Tag Archives: the Bible

Grill a Christian: Question 4: Why was the Bible written?


Somehow I jumped from question 3 to 5. Here’s 4.

“Why were the books of the Bible written? I know that some of them are letters so I get that, but what of the ones that are written as novels and accounts of Jesus life and the stories of the Old Testament? The authors didn’t know their work would go into the Bible so why did they record it? Was it like a diary? A ledger? Letters?”

I think one of the super important things about the Bible is something you’ve absolutely nailed in your question — that its a collection of books. Each book has a different purpose, is a different genre, each is written at a different time in the unfolding of God’s story, and each is written in a different way (so, some books are histories that accumulate over time via different people who compile them, some are autobiographical, some are recordings of sermons or messages brought to God’s people by leaders, prophets, and later, Apostles).

Genesis-Deuteronomy = the ‘Law’/legal code of Israel, but it’s not just their law it’s their history — the reason to keep the law. It tells the story of Israel being created out of all the other nations (and connected to all the other nations, and the story of all the other nations being connected to God from Adam, and how Israel was meant to ‘bless them’ (from Genesis chapter 12 — this might help answer your later question, Israel was meant to follow in Adam’s footsteps, being God’s representatives/making him known to all the nations, and all the nations were meant to keep their connection to the God who made them through Israel, but they walked away. That’s the story the earliest books of the Bible tells — of our shared humanity, but Israel’s role in God’s plans, and how they’re to carry them out by being different.

Those books are a mix of oral history and autobiography/sermons written by Moses, except they go a bit after his death, and there are times where you can see people adding little historical notes like “and this is still there to this day” so that you know they were ‘edited’ or at least kept current so that readers knew their connection to the story in later generations.

Joshua-2 Chronicles records Israel’s history as a nation, from the time they settle in the land that is now a pretty contested part of the middle east, to the time they’re taken into exile. These are written by many many people, probably as official court historians/record keepers. They’re largely narrative based.

Then there’s the wisdom literature — Job, Proverbs, Psalms, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes — these are like many other ancient forms of wisdom literature that explore the big questions about life, the universe, and everything. They are an interesting mix — especially Psalms and Proverbs — Proverbs has some Egyptian wisdom, some Jewish thought, and shows how Israel should be relating to the world (including the wisdom of the nations), by starting their search for wisdom with understanding how incomprehensibly big God is (so the Proverbs talk about ‘the fear of the Lord’).

The rest of the Old Testament are ‘the prophets’ accounts of the preaching/teaching of different people who spoke to Israel about how they were going wrong by wandering away from God and turning to idols. These guys either wrote stuff down (and sometimes describe themselves as writing things down), or their messages were recorded.

The prophets and the Psalms reflect backwards on the history, and look forward to Israel living the way they were meant to, not turning to idols, for the sake of themselves, the nations, and God’s plan/story which was heading towards Jesus.

I suspect they recorded their messages because they were part of a culture that recorded its history (from the time of Moses), and they saw themselves standing in this tradition of God revealing himself, in terms of what type of text their recordings were, they read like they could be a bit of a diary, or letters to their school of followers, and at times a collection of sermons/speeches they were giving. Some of them record history — like speeches from the national leaders/spokespeople they’re interacting with. I think there are two reasons they might have written things down, depending on how much they knew they were speaking directly for God, and so writing ‘the Bible’ and how much they knew they were saying important things to call Israel back to what they knew to be true. So:

1. To record their words as God’s word, or,

2. To have a record of their words as important messages that would be held up against what happened to Israel in order to see how accurate they were as prophets. Prophecy has always, in some sense, been tested by its accuracy, and the reason these ones lasted is that they proved accurate both in terms of Israel’s exile, and, for Christians, the coming of Jesus.

In the New Testament, there’s Gospels — which are biographies/histories of Jesus with a particular theological agenda and an audience the writer is trying to persuade about Jesus. So. Mark is written to a Roman audience, it seems, and tends to emphasise details that Romans would find significant, Matthew is written to a largely Jewish audience, Luke is written, it seems, to a Greek/Roman/Jewish mixed bag and its largely an attempt to give a robust history of Jesus and the Church (centered on Paul’s missions), because Luke’s sequel, Acts, was probably part of the same volume originally but split over two scrolls. John is written a little later than the other three Gospels, and seems to answer a bunch of big theological questions about who God is, who Jesus was, etc, to help the early church appreciate the connection with the Old Testament, and potentially to answer some things people were teaching about Jesus that weren’t consistent with the other Gospels.

Then the rest of the New Testament is letters to churches or people. They’re a bit like the prophets in that they reflect on who God is, and how he goes about saving, and deal with figuring out what beliefs this creates in terms of different situations and tendencies, and how we’re to live in response.

There are a couple of books that are often treated as tricky (and they are) which are harder to categorise because they use an apocalyptic genre so are full of symbolism — Daniel and Revelation. I tend to think Daniel is much like the other prophets in that it is meant to teach God’s people about real power by assessing a situation where they are under the power of an oppressor, and Revelation is actually primarily a letter, so it has to be addressing real, specific, concerns for the people receiving it in order to be useful (and so, circulated), and it also has to make sense to them. We lose the meaning of these books if we try to decode the symbolism to make it primarily about distant future events for the recipients or current events for us.

What’s cool about the Bible is that we don’t entirely have to figure out this question apart from God’s answer, which we find when Jesus uses the Bible in all its diversity, to point people to himself as the climax of the story. He’s talking to a couple of his followers before they realise it’s him, after he’s been raised from the dead, in the midst of their disappointment because they don’t think a crucified guy can possibly come from God.

“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them,“This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations,beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” — Luke 24:25-27, 44-49

So despite all this diversity, and all the specific situations that were being addressed (and are still addressed) in terms of who we are and how we go about life in God’s world, and what that means for our relationship with God, the Bible from start to finish is actually about God, not us. It tells his story, about his love for people as it is ultimately revealed in his chosen king. It’s the story of God coming to dwell with his people — regaining the paradise lost in the first chapter, first in Jesus himself, and then when this promise Jesus makes is fulfilled as God’s Spirit, his life-giving breath comes to live in people again.


Bible Reading: The medium is not the message (the message is)

Should we be using iPads, and presumably other forms of technology in church? Or does that undermine the concept of the word of God? Does it white ant the authority of the Bible?


I don’t think so. But, this post went a little viral last week. It attempts to make the case against preachers reading the Bible from tablet devices.

“And yet I am finding that cutting-edge, 21st-century technology is subtly but quickly changing important, even indispensable aspects of Christianity. Consider just one example: the ever-growing tendency to substitute a physical, visible Bible (remember . . . the ones where you lick your finger and turn the pages) with a tablet in the pulpit.”

Conflating medium and message like this is dangerous. As is not understanding the importance of the relationship between medium and message. But the church would die tomorrow (or in this generation) if we did not adapt our mediums to continuously carry the message.

I’ve written some dumb stuff in my time, so I don’t like throwing stones at dumb ideas – but this post enshrines 16th century Reformation values as modern regulations in a pretty unhelpful way. Imagine trying to make this case for a physical, presumably leather bound book, in the early church…

His argument kind of boils down to the symbolism involved in the use of particular physical mediums – what they represent. What they communicate.

“Yes, this tablet contains the digital text of the Bible, but visually that tablet represents so much more. It is an icon of social media and a buffet of endless entertainment.”

And in trying to pre-emptively move away from the technological idol, he idolises the hard copy.

“In short, a print copy of the Scriptures in the pulpit represents something far more focused and narrow: a visible symbol of God speaking to his people, the master Shepherd feeding his flock.”

That borders on idolatry. The physical form of the Bible – I’m not talking the words themselves – but what they’re printed on as a symbol? No thank you. Unless you want to take me back to Greek or Hebrew characters scrawled on pages by scribes…

I reckon Augustine would be rolling in his grave at the argument that wrong use of technology – in this case tablets – negates any right use.

This is quite a ridiculous statement. When you think about it. The “problem” as described, may even be accurate… but is it caused by better technology? A hyperlinked medium? I doubt it.

“When the preacher says, “Turn in your Bibles to . . . ,” the layperson simply clicks on a link or enters the text into a search box. As a result, I am increasingly discovering as a professor at a Christian university that students do not know where books in the Bible are located, let alone how the storyline of redemptive history develops. Many laypeople do not possess the ability to see the text in its context. Consequently, these old-fashioned, basic, Bible-learning skills are being lost.”

I want to suggest – and I’ll attempt to outline my thinking below – that this is an apt description of the modern “layperson,” and that the Reformers are a model for thinking about how this sort of technology could be embraced by the church, but that they wouldn’t be mounting arguments more at home in the Luddite movement than in a reforming church.

Here are a couple more quotes before we move on.

“And should an unbeliever walk in for the first time, would he know that we are a people of the book?”

Here’s where he displays his cards – I’d argue we’re people of God’s written word. Not people of the book. Being a person of the book makes no sense when books no longer exist (or before books exist). Honestly, picture a day in 50 years where nobody but a collector or a traditionalist is all that interested in physical mediums – what message are you sending in this post 1984/Farenheit 451 dystopia if you’re trying to insist on the use of a book? Is the gospel not relevant in this cultural wasteland?

Interestingly – media theorists – those who study the rapidly changing landscape of the things that carry messages – often chart the rise and fall of empires through history and note that staying apace with change is really important. Media Theorist Marshall McLuhan (who coined the phrase “the medium is the message”) said:

“Any change in the forms or channels of communication, be it writing, roads, carts, ships, stone, papyrus, clay, or parchment, any change whatever has revolutionary social and political consequences.”

The way the people of God have selected, used, and adapted mediums to carry the message of the Gospel has ensured the longevity of the gospel message. God’s communication agents, his messengers, have always kept pace with (and in the case of the Reformation – driven) changes in communication mediums. Preferring mediums that are easily transmitted in a way that breaks down physical barriers, or impediments, to messages spreading.

Consider the Epistle. A short letter that could be easily duplicated and ferried around a network of roads – rather than relying on one speaker on a tour, or setting up an impressive statue with a stone inscription…

Consider the Reformation. Luther didn’t just translate the Bible. He produced fliers that were designed to spread quickly, to start conversations, to stir controversy, to change minds. Luther also complained about the typesetting of some of his pamphlets – because good use of emerging mediums is important. Luther would love the iPad.

Look. If your evangelistic strategy depends on you carrying a physical Bible. I think you’re doing it wrong. And if you can’t think of ways to use the digital text of the Bible to start conversations with people. I think you’re doing it wrong. And if you think you need a book, a physical book, in church to be doing it right. I think you’re doing it wrong. I’m not sure “carry a book” was what Paul meant when he said, in Colossians 3:

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

Richly seems a little bit more than the two dimensional written/spoken approach underpinning that post.

“… when the smartphone or iPad (or name your mobile device) replaces a hardcopy of Scripture, something is missing in our nonverbal communication to unbelieving onlookers. When you walk to church, sit down on a bus, or discipline one another at a coffee shop, a hard copy of the Bible sends a loud and bold message to the nearest passersby about your identity as a Christ follower. It says, “Yes, I am a Christian and I believe this book is the Word of God telling us who we are and how we should live.”

The medium should support the transmission of the message

This is kind of communication/media theory 101. The medium is incredibly important. The paradigm for this is, believe it or not, Jesus himself.

In Jesus, the word of God takes on an unprecedented three dimensional reality that is incredibly flexible (not simply rigid text). God’s word becomes rich in that Jesus could be experienced by those he interacted with in the flesh, with the senses.

Marshall McLuhan, said of the incarnation of Jesus:

“In Jesus Christ, there is no distance or separation between the medium and the message: it is the one case where we can say that the medium and the message are fully one and the same.”

I would say it is Jesus himself who is centrally important, and provides the pattern for thinking about the relationship between medium and message. Not the written word. This means being flexible with our use of mediums – not rigidly holding on to a “flexibility” developed in the Reformation.

Here’s what Paul says about Jesus approach to becoming a physical communication medium in Philippians 2, and how that seems to impact his approach to communication in 1 Corinthians 9.

Philippians 2…

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

1 Corinthians 9…

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

In Jesus, God sacrificially accommodated us, his audience. So that we could understand what he was communicating – try understanding an infinite God without God making himself human… the medium was one that we could understand and relate to. Paul works hard to be a medium those he seeks to reach can understand and relate to as he presents the gospel to them…

If we really want to become part of the world we’re trying to communicate the message of Jesus to, it’s no good hanging on to old fashioned ways of communicating the message – unless you want a church exclusively made up of nostalgics hungry for a tactile connection to God – and that’s probably idolatry… we should be at the forefront of thinking about how we can pair God’s timeless word with timely mediums. We should be looking to incarnate the message in new mediums in a way that accommodates those we seek to reach.

If we don’t adapt – we will die.

It’s only through speaking the language of the people, in forms they are familiar with, that we can start addressing some of the deeper literacy issues when it comes to the Bible – and I firmly believe that a greater ability to follow intertextual links along a thread (or trajectory) through the Bible is where we’re going to see a greater grasp of a Christ centred Biblical Theology developing.

So even the legitimate concern raised above is addressed by making the books of the Bible more intertextually linked – through actual links – than they ever have been before. And now it’s in your pocket. Not in a clunky old book that you have to lug around on a plane to start a conversation…


The Bible on Prime Time

I enjoyed this and thought it was a largely helpful rendition of the narrative of Genesis-Exodus. I really appreciated the way the show used and presented some of the behind the scenes aspects of the narrative with sensitivity. And then there were the ninja angels…

In the absence of more substantive thoughts. Here are my tweets, and those I retweeted, from tonight…

Did you watch? Do you have thoughts?


Fork Criticism: Understanding Biblical scholarship through cutlery…

If you feel like you should be on the cutting edge of Biblical scholarship, or if you just want to get the point… here’s a visual guide to various scholarly approaches to the Bible, applied to cutlery. For your edification and education…

We begin with what we have. A fork. It is a very clever implement. Great for stabbing food and carrying it to one’s mouth. It has the perfect number of prongs; one less and small food would escape, one more and the fork would be ungainly.

The foundational assumption in higher criticism is that this fork is a development of history. It is unlikely, given its perfect suitability for the job, that there were not previous, primitive versions.

These versions may have been the result of a series of communities, each with inadequate eating utensils (form criticism)…

There may also have been a “genuine” original tradition, that others have built on, adapting the fork to their own communities and types of food – if you don’t just eat a big hunk of meat, then you need multiple prongs… There might be different metals involved in the handle and the prongs… there might be a brand name stamped on the fork… there are myriad avenues for speculating about the various forms that have combined in this one utensil.

Or they may have been the result of somebody sitting down with various eating utensils and combining them (source criticism).

Source criticism is also pretty useful when you’re dealing with a complex and evolved version of a fork – when we already have a version of the fork to compare things to… We can conduct “Spork Criticism”…

Or, for the more highly evolved, Splade Criticism…

Things start to get a little bit more complicated as the cutlery gets more complicated…

Maybe the final form it the result of somebody bringing a bunch of different utensils together.

Or maybe it represents one tradition’s approach to cutlery and efficient design.

One of the interesting things about this level of complexity is that sometimes sources and forms collide… sometimes what one group saw as a “tradition” actually turns out to be from two different sources.

Either way… what we have is a final form fork. And we can speculate about its compositional history.

Sometimes this allows us to study the previous types of fork, and draw conclusions about the people involved, and their diets. Sometimes we can see the seams where new prongs were welded on. This excites some people more than others. This process – either in source or form criticism – is called Redaction Criticism…

If you do redaction criticism with the final form of the fork you can understand the community who put it all together… This is close to the traditional view of fork scholarship, one might call it a Canonical approach.

Some people are just born skeptical – they have doubts about the fork, our hands are natural, the products of science and stuff, so we should eat with them. Fork users are gullible, and if there is a fork, it’s probably a symbol of the hand anyway, used by powerful people to control the eating habits of the masses. This is “Radical Criticism”…

Sometimes it just makes more sense to see the fork for what it is – a cleverly designed implement that serves a purpose. All this studying of forks sometimes gets in the way of just using the fork for what it is made for. Eating. This is the “traditional” view.

Each sold separately: Pocket Canon

As a couple of commenters have already pointed out – it turns out my idea was “nothing new” (cf Ecclesiastes). Enter the Pocket Canon series:

Pretty much what I described, only using the KJV. And a bit old (published in 1999). Reasonably priced too – 10 for . $24.95 on Amazon, here’s the second series.

The good news is, obviously there’s a market for this stuff.

Here’s a glowing review from a blog that’s all about Bible design.

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This is cool. While doing a little googling for that last post I came across this. It’s called 66 Clouds.

You can buy posters for each book of the Bible – or a coffee table book. It’s exactly what it looks/sounds like. Word clouds of each book of the Bible, get it on Amazon.

Obviously you can make your own with wordle.net. Where you can even tweak the colours. But ’tis nice.


An Idea: Bible books sold separately

As I travel the internet defending the veracity of the Bible (most recently in this thread on Steve Kryger’s post on the popular ThePunch.com.au) it’s often struck me that one of the major truths about the Bible that is lost in the noise as the nu-atheists, armed with their well-thumbed copies of tomes by Dawkins and Hitchens (replete with highlighted cliff-notes so that they all sound on message), clamour all over just about any thread that dares to mention God, is that the Bible is actually a collection of volumes. Volumes collated over a great amount of time – and finally signed off by a series of councils in the early years of the church.

One of the Bible’s great strengths against other religious texts is this diversity of authorship and development. The consistency of message and theology demonstrated across the 66 books is impressive (even if some people would rather look for contradictions – contradictions which are usually just poor reading/interpreting of the text – the number of contradictions is hugely overwhelmed by the number of corroborations and overall consistency). So here’s what I’m picturing in my head. It’s a piece of performance art. Of sorts. Perhaps better described as a piece of literary art. And I hereby claim this idea as my own – and if you think it has legs I’d like you to tell me (also, if it doesn’t)…

Here’s what I think we should do.

Design a set of the 66 books of the Bible in separate volumes (one chapter per page to pad out some of the smaller books – and perhaps some “Study Bible” or commentary type notes, just so Jude is publishable…

I’m thinking nice typography and minimalist cover designs (or perhaps designs like these from Jim Le Page), maybe with spines that link together as an image. Good quality printing. It’d probably be expensive. Maybe with an approximate date of composition on each spine (I know this is notoriously hard to pin down).

Image Credit: Jim Le Page, on Flickr.

But what do you reckon? It’d make a nice statement about what the Bible is, and be oddly functional – because you could take a single book to church if you know what the sermon is going to be on in advance… Anybody have any idea what a set of 66 volumes would cost to publish?

Does the Bible Contradict itself?

One of the four horsemen of the Atheist Apocalypse – Sam Harris – thinks so. He commissioned this beautiful infographic of “contradictions” in the Bible, which shows, once again, that the New Atheists read the Bible in much the same way as the Westboro Baptist Church. Which is the reason they are so angry about Christianity. When you read it like that mob the Bible is pretty awful. What they don’t do is interact with the other 99.9999999999999% of people who read the Bible with some idea of theology, and how the Bible works, and some basic interpretive skills. Things like recognising genre (for example, one of the “contradictions” is two verses in Proverbs that are deliberately contradictory and placed next to each other to highlight the difficulty of dealing with fools), recognising rhetorical purpose, or recognising literary techniques and difficulties that come from translating Hebrew idioms into English. This couplet from Genesis 8 is one of the “contradictions”…

“4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5 The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.”

Now, I’m no expert on flood physics and geography – but it seems to me that a boat might come to rest on a high mountain before the high mountain is visible, and it may take a little longer for the rest of the mountains to become visible. Which means that even at face value this doesn’t seem contradictory – but there may (and I haven’t looked into this at all) be something going on here with the numbers seven, ten, and seventeen. Seventeen in Hebrew is written as 10 7. So there’s a possibility that we might just have to allow for some literary artistry going on here… Seven is a pretty significant number for Hebrew thought (I’m not going to get all Augustine and start allegorising here) so this sort of verse would have flagged something for the original Hebrew audience.

I haven’t looked into that many of these contradictions. But the two I chose at random seem pretty easy to dismiss. You can get a bigger copy of the graphic (PDF) and go over it with a fine tooth comb if you’d like to. I can’t be bothered. Because I’m going to show this crowing atheist the same treatment I show the Westboro Baptists. I’m going to blog about his stupidity, and then I’m going to move on.

This infographic is from a site called “Project Reason” – unfortunately they don’t extend that reason past science and into literature. It’s sad. The Resurgence has a look at some of the other contradictions put forward, feel free to make note of any you find in the comments here.


Church History 101: A short history of church history from 64 AD to 600 AD (part four)

Moving right along, like a comedian whose last joke bombed badly, we’re getting towards the final stages of the “Patristic Period” (which covers roughly 100 A.D to 451 A.D, ending at the council of Chalcedon)… these councils all seem to have to decide the same thing over and over again, first against Arianism, and then against Nestorianism and Eutychianism.

Quick guide to fifth century heresies:

Arianism: Different substance, Jesus is creation, not same as creator.
Apollinarianism: Splits Jesus into divine (mind) and human (body)
Nestorianism: Mary bore Christ not God, different substances. Jesus became God (he was two persons in a moral union.
Donatism: Anything touched by somebody touched by a heretic is tainted. Purity at all costs. Your baptism, and salvation, are ruined by a heretic who transmits his heresy.
Pelagianism: No inherited sin, or original sin, or indeed sinful nature. Works can get you to heaven.
Eutychianism: Christ has one unique nature. Not human. Not god.

Quick Guide to the Councils:

325: Nicea – Against Arianism, Athanasius refutes Arianism, vote is hugely in favour, comes up with the Apostle’s Creed – which bears similarities to creedal confessions from 1 Corinthians 15, through the writings of the early church. Takes two months. Decides Jesus is fully human. Fully god. Of like substance.

381: Council of Constantinople – Jesus Christ is truly human. Just like us. Apollinarianism is refuted by the Cappuccino Brotherhood (Cappuccinos actually get their names from the hoods of monks).

393: Council of Hippo – Affirms Athanasius’ definition of the canon, provides criterion for adopting the books.

431: Council of Ephesus – Jesus Christ is one person, contrary to Nestorianism, which held that Christ was two persons, one divine and one human

449: The “Robber Synod” – Declares Christ has only one nature (Eutychianism).

451 Council of Chalcedon: – Response to Robber Synod, decides that “Jesus Christ is “two natures, the Divine of the same substance as the Father (against Arianism), the human of the same substance as us, which are united unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably…”

Here’s how the period plays out in timeline form:

325 Council of Nicea
328 Athanasius is bishop Alexandria
329 Basil the Great of Cappadocia is born, he promotes communal monasticism that serves the poor, sick, and needy.
330 Constantinople founded
335 Martin of Tours, a monk who is famous for his compassion for the poor is born.
337 Constantine’s baptism and death
339 Ambrose, a significant figure in the church whose powerful rhetoric converted Augustine, is born, his approach to OT exegesis was closely mirrored by Augustine, anything that wasn’t pure moral instruction he allegorised, looking for a mystical meaning. Follows Origen lots, and borrows allegory from Philo. Fought against Arianism.
340 Ulfias, a German dude, converts to Arian Christianity and ends up converting most of the Germanic tribes.
345 Chrysostom is born, the father of historical and grammatical exegesis (the good stuff) starts a movement away from allegorical interpretations that had been popular since Clement of Alexandria.
347 Jerome is born, Augustine’s interlocutor, and a massive brain who translates the Old Testament out of Hebrew into Latin, producing the Vulgate.
353 Constantius’ pro-Arian policy boots Athanasius out of Alexandria
354 Augustine is born, Augustine. The world’s first blogger. A prolific writer about church, state, doctrine, education, music… you name it, he wrote about it. Had an interesting, and slightly munted, view of the transmission of sin, and a predilection for bizzaro allegory in interpreting the Old Testament. Otherwise a brilliant thinker who should still be read today.
361 Julian the Apostate gains control, converts to Paganism. Rules for two years, gives the Donatists a chance to return to Rome (causing later headaches for Augustine)
367 Athanasius defines New Testament, naming the 66 books of the Bible in a letter.
370 Basil becomes bishop of Caesarea
378 Battle of Adrianople
379 Theodosius becomes emperor, makes Christianity the official state religion.
381 Council of Constantinople: Basil, Greg and Greg take down the Arians. Again. The council deals with pretty much the same issues, concluding that Jesus Christ is truly human, contra Apollinarianism, which split Jesus into a human body and a divine mind. The Great Cappadocians are the inspiration behind the defeat of Arianism at this council. They are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Gregory of Nyssa
382 A Roman Council affirms Athanasius’ definition of the canon.
385 Ambrose prevails
387 Augustine’s conversion
393 The Council of Hippo also recognises the canon, providing set criteria for recognition: a book had to be Apostolic, fit in with the other scriptures, and have been of fruitful use throughout the church up to that time
395 Augustine becomes bishop of Hippo
397 A council of Carthage recognises the decision at Hippo. We have a Bible.
398 Chrysostom bishop of Constantinople
400 Nestorius, a heretic, dies. He said Mary was the bearer of Christ not God. He could not call a three month child God. So he said that Jesus Christ was two persons, whose only union was a moral one.
406 Jeromes completes the Vulgate
410 Fall of Rome
411 Augustine starts writing against Pelagianism. Pelagius rejected the idea of sin through Adam, original sin, and a sinful nature. Ruled out grace, suggested works was all that was required. Augustine gives birth to Calvinism, ahead of its time. God’s grace is necessary not only to be able to choose to obey God’s commands, but to be able to choose to turn to God initially for salvation.
418 Synod of Carthage: Makes Pelagius a heretic and his teachings an “anathema”
431 Council of Ephesus: Again, forced to rule on Christology. Jesus Christ is one person, contrary to Nestorianism, which held that Christ was two persons, one divine and one human
448 Leo draws on the work of Tertullian and Augustine to define Christology for the church, writes a tome to Flavian (dude in Constantinople)
449 The “Robber Synod”: Declares Christ has only one nature (Eutychianism). Tries to argue that Christ’s nature is unique. Harks back to docetism.
451 Council of Chalcedon: Affirms Leo’s tome, rejects Eutychianism, tosses out Nestorianism (again), decides that “Jesus Christ is “two natures, the Divine of the same substance as the Father (against Arianism), the human of the same substance as us (against Eutychianism), which are united unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably (against Nestorianism)”
455 Vandals sack Rome
476 Odoacer deposes last Roman emperor


Penn and telling: An atheist magician on Christianity

Penn Jillette, half of Penn & Teller, is a famous illusionist who once even guest starred on the West Wing. He’s a pretty outspoken atheist, though he also reserves some praise for Christians who act in a way consistent with their beliefs. I posted a video from YouTube where he praised Christians who hand him Bibles a while ago, here it is again:

He was recently named the most influential performer in Las Vegas by one of the casino state’s media outlets – and in the interview he had this to say about why Penn and Teller don’t go after Islam like they do Christianity (and why they respect Christians for the way they take a verbal beating).

Are there any groups you won’t go after? We haven’t tackled Scientology because Showtime doesn’t want us to. Maybe they have deals with individual Scientologists—I’m not sure. And we haven’t tacked Islam because we have families.

Meaning, you won’t attack Islam because you’re afraid it’ll attack back … Right, and I think the worst thing you can say about a group in a free society is that you’re afraid to talk about it—I can’t think of anything more horrific.

You do go after Christians, though … Teller and I have been brutal to Christians, and their response shows that they’re good f***ing Americans who believe in freedom of speech. We attack them all the time, and we still get letters that say, “We appreciate your passion. Sincerely yours, in Christ.” Christians come to our show at the Rio and give us Bibles all the time. They’re incredibly kind to us. Sure, there are a couple of them who live in garages, give themselves titles and send out death threats to me and Bill Maher and Trey Parker. But the vast majority are polite, open-minded people, and I respect them for that.

This seems true of almost every atheist blog or book I read – Christianity is an easy target, mostly because “turn the other cheek” is a lower risk than “kill the infidels”…

Penn does believe that reading the Bible (or Koran, or any other “Holy Book”) will lead to atheism:

“…if you read the Bible or the Koran or the Torah cover-to-cover I believe you will emerge from that as an atheist. I mean, you can read “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins, you can read “God Is Not Great” by Hitchens… but the Bible itself, will turn you atheist faster than anything.

Question: Why would reading the Bible make you an atheist?

Penn Jillette: I think because what we get told about the Bible is a lot of picking and choosing, when you see, you know, Lot’s daughter gang raped and beaten, and the Lord being okay with that; when you actually read about Abraham being willing to kill his son, when you actually read that; when you read the insanity of the talking snake; when you read the hostility towards homosexuals, towards women, the celebration of slavery; when you read in context, that “thou shalt not kill” means only in your own tribe—I mean, there’s no hint that it means humanity in general; that there’s no sense of a shared humanity, it’s all tribal; when you see a God that is jealous and insecure; when you see that there’s contradictions that show that it was clearly written hundreds of years after the supposed fact and full of contradictions. I think that anybody… you know, it’s like reading The Constitution of the United States of America. It’s been… it’s in English. You know, you don’t need someone to hold your hand. Just pick it up and read it. Just read what the First Amendment says and then read what the Bible says. Going back to the source material is always the best.”

It’s a shame that such a well thought out guy couldn’t engage with the notion of reading the Bible as a unified work rather than cherry picking stories he didn’t agree with and stories like the one of Lot’s daughter as though God was ok with it because it wasn’t the focus of the narrative… it’s like saying the author of a crime novel is ok with the crimes he describes…


Theological leanings and Acts 15

After a week of studying theology and one team meeting bandying about a bit of (in my opinion) a speculative theological interpretation of Acts 15 (see Andrew’s blog for details) I’ve been wondering about how to balance the excitement I feel at new “special knowledge” interpretations of old passages.

On the one hand I think there’s lots to learn from better understanding the original culture and context of passages and grappling with different nuances of the original languages – and on the other I have a high view of God’s sovereignty and the perspicuity of scripture (the idea that God teaches truths clearly through his word).

So I wonder what place new theological ideas grounded in particular and special knowledge (as opposed to general knowledge and a plain understanding of the text understood in the context of the Bible rather than in the context of history) has when it comes to application.

Because I’m now all about nuance and balance I have come up with this fence sitting position where you can own both the perspicuous reading of a passage and the more historically and theologically nuanced position at the same time – unless they are in direct conflict with one another.

The example I’m thinking most about is the Acts 15 passage that Andrew wrote about. Acts 15 is a little story where the church leaders are called on to decide how Gentile converts to what is essentially the continuation of the Messianic Jewish faith should conduct themselves. Some Jews want Gentiles to circumcise themselves and obey the law – but the church leaders decide this is unnecessary because salvation is through grace, not the law.

But they do give the Gentiles some ground rules – rules that have been traditionally understood as relating to how Gentile and Jewish Christians could share “table fellowship” – ie eat together as brothers – while not causing one another offense.

Kutz’s position (based on someone else’s position) on Acts 15 is slightly more exciting. The Gentile Christians are given a list of four things they are not to do as Christians. They can’t eat food sacrificed to idols, food strangled, food with the blood still in it, and they can’t engage in sexual immorality. These requirements tie in to the Levitical law (and in Leviticus also apply to gentiles sojourning amongst believers). The exciting new bit is that this may well have been shorthand for not participating in first century idol temple worship. All of the prohibitions address elements of that practice.

I would argue that the everyday Christian believer throughout the last two thousand years would understand this passage on the basis of table fellowship – I don’t think the new argument is convincing enough to do away with this perspicuous understanding – it is enough to nuance it though. We can better understand that these actions were synonymous with the worship of idols, but that doesn’t negate the understanding that Gentiles should be avoiding that conduct in order to stay in fellowship with Jewish believers.

In conclusion, I think it’s a case of “both” not “either”. And I wonder how this is going to work out as we continue to grapple with new and exciting ideas. I think the temptation can be to throw out the old understanding when we come up with something better, rather than improving our understanding of the old. And I don’t know what that does to two thousand years of church history which if you’re a trinitarian and Calvinist is Holy Spirit inspired and God ordained.

What to give the Bible Geek who has everything

So you bought your family Bible geek the Proclaimer (audio Bible) last Christmas. Now what? What could possibly have more geek cred than a solar powered talking Bible?

Well, in the interest of providing you as many alternatives to just your run of the paper mill physical Bible, here is Bible Navigator X – the Bible for XBox.

The Bible is coming to Xbox 360 ... seriously photo

Here’s a blurb from the launch Media Release:

“This application will bring the Bible into people’s living rooms and onto their televisions in a completely new and innovative way,” said Aaron Linne, B&H Publishing Group’s executive producer of digital marketing. “The Xbox isn’t just secular entertainment anymore. We can use technology that other people developed to study Scriptures through a new medium. Some people are just more comfortable with a controller in their hands than a book.”

Not convinced that this is how you should be reading the Bible? This hilariously serious (and vaguely trinitarian review) from a gaming website will get you over the line.

The best lines are about the themes the program comes with:

“This one has green paint splattered all over it. You’d think that most people who’d be reading the Bible, or care enough to pay money for a version of the Bible on their XBox would probably be upset where there’s junk spilled all over the Bible, or maybe that’s just me.”

“This one is the oddest one of all. There’s a giant fake coffee stain down there. So, I mean, who’s going to set their coffee cup down on the Bible.”


The Bible that doesn’t need a double adapter

Am I the only one who thought that the lyrics to “500 Miles” by the Proclaimers included “Double adapter, double adapter”… Perhaps.

Irrelevant though this tangent may be – it begs the question as to what this post is actually about. I will keep you in suspense no longer. If the camouflage Bible sounds good to you, except that you’re illiterate, then I have a solution.

A solar powered audio Bible. Bringing hope to the nations. It’s called the “Proclaimer”. And it looks like your grandpa’s wireless.

Here are some FAQs from the website… actually, I can’t imagine that anybody’s first question when confronted with this device is “how many times will it play before it dies?” My question is “why did you make a solar powered audio Bible in the first place?”

How does the Proclaimer work?

  • An installed microchip contains Scriptures in the heart language; the chip will not erase or wear out from frequent playing.
  • The battery will play for 15 hours and can be recharged enough times to play the entire New Testament more than 1,000 times.
  • The Proclaimer has a built-in generator and solar panel to charge the battery.
  • The solar panel, in addition to charging the battery, will run the Proclaimer even without battery power as long as there is sunlight.
  • The sound is digital quality and loud enough to be heard clearly by groups as large as 300.

Warranted Belief

Mikey keeps posting quotes from this philosopher guy Al Plantinga (wiki). It turns out the book he’s quoting from – Warranted Christian Belief – is available in its entirety online. And free.

Might be worth a read if, like me, you keep getting in over your head in philosophical arguments with atheists. It’ll save you reaching out for the succor offered by a quick Google. And it’ll give you an intelligent “scholar” to quote…

Here’s a (long) quote on historical criticism – particularly on why it’s hard to argue with people who presuppose that the miraculous accounts in the Bible are mythical because they are miraculous, and why this shouldn’t be convincing:

The Troeltschian scripture scholar accepts Troeltsch’s principles for historical research, under an interpretation according to which they rule out the occurrence of miracles and the divine inspiration of the Bible (along with the corollary that the latter enjoys the sort of unity accruing to a book that has one principal author). But then it is not at all surprising that the Troeltschian tends to come up with conclusions wildly at variance with those accepted by the traditional Christian. As Gilkey says, “Suddenly a vast panoply of divine deeds and events recorded in scripture are no longer regarded as having actually happened.” Now if (instead of tendentious claims about our inability to do otherwise) the Troeltschian offered some good reasons to think that, in fact, these Troeltschian principles are true, then traditional Christians would have to pay attention; then they might be obliged to take the skeptical claims of historical critics seriously. Troeltschians, however, apparently don’t offer any such good reasons. They simply declare that nowadays we can’t think in any other way, or (following Harvey) that it is immoral to believe in, for example, Christ’s resurrection on other than historical grounds.

Neither of these is remotely persuasive as a reason for modifying traditional Christian belief in the light of Troeltschian results. As for the first, of course, the traditional Christian knows that it is quite false: she herself and many of her friends nowadays (and hundreds of millions of others) do think in precisely that proscribed way. And as far as the implicit claims for the superiority of these Troeltschian ways of thinking go, she won’t be impressed by them unless some decent arguments of one sort or another are forthcoming, or some other good reason for adopting that opinion is presented. The mere claim that this is what many contemporary experts think will not and should not intimidate her.