Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Philosophical Take on Van Til

Actually, this is a very brief take on apologist/theologian/philosopher Cornelius Van Til's work as contained in the readings and interpretation found in Greg Bahnsen's massive tome, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis.  All in all, I'm very sympathetic with a lot of Van Til's ideas.  I think he gets better than most apologists how the way we react to, interpret, experience, filter, and reason about ourselves and the world around us is in large part dependent on what we already believe (philosopher W.V.O. Quine and others have made some headwork with this idea), particularly our most fundamental beliefs or assumptions - and that Christians and non-Christians come to the world with different sets of these.  I also appreciate the idea that sin affects this set - it has real consequences for the way our minds work - and that our knowledge of God is based not primarily on reasoning or experience but on God's own testimony (we have, as made in the image of God, a sensus divinitas). 

So far so good - when Van Til (and Bahnsen, who substantially agrees with Van Til) goes beyond all this, however, it hard to follow what the reasoning is supposed to be.  Van Til thinks that the only appropriate apologetic method is to use a transcendental argument to the effect that only on the presupposition of Christianity is reasoning or pretty much anything else possible at all.  Here's where things start to get messy.  Sometimes it seems like Van Til is saying that unless a person already assumes Christianity, they cannot make sense of any of this stuff.  Other times, it seems like he is saying that unless Christianity is true, none of this stuff would be possible.  These are two distinct claims, but he seems to slide back and forth between the two without noticing and this creates a lot of problems with some of the arguments in favor of his method and against other apologetic methods.  Most often, he seems to slide back and forth, equivocating between metaphysical and epistemological senses of various terms or concepts, again making for potentially fallacious argumentation.  There also seems to be some equivocation relating to other terms such as "authority" or "primacy".  Then there's the claim that there are no neutral beliefs - one either presupposes Christianity or its opposite.  His claim is that to the extent that a non-Christian agrees with Christianity on some fact, he or she is unwittingly (and inconsistently with his or her own position) presupposing Christianity, an idea which seems to depend on the successful implementation of his transcendental argument (and which, unfortunately, inherits the same ambiguity which then affects his arguments against opponents). 

Unfortunately, Van Til (and Bahnsen) does not do a lot to actually show that the transcendental argument works.  Simply saying that only on the presupposition of Christianity is, say, reasoning possible does not show that it is so.  We need more argumentation.  Unfortunately, not much is forthcoming, and what is provided tends to contain gaps in reasoning that are (again, unfortunately) not filled.  Over and over again, claims are made as to what the non-Christian is committed to with little in the way of proof that he or she is actually so-committed.  This also infects arguments against other methodologies (not to mention some of the mistaken or at least controversial interpretations of various historical philosophers).  To take but one instance (my own comments are in brackets), Van Til claims that traditional methods are "allowing for an ultimate realm of 'chance' out of which might come 'facts' such as are wholly new for God and for man. [Where do they do this?  How?  Is this really a good interpretation?]  Such 'facts' would be uninterpreted and unexplainable in terms of the general or special revelation of God. [Why?  How does this follow?]" I won't even start on the claim that the use of logic in traditional methods of defending Christianity puts logic above God or in control of God or makes God not God, etc. (There are many things wrong here, one being that Van Til seems to assume without argument that the facts of logic are things out there to which God might be subordinated, whereas many philosophers (not all) would deny that such that there are facts of logic at all in a metaphysical sense - the law of non-contradiction is, on such a view, necessarily true but without some unique entity out there making it true since describing substantive reality is not even what the statement is supposed to do in the first place)

I sometimes had similar problems with the other presupposionalist book I read recently, Vern Poythress's book on logic, which, in its statements and arguments, pretty clearly confused logic with reasoning over and over again and explicitly stated that logic is something like a codification of rationality, which it is not.  In any case, I was a bit dissapointed with the argumentation of the presuppositionalist writings I have read so far, despite agreeing with a fair bit as well.  I have some other books along the same vein lined up to read (including more Van Til and Bahnsen), so I am hoping that there is more to some of these arguments than I have already seen.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bibliography 2nd Half 2013

A bibliography similar to the previous one. This one covers July-December 2013. Again, it's not necessarily complete and contains only whole books, not articles or primarily reference works. I'm also trying to only include books that are new - i.e., not on the previous lists. (Childrens' books also not included!) Starred books are ones I consider particularly outstanding, interesting, important, or otherwise likable.
    
*Bahnsen, Greg, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis.
*Beale, G.K., The Temple and the Church's Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God.
Brettler, Marc Zvi, The Creation of History in Ancient Israel.
Brueggemann, Walter, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith, Second Edition.
*Charles, J. Daryl, ed., Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation.
Collins, C. John, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary.
Collins, John J., Daniel.  Hermeneia.
Dozeman, Thomas, and Konrad Schmid, eds., A Farewell to the Yahwist?: The Composition of the Pentateuch in Recent European Interpretation.
Feder, Yitzhaq, Blood Expiation in Hittite and Biblical Ritual: Origins, Context, and Meaning.
Frankel, David, The Land of Canaan and the Destiny of Israel: Theologies of Territory in the Hebrew Bible.
*Fretheim, Terence, God and the World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation.
Goldingay, John, Daniel. WBC.
Hobbs, T.R., 2 Kings. WBC.
House, Paul, 1, 2 Kings. NAC.
Lennox, John C., Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science.
McCarter, P. Kyle, II Samuel. AB.
Millard, A.R., J.K. Hoffmeier, and D.W. Baker, eds., Faith, Tradition, and History: Old Testament Historiography in Its Near Eastern Context.
The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume VII.
Nicholson, Ernest, The Pentateuch in the Twentieth Century: The Legacy of Julius Wellhausen.
Perdue, Leo G., Joseph Blenkinsopp, John J. Collins, and Carol Meyers, Families in Ancient Israel.
Polzin, Robert, David and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomic History, Part Three: 2 Samuel.
Poythress, Vern Sheridan, Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought.
*Simkins, Ronald A., Creator and Creation: Nature in the Worldview of Ancient Israel.
Trible, Phyllis, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality.
Trible, Phyllis, Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives.
Van Seters, John, In Search of History: Historiography in the Ancient World and the Origins of Biblical History.
Von Rad, Gerhard, The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays.
Von Rad, Gerhard, Holy War in Ancient Israel.
*Walsh, Jerome, 1 Kings. Berit Olam.
Walton, John, Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology.
Weinfeld, Moshe, Social Justice in Ancient Israel and in the Ancient Near East.
Wellhausen, Julius, Prolegomena to the History of Israel.
*Wilson, Robert, Genealogy and History in the Biblical World.
*Wright, Christopher J.H., God's People in God's Land: Family, Land, and Property in the Old Testament.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Genesis and Christmas

These are some half-formed, sometimes random, somewhat repetitive notes I made for the sermon prep study group at Cornerstone this week - enjoy!
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Genesis 2-3: Israelites would have seen their own story here, the story of Genesis-II Kings (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings were written as a direct four-part sequel to the Pentateuch to form a single story ending with Israel and Judah’s exiles but with a note of hope for ultimate restoration).  Like Israel, Adam was formed in a deserted place (Genesis 2:4-7), brought into a new, lush land – a garden, where they would be with God and take care of the land (2:8-15).  But, like Adam, they disobeyed the commandment given to them directly by God and allow themselves to be led astray by the evil they have allowed to stay in the land and are subsequently cast out of the land, failing to find life and instead bringing on themselves curse and death (Genesis 3). 
Israel was to have been the new Adam, God’s “do-over”, the new representative and embodiment of humanity restored, who were to be the vessels to bring life and initiate the completion of God’s creation-plan as Adam should have done.  But like Adam (since they were in Adam themselves and hence suffered also from sin and death), they failed in their mission.  If Israel was to be restored from its curse, its exile, and if their mission to fulfill Adam’s mission was to be fulfilled, God would have to intervene himself.  As Adam grasped for autonomy – to know good and evil through experience of them and doing both rather than under God’s lordship and through his wise instruction – so Israel also sought freedom from God, only to end in slavery.  So Israel looked to God as Savior to save them from their state of exile/curse and thus to restore all of creation through this – Israel’s restoration would mean Adam’s!  This promise of restoration fills the Old Testament.  For example, Deuteronomy 30:1-10 (all quotes here from NIV):

30When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you. You will again obey the Lord and follow all his commands I am giving you today. Then the Lord your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, 10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

The longing for restoration, for God to act as Savior, comes in many places (it also is partly captured in the first verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”).  Here are a few – Ezra 9:6b-9:

6b“I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. 7 From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.
8 “But now, for a brief moment, the Lord our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place[a] in his sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage. 9 Though we are slaves, our God has not forsaken us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.

Lamentations 5:

5 Remember, Lord, what has happened to us;
    look, and see our disgrace.
2 Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
    our homes to foreigners.
3 We have become fatherless,
    our mothers are widows.
4 We must buy the water we drink;
    our wood can be had only at a price.
5 Those who pursue us are at our heels;
    we are weary and find no rest.
6 We submitted to
Egypt and Assyria
    to get enough bread.
7 Our ancestors sinned and are no more,
    and we bear their punishment.
8 Slaves rule over us,
    and there is no one to free us from their hands.
9 We get our bread at the risk of our lives
    because of the sword in the desert.
10 Our skin is hot as an oven,
    feverish from hunger.
11 Women have been violated in
Zion,
    and virgins in the towns of
Judah.
12 Princes have been hung up by their hands;
    elders are shown no respect.
13 Young men toil at the millstones;
    boys stagger under loads of wood.
14 The elders are gone from the city gate;
    the young men have stopped their music.
15 Joy is gone from our hearts;
    our dancing has turned to mourning.
16 The crown has fallen from our head.
    Woe to us, for we have sinned!
17 Because of this our hearts are faint,
    because of these things our eyes grow dim
18 for
Mount Zion, which lies desolate,
    with jackals prowling over it.
19 You, Lord, reign forever;
    your throne endures from generation to generation.
20 Why do you always forget us?
    Why do you forsake us so long?
21 Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;
    renew our days as of old
22 unless you have utterly rejected us
    and are angry with us beyond measure.

Daniel 9:1-19:

9 In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.
4 I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:
“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.
7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. 8 We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. 9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.
“Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. 12 You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. 13 Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. 14 The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.
15 “Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.
17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

In 3:15, there doesn’t seem to be any direct reference to Christ and Satan.  Direct reference is to the serpent, its children, Eve, and her children (the word used is zara‘, which is a collective noun referring to a group of offspring, whether human, animal, or plant (seed)), but there is further, general symbolic reference as well, since the serpent would also seem to symbolize what is anti-God and anti-God’s-creation-purposes.  The enmity described thus also describes that between those with God’s mission – especially God’s people – and those who oppose that mission and seek to sway others from it.  The former will win in the end, but not without struggle and wounding.  In Israel’s own case, the anti-God forces came originally in the form of the Canaanites who led them astray from God’s Law.  Indeed, this is what we see in Genesis 9, where Noah is portrayed as Adam (a man of the soil, who consumes a form of fruit in a bad way, has his nakedness covered, etc.) and the descendants of the villain of the story, Ham, are cursed in a similar fashion to the serpent (referred to explicitly as Canaan).  Canaan was to function as Israel’s serpent.  This pattern, however, is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus’ victory over Satan – in Jesus, Adam and Israel’s missions are finally fulfilled and the pinnacle of evil and temptation is defeated though Jesus is struck (and precisely because he is struck).  This is the culmination of the principle of 3:15 – the ironic victory of God’s people over evil (as in Romans 16:20).  As the representative of God’s people, Jesus is Israel, he is the seed, who crushes the head of evil and takes on the identity and mission of God’s people and succeeds where they have failed (cf. Galatians where Paul identifies Jesus with the promised seed of Abraham (God’s people) and then calls Christians the seed – the former is head, representative, and completer of the latter).  The defeat of God’s enemies – the enemies of his people – means the removal of the obstacle to restoration and the fulfillment of God’s creation-purposes. 
In this light, Genesis 3-11 presents a long description of the continuation of humanity’s Fall that begun in chapter 3.  The solution – what I would call the real protoevangelium of Genesis – is in 12:2-3.  Blessing in Genesis represents the fulfillment of creation-purposes – this passage outlines God’s plan in choosing Israel and their mission as part of this, to undo chapters 3-11.  But first, Israel itself would have to be restored since it too suffered the consequences of those chapters  (Paul has a lot to say about this!).  The one who would do this – who would restore Israel and all of creation, fulfilling Adam’s and Israel’s missions as the new Adam, the true Israel – was, of course, God – specifically, God come in human flesh as the promised king of Israel to usher in this restoration – Jesus Christ our Lord!

Quick note on the etymology of “Immanuel” (“Emmanuel”, from the song, is how it was transliterated into Latin): ‘im is the preposition meaning “with”; with the added first person plural pronominal suffix (i.e., “us”), it has the form ‘immanu meaning “with us”; ’el is the generic word for “god”; so ’Immanuel literally means “with us God” – that is, “with us is God”.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Transgender Bill

A version of something I posted on Facebook:

So this passed.  I know some will disagree but I think there were much better ways of resolving this sort of issue than this bill. Sorry, but I'd rather not have my daughters shower with someone with male equipment just because that person has some innate wish they were born female. In my opinion, girls'/womens' restrooms were made for the female sex and transgender females are admittedly not of the female sex (hence the "transgender" label - although one could argue about this if they've had a "sex-change" surgery). Proponents of this bill, I think, are assuming that restrooms are segregated by socially constructed gender role, in which case it would make sense to allow socially female males to use female restrooms. But I think restrooms are actually segregated by the equipment you currently have (that is, by sex), which has nothing to do with which gender you identify with. In which case allowing only the female sex in the restroom for the female sex has nothing to do with transgender issues or discrimination against such people. There are other ways to accommodate transgender people, such as gender-neutral bathrooms or shower stalls, etc. that do not violate persons' privacy rights in regards to the opposite sex.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Notes on Galatians 5:1-12

More study notes by me for the sermon prep:



In verse 1, Paul is drawing on the idea that the Law with its Jewish particulars was one of the things that enslaved the Jews in a sense (along with sin and death), separating them from other peoples until the time of Christ (3:23-25), and cursing them for violation of the covenant with God.  Christ, then, provided rescue from this curse and deliverance from sin and the division between Jew and Gentile.  Jesus gave freedom – a new exodus, deliverance, or rescue of Israel from its exile/curse of the Law, something promised in the Old Testament to bring with it the ingathering of the nations (i.e., the Gentiles) into God’s one family.  This freedom from sin, death, Jewish-Gentile division, and the Law’s curse on Israel, then, belongs to those who truly belong to God’s one promised family – as chapter 4 has it, they are the children of God’s promise to Abraham – the Sarah people, not the Hagar people still under bondage to sin, death, division, and curse. 

In other words, Jesus came to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham of a single family of all nations on earth by bringing God’s salvation to the ends of the earth beginning with his exhaustion of Israel’s curse which it had acquired for covenant disobedience.  This sets up verses 2-4, as this is precisely what the agitators are, in effect, denying by forcing Gentiles to become circumcised – God’s family, in their thinking, was supposed to be restricted to one nation, the Jews alone.  They in effect deny the work of Christ in bringing about God’s promises.  So to go back to the old use of the Law in dividing Jew from Gentile (as opposed to Jesus’ and Paul’s use) is to reject what Christ has already done, to deny his work on the cross in bringing redemption and reconciliation between the nations. 

Paul’s point in verse 3, then, is that since being Jewish means, for the agitators, following all the Law’s Jewish particulars, Gentiles who obey the agitators (to become Jewish in order to become part of God’s people) are not done there – Gentiles being Jewish will have to go all the way and add to circumcision food laws, and so forth.  This is not about circumcision itself per se but the motives and theology behind why these Gentiles were becoming circumcised (Paul circumcised Timothy and would not say these things in 2-4 about Timothy).  Unfortunately, for centuries Gentile Christians became a version of these agitators themselves when they used this verse to deny that Jews could be Christians unless they became Gentiles first, thus again denying the work of Christ.  Even today, Christians unfortunately use terms like “Jew” or “Jewish” as contraries of “Christian”, further pushing the un-Pauline view that one cannot remain a Jew and be a true Christian.

In 5 and 6, Paul turns to the true marks of God’s family.  What sets them apart are not whether they are Jewish or not but whether they have faith, which is itself expressed outwardly in love, not necessarily in works of the Law (circumcision, etc.) – a love which by its very nature welcomes both Jews and Gentiles.  On the basis of this life led in faith, led by the Holy Spirit (associated with freedom from sin, etc. – see, e.g., II Cor 3:17) who is the sign that the new time of faith and Israel’s rescue has come, believers may now hope for the completion of God’s work in us, fully bringing his kingdom and establishing his new people in his new creation, even among Gentiles. 

In verses 7-9, Paul turns from Christ’s work to that of the agitators.  These agitators are basically trying to counteract Christ’s work in bringing together a family of both Jews and Gentiles, free from enslavement.  And what grieves Paul most is that it seems to be working at least somewhat!  False teaching, if not checked, can easily poison the church and cause people to stumble when they are easily swayed not to attend to the truth.  It takes only a few bad influences to start affecting the life of the whole church if they are allowed to continue.  In verse 10, Paul is, however, confident in the Galatians’ case that they will ultimately side with him over the agitators, no matter what is going wrong at the moment, since it is ultimately the agitators themselves who are to blame for this mess. 

The false teaching, hinted at in verse 11, was that Paul had kept back part of the gospel and of the full Christian life from the Galatians – the part about having to become a Jew in order to be a Christian.  The position was that Paul agreed with their version of the gospel but had been too stingy and had not given the Galatians the whole thing.  Summing up his self-defense so far, Paul makes it clear that he does not agree with the agitators’ version of the gospel and he certainly has not left out what they wanted to put in since it was never a part of the gospel in the first place.  If he had agreed with them that Gentiles had to become Jews, he would not be persecuted by his fellow Jews (who thought he was betraying God and Moses with his message).

Paul concludes then in this section that cutting off part of your body (like in circumcision) does not matter since both Jew and Gentile are now accepted equally into a single family – why not just go all the way and be castrated rather than stop at circumcision?  According to Paul, there is no significant religious difference.  The irony here, of course, is that to be castrated would, by the stipulations of the Law, bar one from the religious assembly of Israel.  Only the time of Israel’s rescue and the ingathering of the Gentiles, as foretold by Isaiah, would break down that barrier and allow eunuchs in on equal footing with others – precisely the work of Christ that these agitators who think they are in a privileged religious position are now denying.  Paul is therefore being even cleverer here than it seems on first glance!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Notes on Galatians 4:12-20



More notes prepared for the Cornerstone sermon-prep study group:

In Galatians 4:12-20, Paul draws on a common Graeco-Roman discussion topic of true versus false friendship, showing that he and the Galatians had had a true friendship – he is the Galatians’ true friend (and, even greater, true family), whereas Paul’s opponents are false friends.  He appeals to them on the basis of that true and intimate relationship to be transformed into the true family of God they were meant to be, with no divisions or exclusions between Jew and Gentile. 

In verse 12, Paul echoes the common Greek idea that true friendship involved, in some sense, equality, unanimity, and likeness – becoming or being like the friend, sharing in their (mis)fortune.  As in I Corinthians 9, Paul became like a Christian Gentile in order to minister to them so they as Gentiles could also become Christians.  Hence they too should be free in Christ to be Gentiles as followers of Christ.  Paul shows that there are no hard feelings and that they have had a true friendship – true friends do no true harm to one another.  Instead, they did the opposite – despite all the reasons not to, they accepted him.  In verses 13 and 14, Paul notes that they passed the test of true friendship at the very beginning of their relationship, where it would have been a temptation to disregard Paul as cursed or wicked because of his illness.  Instead, Paul, as a representative of Jesus Christ, as an apostle proclaiming Jesus’ message, was received as a messenger of God and like Jesus Christ himself. 

While the relationship they had had involved blessing, in verse 15 we have Paul questioning the continued presence of such blessing.  Has so much changed?  Formerly they would have done anything for him – true friendship involves a willingness to undergo extreme sacrifice.  In verse 16, he wonders if the change is because he is speaking the truth to them, yet that should show that he is a true friend rather than a flatterer (a common Graeco-Roman contrast is between the true friend who is frank and truthful and the flatterer who is not).  Rather than an enemy, as the opponents may have made him out to be (since he would be seen as keeping them from becoming “real” Christians by becoming Jews), his truth-speaking marks him out as the complete opposite.

Verses 17 and 18 draw somewhat on the Jewish notion of zeal, which was often applied towards the Law and the covenant between God and Israel.  Unfortunately, in Paul’s time this often ended up being twisted into a hatred of Gentiles and could be turned into violence (the Zealots).  The opponents’ misguided zeal drove them to use the Law to force the Gentiles to become Jews lest they be excluded, and thus the opponents miss the true zeal which is for the God who welcomes the Gentiles into his family on an equal footing with the Jews.  By threatening exclusion, the Gentiles are forced to depend on the opponents for their spiritual status, following their guidance and what they say in order to be proper Jews, putting the opponents on a pedestal for revealing to them the things of the Law that Paul had supposedly left out or kept from them.  True friends, true family, however, do not maintain their relationships based on personal gain.  They have zeal, but it is for good things, not bad.  True friendship is reliable – in this case, it involves a zeal which always seeks good.  And this is precisely the zeal with which Paul meets the Galatians, a zeal which involves bringing the Galatians to meet the God who would have them as a part of his one family.

In verse 19, Paul shows how deep their relationship really goes – Paul is family, he is like their mother still laboring painfully to give birth to them.  He cares for them, wanting Christ to be formed in/among them.  The community is to be Christ-shaped, with Christ as true head, they as his true body, combined together as one family in him.  Yet the opponents are trying to prevent this formation by introducing divisions and exclusions within the community in the form of the works of the Law.  In verse 20, Paul thus reiterates his true friendship, his true parenthood of them, when he expresses his care for them, wishing to be present with them physically and not merely through the letter – they have seemingly cast aside their good relationship with Paul which involved truth and belonging and accepted instead accepted a bad relationship with the opponents which involved falsity and exclusion.  Paul is bewildered that they would opt for the latter over the former.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Teaching About the Bible, Not Just Its Content

I've been thinking about writing more about apologetics, maybe book length.  One major topic, though, I'm thinking of working on is that of the Bible itself.  I'd like to see more education in churches about the Bible.  Not just what's in the Bible but its nature, origins and prehistory, ancient context, etc.  That is, we should have more that is not just about the content of the Bible but the Bible itself.  There are many, many myths and misconstruals floating around about the Bible among more moderate to conservate Christians, Evangelicals, and also Fundamentalists.  And I don't mean "secular" or "liberal" myths either - I mean myths perpetuated largely by traditional, orthodox-leaning Christians.  (To give a couple examples: the idea that every command in the Bible is a timeless moral imperative and the Bible is basically a life handbook; the idea that there cannot be any reasonable doubt about the exact text or meaning of a passage; the idea that absolutely everything ought to be taken as completely literally and describing exact historical, scientific reality and conforming to, say, modern scientific-writing genre conventions, etc.)

The trouble is that many take these myths to be integral to the Christian view of the Bible and to the faith as a whole and when these bubbles get popped, their world comes crashing down and they must either remake their views of the Bible or reject the faith entirely.  I have personally known several people who left the faith because of these myths when they could not handle their dismantlement.  And these were very intelligent people; they were simply dealing with the destruction of what they had believed and likely taught to believe for most of their time as Christians.

Now, most good Evangelical biblical scholars will reject most of these myths, and often explicitly, but that just doesn't often make its way down into the church pews.  Instead, most people's first brush with thinking about the Bible itself outside of these myths and outside well-worn cliches comes in the form of, say, the "facts" presented in the Da Vinci Code or some disturbing bit of modern biblical scholarship.  It's all very sad and, in my mind, completely unnecessary - there are people out there who are having serious doubts about the Bible and hence their faith precisely because of what we aren't (and, sadly, sometimes what we are) teaching them.