his apostles and the Jerusalem church had clearly observed these elements (citing several texts within the New Testament of the Bible).

Armstrong, however, had failed to appreciate the fact that Christ had to observe all of God's various laws, statutes and ordinances in order to qualify as the innocent lamb (without spot or blemish) which was to be sacrificed to pay the penalty for the rest of us who have transgressed those laws. Mr. Armstrong liked to remind his followers that Christ didn't come to destroy the law or make the prophets obsolete. Even so, HWA apparently could not comprehend what it meant for Christ to fulfill those things. It wasn't that Christ had abolished/annihilated/done away with the law. He had simply filled them all to the full - had perfectly kept them, because we couldn't!

Under the terms of the Old Covenant, there had been various burnt offerings, sin offerings, peace offerings, trespass offerings, etc. These offerings were commonly made by spilling the blood of some animal (killing it) and presenting this to God to atone for whatever infraction(s) of the law that the offender had committed.

According to Jesus Christ, however, the New Covenant was established in HIS blood! (Matthew 26:28,  Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20 and I Corinthians 11:25). In other words, the forgiveness of our trespasses against the law is founded in the blood that Jesus Christ shed for us!

Notice how this agrees with what the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews has to say about the two covenants. After discussing the terms/conditions of the Old Covenant, in the ninth chapter of that book, we read: "So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant." (verses 11-15)

Continuing there, we read: "That is why even the first covenant was put into effect with the blood of an animal. For after Moses had read each of God’s commandments to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, along with water, and sprinkled both the book of God’s law and all the people, using hyssop branches and scarlet wool. Then he said, 'This blood confirms the covenant God has made with you.' And in the same way, he sprinkled blood on the Tabernacle and on everything used for worship. In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals. For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. And he did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice." (verses 18-26)

The author of Hebrews continued contrasting the two covenants in the following chapter. We read: "The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared." (Hebrews 10:1-2) Then the author summarizes the points just made: "First, Christ said, 'You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings or burnt offerings or other offerings for sin, nor were you pleased with them' (though they are required by the law of Moses). Then he said, 'Look, I have come to do your will.' He cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect. For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time." (verses 8-12)

The author of Hebrews concluded his/her thought with a reference to the testimony of the Holy Spirit. We read: "This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds." (verse 16) This statement is consistent with what the New Covenant in Christ's blood accomplishes for us.

Christ summarized the Ten Commandments into two great principles: "‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37) This is the law that Christ incorporated into the New Covenant - this is the law that lives on in the hearts of the participants in the New Covenant.