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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Friday, October 28, 2011

“Into the Wild,” A Review

intothewild In 2008 I posted a review of a movie called Into the Wild. It was a Sean Penn directed film dramatizing the last couple of years in the life of Chris McCandless who hiked alone into the Alaskan wilderness, became stranded, and starved to death sometime in the late summer of 1992. The movie was certainly engaging. Penn - his radical leftist nuttery aside - did a good job detailing this young man's life and death.

At the time, I stated in my review how I was bothered by Penn's portrayal of McCandless as some anti-traditionalist, leftist tramp who found the true meaning of life as a transient freegan. Penn painted him as a hero we should emulate.

I, on the other hand, saw a selfish, ungrateful young man who didn't respect his parents, and his voyage into the wilderness was his way of running from his bitterness. While this movie was oddly compelling as a biographical story, it didn't stir in me any sympathy for this McCandless character and his plight. He was foolish and naive about the danger of living in the Alaskan wilderness, and in a way, had it coming when he got stranded in the middle of nowhere. It made me wonder why there was a need to even make a movie about him.

A volunteer friend of mine knew I had watched the movie, so she loaned me her copy of the John Krakauer book to read. I did, and I have to say my opinion of the young man has change a bit.

Books rarely translate into movies well. Anytime you see a movie that has been made from a popular novel, without fail, you'll come across that one person who gushes on and on how the book is so much better than the movie. For my wife and I, neither of us have read any of the Harry Potter novels. I just started listening to them in audio format. All of our understanding of Harry Potter's world has been shaped by the movie series. Each time a new one comes out, we have to shield ourselves from those Potter purists or have our movie going experience ruined.

But I digress.

Obviously, Penn and his production company are limited with the amount of material they can cover in order to make this movie. I expected as much; but in the case of the book and the movie, Penn's version of Into the Wild lacked some important details about McCandless that made his portrayal of him a tad incomplete. At least I don't recall any of these details discussed in the film. Having seen the movie and then read the book, intentionally or not, it actually irritates me Penn overlooked mentioning one significant family issue that shaped this young man's motivation.

I'll get to that in the moment.

I think many of my readers are familiar with the story. Upon graduating from Emory University, Chris McCandless, a bright young man from a well-to-do family, gave away his life savings, abandoned his possessions, and dropped out of life. For two years or so, none of his family or friends knew where he was or what became of him. Then, in September of 1992, his body was found in a junked out bus near the border of the Denali National Park in Alaska.

The author, Jon Krakauer, traces the last two years of his life leading up to his demise in Alaska. He locates the people McCandless knew during those two years and from their testimony about his life, sketches out what happened to him after he disappeared in the spring of 1990.

Rather than being a homeless advocating folk hero that was depicted in Penn's movie, Krakauer's version of McCandless is a more admirable character, even though I personally think he was seriously unwise to travel across the American Southwest by himself.

Overall there are few areas where Krakauer's book fills in detail surrounding this young man's life that Penn's movie left out.

First, the book provides much more information about the people McCandless encountered. The one person I was intrigued by was the pseudonymous “Ron Franz,” a lonely widower in his 80s. McCandless met him near the Salton Sea in Southern California and the two became fast friends, a relationship the movie presents well with Hal Holbrook as Franz.

After losing his wife and son in an automobile accident, Franz remained unmarried the remainder of his life and spent a lot of his time as a mentor to several local kids from hard backgrounds, even helping two of them through college and medical school. When he met McCandless, his "paternal" interest were stirred once again, and Franz befriended him, helping out financially and even teaching him leather work.

What is missed in the movie, but recorded in the book, is McCandless's influence upon Franz. After McCandless left for Alaska, he wrote to Franz suggesting he experience life out-of-doors as it were. When Franz received his letter, he did just that: He bought a camper, moved near the Salton Sea, and lived out under the stars for several months.

Kraukuer makes a point to describe how Franz was a "devout Christian," though he doesn't provide any specifics as to where he attended church. Eight months after McCandless had left for Alaska, on Dec. 26th, Franz picked up a couple of young hitchhikers near Salton City. As they got to talking, Franz told them about his friendship with McCandless and his trip to Alaska. The description happened to "click" with one of the young guys and he sadly informed Franz that he had just read about his death in an issue of Outdoor magazine.

Kraukuer writes that upon hearing that news, Franz instantly became an atheist, renounced the Lord, and removed his name from church membership. According to Franz, when his friend left on his Alaskan trip, he had prayed for God to watch after him, but obviously, at least to Franz, God didn't hear his prayer.

As a Christian, I already know the answer to my own question, but when I hear stories like this one, I am always left wondering, why would a person abandon all belief in God just because his personal expectations were not met? I wish I could have had the opportunity to talk to the guy when he heard the tragic news of his friend.

A second area where the book fills in more detail than what the movie offers is the significant family matter I noted previously. From what I got from the movie, McCandless came from a typical, upper-middle class, well-to-do family. The stereotypical east coast family where all the kids are stunningly beautiful, attend ivy league schools, and play lacrosse.

The movie was meant to suggest how McCandless threw off the shackles of his boring, middle class prison to become a man of the true world. He is pictured as the enlightened, environmental socialist do-gooder who had transcended his intellectual and emotionally stifling world of suburbia.

His parents were shown to be nice, loving people, but aloof to what really mattered in life, especially those things in the life of their son. Even though they were good to him, they were overbearing, wanting to mold Chris into their cookie-cutter WASPy life. Whereas the director, Penn, held up McCandless as an archetype of what true freedom is, I saw the character Penn painted as selfish, bitter, brash, and ultimately receiving the comeuppance of his own foolishness.

The book reveals to us, however, that there was a few more layers of complexity between Chris and his parents that were ignored by the movie. The most significant is that after his father separated from his first wife and married the woman who would be Chris's mother, he maintained a double-life by continuing a relationship with his first wife, even producing a child, a situation Chris never knew about until after high school. When this unseemly part of his father's life came to light, Chris, feeling betrayed, withdrew emotionally from his parents.

That little detail framed his perspective much better for me. I can understand how a worldly, idealistic, and strong-headed young man would be troubled by such revelations. So much so that he would feel the need to "get away," strike out on his own and find his place in the world. Yet his reaction was to a sinful indiscretion and personal let-down that he doesn't wish to deal with, and regrettably, he paid for it with his life.

A third detail is where McCandless died. The movie gave the impression, at least to me, that he was deep into the Alaskan wilderness away from any known civilization. When he realized he was trapped by a raging river, McCandless might as well have been on the moon, because he was miles and miles from possible rescue.

In reality, however, he was only 20 miles or so west of the small town of Healy, AK, on a well known trail that is traveled frequently by hunters and hikers, that after reading Krakauer's description of his location, I am actually surprised McCandless didn't encounter anyone else the time he was alone in the wilderness.

Additionally, once he realized the river he needed to cross was impassible, if he had invested in a detailed, topographical map, rather than the simple one he had with him, he could have walked north about a half mile from his position at the bus and found a park ranger gauging station with a basket suspended on a cable over the river. Krakauer ironically notes that when he found the gauging station a year or so after McCandless's death, the basket was on his side of the river. It would had been nothing for McCandless to have pulled himself across and walk out back to town.

Moreover, south of the bus about 6 miles were some ranger cabins well stocked with food, and only 4 miles south, a privately owned cabin with similar supplies. In fact, the privately owned cabin was vandalized the summer when McCandless was in the wild, and the owner believes he is the prime suspect for the damage, suggesting that McCandless found the cabin shortly after he arrived in the area and thrashed the place as his way of getting retribution against a piece of "civilization" intruding into his wilderness adventure.

Yet, all of that is hindsight now. At points, Krakauer tries to make elaborate excuses for McCandless's apparent lack of preparation for wilderness living. But let's be honest: It doesn't matter how smart and industrious McCandless may have been as a young man, he demonstrated a serious failure in wisdom walking into unknown wilderness without the proper clothing and basic survival needs, like a compass. A 5 pound bag of rice and a .22 rifle ain't gonna be enough.

One last bit of information Krakauer provides in his book is his discussion of other similar young men who have been lost in the wild. One Alaska park ranger dubbed it "the McCandless Phenomenon:" The bizarre fascination misty-eyed, romantic-minded, 20-somethings have with trying to conquer the wilderness. Krakauer gives a biographical sketch of similar guys like McCandless. For instance, Everett Ruess who disappeared in the southern Utah desert in the 1930s, the eccentric John Waterman who also died in Alaska during the 70s, and Texan, Carl McCunn, who moved to Alaska, went on a summer long camping trip, only to commit suicide before dying of starvation because he forgot to arrange for a bush pilot to pick him up at summer's end.

Sketching out these stories also allows Krakauer to reminisces about his climb of Devil’s Thumb peak in southern Alaska. The retelling of his story takes up two chapters in the book, and I thought it slowed down the pace. It felt narcissistic; as if he just wanted to insert himself into the theme of oddball men attempting to conquer the wild. A reader can skip it and pick up with his journey to the so-called "magic school bus" where McCandless's body was found.

And, as strange as it is, the school bus has become something of a tourist attraction since the publication of Krakauer's book, in some cases, a shrine of pilgrimage for many folks. A web search for "Chris McCandless," "Into the Wild" and "school bus" will pull together a host of personal blogs, websites, and Youtube videos of people chronicling their trek down the Stampede trail and to the abandoned bus where McCandless's body was found.

Krakauer's book is certainly a fascinating read, and like I noted at the outset, his record of Chris McCandless makes me more sympathetic to him by giving me a clearer perspective of the young man than what Penn's movie did. Yet I still agree with the Alaskan locals that McCandless isn't the anti-traditionalist hero who should be imitated. At least the hero many of the college aged tourists who pilgrimage to that bus make him out to be. I tend to agree with park ranger, Peter Christian, who wrote about McCandless, "When you consider McCandless from my perspective, you quickly see that what he did wasn’t even particularly daring, just stupid, tragic and inconsiderate."

One interesting footnote is a documentary that came out around the time of Penn's theatrically released film that attempts to debunk the Krakauer/Penn interpretation of McCandless's demise of poisoning himself with wild plants. What this documentary purportedly does is to show that McCandless died of starvation because, as he wrote in a note to potential hikers who may had come to that bus, he was injured and didn't have the strength to leave.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What is a Zionist?

owsjews

A politically conservative writer from my corner of the world (who is a non-Christian as far as I know) recently sent out a mass email to members of a discussion group in which I participate on occasion.  He was asking for our input answering the question: “What is a “Zionist.” 

Typically I just glance over emails like these and delete them, but the subject matter was related to recent posts I discussed on my blog, and because I want to return to writing on eschatology, and premillennialism specifically, I thought I would respond to this writer’s inquiry. 

What follows are my comments to him, slightly expanded and edited for my readership. 

In our modern, politically correct world, “Zionist” has become something of a dirty word.  It’s like being called a “Nazi” or a “racist.”  The idea being that a “Zionist,” at least according to the American liberal, p.c. mind, is any person who is unquestionably loyal to, and supports the Jewish state of Israel, in spite of the fact the Israeli government is cruel, bigoted, and openly persecutes the innocent non-Jews (usually defined as Palestinian Arabs) who live alongside of the Jews and under the thumb of the State.

The more bizarre haters of “Zionism” accuse the “Zionists” (usually “Jews,” though “evangelicals” can be included) of conspiratorial dealings within governments, businesses, and banking, clandestinely shaping those entities to ultimately favor the Jewish State. 

The idea of “Zionism” reflects two facets.  First is the secular idea of “Zionism.”  That simply being the idea that the state of Israel has the right to exist as a nation, as well as the right for their government and the people to defend themselves against murderous terrorists groups who seek their ultimate destruction. 

Now, does that necessarily mean that the modern state of Israel is without fault in all that they do in their defense of themselves?  Of course not.  Does that mean, then, that I automatically condemn them completely for the faults they have made defending themselves and fighting their enemies?  I would say no once more. 

I have heard people say (including one atheist commenter here at my blog) that Israel should be condemned for X,Y, or Z actions they did that resulted in innocent people getting killed or misguided hippie college students ran over by bulldozers.  Could one say that was a bad move on Israel’s part or it was a stupid, indefensible action?  Of course.  But condemned? 

Besides, what exactly does that mean, anyways, that they are to be condemned?  That I can agree they have acted stupidly and are not pure as snow when they have retaliated against the Palestinians?  I could probably say yes to that definition.  But if  by “condemned,” a person means the Jews need to renounce their 1948 statehood, pack up and leave Jerusalem, and hand over everything to the Muslims who hate them, well then no, I don’t “condemn” them. 

The modern state of Israel is certainly an unusual state in that its citizens share a close proximity to their mortal enemies.  But like any secular state in such a high pressure situation, they will make mistakes and act rashly and there will be innocent casualties in conflicts with those enemies.

Obviously their enemies, and the useful idiots in Europe and America who support them, focus the world’s attention on those disastrous actions that happen when the Israeli government is forced to defend themselves and press their rights to exist.  While at the same time they ignore the larger picture that Israel’s enemies want them erased from the earth and driven into the sea at all costs. That tends to put the conflict into sharper perspective.

Yet there is a second facet to the concept of “Zionism,” however.  One that cannot be exclusively defined along secular, political lines. There is much more to Zionism than a political disagreement between pollyannish, pacifist lefties and conservative right-wingers.  There is a spiritual and theological component to Zionism that cannot be overlooked.  That is because “Israel,” as a nation, represents a unique people in history. 

Israel is a people who are identified with God almighty, who were especially chosen to enter into a covenant with God, a people from whom the savior of the entire world would come.  As a Bible believing Christian, I am a “Zionist” because I believe God has made specific, covenant promises with the Jews that He will be certain to fulfill, and that fulfillment is tied directly to the land on which the state of Israel currently exists. 

It is mistakenly believed “Zionism” is a 20th century phenomena, because Israel wasn’t really recognized as a national state until 1948.  But the fact of the matter is that before “Zionism” was called what it is, there were many individuals supportive of Israel’s restoration to their land. 

The idea of supporting a restoration of the Jews to Israel began with the post-Reformation Puritans.  Though most Reformers believed (and still believe) the promises given to the Jews were fulfilled in Christ and the Christian Church, the recovery of the biblical text in the myriad of language translations that were published in the 16th and 17th centuries, coupled with a renewal of biblical exegesis – or the principles of proper Bible study – began to stir up in the hearts of Christians that God has not “fulfilled” His promise to Israel only in the Church.  Rather, those promises are yet to be fulfilled in the future with a restoration of the Jews in a physical land identified in Scripture as Israel.  This is clearly taught in such places as Isaiah 11, Jeremiah 31:35ff., Ezekiel 37, Micah 4:1ff., Zechariah 14, and Romans 9-11. 

In the secular context, I consider myself a “Zionist” in that I believe Israel has a right to exist in their land and I believe they have the right to defend themselves against groups and nations who seek their demise as does any nation whose citizens would be in the same situation.

In the theological context, I am a “Zionist” in that I believe the presence of the Jews in the current land of Israel has future, prophetic significance, even though the Jews are currently in a state of divinely induced blindness as Paul notes in Romans 11:25. 

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

FBT Updates

I have been doing a devotional series on the book of Judges with my volunteers. The first four messages are available here if anyone is interested:

Studies in Judges

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Monday, October 24, 2011

KJVO Harmony

Saw this at Sharper Iron:

KJV Singles Website

This video explains it all.

I thought: Really? This just has to be some cruel hoax.

Upon my first visit, I was surprised to see an inappropriate Google banner ad:














This site has only been up 2 months and Satan is already trying to besmirch this godly work with images of babies dressed like winged devils. It's terrible.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Atheist Podcast

Pastor Dustin Segers and Sye TenBruggencate recently had a long interchange/debate with a couple of English atheist "evangelists" who run a site called Fundamentally Flawed.

When I say the podcast is long, I mean long; almost three hours. I think the last Harry Potter movie was almost three hours, so you know what sort of time you are committing to this thing.

Link to the podcast can be located at Pastor Segers' webpage: Atheist Debate

It is probably one of the better exchanges demonstrating the use of presuppositionalism as an apologetic methodology. There was another podcast a few weeks ago involving a fellow who blogs at Triablogue, but with 6 atheists talking with one Christian, the discussion was difficult to follow. They talked over each other and rabbit trailed off, bouncing around on unrelated subjects. That not only makes for a bad discussion, it annoys the listener.

Anyhow, I was particularly delighted to hear Dustin interact with the two English atheists, because not only is he rock solid theologically and articulate, he has a good voice for these sorts of interviews that is easy on the ear. At least for me.

I will say the more useful portion is the first hour or so, because Dustin and Sye demonstrate well how to utilize presuppositionalism in their encounter. The remainder of the time was more wobbly, because the atheists absolutely refused to justify their claims against their Christian opponents. One seemed to keep insisting there is no such thing as a "worldview" or presuppositions that shape how a person knows and interprets the world. If a person sincerely thinks that, it's hard to move forward. In fact, that would be my only constructive criticism, the Christians needed to move on to answering some of their challengers' questions. I understand why Dustin and Sye kept coming back to pressing the atheists' truth claims, but I think if they had answered the atheists' questions regarding Darwinianism and creationism, for example, I think Dustin and Sye would have had a ready made illustration proving the point they were making.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How Exactly is This Picture an Idol?

Fan of Turretin has offered a response to my post last week on the incarnation and idolatry. It’s a worthy attempt defending his stringent Reformed traditions, but I believe he labors with some difficulty to prove biblically that the second commandment strictly forbids artistic works of Jesus Christ, or that such works (like a Sunday school flannel graph of the feeding of the 5,000), constitutes the making of an idol.

For example. One argument he puts forth - and this one is typical in these discussions - is that the Bible does not provide a physical description of Jesus. But why should it and why does that then exclude a person making a painting depicting the Sermon on the Mount? Pretty much every person mentioned in the Bible isn’t presented with a physical description. Like Joshua, or Samuel, or Daniel, or Peter.

But I would say there is enough information historically about the times when Jesus lived that we can make a good educated guess what he probably looked like. In fact, we do know from the Bible that he wore sandals (Matthew 3:11), wore a tunic (John 19:23), has scars on his hands and body (John 20:20). Moreover, John gives a rather impressive description of the glorified Christ in Revelation 1:12-16, where he describes His clothes and appearance. It is similar to the descriptions by the prophets Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:26-28) and Daniel (Daniel 10:4-12).

Still, one can argue that’s not exactly a “physical” description telling us the color of his eyes and the shape of his nose, hence, we are forbidden to speculate based upon the second commandment. Really? Why exactly? I think such a claim misses the entire point of the second commandment, and I think this is where the Puritans who argue in this fashion run off the rails.

The text of Exodus 20:2-5 states,

2 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 "You shall have no other gods before Me.
4 "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;
5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.

Allow me to make some expositional observations of these verses.

1) The preface (vs.2) helps to establish the context. God distinguishes Himself from the false gods of the pagans. He is distinct in that He exists (I am YHWH) and He has acted on behalf of His people, that is, He brought them out of Egypt. So in distinction to the pagan deities, YHWH has demonstrated His worthiness to be worshiped in the actions He has done.

2) And because He exists and demonstrates His worthiness for worship, He can demand that His people worship no other gods. He can demand this of His people because no other gods of those pagan nations have ever a) proven their existence, or b) demonstrated their power and worthiness to be worshiped by acting in time and space.

3) The second commandment, then, functions as a direct result of the preface and the first commandment. Idols represent the false gods that don’t exist to begin with and that are unworthy of any reverence.

4) But the second commandment goes on to forbid the “bowing down and serving” of that carved/graven image. It’s the “bowing down and serving” that makes the image sinful. This is a point my detractors tend to gloss over. The idol was more than just an artistic rendering of a god, but the people attributed power and authority to that idol. It functioned as a talisman, the dwelling place of that deity. That is why the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant and placed it in the temple of Dagon in 1 Samuel 5 and 6. They believed it was the dwelling place of the Israelite God and that their god had conquered their God.

“Bowing down and serving” an idol in reverence and ritual was believed to initiate the favor of that deity attached to the idol toward the worshippers.

In a manner of speaking, it’s a similar concept to the “health and wealth” cults of today in which the worshipper does certain things that supposedly stirs up “God” to bless and prosper him or her. And it definitely is the same as the Roman Catholic iconography with their statues, shrines, rosary beads, and the like.

5) It is also important to note, as I mentioned in my previous post, that I don’t believe God the Son is in view here with the second commandment’s prohibition. It is the God the Father to whom the second commandment is applied.

This point has caused much dismay with my detractors because it suggests I am denying the Trinity or I am saying the concept of the Trinity was a later development within a post-apostolic, Christian theology. Their objection is understandable, but I am merely attempting to be honest with the text of Exodus.

While it is certainly possible to place the fullest NT revelation we have been given about the Godhead back upon Exodus 20, I believe this causes a problem with the incarnation. As I stated in the last post, once the Son became flesh, He took on the image of a man. Anyone who interacted with Christ during His earthly life, and specifically His three year ministry, saw Him. They looked into His face, heard Him speak. Even more, hundreds of people witnessed Him in His resurrected glory. When He ascended, how could they have NOT thought of what He looked like when they worshiped? Did they make mental idols of Christ based upon what they knew for certain He looked like and knew from the sound of His voice?

Now, with those observations in mind, let’s consider some practical matters. Look at this picture.

road_to_emmaus

It depicts Christ walking with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus reproduced from an historical scene in the Gospel of Luke. We don’t know if the road was heavily wooded as the picture shows, or what was the true color of the clothes the two disciples were wearing. But we do know Jesus walked with them and taught them all that the OT revealed about who He was. How exactly, then, is this an idol as prohibited by the second commandment? In what way are people bowing down and serving this alleged idol?

Let’s consider a couple of the examples that Matthew fellow pointed out to accuse John MacArthur of idolatry.

First, from the book, The Murder of Jesus

murder

The picture on the book represents the cruel beating and eventual crucifixion of our Lord. He was smitten, bruised, and had a crown of thorns placed on His head. Again, the picture depicts a real, historical event, the trial and murder of Jesus. An event thousands of people witnessed. How exactly is this an idol as prohibited by the second commandment? I know of no one who bows down and serves this so-called idol.

Again, look at the cover of John’s book, The Jesus You Can’t Ignore

ignore

One can argue this more contemporary looking image, that doesn’t even show the whole face of Jesus, isn’t of any particular historical event. Granted, but it is of an historical person, and it isn’t irreverent. It merely illustrates the fact that Jesus was a significant person who confronted sinners with God’s truth. In other words, He can’t be ignored. So again, how is this an idol as prohibited by the second commandment?

A violation of the second commandment would be a carved idol used in the worship of a group of people who bow down and “serve” it by participating in the religious rituals attached to the deity of that idol and living out that religious service in their lives.

I just don’t see how visual art work depicting a real, historical person merely drawn to illustrate scenes from the Gospels is “idolatry.” I think it is a real stretch for my Puritan friends.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

The Peshitta Syriac NT and The TR

The following is from Doug Kutilek’s outstanding monthly digest, As I See It, volume 14, number 10.  Mr. Kutilek always has something interesting to consider and it is worth your time receiving his “notes.”  Free subscriptions can be obtained by contacting the author at the page linked above.

syriacbibleThe Peshitta Syriac NT

--VERSUS--

The Textus Receptus and the King James Version

The most commonly met with assertions in pro “King James Only” literature regarding the Peshitta Syriac translation of the NT are:

1. that the Peshitta is the earliest translation of the Greek NT, dating to the middle of the second century A.D., nearly two centuries before those most-hated-by-them of Greek manuscripts, the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, were written, and therefore much more likely to give the original form of the NT than they; and,

2. that the Peshitta agrees closely (or is even identical) with the “textus receptus” and therefore also with the KJV in the disputes over the precise original form of the text of the NT.

(A third claim, that Syriac often preserves the exact original words spoken by Jesus in Aramaic, rather than translating them as the Greek Gospels do, is readily discredited, but will be left out of this present discussion).

These very claims in part were the motivation behind my taking 9 hours of Syriac (along with 13 hours of the closely related Aramaic language) in graduate school. I wanted to be able to independently verify--or discredit--claims I heard about “the Syriac says this” and “the Syriac reads that.”

I have acquired over the years several different editions of the Peshitta Bible, OT, NT, Gospels, and editions of some other ancient Syriac versions of the Gospels and Revelation. When relevant, I regularly consult the Syriac versions on questions regarding the text or translation of passages in both testaments (as numerous articles in As I See It attest). And, while I have not given the Syriac translations or the Syriac language the attention I have wanted to, I still can sight read a fair amount of it, and can, with lexicon and grammar in hand, work through whatever I cannot immediately read. I say this to note that I have in each case either directly discovered or personally verified every variant reading I mention in the body of this article. Nothing is accepted “second hand” on the basis of the “critical apparatus” --footnotes--of the Nestle or United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testaments (though I will say that I have never yet discovered a place where they erroneously gave the evidence regarding the Peshitta, and I do recommend the critical apparatus of those Greek texts as a good place to glean the readings of the Peshitta, even if you cannot read Syriac).

The Peshitta Syriac translation is indeed among the most important Bible translations ever made (ranking only behind the Latin Vulgate). However, the claims for a mid-second century date for the Peshitta NT, popular in mid-19th century literature, have been wholly discredited. Discoveries in the 19th century compelled this change in view. The oldest form of the Gospels in Syriac historically attested was Tatian’s Diatessaron, a “harmony” of the Gospels, not in parallel columns like the harmonies used today, but with the four texts interwoven into a continuous narrative. Dating to circa 170 A.D., the Diatessaron in Syriac has disappeared, except for some few fragments (due to deliberate suppression by ecclesiastical authorities) and is largely known today through translations into Arabic, Armenian, Dutch and other languages.

In the 1840s, a 5th century manuscript of the “divided” (i.e., un-“Tatianized”) Gospels in an early Syriac translation was discovered and published by William Cureton. The translation in this fragmentary manuscript is clearly earlier than the Peshitta and a lineal predecessor of the Peshitta (that is, the Peshitta is a revision of the version found in the Curetonian manuscript). Then, in the 1890s, a second, earlier manuscript (4th century) containing the old Syriac version of the Gospels in a somewhat different form was discovered at St. Catherine’s Monastery at the base of Mount Sinai. Incomplete due to the ravages of time, this Sinaitic Syriac manuscript in conjunction with the Curetonian manuscript contain nearly the complete text of the old Syriac version of the Gospels. (There are references to an old Syriac--i.e. pre-Peshitta--version of the rest of the NT epistles, but no manuscript of these is known to exist today).

The study and comparison of Tatian’s Diatessaron, the two old Syriac Gospel manuscripts, the Peshitta Syriac version and the quotations from the Gospels in the two most important and pre-Peshitta Syrian church fathers, Ephraim and Aphraates, led to the certain conclusion that the Peshitta version of the NT did not exist until around 420 A.D., rather than in the 2nd century (see my review in As I See It 3:4 of S. Ephraim's Quotations from the Gospel collected and arranged by F. Crawford Burkitt. vol. VII, no. 2 of Texts and Studies: Contributions to Biblical and Patristic Literature, ed. by J. Armitage Robinson). The former opinion of the extreme antiquity of the Peshitta NT is abandoned today.

Furthermore, the claim that the Peshitta Syriac NT, regardless of its date of origin, regularly lines up with the textus receptus Greek text and therefore the KJV is a claim that can only be made on the basis of ignorance of the facts. In truth, the Peshitta NT differs from the TR / KJV in hundreds of details, many of them of just the sort where the Alexandrian text of Vaticanus and / or Sinaiticus also differ from the TR / KJV. I have not compiled a complete catalog of these Peshitta differences from the TR / KJV, but among those of particular note are:

Matthew 27:46-- Peshitta omits, “that is, my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Matthew 28:18-- adds, from John 20:21, “As my father sent me, thus I send you.”

Mark 1:2-- reads “Isaiah the prophet” (vs. “the prophets”)

John 1:18--reads “God” (vs. “Son”)

John 7:53-8:11--lacks this famous incident (which is also absent from all known Greek mss. before the 8th century A. D., except “D”)

Acts 8:37--does not insert this addition to the text (which is also absent from a strong majority of Greek manuscripts)

Acts 9:5b-6a--does not have this insertion made by Erasmus against all Greek manuscript evidence

Romans 1:16--does not insert the words “of Christ” after the word “Gospel”

Romans 8:1--does not insert the phrase ”but after the spirit”

Colossians 1:14--does not insert “through his blood” (absent also from nearly all Greek manuscripts)

I Timothy 3:16--has a relative pronoun (vs. “God” in TR)

I John 3:2--retains phrase “and we are” omitted by TR

I John 5:7--does not insert this comma (which is not found in the precise TR form in any known Greek manuscript)

(Revelation 22:19 the Syriac version--here the Harclean/Philoxenian, there being no Peshitta version of this book--reads “tree of life” (vs. “book’), along with all known Greek manuscripts

I could GREATLY expand this list.  If all the differences between the TR and the Peshitta NT were catalogued, I suspect the list would run to many hundreds, perhaps a couple of thousand differences, perhaps more.  There are of course many differences between the Peshitta Syriac and the Masoretic Hebrew text in the OT as well. Therefore let all KJVO advocates cease and desist in their false--demonstrably false--claims that the Peshitta NT dates to the 2nd century and is therefore earlier in attestation that the Alexandrian text; and the equally erroneous claim that the Peshitta regularly sides with the TR / KJV against the Alexandrian text from.

[Let me say a word about the Peshitta Syriac OT. It is widely held by those who have studied the evidence 1) that the Pentateuch of the Syriac OT version in its oldest form dates from the mid-1st century A. D.; 2) that it, like the rest of the Peshitta OT, was made directly from the Hebrew text but is strongly influenced by targumic traditions (the targums, or targumim, are Aramaic translations/interpretations and in some cases expansive paraphrases); 3) that this translation of the Pentateuch was in the century or so that followed supplemented so as to include the whole OT; and 4) that the whole was revised under the influence of the Septuagint Greek version. And let it be noted that the vowel points which the Hebrew Masoretic scribes added to their consonantal text during the Middles Ages were “inspired” by the prior example of Syrian Christian scribes who employed sub- and supra-linear forms of borrowed Greek vowels to indicate the pronunciation of their previously all-consonant Syriac text].

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Incarnation and Idolatry

Jesus2I was recently alerted to a video by a fellow named Matthew Lankford.  You only need to concern yourself with the first 7 or 8 minutes:

The Idolatry of John MacArthur

Oh my.  You gotta love these Puritan lynch mobs.

It’s hard to figure out where to begin.

I will say that I can sympathize a bit with Matthew’s consternation with regards to pictures of Jesus.  As I have argued elsewhere, I don’t believe pictures of Jesus are even close to being the idolatry Matthew condemns in his video and that he is misapplying the second commandment. 

That stated, however, I am not particularly fond of all the modern displays of Jesus, because I don’t believe they capture accurately what He looked like.  IOW, I don’t think Jesus looked anything like Kenny Loggins or Dan Haggerty.  Nor do I like sacrilegious Precious Moments-like figurines that cheapen who Jesus truly is and what He did.  

Before offering a response, it may be helpful to read what John has actually said about images of Jesus in Christian artwork.  The more comprehensive comment linked by Matthew is from a Q&A session done, from what I can gather, in 1980:

The text, "thou shalt not make any carved image" is based upon the prior verse: "thou shalt have no other gods before Me." "Thou shalt not make thee any carved image or any likeness of anything that is in Heaven above or in the earth beneath." The assumption is that you're not to worship the stars, the sun, the birds, the animals, man, any other thing. But once God invaded the world in a human form, He gave substance or image, didn't He? And that's exactly what Hebrews 1 says, that He is the express, what?...image of God. God...God gave us an icon. And I hate to use that sense, but God gave us an image. God gave us a model and a pattern. So I don't think that it is outside...I don't think it violates this intent to make an image which is constituted as another god. You could never make an image of a spirit being. Right? So He couldn't be talking about an image of Himself. I mean, not essentially. But there was a case where they did this. You know, in the golden calf incident, I don't know if you've thought this through, but if you read the text, in the wilderness when the people made the golden calf, you remember Moses was up on the mountain getting the law and the people were down with Aaron making the golden calf. They made the golden calf as a representative of the true God. It was not a pagan idol. It was...it was the representation of their own God. They were still, in some sense, monotheistic. They were trying to represent God, and that's what the text indicates, in that calf. And at that point, God judged them. The only proper manifestation that God has ever permitted of His Person is in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Now, there's one other thing that I might just mention. God has used a lot of symbols of His Person. In the Old Testament I can think of one major thing was a serpent on the rod, which, in a sense, pictured Christ. And there's much language imagery as well. Every lamb that was slain was, in a sense, prefiguring Christ. But I think you're safe in saying that since God has revealed Himself, this is the bottom line, God has revealed Himself in the image of man, the man Christ Jesus, that God allows us that one representation. I don't have a problem with that. He allows us that one representation so that we see God in human dimension.

Now, having said that, let me say this. We do not have in our house a picture of Jesus of any kind because I don't think any of them look like Him, probably, and I would rather have Him be who He really is than me to assume that He is someone He's not. That's just a personal thing. So what we do is, without having a picture of Jesus, we still encourage our children to read many, many Christian books and all of them have pictures of Jesus, but all of them have pictured Him differently. And I think you're pretty safe if you approach it that way. If you get some great big head of Christ slammed in the middle of your house, I'm not against that. That's okay if you like that but I perceive Christ in my own mind and I'm very comfortable with that and I've never yet seen the picture that looks like what I believe He is. So that's just a personal preference. But I really don't think the spirit of Deuteronomy 5:8 is broken when we have representation of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, the word imagery of the New Testament paints for us marvelous pictures of Christ. And you can never, I don't know about you, you can never, I can say for myself, I can never really read an account in the Gospels of Christ without vivid imagery of His Person; can you? I mean, when I see Him, for example, reach down and touch a leper, if that was just God doing that, I don't know that I could even focus on that. When you think of God, do you think of something? Do you think of a form or a shape? I don't. I don't think of...I don't know that I think of anything. But when I think of Christ, immediately I have this image of the robe and His hands and you know... So I really think that the spirit of the person who simply has in his mind or perceives Christ in human form is not in violation of that.

Now.  Returning to the video, I believe there are a couple of glaring problems I see with what Matthew thinks is idolatry.

First, the second commandment prohibits idolatry as it relates to the worship of God the Father, the only true God.  As John pointed out in his response, the prohibition builds upon the first commandment that forbids the worship of any other gods.  Idols were considered the home of the so-called deity, or it had attributed to it some supernatural power that governed the people in a superstitious manner. Thus, an idol represents a god that is worshiped at the center of a pagan, socio-religious worldview. 

So at the outset, his objection to John’s views of images in artwork is misplaced and exegetically unsound.

Second. The main problem with Matthew’s view of idolatry, is that if we work his conclusion to its logical end, he would be setting up God to be violating His own commandment when God the Son became incarnate. 

Think about it: Jesus was a man – God becoming flesh.  He was seen by thousands of people.  He spoke and taught.  As the apostle John says in the opening of his first epistle, “That which was from the beginning, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hand have handled, concerning the Word of life.”  I believe John is speaking literally here.  This isn’t his flowery words describing a really strong spiritual experience.  He truly saw, heard, and touched the Lord of Glory, because He was in the “image of a man.” 

Now generally, one of the arguments thrown out is that God did not inspire the NT writers to describe Christ’s physical appearance.  Perhaps God did; but Jesus was still a real, historical man who lived in space and time, just like Justin Martyr, John Calvin, and Abraham Lincoln. He was “veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,” as the classic Christmas carol goes. 

Additionally, Jesus received worship on numerous occasions, the most notable example is Thomas in John 20:28 who exclaimed, “My Lord and My God.”  These people were worshiping a visible, flesh and blood person.  Obviously it was not idolatry, because Jesus was God in the flesh, but He was still real, sinewy, sweaty flesh. 

Matthew takes a cheap shot at John by saying he naively embraces a Roman Catholic view of images that allows them to worship Mary and the saints.   Honestly, is that what John is advocating?  Even though no physical description of Jesus exists that is not a violation of the second commandment nor does it forbid Christians from representing Jesus in artwork or passion plays because, once again, He was a real, historical man and those representations do not have anything supernatural attributed to them. 

Now.  Where I would say the second commandment is violated is with some art work like “The Creation of Man” as depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Not only do you have the image of God the Father, but He reclines on what looks to be a flying sea shell with a topless woman and a bunch of corpulent children.  And, I don’t think God look anything like John Brown.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Protocols of the Elders of Dispensationalism

Jamin Hubner is becoming like a YRR version of Jack Chick, but without the funny comics. Whereas Jack Chick attributes all the ills in the Christian church to Roman Catholicism, Jamin attributes them to Dispensationalism. All he needs is an ex-Dispensationalist, Alberto-like whistleblower.

Jamin writes,

Fred mentions a “Dispensational conspiracy influencing American political policy regarding Israel ” that I supposedly believe in. I don’t believe in any “conspiracy,” but if Fred is seriously suggesting that the movement of Dispensationalism has had no impact on US foreign policy with Israel in the last 60 years, he is gravely mistaken and in ignorance of the facts (I would refer you to Marsden’s works for historical analysis on American culture and Dispensationalism, and Meirsheimer’s [sic] The Israel Lobby for at least some introductory observations on a variety of related issues; there’s more sources than these but I can’t remember them at the moment).

For what it’s worth, if Jamin really wants to understand the reason for the recent criticism he complains about in his post, he needs to re-read that paragraph. It’s this sort of borderline, shoot-from-the-hip, crackpot statement that gets him into trouble.

The fact of the matter is that Jamin has such a deep animosity toward Dispensationalism that it has blinded his better judgment as an up-and-coming apologist.

Lookit. If you’re going take upon yourself the role of an internet apologist, to the point of even establishing an on-line, theological journal complete with technical rules for contributors, I guess I am expecting a bit more academic objectivity in the articles you post disagreeing with various points of view. As a reader, I would expect more from a guy who is allowed to post on the blog of a ministry that has worked hard over the years to cultivate a respectable reputation in regards to such matters.

Would it be entirely fair to cite the National Council of Church’s 2007 resolution against “Christian Zionism” and claim it is representative of what motivates Jamin’s theology against Israel? Implementing Dispensationalists in a Zionist conspiracy to manipulate American foreign policy falls in a similar category.

Consider Jamin’s two examples:

First he notes the George Marsden’s historical analysis of Dispensationalism as proof of what he claims. But searching Marsden’s three major works on American Fundamentalism, Fundamentalism and American Culture, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, and Reforming Fundamentalism, no where in any of those works does he mention Dispensationalism’s influence on foreign policy regarding Israel. Marsden points out Dispensationalism’s attempts at social reforms in the U.S. and against the rising tide of Communism in Russia during the earlier part of the 20th century, but nothing specifically in regards to Israel.

Now. Certainly there have been individual Dispensationalists and Dispensational oriented ministries that have attempted to lobby on behalf of the State of Israel, but I don’t see their actions as a bad thing. It’s no more a bad thing than Christian ministries lobbying against gay marriage or for homeschooling rights.

Jamin’s second citation, John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, is one of those examples of sloppy argumentation and research against Dispensationalism that I had mentioned on a previous occasion. I had never heard of the book, so I had to go to faithful old wack-a-pedia to find some information on it, and what I found was troubling. I was especially troubled an alleged, up-and-coming Christian apologist would appeal to it uncritically as a reliable source for his position, which makes me wonder about his discernment in these matters.

It is one thing to cite from the book; it is quite another to ignore the crushing weight of criticism the two authors have received for their theory. If people like Christopher Hitchens, George Shultz, and a host of other similar “academics,” including moonbat Noam Chomsky, find their work severely lacking and folks like Jimmy Carter, David Duke, and Osama bin Laden give it high praise, it may behoove Jamin to at least take note that a bias may be involved here.

My advice to Jamin if he wishes to continue his crusade against Dispensationalism is to actually deal honestly with what the theology teaches. Stop singling out and focusing on hyper-Dispensationalism as if he thinks it is a theological aberration of what is otherwise considered sound theology. Jamin puts the garden variety Dispensationalism in the same category of error as the hyper variety, so he needs to discard the façade. He doesn’t care for either one. But that is okay. Just refer to my post from last year to gather reliable resources in your study.

Moreover, I hope Jamin reads a bit more widely in history as to Christians and the Restoration of the Jews to the land of Palestine. Surprisingly, the wack-a-pedia article on Christian Zionism is somewhat good as it lays down the historical background. It is important to note that what is now derogatorily labeled “Christian Zionism” was called the Christian Restoration movement in the 18th and 19th centuries. This is an area Jamin needs to evaluate, because something tells me Increase Mather and Ezra Stiles could hardly be implicated in a Dispensational, Zionist cabal.

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Friday, October 07, 2011

God’s Wisdom in Proverbs–A Review

GWIPEarlier this year I was sent a pre-pub, PDF copy of Dan Phillips's book, God's Wisdom in Proverbs, along with a set of questions asking my varied opinions of what I read.

There was a dead-line for submitting my answers to the questions, so I had to quickly skim through the material. Even though my review was hurried, I was immensely enriched by what I read.  I knew that when the book was finally published, I wanted to have a copy for my personal library. 

Dan's book is a study in the book of Proverbs.  However, it isn't a verse-by-verse, exegetical or technical commentary.  That's not to say Dan doesn't know his stuff, because his study is far from superficial.  This isn’t a 120 page race through Solomon's writings. 

Rather, he has in mind the Bible-loving, truth-adoring, God-worshiping saints as he works through his material.  Dan writes as a wise pastor concerned for the best instruction he can give his people providing them rich, theological insights that lay a ground work so that they too can receive the maximum benefit from reading the Proverbs. Most academic commentaries don't have that in mind.  

Dan's work is outlined in eight chapters and four appendices.  Chapter one is an exposition of Proverb 1:1, and is a general introduction to Solomon as king of Israel and writer of God's divine revelation.  Chapters two through four are for the most part an exegetical and theological study on Proverbs 1:2-7, and Dan talks to us about true wisdom, what wisdom means, how wisdom is founded in the character of God and our fear of him, what fearing God means, and what it means for God's people to truly pursue wisdom. 

In fact, my favorite all time quote from the book is Dan’s working definition of wisdom found in the first chapter: “Wisdom is (in part) the application of objective revelation to the details of life.  … wisdom is skill for living in the fear of Yahweh.” [11, emphasis his]. 

As he moves into chapters five through eight, he draws us to thinking about practical application.  Godly wisdom must be personally applied or it is worthless.  Dan writes, "Wisdom is never merely a matter of knowing facts, but of knowing what to do with them - and doing it." [39]

He then surveys four major areas in a believer's life where wisdom should be worked out.  First is in our worship and trust of God; and next in our relationships with our fellow men; and then in our marriage and raising children. 

These four chapters are particularly well-done, because Dan exemplifies what makes good Bible teaching.  He has the giftedness to communicate profound theology, making it understandable for regular folks and enjoyable to learn.

Four appendices round out the book.  Appendix three was of interest to me, because Dan takes up an exposition of Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go…,” and discusses whether or not this verse is a promise or a threat.  I already knew what I believed about this passage before I read Dan’s take, and he compellingly solidified my position. 

There is also a detailed bibliography of works cited in Dan’s book.  But as an added bonus, he lists all the major Proverb commentaries currently in print – and this especially warmed my heart – he then provides his quick evaluation of a good number of them, telling us what he thinks and whether or not it is a “yea” or “nay” as a worthy contribution.  My favorite comment is for William McKane’s commentary: “Radically liberal; unless you’re a writing academic, don’t bother.”  I couldn’t agree more. 

I am currently going through his book a second time now that I am able to go much slower, chew longer, and digest what I am reading. What I truly appreciate about this second time is how Dan is sharpening my thinking about God.  He has helped me to  re-evaluate what I think about wisdom and how I should convey that to my family and in my broader ministry to other Christians. 

If you are someone who is looking to teach the Proverbs from the pulpit, or in Sunday school, or maybe a home Bible study group; or even if you just want to personally have a better understanding of this wonderful treasure God has given us, you have to get this book.  Dan writes with knowledge of the subject and a passion for God and His people.  Believe me; You’ll benefit greatly from this study.     

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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Israel and the Language of Expansion

What really is at the heart of Jamin's views of Israel, the modern state of Israel, and whether Israel can lay claim upon the Holy Land? Honestly, it is how one understands the place of Israel in God's entire revelation.

Is "Israel" of the OT the same as the "Church" in the NT? Was God only concerned with a godly "remnant" in the OT and not with the nation as a whole dwelling in the physical promised land in a geopolitical kingdom? Does NT fulfillment cause us to have "greater light" on God's purpose with Israel so that now, because of Christ, we re-interpret OT promises of fulfillment made to Israel in light of the NT Church?

In other words, it is a matter of the hermeneutics one brings to the texts pertaining to the promises given to Israel and how we understand those promises being fulfilled. Does the language of Scripture insist we must expand the OT promises of fulfillment to mean merely the NT Church, or will those promises of Israel being in the Holy Land in a geopolitical kingdom certainly be fulfilled in a real, tangible way?

I have explored this topic in previous posts from the last couple of years in my studies of eschatology. Other things began to occupy my time and I dropped off from my series on premillennialism, which i hope to take up again soon.

Additionally, Paul Henebury has been exploring the topic of Israel and expansionist language at his blog and has written some articles worth one's time reading. Previous articles in his series are linked at the top of the article.

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Saturday, October 01, 2011

Questions for An Anti-Dispensationalist

Jamin Hubner makes an absurd comparison.

Talking about the history of the state of Israel with Zionist Dispensationalists … is as useful as talking about the history of the Bible with King James Onlyists.

Zionist Dispensationalists are the equivalent of KJV-onlyists? Really? Being one who once consider himself a “KJV-onlyist,” I take it that Jamin believes Zionist Dispensationalists are of the same mind-set as Gail Riplinger, Peter Ruckman, Sam Gipp, Jack Chick, Douglass Stauffer, David Daniels, David Cloud. Individuals who cling to a particular view of textual criticism against all sound fact. One prone to historical revisionism and conspiracy theories involving clandestine heretics secretly altering the truth.

In the same manner Zionist Dispensationalists are prone to historical revisionism and conspiracy theory. They are thoughtless, believing a particularly view of biblical prophecy and the historical outworkings of that prophecy against all sound fact. Worse still, their intellectually blind allegiance is driven by a soul-damning theology.

With that in mind, I have some questions for Jamin:

What exactly is a “Zionist Dispensationalist?” [here after, “ZD.”]

Are ZDs to be distinguished from Zionists?

Are ZDs to be distinguished from Dispensationalists?

Does Jamin believe all Zionists to be Dispensationalists?

Does he believe all Dispensationalists are Zionists?

Would Dennis Prager, who supports the state of Israel, be a “ZD”?

Are all Christians who support the modern state of Israel considered ZDs?

Would any Bible-believing evangelicals who believe there is prophetic significance to the existence of the state of Israel be considered ZDs? Why or why not?

Would those evangelicals who lived prior to the 20th century, before the state of Israel, and who believed in a restoration for the nation of Israel be considered ZDs?

Would J.C. Ryle be a ZD?

Would Jonathan Edwards be a ZD?

Would Charles Spurgeon be a ZD?

Would Robert Murray M'Cheyne be a ZD?

Would Charles Hodge be a ZD?

Can a person not be a ZD and still support the modern state of Israel?

Can a person recognize that the Palestinians are worthy of condemnation on many levels and not be a ZD?

I’ll be curious to read Jamin’s answers if he so chooses to respond.

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