Archive for the ‘Apologetics’ Category

Apocrypha – 4 Maccabees

March 25, 2020

This is the last of the apocryphal writings, at least so far as they are put together in The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition with Notes.

This final entry seems one of the most easiest to dismiss as non-canonical.  The primary theme in this writing is the supremacy of reason over emotions, a thought prevalent in Greek philosophy.  It may have been authored as late as the first century AD but it is difficult to determine.  The author utilizes both Biblical stories as well as extra-biblical historical events to demonstrate how reason rules over the emotions rather than the reverse.

He draws on King David as well as inter-testamental events, most particularly the martyrdom of Eleazar and seven brothers who were martyred under Antiochus Epiphanes as part of his effort to force the Jews first into apostasy and eventually into full Hellenization.  4 Maccabees expands upon the account in 2 Maccabees 7 about these seven brothers, providing quite gory details about each one of the seven, and providing them with lengthy admonitions as they were brought forward for torture and execution, proclaiming eloquently how it was better to die faithfully than to live a lie.  4 Maccabees ends with the final words of the mother to her children.  The author seems to lose his original focus, so caught up is he in the graphic depictions of torture and death he has provided.

Reason as an attribute or quality in and of itself is not a dominant theme in Scripture, unlike wisdom.   I see reason as such subsumed into the larger and far more Biblical category of Wisdom.  For wisdom recognizes and sets the boundaries on what we can reasonably deduce or ascertain, recognizing first and foremost that even our reason is no longer trustworthy since the Fall.

I’m glad I took the time to finally read these works.  They aren’t writings I’m going to spend further time and effort except as necessary for clarification or to answer specific questions.  But it’s good to have a general idea of what they say and to recognize how they differ rather markedly, usually, from canonical Biblical writings.

 

Apocrypha – 3 Maccabees (Ptolemaika)

March 25, 2020

Likely authored towards the  end of the third century BC or early second century BC by an Egyptian Jew, 3 Maccabees deals primarily with the efforts of Ptolemy IV to overthrow the Jewish people and God’s defense of his people.  Thus the traditional title is confusing because it deals with events which occurred well  before the rise of the Maccabees. The more ancient title of Ptolemaika makes more sense since the main character described is Ptolemy IV Philopator.  Because it does not appear to have been authored in Hebrew or by a recognized prophet it has remained outside the Biblical canon despite the Roman Catholic decision to include it based on the Apostolic Canons.  These  were believed to have apostolic authority although that is no longer believed to be the case by many scholars.

The book begins in mid-thought, as though it were originally part of a larger work or the introduction to this work has been lost.  The historical events in the broad sense are true and accurate though this writing attributes divine and angelic elements to those events which sound as though they are exaggeration or embellishment, though of course it is possible they are true as well.

Again, this seems an unreliable text even as it deals with actual events.

Apocrypha – 2 Esdras

March 24, 2020

Another apocryphal writing claiming authorship by the Old Testament figure Ezra.  This, like 1 Esdras, contains historical errors which make this almost impossible, such as claiming (in 1:40) the advent of the Biblical prophet Malachi (who dates to roughly 430 BC) even though the book claims to be written by Ezra in the neighborhood of 574 BC.  The Jewish people did not view this book as canonical, and I think we are right to treat it similarly.  Many scholars argue this book was likely written in the late first century AD, after the destruction of the Jewish Temple by the Romans.  If this is the case, the author is projecting back to the first destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in light of the second destruction by the Romans.

The book itself is primarily a recounting of a series of visions and angelic visitations attributed to Ezra.  As such, the genre of the book is most accurately apocalyptic, having to do with end times and seeking in large measure to answer the question of why so many people apparently will not be saved.  It affirms the bodily resurrection of the dead (1:23, 31) and also seems to refer to the Messiah (2:41).

An angel by the name of Uriel is the primary messenger to Ezra, providing him with a series of seven visions designed to grant Ezra comfort and a modicum of understanding as to how and why God does things they way he does.  Those who reject God are condemned and those who suffer as God’s people are encouraged to maintain strength and hope as their trust will be vindicated.

Apocrypha – 1 Esdras

March 23, 2020

With this entry in my Apocrypha posting series, we move from those books associated with Western Christianity to apocryphal writings more prevalent in other Christian  traditions and Judaism.  Again, these are generally not accepted as canonical – on the same level as the books of the Old and New Testaments, but various groups at various times have either included them alongside the canonical Scriptures or even included them with them.

1 Esdras purports to be written either by the Old Testament prophet Ezra or a near-contemporary of his, providing specific details about Ezra’s work in rebuilding Jerusalem and the Temple in the late 6th and early 5th centuries.  It draws heavily on Old Testament passages from 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah.  However it also has several direct contradictions of Biblical passages in Haggai and Esther.  The author undoubtedly did not intend harm in their retelling and reworking of the Biblical accounts, but we should treat it as such, rather than a work inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The book details the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple.  It begins briefly with the timeframe directly before the fall of Jerusalem and then leaps to the time of Cyrus the Persian and the decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild.  As with other apocryphal writings it expands greatly on the Biblical material, purporting to record specific prayers and exchanges between Biblical and extra-biblical figures.  One such example is an extended section detailing a competition between three bodyguards of King Darius of the Persians, with each describing what they think the strongest thing in the world is.  One claims wine, another the king, and the third women.  The latter position, voiced by Zerubbabel (who cheats and also includes truth as the alternate, strongest thing) is judged the winner.

The work concludes with Ezra’s reading of the Law to God’s people.  Again, an interesting book to some degree but certainly not as reliable as the Old Testament canon.

ANF – Justin’s Hortatory Address to the Greeks

March 18, 2020

This brief apologetic was authored by Justin Martyr in the second century.  It is – along with The Discourse to the Greeks – disputed by some scholars as to whether Justin actually is the author or not.  But barring any conclusive evidence I’ll treat it as likely his.

This is a much more thorough treatment of whether or not the Greeks should continue to believe in their deities or the Christian God.  He does this by dealing directly with not just the Greek myths in general but their particular proponents and adherents – well respected poets and philosophers.  Homer and Hesiod are dealt with as Greek poets claiming to describe divine truths.  The picture they paint of the Greek gods is one less of divine power and authority and more of very human frailties and divisions.

Thales of Miletus is referenced as the start of the great Greek philosophical traditions.  Justin demonstrates the disagreements between great Greek philosophers over the fundamentals of existence and nature, proceeding eventually to Plato and Aristotle whom Justin deals with at more length, demonstrating the lack of agreement between them over the most elemental of issues.  Justin’s major point is there is no unanimity and therefore no authority in the Greek traditions to which the Greeks can reliably adhere.  The Greek deities are hardly gods of any proper or helpful sort, and natural philosophers can’t agree on the nature of reality either in the realm of ideals or the realm of matter.

Justin then goes on to elaborate on the antiquity of the Bible compared to the relatively new ideas of Greek poets and philosophers.  He refers to various Greek ancient Greek writers already familiar to some degree with the writings of the Old Testament and specifically Moses.

One of the most fascinating sections of this writing is in Chapter XIII, where Justin relates the history of the Septuagint – the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek.

Justin moves on to quote Greek oracles and prophets and eventually philosophers (including Plato and Aristotle) that side with the monotheistic principles of Scripture as opposed to the polytheistic stage of Greek deities.

It’s an impressive treatise, utilizing the respected writers of the Greeks themselves to show the religious ideas and assumptions of the Greeks are fundamentally flawed and baseless, and then offering the much older testimony of Scripture, many of the concepts of which were later reinforced by the Greeks’ own writers.

ANF – Justin on the Sole Government of God

March 17, 2020

Another disputed writing of Justin Martyr in the second century, but one certainly in keeping with the other disputed works I’ve already reviewed.

This treatise is aimed at directing his Greek readers and hearers to monotheism utilizing the sayings and teachings of Greek writers.  He calls on Aeschylus, Orpheus, Pythagoras, Sophocles, Euripides, Menander and others, citing them directly as they make statements pertaining to the singular nature of God.

Justin’s point is that Greek polytheism is antithetical to Greek writers themselves.  He is not dealing with Trinitarian issues nor should this treatise be intepreted somehow as an argument against Trinitarianism.  There is a fundamental difference between worshiping multiple, separate and unique deities (polytheism) and worshiping one single God (Deuteronomy 6:4) who is comprised of three distinct aspects or persons bound together in divine unity (John 10:30).

Once again Justin does and admirable job of apologetics by marshaling the respected voices of Greek culture in defense of Biblical monotheism.  He does not spend much time pushing for the Biblical identity of this singular god, content more with pointing out that Christian monotheism should in no way be rejected as baseless when the Greeks themselves revere writers of their own who reached the same conclusions.

ANF – The Discourse to the Greeks

March 13, 2020

I’ve been bogged down for months now trying to slog my way through Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho.  More accurately, I’ve been avoiding slogging my way through it.  At last I’ve convinced myself to skip over and come back to it, as it’s really a small book in it’s own right.  As such, I moved on to far briefer work of Justin’s, The Discourse to the Greeks.

This is an extremely short work wherein Justin argues that Christians should not be criticized for holding their beliefs because, compared to Greek mythology, the Christian God is far more noble and non-contradictory.  This is a theme he will take up again at more length in Justin’s Hortatory Address to the Greeks, which will be reviewed next.  Here he doesn’t bother to quote Greek poets or prophets but simply points to well known Greek myths – which are supposedly held by the Greeks to all be true – and recounts the abominable traits and behaviors of the gods/goddesses, boiling down in most cases to a complete lack of self-restraint.  Far from being the rulers of all things, the Greek deities are rather completely ruled by their emotions, acting unpredictably, capriciously, viciously and dishonestly.  He also criticizes the female Greek goddesses for acting too masculine and the male Greek gods for acting too effeminate at times.

He briefly contrasts the Christian faith and the Biblical writings, which are both instruction in and (in Christ) demonstration of perfect mastery of one’s passions and desires soas to live a holy life.  Rather than inflaming or justifying our base emotions and impulses, Scripture rightly identifies the wrong indulging of these things as harmful and sinful, something in line with Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, who nonetheless, in order to avoid the fate of Socrates were careful to pay lip service to the deities who were flagrant contradictions of the values they sought to elucidate and instill.

This apologetic can still be useful today.

Book Review, Sort Of

October 7, 2019

The next of my gleanings from a pile of Roman Catholic texts is a typical college reader-style text, a collection of translated primary source materials.  The book is called A Scholastic Miscellany: Anselm to Ockham and is part of a larger series from the late 60’s to early 70’s.  It purports to be a good introduction to the scholastic theologians of the Middle Ages (1100-1400), with the exception of Thomas Aquinas who gets his own volume.

I just finished reading Saint Anselm of Canterbury’s most famous work, Proslogion.  A passable translation can be read for free here.  It is here Anselm formulates his proof for the existence of God as a being than which no greater can be conceived.  This is also referred to as the ontological proof for the existence of God, and it arose out of Anselm’s desire for a single, simple proof of God’s existence that was not in itself reliant on any other argument.  It’s been some years since I read Proslogion, and the simplicity of the argument is sometimes seen as a reason to dismiss it.  While Anselm offers his definition in chapter 2 of this work, he goes on for another score or so of chapters, applying this definition to other aspects of the nature of God and to resolve apparent contradictions in the nature of God (mercy & justice, for example).

Of course Anselm’s argument has been controversial from the beginning, eliciting contention even from his contemporaries, notably Gaunilo of Marmoutiers, but continuing throughout Western philosophical history.  Anselm refutes Gaunilo’s criticism (the next selection in this book), but others have felt it necessary to address Anselm’s basic premise.

Good, short, but very thought provoking!

In the Beginning

September 11, 2019

My denominational polity held it’s triennial national convention this past summer.  I studiously avoid these sorts of affairs, preferring to allow others more inclined and perhaps of a better temperament to go and represent our local congregations.  We had a brief report at one of our monthly pastor meetings from the guy who went on our behalf, and there wasn’t much to report.  At least, I don’t recall him mentioning this – our denomination has once again (first in 1932) affirmed the Genesis account of creation in Chapters 1 & 2 to mean a literal six-day creation process utilizing six 24-hour days.  This was based on Scripture’s use of evening and morning to indicate a single day.

To begin with, I lament the difficulty of even finding the full text of  resolution 5-09A.  The LC-MS web site has a variety of links, but none I’ve been able to find states the full text of the resolution.  This page describes the intent of the resolution, which is helpful. This page gives a sense of everything that happens on a day of convention, which is overwhelming but not what I’d hoped for.    Maybe somebody better informed (or with more time on their hands) can find the specific wording for me?

 

***** Edit – thanks to Doug for providing this link.  The precise wording was broadcast on Twitter during the convention, and final documentation is still pending from our Synod. *****

There was, of course, debate.

Opponents criticized the resolution for being somewhat vague, centering on the use of the word natural as an adjective for days – six of them to be precise.  If the sun (and moon) wasn’t created until the fourth day, how can we speak of 24-hour days with any certainty or preciseness?  This critique has been voiced by others critical of the LC-MS position.

I find this hostility to the resolution and the theology behind it problematic.  Yes, the sun and moon were created on the fourth day.  Does that mean that God’s use of the word day throughout the six-day creation account is incorrect?  Did He misspeak?  Did He decide it was far too complicated for Moses in 1500 BC to understand anything differently so He just said days?  Would that mean God didn’t take into account our current scientific climate and assertions about the origins of everything that directly contradict Scripture on this particular point?  Was God incapable of maintaining a consistent 24-hour cycle without the sun and moon in place yet?

I find Mike  the Geologist’s certainty to be rather fascinating.  How is  it that you “know better”?  Are you that positive that a six-day creation is “nonsense”?  You presume that current understandings or theories of human origins  are superior/more accurate/more trustworthy than the Biblical account.  Would you then argue that the resurrection is not real because everybody knows better than that now?  Is it not possible that evolutionary explanations for the universe and our planet might be flawed –  unintentionally – and subject to correction down the line?  Is there a place for that sort of humility, or should we immediately jump to mocking those who prefer to take  God’s Word in this respect just as they take God’s Word for their forgiveness and hope of life eternally in Christ?

I understand this is complicated – and awkward – discussion.  And I agree, this is not necessarily the difference between heaven and hell in and of itself.  But if you suspect God wasn’t fully accurate or truthful with us in one regard, it’s not a big leap to think He wasn’t in other regards.  Or in no regards, because He isn’t really there.

 

Honesty

September 6, 2019

I like honesty.

I say that fully admitting that I am incapable of it.  That in the entire history of the human race there have only been three people perfectly capable of it and two of them threw that ability away pretty much right out of the starting gate.  None of the rest of us can be perfectly, absolutely honest all of the time.  But we can try, and trying makes all the difference sometimes.

And for me the hallmark of honesty is the willingness, the humility to admit that you might be wrong.  That you might be deceived yourself or trying to deceive others.  If there is that humility there is room for discussion.  Room to really hear other people and really be heard by others.  If there isn’t that humility, there is no discussion and ultimately there can’t be growth.

I like intellectual honesty, grappling with reality as we know it and experience it and trying to make sense of it.  I’m reading Justin Martyr’s First Apology, and I love his willingness to tackle the prejudices and ideas of his day head on with the assumption that truth can be found and honesty will lead to that truth.  He wasn’t afraid to present a demand for honesty to the Roman Emperor himself and all those who claimed or desired to be purveyors of intellectual honesty.  Justin was convinced that Christianity and the Bible could fare well in that sort of encounter.

But we have to recognize that in these confrontations Christianity is a threat to other people.  It threatens what they know or believe, or what they prefer to know or believe.  It threatens these things by insisting that there is an objective truth and reality that can be known and that knowing is life-changing.  Not simply an intellectual assent to a propositional statement but something that penetrates to the very heart and spirit of us to transform us.  To bring life from death.  So it’s a threat.

This morning I met with a young man in an addiction recovery program.  We’ve been meeting for three weeks  or so now, each week, as part of the program’s option to provide clients with a spiritual mentor.  While I don’t like the title, I’m willing to spend time with guys who want to search out the spiritual aspect of their recovery and lives further.  More honestly.

After several weeks of running around in philosophical circles about what can or can’t be known, as he was preparing to get out of my car today he said I think I want Christianity to be untrue, or I want to convince myself it isn’t a reasonable option because it would challenge my identity, and I don’t know what I’ll have to give up if I accept it as true.

Honesty.

A recognition that  the call to follow Christ is a call to self-denial.  A call to transformation.  A call to allow God to use us as He chooses rather than as we prefer.  A call to fully acknowledge the depth of our depravity and brokenness, that we might better praise and exalt the God who delivers us up and out of these things.

The Gospel reading for Sunday is Luke 14:25-35.

Jesus clearly does not understand our influencer social media culture.  Here he is with thousands of people following him and hanging on his every word.  Imagine how rich he could have become with a few well-placed product placements!  But instead, Jesus’ response is to turn around and challenge those people.  Do you really want to follow me?  Because following me is going to cost you everything.  Are you willing to give it all up?  Are you willing – more accurately – to live as though it isn’t yours in the first place? 

I think many Christians think this sacrifice comes when they enter the faith, which for many means as an infant.  I think many Christians presume there won’t be any further sacrifices demanded of them.  That they are entitled to live the rest of their lives more or less like the larger culture.

But Jesus’ words directly contradict this.  Because if we’re going to be honest about who we are as fallen and sinful creatures, we have to embrace a humility, a recognition that we might be wrong on any given matter and therefore open to being guided.  Open to growth and learning.  Conviction is fine – I’m convinced of the truth of the Bible and the real identity of Jesus of Nazareth as the incarnate Son of God who defeated the powers of sin, death, and Satan on my behalf through his death and resurrection.  Being humble and listening doesn’t mean everything is up for grabs.  But it should mean I’m listening.  That I’m willing to engage in the discussion like Justin Martyr or Josh this morning.  And that I’m understanding that this may lead to changes in me personal.  How I like to think of myself.  The things I enjoy.  Even some of my convictions.

It may, in fact, lead not to the general approval of the people around me but to my death.  Don’t think Jesus’ use of the cross is metaphorical or symbolic.  His hearers knew all too well what the cross meant, as did Jesus.  And we are called to that level of humility, if necessary.  To being branded a criminal when we are not, as Justin Martyr insisted.  On being convicted by an unfair double-standard, as Justin pointed out.  To suffering and dying in acceptance not of the truth as stated by our world, but as defined by God, as Justin ultimately was willing to do.

Sometimes I think Christians are more willing to embrace and affirm the idea of martyrdom rather than be open to the possibility of the Holy Spirit changing their opinions about things here and now, in the safety of their own routines and lives.  Then again, theoretical martyrdom is far more romantic and exotic than the unpleasant business of dealing with other people.

I pray for honesty.  For the blinders to be revealed and removed whenever and wherever necessary from my eyes.  I pray that knowing full well it might be highly uncomfortable.  And so when I pray for that kind of honesty and engagement for and from others, it hopefully isn’t under the assumption that I’ll get what I want that way.  But Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. (Ephesians 4:15)