Wednesday, 28 June 2017

All About Satan

All About God

I came across this web site (some time ago in fact), which purports to offer a history of Satan. I found it fascinating how it has to corrupt Biblical verses to support its claims.
The history of Satan is described in the Bible in Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-19. These two biblical passages also reference the king of Babylon, the King of Tyre, and the spiritual power behind the kings.
In fact the verses are purely about the king of Babylon and the King of Tyre respectively, and hovering over the links on the web page makes that clear. The author then repeats the usual Christian dogma:
What caused Satan to be cast from Heaven? He fell because of pride that originated from his desire to be God instead of a servant of God. Satan was the highest of all the angels, but he wasn’t happy. He desired to be God and rule the universe. God cast Satan out of heaven as a fallen angel.
But the reality is there is no justification for these claims in the Bible.
Satan is often caricatured as a red-horned, trident-raising cartoon villain; no wonder people question the history of Satan. His existence, however, is not based on fantasy. It’s verified in the same book that narrates Jesus’ life and death (Genesis 3:1-16, Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11).
The Genesis verses are about a snake; God cursed all snakes because of what that a snake did. The Isaiah and Ezekiel verses have already been dismissed. If we believe the Bible, all we have is that Satan tempted Jesus.
Christians believe Satan acts as leader of the fallen angels. These demons, existing in the invisible spirit realm yet affecting our physical world, rebelled against God, but are ultimately under His control. Satan masquerades as an “angel of light,” deceiving humans just as he deceived Eve in the beginning (Genesis 3).

Jesus Himself testified of Satan’s existence. During His ministry, He personally faced temptation from the devil (Matthew 4:1-11), cast out demons possessing people (Luke 8:27-33), and defeated the evil one and his legion of demon angels at the cross. Christ also helped us understand the ongoing, spiritual war between God and Satan, good and evil (Isaiah 14:12-15; Luke 10:17-20).

Again the same Genesis and Isaiah verses! The verses in Luke need more consideration.
Luke 10:17 The [i]seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” 18 And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. 20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”
This could mean that Jesus had witnesses the fall of Satan, or it could be prophetic; Jesus had a vision of Satan falling in the future. It could even be figurative; the seventy disciples had been casting out so many demons that Satan's power was diminished, and it was that reduction of power that was like Satan falling like lightning. Given the Book of Revelation, the prophetic interpretation seems most likely, which would indicate that when Jesus was talking the fall from heaven had yet to happen.
Jesus Himself testified of Satan’s existence. During His ministry, He personally faced temptation from the devil (Matthew 4:1-11), cast out demons possessing people (Luke 8:27-33), and defeated the evil one and his legion of demon angels at the cross. Christ also helped us understand the ongoing, spiritual war between God and Satan, good and evil (Isaiah 14:12-15; Luke 10:17-20).
Same Isaiah, Matthew and Luke verses. You kind of get the feeling Satan is not mentioned much in the Bible. Or if he is, not in a way that supports this guy's argument. He goes on, discussing Paul's views on Satan, but with nothing more on Satan's history.

Reasoning from the Scriptures

Here is a web page called "How Did Lucifer Fall and Become Satan?", by Ron Rhodes, President of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries. With a title like that, he must know what he is talking about.

The story of Lucifer’s fall is described in two key Old Testament chapters—Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14. Let’s briefly look at both of these.

It would seem from the context of Ezekiel 28 that the first ten verses of this chapter are dealing with a human leader. Then, starting in verse 11 and on through verse 19, Lucifer is the focus of discussion.

What is the rationale for the conclusion that these latter verses refer to the fall of Lucifer? Whereas the first ten verses in this chapter speak about the ruler of Tyre (who was condemned for claiming to be a god though he was just a man), the discussion moves to the king of Tyre starting in verse 11. Many scholars believe that though there was a human “ruler” of Tyre, the real “king” of Tyre was Satan, for it was he who was ultimately at work in this anti-God city and it was he who worked through the human ruler of the city.
So the argument here is that because the later verses refer to the king, rather than the ruler, it must be about Satan. Despite ruler and king being synonyms. Wow.
Some have suggested that these verses may actually be dealing with a human king of Tyre who was empowered by Satan. Perhaps the historic king of Tyre was a tool of Satan, possibly even indwelt by him. In describing this king, Ezekiel also gives us glimpses of the superhuman creature, Satan, who was using, if not indwelling, him.

Now, there are things that are true of this “king” that—at least ultimately—cannot be said to be true of human beings. For example, the king is portrayed as having a different nature from man (he is a cherub, verse 14); he had a different position from man (he was blameless and sinless, verse 15); he was in a different realm from man (the holy mount of God, verses 13,14); he received a different judgment from man (he was cast out of the mountain of God and thrown to the earth, verse 16); and the superlatives used to describe him don’t seem to fit that of a normal human being (“full of wisdom,” “perfect in beauty,” and having “the seal of perfection,” verse 12 NASB).
More likely the author is being ironic. At the end of day, this text does not mention Satan.

In his mind if it says "Lucifer", it must be about Satan. And why does this guy think that "Lucifer" is refering to Satan? He does not say, but I strongly suspect it is because that is what Satan is called in these verses!

Of course, he is obliged to use the KJV here. Modern translations do not include the word "Lucifer" at all.
Apparently, this represents the actual beginning of sin in the universe—preceding the fall of the human Adam by an indeterminate time. Sin originated in the free will of Lucifer in which—with full understanding of the issues involved—he chose to rebel against the Creator.

This mighty angelic being was rightfully judged by God: “I threw you to the earth” (Ezekiel 28:18). This doesn’t mean that Satan had no further access to heaven, for other Scripture verses clearly indicate that Satan maintained this access even after his fall (Job 1:6-12; Zechariah 3:1,2). However, Ezekiel 28:18 indicates that Satan was absolutely and completely cast out of God’s heavenly government and his place of authority (Luke 10:18).
There is that verse in Ezekiel that the Bible clearly states is about the King of Tyre again, but Christians routinely twist to pretend is about Satan. What of the Zechariah verses? These date from when the satan was considered to be an angel appointed by God to act as the prosecutor in the divine count.
Zechariah 3:1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and [a]Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2 The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”

This is why God merely gives the satan a telling off. God is saying Joshua is a good man who has proved himself, and should not be standing here to be judged.

This is certainly not the reaction of a all-powerful, perfectly good being upon seeing the author of ultimate evil!

It is worth looking at Psalm 109 in this context. Here are two translations:

Psalm 109:6

Psalm 109:6Appoint a wicked man over him, And let an accuser stand at his right hand.
Psalm 109:6Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand.

The NASB has translated the word as accuser, and this is exactly what it means in Zechariah 3. The satan was the accuser appointed by God.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Is Jesus Subordinate To God?

What is the evidence for the Trinity? Specifically, how well does scripture support the claim that Jesus is equal to God?

Jesus: Messiah, Lord, Son of God

Jesus was not unique in being considered the son of God. Jews believed that all their kings were the adopted sons of God. This Old Testament text illustrates that:
2 Samuel 7:12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.[c] Your throne shall be established forever.’”
Is this text, King David was adopted as the son of God. As the supposed King of the Jews (and according to both geneologies a direct descendant of David), Jesus also would be the adopted son of God.

These Psalms are about David, not Jesus!
Psalm 89:26 He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father,
    my God, the Rock my Savior.’
And I will appoint him to be my firstborn,
    the most exalted of the kings of the earth.

Psalms 2:7 I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son;
    today I have become your father.
8 Ask me,
    and I will make the nations your inheritance,
    the ends of the earth your possession.
This also made Jesus the messiah, which Jews understood to be the eagerly awaited king, who would lead them to freedom. The messiah (or Christ in Greek) meant the anointed one, referring to the tradition of anointing the king at his coronation.

Jesus was called "Lord". Does that make him God? No. The Old Testament has the word "Lord" over 6000 times, but this is translated from the Hebrew יְהֹוָה (Yhvh or Yahweh). Was Jesus ever called Yahweh? Not that I am aware of. The word Paul used, which is translated as "lord", is Κυρίου. This is the same word used in Mark 12:9 and Matthew 20:8 to indicate the owner of a vineyard!

Jesus was considered in the same way David was considered. Both were thought to be kings, adopted by God as his son, both were messiahs, both worthy of being called "Lord". This was true of all the Jewish kings. That may well mean he and David were considered divine (and it may not), but they were certainly not considered to be God.

Looking at the Hellenistic world, it is worth noting that Alexander the Great was considered the son of Zeus, despite also being the son of the king of Macedon, Philip II, and his fourth wife, Olympias.

I am going to start by looking at verses cited by this web page, though I note that it is not addressing quite this question:

This page, which I found later, does attempt to address this exact question, and some points come from there.

Old Testament

Genesis 1:26, 3:22, 11:7, Isaiah 6:8 all have God referred to in the plural. The argument goes that this must be God and Jesus together. While that is possible, a more likely explanation is that these verses come from a polytheistic tradition, and it refers to the god El and his wife or consort Asherah. El was the father of Yahweh, and the Bible does a good job of combining the two.

I appreciate Christians will reject that view, but nevertheless the trinity claims that all three parts co-exist and are equal. Whatever way you read it, at best referring to God in the plural can only show two or more beings present. It cannot hope to show that they are equal or that they are also one being.

Genesis 18 to 19 describes God appearing to Abraham in human form. This is assumed to be Jesus, though the text itself gives no reason to suppose this is true. God also appeared to Adam and Eve and had to go looking for them (Genesis 3:9), so we know the Bible authors believed God could take human form and in very early texts, they probably assumed God was man-like in appearance, just as the Romans assumed Jupiter was man-like; remember, Genesis has man created in God's image - again, I appreciate Christians will reject this view.

And as before, even if we assume this is Jesus, why should we imagine Jesus is equal to God?

The web page invokes Isaiah, but it relies on John to reintepret the text, so I will just see what it says about John later.
Then there is Micah 5:2. Let us see some context:
Micah 5:2 ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans[b] of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.’

3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labour bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

4 He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

5 And he will be our peace
    when the Assyrians invade our land
    and march through our fortresses.
We will raise against them seven shepherds,
    even eight commanders,
    So Micah is prophesising someone coming from the clan of Bethlehem Ephrathah (and the text is clear that it is talking of a clan, not a place) who will get eight commanders to stand against the Assyrian invaders. This is nothing to do with Jesus!

New Testament (not John)

So now we turn to the New Testament, which we might expect to have rather more evidence.
Mark 2:7 ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’
8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralysed man, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "Get up, take your mat and walk"? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’
Jesus explains this away himself! Just as a prophet is given the authority to perform miracles, so he can be given the authority to forgive sins - afterall, forgiving sins is easier than healing a paralysed man.
Romans 14:11 For it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God."
I have no idea how this supports the trinity. Anyone?
2 Corinthians 13:14 and Philippians 2:1-2 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.
Again, I do not get this. Sure, the three parts of the trinity appear in the same sentence, but that does not make them the same thing or make them equal.
Philippians 2:9-11 "Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
Nothing here to suggest Jesus is equal to God, just that God regards him highly.
Revelation 22:3 "And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him."
Same again. Nothing that says Jesus is equal to God.


By far the most evidence comes from John. I find that interesting, as John is known to give its own unique view of the life of Jesus. It is rather more developed, theologically.
Certainly John holds that Jesus is holy and more than just a man. John indicates a Jesus who is eternal, who has been around since the start of the universe; none of the other books of the NT indicate that as far as I am aware.
But does John hold Jesus as equal to God?   
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
So Jesus has existed from the start, but nothing to indicate Jesus is equal to God.
John 5:18 For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.
This might be the best verse so far. But think about it. This is reporting the reactions of the Jews. It does not actually say Jesus was equal to God, it says the Jews objected because they thought Jesus was claiming to be equal to God. What if the Jews were wrong?

Let us see some more context:
John 5:16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defence Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’ 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
19 Jesus gave them this answer: ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.
24 ‘Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.
God has delegated to Jesus. You do not delegate to an equal, you delegate to a subordinate. God is the boss; it is God who chooses who will do the judging. As Jesus admits, "the Son can do nothing by himself", it is only through God.
John 8:23 But he continued, ‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.’
25 ‘Who are you?’ they asked.
‘Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,’ Jesus replied. 26 ‘I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.’
27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28 So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up[a] the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.’
It is clear here that Jesus is considered to be heavenly by John, but it is also clear that Jesus is subordinate to God. Jesus is acting as God's messenger, giving God's message, not their shared message. Jesus is very clear on this "I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me".
John 8:58 "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." The Jews therefore said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself, and went out of the temple.
The claim is Jesus saw Abraham. That does not make him equal to God. If he was equal to God, why would he hide himself?
25 Jesus answered, ‘I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[c]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.’
Wow, verse 30 looks like a slam-dunk!

But wait, verse 29 says Jesus' father is greater than all. Note that Jesus is establishing his relationship to God as being distinct from God, and then saying God is greater than everything.

When Jesus says he and God are one, I would suggest he means they are of the same nature, specifically, just as no one will steal a sheep (i.e., a follower) from God, no one shall steal one from Jesus either.

The text continues:
31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’
33 ‘We are not stoning you for any good work,’ they replied, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’
34 Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, "I have said you are ‘gods’"?
Let us start at the end, which is a reference to Psalm 82:6 "‘I said, "You are ‘gods’; you are all sons of the Most High." This appears to be talking about human rulers, as it later says they will die like men. So Jesus is presumably pointing out that in the Bible God describes some people as 'gods', so how can it be blasphemy to do likewise?
John 12:41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.
This could be a reference to Isaiah 6, were Isaiah saw God. But Isaiah saw seraphim too, and spoke of them too. Why should we not conclude that Jesus was one of them?
John 19:7 The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God."
That does not make Jesus the equal of God, however.
John 12:45 "He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me"

John 14:9-10 "He who has seen Me has seen the Father"
Do these verses mean that Jesus is God? I think not. Any more than watching a football game on TV is the same as being right there at the stadium.    Jesus is saying that you will see God through him, not that he is God (otherwise, why not say "I am God").

Further Evidence Against Jesus and God Being Equals

Why does Jesus pray to himself? It makes no sense. Jesus prays at numerous points in the NT, and it is clear he is praying to a superior being, not to himself, not to an equal.
Luke 4:5-8: "The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered, "It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’"
Why would Satan offer this authority to Jesus if Jesus was God or was equal to God? Jesus would already have more authority than Satan. For this to make any sense, and for this to be in any way a real temptation, Jesus must have less authority than Satan, who in turn has less authority than God.
Luke 22: 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
Here Jesus is asking God to take away his duty to die on the cross (i.e., the cup). Why would Jesus do that if he was God? How could an angel, clearly a lesser being than God, give strength to Jesus if Jesus was equal to God?
Mark 15:34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).
If you believe in the trinity, then Jesus is calling out to himself, wondering why he has himself forsaken himself!
Luke 12:8 ‘I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. 9 But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
Here Jesus shows a clear distinction between himself and the Holy Spirit. Talking against the Holy Spirit, an aspect of god, is blasphemy and unforgivable. Talking against Jesus, a human being (son of man) is forgiveable.

The Son of God, The Messiah, Lord

The Bible does say Jesus was the son of God, but remember, this was a title bestowed on all the Jewish Kings. This title in no way indicates Jesus was a part of the trinity, any more than King David was (to be clear, they were considered divine; they were God's sons by adoption).

The same is true of the word "Messiah". This was applied to all the kings. Jesus is often called "Lord" in the Bible; again, this is consistent with him being king, and not evidence he was considered to be God.

None of these terms implies Jesus was God.

How the Bible has been modified to support the trinity

Several centuries ago, one enterprising Christian added a bit to 1 John to include the trinity. If you read the KJV, you will find this:
1 John 5:7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
This is the single most significant mention of the trinity in the KJV. But it is a forgery, and most modern Bibles now omit the second half of the verse.

New International Version:
For there are three that testify:

New American Standard Bible
For there are three that testify:

This page gives a useful comparison of numerous translations:

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Making Excuses For God

Any monotheistic religion that posits a loving and all-powerful God has a problem: Why does evil happen?

The book of Job suggests evil is God testing us to see if our faith is strong; God is actively involved in tempting you to do wrong to test your faith (and this is why the Lord's Prayer has that bit "Lead us not into temptation"). Later, Satan became the source of evil - which does not sit well with monotheism, but so what? Modern Christianity has got more sophisticated, but in the end makes no more sense.

Here is an article by Frank Turek on why God allows evil, specifically discussing why God allowed the terrorist attack in London, and is a great example of the nonsensical reasoning these people use to delude themselves.
Because evil doesn’t exist on its own; it only exists as a lack or a deficiency in a good thing. Evil is like rust in a car: If you take all of the rust out of a car, you have a better car; if you take the car out of the rust, you have nothing. Evil is like a wound in your body: If you take the wound out of your body, you have a better body; if you take the body out of your wound, you have nothing. (That’s why we often describe evil as negations of good things. For example, we say the attack on London was immoral, unjust, inhumane, not right, etc.) In other words, there would be no such thing as evil unless good existed, but there would be no such thing as good unless God existed.
That is quite an admission. True evil can only exist if God does. There are truly evil things happening in the world, therefore God must exist. If there were no evil things happening, if we all lived in peace and harmony, then that would make the existence of God less certain.

Is that really the Christian position? No. What he is really arguing is that only Christianity gets to call things evil, therefore if we are labelling stuff as evil, then Christianity must be true! Meanwhile, terrible things happen in the world, whether they get labelled as evil or not.

And God chooses to allow them all.

Turns out plenty of other religions also have a concept of good and evil, and the Christian concept may well have come from Babylonia (via Judaism).

But even if it was exclusive to Christianity, that would still be a problem for Christianity - because it shows a huge inconsistency in Christian doctrine.

  • Christianity says the London attack was evil
  • Christianity says it is wrong to allow evil to happen when you could stop it
  • Christianity says God allowed the London attack to happen
  • Christianity says God is perfectly good

These more statements cannot all be true - and yet Christianity claims they are. And it does not matter whether evil really exists or not, either way Christianity is internally incoherent.

Turek on Christian morality

The sexual abuse of children? It’s only wrong if God exists.
Think this through. He is saying that the only reason child abuse is wrong is because of God. Seriously? This guy cannot see that abusing children is wrong in itself?

And this is the mentality of many Christians. This is why the atrocities of the Bible are swept under the carpet. According to this moral view, genocide is fine as long as it is sanctioned by God.

And it is only a short step from there to the terrorist attack in London. Scary stuff.

Turek on Atheism

Regardless of the reasons, evil is a problem for every worldview including atheism. But Christianity is the only worldview equipped to handle it.
How is evil a problem for atheism? Atheism states there is no god, which is why no god intervened during the London attack. Simple as that, Frank.

Monday, 12 June 2017

The Beliefs of St Paul the Apostle

Paul's conversion on the Road to Damascus seems pretty certain to have happened. We have an account in Acts probably written by a companion of Paul's, and we have the obvious fact that Paul was a Christian later in life. Both Acts and Paul's letters indicate Paul was originally involved in persecuting Christians.

So what did Paul believe before and after that event?

The Pharisees

Paul was a Pharisee originally, charged with rooting out Christians. Curiously the best source of information about the Pharisees is the Christian New Testament, with Josephus (who was probably a Pharisee himself) being the second of two. Neither are exactly objective!

The defining feature of the Pharisees was the belief in a set of spoken laws, supposedly given to Moses, to accompany the written laws of scripture (this Oral Law was eventually written down in the Talmud). They believed Israel had been conquered because it had failed to keep God's laws, and so were extremely careful to keep his laws in every particular. In Jesus' time, of the many religious divisions within Judaism, the Pharisees were the most popular with the common people, and modern Judaism has its roots in Pharisaic Judaism.

The Pharisees believed that once the Jews were sufficiently observant of the laws, God would send a messiah, a man, a new King of the Jews and therefore a descendant of David, who would overthrow the Romans and usher in a new age of peace. This was the coming Kingdom of God, and is what Christian's anticipate (perhaps without realising it), in the Lord's Prayer, when they say "Your kingdom come on Earth as it is in heaven". This coming of the Kingdom of God would be accompanied by the resurrection of the dead.

Here is Josephus on the Pharisees:
14. But then as to the two other orders at first mentioned, the Pharisees are those who are esteemed most skillful in the exact explication of their laws, and introduce the first sect. These ascribe all to fate [or providence], and to God, and yet allow, that to act what is right, or the contrary, is principally in the power of men, although fate does co-operate in every action. They say that all souls are incorruptible, but that the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies, - but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment.
- Jewish War 2.8.14
The bit "removed into other bodies" I take to mean that the good are given new bodies, rather than to suggest reincarnation (see also here). It was the practice at the time to bury the dead in a tomb until the body had rotted away, and then to put the bones in an ossuary, so clearly the resurrected would need new bodies.

The Pharisees got their beliefs from the Old Testament of course, and we can see what it has to say about the resurrection. The dead would exists as shades in Sheol:

Psalm 16:10 For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
11 You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Until the resurrection, when they would come back to life in new bodies shining brightly:

Daniel 2:2 Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting [a]contempt. 3 [b]Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the [c]expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Note that even Jesus confirms this view of the resurrected being like angels:

Mat 22:30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

Jesus and the Pharisees

Jesus rejected the Pharisees' strict observance of the law (for example, Mark 2:27), and this meant that Jesus could not possibly be the messiah in the eyes of the Pharisees, and we read of numerous clashes in the gospel accounts.

Paul was one of those assigned to sort out the Christians. The motivation was clear: these Jews were failing to be properly observant (for example, with regards to the Sabbath), which meant that God was delaying sending the messiah, which in turn meant more years under the rule of the Romans. It was up to Paul, and others like him, to stop Christianity, and so hasten the arrival of the messiah.

Paul's Conversion

Paul went from persecuting Christians to becoming one himself, which is quite a change, but just how much did his beliefs change?

He already believed in a messiah, he already believed in the resurrection of the dead. What changed was the identity of the messiah. And given what he experienced, he had good reason to do so! He was expected a man who would usher in a new age, who would start the resurrection of the dead. Here was a man, resurrected!

This should not be trivialised; Paul originally thought a strict observance of the rules was vital, was required by God, and undoubtedly this was a deeply held belief. He dropped that (and we know he did, given much of his argument with the disciples was about not observing the law), when he saw the vision, so clearly it was a powerful vision.

The strict observance of the laws was a means to an end, and Paul became convinced that that end had been achieved. It logically followed that the strict observance of the laws could be abandoned, and this became Paul's new position, a position that put his at odd with the disciples on more than one occasion.

Paul in Acts

Paul still believed in a messiah, a man, a new King of the Jews and therefore a descendant of David, who would usher in the Kingdom of God, and begin the resurrection of the dead.

Like other Pharisees, Paul envisaged the resurrected to be angel-like... and this is what he saw:

Acts 9:3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.

This was not Jesus in his original body, broken by the crucifixion, this was Jesus in a new, heavenly body! Christians might at this point object, saying this was Jesus after the Ascension, but that is beside the point. This is what Paul saw and this is what he based his beliefs on. Note also that Paul never mentioned the Ascension - probably because it was made up decades later.

Thus, straight after his conversion:
Acts 9:20-22 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
Here is Paul preaching:
Acts 17:30 Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge [u]the world in righteousness [v]through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men [w]by raising Him from the dead.”
It is important to realise that Paul was not starting a new religion; he was Jewish, and he was promoting Judaism. Acts 13:16 onwards describes him preaching in a synagogue to Jews, explaining how Jesus fitted the existing religion. This is just some highlights:
Acts 13:16 Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said,
“Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: 17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and [b]made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He led them out from it. .... 21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My [c]will.’ 23 From the descendants of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, ...
... 33 that God has fulfilled this promise [h]to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘You are My Son; today i have begotten You.’ 34 As for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no longer to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: ‘I will give you the holy and [i]sure blessings of David.’ 35 Therefore He also says in another Psalm, ‘You will not [j]allow Your [k]Holy One to [l]undergo decay.’ 36 For David, after he had [m]served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers and [n]underwent decay; 37 but He whom God raised did not [o]undergo decay. ...

Paul's Epistles

Romans 1:3 concerning His Son, who was born of a [b]descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power [c]by the resurrection from the dead, according to the [d]Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,
Jesus being a descendant of David was vital to Paul, because he saw Jesus as the messiah, the earthly king of the Jews, and so Jesus had to be a male-line descendant of David. The virgin birth had yet to be invented! Paul frequently called Jesus "Lord"; Jesus was not a god or a part of the godhead, Jesus was the king!

Also, note that God declared Jesus as his son at the resurrection. Paul believed Jesus was the Son of God by adoption, following the tradition of the Jewish Kings (2 Samuel 7:12-16, Psalm 2:2,7), just as Mark did, but while Mark had Jesus adopted as his baptism, Paul believed he was adopted at his resurrection.

That did mean Jesus was divine, but divine in the way the earlier kings of the Jews had been divine; as God's adopted son. He certainly did not think of Jesus as God; Jews were vehemently montheistic.
1 Corinthians 15:20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.

Prototype for the general resurrection

Jesus was the first fruits, the prototype of the coming resurrection of the dead. It is interesting to compare this to Matthew (Mat 27:52 The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the [aa]saints who had fallen asleep were raised; ); was this thought to be the second wave of resurrections?
1 Corinthians 15:35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” ...
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown [l]a perishable body, it is raised [m]an imperishable body;
Paul expected the resurrection of the dead soon, because Jesus was the prototype, the first fruits. He believed the resurrection of Jesus was the first step of the coming of the Kingdom of God, and so the last trumpet would sound within his lifetime (and of course Jesus also predicted it within the lifetime of some of his disciples).

New bodies for the resurrected

Just like Josephus, Paul believed the resurrected would be given new bodies. He goes into detail in 1 Corinthians 15:
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.
In this analogy, the flesh and blood body is the seed, the heavenly body is the plant it produces. The seed being sown is very much like the body being buried in a tomb. And note that the seed is left underground, just as Jesus' body was left buried - no empty tomb here!
38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
Paul is making it abundantly clear that there are two types of bodies; the original flesh and blood, and the new heavenly body.
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
Back to the seed analogy, with the original body - weak, perishable - buried, and the individual raised in a new heavenly body (spiritual in the sense of being close to God, rather than ghost-like).
45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”[f]; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we[g] bear the image of the heavenly man.
Again Paul is comparing the natural body, made of physical matter (dust as he says), and then the heavenly body.
50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
You cannot enter the Kingdom of God if your body is flesh and blood!
51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
But what of those who are still alive? Paul declares that their bodies will be changed too. They have to be, because you cannot enter the Kingdom of God if your body is flesh and blood. Thus, in that moment, the righteous who are still alive will be changed, and they will lose their flesh and blood bodies and will get new heavenly bodies.

Paul says more in his sequel, 2 Corinthians 5:
1 For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.
The earthly tent is the flesh and blood body, and Paul explicitly states it will be taken down, and the righteous get a new dwelling - and not a tent, but a house!
2 We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. 3 For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies.[a] 4 While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. 5 God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.
Not spirits without bodies, but instead wearing new heavenly bodies.

All sons of God

Romans 8:23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
Paul believed Jesus was adopted as the Son of God, but Jesus was the prototype, and Paul was looking forward to everyone (who was worthy) getting the same. Everyone would be adopted as the Son of God when they got resurrected (at least in some sense).
Galatians 4:5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

Ephesians 1:5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
The adoption idea is seen here too.
Gal 4:1 Now I say, as long as the heir is a [a]child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is [b]owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and [c]managers until the date set by the father. 3 So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the [d]elemental things of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under [e]the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under [f]the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir [g]through God.
The passage is a little contradictory, as it suggests God sent Jesus into the world, but at the same time has this idea of adoption as the son of God. Romans 8:3 also has this idea of God sending Jesus.

Jesus is Lord

Christians (eg here) make a big deal about Paul called Jesus Lord, and point out that in the Old Testament, this was how God was referred. But the truth is that Paul clearly distinguished between Jesus a Lord and God, as this text illustrates:
Romans 1:7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

It must be acknowledged that there are parts of Paul's epistles that suggest he believed otherwise, but we have to remember that all his writing comes to us via the Christian church, and every epistle exists today only because Christians made careful copies of them, and so it is entirely plausible that each has been massaged to reflect mainstream Christianity. It is important to note that the opposite is not true; it is not plausible that later Christians would have a tendency to introduce adoptionist material into the texts.