Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Jonah chapter 4, God toying with us?

      6The LORD God appointed a little plant and caused it to grow up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to rescue him from his misery. Now Jonah was very delighted about the little plant. 7So God sent a worm at dawn the next day, and it attacked the little plant so that it dried up. 8When the sun began to shine, God sent a hot east wind. So the sun beat down on Jonah’s head, and he grew faint. So he despaired of life, and said, “I would rather die than live!” 9God said to Jonah, “Are you really so very angry about the little plant?” And he said, “I am as angry as I could possibly be!” 10The LORD said, “You were upset about this little plant, something for which you have not worked nor did you do anything to make it grow. It grew up overnight and died the next day. 11Should I not be even more concerned about Nineveh, this enormous city? There are more than one hundred twenty thousand people in it who do not know right from wrong, as well as many animals!”

I believe that this book of Jonah, like that of parts of Daniel, has been under a lot of scrutiny among scholars in recent times. I shouldn't feel this way (I remember religiously scribbling "amen" next to one modern trinitarian writer cited by Holmes who stated the need for solid historical foundation in our theology), but something in me does not care too much. Jesus spoke of Jonah (although see a future post I am planning on interpretation), and perhaps most significantly, this little worm story is something that really connects to my own experience. I am the sulky Jonah. So often I have found myself in this story; I am surprised it has not captured inspirational and exhortation Christian writers' imagination more to be honest. Anyway, I feel confused. I have studied this and Job many times, and I get the many spiritual insights available here, and even try to come up with my own.

This sub-story in Jonah is actually a little peculiar. If you first read verse 5, you realise that Jonah already seems to have some sort of manmade shelter from the sun. But the point is that God enhances this physical experience for him, before sending the worm. Was the LORD toying with Jonah here? In any case, we see for the second time an anger problem flare up here for Jonah.

My connection with Jonah is through a physical issue (actually I have two physical issues, but for the sake of this post I am focusing on one of them). For me it is my left ankle, as it happens. I am passionate about running, but only since my late twenties (now in my mid-thirties). It seemed to me, a few years ago, that I had a choice about the running. This activity itself seemed to come from nowhere; it was healthy, it connected me with other people in a fantastic way, provided me with many God-encounters in his beautiful creation, and I am sure connected with a competitive side. Races, and training for races, were also deeply emotional experiences for me as it seemed like I had to apply every aspect of my being into a goal to achieve it, and this in such a way I felt the apostle Paul understood in his letters. So what was this choice? Clearly the running, left unchecked, could be dangerous for my heart and devotion to God. I therefore decided to do it for Him. My previous blog before this one was called "running with certainty". I began to pray before races and reach out with more deliberation to other runners. I resolved to "run for God", even while I realised that this was a slightly abstract idea, that was my choice. And then came the ankle injury, and it feels a lot like the worm in Jonah's story - except that I strangely have never experienced the anger (and I do experience anger and frustration in my character). I would say it is more like sadness, incomprehension, disappointment. Recently, and amazingly, for the first time in over 18 months, I had started to be able to run again without discomfort or pain. Then on Christmas Eve, it seemed like we returned to square 1 again. The pain is a lot more than physical though (e.g. this story and the main story).

There is also a connection (there always is, right?!) with my faith in God and doctrines. As I tentatively allowed my hopes to rise once again, I realised I cared more about resuming the running journey than the theological journey. As a father of a young family and other commitments, time is limited. Endurance running is time-hungry. I instinctively knew that I would be more than happy to refocus away from theology. I would of course continue to remain skeptical about any legalistic approach about Nicene wording, and would continue to enjoy meeting up with friends to reflect in safety. But I would be content to turn a page on this digging, and also perhaps enjoy some inner relief that I would not get myself into too much trouble.

"You are not getting off so easily". "Who, how and what I am is worth it".
I am not saying that God says this - but it is my interpretation.

Maybe that is why the injury came back. Who knows. Despite being in no position to question His wisdom, I question anyway this kind of strategy. I have a lot of questions as you know!

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Quick Christianity jabs

I am so grateful and glad that Daniel Wallace is alive, kicking and writing.

In his latest post on his blog, published yesterday here, Wallace easily deals with the hasty attack on Christianity by Kurt Eichenwald, who, writing for Newsweek, exaggerates the so-called unreliability of the New Testament transmission methods, even overstating Bart Ehrman's case. Just to give you an example of some of the unsubstantiated things Eichenwald says, and Wallace should have mentioned this I think, and this of the 381 Council of Constantinople: "a new agreement was reached—Jesus wasn’t two, he was now three—Father, Son and Holy Ghost." Oh really?!

One of Wallace's key points, however, is to state that we are not talking of a near-perpetual linear series of translations of translations, one of Eichenwald's points. All serious translations of today are working off manuscripts, some of which "go as far back as" the 2nd century.

I am currently reading through Wallace's book at the moment on Revisiting the Corruption of the New Tesetament: Manuscript, Patristic and Apocryphal Evidence. 

My intention, by the way, for anyone who is interested and for my own reference, is to publish chapter summaries. Each subject is distinct and actually written by a different scholar, with the whole lot edited by (and the first chapter written by) Daniel B. Wallace. In this book, one of the key challenges of Ehrman's interpretations is that he does not acknowledge his own biases, in particular the criteria of orthodox corruption. While that is not entirely true, from what I can see, we have another clear case here that works in the opposite direction. So when we see "as far back as the second century" from Wallace, Ehrman would maintain that the second century is still a fair old way off from the first and very fragmentary in what we do have, and even these are probably at least copies of copies of a copy (or of copies). He also would remind us that from the evidence we hold, in manuscript copying errors intensify the further you go back and that we simply "cannot know" what the originals said. 

While I agree with Wallace that Ehrman overstates his case, it is easier for me to see now when presumptions are "smuggled onto the table" (Stephen Holmes' expression), and here "as far back as" implies that this is an incredibly long way back. Challenged, the Wallace crew would be quick to compare to other ancient Greek texts that are much less well attested in terms of manuscript evidence. Ehrman is not in the business of comparing, however, and has no more faith in the copies of manuscripts that we have of Homer, for example, as representative of what was originally penned to parchment. 

But the key issue I think here in Wallace's otherwise solid defence against this weak attack by Eichenwald, is an often-forgotten translation stage. It seems to have been too obvious to mention by everyone, but it is not insignificant: the quotations in the gospels are already translations. We should be aware of that and reminded of that in these sorts of conversations. So in that sense, perhaps unwittingly, Eichenwald had a point he did not realise he was scoring!

Friday, 26 December 2014

Interpretations challenged

Hi - in today's post I am copying you in on an email (slightly edited for this post) that I recently sent to an experienced teacher specialised in inter-faith dialogue. Further context is provided in the email itself. Happy reading!

At one point, you described a passage in 1 Chronicles 22 as a “criticism” of God on David. I later raised my hand, tentatively I must say, to ask you publicly if you were absolutely sure of this interpretation. This subsequently opened up quite a few questions, but while you stuck to your position, I was impressed that you also invited me to respond. So it is with no little gratitude that I have a go here, especially as this gives me the opportunity to have a better look at these issues that are attached to this interpretation.

The passage in question is in 1 Chronicles 22 from verse 6, with some emphases from me:

Then he called for Solomon his son and charged him to build a house for the LORD, the God of Israel. David said to Solomon, “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house to the name of the LORD my God. But the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth. Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. 

You were very clear, that this has to be a criticism from God of David. I was initially unsure your interpretation was sound.  Now I am convinced it is not completely so, and will here attempt to respectfully demonstrate this, even if I am lead to confess by the end of this brief examination that the tone is somewhat more sombre than the joyous account provided by the author of Samuel. I will also show a commentary excerpt from Stephen McKenzie, which will also develop the Chronicler’s unique interpretation in this passage.

  1. Interpretation

First of all, we have to agree on your position being an interpretation and not some form of “literal” or “plain” reading of the text. Obviously I can have absolutely no issue with interpretation per se, as like everyone else, I also interpret this passage according to certain assumptions, we all do! The key assumption to getting from “so much blood” to “criticism”, is to assume that shedding blood is always bad/disobedient/sinful etc, is that correct? It may well be a defensible interpretation, but we have to agree that the bridge we cross here comes from us or elsewhere in the Bible, and not from the pericope.

If you have agreed that you were bringing an interpretation to the text, about God being critical of David in the shedding of blood, then I would invite you to read what I have to say about my interpretation, that is to say that God, and the Chronicler, is not directly criticising David about the blood shedding.

2. Criticism as given by the Chronicler

When I read the stories recounted by the Chronicler, I believe he makes it very plain when he understands God to be displeased with Israel, and Judah, and their respective monarchs. When God is “critical”, he knows how to make it explicitly clear. But what is it that arouses God’s displeasure and “criticism”? The fundamental and underlying principle that I can see is disobedience. Would you agree? To come back to the question of interpretation and what is explicit, I feel sure you would agree that God is explicitly unhappy and critical of kings who do not kill as he has commanded. These constitute some of the harder passages for us as Christians to “own”, but I remember you challenging us to be careful about shrugging off too quickly the Old Testament, and I wholeheartedly agree with you. Here are some passages that illustrate this with my underlining:

1 Chronicles 22:9

I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. 

My interpretation here is that the Chronicler wants to chronicle the source of peace or war for the Israelites is YHWH. The bloody work of conquest is now done.

The impression I get reading the Old Testament is that God is more angry about disobedience than blood-shedding where blood-shedding is part of his plan and command.

2 Chronicles 25:2-4

[Amaziah] did what was right in the eyes of the LORD , but not wholeheartedly. After the kingdom was firmly in his control, he executed the officials who had murdered his father the king. Yet he did not put their children to death, but acted in accordance with what is written in the Law, in the Book of Moses, where the LORD commanded: ‘Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor children be put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.’

If we work off the assumption that blood, or "too much blood" is a personal criticism rather than a simple statement of fact in 1 Chronicles 22, then we might be tempted to think here we see the same principle, connecting "not wholeheartedly" with the executions.

I am again definitely arguing for a different interpretation here, which seems much more connected to YHWH's disapproval:

Neutral / did what was right:

  • Putting the kingdom under his control
  • Execution of officials

Did what was right in eyes of the LORD:

  • Not executing the families and children of the executed officials, according to God's law
  • Sending the Israelite troops home despite prepayment
  • Fighting with just the Judah forces, killing "10000 men of seir" in the battle before sending another 10000 over the cliff edge!

"Not wholeheartedly"

  • Bringing back the idols of the Seir people, worshipping them
  • The anger of the LORD burned against Amaziah. (V 15)
  • Ignored advice to not take on Jehoash king of Israel in battle.

I really liked the way, Charlie, you encouraged us to not disown the Old Testament, and some of its gruesome details, nor to minimise some of the problems we face there (presumably the Jews also are faced with some difficulties here). That is exactly why I am taking this position.

Where I acknowledge I am interpreting (I hope carefully) is to consider that different rules apply to war and non-war scenarios (not to execute officials families commended, but 20000 killed without further comment).

Let us move on to a recent commentary to see if I am off-track here.

3. Commentary support

Steven L. McKenzie, I & II Chronicles (Abingdon Old Testament Commentary, 2004). I have seen this scholar’s name mentioned in other works too, and believe he is a reliable source.

 I have also included in the attachments the three whole pages concerned by his analysis of this section of the Chronicles, that is p 179-181. [readers of this blog can consult these pages here]

I have attempted to remain faithful to the passage in question, and not digress to the “Deuteronomistic History”, by which I presume McKenzie is implying 2 Samuel 7, which is a different take entirely on why David is not to go about building it. It seems that by preventing David from doing so, God is bestowing an even greater blessing on David, for the blessing is on his family line and not just him alone. David’s response, from this same chapter of 2 Samuel 7:

“Lord God, who am I? What is my family? Why did you bring me to this point? 19 But even this is not enough for you, Lord God. You have also made promises about my future family. This is extraordinary, Lord God.

20 “What more can I say to you, Lord God, since you know me, your servant, so well! 21 You have done this great thing because you said you would and because you wanted to, and you have let me know about it. 22 This is why you are great, Lord God! There is no one like you. There is no God except you. We have heard all this ourselves!”

Over to you - I look forward to hearing your response! There are of course so many issues and related questions that would have been helpful to explore, so I would appreciate your helping me to do so properly. For example, would one way of maintaining your “critical” position, could we assume that the Chronicler shows God criticising in different degrees and intensities, ranging from the implicit and slight, to the explicit and severe?

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Am I open?

As I listen to this inspiring episode by the Liturgists on Safe Church, I feel a new sense of challenge, as "Science Mike" and his pastor, Betsy Ouellette, gently and openly challenge me.

What connected with me especially? The encouragement to first try out your questions with folk you know, that I know I am safe with. My close friends and my wife know that I am uncomfortable with thoughtlessly applying 4th-8th century doctrines as biblical truth. I find them unsatisfying, an extra, often unidentified but supremely authoritative filter to the texts, and interpretative. However, this podcast prods me to ask a different kind of question, what-if questions.

What if: the mainstream (catholic) Christian view in the world today was more closely clustered around a combination of
- the Apostolic creed, and
- various expressions of biblical unitarian churches throughout the world celebrating the all powerful creator God and the coming of and salvation through his anticipated, glorified and empowered human son Jesus.

What if: I were pastor of such a church and a regular member of many years, a close and faithful follower who always adhered to the mainstream confession began asking questions as he read more into the patristic era and church history, in which homoians had won the key doctrinal battles. He asks: "What if our global regular view of God is not enough? Why am I not satisfied with this homoian interpretation of Scripture? The depth and community of the Godhead, the triune oneness, Father Son and Holy Spirit, three persons, one essence, the clear two natures and wills of Christ, the veneration of icons, the motherhood of God of Mary, etc, throughout the world only a tiny minority believe this, but it seems so true! Or at least truer to scripture!"

What if I heard all this from this guy, and it appears radically different from what I believe - even declared historically as heretical or worthy of condemnation! How do I respond to him. Am I open and willing to accompany him on his journey?
How do I balance that with keeping the rest of the flock "safe"? What is safe?

Am I open? I strongly suspect that the answer to the question of this blog post is: no, not yet. I still fear rather than embrace disagreement. My relationships are weaker than my confessions. And that needs addressing...

I also want to address something else I have done which stinks of control. "I would really encourage you to..." " I would challenge you to", "please pray about you doing X". These sentences seem positive and strong. But do they embrace openness? What extra messages could be packed into those exhortations? If we see the challenge laid down in this podcast we can see that it has truly challenged me, in a simultaneously light and deep way.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

John 8:58, Dale Tuggy takes on my questions (ii)

Previously, I explained the second part of my question to Dale Tuggy, concerning the effect of taking out the disputable section of John (7:53-8:11).

It was, however, the first question that has really grabbed Dale's attention, and I feel a lot of gratitude toward him, for as you will see he has done a lot of research into it already, although mainly along one specific line. I will explain what I mean in a second - first here is the question again:

So can you please help us understand more particularly when you consider [John 8:58] became a key text for Trinitarian theology, and the context?

So here is Dale's response from the following episode, episode 65, with my emphases:

Dale: What I found was interesting. In the Apostolic Fathers there is no obvious reference to anything in John 8:12-59. This includes authors like Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Didace, Barnabus and the Shepherd of Hermas. Now, you might think that there is one exception, but that's in the longer and obviously corrupted and later version of Ignatius' letter to the Magnesians Chapter 9. Scholars now believe that this comes from the fourth century and not at all from the second century. John 8:58 is referred to there but seemingly the point is just that Jesus was predicted and foreknown. You also see no reference at all to John 8:58 in the extant works of Justin Martyr. That's interesting. Nor are there any references in the works of other early logos theologians like Tatian, Theophilus, Athanagrus (?) and Clement of Alexandria. Things finally pick up when we get to Irenaeus. He refers to this text for instance in Against Heresies 4, 5, to prove that Jesus pre-existed his human life and was the one through whom God spoke to Moses, Abraham and the other OT fathers. And this then becomes a common pattern. You see both Tertullian and Origen appeal to this text to show that Jesus was active in Old Testament times, or just that Jesus existed before Abraham. They don't use it though to show that Jesus is God himself or to prove that Jesus is divine in the way that the Father is divine. Really at this stage the only point seems to be pre-existence and also activity in those Old Testament times, because they've now taken the view that the Father is too transcendent to have been active then, and so any so-called god that was seen and experienced must have been a different being.

Interestingly, nowhere in any of these authors have I found somebody who is connecting John 8:58 to the statements in Isaiah where Yahweh says "I am he", or to God's statement in Exodus as discussed in previous episodes.

I think we can draw a conclusion here that it is by no means obvious that the author of John means the reader to refer to either Isaiah or Exodus. And apparently this is obvious to some of us because we have been repeating it to one another for some time now. And I think this gives some support to the interpretation argued for in those two earlier podcast episodes, that Jesus' meaning in that passage is best captured by something like: Even before Abraham existed, I was pre-destined to be the Messiah.

There is a lot of work in there, that I could not possibly have done, and there is a whole lot more to come in the following episode where we will discover a much more recent trace of an application of an Exodus connection and Jesus' "ego eimi". As I listen to Dale's careful research and limited findings of early use of John 8:58, I now realise that there are not one but two claims underlying the current Trinitarian use of John 8:58. As you listen to Dale, it is clear that he also is looking for both uses, although he may not have articulated quite so precisely. So here are the TWO claims:

1. Jesus was around before Abraham, he therefore pre-existed. This is an early connection, probably going back to before Nicea, but not necessarily to make any supreme divine statement.

2. When Jesus says "I AM" (often capitalised), he is claiming to be YHWH himself, connecting with the self-description that Yahweh gave to Moses.

Would you agree with this dual-claim?

Dale keeps searching also for a theoretically more plausible Old Testament connection to a passage from Isaiah, where I believe the Greek does literally say ego eimi (unlike Exodus), but I have not yet been exposed to that, perhaps he has, or perhaps he is just trying to ensure that we are checking all avenues, I am not sure.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Articles (I)

Articles are complex. Even in English we are not always sure why and when we use them. Even as I write this I can see: WARNING: STAND CLEAR OF HAZARD AREAS WHILE ENGINE IS RUNNING

We do not understand from this anarthrous sentence that people are warned against standing too close to SOME hazard areas, or just AN engine of the aeroplane. We all understand that we are to steer clear of all the hazard areas relative to the engine! In professional translation work, I have previously been required to use these anarthrous constructions. That brings us in to the next example:

J'habite en France
Vive la France!

In French, if we do not have a preposition like "en" (in), we often need the definite article: "he comes from France" is most accurately stated "il vient de la France", and "France is going to win!" is most assuredly "c'est la France qui va gagner! "But in English we are, perhaps more like the Greeks, somewhat happier to part ways with our definite articles.

I live in England
Long live England! England is going to win!

This introduction can serve us as a word of caution as we tiptoe with trepidation toward John 1:1.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

"I can't sign that!"

I am in the process of typing up my scribbles on Holmes' Quest for the Trinity book - almost there (I will share the link hopefully tomorrow). There are some wonderful quotes in there - as well as reflections that require some serious consideration.

First something I believe many would relate to, perhaps in the wake of what I sense to be a fresh hardening in this area of doctrinal adherence in some Christian organisations and churches, from p173-4:

"It is not a surprise that an appetite grew up amongst those not controversially inclined for a disciplined refusal to go beyond biblical language; at the Salters' Hall Synod of 1719, called in response to the challenge of several recent and powerful anti-Trinitarian texts, notably William Whiston's Primitive Christianity (1711) and Samuel Clarke's Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity (1712), many ministers, including a majority of the Presbyterians and almost all the General Baptists, declined to sign a proposed statement of faith on the grounds that its language was not found in the Bible. They were not closet anti-Trinitarians; they had merely reached the point of believing that definitions couched in technical language generated argument more often than understanding."

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

John 8:58, Dale Tuggy takes on my questions (i)

My apologies for the break. I have been doing some travelling and, perhaps most significantly, my foot, which has been injured for a long time, has now started to show some signs of improvement, meaning I am doing some running and have even less time for theologising!

For anybody who has been listening to the Trinities podcast for the last couple of weeks, you will probably have noticed that my question to Professor Dale Tuggy was read in episode 64 of the Trinities podcast founder, has kinda grabbed his attention. The question went like this:

Dear Dale,

Thanks for your great podcast, we continue to enjoy it over here in Marseille, France!

I have gone through in some detail the book authored by your previous interviewee, Stephen Holmes, and as I have been listening to the recent shows on pre-existence, it started dawning on me that I do not have a clue when John 8:58 became significant. This evening I went to the back of Dr Holmes book where there is the biblical reference section, and the verse does not seem even to be mentioned in the entire book.

So can you please help us understand more particularly when you consider this became a key text for Trinitarian theology, and the context?

Final question: what is the significance in your view if we remove 7:53-8:11, and just read through from 7:52 to 8:12?

Blessings and thanks

In the first week, Dale tackled the second question first. Removing the questioned passage of 7:53-8:11 from the field of view strengthens the interpretation that the "I am he" (ἐγὼ εἰμί) repetitions are references to Jesus' messiahship. (Of course, I am not saying by this that a case cannot or should not be made for the Messiah's divinity also, I always want to reassure anyone reading this of that, but I do want believers to keep their brains switched on and aware about the interpretive tools we use to read scriptures.) 

What Dale should have added, I think, was to state what I think textual scholars do say about 7:53-8:11. If we left things as he left it, then we might question the passage's entitlement to simply exist in the canon at all. My understanding - but I would need to check - is that while scholars agree that this chunk was very unlikely to be located where it has come to sit now (and admittedly for a very long time), it could very well be an authentic writing or story from the apostolic era, even by the same author as the gospel of John. But this verse of John 7:53 therefore becomes a key deterrent and distraction to us trying to understand what Jesus and John meant in John 8:58, and it seems so lowly and inconspicuous:


Then you get the [amazing] and possibly-non-original story of the woman caught in adultery.

Then you get Jesus picking up the same conversation he left off in 7:52. Let us assume what the NIV text notes say is true, also to convince you I am not making this up!

The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53 – 8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.

So for the sake of argument I think we can be very, very sure that the original gospel did not have everyone simply "going home" at this point in John's gospel. I am also very struck by how naturally the passage flows when we omit this section - try skipping it and see what you think. 

So I agree with Tuggy's interpretation here, except that I am not yet as ready as he is to simply say that in the wider context of what John wants to stress about Jesus is "only" or "simply" that Jesus is the promised Messiah, even if I do feel that John 20:30-31 makes a pretty explicite and clear case for John's general purposes.

Just another parting shot: do you think it is legitimate to consider that the authorities considered stoning a suitable punishment for a wide range of serious sin, or insult to the establishment?

I will blog about the other part of my question to Dale in a separate post.

Friday, 28 November 2014


From Stephen Holmes, with reference to Basil of Caesarea

Yes we are recognising that man is similar to God, and angels. But the fundamental divide in the universe is between God and his creation, and humans fall firmly on the side of the slugs and trees.

What I love about Stephen Holmes is that, despite his clear position and interpretations, many of which he is careful not to "smuggle onto the table" (as he puts it), he is not afraid to cut across a popular perception of truth. When he achieves this historically he masterfully undermines the current theological groove, because it would be harder to show that the biblical authors believing one thing, the church fathers and centuries something quite different, before finally we rediscovered the original perspective which very fortuitously coincided with the rise of humanism. 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Old Testament faith

What do we do with these genocidal passages, and how do we reconcile this presentation of YHWH with the God Jesus called Father? Marcion, the heresiarch-of-choice of the homoians, later declared heretical themselves, was probably influenced by passages such as these. Trinitarians should perhaps pause to reconsider these "awkward" passages in a new light. Without these stories, Marcion's contribution to the chain of events building to Nicea might have been absent. 

Joshua 6

21 They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

Deuteronomy 20:16-21
16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes17 Completely destroy[a] them – the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites – as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshipping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

1 Samuel 15:2-20

This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy[a] all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”
So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim—two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand from Judah. Saul went to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the ravine. Then he said to the Kenites, “Go away, leave the Amalekites so that I do not destroy you along with them; for you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites moved away from the Amalekites.
Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves[b] and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.
10 Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.
12 Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.”
13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”
14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”
15 Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”
16 “Enough!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”
“Tell me,” Saul replied.
17 Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’ 19 Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?”

Friday, 21 November 2014

The missing ecumenical council: Christ's death, resurrection and incarnation.

On 14th November 2014, I kept it very short - just nine characters in fact: DID GOD DIE?

I would like to follow up on that question now, because it feels very connected to me to the Ephesus and Chalcedon decisions about Mary and her relationship to Jesus as very God. Quick recap: Mary is "officially" (and that is pretty synonymous of orthodoxically at this time) the Mother of God, and the reason behind that declaration is to do with the indivisible nature of Christ's hypostatic union, fully man and fully God, one person, that is, one hypostasis. These council decisions, like all the councils, were made in the context of dispute and uncertainty within the church, and a need for an orthodoxy to emerge in this or that central issue. It was very important for them to realise that we cannot allow in a type of thinking about Jesus that allowed us to play games with his divinity.

I recently participated in a training course where the question of the Holy Spirit took central stage for a while. The participants in the discussion had - what seemed to them - very opposing views about the Holy Spirit. What is baptism? What is filling? Are they the same thing? Do they occur at conversion? None of these questions were of that much significance at the time that the Trinity was made official, and likewise, the triune God is probably less of a burning issue (despite its so-called revival) than the Holy Spirit right now. I look to this example as it helps me understand an important aspect to the creeds' development. The issues they resolve are the issues of the day. There are many other issues that these main councils do not consider, that hundreds of other more local councils have deliberated over the centuries (and even during the ecumenical council period, see Toledo III for example as an historically very significant council).

So when I consider the question DID GOD DIE, I am reassured that this was possibly not such a central issue for the church in relation to the question of Christ's divinity, as it might seem to me now, or to other reflective individuals researching the doctrines. Perhaps for many, the issue is solved by Theotokos. That is to say, quite simply, YES, God did die on the cross. Kind of. But not the Father and not the Spirit, although in true inseparability-of-operations style, they were utterly involved in this work.

The questions that spew fourth from this statement seem even more bountiful than the dyothelite conclusions (Jesus has two wills that can differ):

If God died, who raised Jesus? I found in my main research project, that this is one of the strongest distinctives applied, especially by Paul, between Jesus and God. There are more than two dozen passages that simply state that: God raised Jesus. This constitutes a strong biblical statement, but we hesitate to say it this way because the triune eternal God seems compromised this way. For my part, when I see multiple occurrences like this, I am not merely counting them - look, look, there is one more! Much more worthwhile, is a different pursuit where we can see ourselves trying to reconstruct 1st Century THOUGHT. God raising Jesus is in the apostles' MIND, and it is out of these (God-inspired) minds that they taught and they wrote, much, much, much more than what we have access to today.

Or was the hypostatic union broken for three days? This should be considered a very dangerous proposition by trinitarians. It seems likely to me that this could be exactly the kind of thought process behind the Gospel of Peter's [check] rendering of the death of Jesus.

Or was the Trinity broken? Stripped back from 3 to 2? Perhaps even earlier than the death of Jesus, for God "forsakes" his son as he bears the sin of the world. Obviously not...

So did Jesus die in the flesh and his spirit live on as implied by 1 Peter 3:18-22? He did after all say to the robber that he would see him that day in Paradise, and of course there was all the preaching to do in the dungeons of those taken out by the flood in Noah's time, so surely that was a way in which the Divine Son did not in fact require bodily raising, because he was at work during the three days. But if that were the case, then when did he die?

Or was the hypostatic union preserved during these three days? It seems there might be a torturous way through here. If Jesus died and his death was total and real, as indeed the scriptures testify in the bodily sense (blood and water), it need only be in the sense that death is real for any human being's body. The robber's life also goes on beyond the grave to meet Jesus that same day in Paradise. So, in this understanding, the triune incarnate God did suffer death, while it experienced no break in living either. The death was assured by the physical death of the Son's incarnated body, and the continuity assured by the ongoingness of the human spirit, to both Paradise, where he was to meet the robber, and to the realm of the dead to preach.

If this is more or less consistent, then it requires a different perspective on "death" and a different perspective on "incarnation". The second is the trickier of the two, because of the roots of the word incarnation, something a bit like: en-fleshing. But if this version is accurate, then we should be asking if the incarnation could actually be re-clarified as en-humaning, taking on not just a human body, but also a human spirit.

Follow-up post: Moltmann's perspective in Crucified God.
Follow-up posts: The whole shebang, a fully deified christology.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Time-locked language Part 3

Update on posts Time-locked language Parts 1 and 2

We should note that Zizioulas (Holmes, QFT, p13) strongly emphasises the Father's causing principle within the trinity. Holmes says Zizioulas qualifies this causation as something "free and personal, not something mechanical and fixed." The question and challenge raised for this article on time-locked language, is now to find something that is "free and personal" that can be caused in a non-time-dependant way. Can you think of anything?

I think I finally see a way through here in looking back at the Greek word, αἰτία, an old theological principle to which Zizioulas wants to remain loyal. In Strong's Greek NT 156 we have indeed something less mechanical. Here we speak of "guilt", responsibility, accusation, fault, grounds, reason. I cannot deny that this opens a quite different discussion in terms of NT authors' perspective around the notion of causation, however, it really must not be forgotten that this word is not used for this purpose prior to the patristic period, that is hundreds of years AFTER the scriptures were written (it would seem particularly around the debates surrounding the Filioque clause, St Maximus the Confessor, and the 15th Century Council of Florence). Where the Scriptures speak of the interpersonal relationships between God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit vocabulary other than αἰτία is used. The word "send" jumps out very strongly in my mind.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Exegetical pressure, exegetical pressures and "Canonical Pressure"

(updated twice from note originally written in September '14. 16/04/2015)

"Exegetical pressure" (Holmes and others - Childs?) is - I am now convinced - not the right term in this whole debate. Of course I may be misunderstanding or not fully processing what Holmes means by this expression, exegetical pressure (hear him respond to questions at the end of his Fuller lecture), but when we see some of the early exegetical processes, I feel nothing short of shocked! It is the very foundations of biblical exegesis that are leading me to question which way does the “pressure” might lead us.

Well, the answer is... there probably is not one exegetical pressure, unless we redefine exegesis in a way similar to Holmes’ suggestion at the Fuller lecture. There are exegetical pressures, plural. Some believe they lead one way, and others another culminating in one general "pressure".

But there is a third way, expounded by Ehrman and others: the authors did not all believe the same thing about Jesus. A trinitarian will say, or at least in my view should say, that is fine, God revealed different aspects to different writers, and even to the same authors different aspects at different times (e.g. nearness of Christ's second coming for Paul in 1 Thessalonians) and it is the beautiful, painstaking, complementary and collective mosaic of revelation that results in such a wonderful finale. This finale thus harmonises these perspectives into a single portrait, approximating the extraordinary fourth-century creed. The unitarians have many texts that are in favour of distinction between God and Jesus in the New Testament writers' mind that do not require in my view quite the same mosaic approach or creedal layering.

But while the battle is being wrought, and different assumptions being accused, they all miss the great assumption that actually unites them, quite possibly into the one faith, although many would disagree with me on that.

This is the assumption:

At the end of the day, the bible must be cohesively uni-vocal on this issue of whether or not Jesus is God, there simply cannot exist a plurality of pressures.

I think we can give a name to this assumption: canonical pressure. Both camps share a wonderfully deep reliance on this assumption and yet often fail to spot their common ground.

Some of this was inspired from the rather engaging debate with Buzzard and White here, where this assumption is not even laid out.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Mary: personal Monday iii

I have so much to blog about at the moment it is difficult to keep up!

I really want to share some thoughts about John 1:1 soon and comment an article on the apparent seven direct Jesus-God passages, that is taken directly from a book I have already ordered edited by Wallace (it is anti-Ehrman by the way for those of you who are worrying about my influences!), and of course I want to do a follow-up on my 9-character post from a couple of days ago: "did God die?"

But today, let me share a little about Mary, whose head has to crop up in these discussions, and since it is personal Monday, ask ourselves a couple of questions. As I have already mentioned in a previous post, we in the evangelical and protestant churches have shown more of a pick n' mix approach to the creeds we find authoritative than we realise (Patrick Johnstone in that instance demonstrated this nicely), accepting even just a part of the Chalcedon creed while leaving Mother of God/God-bearer status of Mary for a rainy day. As protestants, we trace our spiritual lineage back to Luther and Calvin - I have also just learned that Lutheranism itself places the Scriptures on a higher plane than than of any creed, in line with what we stereotypically imagine by sola scriptura.  I am happy with that position.

But back to Mary - Check out this quote of Luther, that should surprise us if we assume that protestantism is fundamentally opposed to placing followers of Christ in any position of risk of confusion about Mary:

If our Lady were to enter Jerusalem today in a golden coach drawn by 4,000 horses it would not be an honour ... great enough for she who bore in her womb our Saviour

John Calvin also is reported as saying that he regarded Mary as a spiritual mother (reference needed) and:

"To this day we cannot enjoy the blessing brought to us in Christ without thinking at the same time of that which God gave as adornment and honour to Mary, in willing her to be the mother of his only-begotten Son"


So what is so personal or exhortative about this post?! I am getting there! I have been exposed to a lot of anti-catholic rhetoric, and it was for me a breath of fresh air to read this catholic blogger's defence, which, interestingly enough, also taught me the origin of the "hail-Mary". Part of this strangeness we experience when we hear this expression is actually a question of translation. The word used by the angel, sent by God, is translated in our modern translations as "GREETINGS" from Χαῖρε (chairo). Later Χαῖρε is used in Matthew 27:29 as the soldiers mock Jesus with fake "Hail", which you could hardly translate "greetings". Its root verb is also apparently very positive, to do with rejoicing (Strong's 5463) - I wish I knew Greek better to understand why the 5 exact forms of this verb are always rendered something akin to "hail". Is it something like "I rejoice in seeing you"?

Anyway - I want to challenge myself and you to re-assess what are the unhelpful messages that we have heard regarding both Mary and Catholics. Let us ask ourselves, do we care what we think about Mary? As Protestants, we remain in the minority of the Christian faith. If there are distortions to catholicism, what might a pure catholicism look like? What might be a better approach for us toward Mary? How might you greet her after the resurrection?!

Let us remember: the same creed that asserts that our Lord became fully man and God in one hypostatic indivisible union, fully affirms that Mary is the mother of that indivisible person, and that she is therefore not just the mother of the human Messiah, for in order to claim this (Nestorius?), you are splitting the person of Christ into two.

OK, one more question we can ask ourselves, as it is at the HEART of maryology: how are you doing with the fully-man-and-fully-God balance? If you pray to Jesus only as God and not relate to him as a human, are you able to maintain this vision in your heart and mind?


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Reflection and debate, a time to talk and a time to listen

One gift I feel certain God has not given me is debate. I can quickly feel insecure by an opposing view and can withhold helpful information to the "challenger". Yet I can also bore people for a long time if there is a willing and neutral ear! Yet true exchange can lead to much progress.

Here are a couple of links that you should find helpful in preparing yourself for fruitful exchange:

Dustin Smith

Dale Tuggy says:
Did you know that God has even given us the means to argue against him?
But we use our ability as a "weapon of self-exaltation" 

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Following Jesus. Personal Monday ii.

This was not really planned, but given the only person who I know actually regularly reads this blog made a specific request, I am happily having another go at this (thanks R.!)

This time last week, and as a result of more general reflection on what it means for me to be a "follower of Jesus", I tried to show and agree that following him was not an end to itself but a life journey with a goal in mind. That spiritual goal I believe gave me energy in my own quest to not miss out on being spiritually adopted, one of the greatest challenges of my twenties. Vague trinitarianism I now know does not facilitate this task.

This week has seen an interesting shift for me though: I resumed praying to Jesus again. 

Perhaps this was in part due to my declaration last week to follow him. I have been going through a period of focusing on Father prayers for quite a long time, as Jesus taught, but it has not always been easy to feel the closeness I would expect from being restored to the perfectly loving father, even while fully acknowledging the incredible cost. It would be easy to argue that this is simply because I was excluding the divine Son and Spirit from the equation, but I suspect it has much more to do with the way I was brought up and have lived out my church life and doctrine. 

The other reason I am back on the Jesus prayer wagon, I think, is to have rediscovered a couple of Revelation references that speak of Jesus loving us, loving me. Why is that so extraordinary? That is one of the first things Christian parents love to teach our children, that we share with people. But I had been quite surprised to discover that all (or so I had thought) of New Testament epistle (and I think also Acts) references to Jesus loving us were all past tense, drawing our attention to the cross, where Moltmann encourages us to begin our theology, and for me to begin mine.

But here is Revelation chapter 1, verses 4-6, the first of these references I found this week, and I would encourage all to focus on it for a minute for it is one of very few places where the Bible really does "tell me so":

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.

Obviously, or so it seems to me, this is quite a trinitarian-unfriendly passage (I had not even noticed this at first!), but I am not looking at that here. It's Monday!

To him who loves us. 

This “him” is unavoidably Jesus, for it is his blood that has freed us (or washed us, depending on the ancient manuscript you prefer). It also is unavoidably present tense, as the next verb, "freed" or "washed", is past, providing an apparently intentional distinction.

Jesus loves me.

I love Jesus.

I also love God.


I will also need to think a bit more about the following Jesus, as we also have “fishers of men”, “carrying my own cross”, abandoning other legitimate preoccupations…. I am beginning to realise my Monday posts could have been subverted away from trinitarianism analysis to following Jesus. My friend R. is a very crafty friend indeed!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Salvation as deification

Summary and response to Trinities Episode 59.

2nd century church fathers, like Irenaeus, would not have been confused about the one true God and deified people (yes, apparently they said this, i.e. God became man so that men could become gods, etc. just start typing this into google and it will finish the search for you!). Mosser informs us this is because of the origins of the word theos. The way he describes original usage if this word in anquity reminds me very much if the colloquial "divine" used now (e.g. this glorious pudding).

Von Harnack and Albrecht Ritschl in the 19th century want to point the finger at the eastern orthodox church as having spoilt the simple message of Jesus, of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man by having added a deification salvation principle. This is refused by Mosser, who see this deification principle present also in Catholicism and Protestantism. Mosser claims that Von Harnack and Ritschl - for their own polemical reasons - subverted whole swathes of church history. So deification suddenly became conspicuously absent from the west's history, even though Mosser affirms it is present in lots of western church writers in history before then.

Some anabaptists (16th century, around the time of the reformation), Priestley, Newton, also at this time reject the dogmas of the incarnation and the trinity, as they appeared more to be based on Greek philosophical ideas, especially those of Plato.

Hornack and Ritchel realised however you cannot argue the trinity and incarnation dogma solely as taken from Greek philosophy. They realised that the early (pre-nicene) Church fathers' theology of salvation, which includes deification in the sense incorruptible,  glorious, eternal, etc, by grace through the work and person of Jesus Christ, requires that the deifying (saving) one, Jesus, must himself be divine in his nature and not by participation in and grace of another. Hornack: by faith alone, full revelation begun by Augustine. Completing the unfinished project of the reformation.

Plato: imitation and union with God as a goal for humankind.  Theology and Christology, therefore, argue Von Harnack and Ritschl, had to support this pagan preparation.

Hornack key message: Hellenisation of Christianity happened when 2nd century church fathers adopted soteriology of deification which then will eventually lead to the doctrines of the incarnation and the trinity.

They see this as REPLACING justification by faith alone. Deification goes head to head with justification by faith, hence our subject Deification, for Von Harnack,  as oposed to justification by faith.

Augustine has some deification; however for Von Harnack, Augustine brings deification to an end in the west. From then on, any variation Augustine's .... [fragment]

Eastern orthodox say yea! Migrated Russian theologians in Paris came across the accusations and say that the western church's denial of deification is a sign of the west's apostasy, on biblical grounds. But no one stopped to check to see if the West really had abandoned deification as Hornack was saying, because he was so influential.

Jesus participates in the Divine. Tuggy adds: "hierarchy of participation", and agreed that there this is [hellenistic?] influence. But they use the language and draw from it along with biblical passages Eph 5:1. Gen 1. 2 Peter 1:4.

1. I have been hearing Von Harnack's name mentioned a lot and it has been great to see more of his perspective and influence in this week's trinities podcast. I am particularly grateful as it seems like a lot of the work on the build up to Nicea 325 and Constantinople 381, it is just loose, speculative and unsatisfying. Von Harnack, and apparently Ritchel, may not be right in their hypothesis, but at least we seem to have something a bit more credible. In terms of contemporary influence at the turn of the last century (19th to 20th), he was the most influential scholar, not just theologian. He wrote 900 publications in his life!

2. I loved this episode because it is not just theological but also historical. I think that is why I found Holmes' book so enlightening.

3. I also want to underline the brief mention of the anabaptists in the 16th century. Stephen Holmes is very keen to point out consensus in time (save the last century) and east to west. He says that all traditions, East and West, pre and post reformation, accept the doctrine of the trinity.  However, it is interesting to note that this was not the case at the time of the reformation, there were fresh objections. What can be said is that the prevailing church view was pro-trinity. There is a little debate over one of the reformists clarity however, I think it was Calvin,  I need to to check it out.

Popular doctrine picking and choosing

I already blogged a little about the inconsistent manner we like to summarise our historical roots as Christians, particularly the Protestant, charismatic and other independent churches. Sometimes we claim that we accept the first four ecumenical councils and not the last three. Respected author and researcher Patrick Johnstone writes in his footnotes on p64, paragraph 5, of the Future of the Global Church:

The Council of Chalcedon condemned both the extreme positions of Monophysitism (in which Christ was one Person in whom the divine and the human were fused completely in one nature) and Diphysitism (purportedly Nestorius' view, in which Christ had two, unmingled natures or essences in one Person). The council took a middle position: that Christ was an indivisible union from two distinct natures. Sadly, the complex shades of meaning over which they argued were more a reflection of the broken relationships between the spokesmen for each position, the different languages they used - Latin, Greek and Syrica - and the different political systems in which they operated. Evangelical Christians of the 21st Century would probably have been closer to the position of the Eastern Church, with its emphasis on the Scriptures and its insistence that Mary was not the Mother of God but only the mother of Jesus.

What is going on here? I smell picking, choosing and twisting! Read especially carefully the final sentence starting "Evangelical Christians..."

  1. Diphysitism (purportedly Nestorius' view, in which Christ had two, unmingled natures or essences in one Person), this hardly seems to me an extreme position against which the creed brought balance; Johnstone's wording here is almost word for word the creed itself! If  my understanding is correct, the Nestorian position went a lot further, not just no mingling of the natures, but the separation was so deep that it denied the hypostatic union and pretty much implied schizophrenia!
  2. Emphasis on the Scriptures: I think many would disagree with Johnstone on this interpretation of this primary concern of the 21st Century church.
  3. Mary was not the Mother of God: this is flat out wrong, sorry to be so blunt. It is not just wrong however, it is also surprising to read that here from such a thorough researcher. It is, furthermore, symptomatic of the picking and choosing of the modern church that thinks it is building off such solid creedal foundations, themselves built on the deeper-still biblical foundations.

Quick reminder of the facts: the third ecumenical council of Ephesus confirms that Mary was the Mother of God, and Chalcedon REAFFIRMS her title, while also qualifying it.

So here's the text of the Chalcedon creed, translated into English:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; (ἐν δύο φύσεσιν ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως – in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabiliter) the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person (prosopon) and one Subsistence (hypostasis), not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God (μονογενῆ Θεόν), the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

Here's an authoritative text from the Ephesus council, the first of twelve anathemas of St. Cyril against Nestorius, translated into English:

If anyone will not confess that the Emmanuel is very God, and that therefore the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Θεοτόκος), inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh [as it is written, The Word was made flesh] let him be anathema.

Finally, let me just copy-paste for you a line from Canon 7 of this Synod, so we can get a feel for how these councils stamped their authority:

When these things had been read, the holy Synod decreed that it is unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different (ἑτέρανFaith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicæa.

Conclusion: we are not picky just in the sense of refusing the last three councils. We are also picky within the first four also. What does that mean?