Friday, May 22, 2015

Healthy attitudes for young men

A fundamentalist radio station I listen to has been featuring readings lately from Elisabeth Elliot's Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot.

This biography of Elliot includes generous excerpts from his journals. I was much struck when I heard it by this entry, from November 23, 1951.

Just read again the story of Abraham. Convenient food just now--with this pressing sense of need, the want of warmth and woman, tenderness, relief, and children. The God who 'prepared laughter' for Sarah in her old age, whose promises made Abraham himself fall to the ground and laugh because they seemed so goodly and impossible--fitting thoughts for my present attitude because I feel now as though it may mean five years of single life, these next five resilient years, years when I will most want her, most need her, and best be able to satisfy her. Then, maybe after I'm thirty, getting paunchy, wrinkling and balding even--then the marriage bed! Mother said the other day 'Who wants to wait until they're thirty to start raising a family?' Certainly not I. All I knew to say was, 'You raise a family when God wants you to.' And I believe. I feel sure that God is doing the best for us, and that in the face of what seems most unlikely. Perhaps I'm wrong in thinking I have years to wait--but a man can't feel the 'lustihood of his young powers' swell and surge inside him and not be affected by restraining them. It may be that He hasn't planned to make us wait years, but it certainly looks like it from here. Of course I hope I'm wrong. But if I'm not, then El Shaddai, the God who saw and heard Hagar, considered Sarai's laugh, and disregarded Abraham's 100th year--this God is the One I believe to be guiding and governing me in these affairs. And in this, in prospect, I with Abraham can laugh. (pp. 211-212)
At this time in his life Jim Elliot, twenty-four years old, thought that God wanted him to be a single missionary for a substantial time. I don't know how he picked the five-year period. It doesn't appear to have been a matter of finances. Perhaps he just thought that God wanted him to do work entirely alone for about five years in order to get the work well-started among the Indians in Ecuador to whom he felt called.

As it happened, the wait was almost exactly two years. After much indecision, Jim finally concluded that it was God's will for him to marry Elisabeth somewhat sooner, and they were married on his twenty-sixth birthday, October 8, 1953.

There is something both touching and refreshing about this passage from Elliot's journal. It is a little amusing that he thinks of his future, over-thirty self as paunchy, wrinkled, and possibly unable to satisfy his wife sexually. It shows such a charmingly youthful attitude toward the ancient early thirties.

But that youthfulness is bound up with a robust and healthy attitude toward sex and life in general. Young men nowadays would do well to read this passage and emulate Elliot's thinking. Here are several things I notice:

--Elliot doesn't think that a desire for sex is an ignoble motive for wanting to get married. He is no prude. He doesn't act as though he has to desire marriage entirely for reasons independent of the sexual ones. He understands his desires to be natural in a young man and realizes that marriage is their telos.

--Elliot takes for granted that his own sexual satisfaction is to be found only in marriage. The fact that he desires marriage for sexual reasons emphatically does not mean that he is thinking of Elisabeth in a cold-blooded or instrumental way. His romantic feelings are naturally and inextricably bound up with his erotic feelings. There is no question of his not being able to "get" sex otherwise and being forced to wait for marriage, as if sex were a product and the woman the mere provider of the product. The whole cynical idea that women have to withhold sex from men in order to make the men marry them is foreign to young Elliot's way of thinking. It is not that he is reluctantly holding himself to a traditional moral standard. Rather, the fact that he wants sex means that he wants the marriage bed. Nor does he think it quaint to speak or think that way. He wants sex precisely in the context of tenderness, warmth, commitment, and a family. He doesn't think for a moment that he would be satisfied with promiscuity, a prostitute, pornography, or anything else. In fact, he clearly knows, if only tacitly, that he wouldn't.

--Jim Elliot wants children. The idea that seems to have taken hold in some circles now that only women want children is foreign to Jim Elliot. He, personally, wants children, wants a family. He takes it to be natural and inevitable that a man wants children. He doesn't just want Elisabeth to have a chance to have children. He yearns for them himself.

--Elliot understands that a man needs to think about biological clocks. Now, he may be a little confused here by his funny notion of himself over thirty as sexually comparable to Abraham at one hundred. But beyond that, I suspect that he realizes that the woman he has chosen will not be as fertile herself in five years and therefore that his own desire for children means that he needs to think about getting married sooner.

Some further thoughts:

The Book of Common Prayer says, of marriage,

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body. 
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.
It may be that lots of conversations are taking place where I do not hear them and that in these conversations young men are telling their older, male advisers (fathers, pastors, Christian mentors) that they would like to get married while young because they don't think they have the gift of continency and realize that God has ordained marriage as the proper channel for what Elliot calls the "lustihood of his young powers."  As a woman, I certainly wouldn't be the proper recipient of such confidences. But I have a feeling, which I would be glad to be proven wrong about, that such conversations aren't taking place nearly as often as they should be and that our society, including Christian society, has been o'ertaken by a peculiar reticence. It is as though we've all been seized with excessive delicacy or prudishness about even mentioning sexual desire as a motive for marriage.

Marriage is assumed to be undertaken later and later, and I don't hear of very many people asking young men, even reasonably attractive young men who don't believe in sex outside of marriage, "Er, don't you have a reason (hint, hint) why you would like to get married sooner rather than later?" This (and the desire for children) is a reason not to set out to be in college and graduate school throughout one's twenties or even longer. See related post here.

It is strange and to my mind ominous that, in our increasingly p*rnogr*phic and sexualized society, Christians, who reject the norms of that society, continue to accept late (even very late) marriage as reasonable. Since our young people are probably not being swept up in a wave of vocations to permanent celibacy, we should encourage them to be marriage-minded. For that matter, promiscuity and p*rn use are horrendously destructive for anyone. Non-Christians, too, used to understand that and need to understand that. So there is a reason to encourage healthy, early marriages throughout society as a whole.

Lest there be any question, I am not assuming that only men have sexual desires! I am, however, assuming a traditional perspective according to which the initiative should lie with the man to ask the lady on dates, pursue her, and eventually ask her to marry him. It's interesting to note that even in our feminist-influenced society a lot of girls would prefer not to be the one to ask the man out, much less to propose to him.

But all of this somber talk does not mean that romance is to be separated from marriage. Far from it. What we need to recapture is not the cold-bloodedness of an ancient Chinese marriage broker but rather something like Elliot's freshness and ardor. Yes, it is natural for young people to want sex. Yes, marriage should be encouraged for that reason. Therefore, romance and falling in love should be encouraged for the very same reason. No one, including men, should seek sex in an impersonal fashion, not even in seeking marriage. This shouldn't need to be said, but it does. Nor is cynicism the answer. We do a grave disservice to our young people if we encourage them to be cynical about the opposite sex. Wise and prudent, yes, and aware of the sad dangers of this world, but not cynical and hardened.

As regards children, I find it disturbing to run into the idea that women want children but men don't. Normal men should, like Jim Elliot, desire children. Young men, if you think that you don't want children, or if you just never think about the matter at all, stop and think about it. There is nothing unmanly about wanting a family. Not just a girlfriend, not just a wife, not just a sex partner, but a family, including children with the woman you love. If you already have a girlfriend, then you should think about her in connection with a family and children. Which is yet another reason actually to marry her, of course, or to break off the relationship if you cannot picture yourself marrying her.

Relatedly, if a man does want children, and if he doesn't want to marry a woman much younger than he is, then he shouldn't be deliberately (or unthinkingly) putting off marriage until late. I'm not actually opposed to a gap in ages in marriage. In fact, I think our current society needs to lighten up on that. There's nothing intrinsically creepy or exploitative about a marriage between a man of thirty-five and a woman of twenty-five. Many such marriages through the ages have been joyful, God-honoring, and fruitful. But there will be some challenges unique to such a marriage, and as it happens many people don't want that kind of a gap in ages. On the assumption that for the most part people will marry those of approximately the same age, then men, her (your prospective or hypothetical wife's) biological clock is your biological clock, and there is another reason to be marriage-minded sooner rather than later.

I suggest that men who advise young men (especially Christians) consider using this journal entry as a conversation-starter in a male-only Bible study or other serious discussion.

P.S. I anticipate an objection to the fact that I am not giving more advice to young women in this post. The main reason for that is that my thoughts were sparked by Jim Elliot's journal entry and by the extreme healthiness of his attitudes as the attitudes of a man. Also, I have recently run into an extremely cynical article (that I'm trying to resist writing about) that endorsed all the wrong attitudes for men, exactly the opposite of Elliot's; hence, this is on my mind. Naturally I am not proposing that a man should marry a woman selected at random, a shallow woman, a promiscuous woman, or a bad woman. I acknowledge that a good woman can be hard to find just as a good man can be hard to find.  I also happen to know plenty of good women, good men, and happy marriages.

Friday, May 08, 2015

The king's heart

The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will. Proverbs 21:1

Some years ago I read an interview with Justice Anthony Kennedy. Or perhaps it was commentary on an interview with Anthony Kennedy. I remember that Kennedy said in the interview something to the effect that the Supreme Court says that this or that is what the Constitution means...but one can't really be sure. He seemed a bit wry about it all. The commentator mused, drily, "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."

That stuck with me as an apt comment. Here was Kennedy, with his utterly chaotic, one might say nonexistent, jurisprudential theory, more or less admitting that he has all this power and doesn't know what the heck he's doing. The commentator's point was that a Supreme Court justice isn't supposed to be a king and that Kennedy was actually seeking sympathy for the weight of a responsibility he shouldn't have at all--the responsibility of making law by his own will and whim. Kennedy makes these needless complications for himself because he has no coherent notion of what it means to interpret an existing document in an historically responsible manner. Or, perhaps more bluntly, he doesn't care about that boring stuff. He cares about vaguer things like looking independent, but at the same time progressive, striking a pose, moving with the times, but not too fast...

Well, we Americans thought that, by setting up a constitutional republic of checks and balances with strictly limited powers we were done with kings. That was the plan, anyway. Wise old Benjamin Franklin said it best: "A republic, if you can keep it."

We couldn't.

So now we have kings again. Or perhaps more precisely, a small oligarchy of nine men and women with the untoward power to make laws for the entire country at, in effect, their own pleasure. All they need is the pretext of a case before them to begin telling us all about the mystery of life and all the rights of man and what groupings and rules are rational and irrational, what laws we must have and must not have. A few of them actually voluntarily submit themselves, or attempt to submit themselves, to a coherent body of law lying outside themselves and their own will and desire. These are called, perversely, "conservatives," as though theirs, the only non-partisan position, were narrowly partisan. They are not acting as kings, but that is because they choose not to do so.

In reflecting on this recently I was struck by one small silver lining in the dark, dark cloud of judicial usurpation and tyranny in America: We Christians can once more claim Proverbs 21:1, quoted above. Indeed, we are forced to do so. No longer can we say, "That doesn't apply to us. We don't have kings in our country. We are ruled by a government of laws, not of men." Believe me, in the U.S.A. in 2015 we are ruled by men, in a strict and uncomfortably literal sense of the phrase. Not only Supreme Court justices but also IRS agents, regulatory inspectors, rogue prosecutors (as in Wisconsin), lawless policemen, bullying TSA agents, family law judges, and more.

So as we live our daily lives (turn in your taxes, pray for your loved ones when they travel by airplane, be nice to the policeman who stops you and gives you a ticket...) and as we await the SCOTUS decision on marriage, we are forced to remember that there is One in whose hand is the heart of the king. Even, perhaps especially, the wicked king, the unjust judge. We don't know if God will make the king do what is right and just. Often God doesn't. But our times are in his hand, and so we learn a new humility. We learn that government can do grave harm whatever form it originally started out with, and that all of us mere individuals have great need of the One who is no respecter of persons. Let us pray that he will turn the hard heart of the king as the rivers of water, and heal our land.

Monday, May 04, 2015

A new undesigned coincidence discovered

This is hot off the presses, folks, just discovered late last night. I found it while reading Paley's Horae Paulinae and comparing some biblical passages, but it is not contained in the Horae Paulinae, possibly because Paley did not have available to him the NASB or any other translation based upon the older text families as opposed to the textus receptus.

Here's the context: In II Corinthians 11:8-9, Paul says,

I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way.
For this side of the UC, it doesn't matter what translation you use. That is the ESV translation of II Cor. 11:8-9.

In this passage Paul is discussing his own first interaction with the Corinthians, which is apparently recounted in Acts 18 where Paul comes to Corinth and founds the church there. Paul, in II Cor., is defending all of his proceedings with the Corinthians and, in these verses, defending himself against any idea that he tried to milk them for money. He says that, when he was in Corinth, his financial needs were supplied from other churches, by implication churches in Macedonia, rather than by the Corinthians themselves.

Now see Acts 18:3-5, first in the KJV:

And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them [Aquila and Priscilla], and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers. And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.

Now in the NASB:

[A]nd because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. (emphasis added)
Other modern translations of the crucial vs. 5 are similar to the NASB. For example, the NIV has:
When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.
The ESV is clearly based on the same text family but does not emphasize as much of a contrast between vss. 3-4 and vs. 5:
When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.
The textual difference between the textus receptus and the oldest texts lies in the question of what Paul was wholly occupied with or "pressed" by--was it the word or the spirit?

Whether one accepts the textual reading "word" or "spirit," I would argue that vs. 5 does present a contrast with vss. 3-4. As the pulpit commentary says,

As an English phrase, this ["was constrained by the word"] is almost destitute of meaning. If the R.T. [textus receptus] is right [in saying that he was constrained in the spirit], and it has very strong manuscript authority, the words συνείχετο τῷ λόγῳ mean that he was seized, taken possession of, and as it were bound by the necessity of preaching the Word, constrained as it were to preach more earnestly than ever.
The pulpit commentary continues:
In St. Luke συνέχεσθαι is a medical term: in Luke 4:28, R.T., "Holden with a great fever;"Luke 8:37, "Holden with a great fear;" Acts 28:8, "Sick of fever and dysentery;" and so frequently in medical writers ('Medical Language of St. Luke,' Hobart). But it is worth considering whether συνείχετο [the word for "pressed" or "constrained"] is not in the middle voice, with the sense belonging to συνεχής, i.e. "continuous," "unbroken," and so that the phrase means that, after the arrival of Silas and Timothy, St. Paul gave himself up to continuous preaching.
This is obviously how several modern translations have taken it, in conjunction with the word "word" rather than "spirit"--that after Silas and Timothy's arrival, Paul gave himself over to preaching more continuously than he had before. The verb translated in the NASB "began devoting himself completely" appears to be in a voice that means  that one began and continued the action. (See the pulpit commentary above.)

Either way, the idea is that something changed when Timothy and Silas arrived from Macedonia. Why would this be? Would it simply be a psychological matter of Paul's being inspired by their arrival to work harder? Yet we know that Paul always worked hard at preaching. The word "tireless" scarcely does him justice!

If we look at vss. 3-4, we find a pattern of work: Paul was working at his tent-making, presumably during the working week, and going into the synagogue and preaching on the Sabbath, when of course his tent-making work would have been forbidden by the Law of Moses. Verse 5, then, can plausibly be read as standing in contrast to this pattern. When Timothy and Silas arrived from Macedonia, Paul devoted his time more fully than before to preaching the word.

If we connect this with the coming of messengers from Macedonia to Corinth mentioned in II Corinthians 11, the inference springs to mind that Timothy and Silas are those referred to in II Corinthians 11 and that they brought money from a church or churches in Macedonia. This freed Paul from the need to work at tent-making. Hence, it was when they arrived that Paul began to devote himself entirely to preaching the word (or, if you take the textus receptus reading, became more constrained in spirit to preach). Yet Acts says nothing about their bringing money. (It is an interesting and curious fact that Acts more than once omits references to contributions or monetary transactions when these appear, from the epistles, to have been going on at the time.)

This is exactly the sort of minute but casual and subtle congruence between the epistles and Acts that Paley teases out and celebrates in the Horae Paulinae. In this case, Paley does note (p. 116) that the coming of Timothy and Silas to Corinth in Acts 18 appears to be the arrival referred to in II Corinthians 11. But he does not note the change in Paul's behavior at the time of their coming. Plausibly he does not note this because he was working with the KJV and therefore had only the odd phrase "he was pressed in the spirit" rather than the clearer "he began devoting himself completely to the word."

I have not seen this undesigned coincidence noted anywhere else, so it appears that modern textual scholarship and translations have brought to light a previously unknown undesigned coincidence between a Pauline epistle and the book of Acts. Note that this confirms that the author of Acts had intimate knowledge of the movements of Paul at this time in his ministry, even as his ministry emphasis changed from one week to the next.

A few more details:

Paley conjectures elsewhere (pp. 271-274), based on I Thessalonians 3:1-7 and Acts 17:15-16, that Timothy came to Paul in Corinth from Thessalonica at this time. Paley's idea is that Paul had (though this is not mentioned in Acts explicitly) actually seen Timothy in Athens and had, per I Thessalonians 3, sent him back to Thessalonica to strengthen the new Christians there, whom Paul had been forced to leave hastily when a riot arose in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-10). (It must have been hard being Timothy, Titus, or any of Paul's other co-workers. The epistles show ample evidence that he would summon them and then send them out again, sometimes over the very route they had just traveled and hither and yon, to check up on the churches' spiritual well-being. Compare Acts 17:15, where Paul is sent hastily to Athens from Berea to get away from a possible riot in Berea. He leaves word for Timothy and Silas to follow him ASAP. Yet it appears that when they met him in Greece they were almost immediately sent back to Thessalonica, which is near Berea in Macedonia, because Paul had meanwhile become worried about the Thessalonians!)

Philippians 4:15-16 states that after Paul left Macedonia, at least at first, only the Philippians sent him any financial assistance. Timothy and Silas were therefore in all probability bringing money from the Philippians, though they had not most recently been visiting Philippi but rather (probably) Thessalonica. Paul also says in Philippians 4:16 that the Philippians actually sent money to him more than once in Thessalonica. It is therefore quite possible that Timothy picked up a contribution that had been sent to Thessalonica for Paul and brought it down to him in Corinth. Another possibility is that Paul is saying in Philippians only that at first ("in the beginning of the gospel") only the Philippians sent him money after he left Macedonia (e.g., perhaps some came to him when he was in Athens). By the time he was in Corinth the Thessalonians and/or the Bereans might have decided to send him a contribution of their own, which could have come to Corinth with Timothy and Silas.

In any event, the inference is quite strong that Timothy and Silas brought Paul money in Corinth from some church or churches in Macedonia and that this is why he devoted his time more fully to preaching after they arrived.

The discovery of a new undesigned coincidence, especially one so much in the spirit of the great Paley himself, is always exciting.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

An undesigned coincidence involving John 6

Those who read my apologetics work know my fondness for the so-old-it's-new argument from undesigned coincidences. I'm feeling too lazy right now to scare up the links to all the posts that I and Esteemed Husband have written on this subject, so I'll have to leave it to readers to Google them or use the "evidentialism" and "apologetics" tags here and at W4 to find mine. Some of my older ones have links to a series of six posts that Tim did on undesigned coincidences (in Acts). I have more written work in the pipeline on this argument--one scholarly article using probability theory and possibly a layman-level book manuscript.

As I have been filling out further a chart originally begun by my husband Tim on undesigned coincidences in the gospels, thinking about what to include in a longer manuscript, I have hesitated to include in such a book-length treatment the UC I plan to discuss in this post. The reason for my hesitation is that this particular UC involves us immediately in some intra-Christian disagreement about interpretation.

I was always taught as a Baptist (both in church and at Bible college) that Jesus' discourse on "eating his flesh" and "drinking his blood" in John 6 had nothing whatsoever to do with Communion. It was just an elaborate metaphor for believing in him with saving faith, and nothing more, period.

In part, my change from memorialist to sacramentalist on the significance of Holy Communion was occasioned by the realization that this insistence is simply interpretively insupportable. To argue that Jesus meant nothing about the Last Supper and hence Communion by the discourse in John 6 is to assert that his use of the same terminology in both places is pure coincidence. But from the sheer perspective of human communication, this must be false. There is no way in the world that Jesus just happened to speak of eating his flesh and drinking his blood in both places, but that in one place it referred purely to believing on him, without even mysteriously foreshadowing his later establishment of the rite of Communion, while in the other place it referred to taking Communion as (on the memorialist view) a purely symbolic act showing one's remembrance of his death.

It seems beyond doubt that the disciples, who must have thought the John 6 discourse very odd (some previous followers forsook Jesus altogether over it), would have remembered his words when he later spoke almost exactly the same words at the Last Supper. In the former case he stresses the importance of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. In the latter case he actually hands them bread and wine and tells them to go ahead and eat and drink, because this is his body and blood. It is extremely likely that the disciples at the Last Supper would have thought something like, "Aha, this must be telling us more about that weird stuff he was saying a couple of years ago about eating his flesh and drinking his blood." Even without any worked-out sacramental theology, they would of course have associated the two sayings of Jesus and would have taken them to be about the same thing.

Moreover, we know that Jesus often did say things that his disciples only understood later. For example, his reference to Jonah in the belly of the whale was a prophecy of his resurrection. His reference to raising up the temple after three days was likewise a reference to the resurrection. His teaching about the Comforter was probably confusing to them, though not unclear in itself, prior to the day of Pentecost.

It would be possible for a memorialist to acknowledge that the disciples would have back-solved the John 6 discourse as an allusion to Communion while retaining his memorialism. Presumably such a memorialist would say that, yes, it was about the Lord's Supper, but it was simply about the particular memorial act of obedience in the Lord's Supper.

I do not think that is satisfactory as an interpretation of John 6 either, because of the peculiar urgency and explicitness of Jesus in his discussion. Jesus insists that you have no life in you if you don't do this act, whatever it is, of eating his flesh. But memorialists don't believe anything like that about the urgency and theological importance and efficacy of taking Communion, even though of course they can be very respectful and solemn about it. (Some memorialists are even more respectful of Communion than some in allegedly sacramental denominations, but I'll say no more about that right now.)

But regardless of whether I consider that a satisfactory interpretation of John 6, it is at least not crazily, wildly implausible, as is the insistence that John 6 isn't about Communion at all at all no no no.

This leads me to the slightly wan hope that I could give this undesigned coincidence to any audience, whether memorialist or sacramentalist, and have it seen as valuable rather than as divisive. But probably not.

So I'll just give it in this post, because I think it has merit. And it is just this: It's a remarkable fact that the Gospel of John does not record the institution of the Lord's Supper. It's amazing how many years I was a Christian without realizing this. John, of all authors! John the theological, John the observant, John who tells us so much else about the night in which Jesus was betrayed, does not record the institution of the Lord's Supper. Instead, John gives a vivid account of Jesus' act of washing his disciples' feet, which is found nowhere in the synoptic gospels. On the other side, the synoptic gospels all contain an account of the institution of the Lord's Supper, including Jesus' words "this is my body" and "this is my blood" and his injunction to the disciples to eat and drink thereof, but they do not contain any parallel of the passage in John 6 in which Jesus says that you have no life in you unless you eat of the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood (vs. 53).

If John had made up the discourse in John 6, it seems undeniable that he did so as a deliberate parallel to the institution of the Lord's Supper found in the synoptics. But in that case, why did he not include the fulfillment of Christ's words? One would, in fact, almost expect him to include not only the Last Supper but some sort of allusion back to what Jesus had said earlier, tying the two passages together. But John's selection interests are different, he is not writing a piece of literary fiction but a piece of memoir-like history, and he includes the discourse but not the Institution. This is to my mind a strong indication that the discourse really occurred and that John included it because he knew that it really occurred. The discourse and the Last Supper fit together as question and answer. Why did Jesus say these strange things in John 6? Because, as was his wont, he was both stretching his audience with somewhat mysterious utterances, demanding that his followers trust him that all would be made clearer in time, and foretelling his institution of the Lord's Supper and teaching its importance in the life of the Church and the individual believer. The discourse itself answers a different kind of question: Would Jesus do something so cryptic as institute the Lord's Supper in the words he used without giving the disciples any more teaching on the matter? Of course, John himself emphasizes that Jesus did and said many things that are not recorded, many more than could be recorded, and it is entirely possible that Jesus taught the disciples more, perhaps during the forty days after his resurrection, about how they were to practice the Lord's Supper and baptism after his ascension. I consider that entirely plausible. But if we actually have teaching from Jesus about the Lord's Supper in John 6, that passage itself partly fills the apparent gap left by the brevity of his remarks on Maundy Thursday.

So the synoptic accounts of the Last Supper and the discourse in John 6 fit together in the classic way that we find in many undesigned coincidences--missing pieces supplied by each passage to fill out the whole picture, questions raised by one passage and answered in the other.

This is, like it or not, evidence of the veracity of the gospel accounts. While one will have to decide on a case-by-case basis when to include it or leave it out in any given presentation, it deserves to be examined and known, despite its apparently anti-ecumenical implications.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The annotated Rawlinson

Years ago I published this short post on "evidential ammunition" for Christian apologetics. In the course of it I had a long quotation from 19th century historian George Rawlinson, The Historical Evidences of the Truth of the Scripture Records: Stated Anew (1860), pp. 185-88.

I have noticed recently that I threw in some ellipses in the Rawlinson quotation at some points where I wish I hadn't. So here is the same passage from Rawlinson with the elided portions included. I will follow up on this with an annotated version thereof:

The political condition of Palestine at the time to which the New Testament narrative properly belongs, was one curiously complicated and anomalous; it underwent frequent changes, but retained through all of them certain peculiarities, which made the position of the country unique among the dependencies of Rome. Not having been conquered in the ordinary way, but having passed under the Roman dominion with the consent and by the assistance of a large party among the inhabitants, it was allowed to maintain for a while a species of semi-independence, not unlike that of various native states in India which are really British dependencies. A mixture, and to some extent an alternation, of Roman with native power resulted from this arrangement, and a consequent complication in the political status, which must have made it very difficult to be thoroughly understood by any one who was not a native and a contemporary. The chief representative of the Roman power in the East—the President of Syria, the local governor, whether a Herod or a Roman Procurator, and the High Priest, had each and all certain rights and a certain authority in the country. A double system of taxation, a double administration of justice, and even in some degree a double military command, were the natural consequence; while Jewish and Roman customs, Jewish and Roman words, were simultaneously in use, and a condition of things existed full of harsh contrasts, strange mixtures, and abrupt transitions. Within the space of fifty years Palestine was a single united kingdom under a native ruler, a set of principalities under native ethnarchs and tetrarchs, a country in part containing such principalities, in part reduced to the condition of a Roman province, a kingdom reunited once more under a native sovereign, and a country reduced wholly under Rome and governed by procurators dependent on the president of Syria, but still subject in certain respects to the Jewish monarch of a neighboring territory. These facts we know from Josephus and other writers, who, though less accurate, on the whole confirm his statements; they render the civil history of Judaea during the period one very difficult to master and remember; the frequent changes, supervening upon the original complication, are a fertile source of confusion, and seem to have bewildered even the sagacious and painstaking Tacitus. The New Testament narrative, however, falls into no error in treating of the period; it marks, incidentally and without effort or pretension, the various changes in the civil government—the sole kingdom of Herod the Great,—the partition of his dominions among his sons,—the reduction of Judaea to the condition of a Roman province, while Galilee, Ituraea, and Trachonitis continued under native princes,—the restoration of the old kingdom of Palestine in the person of Agrippa the First, and the final reduction of the whole under Roman rule, and reestablishment of Procurators as the civil heads, while a species of ecclesiastical superintendence was exercised by Agrippa the Second. Again, the New Testament narrative exhibits in the most remarkable way the mixture in the government—the occasional power of the president of Syria, as shown in Cyrenius’s “taxing”; the ordinary division of authority between the High Priest and the Procurator; the existence of two separate taxation—the civil and the ecclesiastical, the “census” and the “didrachm;” of two tribunals, two modes of capital punishment, two military forces, two methods of marking time; at every turn it shows, even in such little measures as verbal expressions, the coexistence of Jewish with Roman ideas and practices in the country—a coexistence which (it must be remembered) came to an end within forty years of our Lord’s crucifixion.
Now, here is an annotated version of Rawlinson's allusions to the deft and accurate movement of the New Testament narrative. (Hat tip to Esteemed Husband for much of the leg-work on the annotations. The annotation on two methods of marking time was taken from Jerome Dean Davis, Handbook of Christian Evidences.)

[T]he sole kingdom of Herod the Great [Matthew 2:1 – "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king,"],—the partition of his dominions among his sons [Matthew 2:22 – "But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod,…he turned aside into the parts of Galilee," Galilee being ruled by Herod Antipas, not by Archelaus], -- the reduction of Judaea to the condition of a Roman province, while Galilee, Ituraea, and Trachonitis continued under native princes [Luke 3:1 – "Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, …"],—the restoration of the old kingdom of Palestine in the person of Agrippa the First [Acts 12:1 – "About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church"], and the final reduction of the whole under Roman rule, and reestablishment of Procurators as the civil heads [Acts 23:24 (Antonius Felix); Acts 24:27 (Porcius Festus)], while a species of ecclesiastical superintendence was exercised by Agrippa the Second [Acts 25:13ff (Agrippa the Second invited by Porcius Festus to listen to Paul, apparently as a mere courtesy)]. Again, the New Testament narrative exhibits in the most remarkable way the mixture in the government—the occasional power of the president of Syria, as shown in Cyrenius’s “taxing” [Luke 2:1-2]; the ordinary division of authority between the High Priest and the Procurator [Luke 3:2 -- "in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiphas....", John 18:31 "Pilate therefore said to them, 'Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.' The Jews said to him, 'We are not permitted to put anyone to death.'"]; the existence of two separate taxation—the civil [Matt. 22:17--"Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar?"] and the ecclesiastical , the “census” and the “didrachm;” [Matthew 17:24--"Does not your teacher pay the two-drachma tax?"] of two tribunals [John 18-19], two modes of capital punishment [stoning, e.g., Acts 7 vs. crucifixion, as in the crucifixion of Jesus and the two thieves], two military forces [Acts 4:1 the temple guard, in contrast to the Roman forces, mentioned in multiple places in the NT], two methods of marking time [Luke 3:1-2 " the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas..."];
When we speak of historical confirmations of the accuracy of the gospels and Acts, this is the type of thing we have in mind. These incidental confirmations, as Tim points out in this lecture, are even stronger (not to mention more numerous) than direct allusions to major events in the New Testament by non-Christian authors. It is in these incidental confirmations that we see that the gospels and Acts were written by people of the time who were familiar with these facts as part of their lives. (Remember, no Google!) As Rawlinson points out, this complex sociopolitical dance between the Jews and Rome was wiped out by the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Remember this next time someone asks you why we should think that the gospels are historically reliable.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

On petitionary prayer

We had some friends over the other evening, and the issue of petitionary prayer came up. Here was one set of questions on the table (in my paraphrase): As Christians we don't believe that Christianity is falsified if you pray for something, even something "reasonable" that seems like it would advance the kingdom of God and that is not selfish, and you don't get it. But in that case, we don't really expect to receive our petitions. So why bother to engage in petitionary prayer? What's the point? Moreover, if you are praying for spiritual strength (e.g., to resist some temptation), and you know that you will have to put in the effort yourself to resist the temptation anyway, why bother praying about it? Why not just do your best to resist the temptation?

Now, it would be simple enough to answer these questions by saying that God tells us to pray for our needs, including our spiritual needs. So do it because it's commanded, end of discussion. Scripture is unequivocal in telling us to engage in petitionary prayer: "In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." (Phil. 4:6) "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;" (Eph. 6:18) "Give us this day our daily bread...and deliver us from evil." (The Lord's Prayer) "You have not because you ask not..." (James 4:2) "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God" (James 1:5). "Pray for us...I beseech you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner." (Hebrews 13:19) "Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation" (Matt. 26:41)

I think, though, that these and other verses give us more information than just a bare commandment. The most important part of this information, mysterious as it must seem, is that in some way we cannot fully understand God has elected to use our prayers as part of the causal chain for bringing about his will in our lives and in the world.

That seems incredibly inefficient. Why should I have to pray for my daily bread? God knows what I need. He could just send it! God knew the good that Paul could do if released from prison. (Assuming that Paul was the author, or one of the authors, of Hebrews.) If it was God's will to release him from prison, why did people need to pray for it? Why should God accomplish his will in any way whatsoever by means of our prayers?

But that question could be asked of anything. God could have spelled out his message by special revelation to each individual on earth, but it pleases him (at least most of the time) by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. (I Cor. 1:21; cf Romans 10:14ff) God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and could provide all the cups of water necessary for every thirsty person, yet instead he promises a blessing to those who give a cup of water in his name. (Mark 9:41)

In other words, one thing that Scripture teaches again and again and again is that God likes to do things "inefficiently." God chooses, of his own free creativity, to make us mysteriously a part of the vast web of causal processes in this world by which to bring about his purposes. And sometimes we can mess up and not do our part. So with prayer. It is just as true of prayer as it is of telling others about Christ, speaking up instead of being silent, or doing your daily work: God has a job for you to do, and if you don't do it, the ball might get dropped. Something might not happen that would otherwise have happened. Oh, to be sure, as with all our sins both of commission and of omission, God can nonetheless bring good out of evil. He is never taken by surprise. But the point is that praying is a form of working for God's kingdom. It is part of what we can and should be doing. It is causal. We don't have to understand precisely how this is so to know that it is so and that this is why God tells us to pray.

Notice that this is true even of praying for our own needs. It is true of praying for a job, for example. Presumably if one is looking for a job one is working to that end. If you believe that God is glorified by your applying for jobs, that it is a worthwhile endeavor (a reasonable enough proposition!), then you can see that God is also glorified by your praying both for a job and for wisdom in the entire process of application and decision-making.

With that point made about the real causal role of prayer, I know that there is no danger that what follows will be interpreted as saying, "The only point of prayer is that it changes you." That isn't the only point of prayer. But it is one point of prayer, including petitionary prayer. There is no spiritual exercise that is the equivalent of prayer. Nothing else can be substituted for it. An important aspect of that spiritual exercise is genuinely, sincerely asking for something from God, thinking of God as a great King who loves you, who can grant your request, and asking for it with no irony or reservation, while at the same time submitting yourself to his will if he should choose not to grant it. That is hard. It is one of the hardest things for us Christians to do. (We have Jesus' own example of it in the Garden.) In doing this we speak to the Father as to a Person. (If that offends the classical theists in my audience, so be it.) We understand that prayer is not just a rote exercise to go through. It is not just a series of motions. It is a real transaction in a real world that we cannot see. We are speaking to Someone and asking Him for something. But at the same time, we are not treating the concrete thing we request as a right. We are not saying, "I deserve this." We are submitting to Him completely, realizing that we may not get what we ask, or at least not in any visible or sensible form.

I suggest that if one tries this for a few months, repeatedly, it will make a difference to one's spiritual character.

What this also means is that petitionary prayer shouldn't be separated off into a little box from adoration, thanksgiving, and confession of sins. That's presumably part of why the Apostle Paul uses the expression "prayer and supplication with thanksgiving." Psychologically, this makes sense. If you are asking for something from God in a concentrated and sincere way, recognizing that you are speaking to a real Personal Being, but at the same time recognizing how far above you God is, then petition will be constantly passing in and out of adoration and thanksgiving. As for confession, that will be there as well, because it will be extremely difficult to come to God in that humbleness and openness of mind without recognizing that one has things one must confess.

Note, too, that confessing sins is not an option. Christians are required to do it, to be repeatedly confessing, repenting, and seeking forgiveness, to be getting their hearts right with God. So we must pray for that reason if no other, and in the process of confessing sins, asking forgiveness, and thanking and praising God, it would be quite artificial to exclude more ordinary petitionary requests.

All of this may sound rather too obvious, or thin, or preachy. But it's what I've got to offer on this urgent, practical issue.

Prayer for the Christian is like water--an absolute need. In fact, it is so whether you feel that way or not. If you make a habit of prayer, setting aside time for it and doing it with all your might, opening your heart to God, I predict that you will come to feel it to be a need as well as knowing it to be. That can only be a good thing.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Generation Gap

We were driving home from church today and passed a greenhouse with a Christian Easter message on its board: "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow." I drew the family's attention to it. Youngest Daughter exclaimed solemnly, "Wow, that's really good, that he's being so bold."

I was struck.

I cannot imagine making a similar remark to my own Christian family in childhood. I'm not saying we never heard anything about Christians being mocked for their faith in America--usually in public schools, which I did not attend. But the idea that a businessman would have been "bold" in the 1970's to put up a quotation from a Christian Easter song would never have crossed our minds. In those days businessmen still occasionally pretended Christianity to make themselves look good!

I'm not going to say that Youngest Daughter's ideas about the Christian's need for boldness in 2015 have been formed entirely independently. Without giving her the lurid details, I have definitely conveyed the fact that Christian businessmen are sometimes targets of those who hate our faith and who attempt to "get them in trouble."

It's true, isn't it? The culture has changed, and boldness is needed. Our community is probably one of the better ones, but it is still entirely possible that someone would target a business in our area for "discrimination" against certain "identities." In fact, shortly after our region passed a "gender identity" ordinance, the story came back of a Christian girl working at a local clothing store who had to deal with two cross-dressing men, one of whom demanded to try on clothes in the women's dressing room and then flabbergasted the young lady by asking, "How do I look?" after putting on a skirt. I would like to think that she put on her driest face and tone and said, "I don't think it's your color," but I'm sure she didn't have that much savoir faire.

So we can't say, "It would never happen here." A greenhouse, unlike a florist, does not celebrate events, so that helps, but any business that employs people can be the target of an employment discrimination "sting" by the shrieking harpies of tolerance.

There is a generation gap. The temptation is great to keep a low profile, and when it comes to young people with a place to find still in the world, maybe that's good advice. But I'm glad that Youngest Daughter's first thought was to admire the greenhouse owner who is displaying the words to "Because He Lives."

The new generation needs people to admire, and a bold Christian greenhouse owner is a good one to start with.