Theological rants
of a liberal Christian

Mark 9:24, Pascal’s Wager

Wednesday, October 1, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Mark 9:24, Pascal’s Wager

And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

//Blaise Pascal, a 17th century philosopher, proposed that believe in god is logical, if perceived as a wager. Either God exists or he does not, and reason can defend neither possibility. Therefore, the practical solution is to weigh the gain and loss in wagering that God exists. If you gain, you gain much: an “infinitely happy life.” Because the stakes are so high (indeed, infinitely high) the logical course of action is to measure the slight loss that may accompany believing with the potential tremendous gain.

But some cannot believe. Pascal recognized this weakness, and offered advice to these unfortunate people. They should mimic the actions of believers, endeavoring to convince themselves, until it becomes possible to fool themselves into belief. (I’m paraphrasing, but the instruction seems clear enough.)

In today’s verse, the father of a child possessed by a demon comes to Jesus asking for an exorcism. Jesus says no, you have to believe first. Then I can help you. The man begs Jesus with tears, pretending to believe while confessing the truth about his unbelief.

Pascal would approve. Apparently, so did Jesus.

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Judges 21:20-21, The Tribe of Benjamin Is Rescued!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Judges 21:20-21, The Tribe of Benjamin Is Rescued!

So they instructed the Benjamites, saying, “Go and hide in the vineyards and watch. When the young women of Shiloh come out to join in the dancing, rush from the vineyards and each of you seize one of them to be your wife. Then return to the land of Benjamin.

//Judges chapters 20 and 21 describe a squabble between the tribe of Benjamin and the rest of Israel. It seems that a Levite stopped for the night in Gibeah one day (Gibeah is part of the tribe of Benjamin), and they weren’t very good hosts. Threatening attackers came to his door, and to save his life, the Levite gave them his concubine to rape and abuse. When he found her the next morning slumped at the guesthouse door, he cut her in pieces and sent the pieces around Israel to show what an injustice was done to him.

So the Israelites mounted an attack against Gibeah. The rest of the Benjaminites refused to side against Gibeah, so nearly all the Benjaminites got slaughtered. So severe was the plundering of Benjamin that the tribe was in danger of being eradicated.

Israel then lamented, worried that they would lose one of their twelve tribes. It just wouldn’t be the same without all twelve! So they found a patsy–the town of Jabesh Gilead, who refused to join the war effort against Benjamin in the first place–and went and slaughtered everybody there, preserving just 400 virgin girls to help Benjamin repopulate their tribe. But it wasn’t quite enough for every Benjaminite to have his own virgin girl, so they then instructed the remaining men to steal their own virgins from Shiloh during a celebration there. See today’s verse. Thus, the tribe of  Benjamin was preserved.

Ah, early Israeli politics. Those were the days, right?

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Job 1:4-5 Why Job Ignored His Friends

Monday, September 29, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Job 1:4-5 Why Job Ignored His Friends

And his sons went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them. And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.

//You may remember in the book of Job that several friends come to visit him in his misery, and they offer advice. Job must have sinned, they conclude, for him to be suffering so greatly. They advise him to make restitution to God, and suggest that when he is forgiven for his sins his suffering will cease.

Job ignores them. He insists that restitution won’t fix his problem. Why is Job so sure about this?

Maybe because his kids are dead. Today’s verse tells how Job was continually offering burnt offerings to God on behalf of his children before calamity fell. Job initially viewed religious ritual as a sort of barter opportunity with God to keep his children safe. It didn’t accomplish anything; they all died in a windstorm when the house they were in fell down. All of Job’s burnt offerings came to naught.

So when Job’s friends come suggesting the same rituals on Job’s behalf, Job knows there’s no point in following his friends’ advice.

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Book review: The Book of Revelation and the Coming Judgment

Saturday, September 27, 2014 in Book Reviews | 0 comments

Book review: The Book of Revelation and the Coming Judgment

by Dale Tolmasoff

★★★★★

Here is a well-researched guide to Revelation that seems to combine the best of futurist and preterist views. Tolmasoff draws strongly on Beale’s exposition of Revelation, and makes a serious effort to accommodate Revelation’s first-century atmosphere without compromising his belief in a Second Coming. He writes from the perspective of a “fallen Jehovah’s Witness,” which is intriguing in itself; I’ve long felt J/W’s have a better handle on Revelation than most of us.

Some of Revelation’s simplest images, such as the New Jerusalem descending to earth rather than remaining in heaven, are presented faithfully by Tolmasoff. Earth is our real home, not heaven, Tolmasoff rightfully insists. On the other hand, when he writes of the ten kings of the earth, he indicates that they will be fighting against Satan. I don’t think this is Revelation’s teaching, it’s actually a first-century legend regarding the return of Nero Caesar (the beast of the sea in Revelation) to battle Rome, so how did this idea make it into Tolmasoff’s book? It leaves me a little confused about Tolmasoff’s loyalties. [EDIT: Dale contacted me and explained that I misunderstood his reference. The "kings from the east" in chapter 16 are not to be equated with the ten kings in chapter 17. Thus, chapter 16's kings are spiritual in nature and fight against Satan; chapter 17's kings fight against the lamb.]

Anyway, the key to understanding Tolmasoff’s perspective is tied up in his perception of the three series of seven: the seals, trumpets, and bowls. The first series describes the siege of Jerusalem; the second is against Rome; and the third, Christ’s Second Coming. Quite fascinating, really, and far more logical than many expositions.

I have to confess that from my perspective, where Tolmasoff mixes in traditional views they seem less supported, but that’s probably personal opinion. For example, Jesus spoke of the war of 70 AD as the worst event history will ever record, but Daniel promised an even greater calamity. I found Tolmasoff’s response quite revealing: “So we have a dilemma. If these descriptions are to be taken literally, then the Bible cannot be trusted.” An untrustworthy Bible is apparently unacceptable, as is the idea that Daniel and Jesus speak of the same event, for this would preclude yet another Armageddon. Ergo, one or both biblical claims can’t be taken literally.

Haha…I know I’m being pedantic here, this book really is a strong bit of research that taught me quite a few new insights into Revelation. I loved the discussion of the origins of the thousand-year length of the Messiah’s reign, and of the River of Life. (I happen to be reviewing this book just as my latest book, coincidentally titled The River of Life, reached publication).

I strongly recommend this book for readers of Revelation wanting a balanced approach, one that takes seriously the words of the Bible but preserves your faith in a future climactic Armageddon.

© 2014, e-book by Dale Tolmasoff

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Genesis 19:32-33, The Daughters’ Revenge, Part II of II

Friday, September 26, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Genesis 19:32-33, The Daughters’ Revenge, Part II of II

And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth: Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.

//Yesterday I told the story of how Lot, seeking to protect two unknown visitors, offered his daughters up as play-toys to the evil men of Sodom. The angels step in, rescue Lot, and lead him into the mountains away from Sodom. Then Sodom is destroyed by fire and brimstone.

The story continues. There, in a cave by the mountains, the two daughters realize they’ve probably lost their only chance to bear children. Not even the men of Sodom want them. So they conspire to rape the man who offered them up to be raped … their father. See today’s verse. The plan works wonderfully:

Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.

I hope nobody still takes these hilarious stories seriously. It is a legend designed to poke fun at the nations of Moab and Ammon, enemies of Israel, by claiming that the sons of Lot’s daughters are the father of these nations.

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Genesis 19:8, The Daughters’ Revenge, Part I of II

Thursday, September 25, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Genesis 19:8, The Daughters’ Revenge, Part I of II

Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes.

//In this bizarre story, Lot is living in the city of Sodom when he is visited by angels. The men of Sodom come knocking at his door, wanting to abuse the angels sexually. (Angels are probably quite good-looking.) But Lot begs them not to harm the two visitors (he seems not to know they are angels) and asks the men of Sodom to accept his daughters as play-toys instead.

The men of Sodom aren’t happy with this solution, and eventually the angels (who seem unperturbed about Lot treating his daughters like chattel) step in and kill the bad guys. They tell Lot that he must escape to the mountains, and so Lot does.

Bible critics love to point to this story as evidence of the Bible’s old-fashioned immorality. But is this really fair? Does this event really reflect ancient family customs, in this case that the daughters of Lot mean so little to him that he would give them up to be ravaged?

Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the story.

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Hebrews 4:12, Killing with the Word

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Hebrews 4:12, Killing with the Word

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

//This verse is often quoted by Bible-thumpers justifying their use of the Bible as as weapon, bludgeoning unbelievers into submission. But context shows this understanding to be in error; the sword in this verse is turned inward, not pointed at another. So that leads us to a question: What, exactly, is the word of God?

Is it the Bible? Is the written Word “living and powerful” speaking directly to our heart, as if it were written just for us?

Is the word of God Jesus? Does this mean the truth of Jesus cuts to the soul, exposing our need?

Is the word of God His spoken voice, the power which spoke the universe into existence? Does this awesome power humble us, drop us to our knees?

Maybe it’s all three.

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Luke 2:38, The Promised Redeemer of Israel

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Luke 2:38, The Promised Redeemer of Israel

Coming up to them at that very moment, [Anna] gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

//In today’s verse, an old widow of 84 years happens to spy Joseph and Mary with their 12-year-old son Jesus, and goes up to them. She identifies the child Jesus as the redeemer of Jerusalem, the anticipated Messiah who would set Jerusalem free. This, of course, matches the expectation every Jew had of the coming Messiah. He would arrive with a mighty sword, conquer the nations, lift Israel back to its place as the favored nation in God’s world, and then rule with a rod of iron. This seems to be the expectation of everyone else for the baby Jesus as well. Here are a few more opinions:

Mary: “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.”

Zechariah: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.”

Gabriel: “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

A host of angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Simeon: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel.”

All of these voices are recorded in the first two chapters of Luke. Did they all misunderstand the role of the Messiah?

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Book Excerpt: The River of Life

Monday, September 22, 2014 in Book Excerpt | 0 comments

Book Excerpt: The River of Life

Imagine a tree which divides into two grafted-in branches. The root and original trunk of the tree is the words of the Bible and the life of a long-ago man who inspires us still today. This trunk reflects the Jesus movement which began 2,000 years ago, though two millennia of bitter theological argument has obscured its original character. We no longer know with any precision what the tree was first like—perhaps it was a fig tree—but we all have our opinions, projecting upon Jesus the image which best fits our own treasured church atmosphere.

One branch grafted onto this trunk became a mighty red maple, built atop Jesus and the Bible, stretching ever upward toward heaven. Let’s call this branch the conservatives. The other branch of the tree grew into a willow, drawing strength from the same Jesus and the same Bible, but bending to reach back down to earth. It is less a religion than a philosophy. Let’s call this branch the liberals.

The leaves of this odd tree intermingle, but they look and act very differently. They view each other with suspicion. They all draw life from the Son-light, but seem to be stretching in opposite directions, as if they reach for the Son in different locations. They trust in the strength of their roots, but against such diverse winds that one wonders if they really share the same foundation.

Is there hope for reconciliation? Will the maple leaves ever convince the willow leaves to lift their eyes heavenward? Will the willow leaves ever persuade the maple leaves to reach out to their brothers and sisters down here on earth? Curiously, both sides echo the same frustrated chorus: “Blast it, man, how can you call yourself a real Christian if you ignore what Jesus said?”

This book, then, is an attempt to uncover the roots, and in so doing to explain Jesus and the New Testament from a liberal perspective so that perhaps we can at least respectfully appreciate our differences. Perhaps someday we can even join hands in a common purpose, if not common beliefs.

–The River of Life, Energion Publications, 2014 by Lee Harmon

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Exodus 12:8-9, How To Eat The Passover Lamb

Saturday, September 20, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Exodus 12:8-9, How To Eat The Passover Lamb

That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs.

//Yesterday, I mentioned an odd contradiction in the Law which stipulated how animals were to be sacrificed. Here’s another odd contradiction. How and where were the Jews supposed to eat the Passover lamb?

Answer: Not boiled but roasted, and in the privacy of your home. A few verses later comes this additional instruction: It must be eaten inside the house; take none of the meat outside the house. –Exodus 12:46

Why, then, does the Deuteronomic version of the Law say the exact opposite? It says boil it and eat it in public:

And you shall boil it and eat it at the place which the LORD your God will choose; and in the morning you shall turn and go to your tents.* –Deuteronomy 16:7

A couple of hundred years after the Deuteronomy rewrite, the author of the Chronicles saw the contradiction and corrected it. They effectively merged the two versions: Roast the lamb, but boil all the other meats.

They roasted the Passover animals over the fire as prescribed, and boiled the holy offerings in pots, caldrons and pans and served them quickly to all the people. –2 Chronicles 35:13

* Many translations disagree, using the word “roast” in order to dissolve the contradiction.

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