Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lighter Links

How about an assortment of light and entertaining links?

Pictures taken from the space station.

Ten Books that Influenced C.S. Lewis
"Reading everything C. S. Lewis tells you to read is not a bad stimulus for a continuing education project."

How to save water-damaged books and photos

I hope you never need this. My parents did.
When a child puts something up his nose

For the book lover's book lover: Pictures of the world's most beautiful libraries
(HT: Tony Reinke)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Are Bats Birds?

Are bats birds? Who would even ask such a question?

Skeptics. Here's why:

"These are the birds you are to detest and not eat because they are detestable: the eagle, the vulture, ... the hoopoe and the bat" (Lev 11:13, 19).

Are bats birds, or is this a scientific or factual error in the Bible?

Neither; it's actually a translation issue.

Our society categorizes animals based on all sorts of characteristics — physical, behavioral, internal, and external. We have people who are paid to sit around doing nothing but this; our system is going to be more complicated. Ancient Hebrews used a much simpler system, for example, things-that-swim, things-that-crawl, and things-with-wings. Their system wasn't wrong, just different.

But their system doesn't always translate smoothly into English. "Things-with-wings" translates fine as "bird" until you get to bats.

That's the case with many passages of the Bible, whether they appear to be "errors" or not. To properly understand the Bible, we have to strive to put ourselves in the heads of the authors and their audiences. When we read the scriptures as if they were written by and to twenty-first century Americans, we are bound to go astray.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Normative Argument

A lot of modern evangelicals are pretty old-fashioned — especially where gender roles are concerned. Being the contrarian I am, I always have to ask why.

It's not unusual to get a response that appeals to what was "normative" during the time when the Bible was being written.

While I don't think that's completely invalid, we need to be able to base our answers on more than that simply because there are a lot of things that were normal during ancient times that aren't now.

During Jesus' lifetime, it was normal for extended families to live close together. The men worked while the women kept the home and raised the kids. They honored the aged, disciplined the young, worshipped together, and took care of their neighbors.

That all sounds great. This doesn't:

The men performed back-breaking labor from sun up to sun down hoping desperately to scratch a living out of the earth. The women stayed home because there was little else they could do, and someone had to watch the kids. They tended to have lots of them because ... well, there wasn't much else for a married couple to do for entertainment once the sun went down. Plus, the mortality rate made it necessary to have lots of children so that a few would reach adulthood.

"Aged" was fifty. A man answered to his father for as long as his father lived. In some parts of the ancient world, a father could kill his children at any point for any reason, even into adulthood (though that was rare).

Disease was rampant, there wasn't enough food, and what food they had couldn't be stored for long. Sanitation was non-existent. People bathed infrequently, and they went to the bathroom in a hole dug in the ground.

This was normative.

You think it's best that women stay home and raise the kids? You think large families, homeschooling, and careful religious instruction of your children is healthy? Great, so do I. You think it's required? Why?

We can't just appeal to what was normal during Jesus' day without explaining why we no longer poop in a hole.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Does God Promise to Speak?

"Pay attention, and listen to me;
be silent, and I will speak."

I've seen this verse from Job used a few times lately to say God will speak if we'll only listen. Do we have that promise from God?

Not from this verse. It's Elihu speaking to Job.

This is a danger inherent in using concordances and Bible search programs — it's too easy to find something that falsely appears to support your position when removed from its context. Of course, there are plenty of other ways to take verses out of context too.

Why is this a big deal? When people mistakenly take statements in the Bible to be promises to them, they are frequently disappointed. They're disappointed with God, even though He never made them a promise.

Remember, never read a Bible verse. Read a paragraph or more to be sure you're reading in context.

It's no small thing to decide to live your life after the precepts of the Bible. Let's make sure we're living by what it actually says.

All for Good?
Bad Verses on Tithing

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Resurrection: No Myth

Were the Gospels written to flesh out Paul's mythological Jesus? Of course not.

The Gospels tell a story that no one in his right mind would make up — certainly not if you're trying to found, or support, a religion.

Of the many elements of the story that no one would fabricate, three really stand out to me:

1) The cross — If you've got to explain how your founder died, you wouldn't make up his execution as a criminal. And you wouldn't risk making an enemy of the government by making them look bad.

2) The women at the tomb — If you wanted to pass a story off as truth, it wouldn't star the town drunk as the witness. That's about how that society viewed the testimony of women. They would not have fabricated the women as being first to the tomb.

3) The Twelve — If you wanted to found a religion around the surviving apostles, you wouldn't make them look like buffoons. For three years they didn't understand a word Jesus said, and when He rose from the dead, they didn't believe it. You can spin up an explanation as to how this isn't fatal to the new religion, but no one would tell a story like this if they didn't have to.

There are many elements of the Gospel stories that simply don't need to be there. Why explain them away? Just don't make them up. Unless they're not made up.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Gospel According to Isaiah

See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

Just as there were many who were appalled at him —
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
so will he sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (New International Version)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Twice Betrayed

Before His crucifixion, Christ was betrayed by two different people in different ways.

One honored Him; one denied Him.
One kissed Him; one cursed.
One loved money; one feared men.

One died in guilt; one repented and was forgiven.