Theology for the Masses

June 21, 2007

History in the Eyes of the Ancients

Filed under: history — Henry Imler @ 1:39 am

It is very easy to import modern ideas and standards of history writing onto Ancient texts. However, to do so will skew one’s reading of the text in a way that the author did not intend. The following are several concepts to keep in mind when reading ancient texts. ((The above list was taken from Novak. Christianity and the Roman Empire: Background Texts. pp 3-7))

Textual Transmission1) Lost in Translation Often the only copies of texts that we have today are copies of copies. Furthermore, they are often translations of the original text. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas was probably written in Syriac, but the earliest copy we have is written in Greek. On top of this, sometimes the original texts were translations of the speeches being recorded. An example of this last point are Jesus’ speeches recorded in the Gospels. Jesus spoke Aramaic; the Gospels were written in Greek. ((The Canonical ones were all written in Greek. There is a slight chance that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Hebrew, but it is most likely that it was written in Greek like the rest.)) It is important keep this process in mind when the exact order of words is being scrutinized.

2) History was for instruction, not for tracking details Ancient histories were not designed to be modern ones. Their primary focus was not on keeping track of historical minutia, nor was it designed to show a character’s development throughout time. Instead, it was designed to illustrate lessons to be learned by the reader. There was “… great freedom with which many ancient writers adapted their materials to achieve such goals…” ((Novak. Ibid. p.4)) This frame of mind should be accounted for when when studying ancient texts of all origins.

3) Look – Peter wrote this; hence it must be true Ancient authors had no problem with attributing works to authorities in order to give their work credibility. Christians have not been immune to this phenomenon. As early as the middle part of the first century, Christian leaders were complaining about letters being written in their name that contradicted with their positions. ((See Second Thessalonians 2:1-5)) The problem for “Christian texts” only got worse as the years went on. Robin Fox writes:

In the period c.400-600 “aggressive forgeries” added false letters to the collection of almost every early Christian Letter writer. These fake texts of theology helped to enlist the great authorities of the past on this or that side of a contemporary schism or unorthodoxy. ((Robin Fox. The Unauthorized Version p. 153-154))

Imagine someone finding a letter from Paul where he argues quite clearly for each of the five points of Calvinism. The problem was so bad that it was not until the 1500s that people could begin to sort the forgeries from the authentic letters.((Fox. Ibid. p. 154.))

Good Forgeries Even when people were not outright co-opting authorities for the sake of their own positions, there is the problem of attribution. It was common in Classical and Hellenistic Greek culture for a student to classify their own positions and work as their teacher’s. For example, there are more texts attributed to Aristotle that he could have humanly wrote. It is hard to determine in some cases where the teacher’s writing ends and the student’s begins. James H. Charlesworth has delineated the above idea into seven rough categories:((James Charlesworth. “Pseduo-Epigraphy”. Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. p.765-767 ))

  1. Writings not by an author, but containing some of the author’s own thoughts.
  2. Writings by someone who was influenced by another work whom the work is attributed.
  3. Writings influenced by someone who was influenced by the earlier works of another author to whom the work is assigned.
  4. Writings attributed to an individual, but actually deriving from a circle or school surrounding that individual.
  5. Christian writings attributed by their authors to an Old Testament personality.
  6. Once anonymous writings that have been incorrectly attributed to another individual.
  7. Writings that intentionally try to deceive the reader into thinking the author is someone else.

November 16, 2006

A Short History of a Quantum Fluctuation

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion and Science — Henry Imler @ 12:24 am

�When I speak of objects in time and in space, it is not of things in themselves, of which I know nothing, but of things in appearance.�
� Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Part Three, The Cosmological Ideas.

With all that the human race has learned since Kant’s day, some of his maxims still ring true. There have been many realizations that have shaped humanities understanding of how the universe operates. Throughout it all, the majority of man’s believes about what is beyond their world has not matched pace. In the years following Kant, the West thought that it was about to reach an endgame in regards to science. All that was left were a few clouds on the horizon. Those clouds quickly grew to become massive hailstorms that completely altered the way one views nature and even the very nature of reality. (more…)

Structural Analysis of Christianity’s Conflicts with Science

Filed under: Religion and Science — Henry Imler @ 12:23 am

The following is my writing sample submitted for my application to the Religious Studies Master’s Program at the University of Missouri[1] Here is the link to the PDF file: The Structural Analysis of Christianity.

Introduction, the conflict between Christianity and ScienceIn 1615 C.E. the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany received a letter from a friend of hers. The letter sparked off one of the great confrontations between the thinkers of Christianity and those of science. It was one of the major battles between two ideologies that had been diametrically opposed since their respective conceptions. At least that was the way it was seen for many years afterward. Such a view is called the Conflict Theory[2] It states that religion and science have always been opposed to each other’s ideas and are in a state of perpetual conflict. Was the Trial of Galileo only a flash point in an old, unending war between two veins of thought? It is the purpose of this paper to argue that the conflict theory is wrong and to put forth an alternate structure to the conflicts between science and Christianity. The two most famous conflicts between Christianity and science, Heliocentrism and evolution, will be examined and compared to see what patterns emerge. (more…)

Is there a Numinous?

Filed under: Existence of God,Philosophy,Religion and Science — Henry Imler @ 12:20 am

Is there a God? This is one of the most fundamental questions ever put forth in the history of humanity. Within this question and its follow-ups lay the greatest fears and hopes of mankind. It is a universal question. It is a question that every single human has asked himself at one point or another. Three basic answers have been put forth; there is a God, there is not a God, and one cannot know if there is a God or not. These answers really deal with the two following topics. First, can one know if God exists? Secondly, does God, in fact, exist? (more…)

Power and Will

Filed under: Calvinism,Doctrine,Hypotheticals,Nature of God,Philosophy,Salvation — Henry Imler @ 12:14 am

This post will seek to examine and refute Augustine’s view of Original Sin and the ability of the will to choose to turn towards God. It was Augustine view, and the view of the reformers after him, that if one denies these tenants, then one is forced to adopt the views of Pelagius, namely that Jesus was just an enlightened man. I will employ three arguments to discount Augustine’s above claims. The first one involves a logical extension of the personhood of Jesus. The second argument demonstrates the need for a total free will as a prerequisite for sin. The third argument gives an alternate understanding of how God can cause faith and at the same time, faith can be freely chosen. Finally, an alternate view of soteriology will be given.

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Intro to “To Simplician – On Various Questions”

Filed under: Calvinism,Doctrine,Origional Sin,Salvation — Henry Imler @ 12:12 am

This post looks very briefly at Augustine’s letter “To Simplician – On Various Questions,” with the hope of gaining some insight on Augustine’s turn away from a libertarian view of salvation. I am not trying to set forth an all-inclusive view of TULIPS, but instead to simply get a view of the development of Augustine’s thought.

In the letter, “To Simplician – On Various Questions,” Augustine wrestles with the question of why Esau was rejected by God and Jacob was accepted by God in conjunctions with Paul’s treatment in Romans 9.10-29. This creates a whole heaping mound of confusion for Augustine, but does lead him to several important doctrines, or at least lays some of the foundations of later doctrines. It is absolutely fundamental that humans are saved solely by God, so that none may boast. Augustine beings with the idea that God hated Esau and loved Jacob from before the time they were born. He then presents arguments on why this could not have been due to any deeds that they did, because the calling preceded their birth. Similarly, it was not done on account of their faith, for the same reason. Augustine then examines if God based the calling on his foreknowledge of either’s works. This cannot be the case, for this would imply that God does choose on the merit of the individual. It also could not have been a result of God’s foreknowledge of faith because grace precedes belief. For Augustine, the path of salvation follows the following sequence:

Calling → Birth → Grace → Hearing → Believing → Faith → Justification → Power to do good works

Augustine cannot find any reason for God to choose one over the other. He can find no reason for God to reject on over another. They are twins, so there is no ontological difference between the two. Augustine does maintain that God can have mercy on who he decides to have mercy on. There is a freedom there because all persons are sinners. He concludes that while there is a reason that God chose to love Jacob and not Esau, it is left unknown to humans. There is some discussion about God calling more than are chosen, but I was not able to ascertain his final position on the matter. The question here is, “Can a person reject the calling of God?” Augustine seems to think that a person can reject the calling, but not being chosen. How this works out exactly, I am not sure. The last section of the latter deals with the idea that the only people with true free will (the will to do good) are those that God elects. No other humans are able to truly do good works.

Further Questions on Biblical Authority

Filed under: Apologetics,Doctrine — Henry Imler @ 12:11 am

This post is a continuation of a honest conversation that Brad and I are having on first things in Christianity.

Previous posts:

Brad, I like your theoretical framework. I hold to almost all of it as well.

A foundational question that I would ask you is if the very words on the Bible were dictated 100% and transcribed 100% correctly and preserved 100% correctly. Is it possible that there is any error in transcription, translation, or preservation? I am not saying that there is, but say, does the end of Mark belong in the bible or not? The earliest manuscripts don’t have it, so it seems like it was added on at some point.

The highest authority for me is not the Bible, it is God. He is above a earthly book. An infinite God cannot be encapsulated by anything, even a book that the infinite God writes. All things that emanate from God have equal authority. The Bible writes on God and His relationship with creation. Logic is God telling us how to order our ideas, math tells us how to count. The Bible is not God’s treatise on cosmology. Instead it was God communicating with individuals that had no concept of the Big Bang theory or nuclear thermodynamics. As such, it’s authority was not meant to cover those areas. In spiritual matters, it is absolutely authoritative.

I am cautious about including the following in my list of Biblical apologies: “It will be more persuasive because in the actual experience of life, all of these other candidates for ultimate authority be seen as inconsistent or to have shortcomings that disqualify them.” This is a very tricky statement. What do we base the claim on? A survey of all religious people, asking them what system works best? I would guess that one would get a variety of answers on that survey. I think that in each formulation of Christianity I can point out problems that are not readily solved. This by no means rejects the authority of the Bible, nor lifts up another text or religion over Christianity. It only questions the usefulness of this apologetic tactic, especially when in conversation with a person from another religion.

Another thing, if the Bible is considered to have the words of God, is that all it contains? Was it possible to have any additions by the Biblical writers of their opinions to the matter? I am not saying that I do hold to this, but simply asking the question. Should I never cover my head when I pray? So, no hats when I pray? Is it possible that some of the Biblical writers injected their personal opinion in the texts or perhaps were writing on culturally specific mandates?

Lastly, when Timothy talks about all scripture being God-breathed, doesn’t the context talk about the Hebrew Bible only? That is the context. Taking it to mean anything else is taking it out of context.How can one take what the writer of Timothy is saying about the Hebrew Bible and throw it on the the texts that a church council decided were the correct texts almost 200-300 years later? I mean, if one is a honest and actual literalist, must not one reject that the writer of Timothy is talking about the canon that will be formed later?

How does one come to trust the canonical process. They were not apostles, there is no guarantee that their choices were inspired. Now, I am not advocating a rejection or inclusion of any specific text, but I am asking very important questions. The Bible was not written the way Koran says it [the Koran] was. God did not dictate it to one person who had it immediately written down.

An Honest Question

Filed under: Doctrine,Hypotheticals — Henry Imler @ 12:11 am

Augustine, in The Confessions talks about ways to interpret Genesis. He seems to be ok with about any interpretation in which the interpretor is honestly trying to seek the truth and understand the meaning of the text. When you look at this through his neo-platonic worldview, you see that his major concern was that the individual turned towards God. Since God was rational, and humans, as images of God were also rational, if a person turned inwards and sought God through reason, that person would begin on the path towards God. Look back at his stance on Genesis, a person honestly trying to seek the meaning of Genesis is much more likely to find God there than a person who dogmatically asserts that there is one and only one real meaning of Genesis and all others are to be completely rejected. The one who approaches openly and honestly with only regard to finding God can ask any question they want, providing that it is asked with the intention of finding God.

With this in mind, I ask you all how you deal with the discrepancies in the Gospels. This is in regard to arguments of authority and inerrancy. What exactly do these words mean to you, and how far does their meaning imply? Do they pose problems for you? That is to say, do the conclusions that you make from them pit you into any uncomfortable corners?

For instance, if I hold that the Bible as we have it is 100% factually and historically true, then was Peter’s mother in law healed before or after he was called to be a disciple? Is it the case that she was healed twice? Do I have to resort to her being healed twice, once right before Peter was called and then once right after Pater was called, in order to maintain that everything in the Gospels is factually and historically true? If that is the case, why did Jesus not do it right the first time?

My point is that I am not making any point. What I am seeking here is not apologetics, but how other Christians deal with these issues. My fear for the Church is that in not addressing these claims openly and tenderly with those that bring them up, we loose sight of Jesus, his mission, and his charge to us, by our rejection of those questioning. I am not trying to engage in finger-pointing, nor trying to invalidate any system of belief. This is more a call to ask people about what is hard to deal with their faith and how they do in fact deal with it. The purpose of which is to build community with other believers and to actually strengthen the bonds of belief.

On Cursing

Filed under: Ethics — Henry Imler @ 12:10 am

Today’s topic is cursing and Christianity. Can a Christan curse? Can they use “curse words?” The answer is, “It depends.” For readability’s sake, I will use the first letter dash word method to identify curse words.

With most things, a number of distinctions need to be drawn. First off, what does one mean by the word “curse?” Within this post I will take curse to mean 1)the expression of a wish that misfortune, evil, doom, etc., befall a person, group, etc. and 2)a formula or charm intended to cause such misfortune to another (taken from dictionary.com). As Christians, and as people, we should not be wishing evil to befall another person. Doing so is going against Jesus’ charges that one is to turn the other cheek when stuck and that one is to love their enemies. There is no room for one to take this seriously and to also curse someone.

What are words? Words are simply vessels of meaning. It does not matter what color a pot it, what matters is what the pot contains. It is the same with words. I can call some one a “neocon” and depending on how I say it and what meaning I attach to the term, I can mean several things. I could mean a person who adheres to a new version of conservatism, one that recognizes the flaws of past versions of conservatism and have tried to formulate a better version, a more progressive version of conservatism. On the other hand, I use the word neocon and splice the “neo” element of being evil off of neonazi and attach it to a sort hand version of conservative, “con” to get the picture of an evil conservative. I am not saying this is how the word developed, only how one puts together the meaning. The point is that words are only a vessel of meaning. Sociey at large has designated certain phrases to be considered curse words. This meaning only goes as far as the society does. I am sure that most of the readers do not hold to cultural relativism.

If one takes “curse” to mean “the use of a curse word in regular speech,” then one is talking about something entirely different than the preceding paragraph. Consider the following, one has just scored the winning basket in a very close game of basketball. In that person’s elated state, he exclaims, “H-word yea!” Has this person committed a sin? They have not. What are words? Once again, they are simply vessels of meaning. The h-word in the above example only conveys excitement and the rush of success. There is no negative connotation here, and no one is being put down. Therefore, it is permissible. I believe that this applies across the board with words. One needs to take into account the connotation and meaning before assigning a moral value to the usage.

Lastly, and least concrete is the use of curse words to describe situations and the actions of others. Many people take the a-word to mean the same thing as jerk. If someone is genuinely being a jerk, can a person use the synonym a-word to describe another person? Once again, if the usage falls outside of 1) and 2), then I think a case can be made. Am I being mean spirited? Am I attaching this to the person or to their actions? These questions need to be asked. I think that there are fewer cases where one is morally permitted to use curse words as descriptors of behavior.

However, is the use of permissible words always beneficial? No. One has to be mindful of their audience. How will the people that hear me take the word I am using? Does it offend them? If it does, should I actively try to offend these people merely because I have the moral right to use this word? Are there better words that I can use? Despite my freedom to use such a word, am I still above reproach? Those are the questions one should be asking his or herself when considering the vessels of meaning the person is wanting to sail.

In sum, one should never curse someone, but there is a moral freedom to use societally designated curse words in morally permissible meanings. Despite this freedom, it is often unwise to use such words because of how you and Christ as a proxy are viewed.

Wives are not required to love their husbands

Filed under: Doctrine — Henry Imler @ 12:10 am

An exercise in error.

Ephesians 5:22:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

Ephesians 5:25a:

Husbands, love your wives,

So husbands don’t have to submit to their wives and wives don’t have to love their husbands.

Beware of the prooftext.

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