Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Son of Man Riding on the Clouds as Possible Polemic in the Book of Daniel

The idea that God rides on the clouds like a chariot has a long history in the ancient Near East and the Bible.

It appears in Daniel 7 in reference to the Son of Man, who will take over the world when he receives his kingdom from the Ancient of Days, shattering all of the existing nations before him.

It is worth pursuing the question of Daniel's audience in terms of this imagery since it is likely polemical.

On the one hand, it could be just an adoption of the previous polemic used throughout the OT that pitted YHWH against Baal, the storm god, who rode on the clouds. In that regard, it would only carry the idea of supremity in general.

However, it is significant that Marduk is also the supreme deity in Babylonian religion (albeit with some coregency with Nabu), and is also the storm god who rides on the clouds. This would fit the setting of Daniel as one that is written in the Babylonian period. However, even for the traditional date of Daniel this is not the setting of the composition, as it would have to be written at the very earliest in the Persian period, since the book covers some of this period.

However, the Persians don't worship a specific storm god, so there would be no polemic at the time of the composition. The reign of the storm is divided between two lesser gods, Vayu and Tishtrya, who are not the supreme deity in Persian religion.

Still, it is possible for this view to take the text as a prophecy written down in the Babylonian period. The text does set it up as being received in the Babylonian kingdom. One could, therefore, argue that it is a polemic against the Babylonian god Marduk. The problem is that the polemic of YHWH riding the clouds as a chariot instead of Baal exists because there is a real threat to Israel assigning some sovereignty to Baal, and so the polemic is created. At the time of supposed composition during the Persian period, however, there is no threat of Jews falling into Marduk worship. Marduk is a failed god by then. Babylon is fallen to the Persian god Ahura-Mazda. Why would anyone be tempted to follow Marduk?

However, there is a real threat that Judah would worship Zeus in the time of Antiochus IV. I would suggest that since the last kingdom in view throughout the book is the Seleucid Empire, that the book's polemics are aimed there. The god of Antiochus IV, the real antagonist of the book worships Zeus, again, the supreme god who is the storm god. He rides the clouds and has ultimate power. It is likely for this reason that the Son of Man is viewed as riding on the clouds of heaven. The same type of polemic is then later used by John against Zeus/Jupiter in the Book of Revelation. Many Jews, in an effort to become Hellenized, had forsaken YHWH for (or at least identified Him as) Zeus with Antiochus Epiphanes as his manifestation on earth.

It would make sense that the polemic in Chapter 7 would present the Son of Man, the Kingdom/Empire of God, as headed up by a divine king that sovereignly rules over the domain that is being falsely assigned to Zeus at the time of Antiochus. As the earthly kingdom that has been incorrectly assumed to belong to pagans will be given over to Israel and its King, the heavenly kingdom that has been incorrectly assumed to belong to a pagan god belongs to both the Ancient of Days and His king. In this way, the Son of Man imagery both refers to Israel (i.e., the human in contrast to the beasts that describe the pagan nations) and to Israel's Divine King (since the nations at the beginning and end of the inclusio in the text are often characterized by a particular king that rules them, e.g., Nebuchadnezzar and Antiochus IV).

This is yet another piece of the puzzle that shows that the Book of Daniel is likely addressing a situation not during the time of the Babylonian captivity, but rather during the reign of the Seleucids.

Friday, March 9, 2018

A Tale of Two Epistemologies

Sinking, sinking, with holes in the boat. Only they without will stay afloat.

I recently had a Facebook exchange with an unbeliever that reminded me how much our culture needs to think more about epistemology. I made the statement that objective moral statements cannot be made without an objective source confirming objective moral principles from a universally transcendent source. In other words, revelation from God is needed in order to make objective moral statements. It is not just that the belief in God is needed, but that a reliable, external communication from God is needed in order to confirm that our moral sentiments are also reliable.

This also goes to knowing in general. What I find is that those who reject that we have a reliable, external source of revelation from God simply do not understand how this relates to their ability to know what is true or good. The person objecting to my statement seemed to think the Christian and the atheist are in the same boat.

The problem is that they simply are not. One can say that if atheism is true, then they are in the same boat in terms of knowing what is true or good (i.e., neither can); but one cannot say that, given their ultimate beliefs, they are in the same boat in terms of what they can claim. The Christian does not believe that atheism is true. Hence, what he believes is true gives him the ability to make claims about morality and truth that are consistent with his ultimate beliefs. 

The atheist, however, self admittedly (although not often aware of it), does not have an ultimate belief that allows him to make claims concerning truth and morality that are consistent with his ultimate beliefs. 

This person wanted to argue that the epistemic question cannot be confirmed, seemingly arguing that one must confirm things empirically, but morality can be confirmed empirically in terms of how much harm it brings to someone. One can see the cohesiveness of this argument floating away from them. 

First, epistemic questions are answered in two ways: 1. One merely believes ultimate beliefs so one cannot evaluate them with some other belief, otherwise, they are not ultimate. This means that there is nothing in terms of ultimate beliefs that can be confirmed by us empirically. Empirical verificationism itself begs its ultimate beliefs, and it ends up being self-refuting if placed in that role by itself. We simply believe our starting points in terms of our metaphysics, sources of authority, etc. 2. One can weigh whether secondary beliefs, especially universal sentiments, are consistent with our ultimate beliefs. In other words, if there is a belief that we can know what is true and morally good, but we have a belief system that cannot reliably confirm what is true and morally good outside of ourselves, this shows an inconsistency that may speak to the truthfulness of one idea or the other. Either we can confirm our secondary beliefs, and therefore, make these claims over others, or we cannot due to our ultimate beliefs. 

Second to this, empirical verificationism cannot be confirmed as the only way of knowing without assuming the validity of its metaphyiscal assumptions and ultimate beliefs. In essence, there is no way of arguing that empirical verificationism is reliable without begging the question as to whether empirical verificationism is reliable.

Thirdly, moving the question of morality over to what harms or whatnot is merely ignoring the question. Who is to say that the most harm is immoral? Why is it immoral to harm stardust? All sorts of questions from ultimate beliefs need to be answered before one even steps on the ground of measuring actions as moral.

What this means is that the Christian's epistemology (one where both empiricism and belief in a reliable report, such as he believes the Bible is) is consistent with his claims concerning objective truth and good. The atheist's claims, however, are not. The best the atheist can do is answer, "Maybe," to every question. It is inconsistent for him to critique the Christian's view of morality or even truth claims without first establishing his own ability to make those claims in continuity with his ultimate beliefs. 

So we are not in the same boat in terms of what we are claiming, not by a longshot. The atheist (or really anyone without an externally reliable source of revelation that comes from a transcendent mind), therefore, must force on others his subjective opinion, which, according to his own worldview, is merely a guess in the dark that can never be confirmed. The Christian (or anyone believing in one of the three major revelatory religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam) is not making the same claims. Whether his ultimate beliefs are true or not is a different question, but his ultimate beliefs allow him to make the claims that he does. One is a sinking boat and the other stays afloat. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Biblical Theology XVIII: The Song of Songs

The “Song of Songs,” otherwise known as the “Song of Solomon,” is an example of ancient Near Eastern love poetry that has been utilized to symbolize YHWH’s relationship with His people. The title, “Song of Songs,” is actually a superlative in Hebrew, meaning “The Greatest Song.” It is this superlative that helps decide the question concerning whether the Song is meant to be a literal description of desire between a man and a woman or it is to be understood as a symbolic description of God’s pursuit of His people and their pursuit of Him. Along these lines, what aids us in understanding that it is the latter rather than the former is the fact that, if taken literally, the Song is only about a couple of really good looking people who are lusting after one another. This is because the desire of the man for the woman is only in terms of her physical appearance. The only characteristic mentioned of her beyond the physical is that she is chaste. Likewise, the main characteristics of the man that the woman desires are physical, although she mentions a few other attributes concerning his riches. Although there is nothing wrong with lifting up the physical desire of a couple for one another, it hardly would be titled, “The Greatest Song” in a culture and Scripture that has numerous songs about God’s love and protection for His people. The greatest song in a religious context such as this would be a song about God. Hence, it is far more likely that it is being used in Scripture as a symbolic representation of the relationship between God and His people (a metaphor used quite often throughout Scripture). What would also be problematic is that the young couple seems to have sex before marriage, which would not have been talked about as a good thing in ancient Israel. However, it makes for the perfect analogy of God and His people who passionately pursue one another, not willing to wait until the day of the wedding.

Theology: What the text seems to do instead is display God’s relentless pursuit of His people. He pursues them as an infatuated young man pursues a young woman he is in absolute lust and love for. He seeks to marry her and make their relationship permanent. He prepares a place for her to dwell with Him in intimate fellowship. He chooses her over all of the other maidens. She is His jewel. He, therefore, has set His love upon her. Because of this, even the other maidens, i.e., other nations, exalt God because of His love and faithfulness to His people. However, sometimes God is hidden, and the way to find Him is through the shepherds. If one lives by them they will eventually find God and be found by God.

Ethics: God’s people respond to God’s love by exalting Him as the most desirable of all things. They praise Him for His pursuit of them. They exalt Him for His great strength to protect them. They, therefore, desire to be with God as a young woman desires and pursues a young man with whom she is infatuated. She, therefore, relentlessly pursues Him, looking for Him everywhere, inviting Him to take her into an intimate communion with Him. She finds the greatest of pleasures in communion with Him.

In her pursuit of Him, she also finds Him mysteriously not there sometimes when she looks for Him. She remains faithful nonetheless, rather than letting her affections run off after another. Likewise, when God seems absent His people are to remain faithful and not pursue the world in these times, but rather continue to pursue Him by holding Him up as their ultimate love. Eventually, they will see their beloved God again if they stay close to His shepherds, and never give up the search.

The biggest lesson to take from the book is that a relationship with God is reciprocal. It is not just about God pursuing His people. It is also about their pursuing God. Without one or the other, there is no relationship with Him. In other words, a relationship takes two parties pursuing one another. God will relentlessly pursue those who He sets His sights on, but that will be proven out by those who relentlessly pursue Him in return. One who does not pursue another never really belongs to the other. This is the lesson of “The Greatest Song.”

Hypercalvinism as Antinomianism

Hypercalvinism is nothing more than antinominism. It removes the necessity of secondary causes as the means of the primary cause. In essence, therefore, it argues against obeying God since that would be a work. It is monergistic in all causes, primary and secondary, and completely removes any responsibility of the man. Orthodox Calvinism, however, is not monergistic in all causes of salvation, but it is monergistic only in terms of the primary cause. What this means is that God is the ultimate/primary cause of all things, but He uses secondary causes, like man’s choices and actions, to bring about His decisions. God decides you will be nourished and you therefore choose to go get something to eat. God chooses to give you a child and you therefore choose to participate in procreative activity. God chooses to save you and you therefore repent and believe. Two decisions/choices are being made, not one; but one is a secondary cause that responds to the primary as the means by which the primary is accomplished. This means that preaching the gospel that calls people to repent and believe, and their right response to it, is a necessary means to their salvation. Both of these are in contrast with synergism, which sees the choices of two or more parties as primary. 

I have seen hypercalvinists argue that a person in sin should not be put on church discipline because only God will change his heart, and that no one should really urge anyone to repent and believe because he or she can’t unless God does those things. This is a confusion of causes. Certainly, if God does not choose to be the primary cause of their salvation they will not respond favorably as the secondary causes; but we don’t know what God has decided for any man, and therefore, are to preach the word in season and out of season. Hypercalvinism, therefore, is a pious sounding disobedience to Christ’s Lordship.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Feminist Complementarians

One of the problems that plague Christian families and churches is that Christians can hold to a theory without applying that theory to practice. The theory of what God commands is acknowledged, but there is a snake in our ear telling us how good the fruit that contradicts the command tastes.

It's likely due to our fallen nature that we can easily learn and profess an idea, but have great difficulty applying that idea in order to produce an obedience to the truth. What does not help is the fact that many people think that if they profess an idea they somehow have obeyed the idea. As long as one says, "I believe such and such," then we label them as being in this category or that. For instance, if one labels himself as a Calvinist, we all assume that he belongs to a particular group whether he is consistent with his idea of church and evangelism or not. There are many Calvinists, however, who claim that title, but have very Arminian looking ideas about church and evangelism. In this case, the label is only true of a theoretical belief and not a practiced one. This is certainly the case in terms of gender roles as well.

We somehow have the idea that if a couple has the theory of complementarianism in place that the couple will actually function off of that idea; but this couldn't be further from what often happens. Because there is an assumption that we must be good in that area because we affirm that men and women have different roles, and that women are to submit to the men in authority over them, what often happens is that one carries the label of being complementarian while actually living a lifestyle that is not only egalitarian, but even matriarchal.

The woman becomes the mother over the man. She becomes his judge as an authority over him, and if he does not do what she wishes, she will punish him in some way. This authority is not a stated one, but rather implied via manipulation. The punishment takes place in the form of breaking the relationship in some way, usually because the woman is mad that the man did not submit to her will. She will become very upset, shun the man, i.e., deny the relationship in some way to him, until he yields to her.

This all too common occurrence means that these families/churches are actually outside the will of God who will only lead the family according to the creational order He set in place, i.e., through the man. The woman is in a submissive advisory role. If her advice is not taken, she submits herself to God and her husband/elders with the belief that God leads her, not directly, but through them. To believe that God leads her directly is egalitarianism, and often even matriarchalism, but it is not complementarianism.

Even complementarianism in the West largely looks egalitarian, since Christians often contrast their more conservative take on family and church with the Western world's matriarchal ideas, but fail to apply a consistent obedience to those institutions.

If we believe, however, that God directs through the man in family and church alike, then the obedient woman will not only affirm the theory, but she will advise but not argue, yield and not punish, submit and not politic via slander and gossip in order to gather her mini-army so that more pressure can be put on the man to submit to her will/opinion, which is something that happens in both family and church quite often.

Our culture likes to believe that the devil works against authority by corrupting the authority, and this is true of wicked authorities, but he often works against authority through those who are to submit to it. There has been many an authority trying to do the right thing that has been blocked or ignored by those who have been divinely subjected to it. It is the ignoring of the command in practice that caused the world to fall in the first place. If this is true, then Satan's mode of conquering people will be to get them to ignore the authority structures set in place to protect them. Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter, and scattered sheep are the ones most easily devoured by the wolves.

The toppling of this authority in practice, then, is purposed to destroy everyone involved. The man will not fufill his role as the image by becoming a father, and the woman will not fulfill her role as the image of God by becoming a mother. She is left as the protector of the household, and she is not given the strength to do it, especially when in rebellion against God's design. With the guard removed, the treasure can be plundered to the ruin of all.

Men who are obedient will not allow this inconsistency to take place without rebuke. After all, we are the ones responsible for the garden. Eve might want to eat the fruit and be really fuming if Adam doesn't yield to her, but we understand that God has given him the direct command as the authority over her, and that, frankly, as is often the case, she may have a snake in her ear.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Order Versus Organization

Whenever I teach about being creational I inevitably have someone confuse the concepts of order and organization. If I say that we should pursue order, one will often take that to mean that we should pursue organization. As is the case with all misunderstood ideas, there is a pinch of truth and a couple liters of distortion here.

When the Bible speaks about order, it is talking about doing the things that create and preserve covenant human life. It is not talking about conducting your life according to a strictly regimented lifestyle. There are various personalities who would love for me to back up their preferences in this area, but this type of lifestyle often is really just a preference when it comes down to it. Some people are just OCD, and they need everyone else to be as well or they can't function in the world.

That is not to say that organization cannot aid the Christian in pursuing order. It can. However, the problem comes when people confuse the two, as many times organization gets in the way of pursuing order. For instance, I told my wife a long time ago that I did not want her to concentrate on having a perfect house, but rather on the biblical content of what our children were being taught and the discipline of poor behavior (i.e., actual sin). The former is organization that I saw as distracting from the true pursuit of order. There was simply too much time being spent on cleaning the house and organizing, and it took away from our true goals with the kids. The house will perish. Our children are what will remain forever.

However, the house cannot go by the wayside completely, as it needs to be clean enough so that disease is kept at bay as much as possible. However, this may mean that clothes may pile up a little, the floor isn't free of toys and vacuumed continually (with nine children it would have to be picked up and vacuumed every hour). As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for all things. There is a time for cleaning. It just shouldn't be at all times.

One could say that there should be rules for children to not get toys out, or ever make a mess, but this is nonsensical, and I think it is actually bad for children to confuse godliness with organization. Martha was organized. Mary was ordered. They are not the same. Jesus rebuked the former for not being the latter.

A wife focused on cleaning her house may be constantly yelling at the kids and her husband, stressed out about organization, and therefore, lacking in her focus toward pursuing biblical order. I have seen many a sparkling clean household with children in egregious sin. Spotless houses with divorced couples, adulterous lifestyles, rebellious hearts.

This confusion is at the heart of the Pharisaic rebellion against Christ. They wanted to focus on external cleanliness as the manifestation of godliness/order (i.e., organization), and Jesus wanted to focus on the internal and the moral activity that came forth from the internal order of the mind.

His disciples' hands were filthy as they ate. They clumsily ate in the fields instead of observing an organized Sabbath meal. Hygiene wasn't the greatest in first century Palestine. The fishermen probably stunk the most. Likewise, John the Baptist, who came before them was a horrible dresser and lived like an unkept hermit in the wilderness. These people were disorganized in their externals.

In contrast, the Pharisees were very organized. They bathed regularly since they saw this as their form of religious devotion. Their clothes were fine linens, even dressing like priests. They were well groomed (unless they wanted people to see them as fasting). But this all stirred Christ to call them whitewashed tombs with rotting corpses inside.

The tombs may have been sparkling clean and organized, but their minds and moral lifestyles were disordered. "Nothing that goes into a man defiles a man," Jesus said. Yet, how could that be? Cleanliness is next to godliness afterall, except that it isn't.

Organization can be good. It can work toward preserving life, but if it gets in the way of discipleship, it becomes a lifestyle God rejects because it isn't a part of godliness. If it was, Jesus would never have said that the externals don't defile. He just would have said that they sometimes defile and they sometimes don't. But that isn't what He said. Being disorganized isn't sinful. Being disordered is. Being ordered is being creational toward covenant human life: having children, raising them to put their allegiance in Jesus Christ and be justified, and it is preservational: sustaining the lives of those children while they are raised to obey Jesus Christ in sanctification.

Organization may play a part in working toward creation and preservation, but it may also, and often does, get in the way. For the Pharisees, it got in the way in that they lost sight of their own moral rebellion because they were so fixed on pleasing God and others in the externals. They also rejected Jesus and His teaching because it was not focused on the externals, and His disciples did not observe the cleanliness laws that they did.

And that is, perhaps, the saddest part of their story. The focus on external cleanliness made them blind to their own sins. They wasted their lives on cleaning everything but their thoughts and moral actions. And yet, if they had concentrated on the latter, never would they have been rebuked for not observing the former. Martha may think Jesus is going to be on her side since she's all about cleaning up, but He isn't because He's all about discipleship, as the latter is what creates and preserves covenant human life par excellence. The former is just rearranging stuff that perishes. That, My Friends, is organization.

And the world is passing away no matter how shiny we make it. It is the duty of the Christian to preserve what can be preserved and to merely upkeep those temporary things that are necessary to accomplish that ultimate goal. That's where organization may play a role.

In the end, however, our house will crumble away into the dust, the clothes will all disintegrate, but we will fill up the new earth with the covenant children that we made and sustained; and that, My Friends, is order.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Biblical Theology XVII: Ecclesiastes

The Book of Ecclesiastes is a genre of literature called “dispute literature.” Dispute literature, like the Book of Job, sets up an internal argument that looks at different sides of the truth in order to come to a balanced conclusion about a subject, usually about life itself. Hence, the individual statements in the book should not be taken as absolute on their own, but rather as propositions that are true in a way, but also have other truths that clarify the limitations of that thinking. The “dispute” is usually between two or more people, but here, it is in the voice of one person pondering various truths. Hence, it is a monologue that speaks through the voice of Qoheleth, which may mean “one who proclaims to the assembly,” or "preacher," as it is often translated. Rabbis, early on, identified Qoheleth as Solomon, although no mention of Solomon exists in the book. If it does use Solomon’s life/voice to communicate the message, it would likely be due to his pursuits of everything to the fullest, yet coming up short in the end. It is highly probable that the speaker is not literally Solomon, since the language used is that of someone who knows Aramaic more than Hebrew.

Theology: The book argues that there is a truth and goodness to temporary pleasures in a sense, as they provide temporary relief and comfort from life’s hardships, but to pursue them as the ultimate priority is worthless, as death comes for all. In this regard, everything is meaningless, and there is no purpose to life when all of these things are pursued for their value in this life alone. There is no benefit to be even righteous or evil if the focus is purely on this life. In this regard, Qoheleth is arguing against any attempt to make the things of this life, or this life itself, valuable and worthwhile in and of itself apart from a consideration of God. The author seeks to say that the primary duty of man is to recognize God’s authority and keep His commandments whether the follower of God understands and can see the importance of this in his or her daily life or not. In other words, although everything may look futile from the human perspective, man has the duty to submit to God’s authority and always have the judgment to come in view.

Ethics: Hence, the supreme virtue is to recognize that all pursuits will be judged by God in the end, and therefore, they should all be evaluated in terms of whether they glorify God first. The “sense” that people have that nothing really matters in the end is negated by the idea that something very much matters than everything in the present, and that is to recognize God’s position as the only One who rightly judges all life and any, and every, decision a person makes, and the future judgment to come. The duty of man, therefore, is not to act upon what he views as a futile life from his own perspective, but to see all things from the judgment seat of God. Hence, it is the reverse sentiment of the modern misinterpretation of Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero "seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future." Ironically, the original sentiment of Carpe diem was compatible with the message Ecclesiastes because it meant that one should do all he can now in light of the uncertainty of the future. Hence, Qoheleth warns, “Rejoice, Young Person, while you are young; and let your thoughts cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the impulses of your heart and whatever is desirable to you, but know that God will judge your motives and actions alike. Banish vexation from your mind. Put away evil from your flesh because youth and prime of life are fleeting. So remember your Creator in the days of your youth before the days of evil come” (11:9–12:1). 

However, even this still has its setting in the temporary life. Ecclesiastes posits that since no satisfaction in this temporary life is of lasting value, all men should pursue God and His commandments instead. This is because the future life is of greater value, and the judgment of God is the gateway to that life. He ends, therefore, with the conclusion: “Fear God and keep His commandments, because this is the whole duty of man. For God will judge everything done, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:13–14).