Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Infant Baptism? (Q&A)

Q:  [In response to our teaching, “The Washing of Water with the Word”:]  I'm going to get into trouble here, but here goes anyway....please notice that the verse you mention says that the Messiah does the cleansing by the washing of water with the word.  We don't do it.  Therefore it is a gift, just like our name from our parents.  So there is no need for someone to wait until they are "ready" for baptism.  It is a gift that we cannot by our own power or will do anything to be "ready" to receive.  Moral of my story is --get your kids baptized and don't wait another day.  –Stephanie K.

A:  Thanks for your enthusiasm in defending infant baptism--a long-held and widely practiced tradition of the Church.  But this tradition ignores a key component of the original idea of baptism:  that receiving the word of God—being “ his word” (Eph. 5:26)—requires being able to understand that word.  Traditional churches themselves admit to the inadequacy of infant baptism by their practice of confirmation, a rite mentioned nowhere in the Bible.  Having teenagers confirm or accept their baptisms is a recognition that infant baptism is incomplete without the conscious and believing participation of the one being baptized.  And that's exactly the point.  Baptism is the outward, public response to an inner faith:  the sign of a conscious repentance of sin and a decision to follow Jesus.  This decision brings an inner cleansing (Acts 15:9), while baptism completes the process with an outer washing:  “the outward sign of an inward grace,” as Augustine of Hippo put it.  There is just no other way to make sense of the Biblical description of this rite as a "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins," unless there is an actual repentance on the part of the person being baptized (Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3, Acts 13:24, 19:4).  This requires a conscious appeal to God (1 Pet. 3:21) by faith (Col. 2:12).  Infants are completely incapable of doing these things.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Meaning of Psalm 23

“A psalm of David.  The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing” (Psa. 23:1).

The original historical context of Psalm 23 is the ancient Kingdom of Israel, in which sheep were a major part of the economy.  We’re talking about huge flocks of sheep running into the thousands in some cases.  King David, probably the most famous king of Israel, worked as a shepherd when he was a boy, just as many other boys did at the time.  This Psalm, which is associated with his name, likely reflects his own experience as a shepherd as he reflects on God as the shepherd of his own life. 

The sheep-grazing areas in Israel are mostly dry, rocky, semi-desert areas, where the sheep are often taken far away from the agricultural land near town, especially in the spring and summer.  This is an area of steep and dangerous cliffs and canyons.  Even a sure-footed sheep or goat is in real danger of falling to its death. In fact, I’ve seen a couple of them nearly fall myself out in this area.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Non-Trinitarian Views of Eric Chang (Q&A)

Q:  I have just finished studying your book 'The Jewish Roots of Christianity', which I found very readable, and being a Bible student of some 40+ years I found some of the content (surprisingly) most enlightening--things I have wondered about for a long time regarding Paul's writing.

As I was reading your book I did wonder if you have ever come across and read the books of Eric Chang, 'The One True God' and 'The Only Perfect Man.'  If you haven't I think you will find them extremely interesting, they are freely available as downloadable pdf's at this link:

As a serious student of the truth I would very much appreciate your views of the content covered in this material, considering your extensive and knowledgeable background and area of expertise.  If you have a little time to examine it, you may find it interesting yourself. (They are also available on Amazon books if you prefer physical books, as I do.  I have nothing to do with their church by the way).

I hope you have time to respond, looking forward to hearing from you.

With kind regards  --Phil

A:  Thanks for the positive feedback about our Jewish Roots of Christianity book.  I’ve glanced briefly through Eric Chang’s  The Only True God at your request.  It’s nice to see him struggling honestly with the challenges of Christian monotheism in a way that the original sources invite.  However, to strengthen his credibility, he needs to wrestle more with early Christian sources from the pre-Augustinian era.  The views of Trinitarians have not always been monolithic, and many of these early voices have important insights to add to the conversation.  To put it another way:  not everyone who claims to be a Trinitarian agrees about what that means. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

A Hebrew Matthew and Jerome (Q&A)

Q:  [In response to our Q&A on the Du Tillet manuscript:]  ...I believe, based on the statements of various "early church fathers," that the Gospel of Matthew WAS written in Aramaic. I do not agree with those who try to "prove" that the other Gospels or even the entire New Testament were written in Hebrew or Aramaic!!!!!!!!!! If you would like I can e-mail you a website that I know about that shows many of the textual variants of the New Testament. Yet the issue of who the manuscripts of the New Testament come from bothers me. What do you think of the fact that it is said that Jerome got manuscripts for his gospel of Matthew from Jewish believers in Yeshua?...--Jeremy J.

A:  You are right that there is quite a bit of evidence among the early church fathers for a non-Greek original to the gospel of Matthew.  This evidence comes from places as diverse as India (in the early Christian community there), Arabia, and Israel itself.  In all of these reports, this original Matthew is reported as being in Hebrew.  There is no similar historical evidence for a Hebrew original of any other book in the New Testament.  

That Matthew was originally written in Hebrew is sometimes contested by scholars who cling to the outdated notion that Jesus taught in Aramaic.  But the evidence for Hebrew literacy in Israel in the Second Temple period is clear, both from archeology and textual sources. Today there is no legitimate reason to deny that these church fathers knew what they were talking about when they said that Matthew wrote in Hebrew. 

Sabbath for Non-Jews? (Q&A)

Q:  Very good comment on Isa 56 about Jesus as Salvation [see our Q&A on Isaiah 56]. But what about the context: Israel has to offer also Sabbath-keeping as a sign of the new covenant that is brought about by the Messiah (verse 8 "to HIM" will be gathered all). Do you agree that the Sabbath is also the sign of the new covenant for non-Jews, for all Christians? –Jens S.

A:  Thank you for bringing up the issue of Sabbath with regard to Isa. 56.  As you correctly point out, this is a key element in the chapter.  I'm not sure exactly what you mean by Sabbath-keeping being a “sign of the new covenant” for Israel, since Sabbath-keeping is usually considered a sign of the old covenant as it specifically says in Exo. 31:13; Eze. 20:12.  But if you simply mean that it continues as part of the practice of Jewish believers in Jesus, this is certainly true. 

With regard to Isa. 56:8 ("The Lord GOD, who gathers the banished ones of Israel, declares, 'Yet others I will gather to him, to those already gathered.'"), the phrase "yet others will I gather to him" is a reference back to Israel in the same verse, and as a result, is often translated for clarity “to them.”  This is how Jesus understood it when he alluded to this verse in John 10:16, speaking of the "other sheep" that were to be added to the Jewish people who had already believed in him.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Was Early Christianity a Mystery Religion? (Q&A)

Q:  I heard that early Christianity was a mystery religion in Rome.  Is this true and does anyone know any of the characteristics of mystery religions? (I know that they were a secret but has anything come out about them?)  Was it a popular one, like were there many Romans who joined it?  Also did mystery religions have supernatural events that happened, as I read that in some mystery religions, people would enter the spirit world or supernatural realm.

Anyway, I hope that made sense, and thanks for any help.

A:  The main focus of the most important rituals of the ancient mystery religions, as far as we know,  was the revelation of some secret act or ritual object with deep symbolic meaning for those trained in the belief system of the religion.  This took place toward the end of a lengthy and elaborate ritual.  This revelation was often intended to produce a specific spiritual or emotional effect on the initiates that were experiencing it for the first time.  They were then sworn to keep this ritual a secret, and in most cases they did, as we are still ignorant of most of the core mysteries today.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

When was Jesus' Last Supper? (Q&A)

Q:   In your review of "The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot" by Ernest Martin, the article was interesting. I came on this page of the web looking for what the word meaning of the “common hall” was in the Bible [Matt. 27:27 KJV]. 

I disagree that the Last Supper was the night before the crucifixion. In John 19:14, it states, "And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour: and he [Pilate] saith unto the Jews, Behold your King." With Jesus on the cross the third hour, then this has to be the day before the crucifixion, at least. If you look at John 4:6, the passage with the woman at the well, it's also the sixth hour. Any commentary I've read states that this was noon . If it's noon here, then in John 19:14 it is also noon. In John 13:1 it states, "Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end." This is just before the Last Supper. In Josephus it states that the 14th, "The Lords Passover" had become a feast day during the time of Jesus. This is twice that the Bible states that the Last Supper was not the evening before the crucifixion.  Before the feast means before the feast. The 14th was a feast day, but not a holy day. I have been working on this question off and on for about four years. Take a look at another possibility. Please read  --Joseph L.

A:  Many Gentile Christians are misled by the phrase, "the preparation of the Passover" in John 19:14.  It appears to them to indicate a day of preparation before the beginning of the Passover holiday itself.  But as with so many other details of Jewish observance, what may seem logical to us as Gentiles is no guarantee of a correct understanding of the culture of that day.  The only way to correctly understand it is according to the original Jewish understanding.  Among the Jewish people, the "Preparation" was their name for the day preceding the Sabbath (i.e. Thursday evening and Friday until sunset).  This, by the way, is still the name for Friday in Greece today (Paraskeue, which means “Preparation”).  The "preparation" day in John 19:14 therefore refers not to a day preceding the Passover celebration, but to the Preparation day (the Friday) that fell in the Passover week.  This Preparation day was especially important, because the Sabbath that fell during the Passover week was considered a "high" Sabbath (as explained in John 19:31).  What this means is that the Preparation day of the Passover always falls within the Passover week, and never before it.  As a result, these events could only have happened after the evening Passover Seder meal (Jesus’ Last Supper) held on the first evening of Passover, and not before.