current, religion

ISIS and the Growth of Early Islam

early_islam

Day after day we are bombarded with terrible accounts of “Christian genocide” in Iraq, a term that virulent Christian skeptic Richard Dawkins felt appropriate to describe the systematic beheading of Christian children in Iraq by ISIS, or the Islamic State.

Christian homes are being marked with the Arabic letter ن (nun) for Nazarene, reminiscent of the Jewish Star of David in the early days of Nazism in Germany. Thousands are fleeing, dying, or being left for dead by having food and water sources cut off from them.

The question may people are asking is, why? What terrible organization would commit such atrocities that even Al-Qaeda would distance themselves from it? To understand why, we must roll the clock back on Islam to the very beginning when the religion was rapidly expanding.

The early (and phenomenal) growth of Islam went hand-in-hand with military and economic conquest. The Muslim expansion, or Fatah (opening), of the Middle East occurred for roughly one hundred years. During this time, Islam spread as far west as the Iberian Peninsula, as far south as modern–day Yemen, as far east as modern–day Pakistan, and as far north as modern–day France from one location in Mecca.

Anyone interested in the exponential growth of early Islam need look no further than to ISIS.

Much ink has been spilled on exactly how Islam experience such incredible growth. The general consensus is that Muhammad’s earliest followers, influenced by his teaching, spread the religion by sword.

Consequently, the Fatah paints a violent picture of Islam’s beginnings. Some Muslim apologists fearing such an image maintain that the Fatah was a spiritual conquest in an attempt to downplay Islam’s violent birth. They argue that the Fatah was done through extremely persuasive Islamic missions work; however, this is highly improbable.

Not only does archeological evidence suggest otherwise, but the Qur’ān itself seems to imply a combination of Islamic missions work and military conquest; “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. Allah is forgiving and merciful (Sūra At-Tawbah 9:5).”

When an invading force entered a non-Muslim land, individuals had three choices: convert to Islam, pay a tax (jizya), or die. Fast-forward to today and this is the very same thing that is happening to Christians in Iraq by the Islamic State.

Whether or not Islam is a religion that promotes violence has been hotly debated ever since its beginnings. One thing is clear, however; Islam may easily and readily be used by evil men as justification for violence. We are seeing just that with the Islamic State, men reenacting the Fatah. Anyone interested in the exponential growth of early Islam need look no further than to ISIS.

The question remains – how long and how far will these men go? Better question – when will we wake up to the needs of our brothers and sisters in peril?

Follow the Vicar of Baghdad for an on-the-ground perspective of Christians in Iraq. Follow Open Doors for updates on the worldwide persecuted church.

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religion

The Book of Abraham: Sacred Translation?

 

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In 1835, a man by the name of Michael H. Chandler would have a chance meeting with the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith. Little did Mr Chandler know that the meeting would play a large part in altering the course of Mormon theology forever.

Chandler, the owner of some Egyptian artifacts, was touring the American frontier, showcasing his ancient treasures to curious spectators. The artifacts contained writing that Mr Chandler could not decipher. At some point in time, it was suggested to him that Joseph Smith had the ability to translate the mysterious writing on the Egyptian artifacts. Such an ability was absolutely remarkable in mid-19th century America.

Today, translating ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs seems like a relatively menial task – surely any academic who studies such things could provide a translation. However, in the 1830s such a task would have been considered absolutely remarkable.

Why? Because the key that unlocked the mystery of Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Rosetta Stone, had only been discovered about 36 years prior, and an English translation of the demotic (Egyptian) text from the Rosetta Stone in the United States was not published until 1858, twenty-three years after Smith’s acquisition of the artifacts from Chandler (and fourteen years after Smith’s death).

Despite this, Smith began his miraculous translation process sometime after the purchase of the artifacts. It wasn’t long before he discovered, “much to [his] joy” that “one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc.”[1]

By some happy coincidence, Joseph Smith happened upon ancient Egyptian writings of Hebrew patriarchs in the frontier lands of North America and was able to translate them twenty-three years before their language was deciphered into English.

The result? The Book of Abraham (Abr), now part of the Mormon scripture Pearl of Great Price. In it, among many things, Latter-day Saints (LDS) are given a parallel narrative to Genesis that introduces new theology such as polytheism and the location of Heavenly Father’s throne, which is nearest to the star of Kolob (Abr 3:3).

Such a coincidence is entirely miraculous or doubtful. Lately, the LDS Church has given reason to suspect the latter.

TRANSLATION, TRANSCRIPTION, OR SIMPLY IMAGINATION?

The LDS Church has recently published an essay officially distancing itself from Smith’s incredible, eyebrow-raising tale of the Book of Abraham’s origins. Formerly, the LDS Church officially promoted the view that the Book of Abraham was “translated from the papyrus by Joseph Smith.”[2] However, after years of scholarly scrutiny, it has been adequately demonstrated enough for the LDS Church to admit that Joseph Smith’s supposed translation of the papyrus has nothing to do with it.

The ancient text is not an account of Abraham’s life as Smith taught. Instead, it contains religious ritual instructions belonging to a work called the Book of Breathings, which dates back to the Ptolemaic Era (305–30BCE) well after Abraham’s time.

Facsimile 1

A facsimile of what Joseph Smith purported to be an attempted sacrifice of Abraham by an idolatrous priest of Elkenah. In actuality, it is a deceased Egyptian citizen being mummified. His soul is seen leaving his body in the form of a bird.

 

Yet, as the article reminds us, the LDS Church firmly holds the Book of Abraham as scripture. It is scripture regardless of evidence that the original text has nothing to do with the end result.

(Imagine, for a moment, if we discovered that the Gospel of Matthew was not an account of Jesus’ life, but was actually a collection of Roman tax documents, and you’ll quickly realize the issue at hand.)

So, what does the LDS Church do with evidence that Joseph Smith fabricated a faulty translation to produce a text that radically departs from the Bible? One sentence from the article encapsulates their action well.

“The book of Abraham’s status as scripture ultimately rests on faith in the saving truths found within the book itself as witnessed by the Holy Ghost.”

In other words, it doesn’t really matter whether or not Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Abraham based on papyrus belonging to a work called the Book of Breathings. What matters at the end of the day is whether or not it lines up with saving truths.

The Book of Abraham is no longer a sacred translation, but questionable interpretation. 

This, of course, begs the question – what are “saving truths”? It is more than safe to assume that these “saving truths” are found exclusively within Mormon theology. So, ultimately, as long as the fabricated “translation” of the Book of Abraham aligns with Mormon theology it is considered Mormon scripture.

This means that, so far as the method of creation is concerned, there is no difference between the Book of Abraham and Doctrine & Covenants, Mormon scripture consisting mainly of spiritual revelation purportedly given to Smith. In both instances, the Mormon prophet simply declared his words as scripture, which made it so.

The question becomes, why not do the same with the Book of Abraham? Clearly, Smith was comfortable creating scripture. Why go to great lengths in “translating” some papyrus to create the Book of Abraham?

SAVING TRUTHS

For whatever reason, Smith decided to create the Book of Abraham in a unique fashion unlike Doctrine & Covenants. (Not so unique when you consider his previous venture in creating the Book of Mormon). Fast-forward to today and the LDS Church is placed in the awkward position of explaining why their founding prophet did not actually do what he said he did.

The solution is just as dubious as the claim Smith made – officially, the Book of Abraham is  scripture based on a text that has nothing to do with the scripture itself, because it aligns with “saving truths.”

Essentially, the LDS Church is saying, “Our prophet Joseph Smith translated the German phrase ‘Ich liebe dich’ as ‘The train station is blue,’ even though the actual translation of that German phrase should read ‘I love you.‘ But, that doesn’t really matter because the point of the translation is to inform us that the train station is blue.”

The LDS Church’s defense of Smith’s fabrication is, frankly, absurd.

Frankly, this is absurd. No one would allow such a low standard of translation (if the term translation can even be used here) to apply to the Bible. Again, if the Gospel of Matthew was actually Roman tax documents and a pastor told you that what really matters is whether or not the fabricated information in the Gospel dealt correctly with salvation, how would you react? Hopefully, your reaction would be to reject both the pastor’s authority and the defunct text.

BOOK OF ABRAHAM VS. THE BIBLE

Regardless, I think it’s important to look past the obvious (that Smith fabricated his “translation”) and examine the LDS Church’s essential claim about the message of the Book of Abraham – does the Book of Abraham align with “saving truths” found in the entirety of the Mormon scriptural corpus? Unfortunately, for the LDS Church, it quickly becomes apparent that the answer is ‘no.’

First, there are a few internal issues that must be dealt with, aside from the apparent showcasing of Smith’s newly learned Hebrew language skills.[3] For example, the Bible informs us that Abraham was 75 years old when he departed Haran for Canaan (Gn 12:4). The Book of Abraham, however, disagrees. It states that Abraham was only 62 years old when he departed Haran (Abr 2:14). This is a striking oversight on Smith’s part. Failing at something as small as getting Abraham’s age correct should immediately raise a red flag.

Additionally, the Bible teaches us the folly of Abraham’s decision of identifying his wife, Sarah, as his sister for fear that the Egyptians would kill him to wed her. If you recall, Abraham convinced Sarah to tell the Egyptians that she was Abraham’s sister, not his wife. Eventually, it ends up going badly for Abraham since Pharaoh figures out what was going on and kicks them out of Egypt (Gn 12:17–20).

The Book of Abraham does not clarify Abraham’s life, it contradicts it.

The Book of Abraham, however, actually attributes that folly to God himself, changing the story to God forcing Abraham’s hand in the decision (Abr 2:22–25). In my opinion, in stark disagreement with the recently published article defending the spiritual value of the Book of Abraham, such a flaw does not “support” nor “clarify” the biblical account of Abraham’s life. It contradicts the account, making God out to be the cause of sin in Abraham’s life.

Simply brushing off the historical translation difficulties of the Book of Abraham does nothing in addressing the theological inconsistency between it and the Bible. Of course, the article does not address theological issues within the Book of Abraham; however, any attempt at defending its historicity should be coupled with its veracity. It is not enough to simply defend its legitimacy – the greater question is whether or not it is true, whether or not it coalesces with the Bible.

At the end of the day, there is very little difference between ancient pseudepigraphic or Gnostic writings and the Book of Abraham. Both came well after canonization and were formed for the specific purpose of forcing the biblical message and narrative into a system of theology far from what the original Bible authors attested to.

 CLARIFYING THEOLOGY?

In the article, the LDS Church adamantly contends that, despite contradictions like the two examples above, “The book of Abraham clarifies several teachings that are obscure in the Bible.” It has been briefly demonstrated that the Book of Abraham does not clarify teachings in the Bible, but contradicts them. Yet, the LDS Church must have taken this stance for a reason. What reason would lead them to hold fast to such a stance?

I believe the LDS Church needs the Book of Abraham in its current form not because it clarifies the Bible, but because it clarifies Mormonism. In that way, the sentence above should read, “The book of Abraham clarifies several teachings that were made obscure in the Bible by Mormon theology.”

What leads me to believe that?

The Book of Abraham came at a convenient point in Mormon history. Early in the Church’s history, we see Mormonism (especially the Book of Mormon) teaching a type of modalism, the belief that the Father and the Son are literally the same god. So, for example, the Book of Mosiah (within the Book of Mormon) declares that the messiah was prophesied to be called “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth (Mosiah 3:8).”

However, by 1833 Joseph Smith no longer held to this early modalistic view. Smith came to believe in two distinct gods (or personages), the Father and the Son, through his studies of the Hebrew language. He made a distinction between two Hebrew words for God – elohim and Yahweh – by assigning them to the Father and Son respectively.[4] By the mid-1830s, Mormonism shifted from modalism to binitarianism, the belief that two Gods, Elohim and Yahweh, were to be worshipped.

Without the Book of Abraham, the doctrine of eternal progression is in jeopardy.

Yet, the theological evolution of God was not complete in Mormon thought. When the Book of Abraham was published in 1842, the LDS Church had made the transition from binitarianism to henotheism, the belief that although many gods exist only one should be worshipped. Not only this, but faithful Mormons may actually join the ranks of these other gods in a process called apotheosis, which is known by Latter-day Saints as the doctrine of eternal progression. This is the position the Church holds today.

It would be extremely difficult for the LDS Church to support polytheism without the Book of Abraham. Even Joseph Smith himself presented a very weak argument for polytheism by appealing to the Bible alone in his famous King Follett Discourse. Without the Book of Abraham, there is no definitive polytheism.

Without a definitive polytheism, there is no apotheosis. Without apotheosis, Smith’s words from the King Follett Discourse turn from revelation to heresy. “You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves,” Smith declared, “to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done.”[5]

Without the Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith is a false prophet.

This is ultimately what is at stake – whether or not Joseph Smith was speaking God’s truth when he declared, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!”[6]

If that’s not true, then not only is Joseph Smith a false prophet but the religious system he left behind is preaching a gospel contrary to the one preached by the apostles of Jesus Christ. So, the question deserves to be asked – do you believe the Book of Abraham is scripture? Much is resting on your answer.

—–

[1] History of the Church 2:236

[2] Introduction to the Book of Abraham, Pearl of Great Price

[3] It is widely known that Joseph Smith received Hebrew language training at Kirkland, Ohio in the School of the Prophets in the mid-1830s near the time when the Book of Abraham artifacts were acquired. Evidence of his training is clearly seen in the finished work. For example, Smith borrows from the Hebrew kowkab (star) for “Kolob” and translates the Hebrew word for ‘eternity’ as “gnolaum,” which is apparently an old transliteration of the Hebrew owlam. Another example is Smith’s “Kokaubeam” for ‘star,’ which is actually the Hebrew kowkab.

[4] Boyd Kirkland, “Jehovah as the Father: The Development of the Mormon Jehovah Doctrine” (Sunstone Magazine), 37.

[5] King Follett Discourse

[6] Ibid

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apologetics

Evidence of God from Dr. Judge the Leviathan

 

WIT

So, there’s this article floating around the internet that claims scientists have discovered the first evidence of God’s existence. (No need for you anymore, Romans 1…)

The article has been shared almost a quarter-million times on Facebook, where I first came across it. The title was intriguing, so I went ahead and clicked on it. But the more I read, the more things seemed fishy to me. By the time I finished I felt like I was as at a fisherman’s wharf.

Why? Because this article is obviously not real. It’s completely fake.

Let’s count the ways in which this article should raise some red flags:

  1. It’s from the Wyoming Institute of Technology… which doesn’t actually exist. Don’t believe me? Go to their website and try to apply or even get a campus tour. Good luck!
  2. It claims that a fictitious institute joined up with the Human Genome Project and Bob Jones University, but neither of these real institutions make the same claim.
  3. Its author is Dr. Richter DasMeerungeheuer, which means Judge the Leviathan in German – not a real name.
  4. It cites BJU professor Matthew Boulder as being part of the discovery who is about as real as Dr. Judge the Leviathan.

All this reminds us of one simple lesson – you can’t always trust everything you read on the internet, even if you want to.

It’s not bad apologetics, it’s fabricated apologetics.

Not only this, but it’s a false witness. Assuming the author of this article wants to promote faith in God through science, he or she is going about it in a very bad way. This article is worse than bad apologetics for the Christian faith.

Why? Because it’s not bad apologetics, it’s fabricated apologetics.

We are called to defend faith well and honestly. This article is a great example of what it means to bear false witness and misrepresent the very God that the author seems to be defending, which presupposes that God (not faith) needs defending in the first place.

I would say to chalk this article up to bad scholarship, but it doesn’t even deserve that.

It’s a complete lie.

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current

“I Share Your Faith”: Glenn Beck at Liberty University

missionary_tag

Last month, evangelical mega-college Liberty University made a splash in the news by inviting, yet again, Glenn Beck to speak at its final convocation.

The reasons that Liberty’s president, Dr Jerry Falwell Jr., gave for Mr Beck’s invitation to the university are hardly objectionable, especially considering the university’s history with American conservatism. Dr Falwell introduced Mr Beck as a “patriot, one of America’s leading multimedia personalities” whose radio and television programs have “ordained him as an iconic figure in American culture.”

With this introduction, any conservative-leaning institution could have such a speaker. But there’s one crucial aspect that Dr Falwell left out – Mr Beck’s faith. As a Mormon, or Latter-day Saint (LDS), Glenn Beck is at stark odds with much of what is taught at Liberty.

Luckily, Mr Beck did not neglect to touch on his faith.

“I share your faith,” Mr Beck claimed in his speech-turned-sermon. “I am from a different denomination. And a denomination, quite honestly, that I’m sure can make many people at Liberty uncomfortable. I’m a Mormon. But I share your faith in the atonement of the savior Jesus Christ.”

A Latter-day Saint, speaking at an evangelical university, stated that not only is the Mormon faith simply a denomination of Christianity, but that he shares in the same “faith in the atonement of the savior Jesus Christ.”

And with one sweeping statement, the problem of inviting a Mormon to speak at an evangelical university was made painfully apparent.

POLITICAL GAIN > THEOLOGICAL CLARITY

As you could imagine, the blogosphere has exploded over this speech (of which, admittedly, I am now adding a few more powder grains). Some have sharply criticized Liberty while others have jumped to her defense. Many have discussed the most glaring issue of inviting a Mormon to speak (or, rather, preach) at an evangelical university, but few have identified this event as one more step in a continuing development of Liberty bending her theological identity to accommodate for political gain.

The problem isn’t that Glenn Beck spoke at Liberty; the problem is that Liberty has, intentionally or not, made concessions to allow for Glenn Beck to speak. And this is not the first time.

“Beck is best known for his message, not his medium,” Dr Falwell clarified. That message, of course, is patriotic conservatism. Again, a conservative political pundit speaking at a conservative university is nothing to be surprised about. The issue comes when one considers that Mr Beck is not simply a conservative, but a conservative Mormon, and Liberty is not just a conservative university, but a conservative evangelical university.

And the one who bent their identity to allow for the other’s company wasn’t the conservative Mormon, but the conservative evangelical.

I say this not as an apathetic observer, but as someone with a Liberty degree hanging on his wall. I don’t hate Mormons, neither am I angry with Liberty, but I am concerned that Liberty is exhibiting a continual pattern of blurring important theological lines in exchange for a temporary political alliance.

The one who bent their identity wasn’t the conservative Mormon, but the conservative evangelical.

To demonstrate what I mean, consider that this is not the first time Liberty has invited Mr Beck to speak, nor is it the first time they have invited a Mormon. Previously, Mr Beck spoke at the 2010 commencement when he received an honorary doctorate from the university. During the height of the last presidential campaign, Liberty invited Mitt Romney, also a notable Latter-day Saint, to speak at the 2012 commencement.

It struck me as very strange when Mr Beck was first announced as the 2010 commencement speaker. When I first applied to Liberty I was required to fill out a theological questionnaire that was very unfriendly to LDS theology. Most notably, I was expected not to hold the following beliefs:

  • Exaltation (The LDS doctrine that a man can become a god)
  • Satan and Jesus are spirit brothers
  • Satan was born, not created
  • Ancient American tribes are equated with the lost tribes of Israel
  • Book of Mormon is true revelation from God

If I held any one of these beliefs, which are all uniquely Mormon, then I would be denied admission to the university.

Yet, here was Mr Beck speaking in front of many students who testified that Mormonism is untrue through Liberty’s own questionnaire. Not only this, but Mr Beck later received an honorary doctorate from a university that would have otherwise denied him entrance due to his beliefs.

I decided that there must have been some type of mistake. How could anyone receive a doctorate from Liberty University who believes that the Book of Mormon is an inspired work from God? Surely, they would have violated the theological questionnaire that I had signed.

For Liberty, political gain seems more important than theological clarity.

That day, I went to the seminary’s website and retrieved the questionnaire I had filled out just one year earlier.  Much to my surprise, there was an updated version.  However, the new version was different from the first – they had removed many of the unfriendly LDS theological statements. Essentially, they softened their stance on LDS theology, so far as this questionnaire was concerned.

My initial reaction was disappointment. Shouldn’t an evangelical university with a seminary not be more concerned with theology than any other topic? The reason seemed obvious to me – although they disagree with Mormon theology, Liberty University valued mutual ideologies with a Mormon and wanted to honor him with the highest degree the university can confer.

For Liberty, political gain seems more important than theological clarity and distinction. Or, at least, that’s the message that they are sending to the world. Unfortunately, it seems that Liberty has latched on to a policy that mutually agreed upon social values trump theological truths.

 WHAT HAS SALT LAKE TO DO WITH LYNCHBURG?

I must say, though, that I’m not entirely against every aspect of Mr Beck’s speech. He spoke about liberty, specifically religious liberty, which is wonderful because it is such a wonderful gift! Anytime a Mormon and evangelical can publicly support religious liberty, we should celebrate. But the same could be said of a Muslim and evangelical, a Buddhist and evangelical, a Scientologist and evangelical.

Yet, for some reason, Liberty has allowed Mr Beck to take it a step further. By allowing Mr Beck to say what he said, Liberty has communicated to the world that they believe the LDS Church and evangelicals are not merely allies in religious liberty, they are two stripes of faith in the same vein of Christianity. Here, then, is where the issue lies. Not that Liberty sees itself allying with Mormonism politically, nor for championing religious liberty, but for blurring the lines between Joseph Smith and the Apostle Paul.

Let me put it another way. In tear soaked eyes, Mr Beck recounted that he prayed to the Lord that he would pour over his “word” and challenged Liberty’s students to do the same. In a world where politics is valued over theology, so long as that “word” is from the God of Judeo-Christian morality, then it doesn’t really matter what that “word” precisely entails. We can include Christians of every stripe, Jews, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even (to a very limited extent) Muslims in the arena of pouring over God’s “word.”

Nonetheless, in a world where theology is valued over politics, we cannot seriously respond to Mr Beck’s challenge for Liberty’s students to pour over the “word” knowing full well that Mr Beck’s definition of the “word” goes beyond the Bible and into the realm of unique LDS works such as Doctrine & CovenantsPearl of Great Price, and Book of Mormon.

If Liberty invites Mormons to speak on religious liberty, would they extend that same invitation to Jehovah’s Witnesses or Muslims?

Do you suppose Liberty would invite a Jehovah’s Witness to speak at convocation? A Muslim at commencement, even if they were running for president on a conservative platform? Perhaps a Christian Scientist during chapel? These all seem highly unlikely. So, here’s the question – why this exception?

What has Salt Lake to do with Lynchburg? Political similarities: sure. Religious liberty issues: yes. Interfaith dialogue: absolutely. Preaching to evangelical students about matters with deep, theological meaning: no.

If a Jehovah’s Witness challenged Liberty’s students to study the Bible, would we agree knowing that the official New World Translation of the Watchtower Society intentionally strips Jesus of his divinity? If a Christian Scientist implored Liberty’s students to study the scriptures, would we agree if we knew she included the writings of Mary Baker Eddy in her idea of “scriptures”?

So why, when a Mormon implores the students of Liberty to read the “scriptures,” are we not shocked to realize that he includes Pearl of Great PriceDoctrine & Covenants, and Book of Mormon, whose collective teachings alone count for many of the differences between Christianity and Mormonism – differences that Mr Beck himself identified as “uncomfortable”?

There is no difference between Glenn Beck challenging Liberty’s students to read the “scriptures” as there would be if a 3rd century Gnostic were to do the same. Both Mr Beck and the Gnostic seem like Christians, but they cherish different scripture that teach a different gospel.

And this here is my concern – the gospel.

Each time Liberty bends her theological identity to accommodate social conservatism, I believe she is leaning further away from theological clarity in the public eye. Sure, Liberty gains a louder voice in American conservatism, but the university also gives credence to the Mormon couplet “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become.” True, Liberty may pull more sway with the political right, but the university also nods to the Book of Mormon’s idea that salvation comes only “after all we can do.”

Liberty University is doing these things – unintentionally, I’m sure – whether her leaders know it or not and whether they like it or not. If a university claims to train champions for Christ, then it needs to do so. Part of what it means to champion Christ is to champion his gospel, something that is difficult to find within the pages of the Book of Mormon.

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What’s in a Day?

 

perpeutal_desk

What’s in a day? That’s the big question when it comes to any interpretation of Genesis 1 that is not a literal, plain reading of the text.

Taken at plainest reading, there is little getting around the fact that the author of Genesis recounts the timeframe in which God created the entire universe. Turns out, that’s a week – six days, with a seventh day of rest.

Then, when we add up the genealogies (assuming they don’t skip generations at any point) we are given about 5,700 – 10,000 years of history from Adam to us. This six-day creation with a young earth are central to the idea of Young Earth Creationism (YEC).

Yet, there are many who argue that a plain reading of Genesis 1 actually does the text a disservice. They say that the earth is much older than 10,000 years because of scientific evidence. These folks typically subscribe to Old Earth Creationism (OEC), along with Intelligent Design (ID) and Theistic Evolution (TE).

So, how do these last three groups marry an old earth and universe with Genesis 1? Furthermore, how do YEC maintain their belief in a young earth despite scientific evidence?

Simply put, it all comes down to the meaning of day.

WHAT’S IN A DAY

Both YEC and OEC agrees that when we read Genesis 1, we read a consistent pattern and rhythmic flow in the chronology of God’s creative work.

There was evening and morning, the first day, and it was good, and there was evening and morning, the second day, and it was good, and there was evening and morning… Well, you get the picture.

At the outset, it is important to remember that Hebrew uses the word day (יום) much in the same manner that English does. In English we have three specific ways we use the word day.

  1. To distinguish between daytime and nighttime
  2. To identify a 24-hour period of time
  3. To point back to an unspecific amount of time int he past

So, for example, we can see each of these three in everyday speech…

  1. “We should only travel by day since it will be dark at night.”
  2. “One day this week, we should get together.”
  3. “Back in my day, we didn’t have the internet.”

Hebrew does the same thing:

  1. “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” – Gn 1:5
  2. “In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth had dried out.” – Gn 8:14
  3. “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them.” – Gn 6:4
Hebrew English Example
12-hour daytime  (Gn 1:5) יום (yowm) “We should travel by day”
24-hour day  (Gn 8:14) יום (yowm) “One day this week…”
Unspecific amount of time in past  (Gn 6:14) יום (yowm) “Back in my day…”

Even the story of creation in Genesis itself gives us a hint that a day may not mean a literal 24-hour period of time. Gn 2:4 poetically transitions the creation story by recollecting the “day that the Lord God made the earth and heavens.”

This is similar to our modern English usage of the word day when we say that something occurred “back in the day.” Of course, we do not mean back in the literal 24-hour period of time, on a Wednesday, but rather we are referring back to a period of time when something occurred.

So, the OEC argument goes, simply because Genesis says day does not necessarily lock us into a literal 24-hour period of time. Obviously, we need context to help us know what the author means by day. Does he mean daytime, a 24-hour day, or an unspecific amount of time in the past?

This is where the conflict between Young and Old Earth Creationists comes to a head. YEC adamantly contends that the plainest reading of Genesis should lead us to a literal, 24-hour period of time, whereas OEC disagrees by pointing out that the third type of day lines up better with the rest of the creation story as well as scientific evidence.

Let’s look at two strong arguments on both side of the aisle in relation to the meaning of a day in Genesis.

OLD EARTH CREATIONISM – A FULL DAY’S SCHEDULE

First, scientific evidence has demonstrated that the earth is older than 10,000 years. Way older. In fact, it’s so old that it’s kind of hard to even fathom. By modern estimates, the earth is roughly 4.45 billion years old. Scientists have concluded this based on research from radiometric age dating of the oldest rocks and minerals that we can find on the planet.

If the earth is 4.45 billion years old, then is stands to reason that it, along with all its inhabitants and ecosystems, could not have been created in 144 hours just 10,000 years ago. Typically, this conclusion leads OEC to interpret the traditional reading of days in Genesis 1 as epochs or stages of earth’s development over unknown periods of time rather than literal 24-hour periods.

From being created, to naming all animal life, to getting married, Adam had a long day!

As we saw last week, such a reading lines up well with what science tells us occurred. Both Genesis and science claim that the first creative act was light, followed by the formation of land and sea, followed by the development of an atmosphere, then plants, then animals, and finally humans. The question isn’t over the creative order, it’s over the creative time.

Second, we tend to think about the sixth day as the day when God created Adam, then called it quits to rest on the seventh day. However, a closer look at Gn 1:24 – 2:22 reveals that much more happened on the sixth day than we typically think about. In fact, it was quite a full day’s schedule as Dr. Travis Campbell points out.

On the sixth day, God…

  • Created a host of creatures to live and flourish on the land (Gn 1:24–25)
  • Created human beings (Gn 1:26–29) with the first man (Adam) out of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7)
  • Planted the Garden of Eden (Gn 2:8)
  • Caused trees and plants to grow in the Garden of Eden (Gn 2:9; Gn 1:11–12, 2:5)
  • Placed Adam in the Garden to steward and keep it (Gn 2:15)
  • Made a covenant with Adam (Gn 2:16–17; Hs 6:7)
  • Recognized that Adam was alone (Gn 2:18)
  • Introduced Adam to the animals, instructed him to name them all (Gn 2:19–20)
  • Created Eve as Adam’s helper and wife (Gn 2:21–22)

From being created, to naming all animal life, to getting married, Adam had a long day! This is not to say that God couldn’t have done all these things in twenty-four hours, but it seems quite unlikely (especially if Adam needed to name all the animals and still receive Eve as his wife).

So, how does YEC contend that the plainest reading of Genesis should lead us to a literal, 24-hour period of time?

YOUNG EARTH CREATIONISM – A DAY IS A DAY

First, YEC argues that every time the word יום (yowm) is used with a number, or with the phrase “evening and morning,” anywhere in the Old Testament, it always means an ordinary day. This happens to be the case throughout Genesis 1.

Each of the creative acts that God performs is associated with a day that has an evening and a morning. This phrase, then, acts as a timestamp to draw our attention to the fact that the author did indeed mean to teach that God used all 24-hours per day.

Second, despite what OEC says about a reinterpretation of days in Genesis, many reputable Hebrew scholars point out that such a revision of the text is grammatically untenable with the original intent of the author.

He could have [created the universe] in six seconds. He is God, after all.

James Barr (Oxford University) summarized it like this – “So far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Gen. 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience (b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story.”[1]

Therefore, not only is a literal 24-hour day the plainest reading of the text, it is the plainest reading for a reason – the author meant it to be. Any scientific evidence that contradicts YEC, then, must either be incorrect or misinterpreted. After all, God could have created the earth in six days to appear as if it were 4.45 billion years old. He could have done it in six seconds. (He is God, after all.)

However, as Exodus 20:11 indicates, God specifically chose to use a six-day creation with a seventh day of rest to set an important rhythm for his creation.

CONCLUSION

So, what should we believe about the days in Genesis? I think that’s a very important question to answer for yourself through your personal investigation and research.

The most important thing to walk away from Genesis 1–3, though, is not how long it took God to create the universe but why God created the universe.

He didn’t do so because he was lonely or bored. Remember, he has perfect, eternal community within himself as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Instead, he created us out of love. And when we rebelled against him, he displayed that love by promising to reconcile us back to him.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel (Gn 3:15).”

Who is God talking about when he says he shall bruise your (the enemy’s) head?

Jesus.

Right there immediately after the why of creation is the how of redemption. This is the most important part of why Genesis 1–3 was written. Not primarily to give us scientific insight into creation (although it does), but to answer the question of how things should be, why they are not, and how God is going to rescue us.

So long as both YEC and OEC keeps focus on the redemption of Genesis 3:15, the days of Genesis 1 can be discussed and debated with brotherly love.

—–

[1] Letter from Professor James Barr to David C.C. Watson of the UK, dated April 23, 1984. (http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones/barrlett.html)

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current

Noah: Yet Another Review

noah

Everyone else is doing it, so why not chime in? Here’s my pros and cons from just seeing Noah.

PROS

It was raw, bloody, violent, and not something you would want to decorate your nursery with – just like it should be. Noah’s story is not a bedtime tale, it’s a campfire sermon. Themes of humanity’s fallenness, God’s judgement, and covenantal mercy are key. Sometimes, we lose that message while painting smiley giraffes next to a plump, happy Noah in the kid’s room.

Noah told his family the creation narrative over campfire, just like the oral tradition of Genesis was passed down from generation to generation. Not only this, but the cinematography was great. It showed God creating the universe in the exact order that science and the Bible tell us. But, was that scene showing a literal six day creation or a figurative six day creation? The movie leaves that up to you to decide.

Noah isn’t a good guy. He sees the wickedness of man and in that wickedness sees himself. God didn’t choose Noah because the man was righteous. God didn’t choose Noah because he saw potential in him. God chose Noah despite his sinfulness, which is something the movie picked up on well.

God (or the Creator) spoke to Noah in dreams and visions. Sometimes people read the Bible and see that God spoke to people. This is a huge sticking point to them – did he audibly speak to them? I liked the director’s explanation: dreams, very vivid dreams. Daniel had “night visions” when God talked to him, could Noah have had a similar experience?

The director gives us a great explanation for why Noah got wasted on wine. The answer is simple – he could no longer handle the immense stressors of witnessing humanity’s judgment and extremely strained family relations. It makes sense that he took to the bottle, so to speak, because the pressure became too much. Was it right? Of course not. But, then again, Noah wasn’t perfect, and neither are we.

CONS

Noah, apparently, took the judgment theme a little too far. Parts of the movie were reminiscent of The Shining – a crazy dad bent on murdering his family. I highly doubt that Noah believed all of humanity (to include he and his family) were going to experience judgement. This add-on to the story is, I believe, a result of the overly-environmentalist Noah that so many others have complained about in reviews. All humans are bad, so all humans must go. Leave earth to itself. Never mind that we were created in the Creator’s image and likeness…

Two words: rock people. Yes, yes, that’s the director’s attempt at tying in the Nephilim, but by doing so he opened up a huge theological can of worms. Can fallen angels be redeemed? According to this movie, the answer is yes. (Also, apparently, rock people are great ship builders?)

As far as I know, Noah’s grandpa wasn’t called Methuselah the Grey. What was with his magical powers? And his obsession with berries? Just because there wasn’t much written about the guy doesn’t mean you should go all Lord of the Rings with his character. A wise old sage would have sufficed.

Finally, and most importantly, the movie completely bypasses the covenant God made with Noah after the Flood, which, by the way, was the pinnacle of the story. The movie ends with Noah’s birthright being passed on to his offspring and the rainbow of God’s promise to never judge the earth by flooding again. Missing something? Yes, the covenant renewal with the altar and sacrifice. Kind of a big deal, since it points forward to Jesus.

Because of this, it was hard for me to see Jesus in the Noah movie, which is not a good thing. The biblical story of Noah points forward to Jesus – judgment, sacrifice, and redemption. Without sacrifice, there isn’t any redemption.

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religion

The Lost Mormon Language

welcome_utah Mormon history is the fascinating story of America’s most successful modern indigenous religion. It is filled with 19th century frontier religion, angelic visitations, the notorious golden plates, and rugged pioneers. But there is one small part to this story that many people are unaware of – the Deseret Alphabet.

The Deseret Alphabet was an alternate to the Latin alphabet of English that was formed by the University of Deseret (now University of Utah) under the direction of Brigham Young. Theoretically, it would have replaced Latin character in English in favor of the phonetically uniformed characters of Deseret.

If that sounds strange, it really shouldn’t. Forming a phonetic alphabet was not an uncommon endeavor in the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, Benjamin Franklin proposed an alphabet to alleviate mispronunciation and standardize an American version of English. (Which, in my opinion, would have been pretty awesome.)

The reasons why early Mormons devised the alphabet remain speculative. Some argue that they desired a phonetic alphabet to unify the English language, especially for immigrants moving into the Utah territory who struggled to learn the language. Others speculate that the alphabet was created in an attempt to uniquely distinguish the Mormon community from the United States during their bid to become an autonomous State of Deseret.

Whatever they reason, it is fascinating nonetheless! Here are some examples of the lost Mormon language. For you glossophiliacs, add Deseret to your collection!

THE DESERET ALPHABET

deseret_alphabet

____

____

____

FIVE DOLLAR COIN FROM UTAH (1860)

deseret_coin

 ____

____

____

MY HUMBLE ATTEMPT AT THE LORENZO SNOW COUPLET

deseret_couplet

 As man now is, God once was; as God now is man may become.

____

____

____

TITLE PAGE TO THE BOOK OF MORMON

deseret_bom

 

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apologetics

The Bible and Chinese Telephone

bible_chinese_telephone

Too busy to read? Check out the podcast.

“We can’t trust the Bible because it was corrupted through years of translation.”

We’ve all heard this line before. Recently, I’ve heard it a lot. It’s an argument for why people should not or cannot trust the Bible.

The theory goes that through the ages people copied and recopied the Bible, each time changing it just a bit so as to reflect what they wanted it to say.

It’s a bit like a massive game of Chinese Telephone or Chinese Whispers for my British friends. (Either way, what’s with the name? Are the Chinese known for a consistent breakdown in long-distance communication or something? What’s the deal?)

Usually, people who question whether the Bible is reliable come from a wide array of backgrounds. Anyone from staunch atheists to devote Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses have questioned why we should trust the modern Bible.

For atheists, it is a book of myths passed down from generation to generation, suffering severe alterations due to translator bias or Christian agendas. For Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is a damaged scripture missing theological points restored only by their scripture.

So, why the unlikely alliance of biblical distrust between believers and non-believers alike? Is the Bible reliable? Can we trust a book that was changed after years and years of translations?

TRANSLATION VS. TRANSCRIPTION

First, it’s important to know at the outset that the Bible wasn’t translated through the ages – it was transcribed. When it comes to the unreliability of the Bible, the word translation gets tossed around a lot; however, alterations to the original text cannot be blamed on a bad translation.

When the Bible is translated, scholars render the Bible from its original languages into a foreign language. So, for example, when you pick up an English Bible you’re not actually reading the original language, you’re reading an English translation of the original Hebrew and Greek.

In the Chinese Telephone analogy, it’s as if someone told you a phrase in English and you told the next person in German. But that’s not how the game is played. From start to finish the message is in the same language.

Transcription, on the other hand, is when scholars copy the Bible without rendering it into a different language.

We must remember that back in the day there were not copy machines, no scanners, no Kinkos.

Professional scribes, usually monks, would spend hours on end painstakingly copying letter after letter in order to preserve the original message.

So, were there changes made during the transcription process? Yes, of course. It’s okay to admit this – the Bible you read is an English translation from copies of copies of ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts with errors.

The question becomes, Are these errors bad enough to render the Bible unreliable? Just how well did the monks play Chinese Telephone?

ISSUES IN TRANSCRIPTION – FOUR TYPES OF ERRORS

One New Testament scholar divides these transcription errors into four types: spelling differences and nonsense errors, minor changes, meaningful but not viable, and meaningful and viable.

1. Spelling Differences and Nonsense Errors

The largest type of errors are spelling differences and nonsense mistakes. Some of these are as small as copying an improper article, such as ‘apple’ instead of ‘an apple’. Others are simple spelling mistakes, like Iōannēs (Greek for John) without the second ‘n’ (Iōanes).[1]

Another type of error is even a bit humorous. In one late transcript, a scribe copied “we were horses among you” (Gk. hippoi) instead of “we were gentle among you” (Gk. ēpioi) in 1 Thessalonians 2:7.[2] Close, but no cigar…

This would be like copying the Preamble as, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Onion.” Obviously, there was a mistake – equally obvious is the correction.

So, just because one scribe misspelled John’s name and another thinks were all horses doesn’t mean Jesus never resurrected.

2. Minor Changes

The second-most common type of error is minor changes in the original language. If you’ve never studied the language, the first conclusion you draw about ancient Greek grammar is that it’s the Wild Wild West of languages. Sometimes, you can express the same thought up to sixteen different ways by messing with the word order in a sentence.

With that in mind, changes in the text can be something as trivial as the presence or absence of the article “the” before a noun.[3] Is the meaning of that sentence lost? No way, because Greek is awesome and you still have fifteen more variations to go before losing meaning.

Again, just because one manuscript might say that “disciples went to empty tomb” doesn’t mean that the tomb wasn’t empty. (But it does mean that text sounds a bit cavemanish.)

3. Meaningful, but Not Viable

The third type of errors are those that have meaning, but are not viable. This means that the change made has some type of relation to the original word, but isn’t necessarily the same thing. Thus, they are an unviable substitute.

One example is found in 1 Thessalonians 2:9 where almost all manuscripts render the phrase “gospel of God.” However, in one medieval manuscript we are given the phrase “gospel of Christ.”

Is Christ God? Yes, of course. So, the difference is meaningful. However, there is still an important difference between the words God and Christ. So, the difference is not viable.

Perhaps a well-meaning trinitarian monk didn’t see the difference. Nevertheless, he would have been wrong for transcribing it incorrectly, no matter the motivation.

4. Meaningful and Viable

Finally, the fourth type of errors are those that are both meaningful and viable. Unlike the types before, when the word is change it still makes sense. These are challenging errors to deal with.

However, these errors only represent 1% of all variations in the manuscripts.

This is incredible considering the fact that the New Testament alone is 2,000 years old. Not only that, but this 1% typically involves just a single word or sentence. For an ancient text, this is unparalleled.

So, what is an example of such a ‘meaningful and viable’ error? The ending of the Gospel of Mark is one of the most widely-known. Bible scholars can’t be sure if this actually belongs in Mark’s Gospel, but it’s not like they’re trying to hide this fact from the world.

Most Bibles tell you flat out in a footnote, “Hey, we’re not sure if this belongs here, so read at your own discretion!” (In my Bible, ESV Study Bible, there’s a huge break before the ending of Mark with a note in all CAPS about this very issue.)

Luckily, we have three other Gospels to help us make a decision on whether or not it belongs. But if you can’t trust the Bible based on a potential addition to Mark that is essentially repeated information from the other Gospels, then that’s on you.

At any rate, none of these types of errors alter any significant theological meaning at any point.

SO, IS THE BIBLE RELIABLE?

With these errors in mind, we must still ask ourselves whether or not the Bible is reliable. Can we really trust a book that has been transcribed over thousands of years even if the errors are minor and do not alter significant theological points?

Well, let me ask you this – Do you think Homer’s Iliad is reliable? You know, the story about the Trojan War and the mighty Greek warrior Achilles?

If you do, you’re betting on fairly good odds that what we have today is what Homer meant to say. Why? Because we have a little over 700 copies of the Iliad with a 95% accuracy rating. Pretty impressive, eh?[5,6]

Now, there is a catch with the Iliad. Unfortunately, we don’t have early copies of the work – copies that were made around the time that Homer wrote it. The Iliad is said to have been written around 900BCE, but the earliest copy we have is from 400BCE. That means, as far as we know, there is a 500–year gap between when Homer wrote the Iliad and when it was first copied.

Still, 700+ copies all saying pretty much the same thing is a lot. 500 years between the original and first copy is a lot as well, but not enough to keep the Iliad from being a popular epic and cool story line to a Brad Pitt movie. So, let’s give the Iliad the benefit of the doubt. Helen’s face started the Trojan War.

Now, what about the Bible? If the Iliad is reliable, does the Bible stack up? Actually… no.

The Bible blows the Iliad out of the water.

Instead of 700+ copies, the New Testament alone boasts  5,000+ with an astounding 99% accuracy rate between them.[7] Not only this, but the shortest gap between the originals and first copy is a mere 100 years, compared to the Iliad’s 500–year gap.[8]

Here’s a visual representation of the differences between the two.

difference

“Alright,” you may say, “but that’s just for the Iliad. What about other ancient writings?” To date, the Iliad boasts the richest, most numerous amount of copies of any other ancient writing, with one exception – the Bible.

“Well,” you may further say, “the longer we march into the future, the further that gap is becoming. So, this evidence won’t be as convincing in the future.” True. However, much to the dismay of critics, even though we are getting farther from the original date, we are actually getting closer to the original text. This is because we are discovering more and more manuscripts that are closer to the original date.

THE UNLIKELY ALLIANCE

All this to say, we can’t really argue about whether or not the Bible says what it originally said. The argument must shift to whether or not we accept what the Bible says.

Now that’s a completely different story. It also happens to be the very reason we see that unlikely alliance of believers and unbelievers. What do an atheist, a Mormon, and a Jehovah’s Witness all have in common? They all (typically) believe the Bible has been corrupted.

Additionally, each group, generally speaking, are not keen on what the biblical text has to say. Indeed, it’s a rough read if you allow it to honestly speak to our own fallen and messed-up state of being in relation to God (although without this bad news, the good news wouldn’t be so sweet).

So, there are two options – reject it outright or change what it has to say. In both cases, the easiest way to go about doing this is to claim that the text is corrupt and unreliable. This way atheists can discount it as fairytales and Jehovah’s Witnesses can tweak the text in their New World Translation.

Either way, as we’ve seen, it’s fairly dishonest to say the Bible is unreliable as an ancient text. If that’s the case – remember, the Bible is the best example of an ancient text – then much of what we understand of history needs to be scrutinized because we rely too heavily on other, less reliable ancient texts.

In other words, we can’t have our cake and eat it, too.

—–

A special note to LDS and Jehovah’s Witness readers. Do you find your unlikely alliance with many bible critics and some atheists a bit odd? I would humbly ask that you honestly consider why your organizations have altered the New Testament text (Joseph Smith Translation, New World Translation) in order to conform to Mormon and Watchtower Society theology.

[1] J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus: How the Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead the Popular Culture (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 2006), 56.

[2] Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, Thomas R. Schreiner, et. al., Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible’s Origin, Reliability, and Meaning (Wheaton, Illi.: Crossway, 2012), 115.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 116.

[5] Martin L. West, “The Textual Criticism and Editing of Homer,” Editing Texts, ed. Glenn W. Most (Gottingen: Aporemata, Kritische Studien zur Philologie-geschichte, 1998), 102. (Note: Many Christian authors like to throw around the number 643 for the number of extant Iliad manuscripts. This number most likely comes from Norman Geisler’s popular work From God to Us, which was published in 1974. However, more manuscripts have been discovered since the 70s bringing the total number to a little over 700.)

[6] Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1974), 181.

[7] Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1986), 405.

[8] In his debate with New Testament scholar (and critic) Bart Ehrman, Dan Wallace observed that the earliest copy of Mark that we have dates to the first-century.

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apologetics

Reddit Said What? Part I

reddit

One blogger’s attempt to flesh out the best of the worst r/atheism arguments against Christianity on Reddit.

BELLY BUTTON

bellybutton

Boom, you got us.

Here we have photographic evidence that Adam and Eve had belly buttons, which definitively proves they were born and not created. Oh wait, what’s that? This isn’t a photograph? It’s actually a Renaissance painting by an artist named Titian? …never mind.

Look, just because 16th century European artists painted belly buttons on Adam and Eve doesn’t mean A.) that they actually had them, B.) that the Bible claims they had them, or C.) that whether or not they had belly buttons even matters.

Also, why does Satan look like the baby from the E-Trade commercials?

BIBLE NAMES

picard

First of all Picard, watch your language. That’s not very Captain-y of you…

Secondly, Jesus didn’t find guys names Peter, John, James, Matthew, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, and Simon in the Middle East. This meme ignorantly (and I mean ignorantly) assumes that English was a widely utilized language by first century Jews living in Palestine. (Think about that… Take as much time as you need.)

Instead, Yehosua (good catch there, meme creator) found guys named Simōn Petros (Peter), Iōannēs (John), Iakōbos (James), Maththaios (Matthew), Andreas (Andrew), Philippos (Philip), Thōmas (Thomas), and Simōn (Simon), in addition to four others – but the meme seems content without Bartholomew, Thaddeus, and Judas Iscariot.

So, why are they different? Because we translate names from one language to another. This is why your friend John isn’t called Iōannēs, or why your grandma Irene isn’t called ‘peace’. For a more in-depth look at this, check out Jesus vs. Yehosua.

Nice try, Picard. This is exactly why I like Kirk better.

BORN AGAIN

born_again

Great question, I wish someone in the Bible asked a similar question. Oh, wait!

“Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’” – John 3:4

The answer? You’re missing the point…

We cannot enter the kingdom of God without being spiritually born again. Of course, this begs the question – why do we need to be spiritually born again?

We are all spiritually dead. This shouldn’t be surprising considering the world we live in. Lying, stealing, wars, deception, murder, betrayal – all these things stem from spiritual death. Even on a smaller scale of the self, we must admit that we know we’re not perfect.

The solution, then, is not to simply “grow up.” We’ve been trying that for ages, while self-improvement gurus and religious leaders feed off that useless idea. Can a dead person just grow up? No, of course not. Neither can a spiritually dead person just grow up. Instead, like Jesus says, we need to be spiritually born again.

If you have suggestions for ‘Reddit Said What?’, email dearephesusblog@gmail.com with your ideas.

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apologetics, current

BREAKING: Camels Disprove God’s Existence; Bible Is False

camel_title

Too busy to read? Check out the podcast.

If you’re like me, I’m sure you woke up this morning to a barrage of news articles claiming that the discovery of domesticated camel bones have definitively disproved the Bible.

Alarming? Yes. True? Mmmm not exactly.

Unfortunately, the article titles are a bit misleading because they draw conclusions that the researchers, Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef, do not draw. It is a bit frightening to see how irresponsibly the various media outlets have spun Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef’s research. Here is just a gleaming of some popular outlets and their article titles.

“Major discrepancy in the Bible” Huffington Post

major discrepancy in the Bible would being finding Jesus’ remains, not a camel’s.

“‘Direct Proof’ Bible Was Written Centuries After Events Described” International Business Times

This one is especially alarming since it’s author, Zoe Mintz, puts ‘direct proof’ in quotations without actually quoting the words ‘direct proof’ anywhere in her article. This quote turns out to be from the American Friends of Tel Aviv University, a self-described “worldly and intellectually sophisticated group” dedicated to and associated with the university, but not directly a part of the research(ers) nor the university – a fact that even the Christian Post seems to have missed.

“Camel archaeology contradicts the Bible”The Times of Israel

The camel archeology contradicts the Bible? Really? The whole thing – contradicted. Maybe the Times of Israel should have gone with a little more realistic title, such as…

“Camel discovery may prove Biblical stories false” News 3 Las Vegas

Ah, a refreshingly honest title among all the sensation. At least this title contains the qualifier may. It may prove Bible stories false. However, the title still makes an extraordinary claim that Bible stories are false based on the research. Can we assume, at least from the claim of this title, that a ‘camel discovery’ proves Jesus never resurrected? If so, there’s a baby in some bathwater that needs to be thrown out.

“Camel Bones Challenge the Bible’s Timeline” Newser

This is the only title I’ve seen that is appropriate to the research. Indeed, domesticated camels not found until 900BCE does challenge the biblical timeline; however, it is not a “major discrepancy” that provides “direct proof”  that “Biblical stories [are] false.” These titles are sensational, which is exactly their authors were going for.

“Historical ERROR in Bible’s Old Testament, REVEALED”Fashion Times

I’ll let this one stand on its own, because of all the CAPS and the fact that the illustrious Fashion Times wrote it.

“Camels and foot-stamping denialists”Patheos

Not a news article, but interesting nonetheless. Here we have a writer complaining about “foot-stamping denialists” (of which I suppose I now am) coming out to say nuh-uh! to Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef’s findings. Others include Al Mohler and Ken Ham, who (as of yet) have not actually spoken on the matter as far as I am aware. Could the author of this article be a foot-stamping denialist denier?

“BREAKING: Camels Disprove God’s Existence; Bible Is False”Dear Ephesus

See? Even I can do it.

ALRIGHT, WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH ACTUALLY SAY?

Enough with the sensational titles, what does the research actually say? Does this zooarchaeological find cast doubt on the timeline of the Bible?

First, if you actually read the report, the researchers do not make the claims that many of the media outlets are saying they have. In fact, they only mention the Old Testament once in the entire paper.

In their opening paragraph, Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef mention the “Patriarchal narrative” as having lead many researchers to speculate an earlier date for camel domestication. That’s it. The rest of the paper is simply their findings.

Basically, Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef have done what all archeologists do – present their findings and allow others to interpret for themselves what that data means. It is clear what many have said, but what is not so clear is why they would attribute a conclusion to these two researchers that they themselves never made.

Nonetheless, the findings do present a challenge to the biblical timeline. Let’s take a look at why.

The Bible starts mentioning camels beginning in Genesis 12. This means that starting from the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 BCE) the Bible claims that camels were domesticated and in use by humans in and around Israel.

However, according to Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef’s research, camels were not domesticated in Israel until 900BCE. Herein lies the problem – the Bible claims that camels were domesticated hundreds of years before they actually were.

(Is your faith shaken yet? I’ve already denounced mine…)

So, what are we to make of this? Here are just some points to consider.

POINTS TO CONSIDER

1.) Does this research definitively represent the total area of Israel, from its most sparsely to most highly populated areas? If not, then this research may simply suggest that domesticated camels were not in use at these sites until 900BCE.

To be fair, according to Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef’s paper, the study encompassed quite a bit of Israel. In fact, they were confident that it did represent a good portion of Israel’s history. However, perhaps later discoveries will show that camels were not in use in some areas while they were in others at various points in Israel’s history.

2.) The word for camel gamal (גָּמָל) may be a substitute for the oral tradition’s use of a load-bearing animal. Perhaps, according to oral tradition, the load bearing animal was a donkey or mule. When it came time to consolidate and ‘canonize’ the Torah, the scribes (being people of their time) assigned the word camel to the word load-bearing animal. (This is not unlike when we hear a story of a cowboy riding into town on an animal, we automatically assume the animal was a horse.)

Old Testament scholars have long suggested that the Torah was not finished in the form we have it today until well after the events they describe. Even if we accepted Moses as the author of the Torah, we must also remember that he was not present for a major portion of it (Genesis). Oral tradition must play some type of role in its formation, which is something Christians have believed for a long time.

3.) Could Abraham have acquired camels from Egypt and brought them to Israel without them becoming widely used until much later? Most of the articles claim that Abraham (among the other patriarchs) did not have camels in Israel until Egypt introduced them abruptly, perhaps due to trade. Archeological evidence suggests that Egypt did have domesticated camels

This assumes, then, that when Abraham went to Egypt, he did not acquire a single camel. On the contrary, is it possible that Abraham, during his visit to Egypt, acquired Egyptian domesticated camels? I think so, especially since Genesis 12:16 explicitly mentions Abraham’s camels while in Egypt.

Of course, this depends on whether or not Egypt had domesticated camels during the time Abraham was in Egypt. Since Egypt was the trade center of the world at that time, it is entirely possible to see how domesticated camels were present in the first millennium BCE Egypt.[1]

AT THE END OF THE DAY…

This is such a great example of how hungry some people are to decry the veracity of the Bible. After all, a good amount of news organizations have heralded this research as a fatal blow to scripture. (Remember, we’re talking about the domestication of camels in Israel. We’re not talking about a Jesus ossuary.)

It is interesting to see how many media outlets rushed to declare the Bible false, seemingly without considering that there might be a logical explanation. I’m not sure they would have done the same for other types of archeological finds.

For example, if an archeologist found a modern human skull in a layer with other fossils dating to the Mesozoic Era, would those same news organizations herald the discovery as a fatal blow to evolution? Probably not, because they would most likely assume there must be a logical reason. Unfortunately, they do not grant the Bible this same type of courtesy.

So, the next time you see a camel and it says “Hump Daaaaay!”, remember this – many people are always looking for excuses to push away from their loving creator, even if it’s sensationally based on scant evidence.

—–

[1] Sheila Hamilton-Dyer, ‘Domestication of the Camel,’ The Oxford Companion to Archeology, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, ), 215

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religion

Will We Become Gods? A Look at Mormon Exaltation

gods

  • Mormonism teaches that some humans have the potential to become gods
  • LDS employ biblical texts and authoritative quotes out of context as evidence
  • According to the Bible and orthodox Christianity there is the only one God

Among the many unique theological differences between Mormonism and Christian orthodoxy, one stands out among the rest – the Mormon doctrine of eternal progression.

According to this doctrine, part of our salvation process is the potential of evolving past a limited existence as a created human in order to become a creator god. Joseph Smith, the first Mormon apostle, recounts this ‘revelation’ in Doctrine & Covenants.

“Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.” – D&C 132:20

In this instance, the term gods is meant to be understood literally. Human beings will one day literally become gods like God is now. A number of past Latter-day Saint (LDS) apostles have clarified this uniquely Mormon concept.

  • “Man is a god in embryo and has in him the seeds of godhood, and he can, if he will, rise to great heights.” – Spencer W. Kimball, LDS Apostle (1895–1985)
  • “Mortality is the testing or proving ground for exaltation to find out who among the children of God are worthy to become Gods themselves.” – Joseph F. Smith, LDS Apostle (1838–1918)
  • “As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be.” – Lorenzo Snow, LDS Apostle (1814–1901)

While this is, indeed, a unique idea to Christians, many LDS hotly contest its uniqueness, arguing instead that the idea of exaltation (humans becoming gods) is not a new one. (Of course, it must be said, not all LDS believe in exaltation; however, the idea is still prevalent within Mormon thought.)

In fact, one can find evidence of exaltation in the Bible in addition to the writings of many of the early church fathers and famed Christian thinker C. S. Lewis.

So, is there any truth to these points? Does the Bible teach exaltation? Did the early church fathers and C. S. Lewis hold to the view?

CONSIDERING THE BIBLICAL EVIDENCE

First, we must notice one important thing – the biblical passages typically employed for support of ‘exaltation’ are usually taken out of context. Within context, the Bible is emphatically clear that there is no God aside from God.

Here are just a few verses to this effect: Isaiah 43:10; 44:6,8; 45:5,14,18,21,22; 46:9; 47:8; John 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:5-6; Gal. 4:8-9.

Within the framework that the Bible give us, there is no room for polytheism (the existence of many gods). This is a problem for Mormonism. If human beings are destined to become gods one day, then there is more than one god. Thus, Mormon theology is necessarily polytheistic.

So, while a LDS would most certainly affirm the biblical passages mentioned, the problem of polytheism exists nonetheless.

A potential LDS response is that Heavenly Father is a higher god than we’ll ever be, which is why the Bible seems to teach that there is only one God. We are only to worship him even if we are destined to become gods one day. God, Heavenly Father, is our god.

Unfortunately, this explanation does not do away with polytheism. Whether or not the other gods receive our worship is moot – they exist nonetheless. This is why God says in Isa 44:6, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”

Yet even a verse like Isa 44:6 can be taken out of context by simply adding “…of this planet” to the end of the verse. Still, one must contest, unless the term god means something other than an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent being, the doctrine of eternal progress necessarily teaches polytheism.

The biblical evidence for exaltation, and by extension polytheism, is simply not there.

“YOU ARE ‘GODS'” – MISQUOTING JESUS

From the New Testament, a common verse used in defense of exaltation is Jhn 10:4. “Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?'”

Here, we see a clear instance in which Jesus is rhetorically asking whether or not we believe we are called gods. On face value, it does seem like Jesus would agree with this unique Mormon doctrine.

However, on face value, Jesus also calls himself a door (Jhn 10:7), to which I do not believe he meant to say that he may be purchased at Home Depot for a reasonable price. There must be something more to the text.

A closer look at Jesus’ quotation in Jhn 10:4 gives us a hint at what the Bible means here. Notice Jesus does not say, “you are becoming gods.” Instead, he says, “you are [present tense] gods.”

Certainly, a LDS would agree that they are not currently gods (although they may believe they are in an ’embryonic’ state). If Jesus meant to support exaltation in this one instance, why did he use the present tense?

The answer lies in the original source of what Jesus is quoting. Psa 82:6 states, “I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.”

Instead of affirming exaltation, it is much more likely that Jesus meant the term gods in the same way the original psalmist did – to describe earthly beings (“gods”) who are being judged for failing in their duties of properly administering justice.

Thus, verses like Jhn 10:4 can be inappropriately taken out of context to support the idea that humans are literally destined to become gods.

“WE MAY BECOME GOD” – THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS

At the outset it must be said that any evidence for the early church father’s support of the doctrine of eternal progression is shaky and scant at best. The idea seems wholly foreign in their writings.

So, how could they be used in support of exaltation? Simply put, we misunderstand what the fathers meant by the word god.

It was very common for the early church fathers to describe us as “gods” in glorification because we do, in fact, become like (but not ontologically like) God.

There’s a million dollar word – ontological. It simply means “the metaphysical being or reality of something.” So, to be ontologically like God means to be made of the exact same stuff as God.

This, however, is not what the early church fathers had in mind when they referred to us as gods. While we may become like God (free from sin, eternal, etc) we will never be ontologically like God (e.g., omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, etc).

Take, for example, a widely quoted line from Athanasius, “He became man that men might be made gods (emphasis added).” On face value, we can be lead to believe that he would support exaltation. However, within context, we quickly see that he would not.

First, this is most likely a mistranslation. This quote should actually read, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God (St. Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3: PG 25, 192B, emphasis added).”

With this in mind, note Athanasius does not say ‘become gods’ but ‘become God’. Obviously, he is speaking of our glorification to become like/with God in heaven. No LDS would agree that Athanasius means to say that we will become Heavenly Father. Neither, then, does he mean to say we will become gods.

Another popular quote to utilize is from Augustine, “If then we have been made sons of god, we have also been made gods (Exposition on the Psalms, 50.2)”

As before, face value agrees. Like usual, context doesn’t.

Just a few sentences later he writes, “For the only Son of God, God, and one God with the Father, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, was in the beginning the Word, and the Word with God, the Word God. The rest that are made gods, are made by His own Grace, are not born of His Substance, that they should be the same as He, but that by favour they should come to Him, and be fellow-heirs with Christ. (Ibid).”

Here, Augustine clearly teaches what orthodox Christianity teaches – that we will be perfect like God, but not literally (ontologically, by nature) a god. Unfortunately, for our LDS friends, using this quote from Augustine to support exaltation is unfounded.

(As an aside, it is ironic that this passage would be utilized to support a Mormon doctrine in the first place. Note that it clearly affirms Augustine’s view of the Trinity, an idea that Mormonism rejects.)

“WE WERE ‘GODS'” – C. S. LEWIS

Employing C. S. Lewis to support the doctrine of eternal progression is a very popular move among the doctrine’s proponents. Perhaps this is due to the authority and weight commanded by the theological giant. Nevertheless, were Lewis alive today he would surly disagree with exaltation.

LDS have claimed that Lewis held to exaltation based on a quote from Mere Christianity, “He said (in the Bible) that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words.”

Again, at face value this does seem to indicate Lewis’s support. However, as with the examples before, we must keep in mind what the author means by the term gods.

Note that Lewis was careful to place quotation marks around the word ‘gods.’ Like the early church fathers, Lewis meant that we will be like gods in that we will no longer suffer sin and death, not that we will be literally gods who are omnipresent, -potent, -scient.

We can be sure of this by placing the quote within its proper context. Lewis goes on to write, “If we let Him. . .He will make us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature. . .which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness.”

Here, Lewis is clearly explaining the process of sanctification and the culmination of our salvation through glorification. We will, one day, become the perfect creatures who perfectly worship the Creator.

If this were not enough context for clarification, Lewis reveals his position perfectly well in the beginning of the chapter when he says, “He is the inventor, we are only the machine. He is the painter, we are only the picture.”

From this, ontologically speaking, are we to presume Lewis imagines a time in which the machine becomes an inventor or a picture becomes a painter? Obviously, we are not.

Lewis clearly defines the orthodox lines between Creator and creation – an impassible chasm not crossed by any manner of exaltation.

EXALTATION IS IDOLATRY

In conclusion, when it comes to the Mormon doctrine of exaltation context is key. Most support for the doctrine comes from a line or two lifted out of context and distorted to mean what the original author never intended.

But, the issue of exaltation goes deeper than simply misquotations and unorthodox ideas.

The deeper issue begins in a misunderstanding of glorification. According to the Bible, our salvation consists of three stages (or aspects): justification, sanctification, and glorification.

  • Justification is instant, the moment we are declared righteous before God by his grace through faith alone (Rom 3:24-25;5:1, Eph 2:8-9).
  • Sanctification is a continual process of becoming more and more Christlike through the Holy Spirit (2Th 2:13, 1Pe 1:2).
  • Glorification is when we die and enter into God’s presence in a perfected state free from sin for all eternity (Phi 3:21).

Mormonism, unfortunately, blends sanctification and glorification into the same process. If sanctification and glorification can be blended together, it only follows that we work towards salvation (something the Bible fiercely rejects, Eph 2:8-9). Add the doctrine of exaltation to this and we come to something even more dangerous – idolatry.

At the end of the day, to be frank, the Mormon doctrine of eternal progression is idolatry. It necessarily takes away the function of our very being (namely the worship of God) and replaces it with a slightly cheaper, albeit tempting, giving of and reception of worship to ourselves.

According to eternal progression, one day we will have people of our own who will worship us. Herein lies the danger – Isa 42:8 says, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other.” Eternal progression necessarily states that we share in God’s glory of worship, which is idolatry.

QUESTIONS TO PONDER FOR LDS READERS

If you are a LDS reader and would like to further consider the doctrine from a critical angle, here are some questions to ponder.

  1. If exaltation is such an important doctrine of salvation, why is there such scant evidence for it in the Bible and historical Christian writings?
  2. Given exaltation’s importance, why did it take Joseph Smith so many years to teach it?
  3. Why does the Book of Mormon remain relatively silent on the doctrine of eternal progression?
  4. Is it not strange that the LDS Church, which has historically criticized orthodox forms of Christianity for “adopting” pagan concepts into biblical theology, would adopt such a pagan idea as exaltation?
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apologetics

Did Jesus Plagiarize the Golden Rule?

golden_rule_title

Everyone knows Jesus’  teaching, “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” This teaching is so famous that it has its own title – the Golden Rule.

While is is widely acknowledge that Jesus taught it, some believe that this is not unique to him. In fact, critics claim that Jesus actually plagiarized the Golden Rule from those who taught before him. They point out that other religious teachers and philosophers had been teaching the rule to their students long before Jesus ever delivered his famous Sermon on the Mount.

One such critic, the popular blogger Friendly Atheist, posted a cartoon poking fun at the fact that Jesus did not come up with the Golden Rule. Rather, it was around long before Jesus (although the cartoon mistakenly references the Hadiths, which came hundreds of years after Jesus.)

The conclusion? Jesus plagiarized from other religious teachers and did not do unto others has he would not have done unto himself.

But therein lies the key to whether or not Jesus actually plagiarized. Do not against do. Negative versus positive.

THE GOLDEN RULE REVERSED

Look back again at the comic from The Friendly Atheist. Ironically, the poor attempt of a humorous jab at Christianity underlies the ignorance by which it depends for the joke to be true. None of the students properly recounted the Golden Rule since they all quoted it in the negative. (Remember, the Hadiths – or “Hadith” as it is rendered – comes hundreds of years after Jesus.)

Each example listed in the comic (prior to Jesus) is all in the negative: Hinduism, Babylonian Talmud, Confucius, Tibetan Dhammapada. Every single one is a “do not.” This is because before Jesus came on the scene, the Golden Rule was typically taught as a “do not” rather than a “do.” It was negative over positive.

Here is a list of more negative forms of the Golden Rule prior to Jesus.

  • Pitticus (640–568BC)
  • Zoraster (628–551BC)
  • Thales (624–546BC)
  • Isocratus (436–338BC)
  • Plato (428–348BC)
  • Epictetus (55–135BC)
  • Rabbi Hillel (32BC–7CE)

Up until Rabbi Hillel, the world only knew “do not do unto others.” But then something changes. Jesus comes on the scene and puts a new spin on an old saying, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 (NIV)

Here we have the Golden Rule in its truest and refined form. Do to others what you would want them to do to you. Positive over negative, active over inactive. The teaching is completely reversed.

As he usually does, Jesus takes the common way of understanding the world and flips it on its head.

JESUS PLAGIARIZED

So, what happened to the Golden Rule after Jesus? A funny thing, really. Religious teachers, poets, and philosophers began doing the very same thing Jesus’ modern critics accuse him of – plagiarism.

Almost every major version of the Golden Rule after Jesus is positive rather than negative. Here’s just a short list.

  • Muhammad (570–632CE)
  • Ibn Ali  (626–680CE)
  • Hadiths (~700CE)
  • Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)
  • Wiccan Rede (~1900)
  • Baha’i (~1850)
  • Scientology (1960)

See the pattern? Before Jesus, the Golden Rule was mainly negative. After Jesus, the Golden Rule is mainly positive.

Jesus didn’t plagiarize the Golden Rule, he revolutionized it.

Here’s a helpful chart to visualize Jesus’ influence on the Golden Rule. From left to right, the Golden Rule is given by: Hinduism, Thales, Zoroaster, Confucius, Plato, Buddhism, Rabbi Hillel, Jesus, Muhammad, Ibin Ali, Hadiths, Immanuel Kant, Wiccan Rede, Baha’i, and Scientology.

golden_rule

Jesus didn’t plagiarize the Golden Rule, he revolutionized it. In fact, Jesus was the one plagiarized as history shows.

WHY CHANGE THE GOLDEN RULE?

What is interesting about the time in which Jesus revolutionized the Golden Rule is how his audience viewed it before he came. Rabbi Hillel, one of the most influential rabbis in Jewish history, lived just one generation before Jesus.

You have to imagine for a moment that you are a first century Jew. Hillel was a household name, someone very influential in society. Think along the lines of a religious Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemmingway, or (rightly so) Martin Luther King. Very influential thinkers in their day, very near to our own past. You did not disagree with Hillel unless you had a great reason to.

Hillel taught the classic, negative form of the Golden Rule with an interesting twist. “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah.” –Talmud Shabbat 31a

Note that Hillel said the negative form of the Golden Rule fulfills the Torah (or Law).

Then comes the revolutionary teacher Jesus who, when he delivers his interpretation of the Torah (or Law), includes the Golden Rule. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 (NIV)

The Golden Rule is action over inaction, compassion over apathy.

Here Jesus directly contradicts Hillel’s statement. He basically says, “You’ve been told that the summary of the Law is to not do. That’s wrong. The summary of the Law is to do.”

First. Century. Jewish. Minds. Blown.

This was radical. And – when you think about it – it still is.

So why did Jesus change the Golden Rule from the negative to the positive? In the negative form, we could fulfill it by never doing anything. In the positive form, we must do in order to fulfill it. Jesus calls us to action over inaction, compassion over apathy.

Where the world says “don’t”, Jesus says “do!” Where the world says “stay,” Jesus says “go!” Where the world says “keep to yourself,” Jesus says “reach out to others!” Do to others.

When it comes to the Golden Rule, Jesus didn’t plagiarize, he revolutionized. He doesn’t call us to inaction, he calls us to action.

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religion

Saturday Sunday School

calendar

Every Sunday across the globe, most Christians gather together in order to worship Jesus. That is, most Christians. A small group of Christians known as the Seventh-day Adventists maintain that all Christians should worship on Saturday in order to keep the Sabbath.

Adventism, a term from which the group derives its name, began in the 19th century America under the leadership of William Miller who taught the imminent return of Christ (or advent). Like most religious movements in the young American republic, Millerites sought to restore primitive, simple Christianity in response to centuries of European doctrine and dogma they viewed as an intrusion on true Christianity.

As a result, many Christians focused on what they believed was a plain reading of scripture in exchange for whole systems of theology derived from scripture. One of the unique ideas from this religious experiment was a return to observing the sabbath, since it was clearly given as a commandment in Exodus.

Those Millerites who held this view became known as Seventh-day Adventists. Today, the group contends that Christians should worship on Saturday in order to maintain the Sabbath (from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, worship included).

So, is this something Christians should consider? Are the Seventh-day Adventists on to something that they rest of Christianity is missing? Should Christians keep the sabbath and worship on Saturday instead?

SATURDAY MORNING SUNDAY SCHOOL?

The short answer is, “No for salvation, Yes if they’d like to.” The sabbath is no longer a requirement for Christians to follow, although it is certainly something Christians can practice.

Usually, the confusion over sabbath is simply a confusion over covenants. Under the old covenant, Adventists would have a great point. Christians should keep the sabbath because it is a commandment. However, because of Jesus’ person and work, we’re in the new covenant in which the sabbath is a continual rest found in Christ rather than a mandatory twenty-four hour period of rest.

With that in mind, we should always remember that all but one of the of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament – keeping the sabbath. This is because the sabbath was meant to foreshadow the eternal rest we find in Christ, which is why Jesus declares himself “Lord of the Sabbath” in Matthew 12:8.

Because of Jesus, we don’t obey the law for rest, we rest from the law.

Moreover, the Old Testament requirement of keeping the sabbath was satisfied in Christ. Our justification (salvation) in no way depends on our ability to keep the sabbath law. Instead of obeying the law in order to have rest, we now rest from the law in Christ.

All this leads to how the New Testament church treated and wrote about the sabbath. The best places to see this is in Acts 20:7 and Romans 14:5–6. In Acts 20:7, we see the first evidence of Christians worshipping on a Sunday in celebration of the resurrection.

“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” – Acts 20:7

The first day of the week for first century Jews was the day we know as Sunday. So, here we have Christians gathering on Sunday, not Saturday, to here Paul preach until midnight. (And you thought sermons at your church were long…)

CHRISTIANS HAVE ALWAYS WORSHIPPED ON SUNDAYS

We also have extra-biblical evidence that points to Christians exchanging the sabbath for worship on Sunday, which they called the Lord’s Day.

  • “But every Lord’s day…gather yourselves together and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned” (Didache, ca. 70CE).
  • “We keep the eighth day [Sunday] with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead.” (Letter of Barnabas, 74CE).
  • “[T]hose who were brought up in the ancient order of things [the Jews] have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s day, on which also our life has sprung up again by him and by his death.” (Letter to the Magnesians, Ignatius, 110CE).

Furthermore, Romans 14:5–6 seems to give a closed-cased against the Adventist position, and the reason why many Christians reject their argument.

“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
– Romans 14:5–6

Paul is basically arguing that it doesn’t matter when we worship. If one person is convinced that they should worship on Sunday, then that’s fine. If another person is connived they they should worship on Saturday, then that’s fine as well. If a third person is convicted that they should worship at 3:30AM on alternating Wednesdays, it’s weird but it’s also okay.

So, you could say, evangelicals esteem Sunday over Saturday but Adventists esteem Saturday over Sunday, which is completely acceptable.

KEEPING THE WHOLE LAW

With all that said, there is a danger in believing we must worship on Saturday in order to observe the sabbath – if Adventists desire to keep the Sabbath as apart of their salvation, then they must keep the entire law. (This is an if, since not all Adventists may hold this belief.)

Paul makes a similar point with a different kind of law-keeping in Galatians 5:1–6. He states that if you get circumcised in order to earn your justification, then you must keep the whole law, which is impossible since by attempting to keep the law you’ve fallen away from grace.

The same could be said about sabbath. If you keep the sabbath in order to earn your justification, then you must keep the whole law.

If we keep the Sabbath, we must keep the whole law.

This is why Christians should fiercely reject the Adventist position if they maintain that the sabbath must be kept in order to receive salvation. If, however, they worship on Saturday in order to maintain the Sabbath knowing that it has nothing to do with salvation but simply preference, then there really isn’t anything wrong.

At the end of the day, Christians are free to worship any day of the week because Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. We continually enjoy sabbath rest in him, since we are no longer under the law. If we want to worship on Saturday, that’s fine according to Romans 14:5–6. However, if we believe that we must worship on Saturday to keep the sabbath as a part of our salvation, then we must also keep the whole law.

Editorial note: Previously, the article was written to reflect that Adventism practices sabbath rest on Sunday. After a wonderfully insightful comment by a reader (Kristine), the article as been edited to better reflect Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. Thanks for the catch, Kristine!

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church

Thou Shalt Not Judge!

thou_shalt

One of the most popular, perhaps most scathing, objections towards Christians today is that we’re too “judgy.” We hypocritically judge those outside of the church by flying in the face of Jesus’ teaching that “Thou shalt not judge.” (Yes, always quoted in the KJV language, for some reason…)

In fact, this one verse, Matthew 7:1, is perhaps the most widely known among non-Christians. It is also, I believe, one of the most misunderstood among non-Christians and least practiced among Christians.

Both sides of the fence tend to miss this one. On the non-Christian side, people believe Jesus is telling his followers to never make a judgement about anyone and to just mind their own business. On the Christian side, people believe Jesus is telling his followers to never judge one another but to reserve all judgement for non-Christians.

These two interpretations both fall short of what Jesus was getting at. As a result, it has led to much confusion and heartache for both Christian and non-Christian alike. For that reason, let’s revisit Jesus’ teaching on judging to find a better way to understand it in three Thou shalt’s…

1. Thou shalt not judge! (with a wrong judgment)

2. Thou shalt judge! (with a right judgment)

3. Thou shalt assess your audience

1. THOU SHALT NOT JUDGE! (WITH A WRONG JUDGMENT)

First, let’s examine the misunderstanding of Jesus’ command. Popular interpretation of Matthew 7:1 is captured well in this cartoon by The Oatmeal. Written by (presumably) a non-Christian, it serves as a great summary of how many people hear Jesus’ teaching of “Thou shalt not judge” and see it practiced by his followers.

"Does your religion make you judge people?"

“Does your religion make you judge people?”

Unfortunately, this is a very bad way of understanding Jesus’ teaching. By telling his followers not to judge, Jesus was not eliminating all forms of criticism, evaluation, discernment, or even judgement. How do we know this? He actually commands his followers to judge!

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement.” – John 7:24

We need to judge in order to discern between what is right and what is wrong, what is righteous and what is unrighteous. To always turn a blind eye to everything would be dishonest to Jesus’ whole teaching. So, if we wanted to succinctly put Jesus’ entire teaching on judgement into one sentence, perhaps it would be a mashup of Matthew 7:1 and John 7:24.

“Judge not, that you be not judged, but judge with a right judgement.”

Wait… what? That seems a bit contradictory, doesn’t it? Not if you consider that Jesus was talking about two types of judgement: a wrong judgment and a right judgment. We know this because he specifically uses the term right judgment.

So, when he says “judge not, that you be not judged” he tells us to curtail our wrong judgments, not to abandon judgement altogether.

2. THOU SHALT JUDGE! (WITH A RIGHT JUDGMENT)

So what does this mean? For Christians, it means many of us have some work to do in how we judge. To a certain extent, the objection that non-Christians bring up about Christians being judgy is true. This is not because we are never to judge, but because they have identified in us wrong judgment. So, what is wrong judgment?

Jesus gives us a great (and humorous) illustration of wrong judgement in his Sermon on the Mount.

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:1–5

Here we have a guy with a gigantic log (large sin) stuck in his eye going around performing the “kind act” of removing what amounts to saw dust (small sin) from his brother’s eye. Kinda funny if you think about it, the joke is still humorous 2,000 years later! Sadly, though, the joke is on us. We shouldn’t think of ourself as the guy with the speck – we’re the guy with the log.

Here is where we see a wrong judgment.  If we point out the failures and flaws of a brother or sister in Christ while having that exact same (and magnified) failure or flaw, we are hypocritically judging in the wrong. Paul says it like this, “In passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same thing (Rom 2:1).”

Jesus doesn’t call us to be critical referees; he calls us to referee our own criticism.

If you call someone out for half-truths, do you ever tell half-truths? If you criticize stealing, are you 100% financially honest? If your husband/wife does something you don’t like, is there something you’ve been neglecting yourself?

In the words of that great twenty-first century theologian ICE CUBE, “You better check yo self before you wreck yo self.”

At the end of the day, Jesus isn’t looking for critical referees. No, he’s looking for those who will referee their own criticism.

3. THOU SHALT ASSESS YOUR AUDIENCE

So, are we to sit idly by while we see unrighteousness and injustice all around us? Should we never make a judgement? Granted, we should remove the log from our eyes before removing the speck from our brother’s. But that’s family language, that’s within the church. Surly, as representatives of Jesus on earth, we are called to judge those outside of the church… right?

Jesus finishes his teaching on judgement with a very colorful, hyperbolic illustration.

Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” – Matthew 7:6

Okay… what’s Jesus saying here? In the original audience’s ears, they would have known exactly what he was saying. To them, pigs were unclean and dogs were voracious scavengers (not Fluffy or Fido, think hyena or jackal). The picture Jesus is painting for us is shocking – He tells us not to give what is precious (our judgment) to pigs and dogs (non-Christians).

Wow, strong language. Why did he say that? Jesus, being the great communicator that he is, uses over-the-top-language to make a very important point. As Christians, we need to assess our audience.

Giving a right judgment (after you’ve removed the log) to a brother or sister in Christ is precious (like pearls) because it helps them conform more to Jesus. Giving that same right judgment to a non-Christian may not be received the same way. In fact, it might get a little hostile.

What Jesus is telling us is, “Before you judge, assess your audience. Non-Christians will most likely appreciate your judgment like a pig appreciates a pearl necklace.”

Christians appear judgy because we do not assess our audience well.

We see this happening all the time, especially on Facebook and Twitter. Christians blasting out judgment to everyone and wondering why they get hostility in return. Perhaps this is why Paul quipped, “What have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge (1Co 5:12–13)?”

Therefore, in a sense, the complaint that Christians are too judgy is true. Why? Because we’re not assessing our audience well. On top of that, we seem to have a hard time delivering that judgment graciously (Col 4:6).

So, the next time you’re ready to click POST or TWEET, ask yourself these three questions:

1. Is this a right judgment? (Do I have a log in my eye?)

2. Have I assessed my audience well? (Am I giving pearls to pigs?)

3. Is my speech salted with graciousness? (Colossians 4:6)

If we Christians stepped up to the plate and started to referee our own criticism, maybe we wouldn’t be so judgy!

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religion

Mormon Church Explains Past Racism, But Neglects an Important Part

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An article was recently published by the Huffington Post drawing attention to the Mormon (LDS) Church’s explanation for why the organization banned African American males from obtaining the priesthood until 1978. Citing a newly released article titled Race and the Priesthood, columnist Brady McCombs explains how the LDS Church has finally offered the most “comprehensive explanation of why the church previously had barred men of African descent from the lay clergy, and for the first time disavows the ban.”

McComb does a wonderful job explaining the background and importance of such an admission by the LDS Church. He rightly heralds this as a major step forward, something many within the LDS community have undoubtedly already held true. However, the Huffington Post, perhaps unknowingly and to no fault of McComb, neglects to mention an issue that the LDS Church has left out of Race and the Priesthood.

What has not been addressed is an explanation for the Book of Mormon as the potential source of that racism. Maybe the LDS Church feels that discussion of potential racism in the Book of Mormon against Native Americans is inappropriate under an article which deals with race and, specifically, the priesthood.

Nonetheless, it is curious that the LDS Church feels it necessary to address issues related to racism in the church’s past without mentioning racism found within the pages of the “cornerstone” of their religion, the Book of Mormon.

Instead, the LDS Church focuses on racism against African Americans, maintaining that it was a direct result of the cultural context that any majority white American church found itself in the mid-19th century to the late 20th century. No mention, not a single word, is lent towards the racism Native Americans met by past LDS members.

This is not to fault LDS members, but to note that something potentially pushed early Mormons towards holding racists views against Native Americans. That something, of course, is the Book of Mormon.

CURSED WITH A “SKIN OF BLACKNESS”

According to the Book of Mormon, many (if not most) Native Americans, or Lamanites, are descendants of a man named Lehi. Lehi, whose family originated from Jerusalem and fled to Mesoamerica prior to the Babylonian captivity (ca 600BC), had a few sons, most notably Laman and Nephi. In short, Nephi was a righteous man who experienced continual indignation from his brothers.

Eventually, they went their separate ways and formed two tribes of people in modern-day Mexico, as speculated by some LDS scholars. The two tribes became known as the Nephites, those who followed Nephi, and the Lamanites, those who followed Laman.

It is at this point when racism enters the picture. As a result of Laman’s continual indignation towards Nephi and God, his family was cursed with “skin of blackness”; a crude explanation, I suppose, as to why Native Americans have more melanin than Europeans. From the Book of Mormon:

Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me [Nephi], saying that: Inasmuch as they [Lamanites] will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence. And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.” – 2Ne 5:21

To add insult to this injury, Nephi goes on to warn his people not to “mix seed” with the now-cursed black Lamanites as they were to become an “idle people, full of mischief and subtlety (2Ne 5:24).”

Now, do LDS members today believe this means that Native Americans are an intrinsically inferior race of people? No, of course not. Could this have been used to insight past racism in the early Mormon church? Quite possibly, but this is purely speculative.

Regardless of whether or not this passage was a primer behind racist motivations at any time in the LDS Church’s history, be it towards Native Americans or African Americans, these verses’ unfortunate existence alone stands as a testament towards either a racist God or, more likely, a racist author.

POTENTIAL EXPLANATIONS (OR, BETTER, EXCUSES) FALL SHORT

Let’s come to the potential defense from a Mormon perspective for the moment. Can this be spiritualized? Could, perhaps, the “blackness” refer to the Lamanites’ (and by extension Native Americans’) internal character and not their outward appearance? This may be a tempting route to travel, but I see two problems with “spiritualizing” these verses.

First, the Book of Mormon holds human agency in very high esteem (2Ne 16, also Moses 4:3). For God to cause a people group to be spiritually “blackened” would be out of character.

Secondly, the Book of Mormon clearly states that this “sore cursing” is a “skin of blackness.” It is difficult to spiritualize something so plainly written, especially since the author (Nephi) makes it clear later on that he has, “spoken plainly that ye cannot err (2Ne 25:20).”

Of course, Nephi could have simply recorded what happened. This was simply “historical fact” that, when placed within its proper context, tells things in the way that they happened.

Yet again, this leaves us with one chilling conclusion – God uses race to delineate between the value of people. He sees one group as “white and exceedingly fair and delightsome (2Ne 5:21)” whereas he curses another group with a “skin of blackness” who were “idle people, full of mischief and subtlety (2Ne 5:24).”

We know, however, that this is not the case. God does not use race to delineate the value of people. This is a fact that the LDS Church would agree with and even claims that the Book of Mormon teaches.

After all, 2 Nephi 26:33 states, “he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” (A striking, albeit anachronistic, foreshadowing of Galatians 3:28).

Nonetheless, while the LDS Church certainly abandons racism as nothing short of condemnable, and while some aspects of the Book of Mormon do indeed promote equality, there is racist residue leftover from an author(s) who sought to answer why Native Americans have “skin of blackness.” The answer is profoundly unchristian, which should give us pause concerning the trustworthiness of the Book of Mormon.

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1Ne – 1 Nephi, Book of Mormon

2Ne – 2 Nephi, Book of Mormon

Moses – Book of Moses, Pearl of Great Price

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religion

There’s Only Room For 144,000

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Of the many unique ideas to Jehovah’s Witness theology, perhaps one of the most intriguing has to do with the number 144,000. This number, found in Revelation 7:4–8, describes 12,000 Jews from twelve different tribes of Israel, all of whom have been sealed into salvation by God. Some quick math reveals that number to be 144,000.

The Watchtower Society, the organization where Jehovah’s Witnesses receive spiritual instruction, teach their members that the number is meant to be understood as a literal amount, and to interpret the tribes of Israel as an allegorical picture of the Society itself. These tribes are seen later in chapter 14 ruling with Jesus.

As a result, the Society interprets this picture as 144,000 Witnesses (throughout history’s past)  enjoying rulership of earth with Jesus for eternity after Armageddon.

So, is this true? Is the Society correct in interpreting the number 144,000 as a literal number of Jehovah’s Witnesses? Perhaps the safer interpretation of Revelation 7, among other safe interpretations, is an allegorical image of the collective body of God’s elect throughout the history of redemption.

In other words, the 144,000 does not represent a literal number of Jehovah’s Witnesses, or even Jews, but the complete and perfect number of those called, both Jew and Gentile, to salvation throughout history by God.

AN ALLEGORICAL FORMULA

If the Society chooses to literalize the representation of the 144,000, namely that it conveys a literal number of privileged Jehovah’s Witnesses, they would be forced to completely ignore the fairly evident symbolism of the number itself. For example, take the fact that 144,000 could be represented as 12 x 12 x 1,000. These two numbers, 12 and 1,000, are common in biblical literature as symbolic.

Earlier in the Book of Revelation we are given a picture of God’s throne surrounded by twenty-four elders. The symbolism in this picture is of twelve elders from the Old Testament (prophets) and twelve elders from the New Testament (leaders of the church, or apostles).

Couple the twelve prophets and twelve apostles with the 1,000 year reign of Jesus spoken of in Revelation 20 and we have a very reasonable interpretation of the number 144,000 – (twelve Old Testament leaders of the saints) x (twelve New Testament leaders of the saints) x (the reign of Jesus Christ for a thousand years) = (the salvation of all the saints, better known as the collective church, both Jew and Gentile) or 12 x 12 x 1,000.

LITERALLY SYMBOLIC

This is but one interpretation of the 144,000 that finds consistency throughout the Bible. Other interpretations include viewing this number as converted Jewish evangelists sent out from Israel towards the end of the world or Jews who were sealed to salvation during the destruction of the temple in 70CE. Either one fits within an acceptable framework of understanding Revelation consistently; however, limiting the number to a literal amount of salvation does not.

Granted, the Society does not claim that only 144,000 people may receive salvation. According to Jehovah’s Witness theology, all may receive salvation. However, the number limits those who will be privileged to rule with Christ in the afterlife.

At the very least, what we should conclude is that the meaning behind the 144,000 doesn’t represent a literal number of people who will be reigning with Jesus in the future. Rather, in my interpretation, it is a symbolic number of all the people who have been saved throughout the years and who will be with Jesus for eternity.

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religion

4 Major Differences Between the Book of Mormon and the Bible

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The Book of Mormon, long a lynchpin of the Mormon faith, has both captivated and perplexed people all over the world. Many Latter-day Saints hold this work as the keystone to their entire worldview. In fact, former LDS President Ezra Taft Benson once said, “Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.”

One of the central claims to the Book of Mormon’s authority is that the work completes (rather than compliments) the doctrines of salvation as found in the Bible. The two are seen as separate works, but working in tandem to provide the gospel message to the world. If this is the case, if coherent truth about salvation may be found in both works, then we should expect to see many similarities between the two.

There are, however, substantial differences between the two which deserve our attention.

The Bible Is Translated While the Book of Mormon Was Transcribed

Differences begin in the very formation of the two works. In 1830, the founder of the LDS Church, Joseph Smith Jr., published the first edition of the Book of Mormon. After weeks of work, the book quietly stepped onto the stage of religious literature. The process of getter there, however, is quite extraodrinary.

Smith claimed to have a series of visions which revealed the location of golden plates. These plates, said to be ancient accounts of Native American–Jewish origin, were buried in a hill near to Smith’s home. Having discovered them, he then began a process that many LDS scholars describe as translation.

While competing accounts of how Smith accomplished the task, they all stay within the same basic structure: using two seer stones, Smith watched as “reformed Egyptian” – a language yet to be discovered outside of this area – illuminated into English. Despite LDS scholars arguing for translation, this processes is more aptly described as transcription. Smith had no formal language training, but simply transcribed the miraculously illuminated English into English.

This process is substantially different from the process of Bible translation. Written in three (widely known) ancient languages, men and women who are formally trained painstakingly convert word after word from one language into English.

The Bible has undergone many translations by thousands of translators. The Book of Mormon has, ostensibly, undergone one transcription by one transcriber.

The Book of Mormon “Reintroduces” The Gospel to the World

The entire raison d’être of the Book of Mormon is the restoration of lost aspects of the gospel. From beginning to end, the work makes no sense if the gospel message of Jesus needs no reintroduction. In fact, the very origin of the Book of Mormon is surrounded by the urgency to restore the gospel.

In History of the Church Vol. I, after receiving a vision from two personages (we are meant to understand them as the Father and Son without their names being listed) Smith is visited by an angelic being by the name of Moroni. The angel informs Smith that the “fulness of the Gospel” was contained in the golden plates he was soon to discover.

The Bible, however, vehemently warns against such an angelic messenger. Paul warned that if, “we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” – Galatians 1:8.

Paul warns that even if he preaches a gospel contrary to the one he himself preached, we should ignore it. Not to mention, Paul practically identifies Moroni by name when he says “we or an angel.”

The Bible claims that the gospel preached by the apostles is the one and only gospel message to ever be preached. However, fundamental to the Book of Mormon’s existence, Smith claims a “restored” gospel is found in a book made known to him by an angelic being.

The Book of Mormon Asks Its Reader to Pray About Its Truthfulness

If you’ve ever been visited by LDS missionaries, then you may have been asked to prayerfully consider whether the Book of Mormon was true. This invitation is usually drawn from the Book of Mormon itself.

“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” – Moroni 10:4–5

The Bible, however, makes no such claim. It does not feel the need to invoke a religious experience in order to persuade the reader of its authority or trustworthiness. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The Bible clearly indicates that the heart is not to be trusted in such matters.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9

The Bible never challenges the reader to invoke religious experience to verify its trustworthiness. The Book of Mormon, however, clearly feels an additional witness is required aside from its own message.

Salvation Comes “After All We Can Do”

In Mormon thought, justification comes primarily by faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, there is an additional element to our justification – works. 2 Nephi 25:23 (Book of Mormon) sucinctly presents this idea, “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” Were in not for the phrase after all we can do there would be no contention between the Book of Mormon and the Bible.

However, adding works to our justification is a wholly foreign concept to the Bible. Most notably, Paul adamantly argues, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8–9

As far as justification is concerned, the Bible sees no room for the Book of Mormon’s addition of after all we can do. We are saved by faith alone through grace alone – nothing more, nothing less.

Of course, one could argue that this is entirely up to one’s personal interpretation, that religious experience can draw us to a truthful understanding of this verse. It should also be known that 2 Nephi was supposedly written 600BC, when the relationship between law and grace were still a mystery. Regardless, it seems the author’s original intent was a radical departure from grace-based justification in order to introduce a form of obedience into salvation.

The Bible contends for justification by faith and grace alone. The Book of Mormon, however, seems to indicate an additional requirement for works to one’s faith.

Why Theses Differences Matter

The differences between the Book of Mormon and the Bible are significant. The Book of Mormon neither compliments nor completes the Bible since the two do not cohere to a unified message, especially of the doctrine of salvation. For this reason, we must either reject the Bible as incomplete or the Book of Mormon as false.

This is why such differences matter. If the Book of Mormon is not a restoration of the gospel, then we must conclude that its message does damage to the gospel and must be rejected.

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apologetics

The 3 A’s of Apologetics

3a

Apologetics is the art of defending the Christian faith from objection, criticism, and scrutiny. As followers of Christ, Peter gives us wonderful counsel on every believer’s participation in apologetics.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” – 1Pe 3:15

For the concept of ‘giving an answer’ in this passage Peter chooses the word apologia. And it means just that – to give an answer or to make a defense. The defense we make is for Christianity’s place as the only salvation–providing faith, Jesus’ place as the only messiah and savior, and why there is only one God.

Have you ever been told by someone that Jesus is not the only means of salvation or that other ways besides Jesus exist to connect with God? What was your response? If you responded by defending Jesus’ rightful position as the one and only mediator between God and humanity, you made an apologetic argument. You made a defense.

So how do we use apologetics biblically? We simply need to remember three words – always, answer, anyone. In so many words, Peter summarizes the concept of apologia as ‘always answer anyone.’ These are the Three A’s of Apologetics; always being the time, answer being the method, and anyone being the target audience.

ALWAYS

“Always be prepared…”

There is never a time when it is okay to be unprepared, unwilling, or disinclined to defend the person and work of Jesus. Defending the faith is for all seasons and times. This is why Peter says we should always be prepared. The liberation in this is that we do not have to attend Bible college, seminary, or read apologetics blogs to be ready to defend the faith. Although these things are good, they aren’t necessary.

Additionally, the idea that a person needs a seminary degree to engage in apologetics is another factor that tends to make Christians shy away. Peter tears down any wall built by the lie that Christians must be highly educated individuals to participate in apologetic evangelism. Always means just that – always.

Regardless of our life, education, intelligence, social standing, or maturity in Christ, we should always be ready to defend the gospel. Now, if we are called to always defend the gospel, how is it we are supposed to go about defending it?

ANSWER

…to give and answer…”

As Christians defending the faith we are called to always answer questions or objections about Jesus. It is important to realize that when Peter tells us we must answer for the hope that is in us, this implies that people will ask. As Christians, people will inevitably ask about what we believe and why we believe it, which is the hope that is in us. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when.

If our life is bearing spiritual fruit, people are going to ask who the gardener is. Followers of Jesus are like cities on hills in the night. People are going to ask what makes our life different from theirs. That’s the opportunity of evangelism we live for. When they ask, we need to be ready. And as Peter suggests, that seems to be always.

ANYONE

“…to everyone (anyone) who asks…”

The door of apologetics is open to anyone. The type of people we defend the Christian faith against do not necessarily need to be anarchist street punks with a copy of a New Atheist’s latest dribble about how they didn’t like church services as an 8–year–old kid and there were Crusades. They can be everyone and anyone.

Perhaps a Christian friend of yours needs encouragement by hearing a good, solid argument for the deity of Christ. But of course, on the opposite side of the table, apologetics might be used to provide information to unbelievers to further convict the conscience and guide the person to Jesus. It can truly be anyone.

It is good to remember as well that anyone can mean we will be sharing the gospel with people from all different cultures, backgrounds, and presuppositions. This is especially true with members of other religions. Therefore, it’s important to accommodate our conversations to their needs, not ours.

Listen to what they believe, ask them why they believe it, and then present them with the gospel based on their background. Never make assumptions about what they believe and why they believe it. Anyone is just about as wide as a demographic can get, so we must be careful not to lock ourselves into evangelizing based on our own stereotypes.

(Based on an excerpt from the book Robot Jesus And Three Other Jesuses You Never Knew)

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misc

The Herod Meme

I had the honor of preaching on at POMH last night. Part of the message focused on the controversy surrounding John the Baptist’s arrest. At the time, the goings-on of Herod’s family would have made front page news.

In short, Herod’s son Herod Antipas divorced his princess wife to marry his own niece Herodias who was previously married to her uncle Philip. Confusing? You bet it is. If this happened today, you’d be sure to see this meme floating around the internetz…

Herod Meme

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apologetics

Did Roman Aristocrats Fabricate the Jesus Story?

covert

An article has been floating around the internet about Joseph Atwill’s upcoming event “Covert Messiah” taking place in London this week. Atwill maintains a theory that the Flavian dynasty (a Roman aristocratic family) fabricated the Jesus narrative as an attempt to quell Jewish rebellion in Palestine during Rome’s occupation of the land in the first centuries. Instead of continuing a costly military campaign, the Roman government decided to wage “psychological warfare” in the form of inventing Christianity.

The event this week will most likely follow the same flow of thought found in Atwill’s work “Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus.” In it, Atwill, a self-proclaimed “successful businessman” and “long-time student of Christianity”, lays out a lengthy argument that the Flavian aristocrats “created [Christianity] to serve as a theological barrier to prevent messianic Judaism from again erupting against the empire (Atwill, 333.)” Additionally, he argues that the Gospels were created as a satire of Titus’ military campaign throughout Judea.

So, does he have a point? Did Roman aristocrats fabricate the Jesus story in order to pacify the rebellious Jews? There are some major assumptions in Atwill’s work that must hold true in order for his theory to work. Let’s look just six of them.

1. The Entire New Testament Was Fabricated in Support of the Jesus Myth

In order for Atwill’s theory to be correct, the Flavian intellectuals would have needed to fabricate four different Gospel accounts (not including the pseudepigrapha) along with the Epistles, one history book, and a prophetic vision of the future.

This seems highly unlikely. The New Testament is a library of an array of voices, literary types, writing styles, and intellectual expressions. It is apparent that they were written by different authors at different times with different messages in mind. A consistent and fabricated theme is simply not found in the New Testament.

2. A Handful of Parallels Out of Dozens of Narratives Are Sufficient Evidence for Fabrication

Atwill gives a handful of parallels out of dozens of narratives found in the New Testament as proof of a Jesus–Titus parallel connection.

One would expect many parallels between Jesus and Titus to exist in order for Atwill to make such an astonishing claim. However, that’s not the case. In fact, when you get into his book there are only seven major parallels (as far as his conclusion is concerned – Atwill, 336-337). Seven parallels out of dozens of episodes in Jesus’ life. That does not seem like enough evidence to warrant the conclusion that the entire New Testament was fabricated in support of the Jesus myth.

3. The Pacification of the Jews Was Accomplished Through The Demolition of Their Religion

The Flavian aristocrats must have believed that changing the Jewish religion to Christianity would help pacify them.

This seems highly unlikely. Many foreign cultures attempted to stamp out the Jewish religion, which they saw as a source of rebellion. As history shows, that never worked. The Greeks attempted to replace Jewish culture with their own (Hellenism), but that failed. The Romans attempted to replace Jewish government with their own government, but that also failed (until well after Jesus’ life).

Furthermore, we see in the Book of Acts that the early Christian church caused all sorts of problems with the Jewish community. How was this supposed to quell Jewish rebellion?

4. The Romans Traded Warfare for Philosophy

The Romans, who were incredible military strategists, would have cast aside what they were good at for something they weren’t.

If there was one thing Rome did well it was warfare. Philosophy, on the other hand, didn’t come naturally. They borrowed much of their thinking from Greek culture and expounded on it. It seems unlikely that the Romans, after decades of trying to suppress the Jews, would give up militarily and give “psychological warfare” a try.

siege

The Romans were brilliant military strategists who relentlessly beat their enemies into submission. Fabricating worldviews was not in their arsenal…

5. Atwill Is the First Guy to Make This Discovery in 2,000 Years

No one in 2,000 years has made a Jesus–Titus connection until Joseph Atwill.

Atwill is claiming that he discovered something that thousands and thousands of scholars have over looked for the past 2,000 years. Well… if anything, at least his hubris is in check.

Also, Atwill is not in good company. Jesus mythicists have not found many friends in the academic community. Even New Testament critics such as Bart Ehrman believe Jesus was real person.

6. The Romans Fabricated A Story, Then Persecuted People for Believing It

Roman persecution plagued the early church for believing in something the Romans made up.

This makes no sense at all. Why would the Roman government fabricate a religion, trick everyone into believing it, and then punish them for believing it?

CONCLUSION

Atwill sees parallels where parallels don’t exist. He gathers a small pile of questionable evidence and heralds it as a mountain of condemnation for Christianity. He does this alone, having been the only person in 2,000 years to make such connections, but rarely questions why he’s the only one who came to the conclusions that he has.

Unfortunately, many people will buy what this self-described “successful businessman” is selling them, which is a convenient lie to disbelieve in the savior who loves them. And by selling I mean literally selling. The cost to hear Atwill share his rocky logic is $40.00 (£25) a ticket. The market is demanding reasons to disbelieve Jesus and Atwill is willing to supply that demand.

Perhaps he should change his seminar’s title to “Covert Me$$iah”

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Joseph Atwill, Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus (Berkeley, Cali.: Ulysses Press, 2009).

Associate Contributor: Alan Reynolds (@walanreynolds)

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current

Why Ray Comfort’s “Evolution vs. God” Isn’t Actually That Helpful

Livingwaters.com

Image / Livingwaters.com

Recently, Ray Comfort released a documentary titled “Evolution vs. God: Shaking the Foundations of Faith.” Comfort, an ardent proponent of young earth creationism (YEC), which promotes biblical literalism concerning Genesis 1–3, created the video in hopes of instilling doubt in the minds of the general public about the trustworthiness of evolution.

Presumably, the hope behind such a documentary would seek to bolster the trustworthiness of scripture for evangelism purposes. Having viewed it a few times, there is no doubt in my mind that Comfort is well-intentioned; however, I believe this video is not actually that helpful to the greater Science v. Faith public dialogue.

To be sure, Evolution vs. God will most likely not turn many heads. A quick scan across the internet reveals that it has already become the laughing stock of the non-theist community – a moot point, of course. Yet it is the other audience viewing the video, the Christians, who may well receive a false hope that Comfort’s documentary is an extremely effective tool for the gospel.

Why? Because Evolution vs. God just isn’t really that helpful whether you’re a YEC, intelligent design proponent, theistic evolutionist, or any other flavor of theistic creationism. It is unhelpful because it is poorly executed and falsely advertised as having accomplished something it has not.

GOTCHA JOURNALISM

So what’s the big deal? Why isn’t this video helpful? Two words: gotcha journalism. Unfortunately, Comfort’s video is a classic example of it.

Throughout the entire video, Comfort interviews students and university professors about their belief in evolution. He repeatedly commits that most notorious of philosophical fallacies, appeal to authority, by supposedly stumping evolutionary experts in their own fields of research.

The unspoken message comes across very clear – since studied evolutionists cannot provide observable evidence for evolution, it must be false. However, it should be observed that the authority Comfort appeals to isn’t the best pool to draw from. Throughout the video, he speaks with 26 students (presumably undergraduates) while only speaking with 4 professional academics. Not to offend, but this may not be the best sample of evolutionists to draw conclusions from.

Not only this, but there were many students who weren’t even biology majors. Some were geology, chemistry, bio-chemistry, environment science, and physics majors. Stumping a geology major in evolution does not disprove the theory, just as stumping a criminal justice major in theology doesn’t disprove the existence of God.

(There was just something cringeworthy about watching Comfort question geology and physics majors about evolution, recording their confused reactions, and heralding it as a victory for creationism.)

Furthermore, when questioning his interviewees about evolution, Comfort devotes a substantially smaller amount of attention to professors or academics compared to students.  Obviously, students will not formulate the same calibre of responses that professors or academics will, and Comfort is well aware of this.

All this leads to a documentary full of gotcha journalism. It comes across as tacky, misleading and, frankly, ineffective. So, after watching a documentary laden with gotcha journalism, as Christians we should honestly ask the question, “How is this helpful for Jesus?”

BACK TO WHAT MATTERS

In my opinion, Comfort needs to get back to what matters – the gospel. Of course, he presents a version at the end of the documentary, but gets to the gospel only after wading through a thicket of loaded questions and, presumably, highly edited responses. (After all, we cannot know for sure the extent or persuasiveness to which the interviewees answered Comfort’s questions.)

What Comfort is doing through Evolution vs. God is mirroring the same boorish tactics used by New Atheists in order to instill doubt in the minds of Christians. We complain about the ornery antagonism from the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, but when it is done in reverse do we cheer? When Comfort corners an undergraduate geology major about the massive implications and issues surrounding evolution, do we not see the correlation of Harris broad stroking Christians are backwards, unthinking fools?

Comfort does apologetics evangelism an injustice with this documentary while heralding it as having shaken the foundations of faith in evolution. The formula we should engage in does not start with “debunking” evolution. What matters in sharing the gospel isn’t trying to “disprove” evolution outright.  Sharing the gospel is about getting straight to the point – starting at Jesus – and working your way outwards from there.

Watch “Evolution vs. God” here.

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theology

5 Reasons Why Prosperity Theology is Bankrupt

bankrupt-monopoly

1. The Bible Never Promises a “Financial Blessing” After Tithing in the Way Prosperity Theology Teaches

When we think of financial blessing in terms of prosperity theology, a divine pyramid scheme comes to mind. If we place $1,000 in the “storehouse” of so-and-so’s ministry, God will bless us in abundance for our faith.

In fact, many so-called preachers tout verse after verse in order to bolster their message that God wants you to test Him in this. One popular passage is Malachi 3:10…ish. (By …ish, I mean they conveniently leaves some parts out.)

 “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse…and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing…”

Sounds good, right? Bring your tithe to the storehouse (ministry) and put God to the test to see whether or not He will bless us (give us a bunch of money). The problem with this, as with many passages prosperity theology teachers use, is that the passage is far removed from its context.

Malachi 3:6-8 is a chastisement against Israel for disobeying God in His command to care for the needy. He then challenges them to bring their tithes and contributions of food (not only money) to the storehouse in order to witness His blessing of seeing the poor’s needs (not wants) completely met. Here again is Malachi 3:10 in full and proper context.

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”

The Bible teaches us that we are given to so that we can give. We aren’t given to so we can hoard and become rich for our own gain. Whenever we come across passages throughout scripture that speak on God’s blessing us, it’s meant for us to return that blessing.

2. Jesus Never Taught Prosperity Theology

Jesus never once taught anything that remotely resembles prosperity theology. In fact, the prosperity “gospel” teaches that if you have enough faith in Jesus you don’t have to live like Him.

To the contrary, Jesus was a homeless itinerant rabbi who didn’t have enough money to pay his taxes. But, He was blessed enough by God to feed thousands of people!

This is a clear example of a biblical blessing from God. Our Father gives so that we may, in turn, reflect His charitable character. He gives so that we may give; He blesses us so that we may bless others.

Furthermore, the Bible warns us against the possibility of money becoming our object of affection and worship. Jesus teaches us in Luke 16:13 not to let money replace God in our lives because,

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

This is not to say having money is wrong, neither is the accumulation of wealth evil, but the selfish withholding of what God has given us to bless others is infuriating to Him.

Bottom line: If you are the leader of a multimillion dollar “prosperity ministry” , have your own personal jet, and stay in hotels that cost $10,800 a night, then you’re far from following Jesus.

Remember, if you come to Jesus for money then He’s not your god, money is.

3. Prosperity Theology Gives False Hope

If the Bible never promises a “financial blessing” in the way prosperity theology claims and Jesus never taught it, then prosperity theology gives people false hope. In fact, it’s helpful to view such a system of theology (along with its teachers) as predatory towards the poor, elderly, and needy, since it is generally these three groups that contribute the most.

Essentially, there is no difference between a prosperity theology “ministry” and title lending or payday loan businesses. The fact that Benny Hinn’s ministry website does not end in .biz should be a crime.

4. Prosperity Theology is Wholly Unknown to the Early Christians

In fact, they seemed to have objected to the acquisition of personal wealth for greedy purposes. In the early days of the church, we see Christians selling their belongings and property in order to ensure the needs of the down-and-out were met.

Acts 2:42–45 gives a clear picture of the church as an institution which proclaimed the gospel and helped out the poor. Nowhere do we see them giving a tithe and expecting ten-fold in return for their own gain.

Likewise, we never see an early church leader rolling up to a village on a Merdeces-Benz donkey wearing a Louis Vuitton tunic. They were more concerned with the needs of others than with the needs for themselves. The second-ever church position created (after pastor) was the office of deacon, whose responsibilities included the daily distribution of food for widows. One early church not only gave above their means during extreme poverty, but begged to be part in the relief of the saints.

The early church gave, not expecting in return. They gave and saw God’s blessing, just not the way prosperity theology teaches. They saw the blessing that God promised in Malachi 3.

Imagine the world if we postured ourselves like the early church! Did you know it would cost $30 billion for everyone in the world to have clean drinking water?[1] That’s less than how much Americans spend on gambling per year.[2]

If we stopped going to Vegas for one year, the entire world could have clean drinking water. Now that would be a blessing.

5. You Have To Wear A White Suit To Teach Prosperity Theology

As a general rule, any theology which is preached from a pulpit by a guy in a bright white suit is always wrong.

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[1] Laurence Smith, The New North: The World in 2050 (London: Profile Books, 2011), 92.

[2] American Gambling Association, 2013 State of the States: The AGA Survey of Casino Entertainment (Washington, DC: American Gambling Association, 2013), 5.

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theology

Faithful Like Tychicus

paul-the-apostle

At the end of Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus (Book of Ephesians) he mentions a guy by the name of Tychicus (pronounced tyi-keh-cuss).

“So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.” Eph 6:20-21

Paul’s mention of Tychicus is brief and we only hear about this “beloved brother” three other times in the New Testament. He’s not a big deal, really. Just the guy Paul picked to do the small task of delivering Paul’s letter.

But here’s the funny thing. Tychicus had a hand in changing the world.

How? For that, we’ll go back to Paul’s letter. Tychicus was given a small but important task by Paul – deliver a letter to the church at Ephesus. Today, almost two-thousand years later, we refer to that letter as the Book of Ephesians.

Paul, who had just completed the big task of writing the Book of Ephesians, entrusted Tychicus with the small task of delivering it. And Tychicus followed through. He was faithful with the small thing God gave him through Paul, which turned out to be a big thing after all.

FAITHFUL IN THE SMALL THINGS

One of the saddest things in the church is when someone believes they were given a small and inconsequential task by God for His kingdom. That they’re “just” doing something small while other people “get to” do something big.

They just mow their elderly neighbor’s lawn while a big ministry gets to build school houses in Haiti. They just serve coffee in the mornings at a small church while others serve huge luncheons at bigger, more “important”, churches.

They just disciple one person while a pastor gets to disciple hundreds. They just talk about Jesus to one person while a missionary gets to evangelize thousands.

They “just” do something small for the kingdom of God. But is that really true? Is there ever something small to be done when it comes to building the kingdom?

I don’t think so.

We should never believe that we “just” do something small for God’s kingdom. Tychicus “just” did something small and look what happened! Do you think he knew that the letter he was carrying would someday become part of the Bible?

That someday the French reformer John Calvin would call it his favorite book? That someday the Scottish preacher John Knox would have it read to him on his deathbed? That someday 2,000 years later, millions of people across the world would still be reading it, and that it would be changing their lives forever?

God’s economy works differently than ours. What we see as small things God sees as big things. And when we are faithful in the small things God is good to use them as the big things He intended them to be.

Remember, we never “just” do something small for the kingdom. Whenever we’re faithful with what God gives us, we are doing something big.

We just might not be able to see it yet.

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church, theology

Even Good Things Can Become Idols

bronze_serpent

The reformer John Calvin famously wrote that the human heart is an idol factory. Humans have a proclivity to take things, even good things, and turn them into objects of worship. As I was reading through 2 Kings last week I found a powerful example of this – one I had never caught before.

Throughout 2 Kings we are witness to a series of bad kings pushing the nation of Israel towards worshipping local gods and breaking God’s covenant with His chosen people. But then, in 2 Kings 18:4, King Hezekiah comes along and has had enough.

[Hezekiah] removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).” – 2Ki 18:4

The Israelites took a good thing that God used (the bronze serpent) and turned it into an idol. It happened slowly over time, but eventually a good thing God used replaced Israel’s worship of God Himself.

But first, let’s back up for a moment. What’s up with the Nehushtan? (Say that ten times really fast). Why was it a “good thing God used”?

WHAT’S A NEHUSH…WHATEVER?

In Numbers 21:4–9 we have a story of God’s recently freed people (the Israelites) becoming rebellious against God and complaining to Moses about being brought out of Egypt into the wilderness to die. They wanted to go back into slavery and sought a response from God about their request. In response to their complaints, God sends snakes which was probably not what they had in mind when they were complaining.

Some of them began to die from poisonous snakebites. This is when the people realized they needed God’s help. They repented and asked that the snakes be taken away from them. Moses took the request to God who told him to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Moses was then instructed to hold the pole up in the air, and if the people would look at the pole (or Nehushtan), they would not die from the snakebites.

All in all, this story points ahead to Jesus – the pole represents the cross and the snake (sin) represents Jesus on the cross. Jesus taught this interpretation Himself in John 3:14.

FROM GOOD THING TO IDOL

Fast-forward hundreds of years to Hezekiah and 2 Kings 18:4. Apparently, the Israelites had been making offerings to the bronze serpent that Moses had fashioned. Instead of worshipping the God who saved their ancestors, they were worshipping a thing that God used to save them.

This must have been extremely frustrating for God watching His chosen people worship a thing that was used instead of the one who used it. It would be like thanking the life-ring instead of the lifeguard for saving you from drowning. Or thanking the fire hydrant instead of the fireman from dousing the flames engulfing your home.

The bronze serpent was something God used, not God Himself. Instead, the Israelites took a good thing and turned it into an idol.

The more I reflected on this story the more I realized how relevant this is for us today because we tend to do the same thing. Sometimes we forget that even good things can become idols. Of the many ways this is possible, here are three that come to mind.

1. Idols can be things God used many years ago, but has since moved on.

The bronze serpent was something God used while the Israelites were wandering through the desert. That was roughly 750–780 years before Hezekiah was king. Even still, people were holding on to the relic of God’s work in the past and worshipping it in the present.

Don’t we do this as well? We being to idolize a movement, ministry, or minister who God used in the past. We look back at the glory days when God used someone or something and then we put them or it on a pedestal.

Like the Israelites, we need to be careful not to fixate (and even worship) something that God used many years ago, but has since moved on. The only thing worth looking back in time to worship is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Anything else could become an idol.

2. Idols take the focus off the things God does and on to the things God uses.

Notice that the Israelites were making offerings to the bronze serpent and not for what God did through the bronze serpent. There’s a huge difference.

If the Israelites were making offerings for what God did through the bronze serpent (i.e., giving Him thanks for what He had done for their people all those many years ago) there wouldn’t have been a problem. But the Israelites were making offerings to the bronze serpent. In essence, they were thanking and worshiping the thing rather than the being who used the thing.

This happens to us all the time. We tend to gravitate towards things or people or movements that God uses, then eventually replace them for God altogether. For example, we may appreciate a particular preacher God is using. We gravitate towards that person and slowly begin to focus only on them. We only listen to their sermons or podcasts. We only read their books or blogs. Soon, they become the object of our affection rather than God.

Is there anything wrong with gravitating towards a person God is using? Of course not. The problem begins when we replace them with God. Like the bronze serpent, we forget that they are a tool being used by God and not actually God Himself.

3. Idols can be anything, anywhere, at any time.

The Israelites were worshipping a ~780 year old bronze serpent that God once used for good. Sounds really weird, doesn’t it?

We tend to think of idols as something archaic. Backwards ancient people worshiped golden calves and sacrificed their children to giant statues, but we’re modern and evolved. We don’t worship idols and sacrifice children like those foolish people in the past.

However, we must remember that an idol is anything that shifts our focus of worship off God and onto something else. For the ancients it was a fabricated deity that took the form of some statue made by a craftsman – big business back in the day. They focused their worship (time, efforts, finances, etc.) to a fabricated deity rather than God in hopes of success, fulfillment, and/or blessing.

Today, we tend to worship fabricated deities that take the form of things like careers and hobbies – big business today. We focus our worship (time, efforts, finances, etc.) to a career or a hobby rather than God in hopes of success, fulfillment, and/or blessing.

We’re no different than the ancients. We’ve just found more complex ways of being idolaters. The ancients sacrificed to a deity’s statue for health, wealth, and enjoyment just like we sacrifice to careers and hobbies for the same thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with careers and hobbies (or bronze snakes), but when they become gods to us we start to veer off course.

TO SUM UP

How do we keep from ending up like the Israelites and worshipping a good thing that God used instead of worshipping God Himself?

I think the answer is in Hezekiah’s actions – he broke the bronze serpent into pieces.

If there is something in our lives that we can’t help but worship, then maybe it’s time to “break it” into pieces. We need to take it off the pedestal in our minds, break it, and replace it with God.

Sure, it could be painful. I’m not sure Hezekiah took pleasure in destroying a wonderfully important piece of his people’s history, but if it becomes an idol then it needs to go. The idol needs to be broken into pieces.

The good news is that there is liberation in breaking our idols into pieces. After Hezekiah destroyed Israel’s idols we read that “the Lord was with him.” This is not to say that God wasn’t always there and had just now shown up, but that Hezekiah (and Israel’s) relationship was restored with God. It was fuller, richer, more complete.

When we destroy our idols, we begin to experience God’s joy in worshipping Him. After all, that’s what we were made to do.

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apologetics, current

The Egyptian God Jesus // Weird Internet Rumors #2

jesus_mac_stainedglass

If there’s one thing the internet is good for, it’s crazy rumors about Jesus. This series is my humble attempt at dispelling the weirdest internet rumors about Jesus as they come my way.

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Weird Rumor #2

Jesus is simply a copy-cat myth of the much older Egyptian god Horus.

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According to this weird rumor the Egyptian god Horus* was born of a virgin, had twelve disciples, and was crucified and resurrected three days later.  Sound familiar?

It should, because this rumor argues that Jesus is actually Horus 2.0, rebranded and revamped. Jesus is simply the iHorus 4s – nothing really changed.

Consequently, we shouldn’t believe in Jesus because he’s just a redone Egyptian myth that you wouldn’t believe anyway.

WHERE DID IT COME FROM?

This rumor became popular on the internet with the documentary Zeitgeist, written and directed by some folks with a clear axe to grin against Jesus.  It became even more popular thanks to Bill Maher’s “excellent” journalistic integrity of fact-checking the myth prior to its inclusion in the popular 2008 documentary Religulous.

As far as anyone can tell, the rumor comes from a self-proclaimed Egyptologist named Gerald Massey who wrote a work called Ancient Egypt, The Light of the World. In it Massey argues that Christians borrowed heavily from the Horus myth to create the Jesus myth.  He lists over two-hundred alleged parallels between Jesus and Horus, three of which are the virgin birth, twelve disciples, and resurrection three days after his crucifixion.

So, is it true?  Is Jesus simply Horus Round Two? Let’s look at these three claims one at a time.

1. HORUS WAS BORN OF A VIRGIN

Massey claims that Horus, like Jesus, was born of a virgin.

“The story of Jesus in the canonical Gospels follows the totemic and mythical representation. Horus [is] the child of a virgin mother.” [1]

However, according to actual Egyptian mythology, Horus is the son of both the goddess Isis and deceased god Osiris.  Isis was not a virgin when she conceived Horus.

According to some accounts Isis turned into the form of a bird and had relations with her dead husband’s body after Osiris was murdered.[2] Other accounts have Isis collecting Orisis’ body parts, creating a golden…umm…male part, and then resurrecting Osiris to have relations with him in order to become pregnant.[3]

At any rate, the rumor claims that Horus was born of a virgin because Osiris was dead when Isis became pregnant even though she still had relations with Osiris.

But, as we have seen, Horus was not born from a miraculous virgin birth, but was rather the result of necrophilia. Not quite the same as Mary’s conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

Actually, not even close.

2. HORUS HAD TWELVE DISCIPLES

Massey claims that Horus, like Jesus, had twelve disciples.

“We claim, then, to show that the typical Twelve, who are called apostles or disciples in later language, originated in twelve characters which had represented twelve stellar powers in the astronomical mythology.” [4]

“The Kamite twelve, as reapers in the harvest-field with Horus in Amenta…Jesus brought the primary soul to the twelve who are his associates in the life on earth.” [5]

To be fair, Horus did indeed have followers, called the heru-shemsu. However, the heru-shemsu had no specific number associated with them.[6] There could have been twelve, there could have been twelve-hundred. We simply don’t know.

Additionally, the heru-shemsu go wholly unnoticed in Massey’s work. He doesn’t even acknowledge them, which only betrays his ignorance of Egyptian mythology.

In the end, Horus didn’t have twelve disciples, but he did have an unspecified amount of followers. Again, as with the virgin birth, there is hardly a correlation to be made.

3. HORUS WAS RESURRECTED THREE DAYS AFTER HIS DEATH

Massey claims that Horus, like Jesus, resurrected three days after his death.

“These were followed in the eschatology by the god who rose again from Amenta as Horus in spirit; as the Bennu-Osiris, or as Ra the holy spirit. Jesus is likewise portrayed as the Lord of resurrections. He is said to have risen on the third day…” [7]

There’s only one problem with this – Horus never died according to actual Egyptian mythology. And, as is obvious, it’s a little difficult to be resurrected if you were never dead to begin with.

At this point the rumor, based on Massey’s work, seems to confuse Horus for his father Osiris when it comes to the resurrection link to Jesus.

According to the myth, Osiris ruled over Egypt with his wife Isis. Set, the brother of Osiris, murdered the king of Egypt and took the throne for himself.[8] Isis then sought out her revenge on Set by reassembling Osiris’s body, having relations with him, and giving birth to Horus who eventually defeated Set. (Even then, some variations of the myth have Osiris returning in the form of a dangerous animal to kill Set himself [9]).

Thus, according to the myth, Horus is the “resurrected” Osiris.

It should be obvious that any link between the physical resurrection of Jesus to the “resurrection” of Horus or Osiris (or reincarnation into an animal) is severely wanting. There simply isn’t a link to be made.

Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected in the same body as the same person and being. Osiris was murdered, became the object of necrophilia from his wife, and Horus was born as a result. There is a huge difference between the two.

So, to sum it up, here’s a quick reference chart of why the Horus-Jesus rumor just doesn’t make the cut.

Jesus

Horus

Was born of a literal virgin

Was born of necrophilia

Had 12 disciples

Had followers, number unknown

Was literally resurrected from death

Was the “resurrection” of Osiris

HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND?

So, how should we respond when we hear this rumor? Colossians 2:8 gives us great advice in matters like this (emphasis added).

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”

When it’s all said and done, the Horus-Jesus rumor is a great example of the empty deceit that Paul is talking about in this verse. It’s both empty, since it doesn’t have a logical leg to stand on, and deceitful, because it’s designed to rob people from God’s loving call to Jesus.

Personally, I remember reading about this rumor many years ago and rejoicing because it gave me an excuse not to believe. But it’s just that – an excuse, not the truth.

If we come across someone who believes this rumor, we should present evidence to the contrary in gentleness and respect. Then, we should pray that they would meet the real Jesus who really lived, died, and resurrected to defeat the enemy, sin, and death in order to restore our broken relationship with our loving God.

For more information on the subject check out some of these other great articles and posts from Please Convince Me.comGot Questions.com, and CARM.com

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Have you heard a weird internet rumor about Jesus?

Want it answered?

Drop me a line!

Also, check out more weird rumors about Jesus:

Part I: JESUS VS. YEHOSUA

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* There are variations of this rumor that substitute Osiris (or other gods) for Horus. For the sake of this post the author assumes the rumor is based on Gerald Massey’s work Ancient Egypt, The Light of the World.
[1] Gerald Massey, Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World (London: T.Fisher Unwin, 1907), 600.
[2] E. A. Wallis Budge, Legends of the Egyptian Gods, (New York: Dover, 1994), 105.
[3] Ian Shaw, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 616-617.
[4] Gerald Massey, Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World (London: T.Fisher Unwin, 1907), 598.
[5] Ibid., 495, 598.
[6] Margaret Bunson, Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, 3rd ed. (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2012), 139.
[7] Gerald Massey, Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World (London: T.Fisher Unwin, 1907), 645.
[8] Geraldine Pinch, Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 78.
[9] Ibid.

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church, current

The Church of North Carolina

CoNC

Normally, I don’t like to write about politics. It can become very divisive and quickly takes our attention away from Jesus.

But something happened today that is significant for the church in America.

According to NBC News, the State of North Carolina has introduced a bill that declares the state’s ability to establish an official religion.

After reading the article, I glossed over the bill to see if it was actually true. I scanned down to the bottom and looked for Emperor Constantine’s or Henry VIII’s signatures, but found nothing. (If it wasn’t the third of the month, I would have almost thought this was an April Fool’s joke.)

But there we have it – a U.S. state declaring its right to establish an official religion.

The bill reads;

Each state in the union is sovereign and may independently determine how that state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion.”

Naturally, the assumption is that North Carolina would like to establish a state religion some time in the near future after this bill’s ratification. Once passed, the state will be able to setup its own established religion. Services for the Church of North Carolina will start spring of 2014.

Of course, establishing an official state religion would buck up against one of America’s foundational principles – the separation of church and state – which has lead to a flourishing of churches across our country since its inception.

“But wait,” you may say, “isn’t there something in the constitution that stops this sort of thing?”

I’m glad you asked. Yes, there is. In fact, it was the first thing added to the U.S. Constitution after its ratification – the First Amendment.

However, the North Carolina bill argues that the First Amendment does not apply to individual states. It only applies to the federal government. The First Amendment reads;

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Thus, according to North Carolina lawmakers, the state can establish a religion but the federal government cannot.

Now, before diving into the theological relevance of this bill it’s beneficial to draw out the legal consequences to its logical conclusion.

Couldn’t this logic be applied across other aspects of the First Amendment?

For example, could California abridge freedom of speech because it’s a state and not the federal government?

Could Indiana abridge the press because it’s a state and not the federal government?

Could North Dakota abridge the right of the people to peaceably assemble (all eight of them) because it’s a state and not the federal government?

Where is the line drawn in this logic? If one aspect of the First Amendment doesn’t apply to the state then it could be argued that none of the First Amendment should apply to the state. It seems to me that this is a very slippery slope.

Not to mention, what happens in fifty years when the Church of North Carolina begins teaching crazy things like its leader’s ability to forgive sins in exchange for the donation of money?

Let’s just hope there is a town called Wittenberg in North Carolina.

THE GOSPEL CHANGES PEOPLE, NOT LAWS

Although this bill will no doubt attract a lot of attention, it is highly unlikely that it would stand up to constitutional scrutiny in the long run. But the fact that it was created at all speaks volumes to the current political climate in America.

Underneath the bill is the reason that it was suggested in the first place. As NBC News alludes, even though there is no mention of a specific religion the motivation behind the bill seems to be towards promoting Christianity.

In my humble opinion, it seems that Christian lawmakers in North Carolina are displeased with the changing morality in America and do not want certain federal laws being mandated within their state.

While it’s true the morality of America is changing, is it reasonable for Christians to expect the answer to be found in laws? Should Christians pass laws to “preserve” America’s morality?

I would argue a heavy “no”.

Laws are not the way to go about changing people’s hearts. The gospel is. If Christians are unhappy with the shifting morality of American culture then they need to share the gospel, become more Christ-like, and pray for the nation.

The answer is certainly not found in establishing a state religion. If history has taught us anything, it’s that official state religions don’t always work out for the best. Just look back at the marriage of the Roman Empire to the Christian church. It took years of reformation, war, and heartache to separate two things that should never have been together in the first place.

Christians: instead of repeating our mistakes, let’s get back to the gospel. If we want to see change, true and lasting change, then we need to get serious about what God takes seriously – making disciples of Jesus.

To do that, we need to repent of our own evangelistic apathy. We need to publicly speak about God’s grace, the truth of His holiness, and the deep well of His mercy. We need to pray for our nation, its leaders and citizens. We need to get back to the basics – Jesus.

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What Rob Bell Talks About When He Talks About God

WRBTAWHTAG

Rob Bell’s latest work What We Talk About When We Talk About God is his first book after the controversial Love Wins

Bell, former evangelical pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, moved to California after Love Wins became too divisive of an issue within the church.

Since his departure from his pastoral role, some individuals in the evangelical community have questioned his relevance. Does he even matter any more? Others argue that he does still matter.

I tend to agree with the latter – Bell still matters to our culture, and we need to be keenly aware of his sway over the spiritual matters of our day. So, when Rob Bell writes a book about God, I think it’s important to give it a look and separate the good from the bad and the ugly.

Others have already given much better reviews than I could ever give.  There will no doubt be many more reviews coming, but there are a few things that crossed my mind as I read through the book that I wanted to share.

So, what does Rob Bell talk about when he talks about God?

SUMMARY

First, a quick summary of the book. What We Talk About is a quick read – don’t let the 207 pages fool you. In typical Rob Bell form, the book is

empty and

white and

small and

bite-size and

filled with run-on sentence after run-on sentence to give you a sense of urgency! followed by calmness and reflection because Rob Bell is avant-guard.

So, if you choose, pick up a copy and skim through it in a couple of hours.

But, when it’s all said and done, What We Talk About argues that science is slowly proving that God exists. The God that science is discovering is a God who is for us as humanity and will save the world by pulling us forward through history to a more evolved, enlightened, and better future.

So, Bell invites (or warns), join in the trajectory that God is pulling culture or be left behind.

THE GOOD

There are good aspects to What We Talk About. Like most of Bell’s writing, I agree with about 50% of what I read. I want to like him for his amazing communication skills and boldness to maintain (if even loosely) a Christian identity, but it’s that other 50% that makes me cringe at the thought that people might be influenced by the theologically baneful aspects of his writings. Especially because of that Christian identity.

So what was the good?

Bell kicks off the book by bringing to the reader’s attention current scientific discoveries that are forcing us to realize that the universe is much, much weirder and unpredictable than we ever thought. He argues that there is plenty of room for God in science. Indeed, science is actually providing evidence that such a being could exist.

This is great stuff for conversations with atheists and agnostics. It’s very compelling and begins to break down the rigid divide of Science v. Faith.

Also, along the same lines, Bell reminds his readers that the spiritual isn’t categorically separated from everything else. We don’t have a spiritual life – life itself is spiritual.

In fact, God’s creation of the human body and soul are connected to each other, which is why the resurrection of Jesus was a real, physical and spiritual event. It’s also why the resurrection at the end will be both a physical and spiritual event. Heaven is not simply a spiritual, ethereal dimension lacking any tangible matter. Heaven will be a combination of both – much like it is now – only recreated without sin and death.

But just before the reader begins to think along the lines of pantheism, that God is literally everything, Bell puts the kibosh on that (Pg. 109) and maintains that God is both separate from creation as its Creator yet intimately involved.

This is a reminder I think we all need once in a while. The spiritual and the material aren’t categorically separated. Need proof? Just look at the incarnation of God where the spiritual meets the physical in Jesus.

THE BAD

Unfortunately, What We Talk About seems to be a continued departure of Rob Bell from biblical Christianity. Of the many examples in the book, the one that stuck out the most to me was on Pg 128.

“It’s time for a radical reclaiming of the fundamental Christian message that God is for us. God, according to Jesus, is for us because God loves us.”

This sounds great, but it’s also greatly misleading. Yes, God loves us, but God isn’t necessarily for us; rather, God is absolutely for Himself and His glory.

Why? Because God, according to Jesus, is for His own glory and invites us along in a radical reformation of our lives, minds, and souls for now into eternity.

God is not on anyone’s side but His own. If we claim otherwise, we fall into the very same tribalistic trap that Bell has accused many religious institutions of falling into – God is on my side but definitely not theirs. Or we might believe that God is our own personal, divine life coach – God is on my side to make me a better me.

*cue applause from Joel Osteen fans*

On the other hand, if we believe God is on God’s side and invites us along, then we will come to understand that everything we do and are we owe to Him.

This dramatically shifts our focus off ourself and onto God. Because, at the end of the day, we were created by God to worship Him and to reflect His glory. We messed that up, but by God’s grace, we’re invited to participate in how He’s fixing it.

This is displayed in a very intimate prayer that Jesus prayed before His crucifixion. John 17:1-2 (emphasis added) reads:

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to…”

Pause there for a second. What do you suppose comes after?

God gave Jesus authority over us all to be for us? To encourage us to be the very best us we can be? To pull us forward in a trajectory of an ever-evolving culture? No…

“…to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”

There it is. Eternal life through Jesus to the glory of God. That is the fundamental Christian message – not that God is for us, but that God is for His own glory and invites us to experience that glory through eternal life starting now and spanning through eternity.

THE UGLY

I have to admit, Bell has four really great lines about the gospel in What We Talk About. But then later deflates the amazing point these first four make, which turns out to be the ugliest part of the book in my opinion.

“Gospel insists that God doesn’t wait for us to get ourselves polished, shined, proper, and without blemish – God comes to us and meets us and blesses us while we are still in the middle of the mess we created.”

Absolutely.

“Gospel isn’t us getting it together so that we can have God’s favor; gospel is us finding God exactly in the moment of our greatest not-togetherness.”

Amen!

“Gospel is grace, and grace is a gift. You don’t earn a gift; you simply receive it. You don’t make it happen; you wake up to what has already happened.”

Hallelujah!!

“Gospel isn’t doing enough good to be worthy; it’s your eyes being opened to your unworthiness and to Jesus’s insistence that that was never the way it worked in the first place.”

Preach it, brother!!!

But then, the ugly. Bell later concludes that the gospel accomplishes all this through Jesus, “announcing who we truly are and then reminding us of this over and over and over again (Pgs 151-152).”

This is completely contrary to the gospel.

Jesus accomplished (past tense) our liberation from sin and death on the cross, then proved it by His resurrection three days later. Now, today, God saves us by that work, His grace, and through faith. He then sustains us in our salvation through Jesus, announcing who He truly is and then reminding us of His person and work over and over and over again.

Throughout What We Talk About Bell has shifted the focus of the gospel away from Jesus and onto the individual. This is perhaps the most dangerous aspect to the entire book.

We cannot take the focus of the gospel off Jesus and onto ourselves, even for a moment. The gospel is about Jesus, not about us. But the gospel is for us. If Bell wanted to write about what is for us, then he could have picked the gospel.

Bell has blurred a very fine line that can cause a lot of confusion in our lives. God is not for us, God is for His glory. The gospel is not about us, but it is for us.

Bell needs to shift the focus off of us and back onto God – that’s truly avant-guard, revolutionary, controversial, novel, fresh. In today’s modern (evolved and trajectory-driven) world, we are becoming more and more humanity-centered. It’s all about us. And Bell falls right in line with this us-centeredness.

So, what does Rob Bell talk about when he talks about God?

Us. And God is simply the supporting actor.

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Book of Mormon Version 12.0

bom

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) has announced a new edition to their scriptures. The changes affect all four of their principal works – the King James Version of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

Most of the changes are spelling or typographical errors, such as to-day to today and lunatick to lunatic. Of course, this begs the question over why Smith’s infallible transcription from the golden plates still requires corrections almost 200 years after the fact, but that’s for another post.

Nevertheless, there are notable changes coming to the August 2013 print edition (online versions avaliable now).

Among those notable changes are “Official Declarations” that will be added at the end of Doctrine & Covenants (D&C), a collection of revelations primarily given to Joseph Smith during the early days of Mormonism.

These declarations, written prior to the new edition, are attempts to address controversial issues in Mormon history. The first of the two touches on polygamy while the second tackels the issue of racism.

As Christians, it is wise for us to pay particular attention to any changes the LDS Church makes to their scriptures. Mormonism continues to make a bid for cultural identification as a Christian denomination and it appears the lastest edition to LDS scripture is simply the next step in that process.


POLYGAMY – OFFICIAL DECLARATION 1

The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless He declares otherwise…Following a revelation to Joseph Smith, the practice of plural marriage was instituted among Church members in the early 1840s…After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the following Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church.”

At face value, this declaration appears to satisfactorily answer any questions regarding pologamy in Mormonism. However, the entire statement is a curious slight of hand. While the Book of Mormon does teach monogamy, this is not inclusive of all Mormon scripture. Latter-day Saints do not find the command for polygamy in the Book of Mormon; rather, it is found in D&C 132.

Of course, as the LDS Church would surly point out, the commentary at the beginning of D&C 132 (the section commanding polygamy) points the reader to Official Declaration 1. So, any reference to polygamy in D&C 132 must be understood in light of the first declaration.

But we cannot forget that D&C 132 does not simply err by way of introducing polygamy. In D&C 132:37 we are told that Abraham’s polygamous actions were “accounted unto him as righteousness” and as a result he is now exulted as a god.

This verse directly contradicts Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, and Galatians 3:6 which all attest to Abraham’s faith, not his polygamy, as attributing righteousness to him. It also challenges the biblical teaching of monotheism and reinforces the Mormon teaching that humans can become gods as a result of their obedience to Heavenly Father’s ordinances in this life (Isaiah 43:10; 45:5, 1 Corinthians 8:6, etc.).

Even so, it is difficult to reconcile D&C 132 with the LDS Church’s declaration. Official Declaration 1 implies that the command for polygamy was temporary and only relevant to early Mormonism. However, in context D&C 132:41 clearly states that polygamy is an aspect of “the new and everlasting covenant.”

If D&C is truly the word of God, and the LDS Church abolished polygamy in 1890, then either the new covenant spoken of in D&C 132 wasn’t actually everlasting or the LDS Church is disobeying their Heavenly Father by not practicing polygamy (something that some fringe Mormon groups would agree with).

So, while the LDS Church may take steps to offer an apology for why Joseph Smith’s writings include polygamy, they continue to ignore the glaring unbiblical aspects of the very same work.


RACISM – OFFICIAL DECLARATION 2

The Book of Mormon teaches that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church…Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent…[but later] revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.”

The second declaration directly addresses the LDS Church’s history of racism which plagued the church for many years. Much to the dismay of modern LDS leadership, at one point in time the church did not allow black men of African ancestry into the ordained priesthood. This, in turn, precluded them from ever achieving the highest level of salvation in the afterlife.

It was only after increased pressure from government and society did LDS President Spencer W. Kimball receive (very timely) revelation from Heavenly Father to remove the racial restriction on ordained priesthood.

To soften this fact, Official Declaration 2 points to a verse from the Book of Mormon as proof that the early LDS Church would not have tolerated such racism. 2 Nephi 26:33 states, “He denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

(If that sounds familiar, it’s because the 2 Nephi verse has generously borrowed from Galatians 3:28 which states, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”)

Aside from the obvious plagerism found in 2 Nephi 26:33, what is even more interesting is what the Official Declaration 2 does not address — why did the LDS Church struggle with racism to begin with?

Of course, the answer could be found in the cultural climate of the U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries. The LDS Church was simply a victim of the racism that saturated every other facet of American life for over 200 years.

But, if a verse such as 2 Nephi 26:33 exists, why did it take a revelation from Heavenly Father to allow all races into ordained priesthood?

Perhaps the answer lies in 2 Nephi 5:21 where Mormons are taught that Heavenly Father cursed rebellious white people by causing a “skin of blackness to come upon them.”

If people have a “skin of blackness” as a result of a curse from Heavenly Father, then why should they be allowed to join the priesthood?

The fact remains that while the Book of Mormon provided a novel attempt of opening the offering of savlation to all ethnic backgrounds, it also exasperated racism within the Mormon community for decades.


STILL THE SAME OLD TEACHINGS

In offering these two Official Declarations, the LDS Church is simply brushing over deep historical and theological issues within Mormonism. It is my opinion that LDS leadership is hoping that by providing a superficial answer, they will be seen as having “addressed the issue” in public light. If they’ve publicly addressed the issue, then perhaps critics will leave them alone and the general public will look the other way.

But, at the end of the day, this is still the same old teachings of Joseph Smith. It is clear that he intended for polygamy to be an everlasting covenant and allowed the Book of Mormon to act as an abettor of racism within Mormonism.

Until LDS leaders address the issues of polygamy and racism at a repentant level, no amount of Official Declarations will ever correct the dangerous and false teachings of Joseph Smith.

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Image of God

image_of_god

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about an atheistic church. In it, I discussed my observation that many attendees were yearning for community and worship – it was a primary motive for many people who visited the service. They missed the community and worship that their childhood church had provided them and wanted it back in their lives.

When I wrote the article I had no clue that this would be the major point of contention among non-Christians. I suspected that I would be corrected for implying that God was behind the Big Bang. But I was wrong – many folks simply did not agree with the worship aspect.

On forums, those who disagreed pointed out that they don’t worship and neither do they have the desire to worship. Therefore, the concept of being made in the image of God is laughable at best.

But this is a misunderstanding of what it means to be made in God’s image. So, what do Christians mean when they say we are “made in the image of God”?

MADE IN GOD’S IMAGE

Christians get this idea (among other places) from Genesis 1:27.

“So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.”

From this we come to understand that we are 1) intrinsically valuable, 2) creative beings who 3) have an innate desire to worship and 4) to be in community.

  1. We are intrinsically valuable because we bear the image of the infinitely valuable image of God.
  2. We are creative beings because we mimic the ultimate Creator, architect, and sustainer of all reality.
  3. We have an innate desire to worship because we were created by a God who has within himself perfect worship – or the desire to continually pour out admiration, adoration, praise, devotion, service, love, etc.
  4. We desire to be in community because God is triune and exists as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or the Trinity).

It should be no surprise that these four aspects are so profoundly embedded in the human experience – we all know them to be true at some level or another. We all sense these four attributes in humanity. We all feel that humans are…

Intrinsically valuable

Extremely creative

Incessantly worshipping

Yearning for community

At the end of the day, being made in the image of God is what makes humans, well, human! It’s why we pine for community and yearn to worship. It’s why we’re creative, musical, artistic, and intellectual.

Do you feel compassion for the misfortunate? Do you feel angry at injustice? Are you moved by a beautiful piece of artwork? Do you love your friends and family? That’s the image of God at work in you.

In addition, because God enjoys worship within himself (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), we too worship.

BUT I DON’T GO TO CHURCH AND WORSHIP, SO I’M NOT MADE IN GOD’S IMAGE

This objection isn’t uncommon. In fact, I’ve read it a lot the past couple of weeks. Here are some objections I’ve found to the article.

I don’t want to worship anything. And neither should anyone else.” – farpadokly

Not everyone worships anything, and some who.do worship are not worshipping your god” – freako104

Oddly enough, being raised with none of the ritual, have had no desire to worship, always found it odd, oddly enough.” – Canadiest

And what about the countless millions, like myself, who have never felt the slightest urge to worship anything?” – Pete

While it’s true people might not be worshipping God, that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t worshipping anything at all. We all worship, it just depends on what we worship. Allow me to demonstrate.

Let’s say, just for example, we severely reduce the definition of worship to the following acts:

  • Sacrificing money to something
  • Giving up time and energy to something
  • Praising something in song, cheering, and raising of hands

This immediately conjures up images of the ancients worshipping their idols. The ancients, generally speaking, sacrificed animals (their money) and spent hours in the temple. During their temple visits, they may have sang songs, raised their hands towards giant statues, and even shouted or cheered.

And this definition of worship sounds a lot like a Christian, doesn’t it? Christians, generally speaking, sacrifice money (offering to a church) and spend their Sunday mornings in church services. During those services, they sing songs, raise their hands, and sometimes even shout out and cheer.

But is also sounds a lot like a football fan. Football fans, generally speaking, sacrifice money (offering to the NFL) and spend their Sunday afternoons watching games, sometimes in massive temple-like stadiums. During those games, they sing songs (Bear Down, Chicago Bears!), raise their hands, and usually shout and cheer.

You see, every human worships. It’s not a matter of if but what we worship.

(I’m not saying watching football is bad – I’m a big Bears fan myself – but when it becomes the object of your life’s admiration, adoration, praise, devotion, service, love, etc., then it becomes something you worship.)

Because we were made in the image of God, we long to worship. Some of us worship idols (statues, football, careers, people) and some of us worship God. But at the end of the day every human worships.

TO SUM IT UP

We were created by a God who loves community and incessantly worships. It’s okay to love community and incessantly worship as well! Most of our problems begin when we withdraw from community with God and cease worshipping Him.

We find little idols in our life to worship – careers, cars, cash, games, travel, food, ect. None of those things are bad – heck, enjoy them! – but when they replace God, we no longer operate according to our design.

Those little idols severely limit our community with our Creator God. Ditching Him to find fulfillment elsewhere also causes us no longer operate according to our design.

The most fulfilling lives (now and hereafter) are spent worshipping God and being in His community. The best news is that we can do so no matter who we are or what we’ve done.

We just need to respond to Jesus’ call – “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”[1] And this Jesus is the image of God, “the image of the invisible God.”[2]

Want to know God? Know Jesus.

Want to witness true community and true worship? Know Jesus.

What to experience true community and true worship?

Know Jesus.

=====

[1] Matthew 11:28

[2] Colossians 1:15

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My Sunday at an Atheistic Church

Last month I stumbled upon an article about an atheistic “church service” in London.  I didn’t even read the whole thing before I decided I had to go.

The Sunday Assembly, as the group is called, meets once a month at The Nave in North London for “anybody searching for a sense of community, to meet and ‘turn good intentions into action.'”

It is, all things considered, an atheistic church.

Yes.  A church for atheists.

IMG_1700

The Nave – new home to the atheistic church The Sunday Assembly

This morning I woke up, sacrificed hearing Os Guinness speak at my own church, and ventured down to Islington with my wife who is used to being dragged to peculiar things like this by now.

We showed up 40 minutes early, but weren’t the first ones there.

In typical British fashion, we all politely “queued up” as we waited for the doors to open.  The press was there catching interviews.  (They also recorded the entire service along with the attendees to a point that it made it uncomfortable).

In fact, I’ll probably end up in The Guardian or The Independent.  I can see it now: Local Atheist Londoner Worships at The Sunday Assembly.

You can’t trust everything you read in the news.

People "queuing up" to attend the second-ever service of The Sunday Assembly. Media reporters captured every moment.

People “queuing up” to attend the second-ever service of The Sunday Assembly. Media reporters captured every moment.

Once the doors opened, the church filled up fast.  In fact, by the time the service started there was standing room only.  There had to have been about 200+ in a church meant to comfortably hold 150.

After snagging two great seats, I surreptitiously wandered around taking photos of the event.  I was, after all, running a clandestine intel-gathering mission behind enemy lines.  In just three months, I’ll be joining the staff of a church.  Before then, however… game on.  (Sarcasm, for those who don’t know me.)

Standing room only in the back. Eventually, the balcony was full as well.

Standing room only in the back. Eventually, the balcony was full as well.

To be honest, I was taken aback by how many people showed up.  Church planters dream of a second-ever service this full, and here I was in the midst of atheists, humanists, and agnostics who were all anticipating something new, something fresh, something exciting for their movement.

Just ten minutes before the service was set to start and the place was packed. More were in the balcony, standing in the back and in the foyer.

Once 11:00 came the service kicked off with the band.

Yes.  There was an atheistic church band.  (Bet you never thought you’d read that in your life.)  It was led by comedian Pippa Evans.

IMG_1702

A (perhaps first-ever) atheistic church band leading the congregation in hits from Queen, Stevie Wonder, and Nina Simone.

Once the band had captured our attention, the “pastor” figure of this service exploded onto the stage.  And he was hilarious.

Rightfully so, as the entire service was led by British comedian Sanderson Jones.  Jones kicked the service off by warmly welcoming everyone and offering an amusing story of how he had learned that it was actually fellow atheists, not Christians as he had expected, who vocally disapproved of The Sunday Assembly.

He displayed a screenshot of his twitter feed from one disgruntled atheist who claimed that the term “church” to all atheists is like the term “concentration camp” to all Jews.  Jones made short work of the mystery atheist – it was pretty funny.

After his introduction, we sang a Queen song as the service moved along.

ONE IN A BILLION

After some singing, the service shifted to the talk.

It was given by the (wonderfully articulate and intelligent) guest speaker, Harry Cliff – a researcher at the University of Cambridge and super particle physicist from CERN.  Cliff delivered a great talk, which I believe ironically pointed to the very God of creation that the church was disavowing.

His talk, entitled “It’s a Wonder We’re All Here” in keeping with the theme of “wonder,” centered around the seeming impossibility of all matter (and consequently us) of existing at all.  Why are we all here to wonder why we’re all here in the first place?

As Cliff explained, according to a theory from physicist Paul Dirac, nothing should exist.  The stars, the planets, us, all matter… none of it should exist.  But it does.  So why?

The answer is found in anti-matter.  “Whenever you create a particle of anti-matter,” Cliff explained, “you also have to create a particle of matter.”  Likewise, whenever matter and anti-matter meet, they annihilate each other, a la the spectacular climax to Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons.

Couple this with the theory of the Big Bang, when energy was converted into matter, and the symmetry of one particle of anti-matter to one particle of matter should have made everything disappear.  What should have happened after the Big Bang is not the universe we know today, but rather a cold, empty universe of nothing.  No stars, no galaxies, no us, no nothing.

But, again, here we are.  So, what happened?

Cliff, in his own words, explained what happened.

Harry Cliff gives his talk "It's A Wonder We're All Here"

Harry Cliff gives his talk “It’s A Wonder We’re All Here”

“At the Big Bang, matter and anti-matter annihilate each other producing particles of light so every billion particles of light corresponds to one of those annihilations.  So everything in the universe is just one-billionth of what was originally there – we are just a tiny leftover of what was there at the beginning of the universe.

All of that is enough to create all the galaxies, all the stars, all the stuff of you and me.  So we are basically talking of absolute, tiny asymmetry of matter and anti-matter that allowed us to exist.  In fact, if the asymmetry hadn’t been there, we would live in a completely empty universe.”

“So,” I thought to myself, “at the creation of the universe from nothing there was an inconceivable amount of light followed by the most improbable conditions that allowed for the entire universe to exist.”

I couldn’t hold back a huge smile.

Why?  Because Cliff’s talk sounded an awful lot like this:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

The earth was without form and void…

and God said, ‘Let there be light.'”

Genesis 1.1-3

Here we were at an atheistic church service being delivered evidences of both God’s existence (the improbability of asymmetry at the Big Bang) and the Bible’s trustworthiness (the fact that God’s first creative act was light).

Awesome.

Although, I doubt anyone else in the church shared my sentiment.

My only complaint about Cliff’s talk was that he never discussed the obvious question of how the most improbable condition was probable in the first place.  What made the asymmetry, well, asymmetrical?  He essentially sidestepped the chicken-or-the-egg issue with the Big Bang.

Perhaps it’s because there needed to be an intelligence behind the asymmetry of matter and anti-matter in order to bring about the creation of the universe in the most explosive display of light in the universe’s entire existence.

The answer is clear – God caused the conditions for the asymmetry.  Furthermore, an ancient culture of divinly-inspired Jews nailed it on describing the event.  If you’re not looking at this data from a theistic perspective, the obvious will always evade you.

But, hey.  That’s just me.

“I WANTED MUSIC AND COMMUNITY AGAIN”

Throughout the service, I began to notice a consistent theme with almost everyone we spoke with, overheard, or witnessed in the service – everyone missed the music and community of their childhood experiences in church and want to bring it back into their lives.

I feel comfortable saying that many of the atheists in attendance were there precisely because they missed the community and songs of church.

The leader, Jones, mentioned that he missed the community and songs that his childhood church had given him.  The woman seated behind us made a similar claim.  Another woman, I overheard, said she missed singing songs and being with other people.

“When I was a kid, at church there was always music and other people.  I wanted music and community again,” she said in a conversation with a fellow atheist.

It seemed that most people were there for those very reasons – community and singing.  Or, what we Christians like to call, fellowship and worship.

The congregation listening to Sanderson Jones speak.

The congregation standing just before singing “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder.

People missed the fellowship and worship they left behind in their childhood churches, but have since yearned for a return to them.

The more I came to realize this point, the more obvious it became – all of these people, made in God’s image, are simply trying to fill the void of their design and purpose without actually knowing how.

Every human is created in the image of a triune God (community) who designed us to worship.  That doesn’t go away simply because you don’t believe in Him.

Deep down in every human being, we yearn to be in community and fellowship, just like the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have enjoyed for eternity.

Deep down in every human being, we are compelled to worship, because it’s what we were created to do.

Just because you’re an atheist doesn’t mean that all goes away.  And today only drove that point home for me.  It’s doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in God, every human being still desires community and wants to worship.  Where we find our community and what we worship, however, is what will eventually define our joy, lives, and destinies.

Everyone at The Sunday Assembly seemed to believe that by adding community once a month and singing random songs, they will fill that nagging void in their life.

The more I though about this, the more I wanted to stand on my chair and yell “You’re missing the point!  It’s not enough!” But, perhaps the unusually large amount of cameras and journalists stopped me in my tracks.  After all, I didn’t want to be that guy.

It doesn’t matter how many songs you sing or how many people you hang out with – if it’s not centered around Jesus (the true reason for church in the first place) it’s never going to be enough.

The Sunday Assembly was gathered today in celebration of life, but not the life.

The Sunday Assembly attempted to instill wonder, but without the God of Wonder behind it.

The Sunday Assembly tried to experience a spirit in singing, but without the Holy Spirit of a good, perfect, and loving God.

They are missing the point entirely.

Church isn’t about music, it isn’t about making people feel happy, and it isn’t about instilling wonder.  Church isn’t even about getting together in community to get your felt needs met.

Church is about Jesus.

Because we were designed to worship and to live in community, we do get some felt needs met at church, but it’s not the entire focus or purpose of church.  The entire focus and purpose of church should be Jesus.

Until the good people of The Sunday Assembly understand this simple truth, they will never fill that missing void of worshipping Jesus in the community of imperfect yet redeemed people, no matter how many songs they sing, guest speakers they have, or good works they promote.

THE “REAL CHURCH” NEXT DOOR

Next to The Nave was a small (in comparison, tiny) chapel annex that was housing an African worship service.  While we were first “queuing up” to get in The Nave, a woman dressed in Sunday’s best squeezed her way past us.  “Excuse me,” she politely asked for a clearing to walk through.  Two women behind us giggled as one muttered, “I bet she’s going to real church.”

The real church service started before The Sunday Assembly and was still running after our service had ended.  I snuck into the back of the chapel annex to hear the prayer that the pastor of this tiny church offered his congregation in the shadow of their new atheist neighbors next door.

The annex next to The Nave where "real church" was being held.

The annex next to The Nave where “real church” was being held.

His voice filled the room.

“We love you Jesus,” he said with a thick African accent. “We love you so much and want other’s to know you, so they can experience your love and, in return, love you simply for who you are and what you’ve done for us.”

“Amen,” I thought to myself. That was the most encouraging thing I had heard all day.

A group of people, most of whom were down-and-out, gathered together in community to worship Jesus in song and prayer.  No media attention, no comedian-led entertainment, no high-profile speaker.

Just a few Jesus people getting together to worship, fellowship, and pray on a Sunday morning.

Now that’s church.

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A special thanks to The Christian Post for picking up this post.

UPDATE: The Guardian did a piece on this service.  In it, an interesting quote;

“‘I feel sorry for the church next door, waiting for their three people to trickle in,'” says Nick Julius, glancing at the small adjacent hall that will shortly be hosting its own gathering.”

Don’t feel sorry for them, Nick.  They were the ones attending church this morning.

Also, check out BBC’s piece on the service.

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Jesus vs. Yehosua // Weird Internet Rumors #1

jesus_mac_stainedglass

If there’s one thing the internet is good for, it’s crazy rumors about Jesus. This series is my humble attempt at dispelling the weirdest internet rumors about Jesus as they come my way.

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Weird Rumor #1

Jesus’ real name is actually Yĕhōšuă‘, therefore the Christian Church has been lying about who he was.

This weird rumor centers around the name of Jesus.  Because Jesus’ real name is actually Yĕhōšuă‘, and the Christian Church has been calling him Jesus for many years, Christians have either been lying about his real identity or fooled into worshipping the wrong Jesus… if that is his real name.

First, let’s come clean. Yes, Jesus’ name is actually Yĕhōšuă‘.  (Wow. It feels great to get that off my chest…)

Yĕhōšuă‘ (Hebrew) is also known by the English name Joshua.  Joshua simply means “God rescues” – very fitting for Jesus.

It is important to note that Jesus is actually Yĕhōšuă‘ in the same way John is actually Yôḥanan.  Why?  Because John is originally a Hebrew name spelled Yôḥanan.

When a name goes from one language to another it is adjusted to accommodate the new tongue.

Here’s a short list of more names that were changed from language to language:

English Latin Greek Hebrew
James Iacomus Iákōbos Yaʻaqov
Matthew Matthaeus Mattathias Matityahu
Aaron Aaronum Aarón Ahărōn
John Iohannes Iōánnēs Yôḥanan
Isaac Isaac Isaak Yitskhak

So, Jesus is actually the English name for Yĕhōšuă‘.

Jay vs. Yeh

“Okay,” says the weird internet rumor creators, “but why is it pronounced Gee-sus and not Yeh-sus closer to the original Hebrew?  Christians must have changed the pronunciation of Jesus’ name for some sinister reason.”

Good question – why the “J” instead of a “Y” at the beginning of Jesus?

When Yĕhōšuă‘ was translated from Hebrew to Latin thousands of years ago, it first went through Greek. If you remember, Alexander the Great Hellenized the known world, so many things (including names) were transliterated into Greek. Therefore, from Hebrew, Yĕhōšuă‘ became Iēsoûs (Greek).

Then came the Romans, who spoke Latin. Iēsoûs (Greek) was transliterated again into Iesus (Latin).

Finally, Iesus comes to English as Jesus, pronounced the same way as Yeh-sus. But since English has gone through many, many pronunciation changes over the years, most notably after the Norman invasion of 1066, the pronunciation changed quite a bit. Remember, after 1066 English went from sounding very Germanic to slightly French. Oui oui!

One big change was J being pronounced juh (like job) instead of yuh (like young). Thus, Jesus (pronounced Yeh-sus) becomes Jesus (pronounced Gee-sus). Consequently, German probably pronounces Jesus, the same spelling, closer to it’s original Latin pronunciation since they pronounce J’s as English Y’s.

So, at the end of the day, if it makes you feel closer to the truth, call Jesus by his true Hebrew name Yĕhōšuă‘. But, this would be like calling your friend named John by his true Hebrew name Yôḥanan, which is weirder than this internet rumor about Jesus.

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Have you heard a weird internet rumor about Jesus?

Want it answered?

Drop me a line!

Also, check out more weird rumors about Jesus:

Part II: THE EGYPTIAN GOD JESUS

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Scientology “Going Clear” Down the Same Old Road

scientology_cross

A new book on the inner-workings of Scientology has been released on the heels of Janet Reitman’s excellent work Inside Scientology.

The newest edition of a growing collection that sheds light on Scientology’s mysterious and dangerous practices is called Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright.

Released on January 17th, the Church of Scientology (CoS) wasted no time in offering their rebuttal. The CoS published their counter-claims to the book the same week as its release.

This rebuttal is in line with the CoS’s typical strategy of combating criticism:

1. Release a public statement accusing the criticism of religious bigotry
2. Offer a detailed point-by-point rebuttal
3. Sue the pants off of the author/organization that dared criticize them in the first place

This is all common practice for the CoS.

L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the CoS, made it a regular practice of advancing Scientology’s image through suing its critics.

“[Critics are] fair game. May be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.”[1]

So, seeing the CoS use the fear of litigation to silence criticism isn’t anything new. They’ve been down this same, old road before.

But this time they did something very interesting. They upped the ante by threatening third-parties from even the vaguest association with the book.

When CNN asked for comments concerning Going Clear, the CoS lashed out. Along with their official media response they sent a legion of lawyers to speak for them (as any innocent origination would do in the face of allegations concerning child labor and criminal practices).

Towards the end of one letter the lawyers warned CNN;

“We remind CNN that one who repeats or otherwise republishes a slander is subject to liability as if he had originally said it.”

Instead of fessing up to the truth of their “benign” religious practices and addressing the oddities of their sci-fi–laden beliefs, the CoS would rather silence critics and the media through fear of litigation.

Take that First Amendment. (Which, ironically, is allowing the CoS to exist in the first place.)

Of course, this fear only works if people choose to yield to the threat – as is the example of Canadian and British publishers refusing to carry the new book. But for the growing chorus of criticism against the CoS, this only serves to highlight the point that the critics are trying to make.

Scientology is fraudulent, dangerous, and wants to keep it that way.

JESUS NEVER HID – GIVE HIM A TRY

It is times like these that I am glad there is nothing secret in the person and work of Jesus. There is nothing to hide in the gospel. No copyright exists for the free examination, distribution, and even disagreement of the gospel.

Jesus never hid anything from anyone; rather, he exposed himself to public scrutiny. Additionally, the words of the Bible have been severely scrutinized over and over again, but still it remains open and free for any and all.

Why? I would argue that it’s because truth doesn’t need to hide. Only lies need to be hidden. The gospel is saturated in truth, whereas the practices and teachings of the CoS are permeated in deception and falsehood.

CoS Members – if Scientology truly offers the way to become a Clear Theta Cleared, why all the secrecy? If LRH provided the way to salvation, why does the CoS breathe threats against its critics? If Scientology is truly the way to salvation, why does it hide behind threats of litigation?

Threatening critics for exposing the CoS is no different than Iran placing Christians on trial for evangelism.  Bullying is the ultimate sign of weakness.

If Going Clear is truly “full of many mistakes, unfounded statements, and utterly false facts” as the CoS asserts, then why threaten CNN with litigation?  If the teachings of the CoS are true, then let the criticism stand. Eventually, we’ll all look foolish when Xenu returns to exact his revenge.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the sins of Scientology are slowly being revealed – child abuse, financial fraud, religious hoaxes, and perhaps even murder are slowly getting public attention.  Scrutiny of the CoS is revealing its true nature of deception, malice and greed.

Jesus, however, has been scrutinized for over 2,000 years. Verdict is: there’s a lot of truth found in him. Give him a try. Where the CoS offers salvation after a lifetime of costly works, Jesus offers it right now, forever, for free.

Start in the Gospel of John – the free, real, and eternal state of “Clear” is waiting for you there in the person and work of Jesus.

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[1] L. Ron Hubbard, Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter, 18 October 1967 (accessed from, http://www.xenu.net/archive/infopack/5.htm, 1/23/2013)

Grab a free chapter about Scientology from Robot Jesus and Three Other Jesuses You Never Knew

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Did Christians Always Worship Jesus?

council_nicaea

I talked to a Muslim missionary at the market this weekend.

During that conversation, he said something that can catch Christians off guard the first time they hear it:

Early Christians did not worship Jesus as God until the fourth century.

This is something that Jehovah’s Witnesses also teach.  More recently, the idea was popularized in mainstream culture in Dan Brown’s Angles & Demons.

The idea goes that early Christians revered Jesus as the Son of God, but not God himself.  Then, in 325CE, the powerful Christian church married the Roman Empire and changed a core doctrine – the divinity of Jesus.  Thus, with Christianity as the “official religion” of Rome, Christians began to worship Jesus as both the Son of God and God himself.

“So early Christianity,” said the Muslim missionary, “was actually more ‘Islamic’ than Christianity post-fourth century.”

Jesus isn’t God. He never was – it’s just a lie.

WHAT HAPPENED IN 325CE?

What happened in the 300s that made Christians “start” worshipping Jesus as God?

Well… nothing, actually. They had been worshipping him as God well before three hundred years after his death, burial, and resurrection.

The reason the Muslim missionary believed otherwise is simply a misunderstanding of the Council of Nicaea in 325CE.

The Islamic, Jehovah’s Witness, and Angels & Demons version of this council goes as follows:

  • Emperor Constantine becomes a Christian
  • Constantine then calls the Council of Nicaea (a meeting of all the Christian leaders throughout the empire)
  • He makes the powerful Christian religion the official faith of the Roman Empire
  • Constantine commissioned the Bible to be created
  • Jesus is officially identified as God and worshipped

What actually happened:

  • Emperor Constantine becomes a Christian
  • Seeking to unify a divided empire, he makes Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire
  • He enables the first ever global meeting of Christians – after three hundred years of sporadic persecution
  • No commission of the Bible was called – it was pretty much already in place, since they used Scripture to discuss theological points at the council
  • The idea of Jesus as a created being is condemned – the majority view of Jesus as God is upheld

In the end, Christians had been worshipping Jesus from day one.

HOW SHOULD I RESPOND?

So, what if you are met with this objection about Jesus?  What if someone told you that they believe Jesus was not considered God until the fourth century? I would suggest drawing the conversation towards these three points:

1.) The first Christian martyr recorded in history (ca. 35CE) asked his Lord Jesus to receive his spirit – something only God could do. [Acts 7:59]  This was well before 325CE.  And by well, I mean 290 years.

  • “But,” they may respond, “since this is from the Bible, suppose Christians changed the texts sometime in the past.”

2.) Early Christian writings and letters, written hundreds of years before the Council of Nicaea, are saturated in the admiration of Jesus as God. 1 Corinthians 8:6 is a prime example, which New Testament scholar Dr. James Dunn (University of Durham) believes is “mind-blowing” in its attribution of “divine agency” to Jesus.[1]

  • “Again, this evidence is from the Bible,” – regardless of the fact that we can verify original content far greater than other ancient writings – “I don’t trust the Bible.”

3.) There is ample extra-Biblical evidence that supports Christian worship of Jesus as God well before the Council of Nicaea in 325CE.  One such piece of evidence is from The Didache.

From Robot Jesus and Three Other Jesuses You Never Knew:

“The Didache is a well–known document used by early Christians as a sort of guide for the early Christian faith. The Didache, from the Greek for ‘instructions,’ was passed around from home to home or church to church much like the four Gospels and Paul’s letters were before the Bible was formed.

It contains instructions on how to baptize new believers, stating that the baptizer should, “baptize in running water, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The source of this quote may be found in the Gospel of Matthew, which was written closer to the time of Jesus. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The name in which Jesus instructed Christians to baptize new disciples is a trinitarian title for God. Notice that we are not called to baptize in the names of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the name, singular.

If the early church taught that God was a separate god from Jesus or even the Holy Spirit, then why copy the trinitarian title for God in Matthew into your instruction manual? The Didache is clear evidence of the Trinity outside of the Bible in the early church.”

At the end of the day, Christians have been worshipping Jesus as God since the day they witnessed his resurrection.

And there’s good reason for that – he lived a blameless life, preached the good news, died at the hands of both religious people and bad government, then rose again to prove for us that his good news really is good.

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[1] James D. G. Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?: The New Testament Evidence, (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 110.

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Louie Louie

So, I suppose Louie Giglio gets to add this to his resume:

First Ever Inauguration Invocation Official For 24 hours or Less

If you haven’t heard the news Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, was invited to give the invocation for the presidential inauguration at the end of the month… for about a day.

Let me summarize the Giglio ordeal in four (real) Tweets:

  • January 8th – President Obama chooses evangelical Louie Giglio to deliver invocations at inauguration // @drmoore
  • January 9th – Sign this White House petition, share/retweet widely: Replace anti-gay bigot Louie Giglio at inauguration // @msignorile
  • January 10th – Giglio inaugural prayer axed due to biblical sermon (he stated orthodox positions on homosexuality) // @baptistpress
  • January 11th – The Louie Giglio Moment: Are Evangelicals (and about 4 of 10 American Adults) No Longer Welcome in the Public Square? // @edstetzer

*shakes head*

Wait… what just happened?

According to the Twitterverse, Louie Giglio was invited to give the invocation at the inauguration, was then “outed” as an anti-gay bigot which lead to his “axing” from the inauguration, and now Evangelicals are no longer welcome in the public square.

And all this happened faster than it took me to get my next Netflix DVD delivered in the mail.  Woah.

This just goes to show that with the increased speed of information comes the increased speed of culture-wide changes.  I mean, one week Giglio is rallying 60,000 students to end modern global slavery.  Then, literally the next week, he is asked to give the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration.  Then, literally the next day, he’s an anti-gay bigot who was axed from the national stage – color coded for both left and right comments respectively.

Those on the left accused Giglio of being an anti-gay bigot due to a sermon he delivered 20 years ago in support of traditional marriage.  Those on the right accused everyone else of axing Giglio from the national stage for preaching Christian orthodoxy.

And both are only half-truths.

For those who think Giglio is a neanderthalic bigot with no business on the national stage, please take 5 minutes to check out his End It Movement, then tell me he’s a bigot with a straight face.  He is not a bigot, regardless of whether or not you agree with his view on marriage and human sexuality.

For those who think Giglio was forced off the national stage because of his orthodox Christian beliefs, please keep in mind that he was the one to bow out.  It was Giglio, not the Obama Administration nor the Inauguration Ceremony Committee, who walked away from this opportunity.

Had Giglio waited for the (now apparent) public pressure to have him removed, it would have placed the two previously mentioned parties in a position to select who they believe best represents America’s spiritual leadership.  Then it would be obvious – Christian orthodoxy isn’t welcome on the national stage.

Why This Matters

As this story rapidly unfolded, what surprised me most is that fact that this surprises Christians at all.

Of course Christian orthodoxy isn’t welcome on the national stage.  The closer one sticks to the gospel, the more friction they will meet against culture – both from the left and from the right.

Christianity is spreading a bizarre and backwards message in the eyes of our nation – a Jew 2,000 years ago died, resurrected, and now wants me to rely solely on him for the guidance and restoration of my entire being.  And this guy, who (btw) also claimed to be God, gets to tell me how to live my life? *pft*  How “anti-American individualistic” of him…

The gospel is crazy talk to our nation.  It’s also known as “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”[1]  So the fact that it’s not welcome on the national stage should not surprise us. The gospel isn’t something that people want to hear.

Sure there’s culturally noble aspects to it – social justice, resisting tyranny, liberating the poor – but the other half of the coin paints a terrible picture of humanity’s current state of being.  And no one likes to be told they’re broken or wrong or misled.

In fact, they hate it.  Jesus’ whole discourse in John 15:18–25 (as hard as it may be to read) touches on that very topic.  He concludes that “they hated me without cause.”[2]  And if they hated Jesus for his message, who delivered it perfectly and without blemish, why should we be shocked to learn that our peers no longer have patience to hear our message, especially when we frequently deliver it imperfectly and with many blemishes?

Friends, it’s time to face this truth – America is no longer a nation influenced by Christianity.  The message of the gospel is becoming unfashionable and culturally intolerable at a very rapid pace.

Let’s move past this shock so we can focus our attention on our truest task at hand – proclaiming good news to the poor and bringing liberty to the captives.[3]

And even though many people will mock and reject the gospel, as they did to Paul on Mars Hill in Athens, some will say, “we will hear you again about this” and meet Jesus through his people and by God’s spirit.[4]

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[1] 1Co 1:23

[2] Jo 15:25

[3] Lu 4:18–19

[4] Acts 17:32

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The Rising None’s

No, the Rising None’s aren’t an indie-rock band.  (Although, that’s not a bad name…)  The rising “none’s” are actually a category of religion that more and more Americans are choosing over any other faith – no faith at all.  For the first time in U.S. history the fastest growing religion is “none”.

According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, “One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today.”  Further still, 88% of those 1/5 are not really interested in looking for anything. The most likely to reject any religious faith at all?  Millennials born between 1981-1994.

Set aside everything you’ve heard about Mormonism or Islam being the fastest growing religion in America.  It’s actually Religious Apathy.

The immediate question is why?

It would seem that the relatively sharp decline in religious interest is related to faith itself – or at least the outliers of faith. The report observes that,  “Overwhelmingly, [people] think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.”

This isn’t good news for those who like to share the Good News.  And while I don’t like to associate true Christianity with religion, this study nonetheless gives valuable insight into the growing spiritual landscape of the nation.

Religious apathy is, perhaps, one of the most difficult mission fields that exists.  It’s one thing to present the gospel to someone of a different worldview, as they may be interested in spirituality on some level.  It’s a whole different ballgame to present the gospel to people who just don’t care.

So what do we do with this information?

Rather than being threatening, I think this Pew Forum is a much needed wake-up call.  Not only that, but the study gives us great insight into sharing the gospel in an ever-changing spiritual culture.

According to the study, the religiously apathetic are uninterested because “religious organizations” are:

  • too concerned with money and power
  • too focused on rules
  • too involved in politics

Replace “religious organizations” with “Christians” and we have some serious criticism from non-Christians about us.  And instead of defending our actions, I say we examine each claim in order to reflect on ourselves in the way others see us.

1. Christians are too concerned with money and power.

I think this is a terrible indictment on the Church’s unspoken witness to the world.  When they look at the Church from the outside in, they see corruption and greed. And I think there’s some truth to that observation.

The Church, particularly in America, has spent a ton of money in the past 60 years.  But what do we have to show for it?  Institutions? Facilities?  Programs?  Successful ministries?

It also doesn’t help when guys like this funnel $4.8M of church funds to pay for his own debts.  Unfortunately, that’s the type of news that makes front pages – not the other resources going to help the impoverished or planting new churches.

When people look at the Church they see greed, corruption, and injustice.  What they should see instead is love, grace, and sanctifying community.

Even Jesus said that the Church’s bulletin board advertisement should be love. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jn 13:35

Where have we failed in this?  How can we turn that image around?

2. Christians are too focused on rules.

This should break the heart of every Christian.  If non-Christians view the Church as an institution of moral rules and not one of gracious love, then we are definitely off-course.  In fact, being rule-focused and not grace-focused is the exact same reason Jesus gave the Pharisees for missing out on God’s work! (Lk 11:37-52)

The Church wasn’t meant to be a moral social club where good people come to compare their own righteousness.  It’s more like a hospital where broken people come to be healed, rehabilitated, and sent back out into the world a new person.

Christians should illuminate the world with grace, not moral rules.  Every religion teaches people how to become holy before God, but Christianity teaches that God makes people holy before him.  It’s a huge difference.  And apparently, we aren’t communicating that enough.

3. Christians are too involved in politics.

I’m not sure this image will ever go away, especially within a democracy.  If Christians are allowed to vote, then they will bring with them a certain level of their worldview into politics.  Non-Christians do the same thing.

But, is there a chance that the Church could be too involved in politics?  Sure.

This means that politics can often times become a distraction from the true focus of the Church – proclaiming the gospel and bringing people to Jesus. (Mt 28:16-20)

The question we should ask ourselves is which kingdom are we pointing people to?  Man’s temporary kingdom or God’s eternal kingdom?  Whose kingdom politics are we more wrapped up in – our own or our King’s?

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Mrs. Jesus? Not So Fast…

gosjewif

This morning, as I made my daily ritual of checking various news sites, I saw a consistent theme.

Apparently, Jesus was married.

  • “New Discovery Reveals Jesus was Married, Researcher Claims” – HuffPo
  • “Did Jesus Have a Wife?” – WaPo
  • “A Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife” – NY Times
  • “‘Jesus wife’ reference in ancient scrap of papyrus” – BBC (front page)

The articles varied in content, but the news basically stayed the same.  A Harvard professor has published her research of an ancient Coptic papyrus which indicates that Jesus was married.

The Huffington Post summarized the gist of the story; “Harvard Divinity School professor Karen L. King says she has found an ancient papyrus fragment from the fourth century that, when translated, appears to indicate that Jesus was married.”

But, a little digging around (i.e., actually reading King’s paper or being journalistic) told me a very different story than the news.

In actuality, King was quick to emphasize that the papyrus fragment “does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married.”[1]  The emphasis is original to King’s writing.

She then went on the associate the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, or GosJesWif, with Coptic gnosticism.  Typically, the gnostic writings (or “gospels”) are a collection of works written upwards of 100-200 years after Jesus’ lifetime, and attributed to lesser-known disciples to give them legitimacy, i.e. the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Judas, etc.

The writers of these gnostic works were groups of Christians who were enchanted with mysticism and esoteric knowledge, denying Jesus’ humanity, and often made claims contrary to the disciples, apostles, and Jesus himself.  So, they’re not very trustworthy sources of information.

Furthermore, GosJesWif was written in Coptic, not Greek or Aramaic, like the other Gospels.  If GosJesWif was originally a Gospel that should be recognized in the New Testament, then it is strange that the author chose a language not widely spoken in the world that the New Testament writers found themselves in.

Not only this, but the age of the GosJesWif makes it very difficult to trust.  According to King, the fragment physically dates back to 300CE, which means the papyrus is actually a copy and not the original.  Further research suggested the original writing could be traced back to 180CE, which means it was written 150 years after Jesus’ lifetime.

This means that someone wrote about Jesus supposedly being married 150 years after his lifetime.  Then, that writing was copied over and over again for 120 years.

So, how seriously should we take this information about Jesus’ marital status?

Well, how serious would you take a modern copy of an American letter dated 1892, thirty years after the Civil War, discussing the recent election of Thomas Jefferson as the U.S. president?  Oh, and it was written in German.

Here’s a comparison of the GosJesWif and this fictional 1892 letter to see what I mean.

  GosJesWif Thomas Jefferson Letter
Physical Date of Copy 300CE Present
Original Date Written 180CE 1892
When It Was Written About 30CE 1802

I think the more instesting story is not about the fragment, nor the Harvard professor that made the discovery, but the way that the vast majority of the media has handeled the story.

Skimming through the headlines, one would be led to believe that proof exists for Jesus’ wife.  However, even the researcher herself denies this.

There is not proof that Jesus had a wife, there is only proof that some Christians believed Jesus had a wife… 150 years after his lifetime.  It would be like archeologists in the year 3012 discovering the Book of Mormon and claiming that Christians in 2012 believed Jesus visited the American continents shortly after his resurrection.

It’s just as absurd to believe Jesus had a wife based on this evidence.

The media, however, would want you to believe otherwise.  The spin that’s been placed on this story is obvious – 2,000 years of Christian tradition is wrong and you can’t trust it.

Funny how that’s the case – the way I see it, we have physical proof of one of Christianity’s 2nd century opponents, and a story being told 1,700 years later by some of Christianity’s 21st century opponents.

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[1] Karen L. King, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…'”: A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus, (forthcoming Harvard Theological Review 106:1, January 2013). 

Photo credit: Karen L. King

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Joseph Smith for President

Recently, a lot of friends have been asking me what I think about the GOP presidential candidate’s faith.  Usually, the question goes – “So, what do you think about Mitt Romney being Mormon?”

I typically give my opinion, but have also been sharing an interesting tidbit about Mormonism and the presidency that usually comes as a surprise.

Not many people are aware that Gov. Mitt Romney isn’t the first Mormon (or Latter-day Saint) to make a serious run for office.  The first?  None other than Joseph Smith himself, the founder of Mormonism.

Joseph Smith ran for the office of president in 1844 , the year he was killed during a mob attack in a jail he was being held in.

Even more interesting is the often-forgotten prophecy that Joseph Smith made concerning Mormonism and the presidency.  The year before, in 1843, perhaps when Smith was toying with the idea of running for office, he made his famous “White Horse” prophecy.  This prophecy stated that, “when the Constitution and the country would be in danger of an overthrow; ‘If the Constitution be saved at all, it will be by the elders of this Church.'”[1]

It also stated that, “You will see the constitution of the United States almost destroyed; it will hang by a thread … and it will be preserved and saved by the efforts of the White Horse.”[2] Essentially, right when the country found itself on the brink of disaster, a Latter-day Saint would ride in on a White Horse and save the day.

Interesting.

Now, fast-forward 169 years.

The contemporary political climate in our country is at a fever pitch.  Many political pundits speak of the nation in need of “saving” or “redemption”.  Of course, polls indicate that very many Americans would agree.  And, like Smith, they view the Constitution as hanging on by a thread.

Latter-day Saints may be tempted to interpret the current political climate in the United States as the perfect timing for the White Horse prophecy to come true.  They might throw their hope behind a savior that, in this immense time of crisis, rides in on a White Horse to swoop in and save us all.

Just as the Constitution hangs by a thread from the previous administration(s), a Latter-day Saint candidate will win the highest office of the land and restore divine values to this country.  The timing couldn’t be more perfect – surely, the prophecy is about to come true.

However, that would be a little too convenient.

In fact, there was a time when the country’s Constitution was hanging on by a thread. During Joseph Smith’s day, the threat of state secession over their right to govern themselves without federal intervention was heating up.  This would come to be known as the American Civil War.  By 1844, the issue of slavery and states’ rights had become the center-piece of political rhetoric and discussion.

As historian James McPhearson points out – “Slavery was the main issue in national politics from 1844 to the outbreak of the Civil War. And many times before 1844 this vexed question burst through the crust of other issues…”[3]

Thus, the White Horse prophecy was indeed about turmoil surrounding the Constitution, not in the early-2010s, but in the mid-1840s. Joseph Smith envisioned a scenario in which the anger between the states would boil to a point of war, when the United States and her Constitution would need a savior figure to save them.  That heroic figure?  Why, Joseph Smith of course.

But, since the Mormon prophet never sat in the Oval Office, the White Horse prophecy failed – adding one more failed prophecy to the many Smith made during his lifetime.

And at the end of the day, the White Horse prophecy would have failed no matter what.  It failed in 1844 and, should Latter-day Saints still hope in this prophecy, it will fail again in 2012.

Why? Because no matter who wins the election, the president of the United States is not a savior.  He wasn’t in 2004, he wasn’t in 2008, and he won’t be in 2012, no matter who it is.  And, no matter who you are, it is dangerous to think either candidate will save this nation and us.

We need to look to the real White Horse prophecy and to the real savior who will ride in on the real White Horse.[4]  His name is Jesus – the only one who will ever be able to save us now and forever.

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[1] Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 3, p. 326

[2] Robert W. Smith, Scriptural And Secular Prophecies Pertaining to the Last Days,  27.

[3] James McPhearson, Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction (New York: McGraw-Hill,2010), 51.

[4] Rev. 19:11

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