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What's Wrong with the World



Dispatches from the 10th Crusade



Updated: 2018-02-15T18:08:00Z

 



A possible solution to a long-standing puzzle

2018-02-15T18:08:00Z

Of all of the many alleged discrepancies in the Gospels, the one that I have mulled over most of all for the last couple years concerns Luke 9:51. As long-time readers know, I don't regard myself as an inerrantist per... Of all of the many alleged discrepancies in the Gospels, the one that I have mulled over most of all for the last couple years concerns Luke 9:51. As long-time readers know, I don't regard myself as an inerrantist per se, though I am a big advocate of harmonization as good historical method. But if the best case seems to be that there is some trivial error in the Gospels or Acts, I will consider that possibility. The trouble concerning Luke 9:51 and other matters associated with the so-called "travel section" of Luke is that it did not look to me like it would be a trivial error but rather a fairly obvious one. I'll give the general layout of the problem, trying not to be too tedious, and then the interesting solution that has recently occurred to me. Luke 9:51 reads, in the ESV, When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. Here are a couple of other translations. And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem...KJV And it came about, when the days were approaching for His ascension, that He resolutely set His face to go to Jerusalem; NASB The Greek word for "received up" or "ascension" doesn't appear to be used anywhere else in the NT, which makes things more difficult. But the problem arises whether one regards this as referring to Jesus' ascension into heaven or his crucifixion. An extremely literal translation of the phrase for "days drew near," etc., is "in the completion/filling up of the days." The problem is this: Jesus doesn't go immediately to Jerusalem and die, rise, and ascend in Luke's gospel at this point. He goes wandering all around the lower part of Palestine and even almost back up into Galilee. In this part of chapter 9 he leaves Galilee, passes through Samaria on his way to Jerusalem (the Samaritans aren't very happy about his going to Jerusalem), heading south. In Luke 10 he's at the home of Mary and Martha. Luke may not have known where they lived (he doesn't mention the town name), but we know that this was in Bethany, very close to Jerusalem. Bethany was the "bedroom community" where Jesus stayed at night during Passion Week. If Luke is placing this event chronologically after Luke 9:51, then Jesus has nearly reached Jerusalem at this time. But Luke never describes his entering Jerusalem in these chapters, and in Luke 17:11 Jesus is said to be "on his way to Jerusalem" but back up north again "passing along between Samaria and Galilee." This is an incredibly circuitous route for someone who set his face to go to Jerusalem when the days were being fulfilled for him to be received up back in Luke 9:51! If he traveled through Samaria on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem in chapter 9, what is he doing back up on the border of Galilee and Samaria in chapter 17? In Luke 19 Jesus is back down south and traveling through Jericho, healing the blind, and at this point Luke once more walks in parallel with the other synoptic Gospels and moves on through Jesus' actual final trip to Jerusalem, approaching from (roughly) northeast, passing Bethany on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, picking up a donkey en route and carrying out the Triumphal Entry. To make things more confusing, in Luke 10:1 the narrative states explicitly that it was after these things--presumably, after Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem because the days were being fulfilled for him to be received up--that Jesus sent out the seventy. A walking trip from Galilee to Jerusalem, even taken at leisure, in those days could easily be accomplished in a week. There's no way that Jesus was traveling directly to Jerusalem for his final visit there and his death and sent out the seventy only after leaving Galilee on such a final trip. But that just makes more clear what becomes evident as one reads[...]



Choice devours itself: Proposal to kill the mentally disabled in Delaware

2018-01-27T14:59:13Z

Recall that choice devours itself when something worshiped by ideologues--usually death or unmarried sex--is first promoted in the name of "choice" and "consent" but then pressed upon those who do not or cannot properly consent, and the ideologues look the... Recall that choice devours itself when something worshiped by ideologues--usually death or unmarried sex--is first promoted in the name of "choice" and "consent" but then pressed upon those who do not or cannot properly consent, and the ideologues look the other way or are enthusiastically in favor. So choice devours itself when women are forced into abortions in China and the left is in denial. Choice devours itself when Planned Parenthood covers up statutory rape of a 12-year-old to promote abortion for minors. Choice devours itself when a facilitator of assisted suicide holds down the hands of a person who wants to breathe again after having set up suicide by asphyxiation. And choice devours itself when the mentally disabled are given the "choice" of assisted suicide, which has now been proposed in Delaware and is already a reality in Europe. Rep. Paul Baumbach is at the moment the only sponsor of an assisted suicide bill in Delaware, and hopefully it will stay that way. The bill didn't pass in 2017 but carries over to the 2018 session. Wesley J. Smith notes that the sponsor has deliberately amended the bill to make sure that it contains a provision for those who are significantly mentally handicapped to receive the great blessing of a lethal injection.
First, note the definition of “intellectual disability,” standard in the field. From Amendment 2 to House Bill 160: “Intellectual disability” means a disability, that originated before the age of 18, characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, which covers many everyday social and practical skills.” This means disabled people with significant intellectual impairments.
Why think that they are consenting at all? Oh, because a social worker affirms that they "understand" that they are going to be killed:
(b) If the patient has a documented intellectual disability, the attending physical shall refer the patient to a licensed clinical social worker who shall ensure that the patient fully understands the information provided pursuant to § 2504B (3). No medication to end a patient’s life in a humane and dignified manner may be prescribed unless the licensed clinical social worker has confirmed in writing to the attending physician that the patient understands the information provided pursuant to § 2504B(3).
But this is absurd. As Smith points out, people who meet this definition cannot legally vote in Delaware, make their own medical decisions, or enter into contracts. How can they possibly be capable of consenting in any meaningful sense to death? To put it no higher, this proposal would make Delaware law quite incoherent. Such a person would not have the right to consent to a healing treatment but would be able to "consent" to a lethal injection! But since when have ideologues cared about legal coherence?



New Undesigned Coincidence: The women from Galilee

2018-01-24T21:11:59Z

I've recently been enjoying reading Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses straight through. At some point I hope to have the time to write more about my big-picture assessment of the book. Right now I'm involved in some other publishing... I've recently been enjoying reading Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses straight through. At some point I hope to have the time to write more about my big-picture assessment of the book. Right now I'm involved in some other publishing projects and don't have the time to do that at any length. So all I will say here is that Bauckham's book is worth reading, extremely interesting and well-written, and has some good information and arguments, but that I don't "buy" all of his arguments, even when their conclusions are congenial to me. For example, I'm unconvinced by his claim to have discovered a literary indicator that he calls "the inclusio of eyewitness testimony" by which the authors allegedly tagged their eyewitness sources. I'm afraid, much as I'd like to agree with him, that the inclusio of witness testimony is a mirage. Again, I hope to write more about Bauckham another time. So far, one of the most valuable effects of my reading Bauckham has been to inspire me to notice things that I hadn't noticed before. The undesigned coincidence that I give here is based upon one of Bauckham's (ultimately unsuccessful, in my view) attempts to support an "inclusio of witness testimony," but by focusing on the texts in question, I noticed a previously un-noted coincidence among the documents. One of my favorite undesigned coincidences given in Hidden in Plain View is the one between Matthew 14 and Luke 8 where we discover how the Christians could have known what Herod was saying to his household servants. Matthew refers to Herod's superstitious musings to his servants that Jesus might be John the Baptist risen again. This is the lead-in to Matthew's account of the beheading of John the Baptist. Luke, in an entirely different context, lists some women that gave money to Jesus' ministry in Galilee and traveled with him, and in this list he includes Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward. This provides a very natural route by which the chit-chat between Herod and his servants could have reached the Christian community, including the author of the Gospel of Matthew. One of the nicest things about this coincidence is that it confirms a unique phrase in Matthew within a passage (the story of John the Baptist's death) that otherwise looks very "Markan," thus confirming Matthew's independent access to events even when a given incident is also found in Mark. I now see the same verses in Luke (8:2-3) as participating in a coincidence both internal to Luke and between Luke and Mark/Matthew. Here is Luke's information about these women in chapter 8: Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. (Luke 8:1-3) The women listed are Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, though Luke notes that there were others as well. They are said to have traveled with Jesus and to have given money to him. The connection with Galilee from Luke is found both in the reference to Magdala (which is on the coast of the Sea of Galilee, south of Capernaum) and in the previous chapter's reference to Jesus as being in Capernaum and in Nain, which is about six miles south of Nazareth. So Luke doesn't explicitly say here that these women began their association and travel with Jesus in Galilee, but this is a plausible inference. Fast-forward to the crucifixion, and we find that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention that there were women at the cross who had followed Jesus to Jerusalem from[...]



Long Strange Trip

2018-01-22T22:28:43Z

Amazon Films has produced a solid documentary series on the Grateful Dead. These guys threw a ton of capital at this. High production values: who knows what the crew and subjects were paid, but I’m guessing it was sizable.... (image) Amazon Films has produced a solid documentary series on the Grateful Dead. These guys threw a ton of capital at this. High production values: who knows what the crew and subjects were paid, but I’m guessing it was sizable. Long Strange Trip will be worth watching for a long time, but probably and in the main, only by those truly interested. For the rest, subjected against their will to someone else’s interest, rest assured that you’re not obliged to watch. You can nap. So, Long Strange Trip. One of its great virtues lies in the brutally frank portrayal of the toil of San Fran partying. More than once, a surviving band member weeps openly for the loss of another too early. Why too early? Overconsumption of dangerous intoxicants. Not a huge revelation. Still, this candid depiction of loss is harrowing. How the producers set, carried out, and accomplished such raw interviews I do not know, but the effect is memorable. Of course the soundtrack earns its magnificence. Nonstop fine versions of Dead and JGB songs. A notorious Senator (or ex-Senator?) supplies his favorite version of “Althea.” I despise the guy but it’s a damn fine “Althea” rendition. Sleep or perchance to dream. The highlight of the entire series lies in interviews with the Dead’s tour manager, the wiry Brit Sam Cutler, also (in)famous for his role in the Altamont debacle in 1969. Still lively in his 70s, this dude — whose job it was to corral these miscreants and degenerates & get them playing every night — supplies the series’ finest performance. It seems the Dead earned and consumed capital in a comparably astounding proportion, both sides of the ledger being substantial. Financiers were forever agitated. The tour burn rate remaining very high, they relied on the loyalty of Deadheads and played constantly. It was not an atmosphere conducive to health; but it was unforgettable for almost everyone involved. Internally, they paid really well for stage and operations work, and they were generally personable men, indulgent of loss and misstep. One gets the sense from Long Strange Trip that, had anyone been able to impose financial logic on things, the Dead would have made huge money. As it was, most tours, no huge pile of loot was gained, but everyone came home happy and well-remunerated Don’t forget that the single clear point of unified emphasis with all Deadheads (from the 60s acid-test idiots to the cokehead yuppies in the 80s to the average one-joint-n-done middle class fans) is nothing more or less than fantastic music. I submit that at his best, Jerry Garcia played the purist guitar in 20th century American popular music. Alongside that, the band frequently performed superbly: the combination of tight arrangement and brilliant improvisation, in their best performances, remains unsurpassed. Long Strange Trip is definitely worth watching if you like what I’ve mentioned.



Tangled Up in Blue

2018-01-20T22:47:03Z

With apologies to Bob Dylan, this blog post has nothing to do with a book of poems written in the thirteenth century by an Italian poet! Instead, I wanted to talk for a bit about the nasty war of words... With apologies to Bob Dylan, this blog post has nothing to do with a book of poems written in the thirteenth century by an Italian poet! Instead, I wanted to talk for a bit about the nasty war of words being waged by two Democrats in my very blue home state of Illinois. A Democratic candidate for Governor started the nastiness (and really, he’s the only one keeping this blue on blue war of words going) by accusing the current Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel, of being a racist: Democratic governor candidate Chris Kennedy on Wednesday accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of leading a “strategic gentrification plan” aimed at forcing African-Americans and other minorities out of Chicago to make the city “whiter” and wealthier. “I believe that black people are being pushed out of Chicago intentionally by a strategy that involves disinvestment in communities being implemented by the city administration, and I believe Rahm Emanuel is the head of the city administration and therefore needs to be held responsible for those outcomes,” Kennedy said during a news conference about gun violence in North Lawndale. “This is involuntary. That we’re cutting off funding for schools, cutting off funding for police, allowing people to be forced to live in food deserts, closing hospitals, closing access to mental health facilities. What choice do people have but to move, to leave?” Kennedy added. “And I think that’s part of a strategic gentrification plan being implemented by the city of Chicago to push people of color out of the city. The city is becoming smaller, and as it becomes smaller, it’s become whiter.” Not surprisingly, the Mayor denied the accusation levied against him by candidate Kennedy (Senator Robert Kennedy’s son) and most political commenters simply chalked up Kennedy’s statement as a desperate attempt to gain some poll numbers in the black community (his campaign has been lackluster so far.) Thinking that this little contretemps had blown over, it was surprising to see Kennedy double down not too long ago in another interview: I believe he's responsible," Kennedy says, listing a series of city policies that he contends have an unfair racial impact. "There are sins of commission, and sins of omission." Kennedy specifically mentioned the city's high crime rate—"80 percent of the (violent) crime is in 8 percent of the city"— as well as food deserts and pharmaceutical deserts, neighborhoods where some residents are not able to easily purchase necessities. He also railed against closed public schools in mostly minority neighborhoods, a cutback in city health clinics and a county property tax system that benefits the city treasury—and which, in his view, hits minority homeowners harder than big businesses allied with Emanuel. "No, I don't think the mayor is a racist," Kennedy replies. However, he immediately continues, referring to the above list, "Do I think all of that is true....Can anybody argue with the facts? No, I don't think they can." Now I’m the first to admit that the schadenfreude I get from watching one liberal blow-hard go after another (i.e. my mayor) is a lot of fun – but is there any truth to Kennedy’s claims? To answer Kennedy's question -- yes, there is someone who can argue with the "facts", because his "facts" are nonsense, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and like most liberals doesn’t have the first clue about what would make for a good urban policy. Go back to his first quote – he complains that the mayor is “cutting off funding for schools” and then later complains that public schools were closed “mostly in minority neighborhoods.” But dear reader can you guess why the mayor (and his hand-picked schools chief) mad[...]



Let Ancient People Speak for Themselves

2018-01-15T22:17:52Z

As I've noted before, New Testament scholarship seems to give rise to sweeping statements about "ancient people" and how vastly differently they thought about the matter of truth than do "modern people." The implication is usually that "ancient people" thought... As I've noted before, New Testament scholarship seems to give rise to sweeping statements about "ancient people" and how vastly differently they thought about the matter of truth than do "modern people." The implication is usually that "ancient people" thought nothing of an author's changing boring, literal facts, even in the case of authors of putatively historical works, because the ancients thought that "higher truth" was more important. In an earlier post I quoted several explicit statements in the New Testament that have as their prima facie meaning that the apostles and the Gospel authors were very concerned about literal truthfulness. These include 1 John 1:1-3, Acts 4:19-20, 2 Peter 1:16, and John 21:24, and John 19:35. John 19:35 is particularly striking since it refers to something specific that the speaker saw--namely, the piercing of Jesus' side with a spear and the issue of blood and water. The concept of truth in the claim that "he that saw it bare record, and his record is true" is not non-literal, theological truth but specific, empirical fact. In contrast, those who wish to downplay the importance of literal truth in the Gospels are prone to extremely strong statements like this: We must not transfer these modern concepts to ancient texts without considering their understandings of truth and myth, lies and fiction. To modern minds, 'myth' means something untrue, a 'fairy-story'; in the ancient world, myth was the medium whereby profound truth, more truly true than mere facts could ever be, was communicated. The opposite of truth is not fiction, but lies and deception; yet even history can be used to deceive, while stories can bring truth. This issue of truth and fiction in the ancient world is too complex to cover in detail here. However, the most important point to remember is that the ancients were more interested in the moral worth and philosophical value of statements than their logical status, in truth more than facts....Unfortunately, the debate between so-called 'conservatives' and 'liberals' about authenticity is often conducted in twenty-first-century terms. As one student asked me, 'Why does John keep fabricating material about Jesus despite his expressed concern for the "truth"?' However, the negative connotation of 'fabrication' is modern. Richard Burridge, Four Gospels, One Jesus? A Symbolic Reading, pp. 169-170 Michael Licona, who has been much influenced by Richard Burridge on this subject, says this about John: John often chose to sacrifice accuracy on the ground level of precise reporting, preferring to provide his readers with an accurate, higher-level view of the person and mission of Jesus. Why Are There Differences in the Gospels, p. 115 Licona goes so far as to imply that the prima facie assumption that a Gospel author was not making up an entire incident or series of incidents, such as the Doubting Thomas sequence in the Gospel of John, betrays a "nineteenth century" concept of truthfulness. I hypothesized that John invented the Doubting Thomas episode as one possibility to account for the differences between the versions of the story offered by Luke and John. However, I go on to give a reason why the solution that Luke conflated two appearances is to be preferred. But Lydia is angered that I would even consider the former option. For her, John could not have done this. Why not? Apparently, because God would not have allowed it in the process of divine inspiration. But how would she know that apart from hearing it from God Himself? And why require the Gospels to have been written using literary conventions for historical reporting that were not generally accepted until[...]



Don't murder me

2018-01-08T21:33:58Z

Dire Wolf. Original composition: mixed medium. Cella, 2017, [age 5].... (image) Dire Wolf. Original composition: mixed medium. Cella, 2017, [age 5]. His favorite Grateful Dead tune is “Dire Wolf.” My son. The poor kid, subjected by his dissolute father to Dead songs, nonetheless displays the nous to name a real classic. And then present a piece of art to memorialize it. “Dire Wolf” remains classic song, but now it is a mixed-media composition for all time. (So says the father.) Anyway, the child has some questions. When I awoke the Dire Wolf 600 pounds of sin Was grinnin’ at my window All I said was come on in Query: Why say “come on in”? Of all the things to do when a Dire Wolf is grinning at your window. This puzzle strikes the five-year-old’s mind. Gulping, the father prepares a reply: Probably because all the things of man are subject to rot and ruin. Sons of Adam invite the Dire Wolf in. “We all do?” “Yep.” The Dire Wolf collects his due While the boys stand ‘round the fire Standing around that old fire. No doubt they do. “Son, we’re standing ‘round the fire. And making representations of the Dire Wolf.”



"Six Bad Habits of NT Scholars and How to Avoid Them" on Youtube

2018-01-08T16:23:38Z

My webinar called "Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars and How to Avoid Them" is now available on Youtube. Have fun watching! Interestingly, my host for the webinar, Jonathan McLatchie, has taken some flak for giving me this forum... My webinar called "Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars and How to Avoid Them" is now available on Youtube. Have fun watching! Interestingly, my host for the webinar, Jonathan McLatchie, has taken some flak for giving me this forum to dispute the ideas of some NT scholars. He posted this comment along with the Youtube link to Facebook and has given me permission to post that comment to my blogs.
Here is the recording of Saturday's Apologetics Academy webinar featuring analytic philosopher Dr. Lydia McGrew. Her subject was "Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars (and how to avoid them)". I regret that some people seem to be rather upset that I have sided with Lydia in regards to this topic over Michael Licona, Craig Evans, et al. I have even lost Facebook friends as a result. May I emphasize that this is scholarship and there is no ill-intent towards any of the people whose views I and Lydia depart from. If you put scholarly argumentation into the public realm, then you need to learn not to take it personally when others disagree and publicly voice their dissent. I invite you to watch the webinar for yourself and make up your own mind.
Kudos to Jonathan for taking this attitude. Indeed, the attitude deserves commendation even if someone doesn't agree with me about my conclusions. Surely it's at least worth airing the arguments, as the stakes are pretty high.



Ecce Homo: Only one Jesus

2018-01-04T14:38:23Z

I've referred before to a 19th-century book on the Gospel of John by Stanley Leathes and, in particular, to a section of that book laying out similarities between Jesus as seen in John and Jesus as seen in the synoptics.... I've referred before to a 19th-century book on the Gospel of John by Stanley Leathes and, in particular, to a section of that book laying out similarities between Jesus as seen in John and Jesus as seen in the synoptics. We need a catchy name for the argument that Jesus is the same man in all four of the Gospels, with the same personality, modus operandi, and even tricks of speech, and that he can be seen to be the same man very strikingly by attending to the texts. This was an argument known to those old 18th and 19th-century guys. J. J. Blunt discusses it. (Undesigned Coincidences, pp. 287-289.) William Paley has a section on it (Evidences of Christianity, Part II, Chapter IV "Identity of Christ's Character"). And as I say, Leathes shows it as well. And C.S. Lewis repeatedly talks about the Boswellian nature of the Gospels as memoirs of Jesus and the sense that one has met a very particular and vivid Person through these accounts. I propose that this be called the Ecce Homo argument. Behold the man. When we look at Jesus in one Gospel and then in another, we see the same man, over and over again. "Critical scholarship," in its typical myopic fashion, obscures this fact by talking ad nauseum about the "Jesus of" Matthew, the "Jesus of" Luke, the "Jesus of" John, but in fact, an unprejudiced and attentive reader will come to see that there is really just one Jesus in the Gospels. Here I will give just a few examples of Ecce Homo. Some of these I noticed independently and then found later in Leathes. The first example concerns the tone of bitter irony that one finds occasionally in Jesus in both the synoptics and in John. Consider the following two very different sayings. In John, we have Jesus pointing out to the crowds that he is merely representing the Father and that all his glory comes from the fact that he is the Son. He is not, in other words, a mere man trying to gain personal aggrandizement: But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. (John 5:42-43) If one reads the verse often one might miss the harshness of the prophecy in vs. 43: "If another comes in his own name, you will receive him." It is quite plausible that Jesus is thinking here of the probability (or, when we assume genuine prophecy, certainty) of later messianic claimants. Simon bar Kokhba would be an example. In other words, Jesus realizes that the people would actually prefer a more self-aggrandizing and less doctrinal character than he himself is. It is not humility they are looking for! His statement that if another comes in his own name, they will accept that man has an undeniable edge of bitter harshness when one stops to think about it. The same tone is evident in an entirely different saying in the Gospel of Luke: At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ Luke 13:31-33 "It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem." Ouch! The quotation marks, of course, are added by later editors, and it isn't clear that Jesus was telling the Pharisees to pass on that particular statement to Herod. I myself would be inclined to close the quotes of the message to Herod after the phrase "finish my course[...]



Webinar on What's Wrong With NT Scholarship

2017-12-31T20:42:48Z

Readers of What's Wrong With the World will be interested, I presume, in a webinar on what's wrong with New Testament scholarship! And one is available for free on Epiphany, January 6, at 3 p.m. Eastern Time at this link.... Readers of What's Wrong With the World will be interested, I presume, in a webinar on what's wrong with New Testament scholarship! And one is available for free on Epiphany, January 6, at 3 p.m. Eastern Time at this link. That will take you to a Zoom Room, where you can do a very easy sign-up and join the group to listen. The title is "Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars and How to Avoid Them." Apologetics Academy webinars are often rather lengthy, with Q & A going for a while. My talk itself will probably go somewhat over an hour, followed by Q & A. I have a lot of material and am gearing the talk to those who are interested in apologetics and its intersection with evangelical New Testament scholarship. Those who have read my recent Licona series will recognize a lot of the material, but some of it may be new to you. My thanks to Jonathan McLatchie for the opportunity to give this presentation.



Christmas: The day as an icon

2017-12-30T16:41:23Z

As secularists and neo-Puritans alike delight in pointing out, there is no strong reason to believe that Jesus was born "in the cold midwinter." Those silly traditional Christians, celebrating a holy day that is nowhere commanded to be celebrated... As secularists and neo-Puritans alike delight in pointing out, there is no strong reason to believe that Jesus was born "in the cold midwinter." Those silly traditional Christians, celebrating a holy day that is nowhere commanded to be celebrated in the Bible, probably has been attached by mere human convention to the historically incorrect time of year, and wasn't even recognized by the early church until, what?, 200 to 300 years after the time of Christ. Yet, surprising as it may seem, God actually does care about human conventions. Does God care what you do with your wedding ring? Indeed, he does. For God knows that human beings, being made in his image, are by nature iconographers. We cannot help it. We habitually, irresistibly surround ourselves with symbols and images. We need symbols to remind, to prompt, and to move us. And the visible symbols make a difference to our bodies, our minds, and our souls. This, presumably, is why God, repeatedly throughout Scripture, tries to harness the human tendency to make symbols. He tells his people to do physical, temporal things for remembrance. Set up these stones. Eat this feast on this day of this month. When your children ask you, "Why do you do these things?" be ready to tell them of the great things God has done, of which these are the markers. In the New Testament, God is still at it, now bringing symbol into the realm of Sacrament: Do this in remembrance of me. And the apostles and their followers begin, almost instantly after the Day of Pentecost, to meet and break bread on the first day of the week, when the Son burst forth from the darkness of the tomb. We find no record that God explicitly revealed to the Apostles that they should begin to worship on Sunday, but they did so naturally, as a matter of course, in celebration of the resurrection. For man is a creature of the body and of the rhythms of the body, the seasons, and the years. And the God who made the body knows that we need to be reminded, reminded, reminded, in the cycles of the year, like the beats of the heart. If we do not remember Christ's birth on some one day, we will not remember it on any day. Conscious remembrance and thanksgiving, for a time-bound creature, are activities that must occur at a particular place and time. Would it be nice to know on what day, or at least in what time of the year, Our Lord was born and to connect our festival with those known seasonal facts, as we do with Easter? Certainly. To someone as historically and evidentially minded as I, it would be very nice. It would be highly satisfying to have the kind of solid historical evidence for the season of Christ's birth that we have for the Passover season of his death and resurrection. But even though we don't have that knowledge, it does not follow that what the Gospels tell about the circumstances of Jesus' birth is a tissue of pious embellishment. Far from it. St. Luke's reference to the census is perhaps the most famous, and contentious, historical tie-down, but whatever final conclusion you come to concerning the nature of the census and the meaning of Luke's terminology, there is no question that Luke himself intended it to be a literal, historical explanation of the presence of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. Luke's love of such specificity is one of his most salient qualities. Compare chapter 3:1-2; the convergence of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod and Lysanias, and Annas and Caiaphas has been independently confirmed. And buried in the midst of Matthew's account of the flight [...]



Licona wrap-up

2018-02-18T21:05:24Z

This post will wrap up my current series on Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? by Michael Licona. Note: Please scroll down to the second half of this post for a complete, hyperlinked list of the articles in this... This post will wrap up my current series on Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? by Michael Licona. Note: Please scroll down to the second half of this post for a complete, hyperlinked list of the articles in this 2017 series with a short synopsis of each. There will doubtless be other posts in which I discuss Licona's work, and there are also posts from 2016 in which I discussed his on-line lectures. For those interested in these topics, both the New Testament tag and the Licona tag are relevant and contain posts from 2016 and 2017. The New Testament and Licona tags at my personal blog have some non-overlapping material, and sometimes stub posts from W4 refer to longer posts at Extra Thoughts (the personal blog) and vice versa. I'll begin this wrap-up by discussing a portion of an e-interview from this past summer that Bible Gateway did with Dr. Licona. In the e-interview, Licona has this to say about harmonization and the Gospels: By harmonization efforts, I mean the common practice of laying the parallel Gospel accounts on top of one another, similar to transparencies on an overhead projector. The objective of such efforts is to demonstrate that all of the details—even those appearing to be in conflict—actually fit together without much, if any, tension. Unfortunately, these efforts sometimes lead to subjecting the Gospels to a sort of hermeneutical waterboarding until they tell the exegete what he or she wants to hear. [snip] Most evangelicals are willing to acknowledge that the Gospel authors used some compositional devices. For example, most agree that Matthew has compressed the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree and narrates it as though the fig tree withered and died the moment Jesus cursed it, whereas Mark narrates the story as though the withering probably took a little more time. But they usually only acknowledge the use of a compositional device when harmonization appears almost impossible. Where I differ is, I place a priority on genre over harmonization. So, before seeking to harmonize Gospel texts, one should read the Gospels in view of their biographical genre, which includes their authors’ use of the various compositional devices commonly used when writing history and biography. Both of us see harmonization and compositional devices as solutions. Where we differ is which of these should be given priority. (emphasis added) Notice that by "giving priority" to the use of "compositional devices" in these paragraphs, Licona must mean what I have called fictionalizing compositional devices, because otherwise harmonization wouldn't even be in the picture; it would not be seen as the alternative to such "devices." Harmonization involves, as Licona himself states, arguing that the accounts, including their details, actually do fit together. In other words, it involves trying to show that the accounts are not in conflict and therefore can both/all be literally true. Licona is contrasting the use of "genre" and "compositional devices" with harmonization, so he must be talking about those "compositional devices" that are not merely part of the ordinary arsenal of harmonization in which one concludes that both accounts are literally true in a perfectly ordinary sense. This means that the so-called "compositional device" of "spotlighting" is irrelevant to this idea of "prioritizing genre over harmonization," because it is, and always has been, an instance of harmonization, not a competitor to harmonization. All older harmonizers, who didn't get the idea from Plutarch, would[...]



Undesigned coincidence: A sword shall pierce through thine own soul also

2017-12-05T19:58:37Z

As we have discussed several times in threads here at W4, the infancy narratives in Luke and Matthew come in for a lot of unnecessary doubt from New Testament scholars. Michael Licona has even suggested that whatever is not overlapping... As we have discussed several times in threads here at W4, the infancy narratives in Luke and Matthew come in for a lot of unnecessary doubt from New Testament scholars. Michael Licona has even suggested that whatever is not overlapping in Luke and Matthew might be a "midrash" (aka made up), an embellishment on the far more minimal facts that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of a virgin named Mary espoused to Joseph. The many other facts reported in both Gospels may have been added, he suggests, to "create a more interesting narrative." At the same time, the Gospel of John is also treated as some kind of a "problem child" for the historicity of the Gospels, because Jesus allegedly "sounds so different" in John and in the synoptic Gospels. But the difference between the presentation of Jesus in John and in the synoptic Gospels is overestimated by critical scholars. Recently, Esteemed Husband was reading some passages to me from one of those neglected old books: Stanley Leathes, The Witness of St. John to Christ (1870). There are about twenty pages in this book (pp. 300ff) showing parallels between Jesus' manner, his methods, his ways of speaking, his personality, etc., in John and in the synoptic Gospels. It should be required reading for all seminarians, apologetics students, and others interested in New Testament studies. Some of the things Leathes mentions are also discussed in a useful blog post by NT scholar Rob Bowman, here, but Leathes has much more. Leathes does not refer to what I'm going to discuss here as an undesigned coincidence, but it comes up in one of his parallels between John and the synoptic Gospels. It thus serves as a twofer, providing evidence against the idea that Luke made up the unique portion of his infancy narrative as mere imaginative embellishment and against the idea that John used "creative artistry" concerning Jesus' crucifixion. Jesus' presentation in the Temple is unique to Luke. It contains the prophecies uttered by Simeon and the praise of Anna. Simeon and Anna are two elderly people who have been waiting for years in the Temple precincts in the hopes of seeing the Messiah. They both believe that the infant Jesus is the fulfillment of their hopes. Simeon utters the nunc dimittis, which is now a standard part of the liturgy: Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. Luke 2:29-32 Simeon turns to Mary, Jesus' mother, and utters the following prophecy: Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:34-35) Iconography and hymnody (e.g., the Stabat Mater) have memorialized this prophecy and have connected it, quite understandably, with Mary's presence at the foot of the cross. It is, in fact, the only intimation of suffering anywhere in Luke's infancy narrative. As I pointed out here, the angel Gabriel's glorious prophecies at the annunciation that the child will reign on the throne of David argue for the faithful reproduction in Luke of authentic information concerning the Annunciation. For if the story were embellished, one would expect the prophecy of the angel to be more muted in the light of hindsight--less Jewish, in fact. As it stands, i[...]



Will Ken Miller be home for Christmas?

2017-12-02T16:06:38Z

I haven't posted an update here recently about Ken Miller. Here is the tag for my posts about this case. Those who've followed it will recall that Pastor Ken Miller is the only one so far who has served a... I haven't posted an update here recently about Ken Miller. Here is the tag for my posts about this case. Those who've followed it will recall that Pastor Ken Miller is the only one so far who has served a lengthy prison sentence in the U.S., though Timo Miller (no relation) languished in a Nicaraguan dungeon (literally) for over a month when the U.S. insisted on extraditing him and the Nicaraguans, for some unknown reason, cooperated. Thus far, Timo Miller has been sentenced to time served, and Philip Zodhiates was convicted but has his case on appeal. Pastor Ken Miller has been in federal prison for "kidnaping" for nearly two years. He is, I say in all seriousness, America's political prisoner. God's hand has been upon Ken and (I suspect) angels have watched over him, and he seems to have been physically protected in prison. He truly embodies the biblical injunction to be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, in a wicked and perverse generation. He shines as a light in the world. He has even had a ministry to other prisoners. But he was hoping to go home for Christmas this year. His sentence is officially up in March, and the hope was that he could go to house arrest for the last three months of that sentence. That is now in question, due to budget cuts to the halfway house program through which he was going to be processed. I actually think that is the reason (the bureaucratic budget cut) rather than some sort of active malice against him. (Where we have to worry about active malice against him kicking back in is the lurking civil case launched by the vengeful Janet Jenkins, intended to beggar permanently everyone who helped Lisa Miller and her little girl escape. That seems for some reason not to be progressing, and we can pray that it will not do so and that Ken will be able to put his life back together after getting out of prison.) Ken and his supporters have a second program in mind through which possibly he could be processed to house arrest and be home by Christmas. Let's at least pray that that will be possible. Apparently it is up to "local and regional case managers and the U.S. probation office." And don't forget to pray for the safety of Lisa and Isabella (now, I've read, going by the name of Lydia) in hiding in South America. There must be many dangers that beset them. It's not exactly a safe place. The very conditions that made it possible for them to disappear and thus flee the malice of the American Enforcers of Tolerance who would have given Isabella over to Jenkins in full custody also create dangers of their own. Isabella/Lydia must now be in her early teens. We may never hear the rest of the story, but God knows where they are, and we should pray for his protection on them.



Laying Bare the Thought Behind the Defense

2017-11-30T15:43:28Z

Most people paying attention to the Catholic world talking about the Pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (AL) have heard that a document was published recently billing itself as a “correction”: the Correctio Filialis (CF), on which I commented earlier. This... Most people paying attention to the Catholic world talking about the Pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (AL) have heard that a document was published recently billing itself as a “correction”: the Correctio Filialis (CF), on which I commented earlier. This was put out by a number of lay persons, mostly theology types, and some priests. The list of signers has grown, at last count it was at over 200. I would not like to get into the thick of all the complex points made in the Correctio, I want to charge in a different direction. Francis clearly had a ghost-writer helping him with AL, (which is standard, all popes get assistance in writing their major docs), a priest he elevated, Archbishop Victor Fernandez. Fernandez has now issued a defense of AL, here, that in my opinion has the clearest and most distinctly problematic statement of the thought behind AL – or, of the thought behind erroneous ways of interpreting it. By coming from Fernandez, who both holds Francis’s ear and helped write the document, it confirms that those who found the ambiguous passages of AL troubling were not just making it up: the passages were written in such a way because they can be used to support an underlying position that is wrong. Here is the critical part of the text, at length [with my emphasis in bold, Fernandez’s in italics.]: Amoris Laetitia brings back a teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas [it does not, Fernandez is proof-texting in the way I indicated in my first post. TM] on the application of the general principles: "The more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter uncertainty" (AL 304). Francis does not affirm that general moral laws cannot provide for all situations, nor that they are incapable of impeding the decision of conscience. On the contrary, he says that "[they] set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected." However, "in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations" (AL 304). It is the formulation of the norm that cannot provide for everything, not the norm itself. And this applies not only to positive laws, but even to our way of formulating the natural law in its various expressions. In this line, the International Theological Commission, within the Pontificate of Benedict XVI, stated: "Natural law could not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making a decision" (International Theological Committee, “In Search of a Universal Ethic: A New Look at Natural Law,” Rome, 2009, 59.). The absolute norm in itself does not admit exceptions, but that does not imply that its succinct formulation must be applied in every sense and without nuances in all situations. "Thou shalt not kill" does not admit exceptions. However, it raises this question: should taking life in self-defense be included within the term "killing" prohibited by the norm? Should taking food from others to feed a hungry child be included within the term "stealing" prohibited by the norm? No one would doubt that it is legitimate to ask whether these concrete cases are actually included within the narrow formulations of the negative precepts "Thou shalt not kill" or "Thou shalt not steal." For this reason, it is also licit to ask if the acts[...]