Monday, December 24, 2012

The birth of Jesus the Messiah

If you haven't read the book of Acts recently, it would be a great New Testament book to re-read. There are so many things to enjoy in it and to notice. Here's one of them: The Apostle Paul is a driven man. One might almost say obsessed. Part of what he is obsessed by is the fact that Jesus is the Christ. As I don't need to tell Extra Thoughts readers, "Christ" isn't Jesus' last name. Paul keeps talking and talking and talking to the Jews about the fact that Jesus is the Messiah. He keeps reasoning with them about it, arguing from "the Scriptures," meaning what we would call the Old Testament. Here's just one such passage.
And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. (Acts 17:2-3)
Jesus said it Himself: "Search the Scriptures. For in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me." (John 5:39)

Here is the Apostle Peter on the same topic:
Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you. Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into. (1 Peter 1:11-12)
Again, the epistle to the Hebrews says that the Old Testament saints, all those great-greats celebrated in the chapter of faith, Hebrews 11, were "made complete" by the believers who have been given the fuller knowledge of Jesus Christ:
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise. God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40)
There is no getting around the fact that when most of us read the Old Testament, we don't spontaneously "see Jesus on every page," and when some expository preachers try to do it, they sometimes sound a bit strained. But the apostles themselves were constantly talking about the fact that the Old Testament Scriptures spoke of Jesus, and Peter even says that the prophets themselves, at least some of them, realized that the Christ would come later and that they were ministering to a later generation who would actually know him.

Paul refers in Galatians to the idea that Jesus is the hinge of history and the fulfillment of all that had gone before:
But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)
When Paul discusses the fact that the Old Testament Scriptures were written "for our admonition," he uses this striking phrase to describe the believers of his own generation: They, and by extension, we, are the ones "upon whom the ends of the ages have come." (I Cor. 10:11) It's the same idea as Galatians. Time and again Paul is saying, "To think that we are the generation to know the Christ, to know who he is! To think that the Christ has been born and lived and died in our time, and that we know the fulfillment of God's plan, which was known in times past only by prophecy!"

One can say that Paul was convinced that Jesus was the Christ because of his experience on the road to Damascus, and that is indeed true. But Paul also obviously believed that he could convince other Jews of the same conclusion even though they had not had his experience, and convince them not merely by reference to that experience but from their own Scriptures.

What all of this means is that the argument from prophecy was a big part of the apostolic and especially the Pauline apologetics. Yet it has gone very much out of fashion now, perhaps because we are seldom doing apologetics to an audience who already grants that there has been genuine prophecy in the past of a Messiah and that we should be attempting to find out who that Messiah might be. Or maybe, even more, the higher criticism and other -isms of the 19th century and early 20th century have made the argument go out of style without conspicuously good reason.

I have an article accepted for this special issue of Philosophia Christi on the argument from a small number of prophecies of the Messiah's death--specifically, Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. The above references show the importance of Isaiah 53 in the apostles' thought, going back to Jesus' teaching on the road to Emmaus--that the Christ must suffer. (Luke 24:25-26)

But since it is now not Passiontide but Christmas time (even though I'm not going to wait to hit "publish" until after sundown), I will instead leave you with this: Professor Hugh Gauch, in a paper presented to the Evangelical Theological Society in 2010 (not available on-line) estimates the Bayes factor--that is, the evidential force--of the fact that Jesus, a first-century Jew, was born in Bethlehem for the conclusion that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah to be about 1/12,000. He bases this on estimates of the population of Jews around the time of Jesus and of the much smaller population of Jews in Bethlehem.

That's just one messianic prophecy. And it is a prophecy only mentioned in Matthew and not even stressed in the extant writings of the Apostle Paul. But I have little doubt he was aware of it and that it formed part of the cumulative case that he made to the Jews when he reasoned with them in the synagogues. Paul's message? This is indeed the Christ!

Alleluia! O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

"Jesus, Joy of the Highest Heaven"

I hope to have a more substantive Christmas post up here soon, but for now:

A very pretty original carol by Keith and Kristyn Getty.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Link roundup

I can't keep up with all the stuff I want to link lately. Been wrapping Christmas presents, y'know. And just occasionally I want to write some pure philosophy.

Since this is my "extra thoughts" blog, here I feel free to do a link roundup of extremely heterogenous elements. I hope to do a brief but in some sense more real or respectable post at W4 praising Robert Bork, who just passed away. RIP, Judge Bork. You have taught me so much.

The Canadian Supreme Court is apparently going to rule on whether Canadian docs have unilateral authority to withdraw wanted "life support" from patients, with a Muslim patient's life on the line. I thought they already had that authority, but maybe they just want multiple precedents or a clearer precedent to shut up the families. Make no mistake: Even though Hassan Rasouli is on a ventilator, if he should be able to breathe on his own after it's withdrawn, a ruling in favor of the docs in this case would give them the unilateral power to dehydrate him to death.

Belgium is about to start "allowing" minors and people with Alzheimer's disease to "commit suicide." Scare quotes intentional. Um, yeah, how do you say "informed, rational consent"? So much for choice.

And if  you always suspected that the theory of anthropogenic global warming was were right. More evidence to that effect.

Phew! Now I feel a little caught up, even though I didn't have time to say anything much about any of these. Maybe I'll have time to write about them a little bit more at W4 during Christmas break!

Speaking of which: If any friend wants to comment here or write me at my e-mail address with brilliant ideas about a Christmas post, feel free.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Sleepers, Wake

Today was Bible Sunday in Advent, but I'm all skejipsed on my Advent schedule anyway, so I don't have a real Bible Sunday post. An older one was better than anything I could write now anyway, so if you're interested in Bible Sunday, read about it here. And by the way: I cannot understand why "O Word of God Incarnate" is not sung in more Baptist churches. It's their kind of hymn!

We sang Philip Nicolai's "Wake, Awake" or "Sleepers, Wake" this morning. I can't seem to find a good choral recording of it with the right words and all the usual verses, but there are many instrumental versions, especially organ. Here are the verses as found in the 1940 hymnal:

1. Wake, awake, for night is flying:
The watchmen on the heights are crying,
Awake, Jerusalem, arise!
Midnight's solemn hour is tolling,
His chariot wheels are nearer rolling,
He comes; prepare, ye virgins wise.
Rise up, with willing feet,
Go forth, the Bridegroom meet:
Bear through the night your well-trimmed light,
Speed forth to join the marriage rite.

2. Sion hears the watchman singing,
Her heart with deep delight is springing,
She wakes, she rises from her gloom:
Forth her Bridegroom comes, all glorious,
In grace arrayed, by truth victorious;
Her Star is risen, her Light is come!
All hail, Incarnate Lord,
Our crown, and our reward!
We haste along, in pomp of song,
And gladsome join the marriage throng.

3. Lamb of God, the heavens adore thee,
And men and angels sing before thee,
With harp and cymbal's clearest tone.
By the pearly gates in wonder
We stand, and swell the voice of thunder,
That echoes round thy dazzling throne.
No vision ever brought,
No ear hath ever caught,
Such rejoicing.
We raise the song, we swell the throng,
To praise thee ages all along.

By the way, these lyrics use the English epithalamion tradition, which was in turn based on the Latin epithalamion tradition. (I was sure I'd written about this before but can't now seem to find the post.) An epithalamion always began with the call for the bride to awake and arise, because the bridegroom was coming. The bride is supposed to waken from her gloom and dress herself beautifully, usually at dawn rather than at midnight. The combination of calling on the bride to awaken and the reference to midnight is just one oddity that results from melding the English epithalamion tradition with Jesus' parable of the wise and foolish virgins, which was of course based on Jewish marriage traditions. Notice, too, the emphasis on the glory of the groom and what the groom is wearing, which is more Jewish, rather than on the beauty of the bride or what she is wearing.

Friday, December 07, 2012

The gratitude of Gospel music

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to watch this DVD. It's a huge, staged tribute to Gospel music arranger and producer Lari Goss by a whole slew of Gospel music artists. It was enormously fun with plenty of musical highlights, but what I chiefly want to mention here is what the existence of the project symbolizes about Gospel music--its unabashed, humble, personal thankfulness to the artists of earlier generations. This is by no means the only project that illustrates this. Ernie Haase and Signature Sound have a number of projects that show the same spirit, such as this one, in which the late, great George Younce's solo voice has been combined with backups made by Signature Sound.

The Lari Goss tribute album was the brainchild of Jim Brady of the Booth Brothers. (I'll just come out and say it: The Booth Brothers are my very favorite Gospel music group.) Jim also thought of and put together this project--a tribute to songwriter Squire Parsons. The Parsons album is composed mostly of re-releases of cuts that were already out there. The artists waived all rights to royalties so that the royalties can go to Squire, who has been battling leukemia.

Our country and our world are now increasingly in the grip of ingratitude and the hatred of the past. Everything has to be "progressive," and the universities see it as their job to teach the young to reject America's past and to join in bashing our supposed evil legacy of past -isms. The idea of receiving a torch and passing it on is oh-so-quaint. In commercial terms, of course, everything has to be new-new-new all the time. Change for its own sake.

Southern Gospel music has a different idea. It thinks of itself as constantly receiving and passing on--receiving from the artists of earlier generations and passing on to new generations. We need that idea in every area of life. We need it in literature, in theology, in art, and in cooking. We need mothers teaching daughters their favorite recipes and embroidery patterns. We need families passing on the great hymns of the faith. We need scholars who find themselves speechless with gratitude and joy as they receive the riches of scholarship of the past.

I am grateful myself for the gratitude of Gospel music. It is an encouragement to me to see the unforced and unfeigned love that Ernie has for Glen Payne and George Younce and that Gerald Wolfe (the MC in the Goss tribute), Jim Brady, and all the others have for Lari Goss.

So thanks, gentlemen. Your gratitude is itself something for which to be thankful.