Featured Post

Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

For years now, I have been criticizing the preaching of politics from the pulpit. Why? What's so wrong with talking about issues and can...

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Feast of Tabernacles: Transient and Eternal

In the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, the Israelites were instructed to gather the branches of various trees and construct for themselves temporary shelters to dwell in for the duration of the Feast of Tabernacles/Booths/Temporary Shelters (verses 39-43). Indeed, we read there that this was done to remind them that their ancestors had been forced to live in temporary dwellings after God had rescued them from Egyptian slavery. Hence, we see that Torah very intentionally underscored and celebrated the transient nature of the people's existence during this period.

Moreover, Torah itself underscored that it wasn't only the Israelites who resided in temporary dwellings during this time - they were also instructed to construct a tabernacle for God to dwell in when he was among them! In other words, things were unsettled during this era. The children of Israel had not yet reached the Promised Land - their permanent home, and God's Temple had not yet been constructed at Jerusalem. The people and their God were housed in temporary dwellings.

In the New Testament, we are informed that Jesus Christ said that he came to this earth to fulfill Torah and the Prophets. Likewise, the apostle Paul wrote to the disciples at Colosse that these festivals were shadows of the reality found in Jesus Christ. Hence, the question naturally arises: How does this particular festival relate to Jesus Christ?

Interestingly, in the Gospel of John, we are informed that Jesus celebrated the Feast of Temporary Dwellings (chapter 7). First, we are told there that the Jewish leaders had been plotting to kill Jesus (7:1). This information, of course, is consistent with the theme of this narrative that "the Word became human and made his home among us." (1:14)

Initially, we are informed that Christ chose not to accompany the rest of his family to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival (7:2-10) Obviously, the context makes clear that Jesus did not want to draw attention to himself or his attendance. He knew that there was a great debate raging about him, and he also knew that it was not yet the time for him to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity. Consequently, the debate raged on - Who is this guy? Is he the Messiah? Where is he? (7:11-13)

Finally, midway through the festival, we are told that Jesus began to teach at the Temple (7:14). We are also informed that the crowd was astonished that someone without any formal training could have such a depth of knowledge (verse 15). Christ responded: "My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own. Those who speak for themselves want glory only for themselves, but a person who seeks to honor the one who sent him speaks truth, not lies. Moses gave you the law, but none of you obeys it! In fact, you are trying to kill me." (Verses 16-19) Jesus had the words of life - he spoke of eternity, but the mob wanted to end his life!

Next, we are informed that the crowd accused him of being possessed by a demon, but that Christ reminded them about what he had actually done and taught (verse 20). Then, Jesus told them: "I did one miracle on the Sabbath, and you were amazed. But you work on the Sabbath, too, when you obey Moses’ law of circumcision. (Actually, this tradition of circumcision began with the patriarchs, long before the law of Moses.) For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with me for healing a man on the Sabbath? Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly." (Verses 21-24) In other words, you folks who glory in Torah (the law of Moses) don't understand it and are actually violating its spirit!

Of course, all of this only intensified the debate that was raging about Jesus (verses 25-31). In fact, we are told that the Jewish leaders became so concerned about what was being said about Jesus that they sent some of the Temple guards to arrest him (verse 32). Even so, Christ's reaction to all of this bewildered them. John informs us that Christ said: "I will be with you only a little longer. Then I will return to the one who sent me. You will search for me but not find me. And you cannot go where I am going." (Verses 33-34) Once again, Jesus was contrasting the transient with the eternal, and the Jewish religious leaders simply didn't understand what he was talking about (verses 35-36).

In John's account of Christ's celebration of the Feast of Booths, we come at last to the last day - the great day - the climax of the festival (verse 37). Notice what Christ had to say on that day. He said: "Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.'" (Verses 37-38) There it is again! Christ, though he was then currently dwelling in the tabernacle of a human form, declared himself to be the source of eternity.

Moreover, so that there wouldn't be any room for misunderstanding, John added a little commentary of his own. He wrote: "(When he said 'living water,' he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)" (Verse 39) Now, we understand that John was writing from hindsight. At the time of these events, like the Jewish leaders, Christ's disciples did not yet understand the contrast that Christ was drawing between the transient and the eternal. It was only after his arrest, death, burial, and resurrection that all of this became clear to them. Indeed, the remainder of the account reinforces the fact that the debate about Christ continued (verses 40-52)!

Of course, we are the beneficiaries of John's insight into these things. Toward the close of his Gospel, we read: "The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name." (20:30-31) This is the message of the Gospel, and the message of this festival: The transient and eternal Christ has made possible eternity for us transient folk of planet earth!

Saturday, September 23, 2023

The Christian Perspective on the Old Testament

Unfortunately, too many Christians have allowed themselves to harbor extreme views with regard to the role which they permit the Old Testament to play in their faith. They either ignore it and dismiss any relevance it may have to their Christian walk, or they embrace its provisions as being still binding on them. As I have noted in previous posts, although Herbert Armstrong was wrong to assert that Christians were obligated to observe some of the provisions of Torah, he was absolutely right to assert that too many Christians have ignored the roots of their faith and deprived themselves of a deeper understanding of their Savior and his work by doing so.

In the "Answers" section of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's website, the question is posed: Why do Christians ignore the Old Testament? The BGEA response begins by asserting that they really embrace and enjoy the Psalms and the Proverbs, but the very next paragraph acknowledges that the question is a valid one. We read there: "Nevertheless, I suspect you’re right, up to a point; much of the Old Testament probably does get ignored — and that’s unfortunate, for God has many riches to share with us in its pages. The early chapters of Genesis, for example, set the stage for everything that follows, including our need for redemption. The prophets and historical books demonstrate how God deals with the human race. The Bible says, 'These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us' (1 Corinthians 10:11)." Unfortunately, when we look closely at this acknowledgment that Christians should be more interested in these writings, we notice that most of Torah is excluded (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).

Likewise, on the What Christians Want To Know website, the article The Importance of The Old Testament for the Christian Faith informs us that "The Old Testament is absolutely essential to having a true understanding of the Bible and God’s unfolding of the greatest love story of all time.  It is filled with many wonderful stories and characters.  The Old Testament is chalk full of prophecies that were either fulfilled in the Old or the New Testament." The author (Derek Hill) then proceeds to note many of the "role models" we find in those writings (like Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, etc.). Next, Hill draws our attention to many of the prophecies about the Messiah which were fulfilled by Jesus. Once again, however, a large portion of Torah is ignored.

Even so, there are a few bright spots out there. On The Gospel Coalition's website, we find the article Ten Reasons the Old Testament Is Important for Christians. According to author, Jason Derouchie, the Old Testament is important because: 1) It was Jesus' only Scripture and makes up three-fourths of our Bible, 2) It substantially influences our understanding of key teachings, 3) We meet the same God there, 4) It announces the Good News/Gospel message, 5) It has much to teach us about LOVE, 6) Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, 7) Jesus said that it points to him, 8) It is dangerous not to declare the whole counsel of God, 9) The authors of the New Testament said that the OT had been written for Christians, and 10) Paul commanded church leaders to preach it. In my opinion, this begins to get at the real significance that these writings SHOULD have for Christians.

In my humble opinion, we (Christians) must never forget that Jesus and his apostles were Torah observant Jews. Indeed, I think that it is absolutely essential that we understand that ALL of the rituals, sacrifices/offerings, and commandments of Torah pointed to Jesus Christ and his work. Moreover, Jesus Christ summarized Torah for Christians by identifying two of its 613 commandments as comprehending the WHOLE legislation!

We must also never forget that these were the ONLY Scriptures available to Jesus and his disciples - there was NO New Testament available during their lifetimes/ministries! Over and over again, we read in the writings of the NT how Jesus fulfilled this or that prophecy from the OT. In the Gospel of Luke, we are informed that Jesus began with Moses "and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." (24:27) Later, in the same account, we read that Jesus told his disciples "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." (Verse 44) Likewise, when Paul was in Rome, the book of Acts informs us that "When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening, he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets." (28:23)

Hence, while Christians are no longer obligated to observe all of the dos and don'ts of Torah, those writings still have much to teach us about our Savior and what he has done for us. In the epistle to the Colossians, the regulations surrounding food, drink, festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths are referred to as shadows of what was to come, and that their reality is found in Jesus Christ. This is the proper role of the Hebrew Scriptures to the Christian - the writings which we refer to as the Old Testament!

Friday, September 22, 2023

Clean and Unclean in Torah

In my former life as a member of Herbert Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God, I believed that I was obligated to follow the clean and unclean animal designations found in Torah. Prior to my baptism into that church, I had enjoyed ham, pork chops, bacon, lobster, and shrimp. Moreover, at the time of my baptism, I was still living with my very Southern grandparents (I was a seventeen-year-old teenager), both of whom were NOT members of the church. Even so, out of love for me, my grandmother drastically changed the way that she prepared meals to accommodate my religious views. I look back on that time now, and I cringe. What a self-centered, self-righteous little sh-t I was!

After reading COG Catholic's How the Bible Brought Me to Bacon at Banned by HWA, the memories of my own experience in this regard came flooding back to me. In that article, the author makes the point that the dietary laws of the eleventh chapter of Leviticus were given to underscore Israel's designation as a people set apart by God. Indeed, this point coincided with the thesis of many of the posts on this blog about the relevance/purpose of that entire body of legislation (in other words, all of the 613 commandments of Torah). Nevertheless, in addition to this very important point, there are a number of other considerations which pertain to the principle of clean and unclean in Scripture.

Interestingly, from the perspective of Scripture, the concept of clean and unclean is always associated with the sacrificial and ceremonial system outlined in Torah. In fact, the first time this distinction between clean and unclean is mentioned in Scripture is in the story of Noah and the flood. We read there that God instructed Noah: "You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female..." (Genesis 7:2, NKJV) Later, after the waters of the flood had receded and Noah and his family had emerged from the ark, we read: "Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar." (Genesis 8:20)

It is, however, in the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy that the concept of clean and unclean is fully developed. In the fifth chapter of Leviticus, we read that any Israelite who touched any unclean thing (animal or human) was required to present an offering for the offense (verses 2-3). Likewise, in the seventh chapter of that same book, we are informed that any Israelite "who touches any unclean thing, such as human uncleanness, an unclean animal, or any abominable unclean thing, and who eats the flesh of the sacrifice of the peace offering that belongs to the Lord, that person shall be cut off from his people." (Verse 21) In the tenth chapter, we learn that God spoke directly to Aaron and told him: "Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them by the hand of Moses." (Verses 9-11)

Then, the imperative to differentiate between that which was clean and that which was unclean was extended to that which the children of Israel were permitted to eat (Leviticus 11). As with other features of this legislation, the commandments were specifically addressed to the children of Israel (verse 2). Moreover, the conclusion of the chapter makes very clear just how important this concept of distinguishing between clean/unclean was to the overall covenant between God and Israel. We read: "This is the law of the animals and the birds and every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps on the earth, to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten." (Verses 46-47)

As we shall see, however, the principle of clean/unclean went far beyond what was acceptable/unacceptable to eat. In chapters 12-17 of Leviticus, we are informed that people, dwellings, and furnishings can also be unclean. Also, in the twenty-second chapter of the book, we see that a person could be made unclean just by touching or coming into contact with something that was unclean. In the book of Numbers, we learn that there were periods of time where someone or something could be designated as unclean. In the fourteenth chapter of Deuteronomy, the list of clean and unclean meats is reiterated, but in the twenty-third chapter we see that the entire camp of the Israelites was to be free of any unclean things. In all of these instances, it is interesting to note that the Hebrew word translated into English as "unclean" indicates something that has been fouled, defiled, or polluted in some way. This is the sense of the word in all of its manifestations in Torah. Moreover, once again, it is clear that this designation was intimately associated with the ritual, ceremonial, and sacrificial life of the community.

Even so, Torah also introduced the Israelites to the concept of clean and unclean as it related to the moral life of the community. In the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus, the rituals associated with the Day of Atonement are outlined, and it clearly pointed to the removal of the sins of the people. In describing the role of the High Priest, we read: "Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness." (Verses 15-16) Also, as part of the ceremony, Aaron was to take some of the blood of the sacrifice and sprinkle it on the altar to "cleanse it, and consecrate it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel." (Verse 19) Indeed, in the summary of the ceremony, we read: "For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord." (Verse 30) 

Interestingly, the concept is developed even further in the Prophets and Writings of the Hebrew Bible. In Isaiah, non-Israelites are characterized as being unclean (35:8 and 52:1). In the writings of Ezekiel, the Israelites and their leaders are taken to task for failing to differentiate between that which is clean and unclean (22:26 and 44:23). Moreover, just as we have seen with the description of the Day of Atonement, the Prophets and Writings talk about God's ability to cleanse the children of Israel from their moral uncleanness. We read: "I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned against Me and by which they have transgressed against Me." (Jeremiah 33:8) In Ezekiel, we read: "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols." (36:25) Likewise, in the 51st Psalm, we read: "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity And cleanse me from my sin." (Verse 2) "Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." (Verse7) "Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me." (Verse 10)

Thus, we have seen how the concepts of clean and unclean were developed in Torah and the other Hebrew Scriptures, but the question for us is: How does all of this relate to the Christian? Herbert Armstrong's answer was that Christians should observe the Day of Atonement and the dietary laws. The New Testament, however, makes clear that we (Christians) are made clean by the blood of Jesus Christ - that all of that clean and unclean stuff (ritual/ceremonial, sacrificial, and moral) finds fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth! Once again, according to Jesus and his apostles, the Hebrew Scriptures MUST be interpreted through the lens of Jesus Christ.

Christ told his disciples that they had been cleansed by hearing the message which he had given to them. (John 15:3) And, a central part of that message was about what defiles a person - what makes a person unclean. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that the scribes and Pharisees confronted Christ about the fact that his disciples weren't following their rituals for ceremonial cleanliness. In response, we are told that Christ pointed out their hypocrisy - that they had completely abandoned what God actually expected/demanded of them to pursue their own notions about religious practice (15:1-9). Next, we are told that he turned to his disciples and said: "Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man." (Verses 10-11) Then, Peter asked him what he meant by this "parable" (verse 15). Christ responded: "Are you also still without understanding? Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man." (Verses 16-20) In other words, it isn't the observance of a ritual which makes a person clean/unclean - it's what's in that persons heart!

Likewise, in the first epistle of John, we read: "This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1:5-9)

In the epistle to the Hebrews, we read: "Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (9:11-14) Likewise, in the following chapter, the author informed his audience that Christ had "sprinkled" their dirty consciences and washed their bodies clean (10:22).

In Paul's first letter to the saints at Corinth, he listed several unrighteous behaviors that make people unclean (6:9-10). He continued: "And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." (Verse 11) In similar fashion, Paul wrote to Titus about "the washing of regeneration" (3:5), and to the Ephesians about Christ sanctifying the Church "having cleansed her by the washing of water." (5:26) In other words, it is Jesus Christ which makes the Christian clean before God!

Moreover, this message is reinforced in the book of Revelation. John said that he saw "a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands" (7:9). Continuing with the thought, John was told that "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (7:14) Once again, the symbolism is clear - it is Christ who makes us clean before God!

To be sure, there are other passages which have been cited by both Armstrongists and more traditional Christians in connection with this topic of clean and unclean. Chief among them is the account of Peter's dream in the book of Acts. Unfortunately, both sides frequently ignore the context of this dream in trying to buttress their own arguments about clean/unclean. In the account, we are informed that an angel had instructed a Gentile named Cornelius to contact the Apostle Peter (for the purpose of becoming a Christian - see Acts 10:1-8). Prior to this time, Christ's original disciples had focused on evangelizing among the Jews of Judea and the surrounding territories - there had NOT been any effort to fulfill the Great Commission and carry the good news about Christ to the rest of the world (Acts 1-9).

Now, while all of that was going on with Cornelius, the angel, and Cornelius' emissaries, God had given Peter a dream. Continuing with the account, we read that Peter "became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.' But Peter said, 'Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.' And a voice spoke to him again the second time, 'What God has cleansed you must not call common.' This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again." (10:10-16) Clearly, in this instance, God equated the concept of commanding Peter (a Torah observant Jew) to eat unclean meats with the acceptance of Gentiles into the Church. Indeed, later, Peter makes this connection himself (10:34-48). Yet again, the message is clear: Christ makes those who are unclean clean! 

Another one of those passages that is often mentioned by both sides in this regard is the fourteenth chapter of Paul's epistle to the saints at Rome. In this passage, Paul described the situation among Christ's disciples in that city: "For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand." (14:2-4) He went on to say: "Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak." (14:20-21) For me, this is a warning to both sides in this debate over the enforcement of the Levitical dietary laws and other religious notions related to diet. In other words, this stuff is peripheral - it's not that important - it's certainly NOT a matter of salvation!

Thus, in summary, we see that this distinction between clean and unclean was used by God to distinguish the children of Israel from the nations which surrounded them and to underscore the importance of the ceremonial and sacrificial systems which were an integral part of his covenant with that people. And, as with every other feature of Torah, Prophets, and Writings, for the Christian, this distinction between clean and unclean pointed to Jesus Christ and his work. In other words, the biblical concept of clean and unclean finds its fulfillment in Jesus. Moreover, because Christ makes us clean before God, the observance of the regulations surrounding clean and unclean meats is redundant and unnecessary - the substance/reality overwhelms the shadow/symbol! Finally, we have also demonstrated in our examination of what Scripture has to say on the subject, that NOTHING in those writings equates this principle with physical health (that is something which some of us have added to justify our practices). So, as Christians, let us shun the uncleanness of our former lives and wash away those sins in the blood of Jesus Christ! 

Sunday, September 17, 2023

God As Our Father

In the canonical Gospels, we find that Jesus constantly referred to Almighty God as "Father." Likewise, in his model prayer (the one commonly referred to as "The Lord's Prayer), Jesus taught his disciples to address God as their "Father." Likewise, in his epistles to the saints of Rome and Galatia, Paul said that Jesus had made them children of God, and that they were consequently entitled to refer to God as their Father.

Last night, we kept our eldest grandson, and it made me think about how I experience my paternal feelings toward my children and grandchildren. In short, I love being a "Daddy" and a "Papa." My children and grandchildren evoke feelings of love/compassion, joy/happiness, pride, patience, protectiveness, mercy, forgiveness, etc. I thoroughly enjoy teaching them new things, experiencing things with them, preparing meals for them, bathing them, doctoring their hurts, and tucking them into bed at night. In short, I derive a great deal of pleasure and good things from fulfilling that paternal role.

And, from what I know about our Heavenly Father's nature and greatness, I can only assume that what I experience is only a fraction of what "He" must experience in that role. Take just a moment to think about this. We are his babies - his children - the apples of his eye! Consider the pleasure and enjoyment that God must derive from our successes and growth, and the hurt he must endure when we stumble and hurt ourselves and each other. I don't know about you, but thinking about all of this makes me want to do better! I want to be a source of joy and pride for my Father - What about you?

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Allegory, Metaphor, Simile, and Hyperbole in Scripture

Although folks of a fundamentalist and/or literalist view of Scripture tend to be uncomfortable with discussions which focus on the Bible as literature, even a cursory review of those sacred writings reveals a wide range of literary genres and an extensive use of figurative language. In short, God and the people he used to author Scripture made extensive use of various kinds of comparisons to educate their audience, and this is what makes those fundamentalist/literalist folks so uncomfortable. Obviously, the use of allegory, metaphor, simile, and hyperbole requires the reader to reach outside of the confines of Scripture and draw upon personal experience and evaluate/contemplate how the two things are alike and/or different. Hence, "the Bible always means what it says," and "the Bible interprets itself," don't quite work in many of these instances.

In their Glossary of Literary Terms, the L.T. website defines an allegory as "a story within a story. It has a 'surface story' and another story hidden underneath." Now, although scholars are divided about whether or not some passages of Scripture should be considered as allegorical in nature, there is wide agreement that Scripture is literally FULL of allegory. Christ's parables are probably the most straightforward examples of allegory in Scripture. Likewise, Paul's comparison of the old and new covenants to Sarah's and Hagar's children in the fourth chapter of Galatians is another fairly obvious example of the use of this device. The book of Revelation also makes use of allegory. Likewise, in the Old Testament, we have the story which Nathan told to David about a stolen lamb, and a number of allegories in the prophetic books. Some biblical scholars see many of the stories found in Genesis, Judges, Job, and Song of Solomon as being allegorical in nature.

The Glossary of Literary Terms (GOLT) also defines a metaphor as "a common figure of speech that makes a comparison by directly relating one thing to another unrelated thing. Unlike similes, metaphors do not use words such as 'like' or 'as' to make comparisons. The writer or speaker relates the two unrelated things that are not actually the same, and the audience understands that it’s a comparison, not a literal equation." Once again, there are many metaphors in the Bible. Think of Jesus as the bread of life, lamb of God, truth, gate, rock, branch, shepherd, light of the world, etc.  In similar fashion, spirit is compared to breath in a number of passages throughout the Bible. Likewise, breath is equated with life throughout those same writings. The Church is compared to a human body and is frequently spoken of as a woman or a bride. In other words, the list of biblical metaphors is almost endless.

The GOLT also defines a simile as "a literary term where you use 'like' or 'as' to compare two different things and show a common quality between them. A simile is different from a simple comparison in that it usually compares two unrelated things." Like metaphors, a complete list of biblical similes would be very long. Think of comparisons like these: eyes like blazing fire, as grass or the flowers of the field, white like wool, wise as serpents and harmless as doves, like apples of gold in settings of silver, as a thief in the night, like sheep, faith as a mustard seed, like a gazelle, like a roaring lion, like a wave of the sea, like a tree planted by the water, a day as a thousand years, etc. As with allegory and metaphor, Scripture uses things that will be readily familiar to his/her audience - things which are commonly experienced features of life on this planet - to aid the reader in understanding God, Jesus, spiritual things, and moral principles.

Finally, the GOLT defines hyperbole as "a figure of speech in which an author or speaker purposely and obviously exaggerates to an extreme. It is used for emphasis or as a way of making a description more creative and humorous." In other words, these comparisons are meant to over emphasize something. In terms of the Bible, think: as numerous as the sand on the seashore or the stars in heaven, speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and beam in your own; if you're right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away, exalted to heaven, a camel going through the eye of a needle, straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel, etc. In examining these various literary devices, it rapidly becomes apparent to us that some of these features can overlap or melt together to achieve a particular effect.

To be clear, this post was not intended to be a criticism of the use of these literary devices by the authors of Scripture. On the contrary, I simply wanted to demonstrate that these devices are common features of the Bible - that they are part of the reality of those writings. In other words, their presence in Scripture is an undeniable fact, and we can see just how valuable they are in helping us to understand what the author(s) is/are trying to convey to us (the readers). Without them, the Bible would not be as clear/understandable or interesting! Also, their presence in these writings underscores just how complex and layered the Bible really is. In other words, they make many of the notions of the fundamentalists and literalists seem naive and simplistic. What do you think?

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Does Acts 20:6 Prove That the Philippians Were Observing the Days of Unleavened Bread?

The ACOG's have long employed this passage from the book of Acts (20:6) as a prooftext that the saints at Philippi were observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread. However, as with the passage from Paul's first epistle to the Christians at Corinth, the passage does NOT demonstrate Gentile observance of this festival. Once again, one must ignore the context and infer that the reference to the days of unleavened bread suggests that these Gentile folks were observing them. Let's take a closer look.

In the preceding chapter (Acts 19), we are informed that Paul had left Ephesus after its citizenry had almost rioted when they perceived Paul and his companions as posing a threat to the well-established worship of Artemis there. Continuing in the next chapter, we read: "After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas, but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days." (20:1-6, ESV here and throughout)

I don't know about you, but that sure sounds to me like the author of Acts was attempting to establish a timeline for some reason. The chronological landmarks in this text stand out to me: three months in Greece, a voyage to Syria, part of the company of evangelists going on ahead to Troas, the rest of their number following after the days of Unleavened Bread, and finally arriving there five days later (and apparently stayed there for a week). Why? Why the detailed chronology? Could it have anything to do with what followed? Was the author supplying all of these chronological landmarks for some purpose?

Continuing with this account, we read: "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, 'Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.' And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted." (Verses 7-12) Hmmm, is it possible that the author was providing enough details of the events surrounding one of the great miracles of Paul's ministry so that his readers would see that it had a believable and/or verifiable context?

This seems even more likely as we continue with the account. Next, we read: "But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and the day after that we went to Miletus. For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost." (Verses 13-16) By the way, just as an aside, this passage appears to be a firsthand account of the events described therein. I interject this only because many critics of the New Testament claim that most of the narrative was penned by folks who weren't there to witness the events they were describing.

Anyway, while it might be reasonable to infer from those references to the Days of Unleavened Bread and Pentecost that Paul (or some of his companions) continued to observe some or all of the Torah festivals, I hope that we can all acknowledge that it would be quite a stretch to deduce from these passages that festival observance was widespread among Gentile Christians of this era.

Also, in terms of context, we would be remiss if we didn't point out that all of these events were leading up to Paul's final journey to Jerusalem and eventual transfer to Rome as a prisoner. In other words, the author of Acts was clearly building to the conclusion of his narrative about Paul's ministry. Paul is the main character of this narrative, and all of the Christian communities mentioned in that narrative are there to underscore Paul's work among the Gentiles of the Mediterranean world.

What exactly are we getting at? Think of telling the story of Herbert Armstrong without mentioning Eugene, Oregon or Pasadena, California! Think of telling his story without referencing chronological landmarks like the beginning of the publishing of the Plain Truth, the commencement of the radio broadcast and television program, the deaths of Richard and Loma, the disfellowshipping of Garner Ted, etc. And, if we mentioned that some event happened before Easter or after Christmas of some year, it would obviously be absurd for future generations to deduce from those references that Herbert Armstrong observed those holidays! In other words, let's not get carried away with what we infer from these references! Acts 20:6 as a prooftext for Gentile observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread? I think NOT!

I Corinthians 5:8 as a Prooftext for Christian Observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread

In response to my post Get Ready: The Fall Holy Days Are Almost Upon Us, CGI's Jeff Reed cited I Corinthians 5:8 as a prooftext for the obligation of Christians to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread. I responded by pointing out that Paul was addressing a particular problem in the Corinthian Church - a man was openly in a relationship with his stepmother. I quoted almost the entire chapter in my response and demonstrated that Paul regarded the toleration of this man's sin by the wider community as something that was corrupting/leavening the whole congregation/batch of dough. I went on to underscore the fact that Paul's reference to Christ as the Christian's Passover Lamb - the thing which makes us free of sin/unleavened - is what the apostle intended for them to celebrate.

Nevertheless, Jeff responded: "Lonnie's comments...are an interesting example of how the same text can be viewed so differently. To me, the entire context points to keeping the Festival. It is very clear. It sure sounds like Paul was speaking to people who kept the feast. Or how else would they understand the symbolism he is teaching? Use that same language to a group of Baptists and see if they understand the meaning without additional explanation. What Paul says makes more sense to an audience keeping the feast. Paul even gives instructions in chapters 10 and 11 about proper observance of the Lord's Supper (New Testament Passover), which precedes the Days of Unleavened Bread. Another indication this letter was probably sent shortly before the Festival was to take place."

First, I agree with Pastor Reed that this is a prime example of how a passage of Scripture can be viewed very differently by folks with an agenda (like proving that Christians are obligated to observe the festivals commanded in Torah). However, absent that agenda, if the passage is viewed in context (meaning subject matter and place in the larger epistle), I don't think that there is much room for confusion here. I invite my readers to read Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (especially chapter 5) and make your own determination about the focus of his remarks. Was he talking about the Feast of Unleavened Bread or was he addressing the situation with a sinning brother and his situation's impact on the larger community?

Also, in so far as the passage is related to any festival, I would like to suggest that it clearly refers to the New Testament Passover - the Lord's Supper! After all, Paul did state that "Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed <for us>" Hence, in this context, Paul's remarks about the proper observance of the Eucharist in the eleventh chapter of the same epistle is much more consistent with the passage from the fifth chapter than any suggestion that he was speaking about the Feast of Unleavened Bread (unleavened bread was also an integral part of the Old Testament Passover). In other words, if Paul was focused on any festival, he was clearly speaking about New Testament Passover.

Finally, of course, these Gentile folks would have been familiar with these references to Torah! They would have been an integral part of Paul's preaching about Jesus Christ! Remember, Christ and his apostles used the Torah, Prophets, and Writings of the Hebrew Scriptures to preach the Good News about salvation through him to everyone - Jews and Gentiles. That does NOT, however, suggest that Christians should observe the Torah festivals - that would be a leap in logic that Scripture simply does NOT make.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Joseph as a type of Jesus?

In a number of posts on this blog, I have pointed out that Jesus of Nazareth said that he came to this earth to fulfill the Law (Torah) and the Prophets. Moreover, in support of that thesis, I have written a number of posts which outline the many ways in which Christ has fulfilled them (especially Torah). Even so, some of my critics have accused me of relegating the Torah to obscurity - of advocating for abrogating or ignoring it. Those many posts are my answer to these critics, and this current post is meant to further elucidate my belief that Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament) points to Jesus of Nazareth. Now, some people will undoubtedly argue that what follows is merely coincidence and was never intended by the original human author(s) of these Scriptures to point to Jesus. I am more than happy to let my readers decide for themselves.

In the book of Genesis, we learn that Jacob and Rachel had a son whom they named Joseph, because his mother said, "May the Lord add yet another son to my family." (Genesis 30:24) Interestingly, Scripture also informs us that Jesus was "the firstborn of many siblings." (Romans 8:29) Thus, just as it was hoped that God would add to Jacob's and Rachel's family, God intended for his Son to add to his family! Interestingly, Christian students of the Bible have long recognized a number of other similarities within the lives of Joseph and Jesus of Nazareth.

First, Scripture informs us that Joseph's father loved him more than any of his other children (Genesis 37:3). Likewise, in the Gospel of Matthew, we are informed that a voice from heaven was heard at the baptism of Jesus saying, "This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy." (3:17)

Next, we are informed that Joseph's brothers hated him because of their father's love for him (Genesis 37:4). Likewise, the Gospel of John informs us that Jesus was hated and despised by his Jewish brethren (1:11 and 15:24-25). Also, the account in Genesis informs us that Joseph told his family about the things which God had revealed to him through some dreams, and that his brethren resented what he had to say (37:5-11). Similarly, Jesus delivered the message which God had given him to his brethren, and they resented what he told them (John 8:45-59). Moreover, just as Joseph's brothers conspired against him (Genesis 37:18-28), Christ's Jewish brethren conspired to put Jesus to death (Matthew 27:1-2).

Then, also in Genesis, we learn that Joseph's brothers stripped him of his special robe (37:23). Likewise, the Roman soldiers stripped Jesus of his special seamless robe (John 19:23-24). Also, Genesis informs us that Joseph was sold by his brothers to some Ishmaelite traders for twenty pieces of silver (37:28). In similar fashion, we learn in the New Testament that Judas sold Jesus to the Jewish religious leaders for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-15).

In Egypt, we learn that Joseph was put in prison as a consequence of a false accusation (Genesis 39:12-20). In similar fashion, the Jewish religious leaders tried to solicit individuals to make false accusations against Jesus (Matthew 26:59-60). Moreover, Joseph was imprisoned with two other men (Genesis 40:1-3), and Jesus was crucified with two other men (John 19:18).

After his release from prison, we read that Pharoah put Joseph in charge of Egypt, and that "Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours." (Genesis 41:40) Likewise, we read in the New Testament that God has put everything under Jesus Christ (John 3:35, I Corinthians 15:27, and Ephesians 1:22).

Later, Genesis informs us that Joseph's brothers bowed down before him and acknowledged his authority (42:6). In the New Testament, we are informed that someday every knee will bow at the name of Jesus (Philippians 2:10-11). Later still, we are informed that Joseph had to reassure his brothers that he wouldn't hold a grudge against them for all of the things that had happened to him as a consequence of their ill will. He said: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people." (50:20) Likewise, the angel of the Lord told Joseph (Mary's betrothed) that Jesus would "save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) Moreover, this was also predicted by the prophet Isaiah. In the fifty-third chapter of that book, we read: "But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins." (Verses 10-11)

Now, this is certainly NOT an exhaustive treatment of all of the parallels between the lives of Joseph and Jesus, but it is sufficient to demonstrate the phenomenon. I don't know about you, but this is a little bit too much for me to sweep away as coincidence! Indeed, I can't help but remember what Christ said about fulfilling Torah.

For those who are interested in exploring this topic further, I'd like to suggest two brief articles for your perusal:

Joseph, a Type of Christ

Similarities Between Joseph and Jesus

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Living in the Spirit

In the eighth chapter of Paul's epistle to the disciples of Christ who were living at Rome, the apostle said that Christ's obedience to Torah and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit enabled them to overcome their natural hostility to God's Law. How was this accomplished? Paul wrote: "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit." (Verses 1-4, NLT)

For Paul, this is what liberated the Christian from that sinful nature. He continued: "Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God." (Verses 5-8) The fault - the problem - was with US - it was our sinful nature which made us hostile to God and unable to be obedient to him. Nevertheless, Paul clearly delineated that Christ had destroyed the control which our own sinful nature exerted over us and had given us access to God's own Spirit to lead us in a different direction.

Paul then went on to elucidate the essential role that the Holy Spirit played in the liberated Christian's life going forward. He wrote: "But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God." (Verses 9-14)

So, according to Paul, Christ's obedience to Torah made them right with God and destroyed the hold that their sinful nature exerted over them. And, just as Christ had freed them from that nature, Paul went on to say that the Holy Spirit would enable them to live their lives going forward in that freedom! In other words, Christ made it possible for them to abandon their hostility to what God expected from them. Going forward, under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, they would be able to love God with their whole hearts and each other as they loved themselves. Moreover, Paul made it very clear to them that this would not be accomplished through their individual efforts to obey the commandments of Torah - that it was accomplished exclusively through Jesus Christ and the indwelling of God's Spirit within each of them as individuals. Thus, as Paul went on to say, Christ had made God's love known to them and NOTHING (including that sinful nature) would ever again be able to separate them (Christians) from him! (Verses 31-39)