Friday, December 30, 2016

Is Inerrancy a Heresy? Part 1

From the July 2013 E-Block.

A reader requested that we examine the book The Ultimate Heresy by Rodger Cragun, which we will do in two installments over the next two issues. The peculiar stance of this book is that the concept of Biblical inerrancy is a heresy.
Cragun, not surprisingly, has more than a few problems with his approach and overall theory.

First, Cragun spends an inordinate amount of time -- about half of the book -- showing from the Bible itself that the Bible is never called "the Word of God, " and showing that the phrase, when used, refers to something else, like a single specific prophecy.

Really now.

For those who may have missed it, I discovered that without Cragun's help some time ago:

The Bible as "Word of God." KNM has insisted that Skeptics have "always" as their "underlining (sic) issue" whether the Bible is the Word of God. I have replied that this is not my own focus in argument; I concern myself rather with whether the Bible's contents are true, logical, or practical. If it is on all counts, then it being the "Word of God" is simply, as it were, a cherry on top, but contributes nothing new in utilitarian terms.

A relevant observation here is that designating the Bible to be the "Word of God" is itself a post-Biblical phenomenon. An apostle or prophet who heard that phrase would not have thought of a book, but rather, of the transcendant thoughts and words of YHWH. It could certainly have not meant the whole Bible prior to its completion and compilation, and when the phrase “word of God” is used in the Bible, it always means some specific prophetic utterance, or some message (like the Gospel).

This would of course include what is within the contents of the Bible; but as well, "Word of God" implies a universality of application that simply is not true of much of the text. In precise terms, for example, the book of Zephaniah could be said to report the words of God TO Zephaniah concerning judgment on specific nations. As I have noted many times, this is symptomatic of modern Sunday School lessons that strive mightily to make even books like Leviticus applicable to modern life -- which is a mistake.

In that respect, while we may not necessarily find it fruitful to abandon "Word of God" as a designation for the Bible as a whole, and I would not advocate doing so because of the confusion it would cause at this late date, it does represent an anachronism that should be clarified. In a proper technical sense, the collection we call the Bible represents two collections of covenant documents, and so "Old Testament" and "New Testament" are actually more precise and helpful than "Word of God".

And so, as I have told KNM, the concern should not be, "is the Bible the Word of God." More than that, it should not even be whether it is "from God," but rather, the more basic questions of whether it is true, logical, practical, and so on as applicable. The former way is a carryover, I suspect, of the work of well-meaning evangelists and teachers (like Billy Graham) who were accustomed to being able to invoke the Bible as "the Word of God" and get immediate respect and authority. It worked well for a time, but it no longer does. But if we show that the Bible is true, then one is able to open the door to the possibility that God’s messages have in some way been transmitted in the text as a medium.
To illustrate, one might say that this posting is the “word of JPH” or “from JPH.” But the truth of the post does not in any way depend on it being MY word, as opposed to that of, say, Tekton ministry associates like Nick Peters or “Punkish." If you decide my "word" here is true -- you can worry about whether it is from me later...or even not at all, if you choose.

Not that any of this matters, since it is hard to see what point Cragun thinks he is proving in the first place. While some modern preachers may use the shorthand phrase, "the Word of God," to refer to the Bible, only an infantile Christian would fail to see that to use this as an argument that the Bible is the Word of God is circular reasoning. Thus, in essence, Cragun spends about half his book knocking down an exceptionally infantile argument.

A far better "argument" for inerrancy -- though more of a common sense notion than an actual argument -- would be a syllogism Cragun presents all too briefly:
  • God is perfect.
  • What God thinks is perfect.
  • From that which God thinks He reveals to people.
  • What He reveals to people must therefore be perfect. Unfortunately, Cragun doesn't deal with this syllogism except to dismiss it as, "Aristotelian logic." The last I checked, though, logic did not function only in Aristotle's presence. Nor did the Hebrews have their own brand of logic proffered by someone else. Notions like cause and effect were not inoperable in ancient Israel. So, what Cragun thinks is the point in his citing of "Aristotelian logic" is hard to say.

  • In the end, Cragun's screed against inerrancy is a straw man. Even if the Bible was not inspired, it contains multiple truth claims that would remain to be evaluated and argued for or against. As we shall see next issue, however, arguing the virtues of individual passages is precisely one of the most difficult tasks for Cragun, and to that extent he is also using the shortcut of the designation of the Bible as the "Word of God" in much the same way as the fundamentalists he so decries.

    Another aspect of Cragun's case amounts to this, if I may dare to frame it in Aristotelian terms:
  • The Bible contains X horrible thing, and also some of these horrible things hurt my feelings or offend me.
  • Therefore the Bible is not inerrant. Here again, however, robust failure is Cragun's chief methodology. The second half of the book contains many more examples than the first half, so we will save coverage of particulars for next issue. For now, let it only be said that in each case, Cragun ironically reads the Bible just like the very inerrantists he decries -- devoid of context and definition.

  • We might also note an error from earlier in the book, one that exemplifies Cragun's ineptness as a researcher. In one place, Cragun makes the naive statement that, "Some of the bloodiest humanity's conflicts have been religious." [1] Really? In reality, religion has been behind very, very few wars. It was certainly not behind any of the major wars of the 20th century. Here, Cragun is like the ignorant stockbroker in Crichton's Timeline who has to be told that the Hundred Years' War wasn't religious, because everyone at the time was Catholic, and Protestants hadn't invented themselves yet.

    We should also mention another variation on Cragun's theme, which goes to the heart of why he thinks inerrancy is a heresy. Basically, he believes that inerrancy has caused people to enforce the Bible's horrible teachings, and indicates that if it were not for inerrancy, we wouldn't be doing intolerant things like opposing gay marriage. He also, rather foolishly, blames inerrancy for the creation of many divisions in the church. In this, Cragun has fallen for the naive approach of blaming the instrument for the acts of the person using the instrument. It does not occur to him that even a believer in an errant Bible can deem the Bible authoritative on select points. After all, even Cragun himself uses the Bible in an authoritative way to argue that it does not call itself "the Word of God." And so, Cragun's designation of inerrancy as a "heresy," even if correct, would be nothing more than a simple-minded band-aid solution that would shift, not erase, the problem that he alleges is occurring.

    A final point for this round is that Cragun tackles the sort of "inerrancy" that is also devoid of context, which we have previously condemned from authors as notable as Dr. Norman Geisler. How he would handle a more informed and contextualized rendition of inerrancy is difficult to say. The one thing we can say is that he is apparently too busy being offended to bother to look for alternatives.

    We will continue with Part 2 at another time in the very near future.

    Friday, December 16, 2016

    Is the Antichrist Orange?

    The ink isn't dry yet on the ballots, but we already have the inevitable arising: People are saying that Donald Trump is the Antichrist.

    Now let me make something clear: I didn't vote for Trump. I didn't vote for Clinton, either: Mrs. H and I were so disgusted by the available choices that we both voted for some third party candidate who went by "Rocky." I was tempted to write in in Donald Duck.

    But whatever you may think of Trump, it's more than a little silly to claim that he's the Antichrist. Actually, the reasons people are giving to think this have all been done before -- about Ronald Reagan, Prince Charles, and a host of other figures. 

    For that reason, I decided to make my next ebook project about this subject. It's not very long, and it won't be out until next week. But it does appear to be a badly needed topical discussion.

    More broadly, it shows yet another example of Christians needing to learn from the past. In one of my recent videos, I showed that the "ten nation confederation" of Revelation has been variously identified as European nations, barbarian tribes, Communist nations, and most recently, Islamic nations. Have a look.

    This "Trump as Antichrist" thing is just another end times switcheroo game of the sort we've been playing for years.



    Friday, September 9, 2016

    "I Am Second"

    You may have seen billboards for a ministry that uses the title, “I Am Second.” It’s a sort of collection of personal testimonies, and we’re to presume, I gather, that the meaning is that God is first. I’m certainly not here to disagree with the general thrust of that sentiment, but I will be borrowing that ministry’s catchphrase to celebrate, with a certain amount of humble trepidation, a milestone that I never expected to happen when I first sat down at a computer to debate Skeptics on AOL debate forums in 1996.

    By 1998, many of you may remember, I was part of another online ministry called the Christian Apologetics Bookshelf. Somewhere in that time period, someone suggested to me that I might try submitting an article to the Christian Research Journal (CRJ), the leading apologetics magazine. My memory is somewhat dim on the chronic details; I seem to recall that by then I had already been approached by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries International to write something for their journal. 

    (By the way, Dr. Sarfati has remained a good friend ever since; we’ve even had him over for dinner, and once took him to Outback Steakhouse, where we had a ball passing him off as a sort of ambassadorial inspector who was visiting from Australia to make sure that the chain was “properly representing” his home nation. The look on the server’s face when Dr. Sarfati whipped out his Australian drivers’ license was priceless.)

    I had some hesitation about submitting something to CRJ, and hedged for a bit. The stellar names who wrote for that august publication were an imposing lot, and I had very little thought that I would pass their rigorous standards for publication. Still, I was encouraged by various parties to give it a try, and I did so. The result was an article titled, “Celsus Strikes Again,” which was all about how the ancient pagan critic Celsus made the same arguments that modern critics of Christianity do. I packaged it up, sent it off, and waited.

    I didn’t hear back. 

    Naturally, I assumed that my work simply hadn’t passed editorial muster, and I moved on to other things, including more work for CMI.

    Then, sometime I think in early 2000, I got a phone call. On the other end was Elliot Miller, the editor of the Journal. I remember very little of the exact words of our conversation, but what it amounted to was, they had found my article in a file somewhere, and wanted to publish it. The few exact words I do remember were me saying, “I can’t believe this is happening” – more than once. And in turn, Elliot Miller replying: “It’s happening.” And indeed it did.

    After that it was a sort of snowball effect. Bob Passantino, who was then associated with CRI, called me about a year later after reading my analysis of Dennis MacDonald’s Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. He wanted me to create a condensed version for the Journal. That was the first time someone there called me to write something for them. 

    The next two articles were my own submissions: A look at popular Mormon apologetics works (like those of Barry Bickmore) and a discussion of how evangelism in the book of Acts was actually a form of apologetics. One assignment shortly after that was a particularly sad one. Bob Passantino called me again, asking me to do an article on The DaVinci Code. He passed away soon thereafter, and as far as I know, I’m the last person he called to give a writing assignment.

    From there it went on with an eclectic mix of submissions and assignments: Several book reviews, a few “departmental” articles, and several “feature-length” articles. My memory of most of them, at this later date, is fairly dim, such that I can re-read them today and not even recall writing them. Tekton readers will recognize some of the topics as related to favorite themes of mine: E.g., an article on how to deal with people who suffered from “the Dunning effect”; on the question of Hitler’s religious beliefs; a review of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes; an article on how “inerrancy” is to be defined, and a review of the Zeitgeist movie.

    (That last one is the butt of a special joke among friends of mine. I had pledged, at one time, to never watch the Zeitgeist movie, and Nick Peters, my junior ministry partner, along with his friend David Sorrell, started a running gag asking when I would review the Zeitgeist movie. When I finally did watch it, in order to write the article for CRJ, the terms of the joke changed, but the joke itself didn’t.)

    CRI also made use of my knowledge in other, more specialized areas. In 2005, knowing that I had worked for many years in the Florida prison system, they asked me to do an article on religious movements in prisons. In 2011, I used my background in library science to compose an article which in many ways I consider my favorite and most technical: it was about how the Internet affects the human brain, and how this relates to the performance of apologetics. Also in 2011, I submitted an article that was all about how to create online videos.

    It was about that time, in 2011, that something first occurred to me. I had been averaging between 2-3 articles for CRI each year, and it made me curious as to whether anyone else had kept that kind of pace with them. So I started with the contents of the magazine from 1978 (when it was still called “Forward” magazine), counting the number of articles attributed to each author, excluding anyone who was an editor.

    Much to my surprise, I was on pace to become CRI’s second-most prolific non-editorial writer within a few years. And now, with the publication of an article in the latest issue, titled “Jephthah’s Bloodless Sacrifice,” that is exactly what has happened. Formally, I have now authored enough articles for CRI to pass James White and say, of this category, and with the same humility that puts God in first place: “I am second.”

    I say this, again, with a certain amount of humble trepidation, much like those on that personal testimony website.  It was an unexpected privilege to find myself in this position, and I will forever be grateful to Elliot Miller, as well as Melanie Cogdill (the managing editor at the Journal) and Hank Hanegraaff for making this possible. I never expected to get that first article published; and even after it was published, I certainly never expected to receive any more assignments. To be at this stage, now, is a surprise of such magnitude that I find myself repeating that same phrase I pronounced to Elliot Miller: “I can’t believe this is happening.” It is. But I still can’t believe it even as I have that milestone issue lying on the desk beside me.

    Elliot in particular has been a special blessing to my wife and I, and you’ll note that I refer to him by his first name, as though to a friend. That is exactly what he and his wife Corinne are to us. A few years back, they moved to the southern part of Florida, and proposed a get-together in person. Much to our delight, we found in them a couple of kindred spirits who appreciated many of the same things we do: Nature walks, museums, and zoos, for example; and naturally, we talk shop about apologetics. We now have an established biannual ritual where we visit one another in our respective hometowns: They come see us in May, we go see them in December. The friendship of the Millers has been, in many ways, the most treasured reward that has come of my work with CRI, and I look forward to many more years of serving that publication and visiting with our special brother and sister in faith. 

    And so this post is offered to memorialize this happy occasion, which I never in my wildest dreams expected to happen. At the same time I’m celebrating this milestone, though, there’s also a crueler and darker mechanism at work which it is time I said a great deal more about, though I alluded to it back in February. Someone has outright made it his purpose to destroy all that Tekton has worked for, and he’s not in the least ashamed of his tactics. I’ll save that, though, for another posting; and that one posting, when I make it, will be the only one to be made on the Ticker in coming weeks until I get certain matters resolved.

    In close…I guess you’re wondering, if I’m second, who’s first, and when will I catch up to them? If you’re interested, I’ll tell you by email who’s first; regardless, I won’t ever catch up to him, nor have I made it my goal to do so. The man in first place has been writing for CRI for ten years longer than I have, and he’s got more the double the writing credits with them. I won’t even try to catch up to him, and I actually prefer to be “second” behind a far more august name like his.   

    After all, my original expectation, back in that yesteryear of 1998, was that I’d never be on that list at all – and who am I to ask for more than this great blessing that I now have?

    Friday, August 26, 2016

    Note on Chick Tracts

    In 2013 I did an E-Block series on Chick tracts. It won't transfer here well because I had to use a lot of pictures, but a supplemental article I did later contains a lot of valuable info (without pics) that I thought ought to be preserved in another place.


    We had a series on Chick tracts a while back, but there was one subject left that I wanted to append to that series, but couldn’t, because the article I needed was no longer available. That article, by Brian Onken, was titled, “Alberto: The Truth About Alberto,” and it appeared in vol. 4, #2 of Forward magazine. If that name seems unfamiliar, it’s because that was the title of the Christian Research Journal in its first few years of publication, back when Walter Martin was at the helm of CRI. But now, thanks to Elliot Miller, the editor of the Journal, I was able to look at a copy of this article and make some notes (as an aside, it may well be the only copy left in the country!).

    Onken’s article was about two Chick comics, “Alberto” and “Double Cross,” that supposedly relate the history of Alberto Rivera, who is Jack Chick’s chief source for anti-Catholic material. In pursuing the claims of these comics, Onken at first tried to contact Rivera, without success. He then tried to contact Chick, but was told that "Jack Chick would make no reply whatsoever and that he was not answerable to any man, and that the comic books could stand on their own." I think that response stands on its own, though not the way Chick thinks it does.
    Onken then made phone contact with Rivera, who said "he would not waste time in what he termed 'personal carnal justification'." Rivera then said that CRI was in apostasy, that Walter Martin was an "undercover agent for the Vatican," and that if CRI wanted answers, they could get them "in a court of law." It’s rather interesting that anyone who seeks to question Chick ends up being a Vatican employee. Needless to say, this is merely the same sort of psychological ploy used by all conspiracy theorists – such as the Zeitgeist movie, or 9-11 truthers, who take informed dissent as further proof of a cover-up.

    Next, Onken did some checking with the Catholic Church, to see if Rivera had indeed been part of it. No record was found of Rivera as a bishop or as a Jesuit. More recent Chick comic editions provide a photo of Rivera allegedly at work as a Catholic priest, but why not play their own game and say that’s part of their cover-up? But it need not be – see below.

    The recent comics also provide alleged testimonies from two former Catholics. One, named Clark Butterfield, is reputedly an ex-priest. His alleged biography, Night Journey from Rome to the New Jerusalem, was published by Chick, who is alleged to have been called out of Catholicism in 1978 and died in 1981 – or, some say, murdered in 1981, though Chick itself doesn’t say this.

    Onken then offered a listing of errors in the two comics:
  • False claims about Catholic teachings include that students studying for the priesthood cannot read the Bible, and that Mary is co-equal with the Father.
  • There are some historical errors as well, such as that Jesuits were behind the Inquisition (which is not possible, since the Jesuits were not established until the 1540s, and the Inquisition started in 1198). It is also claimed that Constantine secretly worshipped the sun god until death.
  • It is claimed that the acronym INRI stands for Iustum Necar Reges Impios, or, “it is just to exterminate the impious”, rather than Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudearoum. Of course this is mere paranoid fantasy.
  • Any one, it seems, can be a secret agent for Rome. Kathryn Kuhlman was one. Jim Jones was secretly a Jesuit deacon (though the sources Rivera cites actually say Jones was a dupe for the CIA!). It is claimed that Jones’ "key people were Roman Catholics," but actually, only 3 of 11 were.
  • Alberto claims that he attended seminary in Costa Rica, and refers to a scandal in the girls dorm, and a hunger strike he masterminded. He also says the seminary is ecumenical, and now "working with the Roman Catholic Church."

  • Onken contacted the seminary and a former classmate of Rivera’s, who apparently did attend the school. To that extent, Rivera does seem to have told a partial truth; he may well have been a priest, but notably, the photos provided by Chick do nothing to prove he was a bishop or a Jesuit. The classmate, in any event, said that "Rivera's account of the events at the seminary was nothing more than a fraud." There was a hunger strike, but Rivera had nothing to do with it, and it had never made the papers as Rivera claimed and was also not related to any Jesuit conspiracy.

    The seminary, too, affirmed the hunger strike, but said it was and is still Reformed, not a part of the Roman Catholic Church.

    Onken also contacted the pastor of the Protestant church Rivera attended (apparently undercover) in Spain. Rivera claimed to have turned it in to authorities, but the church was not meeting clandestinely as claimed, and had a government permit.

    As a response to all of this, Onken further noted that on May 29, 1981, Rivera went on KBRT in Los Angeles, where he said that Walter Martin was "working for the Vatican." He later was met personally by Martin and Onken and when confronted by them, he said he no longer thought Martin was working for the Vatican. However, the same evening at a speaking engagement, he reiterated the earlier claim and added that Martin’s name “was on a secret Jesuit list." He then published a booklet, “A Call for Total Separation,” allegedly addressing points made by Onken, but all the booklet did was use reprinted material from the Alberto comics, plus provide a supposed Jesuit oath. As a final humorous note, Rivera repeatedly referred to CRI as the "Christian Research Center" in his statements.

    In an ironic twist, the article closes with a remark made by Rivera at First Baptist Winter Springs, Florida – a town not far from me – on September 13, 1981. Rivera said that Martin “is dealing with the same accusations, slander, spreading them all over. The president of the so-called, you can imagine the title of this organization, the Christian Research Center. Well, I don't see nothing of Christianity there, much less of research."

    I’d say that such a statement actually better fits Rivera more accurately than CRI.

    Friday, August 12, 2016

    The Jewish Flag Conspiracy

    This weekend Nick Peters and I are supposed to record a podcast where I talk about conspiracy theories. So I decided to use this week to illustrate one with a selection from one of my ebooks on conspiracy theories.

    Real Jews opposed this design fiercely and suggested that their flag should instead depict a menorah, pointing out that the hexagram was not even a Jewish symbol. It has come to be known as the Star of David but is not mentioned in the Bible at all and was in fact only adopted in the Enlightenment based on occult ideas from the Kabbalah. Despite the protests, the Rothschilds were in control of the operation and the hexagram stayed.

    We mentioned earlier in this book that we wondered what Fairley would have to say about this, and now we know. Too bad he’s got the history partly wrong. Let's see what the some reputable sources have to say about this subject.

    One of the first Jewish uses of the Star of David was as part of a colophon, the special emblem printed on the title page of a book. Sometimes the printer included his family name in the colophon; or chose an illustration that alluded to his name, ancestry, or the local prince, or a symbol of success and blessing. The idea was to differentiate this printer's books from those of his competitors and to embellish the title page. Colophons are as old as the printing press itself.

    According to Sholem, the motive for the widespread use of the Star of David was a wish to imitate Christianity. During the Emancipation, Jews needed a symbol of Judaism parallel to the cross, the universal symbol of Christianity. In particular, they wanted something to adorn the walls of the modern Jewish house of worship that would be symbolic like the cross. This is why the Star of David became prominent in the nineteenth century and why it was later used on ritual objects and in synagogues and eventually reached Poland and Russia. The pursuit of imitation, in Sholem's opinion, led to the dissemination of an emblem that was not really Jewish and conveyed no Jewish message. In his opinion, it was also the reason why the Star of David satisfied Zionism: it was a symbol which had already attained wide circulation among the Jewish communities but at the same time evoked no clear-cut religious associations. The Star of David became the emblem of Zionist Jews everywhere. Non-Jews regarded it as representing not only the Zionist current in Judaism, but Jewry as a whole.

    Now it is true that the Star of David was used in medieval mysticism, and it may even have been in use as early as early as the 3rd century. In the end, the origins of the symbol are uncertain, but this can be seen as a Jewish instance of triumphant reclamation, as one of the articles we've consulted says:

    The Star of David is an outstanding example of the variable significance of symbols. The power of the message they convey stems less from the original use in history. At first the Star of David had no religious, political, or social connotations whatsoever. It gained a very powerful connotation precisely as a result of its terrible abuse by the Nazis.

    There’s also nothing to suggest the Rothschilds had anything to do with the symbol being kept, or that “real Jews” (whatever that means) opposed it. The same article says:

    …Moshe Sharett decided to inquire into Diaspora Jewry's thoughts about the flag of the State of Israel. On July 20, 1948, he sent cables to Dr. Chaim Weizmann, who was in Switzerland at the time; to Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, in New York; to Prof. Zelig Brodetsky, in London; and to the Zionist General Council, in Johannesburg. Rabbi Silver replied that "we would prefer to leave the Zionist flag as the national flag of Israel, with a minimum of changes. We feel that the fear of complications as a result of use of the flag at Zionist gatherings overseas has been somewhat exaggerated." The other Zionist leaders responded similarly. After the fears of "dual loyalty" had been alleviated, the Provisional Council of State voted unanimously on October 28, 1948 to adopt the Zionist flag as that of the State of Israel. The resolution came into effect two weeks later, after publication in the Official Gazette.

    More details are provided in the essay “Shaping Time: The Choice of the National Emblem of Israel” by Don Handelman and Lea Shamgar-Handelman, in Culture Through Time: Anthropological Approaches. Far from being dictated by the Rothschilds or anyone else, the flag design was decided based on a contest. The announcement actually “requested that a seven-branched menorah and seven stars, each with six gold points, appear in the design, but stated that any proposal would be given consideration.”

    Over 450 designs were submitted. There were apparently some proposals that included a menorah. Others proposed a hexagram.

    The Israeli cabinet chose a couple of flag designs, which it turned over to Israel’s state council. They chose a menorah design for the emblem and the Star of David for the flag.

    Was there protest over the design? Yes, but not for the reasons Fairley claims. The original flag design had seven golden six pointed stars, and it was the seven stars that were the problem. It was dismissed by critics as an “artificial creation” which showed ignorance of Jewish symbols. At a meeting on the matter, an archaeologist objected to the use of the Star of David on the emblem – not the flag -- on the grounds that it wasn’t an ancient Jewish symbol.

    As for the flag itself, Israel’s foreign minister checked with Zionist groups around the world because he wanted to distinguish the flag from their flag. In the end, they accepted the same basic design we see today, but changed the thematic color to dark blue.

    Beyond this issue, it is nice to see Fairley show disdain for anti-Semitism. But he unwittingly caters to it with statements like, “These so-called Jews are not Jews at all.” That's falling into the same trap of anti-Semitism he so roundly condemns.


    Friday, July 29, 2016

    Is Inerrancy a Heresy? Part 2

    From the May 2013 E-Block.
    For Part 2 of our look at Rodger Cragun's The Ultimate Heresy (TUH), which claims that the doctrine of inerrancy is heretical, we first look at examples in which he supposes he has shown that what is found in the text is incompatible with inerrancy. As we have noted last time, however, while what Cragun presents would cause problems for a hyper-fundamentalist view of inerrancy, it would have little bearing on a contextualized understanding of the doctrine. He also presents far fewer arguments than I expected him to provide -- in fact, what he offers amounts to three broad arguments:
    Jesus broadened or sometimes placed restrictions on the law. This shows that he didn't consider it inerrant.

    Cragun offers multiple examples of how Jesus either broadened or narrowed the OT law, but Cragun could have saved himself the trouble, and spared the reader pages of irrelevant examples. As we have noted in numerous contexts, the OT law was didactic, which means that it was never meant to be understood as a wooden, "follow to the letter", procedural handbook. Within that context, the adjustments made by Jesus (and rabbis, as Cragun notes) to the OT law are within the proper bounds of understanding that law as inerrant. 

    That Cragun fails to understand the didactic nature of the law is shown when he complains that, e.g., Deut. 22:13-22 does not consider that an unmarried girl might have a ruptured hymen for reasons other than that she had sexual intercourse before marriage. A didactic code leaves it to the discretion of local judges and officials to make such determinations.

    The NT misuses OT texts like Is. 7:14 as prophecies of Jesus.

    Yet again, Cragun unwittingly imitates the worst sort of atheist critic with this charge, and also unwittingly adopts his own fundamentalist hermeneutic of the text. As we have also pointed out in numerous venues, the NT's use of the OT is perfectly in accord with Jewish exegetical methods of the period, in which a text like Is. 7:14 is not seen as a prophecy of the future, but in which present events are seen as a re-enactment of Is. 7:14. That means that the NT is not using texts like Is. 7:14 "out of context," because the idea is that only that single verse is being re-enacted.

    There were a lot of different ideas about what should be in the canon.

    Again, like some of the worst atheists, Cragun appeals to "specter of diversity" arguments as though they have any relevance or merit, which they do not. All they would mean is that humans may not have recognized the contours of what was inspired as inerrant but not that the texts themselves weren’t inerrant. The contours of the canon would have no bearing on the matter, whether the text was inerrant or not.
    And that, oddly enough, is all Cragun has to offer before he once again returns to the prior non sequitur routine e.g., "inerrancy is a heresy because it has led to divisions." He also offers what he presents as a survey of the historical development of inerrancy as a doctrine, but even if it is 100% correct (and it may well be), it would still be a non sequitur to raise it as though it had any bearing on the truth of the matter.
    In contrast to the above, I would raise a point of agreement with Cragun. I would agree that 2 Tim. 3:16 would not really bear the exegetical weight put on it by some inerrantist commentators. Cragun spends a great deal of time on this verse, but as far as my views are concerned, all that he offers is moot. We will close with a look at places where Cragun professes to find "loud dissent" with inerrancy within the text of the Bible itself. His first example, which he alleges to be "most decisive and destructive," fails to produce anything but another massive non sequitur. He notes that in Acts, after his vision of a sheet from heaven, Peter acknowledged he was wrong about something; namely, Gentiles in the Kingdom. From this Cragun concludes that he has demonstrated that Peter "could be in error." Oh? By that rubric, if I find one mistake in Cragun's text, we have thereby proved that he could never produce any text without errors -- no matter how short it is, or no matter what the conditions are. Indeed, by that logic, even if he writes "2 and 2 is four" he is immediately under suspicion of error. Cragun's error is again typical of the "all or nothing" mentality of the very fundamentalism he decries.
    Cragun's next argument is that because some prophets like Jonah were able to resist their prophetic call, they were only human. What bearing this has, again, on inerrancy, and on specific conditions associated with producing an inerrant text, is hard to say, but it would once again place Cragun under suspicion, even if he told us the sky was blue.
    Third, Cragun points out that some pagans, like Balaam, were inspired. Yet again, we're not sure what the point is. Apparently, Cragun thinks the only way someone could produce an inerrant text is if they were being inerrant on everything 24/7. I know of no one, not even a fundamentalist, who believes such a thing.
    Fourth, Cragun delivers some arguments against a mechanical view of inspiration. Since I don't hold to such a view, there is nothing for me to address, though there may be something there requiring an address by some fringe fundamentalists.
    Fifth, Cragun argues that church fathers did not "idolize" the Scriptures, but that is not really the point. What he needs to show is that the church fathers thought Scripture erred. As it is, he can come no closer to this than e.g., Jerome discussing problems in the text (such as Matthew referring to the "thirty pieces of silver" passage in Zechariah -- an issue, by the way, that is easily resolved under Jewish exegetical and citation procedures). Although Jerome discusses the problem, he does not say, "this is an error." What Jerome does do is suppose that e.g., Matthew might be charged with "falsehood" for such things as adding, "I say unto thee" to the translation of "Talitha cumi." But as Cragun admits, this sort of thing comes more of Jerome's perceived neurotic compulsion for detail than from any real problem.

    Thus concludes our look at Cragun, and all in all, he could have spared us the trouble of what amounted to his own exercise in neurotic compulsion.

    Friday, July 22, 2016

    Is Satan in Is. 14 and Ezekiel 28?

    For this week I've got an entry from my e-book answering Mark Fairley's FUEL Project.
    I’ll have to be fair here. The idea that Satan’s “biography” is told in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 isn’t some sort of fringe position. Many serious scholars think it is correct, and I won’t take anything away from them on that account; however, many serious scholars also doubt the identification, and for good reasons. The first and most obvious problem is that this identification of the figures in Isaiah and Ezekiel was first made in the 3rd and 4th century AD, by early Christian writers and notably not by Jews of the Biblical era. Of course, this doesn’t automatically mean it is wrong, but it does place a greater burden of proof on those who say that Satan is in mind in those passages.

    The passage in Ezekiel is more detailed, and is most often used to support the interpretation of the one in Isaiah, and as such dealing with Ezekiel will address the matter sufficiently. Let’s run through Ezekiel a bit at a time, and we’ll do it from the perspective of anyone who sees all of Ezekiel 28 as referring to Satan, as well as addressing any points unique to Fairley’s report.

    Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.

    This portion, by itself, is not determinative. Ancient kings were regarded as the repositories of wisdom, so that’s no reason to identify the person in this passage as anyone but the king of Tyre.  What about the beauty of this figure? The king of Tyre possessed significant honor as the leader of one of the wealthiest nations in the ancient world. So, you can be pretty sure he decked himself out appropriately. So, there is no reason to read Satan into this text.

    Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. 
    Here’s where some Satan identifiers get really cooking. Generally, they say that since the literal king of Tyre could not have been in the Garden of Eden, this must be alluding to someone who actually was there. But, that’s not at all the case. Eden for Ezekiel is a type of, or analogus to, the wealthy city of Tyre. The city was a sort of a virtual "paradise" for its residents and for the king of Tyre. In other words, the point is that the luxurious city of Tyre is like Eden in terms of being a comfortable paradise.

    What about the stones? That could be either a representation of Tyre’s wealth, or else an allusion to the king of Tyre also being a priest, as part of his office. Like Israel’s priests, the pagan priests often wore jewels as part of their outfits.

    Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. 

    This passage makes the strongest case for an equation with Satan, since Satan was a cherub, or angel. But the reference to the ruler of Tyre as a "cherub" no more means an actual cherub is in view, than it means a real dragon is in view in the next chapter about Pharaoh (29:3). In reality, cherubs were a key symbol of Phoenician and Tyrian iconography, which means that the ruler of Tyre would also be properly described in terms of a cherub. It’s sort of like the way Americans in the early 20th century described Teddy Roosevelt as a bull moose. Cherubs were Tyre’s “mascots”.

    What about the references to a holy mountain and stones of fire? Those represent a puzzle with any interpretation we offer. Those who suggest Satan is the subject are compelled to suggest a vivid anthropomorphism, because obviously, a spirit being is not walking on an actual mountain or among actual stones. On the other hand, if this is the literal king of Tyre, then this could be another allusion to an Edenic paradise, but only from a version of the story the residents of Tyre would be familiar with. The fiery stones, for example, would relate to a story in the pagan Gilgamesh Epic of a garden in which fruit and leaves took the form of jewels. That would be an appropriate image to use of Eden when addressing a pagan king. 

    Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.

    In terms of our report so far, this repeats images from above and suggests nothing new, although it is an area where Fairley tries a little too hard to strain Satan out of the account. 

    If this passage does refer to trade or merchandise, then we have a perfect match for the king of Tyre, which was one of the leading trade cities in the ancient world. In Fairley's view, however, the word we translate here as “merchandise” or “trading” is mistranslated. Rather, he says it means to go up and down as an agitator, or to slander. 

    That won’t work for a couple of reasons. First the Hebrew word for “merchandise” (rekullah) is used just four times in the Old Testament. All four uses are in Ezekiel, and two of those uses make it quite clear that the word has to do with commercial traffic (26:12, 28:5), not agitation or slander:

    And they shall make a spoil of thy riches, and make a prey of thy merchandise: and they shall break down thy walls, and destroy thy pleasant houses: and they shall lay thy stones and thy timber and thy dust in the midst of the water. By thy great wisdom and by thy traffick hast thou increased thy riches, and thine heart is lifted up because of thy riches...

    A related verb refers several times to what are obviously commercial merchants (1 Kings 10:15, Neh. 3:32, Ez. 27:3, 13, several times in Ez. 27) So, where does Fairley get this idea that it means “campaigning” or slandering?
    Fairley doesn’t give his source for this, so I can’t say and will not guess. I did find the same claim repeated in an article by Richard Davidson, and nowhere else except another article by Davidson. That means it’s likely the original source for Fairley’s claim, even if not the direct source. [Richard M. Davidson, "Cosmic Metanarrative for the Coming Millennium," Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 11 (2000) 1-2:108]

    In his articles, Davidson tells us that while studying, he came to a “startling and exciting discovery” that the verb related to the word in Ezekiel means, to go about, while the noun derivative means “slanderer” or “talebearer.” Now in fact, that is true. The related word is used in Ezekiel 22:9:

    In thee are men that carry tales to shed blood: and in thee they eat upon the mountains: in the midst of thee they commit lewdness.

    However, this does nothing to bring the same meaning to the other form of the word used in Ezekiel 28. It is clear that the original root of the word refers to “carrying” or “travelling around.” That’s why we get words from it that refer to both merchants and talebearers: Both are “carrying” something. That in turn means that the only reason to assume that what the figure in Ezekiel 28 “carries around” is slander is because we assume, in the first place, that it must be Satan that Ezekiel is talking about. Unfortunately, that won’t work, both because of the contrary meaning found in the two other clear uses of the same word by Ezekiel, as well as the frequent references to material trade in the prior chapter (Ezekiel 27).

    The reality is that serious scholars don’t buy this reading of Ezekiel 28:16, and even those who do think Satan is to be found in Ezekiel 28 are compelled to suggest "a shift of focus back and forth" between the king of Tyre and Satan throughout the chapter.  

    Fairley tries for a variation on this, seeking to make a distinction between the “prince” of Tyre (28:2) and the “king” of Tyre (28:12), whom he sees as different personages i.e., the first to be a human, the second being Satan. But that doesn’t work either. The word used in verse 2 is a broad one. Though often translated “prince,” it doesn’t carry our connotation of one who is the son of a king. It simply means a leader or ruler, in generic terms. In fact, there are places where it used to designate someone who is obviously a king (1 Sam. 13:12-13, 25:30; 2 Sam 5:2, 1 Kings 14:7). So, those two words will not serve to get two different personages out of Ezekiel 28.

    Another point made by Fairley is that the same word used in Ezekiel 28:16 is also found in Leviticus 19:16, where it is translated “talebearer.” But, that’s not the same word at all. It’s what Davidson called the noun derivative, which is also found in Ezekiel 22:9.

    Now let's pick up where we last left off with Ezekiel. 

    Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee. Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffic; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee. All they that know thee among the people shall be astonished at thee: thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more.

    There's little new here. It may be noted that there is little chance that a spirit being will be brought to literal ashes, or will be seen by people. A king, of course, won't likely be made literally ashes either. Saying you’ll turn someone to “ashes” would reflect a kind of “trash talk" that was used by kings in the Ancient Near East when they went to war.

    So, here’s the bottom line. Finding Satan in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 is an excellent exercise in midrashic typology, but in terms of actual justification from the intent of the text, there is little that can be found. So, while it may well be that Satan fell because of pride, Isaiah 14 isn’t a reason to think so; and while it may be that he used to be in charge of music in heaven, Ezekiel 28 isn’t evidence of that.