Monday, November 30, 2015

Book Write-Up: The Chosen People, by A. Chadwick Thornhill

A. Chadwick Thornhill.  The Chosen People: Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism.  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015.  See here to purchase the book.

In the New Testament, there is talk about election and God choosing people before the foundation of the world.  Romans 9 and Ephesians 1:4 come to mind.  For many Calvinists, these passages teach that God, before creating the world, predestined the specific individuals who would be saved and damned.  A. Chadwick Thornhill, a scholar and professor of apologetics and biblical studies at Liberty University, disagrees with such interpretations.

For Thornhill, in order to understand what Paul means by election, one should know how Second Temple Judaism conceptualized it.  Thornhill investigates pseudepigraphical literature, deuterocanonical literature, and the Dead Sea Scrolls to shed light on that subject.  What he finds is that, in much of the Second Temple Jewish literature that he surveys and explores, God elected Israel, but the true Israelites are those who are faithful and obedient to God; Israelites could disqualify themselves from their elect-status by not adhering to the stipulations of the covenant.

This differs from Calvinist views of election in at least two ways.  First, in the Second Temple Jewish literature that Thornhill surveys, God elected a group, Israel, rather than specific individuals unto salvation.   (Thornhill acknowledges, however, that Second Temple literature may refer to an individual as elect to highlight his righteousness; Thornhill also states that Second Temple Judaism often conceived of election in terms of the mission of Israel or a person within Israel, not necessarily in terms of salvation in an afterlife.)  Similarly, according to Thornhill, Paul in Ephesians 1:4 is saying that God chose the church before the foundation of the world.  For Thornhill, Paul’s point there is not that God chose before the foundation of the world the specific individuals who would be saved, but rather that God was choosing the church, and those who chose to become part of the church would be saved.  Second, much of the Second Temple Jewish literature that Thornhill surveys acknowledges free will: an Israelite can remain a part of God’s elect people Israel by obeying God, and can disqualify oneself from the elect through disobedience.  That differs from certain Calvinist views: that being part of the elect is God’s choice and not the choice of the individual; that a person is unable to come to God solely through free-will because he or she has a sinful nature; and that a person God elects will always be elect and cannot fall away from election.

Thornhill looks at Pauline passages that pertain to election (and he believes that the deutero-Pauline letters in the New Testament are actually Pauline), and his conclusion is that many Calvinists are misinterpreting those passages.  Romans 9 says that God will have mercy on whom God will have mercy, presents God as choosing Jacob rather than Esau before they did anything good or bad, and refers to God hardening Pharaoh’s heart.  Understandably, many Calvinists maintain that Romans 9 supports their position: that God by grace chose some individuals to be saved before they were even born, while rejecting others, and that God hardened some people for God’s purposes and glory, without any injustice on God’s part.

Thornhill, however, interprets Romans 9 differently.  For Thornhill, Romans 9 is about Jews and Gentiles within God’s people, the church.  According to Thornhill, Paul held that belief in Christ was what made a person (Jew or Gentile) a part of God’s people, in contrast to Jews who believed that the criterion was Jewish adherence to the Mosaic law, and who placed Gentiles outside of the covenant.  That meant that, for Paul, non-believing Jews were (at least temporarily) not a part of God’s people, whereas believing Gentiles were.  For Thornhill, Paul in Romans 9 is attempting to justify this controversial position.  Paul in Romans 9 says that physical descent from Israel does not make one a part of Israel, which overlaps with what much of Second Temple Judaism affirmed.  (Second Temple Judaism would say that physical descent by itself did not make an Israelite a part of Israel, for the Israelite had to fulfill the covenantal requirements.)  Paul’s point is that the non-believing Jews are not entitled to be called Israelites, whereas Gentiles, who do fulfill God’s requirements, can be part of God’s people.  Thornhill interprets the parts in Romans 9 about God having mercy on whom God will have mercy, and God being able to do what God wants as a potter with the clay, as a justification of God’s decision to have mercy on the Gentiles and to include them in God’s people.  Regarding the theme of hardening in Romans 9, Thornhill interprets that in light of Second Temple Jewish literature, some of which presents God’s hardening of a person’s heart as God’s response to a person’s defiant sinfulness.  For Thornhill, Paul’s view in Romans 9-11 is not that God decided to harden most Jews against believing in Jesus, as if God caused their unbelief; rather, the hardening was a response to their unbelief in Jesus, and the hardening could be reversed once they decided to believe.

There are many assets to this book.  First of all, from a scholarly perspective, Thornhill’s project is understandable, logical, and even necessary.  If one is to understand Paul’s view of election, should one not investigate how Second Temple Judaism conceptualized it?  Second Temple Judaism formed part of (or at least influenced) Paul’s historical context, after all.  Plus, Paul himself refers to the election of Israel in Romans 11:28, which may indicate that the election of Israel plays some role in Paul’s understanding of election, making Second Temple Judaism’s view on the election of Israel relevant to Paul’s view.  Second, Thornhill tries to interpret Romans 9 in light of his conclusions about Second Temple Judaism, and that may benefit those who are interested in a fresh look at Romans 9, or who at least want to explore other views than what Calvinists have offered.  Thornhill raises interesting considerations: I think of his point that Romans 9:21-23 does not necessarily mean that God made people to receive his wrath and precluded them from ever receiving God’s mercy, for Paul says in Ephesians 2:3-4 that God had mercy on people who were, by nature, children of wrath.  Third, while many Calvinists focus on how Romans 9 may relate to individual election unto salvation, Thornhill does well to concentrate on the actual subject of Romans 9-11: Jews and Gentiles in the people of God.  Fourth, I found Thornhill’s summary of Paul’s Gospel interesting, albeit not particularly comforting.  Thornhill states on page 215 that “God pronounces right-standing, grounded in the faithfulness of Jesus (see Rom 3), over those in Christ who keep the law by the empowerment of the Spirit.”  On the one hand, that sounds somewhat like salvation by works, and it may not comfort those who look at their lives and feel that they fall short of God’s standards.  On the other hand, Paul in Romans 8:1 affirms that there is no condemnation for those who walk in the Spirit and not after the flesh, so Thornhill is not getting his view of Paul’s soteriology from nowhere.

I have some critiques of the book.  First of all, I did not find Thornhill’s interpretation of Romans 9 to be ultimately convincing.  Paul in Romans 9 does seem to suggest that God unilaterally hardens some people, for Paul addresses the question of how, assuming this is the case, God could find fault with anyone, for who could resist God’s will.  That question would only make sense if Paul were saying that God unilaterally hardens people: Paul realizes that what he is saying sounds unfair, as Calvinism looks unfair to a lot of people.  I do not conclude from this that God chooses people to be damned and hardens them so that they cannot believe and thus get a one-way ticket to hell, however, for I place Romans 9 in the context of Romans 9-11: God is hardening many Jewish people temporarily, but the hardening will go away once the fullness of Gentiles has entered God’s people; then, all Israel will be saved.

Second, Thornhill’s evaluation of Second Temple Judaism struck me as one-sided.  Thornhill seems to portray Second Temple Judaism as embracing libertarian free-will, but there are elements of Second Temple Judaism that believe that God needs to transform a person’s heart for the person to yield to God.  Thornhill is aware of scholarship about this, for he refers to it (i.e., Preston Sprinkle’s Paul and Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation; Jason Maston’s Divine and Human Agency in Second Temple Judaism and Paul), but he does not really wrestle with it.  The reason this is significant is that it could mean that Paul believing that God enabled some people to believe (as Calvinists say) would not historically be an implausible position for him to take, against the backdrop of Second Temple Judaism.  This is not to suggest that belief in divine grace or transformation of the heart is only consistent with Calvinism; Kyle Wells, after all, says that, for Philo of Alexandria (first century C.E.), God’s transformation of the heart occurs in response to a person desiring such transformation and turning to God, so Philo believed in free will and God transforming the heart.  I am suggesting, however, that Thornhill should have wrestled more with divine grace and transformation of the heart, since they are concepts in Second Temple Judaism that are relevant to Calvinist interpretations of Paul.

Thornhill does wrestle with passages from the Dead Sea Scrolls that some scholars interpret as deterministic, and readers can form their own judgments about whether they find Thornhill’s arguments convincing.  Thornhill concludes that they are not deterministic, that they do not relate to God deciding beforehand who would be righteous and who would be wicked.  Thornhill should have interacted in more detail, however, with Josephus’ statements about the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes on the issue of determinism (Jewish Wars 2:162-164; Antiquities 13:171-173).  Whether Josephus is correct in his characterization of the groups’ beliefs, he does show that determinism was on the radar of a first-century Jew, namely, himself.  That being the case, would Paul embracing determinism be so unusual, against the backdrop of Second Temple Judaism?  (By the way, Philo and Josephus rarely appear in this book, and they should be considered more, since they were first century C.E. Jewish thinkers.)

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Struggles with Luke 1, and Possible Solutions

At church this morning, the pastor preached about the story in Luke 1, which is about the birth of John the Baptist.

Zechariah was a priest who was old, and he and his wife, Elizabeth, wanted a child.  Zechariah’s priestly section was on duty, and he was selected by lot to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and offer incense.  At the right side of the altar of incense, the angel Gabriel stood.  Gabriel promised Zechariah that Zechariah’s wife would bear a son named John, who would cause many to rejoice and would turn many people to God.  This son would not drink alcohol.  Because Zechariah was old, he was skeptical about this promise, so Gabriel said that Zechariah would be mute until the promise was fulfilled.  For months, Zechariah was holding in the excitement of what he had seen and heard.  When John was born and Zechariah could finally speak, Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, delivered a long prophecy about what John would do and how that fit into God’s plan for Israel.

There are two aspects of this story that have long bothered me, and I will interact with those, while also sharing how my pastor this morning interacted with those aspects.

A.  Why was Zechariah in the sanctuary of the Temple?  I thought that only the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, and that occurred only once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). 

The answer to my question is probably that there were three places in the Temple.  There was the courtyard, which was where the bronze altar for the burnt offering was, along with the bronze laver for washing.  Further inside of the Temple/Tabernacle was the Holy Place, which had the golden lampstand, the table for the shewbread, and the golden altar of incense.  Further inside, and behind the veil, was the Holy of Holies, or Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant was.  (Well, it was not there during the time of Zechariah, but that was still considered to be a very holy place.)

The high priest could only enter the Holy of Holies, behind the veil, on the Day of Atonement.  But Aaron entered the Holy Place right outside of the Holy of Holies at other times.  He was to burn incense every morning (Exodus 30:7-8) and regularly keep the lamps burning (Leviticus 24), and bread was to be arranged on the table every Sabbath (Leviticus 24).  See here for a blog post, which includes a helpful map of the Tabernacle.  I should also mention Hebrews 9:1-7’s distinction between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place.  Vv 6-7 say: “Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.  But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people” (KJV). 

Many commentators interpret Luke 1 in light of the twenty-four courses of priests in I Chronicles 24.  According to I Chronicles 24, there was an order for these courses of priests to come into the house of God.  Some commentators who are Christian believers and accept Luke 1 as historical use the alleged timing of Zechariah’s “turn” in the Temple to calculate Jesus’ birth.  In any case, only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and that occurred only once a year.  But perhaps the other twenty-four courses of priests, depending on when their turn was, came into the Holy Place at other times and fulfilled the duties required for that: keeping the lamp burning, burning incense, etc.  Zechariah’s duty in Luke 1 was to burn the incense.   

The pastor was saying that Zechariah, by lot, got the job of going into the sanctuary and offering incense, whereas other priests (perhaps in his course, or section, that was on duty) got more menial jobs, such as sweeping the ashes.  I thought that the Levites, not the priests, were the ones who did the menial stuff.  But who knows?  Would the Levites have been allowed into the Holy of Holies to clean?  Maybe not, since they had a lower level of holiness than the Aaronide priests.  I Chronicles 23:28-29 says, however, that the Levites cleaned the holy objects and were in charge of the bread laid out on the table, both of which pertained to the Holy Place.  Yet, II Chronicles 29:18 presents the Aaronide priests entering the inner part of the House of the LORD to cleanse it.  Could the Levites perform their duties for the Holy Place, without actually entering it?  Perhaps the Aaronide priests brought out the holy objects for the Levites to clean, or the Levites gave the Aaronide priests the bread to take into the sanctuary.

I should mention that there is a Christian tradition that Zechariah was the high priest and that the events in Luke 1 occurred on the Day of Atonement.  See here.  Maybe this tradition was wrestling with the same sort of question that I had.  I am not convinced that Zechariah was the high priest, however, for Luke 1:8 says that he was in the sanctuary burning incense because it was his section’s turn to be on duty, and he was chosen to burn incense by lot.  These were the reasons that he was there, not any high priestly status.

B.  A second question that I have concerns Zechariah’s prophecy.  Zechariah seems to talk about Messianic expectations that many Jews of his day had: Israel would be saved from her enemies and serve God without fear (Luke 1:71-74).  Zechariah was excited because he thought that his son John had something to do with that.  But that did not happen.  Rather, Israel’s Roman oppressors destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E. 

Perhaps Zechariah’s prophecy was conditional: if Israel repented at John’s preaching, then God would save Israel from her enemies.  There is good reason to think this.  Luke 7:30 states that the Pharisees and lawyers, by not being baptized by John, rejected God’s plan for themselves.  Jesus in Luke 13:34-35 says that he desired to gather Jerusalem together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but Jerusalem was not willing, and thus her house is left to her desolate.  In Acts 3:19-21, Peter seems to be telling the Israelites that, if they repent, God will blot out their sins and send Jesus to inaugurate the restitution of all things.

I have problems with this approach, however.  For one, Zechariah does not appear to be making a conditional prophecy: he seems to be saying that John will (not might) bring people back to God, and that God will save Israel from her enemies; in a sense, that happened, for John did help convert many people.  Luke 7:29 mentions tax collectors who were baptized by John; but there were influential people who did not receive John’s preaching.  Second, there is an indication even early in the Gospel of Luke’s story of Jesus that the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus was not God’s Plan B in case Israel failed to repent, but rather was God’s plan all along.  Simeon tells Mary when Jesus was a baby that a sword will pierce her soul (Luke 2:35), which may refer to the sorrow she would feel at Jesus’ crucifixion.

Can all of this be reconciled?  Perhaps.  Maybe early Christians believed that Jesus’ death was part of the eschatological pangs that would precede Israel’s deliverance from her enemies.  Or perhaps the hope was that, after Jesus died for the sins of Israel, Israel would repent, and God would send Jesus back to do what the Messiah was expected to do (Acts 3:19-21).  The hope may have been that John set the stage for that, or cultivated the soil for it, by bringing people to repentance and receptivity to what God was about to do. 

Turning to my pastor’s message, the pastor was saying that Zechariah was excited because John was involved in a new way in which God would relate to people.  God would no longer simply be in the Temple, amidst smoke from the incense, but would be out there, with the people.  I would be hesitant to say that Luke has a view of the incarnation, of God becoming a human being in Jesus.  At the same time, I would agree that a case could be made that John and Jesus were bringing God “out there.”  John was baptizing, offering forgiveness of sins outside of the Temple.  Jesus’ ministry was bringing God’s healing and forgiveness to people, allowing them to experience God more tangibly.  Jesus still respected the Temple in the Gospel of Luke and encouraged lepers to follow the Torah’s procedure (Luke 17:14) after being healed, but, in a sense, Jesus was bringing God “out there.”

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Book Write-Up: How to Read Job

John H. Walton and Tremper Longman III.  How to Read Job.  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

John H. Walton and Tremper Longman III are prolific scholars of the Hebrew Bible.  They are also evangelical Christians.  In How to Read Job, they discuss ways to understand features of the Book of Job, while also applying its theological and spiritual message.  The book familiarizes popular readers with academic insights into the Book of Job, yet it also has the pastoral concern of demonstrating how the Book of Job can address people’s concern about suffering.

The book interacts with a variety of questions: Was the Book of Job intended to be history, literary, or historical fiction?  Was there a real person named Job?  Who are the creatures Leviathan and Behemoth, and how do they function in the Book of Job, particularly in God’s speeches?  How does the Book of Job compare with other ancient Near Eastern stories about the righteous sufferer, or ancient Near Eastern theology in general?  Do God’s speeches to Job contain inaccuracies about nature, according to modern science, and, if so, how can Christians account for that theologically?  Did Job believe in an afterlife?  What did Job mean when he requested an intercessor, and was he asking for someone like Jesus?  Was ha-satan in the Book of Job the devil?  What spiritual lessons can we gain from the Book of Job, and can it help us deal with suffering?

The book largely takes a historical-critical perspective, while still maintaining that the book has relevance in Christian theology.  Like many critical scholars, but unlike a number of Christian interpreters, Walton and Longman maintain that ha-Satan in the Book of Job was not the devil, that Job did not believe in resurrection from the dead, and that the intercessor Job requested was not like Jesus.  At the same time, they do somewhat present the Book of Job as a step up from other ancient Near Eastern stories about the righteous sufferer, and ancient Near Eastern theology: the Book of Job, for example, presents morality as the way to please God, whereas the gods of the ancient Near East were primarily concerned with ritual, which supported them.  In terms of the New Testament, Walton and Longman believe that the New Testament offers more hope than the Book of Job by itself does, and yet they think that one can draw important lessons from the Book of Job by itself—-particularly lessons about the importance of disinterested righteousness, and how one should trust God’s wisdom.

There are many assets to this book.  Its historical-critical treatment of the Book of Job is one of them, and so are its interesting conclusions about what the text is saying: its interpretation of the significance of Leviathan and Behemoth in the Book of Job comes to mind.  Walton and Longman also find a way to interpret the speeches in the Book of Job in light of the narrative.  The narrative is about Job passing the test of staying faithful to God after losing everything, whereas the speeches focus on the argument between Job’s friends and Job: Job’s friends argue that Job must have done something wrong to deserve misfortune, while Job defends himself and questions God’s providence.  Many scholars argue that there are different sources in the Book of Job: the narrative, “Job the Impatient,” “Job the Patient,” the Elihu speeches, etc.  Walton and Longman, however, seem to approach the book more synchronically, and they maintain that the speeches are related to the narrative.  According to Walton and Longman, even though Job in the speeches challenges God, he stays in a relationship with God rather than abandoning it due to misfortune.  Moreover, Job does not take the easy way out by confessing sin to appease God and get his stuff back, for Job sincerely believe that he is righteous and does not deserve his misfortune, and he wants an audience with God.  For Walton and Longman, Job shows here that he is not just worshiping God to get blessings.  This argument struck me as a bit of a stretch, and Walton and Longman should have mentioned, at least briefly, the scholarly view that there are different sources in the Book of Job.  Still, this discussion, among others, did make the book interesting.

Another asset to the book is how Walton and Longman wrestle with the issue of suffering.  They tend to land on pat-answers (i.e., trust God because God is wise), yet one can tell that they are not entirely satisfied with a lot of pat-answers.  Their discussion on suffering is rather complex, in places, and that can be frustrating to those who want clarity or consistency, yet it may resonate with those who see suffering as too complex of an issue to be explained away glibly.  Some of the points that Walton and Longman make are intriguing: that God in the Bible created a world that included non-order so that humans would cooperate with God in ordering it; that simply blaming suffering on sin does not work as a viable explanation (and not only because it is rude and inconsiderate); and that certain forms of “comfort” (i.e., commiseration) do not entirely comfort, as important as they may be.  There were some issues that I wish Walton and Longman had addressed more.  Walton and Longman state, for example, that God does not micromanage the world.  Does that mean that praying for things (i.e., blessings, protection) is an exercise in futility?  Walton and Longman say that we should pray for things while remembering that God is still wise, and thus God knows best, but is praying for things inconsistent with saying that God does not micromanage?

There were other questions that I had in reading this book.  Walton and Longman argue that the point of God’s speeches is that God rules the world by wisdom, not by justice, even though justice fits somewhere into God’s wise rule of the world.  Walton and Longman did well to note that wisdom is a theme that appears throughout the Book of Job, but they did not really demonstrate how God’s speeches supported the point that they believed the speeches were making.  (They say in the bibliography, however, that their commentaries do this.)  Moreover, I was wondering what exactly God’s wise rule of the world entailed.  Is it ruling the world in a manner that benefits as many people as possible?  Is it ruling the world in a manner that is consistent with God’s long-term plan?

I suspect Walton and Longman are correct, overall, in their portrayal of ancient Near Eastern religion: that the gods were more concerned about ritual than morality, and that the gods were not really blamed for evil because they were not considered all-powerful, anyway.  Still, there were aspects of what Walton and Longman were saying that made me wonder if there was more to the story.  They say that one ancient Near Eastern view was that “God made us with evil inclinations and prone to suffer.”  Do not “evil inclinations,” however, imply that ancient Near Easterners were concerned about moral evil, not just ritual impropriety or negligence?  Walton and Longman should have wrestled with this some more.

I also have some reservations about the book’s argument that, even if God does not bless us (in this life and the next, and this is hypothetically-speaking), we should honor God because God is God.  I do not think that one should honor God out of a mercenary motivation, for right is right and wrong is wrong, regardless of what happens to me personally.  At the same time, I have problems with the idea that God deserves honor simply because God is God, as if God’s status is why God deserves honor.  Would God deserve honor, even if God were unrighteous?  Walton and Longman are clear that God is not unrighteous—-God, they claim, is wise and deserves trust.  Still, saying that God deserves honor simply for being God is slightly problematic, in my opinion.

Finally, overall, the approach of Walton and Longman to the relationship of Job to the New Testament was all right.  They said that certain perspectives in the Book of Job differed from the New Testament, and I appreciated their acknowledgement of diversity within the Bible and their commitment to letting the Book of Job be what it is, as opposed to forcing it into a Christian mold.  They did, however, seem to try to reconcile the Book of Job with James 5:11’s statement that Job was patient, or persevering, and that was interesting.  (As one lady told me, Job in the Book of Job does not look all that patient!)  Still, Walton and Longman should have addressed I Corinthians 3:19, which quotes Job 5:13.  Job 5:13 is from one of the speeches of Eliphaz, a friend of Job whom God criticized at the end of the book.  Why is the New Testament quoting as authoritative a speech of one of Job’s friends, whose words God rejected in the Book of Job?  This question deserves consideration.

I found the book to be a thoughtful exploration of the Book of Job and the question of suffering.  People would probably do well to read the Book of Job, or to read a summary of the Book of Job, before reading this book, since that would familiarize them with the topics that the book addresses.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Did Adam and Eve Have the Holy Spirit?: "The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan"

I am reading “The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan” for my daily quiet time.  This is a Christian work that probably dates from the fifth century C.E. to the ninth century C.E.

Did Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden have the Holy Spirit inside of them, as Christians do?  Did Adam and Eve even need the Holy Spirit at that point, since they had not yet sinned and thus did not have a sinful nature?  Was their pre-Fall righteous disposition (assuming that is what they had) a part of their human nature, or something that was supernatural—something that was foreign to their human nature and that they depended on God for?

Does the Bible address this question?  The most relevant passage that comes to my mind is I Corinthians 15:45, which states: “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit” (KJV).  The context of this passage is the resurrection from the dead, both the resurrection of Jesus, and the future resurrection of others.  Adam here is contrasted with the risen Jesus.  There are different ideas about what exactly I Corinthians 15 is saying as to the nature of the contrast.  Is it saying that Adam and his descendants have fleshly bodies, whereas the risen Jesus has a spirit body, like (to use an example) that of an angel?  Or do Adam, his descendants, and the risen Jesus all have physical bodies, but they are enlivened by different things: Adam and his descendants are enlivened by breath or a soul, whereas the risen Jesus is enlivened by God’s Holy Spirit and lives perpetually as a result of that.  If the latter is the case, did the pre-Fall Adam have the Holy Spirit?  It does not appear so.  Adam was made to be animated with a soul or breath, not God’s Holy Spirit.

I have not read the entirety of “The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan,” but I have encountered a couple of passages in it that may be relevant to my questions.  The first passage is in Book 1, chapter 23, verses 6b-7.  In this verse, Adam is lamenting about the results of the Fall.  In whatever translation The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden is using, we read the following:

“For when we were in the garden our praises and our hymns went up before Thee without ceasing.  But when we came into this strange land, pure praise was no longer ours, nor righteous prayer, nor understanding hearts, nor sweet thoughts, nor just counsels, nor long discernment, nor upright feelings, neither is our bright nature left us.  But our body is changed from the similitude in which it was at first, when we were created.”

In the Garden, Adam and Eve had understanding hearts, sweet thoughts, just counsels, discernment, and upright feelings.  Now, after the Fall, they do not have these things.  This reminds me of Daniel Keyes’ short story and book, Flowers for Algernon, in which a developmentally-delayed man, Charlie Gordon, undergoes an experiment that triples his IQ, making him a genius.  Unfortunately, in the course of the story, Charlie loses his intelligence and reverts back to how he was before.  Somewhere in between his state as a genius and his state as a developmentally-delayed man, Charlie is frustrated that he cannot do what he used to do as a genius.  He can no longer read German, for example.  At this stage, he remembers enough about being a genius that he appreciates what he was able to do, but he is conscious that he cannot do those things anymore; once he becomes developmentally-delayed again, he does not care.  This, in my opinion, is similar to what we see in this verse-and-a-half in “The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan”: they remember a time when they were righteous, and they recall what that felt like, but they look inside of themselves and realize that they are no longer in that same state, at least not to the same extent.

But why, according to that passage, did they have that righteous state before the Fall?  Was it part of their human nature, or something that was supernatural, coming from God’s Holy Spirit inside of them?  In that passage, at least some of their pre-Fall nature was from their own nature: they had a bright nature before the Fall, but that left them after the Fall.  Perhaps the same can be said about their righteous thoughts and feelings; they had, after all, an understanding heart.  Was their heart naturally understanding, or did God make their heart understanding through the influence of God’s Holy Spirit inside of them?  The passage does not explicitly say.

In Book I, Chapter 34, verse 16, we read the following (same translation):

“And of Thy goodwill, O Lord, Thou madest us both with bodies of a bright nature, and Thou madest us two, one; and Thou gavest us Thy grace, and didst fill us with praises of the Holy Spirit; that we should be neither hungry nor thirsty, nor know what sorrow is, nor yet faintness of heart; neither suffering, fasting, nor weariness.”

Here, God’s grace plays some role in how Adam and Eve were prior to the Fall.  Grace, in this case, does not refer to God loving Adam and Eve even though they are sinners, for this verse concerns a time when they had not yet sinned.  What is God’s grace, though?  Is it God blessing Adam and Eve by making them with a certain nature?  Or is it God supernaturally empowering Adam and Eve through God’s Holy Spirit inside of them?  One can argue both ways, in looking at this passage.  On the one hand, God makes Adam and Eve with bodies that have a bright nature.  That is natural.  On the other hand, God fills them with praises of the Holy Spirit.  That sounds supernatural.  Could the latter be a part of God’s creation of them?

There is probably more research that can be done on this topic, particularly on how it has been handled within the history of biblical interpretation.  It overlaps with questions that Christians have asked about the Fall: Were Adam and Eve prior to the Fall perfect, or did they need to rely on God’s supernatural grace even then?  Does Jesus restore humanity to how it was prior to the Fall, or does he make humanity something different, and new?  Is God’s grace, in some manner, a part of our human natures, or must it come from outside of ourselves?  Karl Barth had this debate with others, as he leaned towards the latter position.  See also the video, “Fundamental differences between an evangelical and Roman Catholic understanding of the Gospel.”

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving Thanks, Without Being Perfunctory

During my prayer time last night, the subject of thanksgiving entered my mind because, well, it is Thanksgiving!  Philippians 4:6 came to my mind: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (KJV).

There are many verses that I have read in the Bible.  Some have been impressed in my mind.  Some, not so much!  I first came to appreciate this verse when I read John MacArthur’s book, Anxiety Attacked, back when I was in high school.  I read that book a couple of times.  I read it once, then I reread it during the final exam period, a time when I was particularly anxious.  John MacArthur had a chapter in that book about Philippians 4:6.

But the years passed, and I have not thought about that verse that often since then—-maybe sporadically.  But I thought about it last night.  And what I thought was this: I spend a lot of my prayer time making requests to God.  That is not all that I do, of course, for I read something devotional: the Bible, the pseudepigrapha, and currently the “Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan.”  But requests are a significant part of my prayer time.  I pray for others first, one reason being that I care for the people I pray for and want to see good in their lives, and another reason being that I want to cultivate compassion within myself.  Then I pray for my own needs and desires: help me to get paying employment so that eventually I can pay off my student loans, help my blog to do better, help me to have more peace in social situations, fill me with your Holy Spirit, help me to make progress on my dissertation, help me to move on from past hurts.

I make these requests, and I do not think that is a bad thing.  This is a broken world, after all.  I am broken.  Others are broken, looking for a breakthrough, or at least peace.  Life is broken.  I would be wrong to refrain from praying for things, for that would imply that everything is all right.  It’s not.

But, unfortunately, I rarely make these requests with thanksgiving.  It’s not that I never give thanks.  It’s just pretty sporadic.  I thank God for the good that happens in the lives of others: when someone fears that she has cancer and learns that she does not, I give God thanks.  Yes, bad things happen to people in this life, but it is good to be happy about the good things that happen in people’s lives.  I also thank God for some of the joys or conveniences that I experience: that movie, TV show, or book that really moved me or made me think; that resource that I found for my dissertation (and, believe me, resources are not always easy to find!).

But I think that I should make thanksgiving a regular part of my daily prayer time.  But I want to do this without being perfunctory.  I don’t like having a long list of obligatory things that I have to say when I am praying.  I get to the point where I am not feeling what I am praying.  Currently, I have my standard list of people I pray for each day, and I keep that pretty standard: I rarely add to it.  But there is also a part of my prayer time in which I pray for people who are not part of my standard list—-people who come to mind at that moment.  That can vary by the day.  I find this approach more authentic than feeling as if I have to pray through the phone book.

I can do something similar with thanksgiving.  I can set aside a part of my prayer time in which I mention something that I am thankful for.  I don’t have to go through a laundry list, but I can mention something, and maybe more than one thing.  It can pertain to myself, or to something good that is happening in the life of someone else.  There is a lot to be thankful for: people who have helped me, our cats, and the list goes on.

I spend a lot of time complaining and griping about life.  That probably won’t change.  I believe that I have things to complain about!  I might as well not pretend otherwise, though I generally will try not to burden my readers with that (which is not a promise, but just a policy I may follow).  But I should spend more time than I do being thankful.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Book Write-Up: Dinosaurs, by Dr. Tim Clarey

Dr. Tim Clarey.  Dinosaurs, Marvels of God’s Design: The Science of the Biblical Account.  Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

Tim Clarey is a young earth creationist, who serves at the Institute for Creation Research.  According to his profile at the ICR’s web site, he has a Ph.D. in Geology from Western Michigan University.  He was also an exploration geologist for Chevron, and he taught geo-science at Delta College in Michigan.

Clarey presents a young earth creationist perspective on dinosaurs.  This perspective is that God created the dinosaurs on Day 6 of creation, when God created the other land animals (Genesis 1).  According to Clarey, this means that the dinosaurs were on earth thousands of years ago, not millions, and Clarey challenges the reliability of scientific dating methods that point to an older age for the dinosaurs.  Clarey believes that all of the dinosaurs were originally vegetarian, and that the carnivorous ones became carnivorous only after the Fall of Adam and Eve; these dinosaurs had a vegetarian diet on Noah’s Ark, however.  For Clarey, the dinosaur fossils were the result of the catastrophic Flood in the time of Noah, and this accounts for phenomena better than uniformitarian and evolutionary explanations.  According to Clarey, Noah took some dinosaurs onto the Ark, and Noah was able to fit them on the Ark because the average size of dinosaurs was about the size of a bison, and Noah took the bigger ones onto the Ark before they hit their growth spurt; the dinosaurs on the Ark, in short, were not huge, so they could fit.  For Clarey, humans and dinosaurs inhabited the earth at the same time, and this is evidenced by stories about dragons and representations of creatures that look like dinosaurs.  Clarey believes that dinosaurs became extinct after the Flood: before the Flood, Clarey argues, there was a higher concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, and that suited the cold-blooded dinosaurs, but the environment was not as warm after the Flood.  Clarey also criticizes evolution in the book: he states that there is no evidence of transitional fossils when it comes to dinosaurs, and he disputes the idea that dinosaurs evolved into birds.

That is Clarey’s perspective.  Does he try to support it?  He does.  He argues that organic material found in dinosaur bones, and carbon-14 dating, indicates that the dinosaurs are thousands, not millions, of years old, since organic material would not last for millions of years.  He believes that phenomena demonstrated in the fossil record—-animals dying suddenly (and at various stages of life), dinosaurs being mixed with marine creatures, footprints indicating that dinosaurs were fleeing from something, and fossils of herds found together, etc.—-are consistent with a catastrophic Flood.  In arguing against the idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs, Clarey notes differences in the breathing apparatus between birds and dinosaurs, and Clarey also states that “Birds with real feathers are found in rocks much deeper and buried before the most birdlike dinosaurs” (page 125).  In conventional science, deeper in usually earlier, so, for Clarey, the idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs fails even on conventional scientific grounds.

Did Clarey interact with other points-of-view, or alternative explanations?  He did refer to alternative explanations.  He mentioned the view that the carbon-14 dating of material in dinosaur bones may be due to corruption of the sample.  He said that scientists have proposed ways that organic material could have been preserved in dinosaur bones for millions of years.  He referred to the view that ancient people may have developed their ideas of mythological creatures after finding dinosaur fossils.  He also said that scientists have attributed certain examples of fossilization to local catastrophes (i.e., floods) rather than a single global Flood in the time of Noah.  Did Clarey go into a lot of depth in refuting these ideas, or answer many of the objections to Flood geology that scientists have made?  Overall, he did not, but some of his discussions were more in depth than others.

Did Clarey attempt to provide a young-earth creationist interpretation, or way to account for, the evidence often cited in favor of uniformitarian, evolutionist explanations?  He did, at times.  One argument against humans and dinosaurs co-existing is that human fossils have not been found with dinosaur fossils.  Clarey tried to account for this by saying that humans and dinosaurs lived in separate places: dinosaurs were on the low ground, whereas humans and various other mammals were on the high ground.  Clarey also tried to account for fossil layers, which mainstream science says demonstrate chronological successions of life and evolution over millions of years.  Clarey, as a young-earth creationist, does not think that one fossil layer on top of the other means chronological succession, for he believes that the animals in all of these layers existed at the same time and were destroyed by the Flood.  Clarey sought to explain the fossil layers by saying that the Flood could have buried one ecosystem on top of the other, and that marine creatures would logically be deeper in the ground than creatures that were able to find higher ground in the time of the Flood.  For Clarey, that explains why fossils of marine creatures are deeper in the ground than dinosaurs and mammals.

Some of Clarey’s proposals may be original to himself; many things that he says have been said by young-earth creationists before.  Young-earth creationism is rejected by most scientists, and there are many web sites out there that respond to young-earth creationist arguments from an evolutionist or uniformitarian perspective, and that highlight problems in Flood geology:,,, and are sites that come to mind.  These sites, and others, provide a lot of arguments and rebuttals, and I will not rehearse all of them here.  Many of them demonstrate that there is more to the story, or more nuance, than what young earth creationists present.  I would like to highlight some anti-young earth creationist arguments that I found particularly compelling.  One argument asks why, if dinosaurs are young rather than old, it is such a rarity that we find organic material inside dinosaur bones?  Another argument maintains that the young-earth creationist view that more developed animals could run to higher ground in trying to escape the Flood does not work, for there are fossils of developed animals that are rather deep in the ground, and fossils of marine animals that are higher up.  Plus, one can observe development in marine animals from one strata to another.

I am not a paleontologist, or even a scientifically-minded person, but, even before looking at the web to see ways that scientists have responded to young-earth creationism, I had questions in my mind as I read Clarey’s book.  Clarey’s book is not just a defense of young-earth creationism, but it also aims to describe the characteristics of various dinosaurs.  One can almost get the impression in reading the book that certain dinosaurs were designed to be meat eaters: their body was structured in such a way that would enable them to catch their prey or to eat meat safely, or the T.Rex’s appetite could only be satisfied by eating quantities of animals.  The information that Clarey presents, in these cases, appears to conflict with his view that the carnivorous dinosaurs were created by God to be vegetarians.  In addition, I would submit that evolution may account for some of the details that Clarey mentions better than design does.  Clarey argues, for example, that an animal having sharp teeth does not preclude it from being a vegetarian, for we know of vegetarian animals that have sharp teeth.  Why, though, would God design an animal with sharp teeth that it does not need?  On the other hand, evolutionists point to animals who have organs or body-parts that they do not seem to use, and they believe that is consistent with evolution.

In looking at the web—-and ignoring the creationist web sites—-I do get the impression that Clarey highlights at least one controversy within the mainstream scientific community, and that concerns the question of whether birds evolved from dinosaurs.  There does appear to be some debate about that within the mainstream scientific community, as some say that certain dinosaurs may have evolved from earlier forms of birds.

I give this book four stars because Clarey does attempt to support his position and to interact with other points of view.  His love for his subject matter was also evident and endearing.  The book may also be a helpful resource on the history of research into dinosaurs and dinosaur characteristics.  Moreover, this book can stimulate thought and research, particularly if it encourages readers to find out about what other scientists think about young earth creationism, the phenomena that Clarey discusses, and the rationales for their positions.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book through Cross Focused Reviews, in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Does "The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan" Agree with John Walton?

I have been reading “Adam and Eve,” which is in The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden.  The book is often known as “The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan.”  It is a Christian work, originally written in Arabic and translated into Ethiopic. Its date is uncertain, ranging anywhere from the fifth century C.E. to the ninth century C.E. (see here, here, and here.)

In reading “The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan,” I was thinking of an argument that biblical scholar John Walton made in The Lost World of Adam and Eve (see here for my review).  Walton argued that the Garden of Eden was God’s sanctuary, where Adam and Eve served as priests for humanity.  By eating from the Tree of Life, within the context of a relationship with God, Adam and Eve could be immortal.  Outside of the Garden of Eden, however, even before Adam and Eve sinned, people and animals killed each other.  After sinning, Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, deprived of access to the Tree of Life, and thus got old and died; the implication may be that they were inherently mortal even before the Fall, but they could extend their lives as they continually ate from the Tree of Life.  Once they were expelled from Eden and cut off from the Tree of Life, however, that possibility was closed to them.

This interpretation is an attempt to reconcile two concepts, or at least to show that they are not mutually contradictory: the Genesis 2-3 story about the Fall of Adam and Eve, and the existence of killing and death for millions of years, even before the date of the biblical Fall, which was only thousands of years ago (if there even was one).  There are many Christians who believe that there was no death before the Fall of Adam and Eve, for Paul in Romans 5:12 states that Adam, by sin, brought death into the world.  Notwithstanding the Christian view that death entered the world only after the Fall of Adam and Eve, numerous fossils appear to indicate that death and killing were around much longer than that, for millions of years.  Is there a necessary contradiction between the biblical Fall story and the existence of death for millions of years?  Walton does not think so, for he proposes a model in which the biblical story is consistent with the existence of death even prior to the Fall.  According to this model, inside of the Garden before the Fall, Adam and Eve were living by partaking of the Tree of Life; outside of the Garden, there was death.

I heard a similar argument on the British radio program, “Unbelievable.”  In the episode, “Is God the Best Explanation for Apparent Design in Nature?”, the host, Justin Brierley, was interviewing Jonathan McLatchie and Cory Markum.  Markum is an atheist and a blogger, and McLatchie is a Ph.D. student in cell biology who believes in Intelligent Design.  McLatchie was addressing the question of how there could have been death prior to the Fall, and, appealing to William Dempski, he suggested that the pre-Fall death was God’s retroactive punishment for the Fall.  Revelation 13:8 states that that Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world, even though Jesus was actually killed later, in the first century C.E.  Many Christians believe that some of the redemptive benefits of Christ’s death were applied retroactively, prior to Jesus’ life on earth and death, which would explain why God in the Old Testament is in a relationship with sinful humanity rather than killing all people for their sins.  For McLatchie (if I am interpreting him correctly), something similar is going on with the Fall: God is retroactively punishing the world with death prior to the time of the Fall.

Walton in his book admits that there is not a whole lot of support for his model in the history of biblical interpretation.  Indeed, the Jewish Book of Wisdom, in Wisdom 2:24, appears to imply that the Fall brought death into the world.  Moreover, Walton does not believe that Adam and Eve were necessarily the first human beings, which would be consistent with what mainstream science and history say about the history of humanity.  The history of biblical interpretation, by contrast, tends to say that they were the first human beings.

Now for the question that the title of my blog post raises: “Does ‘The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan’ Agree with John Walton?”  Is this ancient Christian work an example from the history of biblical interpretation that would agree with what John Walton and Jonathan McLatchie propose?  I have not read “The Conflict of Adam and Eve” in its entirety, but I do notice overlap in what I have read so far, as well as differences.

Allow me to highlight the overlap between “The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan” and what McLatchie and Walton have proposed.  First of all, the “Conflict of Adam and Eve” maintains that God designed the world in anticipation of the Fall.  Even before God made the world and Adam and Eve, God knew that they would sin, and God designed the world accordingly.  In 1:2-4, we read that God created a sea north of Eden in which human beings could wash themselves, for God knew that Adam and Eve would sin and leave the Garden.  In 13:12-13, God said that he made the sun so that human beings could work during the day, whereas they would rest at night.  But there was no day and night in Eden, for it was always light there, and that is why Adam and Eve are struggling to adjust to their new post-Fall reality, in which they have to deal with darkness at night and the blinding sun during the day.  God, prior to creating Adam and Eve, created the sun and the moon knowing that Adam and Eve would sin and leave the Garden.  God fashioned the way the world was with the Fall in mind.  That somewhat resembles what Jonathan McLatchie was saying about God retroactively applying the effects of the Fall to the world before the Fall even took place.

Second, to repeat what I said above, life in the Garden is different from life outside of the Garden.  Inside of the Garden, there is continual light.  Darkness is not present there.  Day and night are irrelevant inside of the Garden.  But day and night do exist outside of the Garden; God, after all, created day and night, the sun and the moon, prior to creating Adam and Eve.  That somewhat reminds me of Walton’s suggestion that Adam and Eve were living within the Garden of Eden, whereas people and animals were dying outside of the Garden.  And what “The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan” presents may be consistent with seeing the Garden of Eden as a sanctuary for God—-a place that is apart from the world, a place that is timeless.

There are differences between “The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan” and Walton’s model, however.  “Conflict” presents Adam and Eve as the very first human beings, whereas Walton does not.  “Conflict” has Cain marrying his sister, whereas Walton appears to lean towards saying that Cain was marrying someone outside of his family (since, for Walton, there were more people besides the family of Adam and Eve).  Walton does not see Adam and Eve as naturally or inherently immortal in the Garden, for their immortality came from eating from the Tree of Life.  “Conflict,” by contrast, seems to believe that Adam and Eve lost something that was a part of their original nature in the Fall: prior to the Fall, they were luminous beings; after the Fall, they were flesh.  In “Conflict,” the Fall of Adam and Eve does have profound natural consequences (or that is presented as a possibility): Adam and Eve after the Fall fear that the animals will no longer be subordinate to them, as they were in the Garden, as if the Fall changed the animals’ nature.  Walton, by contrast, would  argue that the animals outside of the Garden were already killing each other, even before Adam and Eve fell, which would imply that the Fall of Adam and Eve did not change the animals’ nature for the worse.

I do find the areas of overlap interesting, though.

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