Tuesday, March 6, 2018

How Many Branches Does the Olive Tree Have? (Romans 11)

In Romans 11, Paul compares the Kingdom of God, or the Israel of God, to an olive tree. Just as Christ said, the Kingdom had been taken away from (most) Jews. Paul describes this as their being branches that are broken off from the Kingdom, which he envisions as an olive tree. Now, this much Jehovah's Witnesses will agree to. However, what this implies undermines their claim that the Kingdom of God is limited to only 144,000 members. Why? Because, Paul entertains, at least as a possibility, that all Jews could be grafted back into the Kingdom, the Israel of God. He writes:
Therefore I ask, Did they stumble so that they fell completely? Never may that happen! But by their false step there is salvation to people of the nations, to incite them to jealousy. 12 Now if their false step means riches to the world, and their decrease means riches to people of the nations, how much more will the full number of them mean it! - Romans 11:11,12 
They also, if they do not remain in their lack of faith, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. - Romans 11:23
Now, the Jews who rejected the Messiah number in the many millions. If they become part of the Kingdom of God, then that Kingdom will be composed of more than 144,000. And if they can be, why can't all Gentiles, at least in principle, be grafted in to the tree as well? Indeed, why think that the Gentiles and Jews who have come to be in Christ are not, in fact, grafted (or re-grafted) into this tree: the Kingdom, the Israel of God?

Saturday, February 24, 2018

How Many Children Does the "Desolate Woman" Have? (Galatians 4:22-31)

The relevant passage, Galatians 4:22-31, reads:
For example, it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the servant girl and one by the free woman; 23 but the one by the servant girl was actually born through natural descent and the other by the free woman through a promise. 24 These things may be taken as a symbolic drama; for these women mean two covenants, the one from Mount Siʹnai, which bears children for slavery and which is Haʹgar. 25 Now Haʹgar means Siʹnai, a mountain in Arabia, and she corresponds with the Jerusalem today, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 
27 For it is written: “Be glad, you barren woman who does not give birth; break into joyful shouting, you woman who does not have birth pains; for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than those of her who has the husband.” 28 Now you, brothers, are children of the promise the same as Isaac was. 29 But just as then the one born through natural descent began persecuting the one born through spirit, so also now. 30 Nevertheless, what does the scripture say? “Drive out the servant girl and her son, for the son of the servant girl will by no means be an heir with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are children, not of a servant girl, but of the free woman.
Those literal Jews who rejected Christ constitute the children of the earthly city of Jerusalem, which corresponds to Hagar, and number in the millions. On the other hand, the children of the "Jerusalem above" are the anointed, which number 144,000, according to various Watchtower publications. 

Now, which is greater: a 144,000 or many millions? The latter, of course. 

Why then does Paul say that there will be more anointed ones than there are fleshly Jews?

More on this in a future post.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Goodbye and Yet Hello

Goodbye and Yet Hello

I'm no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses. There are several factors that have moved me toward this decision. Among them was the realization that the Governing Body and their predecessors have made many failed predictions, which show that they are unable to interpret prophecy. But they argue for their doctrinal authority in large part because of the prophecies that they, and the Organization generally, are said to fulfill. However, if they were wrong about 1874, 1878, 1914, 1925, 1975, as well as who the Faithful and Discreet Slave - Russell? all the anointed? just the Governing Body? - and what "Generation" means . . . If they were wrong about this, why think that they are right this time around, or when they say that they fulfill biblical prophecy and hence are God's unique spokesman?

Now, I have been aware of these predictions for many years, since around the time I was baptized as a Witness, which was May 1st, 2011. But the implication I briefly explained above didn't become fully apparent to me until more recently. 

Also, note that the veracity of this inference is not dependent on the distinct claim that they are false prophets. And this point is something I haven't seen any Witness apologist adequately address. So concerned are they to defender their leaders against the charge of being false prophets that they don't recognize that such a task is vain unless one can refute the implication that, at best, they are unreliable interpreters of prophecy. In any event, I've recently put up three posts on this topic over at my new blog: herehere and here.)

Anyway, as doubts or disagreements came up (or rather reappeared), I couldn't reason: 'The Faithful and Discreet Slave says X, so I will believe X'. Basically, to do so would be to reason in a circle. Instead, I had to deal with the arguments on their own merit, and in many cases I ended up changing my mind. (For example, I believe that all Christians are born again and will reign with Christ, and also that they, like Christ, will be raised up human.) And this is the immediate cause of my no longer being one of Jehovah's Witnesses; I came to the conclusion that they get several important doctrines wrong, or were in other cases perhaps right, but far too dogmatic, and certainly not the only genuinely Christian group, and not a group in which I could obey the command to love God fully.

My new blog (as of 12.7.2017)
Wait, you have a new blog? Yes, I have a new blog, Witness Seeking Orthodoxy, which I started in late September 2017; I post weekly there (Sundays at 8:30 am). It's a journal where I write my religious, moral and philosophical thoughts, often as they relate to my decision to no longer be a Witness. Join me on my journey; I welcome comments!

I may continue to blog here with some regularity, perhaps resuming my erstwhile hobby of answering supposed biblical self-contradictions. However, for now and the next few months (at least) my blogging energy is devoted primarily to Witness Seeking Orthodoxy; and more generally, I'm focused on more substantial matters of faith (right doctrine and how I should worship God), so that I don't have as much time to focus on this hobby.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

On Believing in God and His Miracles

If one belives in God, and him (as he is) the cause of all things, who, in his love toward created things and persons, upholds all things in being, and that he willed them into being ex nihilio - he should have no problem believing that God can work miracles. For these are not so great after all to God who works all things wonderously. If he can call all things into existence, then it is no trouble to him at all that he then water into blood or part the Red Sea or Jordan.

January 16th, 2018

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Epistemic Antinomies and Their Solution

Man is, on his own, doomed by either his stupidity - for if that be all he have, he could not grasp the arguments required for belief, or appreciate half of what he experienced - or his ingenuity - for if that be what he have, it is as much an agent of falsehood as it is of truth; and if he should style himself an independent thinker, he might be freed from the tyranny of those who would urge falsehood upon him, but he would also be without aid when confronted with other falsehoods that eyes more skillful than his would have warned him of.

Fortunately we are not on our own devices, and that which is needed for salvation is that which can be given to wise and foolish, intelligent and stupid - and all things wise are foolish to God, and all intelligence is but the grunts of animals to Him. For it is said by the Son: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) And he says elsewhere: “Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you; for everyone asking receives, and everyone seeking finds, and to everyone knocking, it will be opened." (Matthew 7:7,8) That so many do not find is to be expected for men are intent on evil and do not seek. However, for those who do seek, assurance is given. But in seeking, let us do so humbly, and without pretense.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Can Science Explain Anything?

It can, but you can't prove that scientifically!

And this this is because science presupposes certain things, and thus can't explain them, and thus any ultimate explanation of reality is going to be something which science has little to say. Thus to suggest that science is competent to adjudicate the debate over God's existence is like saying that physics can tell us what Moby Dick is about.

What are some of the things science presupposes, and hence can't explain? That there is a physical world external to our minds, is one, mathematics and logic is another. Even laws of nature don't explain anything, for they are merely shorthand descriptions of what things do given the kinds of things they are. They presuppose the existence of things that operate according to them, and hence can't be used to explain why anything exists at all that adheres to them.

Obviously science can't explain morality. Not that it might not say something relevant to morality. But it certainly can't explain why morality has the objective and binding force that it does. (And surely right living is more important than most of what science does say.)

So what to do we have? Science is a valuable resource, a fruitful avenue for gaining knowledge about the physical world. But it cannot justify itself, and leaves much of reality - even physical reality -  out of its description of the world, and hence unexplained; for it is not suited to explaining these things. And it can't show that God does not exist. (Though, God's existence can be shown by examining some of the things that science presupposed. And so while God's existence might not scientific, it is hardly anti-scientific or irrational. 

And this concludes my meandering remarks on science, at least for now.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Interesting Quotes

All of the following are quotes from The Historical Reliability of the New Testament by Craig Bloomberg:

“George Houston has studied the evidence from ancient public libraries as well. Documents did circulate among the general populace but nowhere nearly as commonly as with modern libraries. Far more important was the library’s function as a place to preserve documents intact. When an important book was still in reasonably good condition, except that the ink of the letters was starting to fade, it was often reinked. Scribes carefully traced the letters with new ink on top of the original, rather than making a completely new book on costly new parchment or papyrus. Houston demonstrates that the average time of circulation for most handwritten or hand-copied library books in the ancient Mediterranean world was 150– 200 years! Sometimes manuscripts remained available to be copied for up to 500 years! The existing complete New Testament from the fourth century known as Codex Vaticanus was even reinked after 600 years so that it could continue to be used.

“All this means is that we should not envision the autograph of a biblical book being recopied by dozens of independent scribes and then discarded. Nor would those copies of the autographs have remained in use just for a few decades. When Ehrman (or anyone else) says that what we have in even our oldest New Testament manuscripts are not even “copies of the copies of the copies of the original,” he is going far beyond what the actual evidence allows anyone to demonstrate. Any second-century and most third-century manuscripts of books and collections of books could well have been copied directly from the autographs that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, Jude, and the author of Hebrews themselves penned or dictated. Of course, perhaps none of them was. Their appearance at diverse locations throughout the ancient Roman Empire means it may not have been possible for their scribes to have accessed the originals at all. But somebody at some point had to have transported a copy of the originals to a different portion of the empire, so it is entirely reasonable to imagine any or all of those documents being copies of copies of the originals. In a context in which this literature was increasingly being viewed as sacred and where we can see for ourselves the care with which all the letters were formed, we should not imagine many errors creeping in after only two rounds of copying.”

 (Kindle Locations 8840-8862)

“We can see glimpses of this “canon consciousness,” not at all formally delimited, beginning to emerge even within the first century, within what would come to be called the New Testament documents themselves. Jesus, in John’s Gospel, promises that the Spirit would enable his disciples to remember his teaching (John 14: 26) and would testify about him (15: 26), and would lead them into all truth (16: 13). None of these passages clearly promises new Scripture; and none of them delimits what it would be, were it to appear; but the three texts are at least consistent with the later conviction that some had appeared. First Timothy 5: 18 cites Deuteronomy 25: 4 as Scripture and then goes on to add a quotation from Luke 10: 7. Of course, it is possible that Paul is referring only to the text of Deuteronomy as Scripture, but the more natural way of understanding the grammar is to take the two quotations as parallel references to Scripture. It is also possible that the Greek word graphē here simply means a “writing”; but because Paul, like almost all the New Testament authors, uses this term to mean the Hebrew Bible, it would appear that he intends to refer at the very least to some kind of uniquely authoritative document. For those who find it impossible to believe that Paul in the mid-60s could have viewed the works of his beloved physician and travel companion written just a few years earlier as inspired, this interpretation of 1 Timothy 5: 18 becomes a major reason for their dating this book much later and seeing it as pseudonymous (recall above). But if Paul could recognize that the Thessalonians’ maturity derived from recognizing the spoken gospel message as the word of God (1 Thess 2: 13), it seems hard to imagine him unable to recognize the God-breathed nature of a work of his close colleague almost at once.

“More unambiguously, 2 Peter 3: 16 refers to at least some of what appears in Paul’s letters as “other Scriptures.” For many this is a key reason for dating 2 Peter to the second century and not finding it Petrine (again, see above). But if one refuses to argue in a circle and countenances the possibility of Peter in the mid-60s recognizing even just the earliest of Paul’s letters from ten or more years previous as uniquely inspired, then we have even clearer early evidence for a kind of canon consciousness. Whether any of these passages are admitted as evidence, we have a plethora of quotations of and allusions to many of the New Testament documents in that largely early second-century body of literature known as the apostolic fathers. There is regularly a sense that they are cited as authoritative, sometimes uniquely so (e.g., Ign. Trall. 3: 3; 2 Clem. 2: 4), occasionally called Scripture, and once in a while put on a par with the Old Testament works.”

(Kindle Locations 9231-9255)

“Remarkably the Gnostics themselves did not, to our knowledge, put forward any of their literature as on a par with emerging New Testament Scripture, merely as worthy within their own communities to articulate their beliefs and practices.[ 1642] Their debates with orthodoxy were not over canon but over hermeneutics.”

(Kindle Locations 9264-9268)

“Even more importantly, there is no significant dispute from the early centuries of Christianity over the unique value and origin of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, over the book of Acts, over the thirteen letters attributed to Paul, or over the epistles of 1 Peter and 1 John. Yet these works are most often challenged by today’s revisionist historians. Radical scholars today wish to discredit or at least supplement the Gospels, the Acts, and the major epistles of the New Testament, as we saw with A New New Testament (chap. 12). In the ancient world the seven books that eventually were accepted in the New Testament, which at times received serious questioning, were Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. The issues then were issues that are still sometimes raised— the lack of any confidence of knowing who the author of Hebrews was, apparent theological tensions between Paul and James, the strikingly different style and contents of 2 Peter compared with 1 Peter, the brief and personal nature of 2– 3 John, the brevity along with the quotation of pseudepigraphical literature in Jude, and the puzzling genre and interpretation of Revelation as an apocalypse.”

(Kindle Locations 9276-9286)

“The early church also made good choices in what it canonized. It might be better to speak of it as receiving or ratifying documents which from their composition were recognized as unique. Yes, there were some rough edges, including a minority of the texts, particularly some of the shortest, where debate continued for three centuries or so. Also a handful of texts supported by a multiplicity of sources for inclusion in the canon failed to make it. But a substantial gap remained in the amount of support that existed between the most poorly supported texts that made it into the canon and the most frequently supported ones that were rejected. As far as we can tell, the theologically most central texts of the New Testament were all acknowledged, virtually without question, from their inception. Meanwhile, the most intriguing documents propounding an alternate and heterodox form of Christianity were rarely if ever put forward for inclusion at all, even by their own adherents.”

(Kindle Locations 9371-9378)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Abijah - Wicked or Righteous?

“The righteous one has perished, but no one takes it to heart. Loyal men are taken away, with no one discerning that the righteous one has been taken away because of the calamity. He enters into peace. They rest on their beds [that is, the Grave], all who walk uprightly.” – Isaiah 57:1,2

“When your [the wife of Jeroboam’s] feet come into the city the child [Abijah] will certainly die. And all Israel will indeed bewail him and bury him, because this one alone of Jeroboam’s will come into a burial place; for the reason that something good toward Jehovah the God of Israel has been found in him in the house of Jeroboam.” – 1 Kings 14:12,13

I have long assumed that Abijah was a wicked person, though, one’s whose wickedness wasn’t great enough to warrant the dishonor of not being mourned for or buried. Now, though, I’m inclined to think that he was righteous, after having recently reading that passage in Isaiah.
A Watchtower comments: “Did this [that he was buried and mourned] mean that Abijah was a faithful worshiper of Jehovah? Not necessarily, since he died, as did the rest of his wicked household.” This observation is correct. However, it seems more likely than not that he was righteous. True, he died, but it was before the others in Jeroboam’s house on the apostate household, which happened in the second year of the reign of Jeroboam’s other son, Nadab. He wasn’t killed when Baasha brought the calamity on Jeroboam’s house, because he was already dead.  This fits Isaiah’s description of the righteous who are spared the calamity of the wicked by death.
It is also worth noting that his death, having occurred before the execution of Jeroboam’s house by Baasha, allowed him to be buried for with honor and mourned. If he died later (by Baasha’s hand), when Baasha revolted, it is not likely that Baasha would have let him been buried; the lack of a burial and mourning was part of the calamity Ahijah spoke against Jeroboam’s house.