Theological rants
of a liberal Christian

Genesis 11:31, Did God Tell Abraham To Sacrifice Isaac? Part II of III

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Genesis 11:31, Did God Tell Abraham To Sacrifice Isaac? Part II of III

And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there.

//Yesterday I introduced the Documentary Hypothesis, and how it assumes two different Biblical authors contributed to the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac. This assumption stems from the use of Elohim as a name for God by one author, and by Yahweh as a name for God by the other author. But what if this different naming is intentional? What if the story means to use two different names for God?

The story of Abraham (known as Abram in this verse) begins in the land of Ur. This might be significant. Ur is modern-day Iraq, and the religion of the Chaldeans there was polytheistic. They believed in multiple gods who demanded blood sacrifice. Yahweh instructs Abraham to leave this land and its gods and travel to another.

In this new land, there eventually comes a day when Abraham is “tested” by God. But this testing is by the god of another name; not Yahweh but Elohim. The title Elohim is often read as plural, the plural of El, meaning “gods.” It is also often used to refer to Canaanite gods. It’s as if the God of Israel (Yahweh) calls Abraham out of Ur, and then the gods of Ur (Elohim) entice him to return to his old ways, even asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. They tell him to go to the “land of Moriah,” which may mean the land of the Amorites. In other words, to leave Yahweh’s land and take his son to the land where human sacrifice was practiced.

The story continues tomorrow.

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Genesis 22:2, Did God Tell Abraham To Sacrifice Isaac? Part I of III

Monday, February 23, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Genesis 22:2, Did God Tell Abraham To Sacrifice Isaac? Part I of III

And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

//This story disturbs an awful lot of Bible readers. God tests Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his only son as a burnt offering. Abraham does what God demands, taking his son up a mountain, building an altar, and binding him on the altar. As he reaches for the knife to slay his son, God finally intervenes and tells Abraham not to kill Isaac.

Yes, God intervened. But what loving God would ask this of a person in the first place? What father would obey such a request? Which of you, today, could imagine that it is God doing the asking if such a thing were demanded of you?

It gets worse. Bible scholars recognize that there are multiple authors contributing to this story. Those familiar with the Documentary Hypothesis know the two authors as the Elohist and the Yahwist. The Elohist refers to God as Elohim; the Yahwist as Yahweh. The Elohist tells the story of Abraham’s call to slay his son, and tells also of Abraham’s descent back down the mountain after the sacrifice, apparently alone. It’s quite possible that in the Elohist version of the story, Abraham really does slay his son. The Yahwist adds the narrative of God intervening, providing a ram as a replacement for Isaac, so that Abraham doesn’t have to kill his son.

But there is another way to make sense of Elohim and Yahweh, and it doesn’t require the Documentary Hypothesis. This alternative interpretation is much more in line with a compassionate, loving God. The story continues tomorrow.

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Book review: Flipped

Friday, February 20, 2015 in Book Reviews | 0 comments

Book review: Flipped

by Doug Pagitt

★★★★★

Don’t miss this one. Pagitt has the interesting writing style, fresh Bible interpretations, and anecdotal stories to keep you turning pages while he presents his Progressive Christian outlook. He even throws in a little Einstein as he explains what it means to be the light of the world.

Flipped is about turning everything over and seeing it fresh. Your concept of God will be turned on its head. Here’s a clue: Pagitt’s favorite phrase may come from the book of Acts: “In God we live, move, and exist.”

Pagitt wants to free us from what he calls an If/Then service, or a Transaction System, in which we bargain with God. If we do this, then God will do that. If we believe this, God will provide that. If we can discard the idea of conditional existence in God, then we become free to just be. To live in the moment, to become part of the whole, to see every human being as existing “in God.”

I really enjoyed this book.

Convergent Books, © 2015, 212 pages

ISBN: 978-1-60142-637-6

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Book Excerpt: Revelation: The Way It Happened

Thursday, February 19, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Book Excerpt: Revelation: The Way It Happened

“And so ends the Jewish nation,” Matthew pronounced, wagging his head appropriately.

Samuel smiled wryly at his son’s language, probably a phrase he had heard from his teacher. He sounded so grown up! “Yes, so ends the Jewish nation, a time of great darkness for the people of God. Did not the prophet Amos tell us these events would signal the end of times? God said, I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.”

“Imagine if that really happened, Father! Children would be screaming in fright,” Matthew giggled.

“It did really happen, Son—just one more way we know that the final days have come! The Gospel tells us that when our Lord died on the cross, darkness fell at noon and lasted for three hours. It seems to me that a spiritual darkness began also on that day and hasn’t lifted yet.”

“Were you afraid when the war began, then?” Matthew teased.

“My son, I know you jest, but you must understand. Many felt afraid, but this was not the fear of a man for his life. While the Jews don’t all agree about doctrine, most know the scriptures well, and all of us recognized this war as an act of God. In times such as these, every man looks into his own heart and searches there to see whether or not he stands right with God. Many fled and hid in caves hoping to die, trying to escape the plagues God promised to inflict upon his people if they broke his covenant. Even now, Son, more plagues draw near; John has told us so.”

–Revelation: The Way It Happened, 2010, pp. 21, by Lee Harmon

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Acts 10:28, Quoting Ancient Poets

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Acts 10:28, Quoting Ancient Poets

For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said

//These words are spoken by Paul in the book of Acts. Are you curious who he is quoting?

It’s credited to Epimenides, who lived six centuries before Paul. Here is another quote, supposedly written by Paul:

One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. –Titus 1:12

These quotes both originate from the same “poem,” known as Cretica addressing not the Hebrew god but Zeus. Here are the original words that made it into our Bible:

They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,

Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.

But you are not dead: you live and abide forever,

For in you we live and move and have our being.

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Mark 5:5, Legion and the Roman Armies

Tuesday, February 17, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Mark 5:5, Legion and the Roman Armies

And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.

//This verse describes a man who lived among the graves and was possessed by a “legion” of devils. He was untameable, self-destructive, unhelped and known only as “Legion.”

Whatever the purpose of this story, and whatever its historicity, it serves well as a parable of the Jewish nation under Roman suppression. The name Legion would have been easily recognized as a reference to the Roman legions, especially the infamous Tenth Legion. This hapless man, crying and cutting himself, portrays the violence and trauma of Roman occupation, and the self-hatred and self-destruction that colonized nations undergo.

In the Biblical story, Jesus, the Christian Messiah, overthrew the bonds of the afflicted man, casting the devils out of him. Jesus sent the devils into a passel of hogs, who ran pell-mell down a hill into the sea, presumably destroying the legion. A hopeful end, but unfortunately that isn’t how the story of the Jews played out in history.

Readers of my book on Revelation know how the Jewish nation self-destructed under their own revolutionary uprising. The implosion reached an epic climax 40 years after Jesus died when a messianic group calling themselves Zealots tried to take control of Jerusalem. Starvation and terror weakened the Jews, and the attempted military uprising brought down the wrath of the Romans. In real life, Legion cut himself half to death trying to drive away the demons, and the infuriated demons massacred him. No savior came.

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Luke 16:31, The Warning From Hell

Monday, February 16, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Luke 16:31, The Warning From Hell

“But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”

//This line comes from the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. After life is over, Lazarus and the rich man both find themselves in Hades, separated by a chasm. Lazarus is stationed in a pleasant place, in the bosom of Abraham. The rich man, not so much. The rich man is in such torment that he asks Abraham to let Lazarus go up to the living world and warn his brothers about what will happen to them if they don’t learn to share their riches. Abraham says no, the brothers have Moses and the prophets to warn them. If they won’t listen to them, they wouldn’t be persuaded even if someone (meaning, Lazarus) came back from the dead.

The irony, of course, is that the parable does for us what it refuses to do for the rich man’s brothers. It warns us. But the presumption is the warning won’t help us; if we won’t listen when Moses and the prophets tell us how to care for the poor, we won’t be persuaded even if someone (this time meaning Jesus) comes back from the dead.

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Matthew 26:50, The Friend of Jesus

Saturday, February 14, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Matthew 26:50, The Friend of Jesus

But Jesus said to him, “Friend, why have you come?” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him.

//Can you guess who Jesus is talking to? It’s his betrayer, Judas. Judas has just delivered Jesus into the hands of his enemies, and Jesus calls him friend.

Often, much is made of this statement, as if Jesus was still considering Judas a true friend. But this ignores the literary reference to earlier in the book of Matthew. Here is an earlier reference to a friend:

But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. –Matthew 22:11-12

Does it sound like the king is genuine in calling this man a friend? Then you haven’t read the next verse in the story:

Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

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Book review: Resurrection City

Friday, February 13, 2015 in Book Reviews | 0 comments

Book review: Resurrection City

by Peter Goodwin Heltzel

★★★★

In the book of Revelation, a heavenly city descends to earth, and God takes up residence there to govern the earth in godly justice. This city is a metaphor for the place of God’s presence, a place where God’s resurrection power is fully manifest.

Martin Luther King Jr’s dream of a beloved city was driven by an idealism that another world was genuinely possible. King dreamed of its citizens working together in love to end poverty and war.

Heltzel posits that this dream is indeed possible, in what he calls a Theory of Improvisation. He compares this radical Christian movement to jazz music, with its cooperative improvisation. Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday … can you hear the call? Improvising like a jazz musician, Jesus took the prophetic call to love God and neighbor to a new level. Jesus, too, had a dream: he explained that his mission on earth was the ultimate Jubilee.

Heltzel calls this “Jubilee justice.” He dares us to love like Jesus loves. He walks us through the visions of Thomas Jefferson, Sojourner Truth, Howard Thurman and Martin Luther King Jr. People who shared the vision of Jesus and strove toward the same goal.

This is an intelligently-written book with a unique niche and a much needed message for today’s Christianity.

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., © 2012, 203 pages

ISBN: 978-0-8028-6759-9

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Matthew 21:13, The Den of Robbers

Thursday, February 12, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Matthew 21:13, The Den of Robbers

“It is written,” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

//These words were spoken by Jesus to the money changers and vendors in the temple courtyard. I’ve always assumed Jesus was just a bit miffed about the temple system and the way it extracted money from visiting pilgrims for high-priced sacrifices. This understanding stems primarily from John’s Gospel. There, Jesus says nothing about a “den of robbers” and instead shouts, “Get these [items for sale] out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” He is alluding to the promise in Zechariah 14:21 that one day there will no longer be traders in the house of the Lord.

But this doesn’t jibe with what Jesus says in the other three gospels. In these gospels, Jesus complains about a “den of robbers,” which is a direct quote from Jeremiah 7:11:

Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.

As Jeremiah makes clear, a den of robbers is not where robbers rob. It is where they retreat to for safety, perhaps with their ill-gotten prize. What is Jesus protesting then by using this language? Was John correct or incorrect in reading the mind of Jesus?

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