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Written by: C. W. Booth

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Is a Wife? -- Marriage Properly Understood

Marriage is a contract between a man and a woman to live together exclusively for a lifetime. Why does it have to be defined as a man and a woman? In the Jewish Scriptures (the Old Testament) and in the Christian Scriptures (the Old and New Testaments) marriage is always said to be a man and a woman becoming a husband and wife.

Why cannot a marriage be between a husband and a husband or a wife and a wife? That very question creates a nonsequitur in both the Hebrew and Greek languages. In Hebrew the word for “wife” is exactly the same word as the word for “woman” (ishshah nashiym). Similarly the word for “husband” is the same word as is often used for “man” (iysh).

So when the Hebrew Bible says that God brought together a husband and wife, the original language rather literally states that God brought together a man and a woman into a contractual relationship. Beyond that, God actually forbade men to have sex with men, and prohibited women from having sex with women, regardless of whether they were in a contract together or not.

This same linguistic situation exists in the New Testament. Husbands are “men” (aner) in the Greek language, just as wives are “women” (gune). Men and women are the two constituent parts of any biblical marriage. Since a single word is used to describe both a person’s gender and their marital role it demonstrates how solidly tied together is the idea that husband is a man and a wife is woman.

It is this understanding of what the Greek and Hebrew words mean with regard to man-husband and woman-wife by which we know that Jesus forbade same-sex unions when He defined marriage as being a joining only of male with female.

“And He [Jesus] answered and said, ‘Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his woman, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.’" (Matthew 19:4-6)

Articles and a free online book about marriage, divorce, and remarriage: http://thefaithfulword.org/catmarriage.html






Monday, April 18, 2011

What Christians Must Never Say to Me Again

An atheist blogger, named GodlessLiberal over at revelife, posted a series of “Christian” apologetic statements he finds particularly annoying. As the title to his post illustrates, he demands that “Christians: Stop Using These Arguments With Me.”

Personally, I do not particularly like it when someone tells me what I can and cannot say. Everyone has the right to walk away from my theological speeches just as everyone has the right to not read my blogs (and most people avail themselves of that latter right), but few have the legitimate authority to restrict the content of my Christian apologetic statements. Such a demand amounts to little more than an attempt at intimidation. I do not respond well to intimidation (consider that a personal failing if you wish).

The first of the Christian apologetic statements the atheist blogger dislikes so strongly and does not want to hear anymore is, "You obviously believe in god, because you say things like 'Oh my god!' or 'God bless you!'" The blogger properly notes that in this current day these are just cultural expressions of alternately disrespect or courtesy and therefore do not prove that the speaker actually believes in the deity whose name he has just intoned.

Yet, the deeper reality is that the expressions are not without meaning. There is no stronger expression of concern or even anger than to invoke the name of God the Father or God the Son. Why is that? Why do the phrases, “Freud curse it!” or “Bless you in the name of Betrand Russell” carry no weight? Because such comments lack sincerity. By way of comparison, the exclamation “Holy cow!” is used for humor and lighthearted surprise. By way of contrast, similar phrases referencing Jesus are reserved for truly serious situations. What gives expressions such additional gravity when God’s name is added to them is the fact that God’s very name has solemn merit and sincerity. When an atheist employs the name of God, such as in an angry curse or in a blessing, at some level he knows he is bowing to the superior virtue of invoking the name of true deity, whether he admits it or not.

The atheist blogger’s second hated apologetic is, “Christians are the most persecuted group in America.” Such a generalization as that just quoted is impossible to defend and so should not be phrased or presented by Christians in just that way. Yet, having set up the above the straw man, the blogger “refutes” it by confusing the difference between persecution, bias, and bigotry. He states that Muslims are more “persecuted” in America than are Christians.

That assertion is patently false when one understands that historically religious persecution is understood to be the active and violent seeking to wrongly take away from someone their life, property, and health. Rarely is bias (itself a kind of immorality) elevated to the level of persecution. Religious bias today generally manifests itself as name calling and disassociation and rarely leads to anything of the nature of true persecution. Not voting for someone because you have a bias against their religion is not comparable to persecuting them to death. Thus, when the Muslim terrorists killed almost 3000 people during the 9/11 attacks they were literally attempting to persecute Christians to death. Muslim terrorists see America as a “Christian nation” making all Americans fair game for persecution. The 9/11 attacks have been the greatest and most heinous religious persecutions this country has witnessed on its own soil in recent memory, and that persecution was intended to be against “Christians.”

Third in the list of statements the blogger would like prohibited was, "Atheists just hate god." His reason for detesting this apologetic statement is that he does not believe in God and therefore cannot logically hate what he does not believe in. What does he hate? In his own words, “Yes, I often hate the followers of god, or the ideas espoused by god...” He hates the ideas espoused by God, and he hates the followers of God.

Even assuming the blogger misstated his own rationale and had meant to say he hated “ideas attributed to God” instead of “ideas espoused by God,” his hatred toward God and all that God represents comes through clearly enough in his own writings. That such hatred overflows into hatred of God’s followers is not surprising. What is surprising is that an atheist can deny being hateful in one sentence but admit to being hateful in the next without seeming to notice the contradiction.

A fourth statement he would like to ban is, “If you'd just read the Bible, you'd understand.” His dislike for this statement stems from the implicit assumption that he has not read the Bible. In fact, he claims he has read the Bible and understands it.

Indeed, he may have read it. It is unlikely that he understood it. In almost every list of reasons proffered by atheists as to why the Bible is considered to be contradictory and false there are found numerous arguments demonstrating a lack of comprehension of ancient culture, Hebrew poetry, Greek idioms, or simple literary context. In short, those who claim to have found problems with the Bible most often lack the capacity to understand the message of the text itself.

Generally most Christians who use the above apologetic statement are not accusing anyone of not having read the Bible. Rather, they mean that the more one reads it with understanding the more it builds life-generating faith. Far from being an implicit accusation, the statement is most often meant to be an encouragement to persevere in diggining into the meaning of the biblical text.

Fifth in the list of comments the blogger says he despises when they are made to him by Christians is, "Atheists just hate Christians, but they always stand up for Muslims!" Instead of denying this allegation of bias, the blogger states in response to the comment, “in a fight between a … Muslim and … Christian, I'll side with the Muslim.” It is confusing why the statement should be uncomfortable if it represents the blogger’s own general view. As one Christian’s opinion, I am not offended that Christianity would be more strongly hated by atheists than would be Islam.

Sixth, and last, of the apologetic statements the blogger wants Christians to ban is, “You have no right to attack my faith!" In other words, the blogger wants Christians to stop complaining when atheists attack their faith. I agree. Atheists have every “right” to free speech.

However, Christians have no “right” to personally attack atheists with words. Everyone, atheists included, must be treated with dignity and respect in person and in the varied media. Christ loved the world so much that He sacrificed His life to save it. If Christ had such great respect for people, then so must we.

That does not mean we cannot point out illogical religious arguments. Nor does it mean we cannot point out people’s sins. But such things must be done in love and for the goal of winnining those people to Christ.

We should not be surprised that the world hates God and Christians. God is the standard of holiness whereas the world, since the days of Adam, has, in its pride, decreed that it alone sets the standard for itself. That will surely cause the world to hate God until those in the world repent of that pride and call upon God for help and salvation.

With all due respect to the blogger named GodlessLiberal at revelife, he appears to have misunderstood the Bible, God, and Christians in general. Yet, that should not cause us to be uncivil or to cause us to stop communicating. We can learn from each other and we can live peaceably on this planet while holding opposing religious beliefs. Still, it is unwise to dictate to anyone else what they may or may not say…sometimes we have to hear what we do not wish to hear.

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[This essay was originally posted as blog. As a blog it was subject to public review and comments. Over time it accrued about 60 comments; due to that volume only a selection of the cleaner and more salient comments are reprinted below.]

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Booth Responded Below to a Public Comment (public comment not shown)

Concerning biblical interpretation:

Yes, as I have pointed out in my previous answers, I apply an historical-cultural-contextual-lignuistic hermeneutic to my interpretive efforts. In this we agree. Beyond that, I also acknowledge the special-revelatory aspect of Scripture; that is, it is the self-revelation of the supernatural God. If one approaches the Bible as an entirely human work absent any input by a genuine supernatural God, then the entire work, all “66 books” are lies. All of them. Why? Because each and every biblical author claimed to receive input from the supernatural God or to have witnessed that same God in action.

If there is no God, the entire work of the Bible is false, untrue, and valueless. It might have nice poetry, and Ecclesiastes might even be inspiring on some level. But being mostly lies the work is actually harmful as far as an eternal spiritual perspective is concerned.

Since most of the Bible is a description of the supernatural God becoming involved in human activities, the Bible cannot be understood in a spiritual sense if God is assumed not to exist. The writers of Scripture believed deeply in God and made many assumptions about their audience believing in God already. So the work as a whole cannot be understood as the writers oritinally meant it to be understood if one approaches it assuming there is no true God.

Booth posted this in response to another comment

You are correct, of course, in that neither you nor I necessarily consider America to be a thoroughly Christian country today. In its infancy it did start with a majority of the population placing their faith and salvation concerns onto the grace of Christ. Today, I am very disappointed to admit, it is not so much a majority as it once was.

Some other countries, particularly those in the Middle East, do look at America historically and see a Christian nation. It is important to see us from their perspective. This is why the radicals call it a “holy way” where each suicide bomber is celebrated as a martyr in their war against the infidels of the West instead of …. instead of what? These terrorist actions are not a war of liberation, for the towers came down before we were in Iraq or Afghanistan. What were the strategic or military goals of the terrorists in carrying out the 9/11 mission? If it is not a holy war of religious ideals, then what is the ultimate military objective? No one believes it is just bloodshed for bloodshed’s sake, as that makes no sense.

As you state, it is safe for Christians to walk down the streets of America. From that perspective there is minimal persecution from our own countrymen. And yes, the constitution does offer some protection, though those have been eroding for some years now: immanent domain has been redefined such that private land can now be seized and given to private developers for non-public use if the tax revenue to the state will be greater by doing so (churches pay no property tax and so are at greatest jeopardy to this new “law”), preachers may not endorse or denounce any politician or party from their church pulpits (church preachers no longer have the same free speech rights as college professors), right to pray at public school events is largely gone (freedom for the free exercise of religion is being eroded), so-called hate crimes legislation may soon make it a crime for a clergyman to refer to homosexuality as a sin (as has already happened in Canada and the UK), etc.

I am not an alarmist, but the trends are easy enough to identify. Unlike state-sponsored terrorism in other regions of the world, this is not persecution by the state yet.

Booth responded to yet another comment

Thank you for your thoughtful insights. I do sincerely understand your point about questioning what qualifies as "extreme" or "radical." Within Christianity those groups and group leaders who espouse bombing civilian buildings and slaughtering civilians are routinely excommunicated from worship in churches. As a matter of fact, Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 requires all churches to remove such people from having access to their congregations.

When some sinfully aberrant person does bomb a building (such as an abortion clinic) the Christian churches mourn and cry and take that man to criminal court. Such a murderer is not celebrated as a martyr or hero of the faith, no cheering when he gets out of jail or gets off a jetliner, he is not invited to speak as a featured speaker in church pulpits, his picture is not displayed as a role model on posters for children to admire, and Christian television stations do not profile him as a wonderful killer of evil people. No, he is treated as a heretic, terrorist, and a pariah, someone to be detested and shunned.

If another religion should treat those who organize suicide bombings as heros instead of kicking them out of their places of worship would be one useful measure as to whether "radical" can be applied in the same sense across all faith systems. What is considered immorally "radical" behavior in Christianity may be more tolerated and may be considered as more mainstream in other faith systems. That is why the label "radical" can be so unhelpful when trying to apply it accross the globe, as if it carries the same moral standards from religion to religion.

Booth made this response to yet another comment

You wrote, "By this logic, couldn't one disown terrorist from Islam as well? You're willing to discount neo-Nazis from Christianity, so what's to stop any religion from denouncing followers they don't agree with?"

Amen! There is nothing to stop clerics from any religion from banding together and issuing a joint global statement roundly condemning suicide bombers as murderers and then excommunicating from their places of worship all those who support and organize the suicide bombers.

This is what continually happens within Christianity when some loner bombs an abortion clinic or when some neo-Nazi burns a synagogue; the local and national Christian church leaders organize a press conference and condemn the action as ungodly and reach out to the victims in sympathy. In fact, this is what has happened regarding that tiny aberrant "Christian" group that protests at military funerals--church leaders from all over the country have constantly condemned their protests as ungodly and insenstive and have tried to isolate them as a group.

Thank you for your comment.

Booth replied to yet another commenter

To your point about "most Christians" believing that humans are inherently good, I agree. I think it is a minority view that I hold in common with a comparatively small community of Christians who still believe that the human heart is inherently "bad" or "sick." Our diminishing community believes that everyone succombs to their selfish predispositions rather early on in life; ever watch a three year old scream "mine, mine, mine"? We see this pattern expounded rather bluntly from the Scriptures, beginning with Adam and articulated quite explicitly with Paul in Romans.

You are also correct, our me-oriented society fans the flames of our inner greed. The remedy, according to our understanding of the Bible, is to turn to faith in God that He will remake our hearts into something new. It begins with an act of faith by calling on Jesus in repetance, then continues with a lifetime of learning how to implement the ideals of holiness as identified in the Bible. No one acheives perfect holiness on this planet, but we keep learning and improving by the influence and power of God.

Why does God not make us instantaneously perfect in holiness when we first call on Christ in faith and repentance? I do not know. But what He does do is give us a longing, a desire, to stop acting for self-interest alone and to start acting in love toward Him and others. Acts of charity stop being motivated by "how good it makes me feel" (selfishness) and the motive becomes "what can I do to please the God I love?"

Thanks for the philosophy discussion.

Just to be clear to those who might read my last comment and erroneously conclude I am endorsing some kind of works-oriented salvation, I am not. God did the work, we receive the benefits. He calls us while we are still undeserving, dead in our sins. When we repent in faith, He transfers His righteousness into our account. We then work for Him in appreciation, not for salvific merit. Serving Him becomes our spiritual duty of love and appreciation, but it buys us nothing in terms of our salvation, for that salvation was secured the day we repented and professed Jesus as Lord.






Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Do You Believe in Miracles?

Miracles have been reduced to the mundane these days: a faster recovery from the flu than expected, receiving an unexpected $20 in the mail, a parking spot opens up just as you drive by. What God meant by the use of the word miracle is something that could never have happened according to the laws of earthly physics if left to themselves: a dead person rises to life after having been bound in a shroud and buried, a man’s own severed ear is replaced without need for surgery, a person walks across the raging waves of a storm-angered sea.

If God does not exist, neither do miracles. If God does not exist then the Bible is a book of lies. Nearly every page of the Bible is filled with the eyewitness accounts of those who claim to have had God speak to them or to have witnessed impossible miracles performed by God.

Even worse, if God does not exist and if miracles never happened and if the Bible is a book of lies, then we are all dead in our sins because Jesus never returned to life after the Romans executed Him. Since the culmination of God’s plans for the salvation of humankind resided in the fact of Jesus’ raising from the dead back to life in real human history just three days after His body had been slaughtered on the crucifix, then all of salvation is dependent on that one miracle having happened.

Our contemporary Easter holiday is all about celebrating the genuineness and historicity of that great miracle. Happy Easter! Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to proclaim to you, Happy Resurrection Day!!






Thursday, April 28, 2011

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer

This past week, in between assignments, I began reading a copy of “God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer” by Bart Ehrman. When I bought this volume on clearance, I knew it was a polemic in favor of atheism and against religion. However, I like to understand differing and divergent sides of relevant issues, so, given the acclaim this book had garnered, I picked it up with interest.

Banal. That is the first and only adjective that came to mind as I read. The author claimed to have turned from fundamentalist Christianity to atheism on the basis of his study of the subject of how suffering is explained, or rather, left unexplained in his opinion, in the Bible.

From the very first chapter it is recognizable that Ehrman did not actually understand either the Christian doctrine of theodicy (the study of God’s goodness in view of global suffering), the meaning of the Old Testament, nor the biblical view of God. He initiates his discussion by misstating the Jewish and Christian understanding of God’s nature.

“This problem involves three assertions that all appear to be true, but if true, appear to contradict one another. The assertions are these: God is all powerful. God is all loving. There is suffering.” (Ehrman, page 8)

True, God is all powerful, though Ehrman neglects to mention that God cannot do anything to contradict His own nature; for example, God cannot sin. God is all loving. This is a misstatement of Scripture and is itself a shallow and incomplete view of God’s nature. God is love, but He is not only love (or “all love”). God is also a God of jealousy, wrath, and justice; and His nature is far larger than even those additional attributes can encompass.

Since God is just, jealous, and wrathful (against sin and rebellion) it follows that a humanity in rebellion must incur the pains imposed by justice and wrath. Man, from Adam and Eve on, has worshipped himself, putting his own lusts over and above the worship of God.

God created Satan into a perfect cosmos and gave him a perfect job. Yet, Satan sinned. When Satan sinned, God threw him out of heaven and gave him a future death sentence of eternity in Hell (when time comes to an end). God’s nature of justice and wrath demanded this.

God created mankind into a perfect world and gave him a perfect job. Yet, mankind sinned. When mankind sinned, God threw him out of the perfect garden and gave him a future death sentence, both corporeally on earth and spiritually, a promised future eternity in Hell (when time comes to an end). God’s nature of justice and wrath demanded this.

This is “the curse”, the curse of suffering. Along with corporeal death (and future eternal death) humanity must struggle with hardships while alive on planet earth. Why? So that we might remember who we are, who created us, how far we have fallen as a race, and that we might be prompted to turn back to God in humility. Left to themselves, created beings placed into perfect environments seem to quickly forget their Creator and they become arrogant, prideful, and self-serving. This was true for a third of the angels and for one hundred percent of humankind.

Yet God’s nature of love caused Him to redeem selfish humanity. He sent His own Son to die as a substitute sacrifice for the sins we knowingly committed. God’s justice is satisfied by that act of selfless affection driven from out of His nature of love. Yet, not all humans will accept this act of love and will continue on in arrogance, gleefully attempting to curse and denounce God for human suffering instead of accepting God’s loving provisions for redemption. How mindless is that?

I never did finish Ehrman’s monograph. There is little point pursuing his arguments to their banal end when he does not even understand the basics of God’s own nature. His view of God is a pathetic and impotent happy-happy deity who giggles at sin and does not consider Himself worthy of exclusive worship. Moreover, Ehrman does not recognize that all his objections are already fully expounded upon in the Bible, a work he fails to appreciate because he fails to worship God for who God is: a God of justice, wrath, jealousy, power, love, and redemption.

Suffering is not God’s problem, it is part of God’s remedy for a stubborn, rebellious, and self-serving human race.

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word. (Psalm 119:67)

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For a more in depth look at the problem of human suffering with regard to health concerns and faith healing, please read this article: http://thefaithfulword.org/faithhealing.html

For an excellent overview of the biblical explanation of suffering on earth please consider reading D.A. Carson’s book, “How Long O Lord?”

Addendum

I would be remiss if I did not also mention that God is grieved with the death of every person who must die and is distressed with every human suffering experienced on earth. This is explained in this article: http://thefaithfulword.org/whereisgod.html Empathy and sympathy are also a part of His nature.


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