18
Mar
10

Critical Edition of the Koran

This link goes to a site that announces the publication of a critical edition of the Koran.   A critical edition of a work is an edition that gathers all the significant textual variants so that a reader can easily see how the text has been changed.

Critical editions of Hebrew and Christian scripture are commonplace.  This, however, will be the first critical edition of the Koran ever made.  Called the Corpus Corianicum, it brings together the known changes made in the first six hundred years of the Koran.  Since many Muslims hold that the current text of the Koran is identical with a text found in heaven, this news of variant readings will cause some issues, so to speak.

I had known that this was coming, but not the state of the effort.  I understand that they’re working on Suras 19 and 20 and that the whole project will probably take another decade and a half to complete.  I wish them luck and, more importantly, safety in their efforts.

31
Jan
10

Train Yourself In Godliness

My assignment this morning is to talk about developing talents.  I have chosen to extend my use of the word “talents” to include the virtues, so that I can talk about developing what the New Testament calls godliness.  To begin with, I should like to call your attention to First Timothy, chapter four, verses seven, eight, and nine:

Train yourself in godliness, 8 for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.  9 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance.

Godliness is probably a central theme within the Pastoral Epistles, where it occurs six more times in First Timothy, then once each in Second Timothy and Titus.  Elsewhere in the New Testament, it occurs once in Acts and four times in Second Peter.

Let us begin with the last sentence, which tells us that Paul’s advice on godliness is “sure and worthy of full acceptance.”[1] First, this affirmation occurs only three times in First Timothy, each time associated with a major element of Paul’s advice.  Second, it marks what Paul says as important.  In its own context it carries the same weight as do the “verily, verily” sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John.  Third, it places what Paul says in opposition to the old wives tales and profane myths taught by the false teachers that Paul has earlier warned Timothy against.  Timothy and the rest of the faithful within his congregation can rely without hesitation on Paul’s advice to train in godliness, and perhaps we can, as well.

What, then, is godliness?  Here we come to a major challenge in our attempt to benefit from Paul’s sure and worthy advice, for virtues in general tend to be dependent on their historical and cultural context.  Godliness is no exception to this rule.  In many modern translation of the New Testament the Greek word behind godliness is translated as piety.  Modern definitions of piety suggest that we understand piety as a reverence for God and religious obligations.   In the Hellenistic world, however, godliness was a much more profound virtue.

Continue reading ‘Train Yourself In Godliness’

27
Jan
10

War in Heaven Again

Since I earlier wrote on LDS ideas about the war in heaven as that pertains to Revelation 12, I should probably point out the other common proof text, Isaiah 14.

Use of Is 14:12-15  to support Christian ideas about Satan’s displacement from heaven before the creation of the earth are far older than the modern prophets.  Most famously, I think, it is a central element in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Milton’s epic opens with Satan and his angels pancaked onto the rock-hard surface of  the burning lake in hell.  Like any good epic, however, PL starts in medias res so five more books pass before the reader gets to the Paul Harvey moment and finds out The Rest of the Story.

I actually quite like Milton’s version — it’s a bit of fun in an otherwise serious narrative.  After Satan rebels and moves his forces north, one angel, Abdiel, stands against him.  Once this little scene is finished the battle commences in earnest. At first the obedient angels are so successful that even Satan is wounded by Micheal’s sword, at which point “nectarous humors” flow from his side.  That night, Satan and his henchmen invent the cannon and make a couple of batteries, which they also conceal from their newly awakened foes until the last minute and correctly employ en masse for maximum effect.  Their attack throws their immortal enemies off their feet but cannot kill them because there is no such thing as a mortal wound for angels — only total annihilation works.

That Satan is one devious dude!

In retaliation, Micheal’s forces uproot mountains and hurl them at their foes.  At this point God intervenes, perhaps because his infinite foreknowledge knows that the landscape repair costs are going to get out of hand, and sends the Son in to deal with the situation.  For Satan, et. al., the next stop comes after nine days of falling when they go Splat! in Hell.

Very fun, no?

Anyway, Isaiah’s version is nowhere near as exciting because it lacks all those militaristic details and is, moreover, too serious for words:

Isaiah 14:12-15   12 How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!  13 You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit on the mount of assembly on the heights of Zaphon;  14 I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.”  15 But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit.

Now clearly this is mythological writing at its finest.  Moreover, whatever it’s earliest provenance, at this point it is clearly intended as a taunt song against the king of Babylon:

Isaiah 14:3-4  3 When the LORD has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve,  4 you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: How the oppressor has ceased! How his insolence has ceased…

Now to be clear, I have no problems with using this as a proof text for Satan’s experience of the war in heaven.  The only thing I’d like to see is a clear presentation of what is being done when we so use it, and why.  I bring this up because with the new semester I’ve got new students and as usual they are astounded at what their scriptures do or don’t say when it comes to stuff like this.

Most have no real problem once they get a chance to deal with the fact that the teachers they trusted didn’t tell them quite all truth, but there are some for whom it is quite a shock.  And it ought not to be so.  We really ought to be more forthright about how we use scripture, and our diligence in doing so ought to increase as our interpretive methods depart from a more literal and historical-critical approach.  Just so everybody knows…

25
Jan
10

Genesis 1

Taught Gospel Doctrine today.  I had intended to do something fancy but the good ideas weren’t there.  So we just read together.  Although the lesson specified Moses 2-3, I opted to read from Genesis 1 for two reasons.  First, once you have a handle on Genesis 1 it is both easy and enlightening to compare it with Moses 2.  Second, it makes sense to work with the Bible as much as possible since that’s what many will have in common with their neighbors and friends.  So off to Genesis 1…

Introduction:

1:1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,  2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

Most modern translations eschew the AV’s “in the beginning” in favor a reading that takes explicit notice of the opening verbs to yield a sentence that runs something like, “when God began to create the heavens and the earth.”  This sometimes prompts people to ask what God was doing before he began his creative enterprise.  Martin Luther had, I think, the appropriate answer when he said, “creating a hell for those who ask that question.”  That got a bit of a laugh.

Now it’s important to note that the word translated as create is used by our Hebrew writers only for the activities of God.  This lexical discipline makes it clear that whatever God was doing, it was qualitatively different from the sorts of things humans involve themselves in.

Now there’s darkness on the face of the deep before God begins to work.  By the time of Second Isaiah, however, God’s role had been expanded to include creating darkness as well:

Isaiah 45:7   7 I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the LORD do all these things.

I personally like the idea that God created darkness.  It reinforces the idea that all of reality, even the apparently less pleasant parts, are imbued with God’s goodness.  But there’s something good about darkness, as well.  It’s one of two times when we’re not required to be productive.  The other “rest” is, of course, the Sabbath.

Finally, there’s the “wind from God” or, as the AV puts it, “the Spirit of God.”  The Hebrew word here can be translated three ways according to context: spirit, wind, or breath.  Translators who opt for the idea of the Spirit sweeping across the waters are also usually fans of reading a triune God back onto the Hebrew Bible.  Modern translations tend to select “wind.”  In either case, the import is the same.  Wind or Spirit, God is the source and this first notice of motion presages the changes that are to follow.

Day 1:

3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.  4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.  5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Here we find the first of three modalities of creation: divine fiat.  God speaks and it happens.  Here also is the first notice that God finds the results of his work “good.”  I’ve often wondered exactly what that meant, that is, does it refer to beauty, functionality, morality, or what.  Probably all of the above, but I’m not sure.

In v.4 we find the second mode of creation: separation.  The universe started out formless and void so creation moves toward life-sustaining organization pervaded with generational potential to fill it.  The last element of the creative act is naming.  It may be that some of Genesis’s earlier audiences (probably aural) understood naming as something that anchored existence.  In any case, naming always follows the creative act.

Finally the last thing that happens is that God sets up the first in a series of relationships.  In this case, he links time and light and calls it the first day.

Day 2:

6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”  7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so.  8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

God always uses that phrase “let there be” for celestial object: light, the sky, and the celestial lights in v. 14.  The word that is translated “dome” is elsewhere unattested but it has a verbal cognate that has to do with hammering out metal.  So this is a three level cosmology: the earth, the abyss, and the heavens above the earth.  The primordial water is separated so that some of it is stored above the sky to become rain and some is left on the earth.

Finally, notice that God does not yet judge his work, that is, there is no notice that God examined what he had done and called it “good.”  It may be that the phrase has just dropped out, or it may be that it was deliberately omitted.  As it stands, the waters are not quite yet in a position to do much good because there is no dry land.  Although rain could fall, it wouldn’t do much good falling on an undifferentiated ocean.

Day 3:

9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.  10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.  11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so.  12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good.  13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

During the third day God twice notes that his work is good.  The first notice comes after the separation of land and sea, while the second marks judges the success of the new plant life.  This plant life appears because of the third mode of creation, that is, God creates by giving generative powers to the earth.  For Genesis’ earliest audiences, this may have encouraged the idea that the fecundity of the earth was not the result of a fertility goddess.  Considering what fertility rites typically entail, this probably engendered a bit of disappointment in certain circles.

So that’s all we got through!  Probably the least comprehensive GD class ever, but that’s the way it went.  If I teach twenty-three lessons this year, and each averages thirteen verses, that’s about three hundred verses.  I think I can rise to the occasion…  ;)

24
Jan
10

Christianity 101

The opening week of every semester brings the need to explain Christianity to a new group of students.   But how to do it quickly, efficiently, and effectively?  I’ve taken to using the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark…

Narrator’s Introduction:

Mark 1:1-45 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

First off, the Christian message is good news.  Why?  Hm.  Well, we’ll have to talk more about that one.  Just file it away for the moment.  Next up,  Jesus.  Affirmed to be Messiah and Son of God.  The two titles introduce the idea that Jesus of Nazareth was someone special.  What kind of special?   Well, his status as messiah links us thru him to all those OT promises.  Son of God has its own nuance in Mark, but at this point it identifies Jesus as someone who has a unique relationship with God.  That’s the basics, right there.

Continue reading ‘Christianity 101′

23
Jan
10

Incoherent

The traditional LDS reading of Genesis 3 suggests that Eve made the necessary decision so that God could “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”  If this is the case, why doesn’t God indicate his pleasure?  And why does he make her subject to Adam, who apparently failed to exercise the divinely desired initiative?  I mean, since past performance is the best indication of future success you’d think that he’d want the best decision-maker to have a decisive role in any future dilemmas, no?

I gotta say, the LDS reading makes God’s judgment suspect.

22
Jan
10

Here’s a Tax I Could Get Behind…

So US News & World Report brings us some unusual ideas for new taxes since the old ones don’t seem to be able to cover Congress’s spending habits.  My favorite:

The Jesus Tax. Also known as the Lloyd Blankfein Apotheosis Tax. To be paid by any individual who says he’s acting on God’s behalf but can’t prove it. Includes the Pope’s U.S. representatives.

The rest of them are here.




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