Saturday, July 6, 2013

Bart Ehrman: Lost Scriptures

Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into the New Testament

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like I said in another review, Ehrman doesn't pretend to be Christian. He's not a Christian. But that shouldn't stop Christians from seeing how ludicrous (and even humorous) some of the alleged "lost scriptures" were. I really enjoyed this book even though I don't trust Ehrman's "professional" opinions at all. 

Ehrman implicitly shows how desperate unbelievers (like him) are to present convincing evidence against the Canon of Scripture. There are obvious, self-evident reasons for judging these "lost scriptures" as uninspired, non-canonical, and non-authoritative. The most memorable references come from the alleged "lost" Apocalypse of Paul, which claims that, in Hell, people who "break their fast before the appointed hour" are tortured and hung for all eternity "over a channel of water, and their tongues were very dry, and many fruits were placed in their sight, and they were not permitted to take of them." (p. 295). Also, allegedly, some pastors who do not perform their ministry well are tortured in hell "by Tartaruchian angels, having in their hands an iron instrument with three hooks" with which they pierce the pastor's bowels (p. 294). Other pastors get off easier, and are simply pushed into a pit of fire up to their knees and stoned in the face by angels. 

Similar examples are found in the alleged Apocalypse of Peter, which claims that in hell there is a very deep pit reserved for those who cause premature births, and that pit is filled with "all manner of torment, foulness, and excrement." Opposite to that pit is a place where children sit and shoot lightning bolts from their eyes at fornicators within the pit (see p. 284). Hell also, allegedly, contains places where liars have their lips cut off, people who lust with their eyes get their eyes burned out with red-hot irons, idolaters are chased by demons up and down "high places" for all eternity, and people hang from their eyebrows (!) for all eternity in order to "unceasingly pay the proper penalties" (p. 296).

Almost every one of these "lost scriptures" is just as ludicrous as the examples above. I am grateful that a popular unbelieving critic of Christianity took the time to publish this pathetic attempt to combat the inspired Scriptures of God.

Bart Ehrman: Lost Christianities

Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yes, you read that correctly. I gave Bart Ehrman 4 stars out of 5. I also know that Ehrman is a heretic, and he wears that badge proudly on his sleeve. In this book he is also open about his own rejection of orthodox Christianity. I think this book is worth reading because it exposes how insignificant and fanatically sectarian the alleged "lost christianities" really were in the first few centuries. Just don't buy into some of Ehrman's "professional" opinions about orthodox conspiracies to hide the "truth," and this book ends up being a very enjoyable read.

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Friday, July 5, 2013

Reflections on Psalm 119 by John Brown of Haddington

In his famous Self-Interpreting BibleJohn Brown of Haddington makes these comments while reflecting on the entirety of Psalm 119:

Let this Psalm be a touchstone by which I may try my heart and my life. Let me constantly inquire—Are these gracious tempers and holy exercises of faith, love, hope, humility, patience, and zeal, to be found in my soul? Has my heart …made these meditations, prayers, resolutions, and confessions truly my own? Is God’s Word …the sole standard of all my faith and law of my practice? Is it the channel of Jesus’ fullness of grace and comfort to my heart? Is it the instructor, the counselor, the quickener, the medicine, the armour, the treasury, the wealth, the support, the guard, the joy, and the ALL of my soul? Do I receive it as a word to me from God, and use it as my plea with him for whatever I need? Happy is he that is thus living in these delightful exercises!

New Covenant Theology: Questions Answered

New Covenant Theology: Questions Answered

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Steve Lehrer, the author of this book, while he taught an evening bible study for six weeks on "the Holy Spirit" at a non-denominational church in Sussex, Wisconsin. He gave me a free copy of his book and I was eager to study it and talk about it with him in detail. But it didn't take long before I realized how incredibly long that conversation would have been if I had talked about all my concerns within the book. Not only was it poorly written and edited, but the theology was just plain awful. In short, the book is a cross between conservative dispensational theology and contemporary American covenant theology. But there are good reasons why the typical covenant theologian does not agree with the dispensationalist, and why most evangelical theologians don't want to settle on the "middle ground" between the two--and one reason is that they don't want to argue absurdly like Steve Lehrer. 

To give you a taste of what his hermeneutic leaves open for discussion, in one of the chapters he promotes sexual relations within the family: his example is a blood-brother marrying his blood-sister as long as they're both Christians (!!). This is explicitly deemed as "lawful" and "holy" according to Lehrer's version of "New Covenant Theology," even though God's Law explicitly forbids such sexual relationships (incest). If you don't believe me, download a free PDF copy of the book here and see for yourself (see page 154-155). Lehrer even infers that he would not have a problem with his own church performing the wedding! But that is only one controversial issue which he leaves open for discussion. There are plenty more in the book.

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices

Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book only gets one star because only one chapter was clear and helpful (chapter 4, on food). Every other chapter was filled with fallacious arguments and emotionally laden distortions of reality. One chapter even had a blatant contradiction within two paragraphs of each other.

The first chapter covers the "necessity" of fair trade laws within the coffee industry. It even has a chapter on "fair wages in the Bible", but it doesn't go through any of Jesus' parables about fair wages, nor does it mention any biblical laws or proverbial wisdom principles to help guide the reader. It only mentions the oppression of the poor by robbing them of their wages. And that doesn't provide any biblical solutions at all. It only leaves the door hanging wide open for secular humanistic solutions to walk right in.

The second chapter is about chocolate and the horrors of "human trafficking" in SOME foreign industries of chocolate production. She lists only one very small region within the entire world to argue her case against such slavery. William Wilberforce is used as a historical example of christian heroism (of course) in opposition to slavery. And based upon that evidence alone, she even goes so far as to claim that: "...most of us are guilty of aiding criminal behavior, even slavery, every time we indulge in a choclaty treat" (p. 57). That is pure nonsense. It is in this chapter that she contradicts herself within a couple paragraphs. On page 60 she writes: " the Christian tradition, there is a long history of taking a stand against slavery." But two paragraphs later, and on the same page, she argues that beginning in the first century, and "until the nineteenth century, it was common for the majority of christians to read the Bible as not only approving of but mandating slavery as a God-ordained institution." So which is it? Does the Christian tradition have a long standing history of opposing slavery or approving and mandating it?

The third chapter is about the "wasteful" effects of greenhouse gas and global pollution to the earth's atmosphere. After citing Al Gore's bogus documentary about global warning -- An Inconvenient Truth -- she tries to scare the reader into believing that the global warning crisis is so OBVIOUS, and greedy Americans so guilty of hurting others through pollution, by saying that: "some reports even predict that entire islands in the Pacific could be devastated as sea levels rise due to climate change. In 2002 the small island of Tuvalu started recruiting other Pacific nations to join a planned lawsuit against the United States... for the destruction of their homes" (through the increase of greenhouse gases, p. 79). Could the author have used a more nebulous example? "Some reports"? Really? They "predict" that this "could" happen?? Really? And one "small island" even planned on suing the United States because "climate change" destroyed their homes??? Give me a break.

The fifth chapter is all about the odiousness of "sweatshops" that make clothing for US consumers. I agree with her assessment that "basic workplace standards," like having a well-lit work area, short breaks during the day, having proper safety equipment, etc., are all good and practical ideas. But then the author goes on a diatribe in favor of enforcing minimum wage laws and promoting the "basic human right" for every person in the world to work and get health care, benefits, and a safe place of shelter to sleep at night. That sounds fine and dandy until the reader realizes that she provides no evidence of that being a basic human right. She assumes it's a basic human "right", and then goes on to talk about ways to provide "justice" in foreign sweatshops. I sympathize with her feelings about the odiousness of tyrannical and unclean work environments, but I don't agree with her understanding of basic human rights. It's certainly not what the Bible illustrates as a basic human right.

The sixth chapter is about garbage; specifically the horrors of disposable diapers, tampons, and electronics in garbage dumps. She says it's hurting the environment and poisoning tons of people, and Americans are responsible for aiding in the destruction of the world by not switching to cloth diapers, cloth feminine pads, and increasing government restrictions (i.e. increasing taxation) upon electronic companies for the harm caused upon the environment and people's health when such items are improperly disposed. My wife and I use cloth diapers for our child, and she draws out some interesting health facts which helped us decide (long before I read this book) to go that route, but there isn't much more in this chapter that's helpful or insightful.

The seventh chapter is about the national debt crisis and the irresponsibility of US citizens. It's an interesting chapter, especially those parts which talk about the IMF and World Bank (interestingly, there is no mention of the Federal Reserve to be found), but some of her arguments are really strange. For example, she argues against bigger government intrusion into people's lives, but then she blatantly endorses government schools and "free" government education!! I wasn't aware that there was such a thing as "free" government education. I thought tax payers and other expenses from the private sector were used to support government education. But hey, if it's absolutely FREE, and incredibly valuable, who wouldn't want it? But she fails to tell us where this "free" government education can be found. Her emotionally laden arguments are overly simplistic too. For example, while writing in favor of "free" government education, she says: "Universal public education is a luxury often taken for granted by wealthy nations. When the government cannot provide free education, schools must charge fees. ...One effect of this is the widening of the gender gap around the world. In cultures that value boys more than girls, a family will not "waste" precious resources to pay for a girl to attend school. The result is generations of illiterate, uneducated women" (p. 171). In this example, we are supposed to deduce that illiterate, uneducated women are the direct result of cultures which do not have a government that can provide free education. If that's not an oversimplified argument, I don't know what else is.

Only chapter four (on food) was really good and helpful.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Literary Structure of Matthew 11:25-30 and 12:46-50 (sections C and C')


I have already commented on the relationship between Matthew 11:25-30 and 12:46-50 in a previous post, and the much larger macro-literary structure of chapters 11 & 12 in another post. But I did not include the smaller micro-literary structure for these parallel sections. That can be found below. The translational differences were noted in the previous post as well:

At that time Jesus declared:
A)  I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
   B)  that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding
   B’)  and revealed them to little children.
A’)  Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

C)  All things have been handed over to me by my Father,
   D)  and no one really knows the Son except the Father,
   D’)  and no one really knows the Father except the Son
C’)  and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

E)  Come to me all who labor and are burdened,
   F)  and I will give you rest.
      G)  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,
E’)  for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
   F’)  and you will find rest for your souls.     
      G’)  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.


A)  While he was still talking to the multitudes, behold!, his mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak to Him. 
   B)  Then one said to Him: “Behold! Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak to you.”  
   B’)  And he answered and told the one who said that to Him: “Who is my mother? And who are my brothers?”  
A’)  And stretching out his hand over his disciples, he said: “Behold! My mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Monday, July 1, 2013

Literary Structure of the Sermon on the Mount

A. Jesus ascends mountain surrounded by crowds, 4:25-5:2
   B. Blessings, 5:3-10
      C. Fulfill “the law and prophets,” glorify “your Father in Heaven,” 5:11-20

         D. Two triads on Law, 5:21-48
            E. One triad on spiritual discipline, 6:1-18
         D'. Two triads on Godly priorities, 6:19-7:6
      C'. “This is the law and prophets,” ”your Father in Heaven” provides, 7:7-12
   B'. Warnings, 7:13-27

A'. Jesus descends mountain surrounded by crowds, 7:28-8:1

Literary Structure of the First Pair of Triads (Section D)

A)  Commandment of Yahweh with commentary upon 1st Century Jewish custom/convention (vv. 21-26)
a)  “You have heard that it was said to those of old”
  b)  "'You shall not murder,' and yet [δε] 'whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.'"
    c)  But I say to you…
B)  Commentary upon presumptuous sin (vv. 27-30)
d)  “You have heard that it was said to those of old”
  e)  ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 
    f)  But I say to you…
C)  Commentary upon a Pharisaical interpretation of Torah (vv. 31-32)
g)  “Furthermore it has been said…”
  h)  ‘Whoever divorces his wife, have him give her a certificate of divorce.’
    i)  But I say to you…

A’)  Commandment of Yahweh with commentary upon 1st Century Jewish custom/convention (vv. 33-37)
a’)  “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old,”
  b’)  "'You shall not swear falsely,' and yet [δε] 'you shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ "
    c’)  But I say to you…
B’)  Commentary upon presumptuous sin (vv. 38-42)
d’)  You have heard that it was said,
  e’)  ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
    f’)  But I tell you
C’)  Commentary upon a Pharisaical interpretation of Torah (vv. 43-48)
g’)  “You have heard that it was said,
  h’)  ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
    i’)  But I say to you…

Literary Structure of the Central Triad (Section E)

A)  (6:2-4)  “When you give to the needy… as the hypocrites do…. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. …And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
B)  (6:5-6)  “And when you pray… like the hypocrites. …Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. …And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
C)  (6:16-18)  “And when you fast… like the hypocrites… Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. …And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

6:5-15 is also the central section of this entire central triad (6:1-18) of the Sermon on the Mount:

A)  “And when you pray, you must not be like…”   (v. 5)
   B)  “But when you pray…”   (v. 6)
A’)  “And when you pray, do not… as they [do]”   (v. 7)
   B’)  “Pray then like this…”   (v. 9a)

A)  “Our Father in Heaven,”
   B)  Your name be hallowed
      C)  Your kingdom come
         D)  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
         D’)  Give us this day our daily bread
      C’)  Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors
   B’)  Lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one
A’)  “For to You belongs the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever”

A)  “For if you forgive others…”   (v. 14a)
   B)  “Your heavenly Father will also forgive you”   (v. 14b)
A’)  “But if you do not forgive others…”   (v. 15a)
   B’)  “Neither will your Father forgive your trespasses”   (v. 15b)

Literary Structure of the Second Pair of Triads (Section D’)

Two triads on Godly priorities (6:19-7:6):

A)  “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth”
B)  Parable about the “eye”
C)  Parable about serving (two) masters

         6:25ffAdditional encouragement concerning our Heavenly Father’s provision

A’)  “Do not judge, in order that you not be judged”
B’)  Parable about the “eye”
C’)  Parable about feeding (two) animals

The two triads on Godly priorities (6:19-7:6) can be viewed as a single triad as well:
A)  6:19  “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth …”
B)  Additional Encouragement: (6:25ff)  “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…”
C)  7:1    “Do not judge….”

The central section on anxiety (6:25-34) is expanded in its details:
A)  Anxiety in life: what to eat & drink, and what clothing to wear (v. 25a )
   B)  Question: concerns about “life” and “body”(v. 25b)
      C)  “Look at the birds” (v. 26)
         D)  Why are you anxious about your life span? (v. 27)
         D’)  Why are you anxious about your clothing? (v. 28a)
      C’)  “Consider the lilies of the field” (v. 28b)
   B’)  Question: concerns about being clothed (v. 30)
A’) Therefore don’t be anxious about what to eat & drink, and what clothing to wear (v. 31)
E) The Gentiles are anxious about all these things (v. 32a) 
    F) Your Heavenly Father knows you need all these things (v. 32b)
    F’) But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (v. 33)
E’) Therefore don’t be anxious about tomorrow (v. 34)

Also, notice that the oblique promises of Jesus in section C’ (7:7-12) are complemented well with it’s parallel section, section C (5:11-20).  In section C’ Jesus promises that if his disciples “ask…it will be given to them.” And if they seek, they will find, and if they knock it will be opened. For what Father, Jesus argues, would intentionally give his children bad things, contrary to their needs? How much more would their “Father in heaven” do so? Not very likely, if they know their Heavenly Father. “For whatever you wish that others would do to you,” Jesus says, “do also to them, for this is The Law and The Prophets.” But what are they to ask? And what are they to be seeking?

After noting the literary structure carefully, I contend that this seemingly oblique set of promises is complemented well by the parallel statements of section C. In 5:11-20, Jesus teaches the crowds that they need to be salt and light, having a "righteousness" which is greater than the scribes and the Pharisees, and that men need to see their good works so that their “Father in Heaven” would be glorified. One logical inference from this statement is that in order to be salt and light, they need to emulate their Heavenly Father's "righteousness." Such righteousness is indeed greater than the righteousness of their earthly "fathers," the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus did not come to tear down “The Law and the Prophets, which teaches a righteousness other than what is seen and taught among the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus came to uphold the Law and the Prophets, which manifests the righteousness of the Father. Therefore those who teach and do faithfully, emulating the Father's righteousness, will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. If their righteousness does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus promises that they will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.

From all of this, it seems that what Jesus began describing in 5:11-20 --descriptions about entering or falling short of entering the kingdom of heaven-- ends in 7:7-12 with a commission to be asking and seeking for those “good things” from the Father which promote entrance into the kingdom of heaven, i.e. the new covenant, and the emulation of their heavenly Father's righteousness. And between those sections (sections D, E, and D'), we find instructions about this very thing. We find instructions from Jesus about "good things" which emulate a greater righteousness than the scribes and Pharisees. We find a righteousness of our Heavenly Father. We find two triads of instructions about law, one triad of instructions about spiritual discipline, and two triads about Godly priorities.