Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What about Daniel?

I have argued that the fulfillment of Biblical prophecies depend to a large extent on the continuation of current conditions at the time of the prophetic announcements. If reality changes at some point between the giving of the prophecy and the point of expected fulfillment, then the fulfillment of the prophecy may not happen as predicted. When prophecies predict human behaviors, the precision is less dependable because people often respond to events in surprising and unexpected ways.

When the above position is taken, a frequent retort is, "What about Daniel?"

The claims I have defended are most vulnerable when they are held up against the book of Daniel. If God accurately foresaw detailed events hundreds of years before they happened—including human actions of near spontaneity—how can the future properly be understood as "open?" Many of the prophecies in Daniel are given with such precision that a reader is apt to conclude that the future is totally closed, not partially closed.

So what about Daniel? Daniel's prophecies in chapter 11 speak about the rise of Greece. The prophecies mention several very specific actions of the Greek kings from Alexander down to Antiochus IV Epiphanies. People's actions are precicely predicted. While it is true that some Biblical prophecies about people's actions did not go as predicted, in Daniel, prophecies about human actions―people that did not yet exist, no less―are very precise. Prophecy seems to work two different ways. Do the two ways share common ground? How we approach this question is informed by the different kinds of literature we find in the Bible.

The Bible contains different types of literature. The way we understand and apply what we read ought to be informed by the kind of literature we are reading. The Bible contains, for example, history literature, poetry literature, wisdom literature, prophecy literature, gospels and epistles. In the arena of World Literature, the examples we see in the Bible are not the only examples ever written. All of the writings in the Bible, however, are theologically consistent. They are writings that stood such a test of time that they came to be recognized as having theological authority. Long story short: The Bible came together with all those Scriptures included and a lot of typically similar writings excluded.

We do not read the Psalms the same way as we read the Chronicles (or, we should not read them the same way).

A proper approach to the book of Daniel begins with a realization that it is mostly an apocalypse. The Bible contains two formal apocalypses: Daniel 7-12 and Revelation. To properly read Daniel and Revelation we should have some familiarity with the meaning of apocalypse literature. If we read Daniel the same way we read, say, Amos, we will draw improper theological conclusions sharply opposing theology found in other parts of the Bible. Frederick J. Murphy says in his introduction to Apocalyptic literature, "A solid understanding of the genre, the worldview, and the original historical circumstances of apocalypses can enable today's believers to benefit from their spiritual insights and strange beauty without being misled by simplistic and sometimes dangerous interpretations" (8). He defines "apocalypse" as follows.
All apocalypses are narratives, stories describing the disclosure of otherwise inaccessible secrets to a human seer by a heavenly being. The disclosures are usually through visions. (The term seer literally means "see-er," one who sees visions.) Often the visions themselves are enigmatic and must be interpreted by a heavenly being, usually an angel. There are two main kinds of apocalyptic narratives. In the first, the seer travels to the heavenly realm or to parts of the cosmos usually inaccessible to human beings. The second type contains no otherworldly journey. This type often incorporates a review of history, culminating in an eschatological crisis and resolution, such as a conflict between the forces of good and evil, resulting in evil's defeat. ... The element common to all apocalypses is postmortem rewards and punishments, an idea that enters Judaism through the medium of apocalypticism, since it does not occur elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. (Murphy 2)
Sidnie White Crawford offers a similar definition:
Apocalypses are characterized by the presence of vision, symbolism, a human seer and otherworldly mediator, an otherworldly journey, an emphasis on events on the cosmic rather than human realm, an increased interest in angels and demons, the notion of the transcendence of God, and pseudonymity.
The above definitions are true for nearly all apocalypses. There are probably some exceptions. The most notable exceptions occur in literature containing apocalyptic features without being proper apocalypses (Isaiah 56-66; Ezekiel, Zechariah; Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21, although the apocalyptic sections in Matthew, Mark and Luke may qualify as proper apocalypses). There are several apocalypse features I want to highlight for this study. Apocalypses
  1. present a review of history and includes a prophetic prediction of something that must shortly take place, or the prophet/seer witnesses something otherworldly;
  2. are pseudonymous—that is, the author is writing under a pseudonym;
  3. feature an expectation of life-after-death.
Murphy adds:
They [apocalypses] allow their readers to see their own situations from the perspectives of the supernatural world and from the vantage point of life after death. This change of perspective allows a different consciousness to emerge, thereby changing experience itself. Human experience is found to be connected to larger, even cosmic realities. One's own historical period or personal life is viewed within a broad vista and can thereby be ordered correctly. This does not just make experience more tolerable; it actually changes experience, since experience is inseparable from perception. To change perception is to change the world. (Murphy 7)
Apocalypses emerge in times of crisis. They give readers hope and meaning in situations where life is otherwise hopeless and meaningless. In that respect, an apocalypse is crisis literature. For that reason many scholars describe apocalyptic language as "language of oppression." Therefore, apocalypses
  1. emerge in times of crisis in order to provide hope and meaning to readers whose lives feel otherwise hopeless and meaningless.
The book of Revelation is a good place to start. We analyze it as an apocalypse. Revelation is noteworthy for not being pseudepigraphic (pseudonymous). The book of Revelation was written by a man named John. Otherwise, it fulfills all the appropriate definitions of an apocalypse. It features a conversation with otherworldly persons (Jesus and angels). It features a brief history of the rise of the Roman empire (or the rise of an oppressive Roman administration) and it predicts the fall of Rome (or the oppressive administration) by divine action. Afterwards, there is a kind of eschatological expectation, the meaning of which is beyond the scope of this article. The crisis situation is pretty clear. People are being martyred for their faith. When people are imprisoned and martyred for trying to do the right thing, life feels pretty meaningless. The book of Revelation aims to provide meaning for those saints.

In Daniel 11, almost all interpreters see the rise and fall of the Greek empire. That meaning in Daniel is almost unmistakable. The particular crisis situation addressed in Daniel 11 is associated with persecution under the Greek governor Antiochus IV Epiphanies.

A quick look at the book of I Enoch is informative here. First Enoch is an apocryphal collection of apocalypses from the pseudonymous pen of Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam (Jude 1:14, citing 1 Enoch 1:9). First Enoch 83-90 is an apocalypse that addresses the same historical crisis as that of Daniel 11. The whole vision describes the history of the world from the Adam and Eve to the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus Epiphanies's Jerusalem occupation 165-161 B.C. In the apocalypse of 1 Enoch 83-90, various people and peoples are described as animals, especially from chapters 85-90, often identified as The Animal Apocalypse.

At the end, the crisis under Antiochus IV reaches a climax and God steps in to help the Jews in their resistance. They suddenly triumph.
Then I kept seeing till one great horn sprouted on one of the sheep [one of the Maccabean leaders], and he opened their eyes; and they had vision in them and their eyes were opened. He cried aloud to the sheep, and all the rams saw him and ran unto him. In spite of this, all those eagles, vultures, ravens, and kites until now continue to rip the sheep, swooping down upon them and eating them. As for the sheep, they remain silent; but the rams are lamenting and crying aloud. Those ravens gather and battle with him (the horned ram) and seek to remove his horn, but without any success.

I saw thereafter the shepherds coming; and those vultures and kites cried aloud to the ravens so that they should smash the horn of that ram. But he battled with them, and they fought each other; and he cried aloud, while battling with them, so that (God's) help should come. I kept seeing till that man, who writes down the names of the shepherds and elevates them before the Lord of the sheep, came; it is he who helped him and revealed (to him) everything; thus help came down for that ram. And I kept seeing till the Lord of the sheep came upon them in wrath, and all who saw him fled and fell into darkness, from before his face. All the eagles vultures, ravens, and kites gathered, with all the sheep of the field lining up with them; and having thus come together in unity, all of them cooperated in order to smash the horn of the ram. I saw that man who was writing a book by command of the Lord, for he opened that book (of) the destruction which those twelve last shepherds caused; and he revealed before the Lord of the sheep that they had much greater destruction than their predecessors. I kept seeing till the Lord of the sheep came unto them and took in his hand the rod of his wrath and smote the earth; and all the beasts and all the birds of the heaven fell down from the midst of those sheep and were swallowed up in the earth, and it was covered upon them. Then I saw that a great sword was given to the sheep; and the sheep proceeded against all the beasts of the field in order to kill them; and all the beasts and birds of heaven fled from before their face. (Isaac, 1 Enoch 90:9-19)
There quickly follows a kind of judgment against fallen angels and of those who oppressed the Jews. Note the eschatological hellish punishment they receive.
Then the Lord called those people, the seven first snow-white ones, and ordered them to bring before him (some) from among the first star(s) that arose, and from among those stars whose sexual organs were like those of the horses, as well as (that) first star which had fallen down earlier. And they brought all before him. He spoke to the man who was writing in his presence―that (man) being one of those seven snow-white ones―saying, "Take those seven shepherds to whom I had handed over the sheep, but who decided to kill many more than they were ordered." Behold, I saw all of them bound; and they all stood before him. Then his judgment took place. First among the stars, they received their judgment and were found guilty, and they went to the place of condemnation; and they were thrown into an abyss, full of fire and flame and full of the pillar of fire. Then those seventy shepherds were judged and found guilty; and they were cast into that fiery abyss. (1 Enoch 90:21-25)
The Jews who were complicit with the Greek oppression―those who gave lip-service to the resistance but never gave real support―receive a similar punishment.
In the meantime I saw how another abyss like it, full of fire, was opened wide in the middle of the ground; and they brought those blinded sheep, all of which were judged, found guilty, and cast into this fiery abyss, and they were burned―the abyss is to the right of that house; thus I saw those sheep while they were burning―their bones were also burning. (1 Enoch 90:26-27)
There follows a national restoration and a reward for the righteous, both living and dead. The restored nation is ruled by a strong messianic figure. The description of the national restoration in 1 Enoch 90:28-38 sounds a lot like what the disciples had in their minds when they asked Jesus, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6).

A couple observations: The whole Animal Apocalypse prophecy is aimed at the people suffering at the end of the detailed history. The predictions do not pertain to the people who lived at any other time in the Animal Apocalypse chronicle in 1 Enoch 85-90. The prophecy pertains to those living during the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanies. The seer describes a future that punishes those who practice evil and rewards those who practice righteousness, both living and dead. The described future is very near to the people living in those times. The prophecy did not play out as described but notice what the prophecy did for those living in that horrible time. The prophecy gave meaning to the injustices those righteous Jews were suffering. Once they were able to see reality as something more than life in the world―that there is more to life than living―then death is not a point of defeat. It is a moment of victory. That perspective changes the meaningless into the meaningful.

As for the author, Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam, he is certainly not the actual author; but he is tagged as the author pseudepigraphically. Why? It may be because Enoch was an ancient hero who legendarily predicted the Great Flood. He went to be with God without having to first experience death. Why the real author wrote about his visions under a pen name of an ancient hero is a point of speculation. I think he wanted to keep his identity secret for reasons of personal security. The more common explanation is that by writing under the name of an ancient hero, it gives an appearance that the much more ancient writer was able to accurately predict all the events that led up to the current date; so the events that are still yet future must be dependable prophecies too. That may be the case; but that motive comes off in my mind as deliberate deception. The contemporary readers knew that the documentation of the visions were pseudepigraphic. I think the writer detailed all that history to show that his predictions logically follow from history and Scripture.

Up to this point I have been working toward comparing the Daniel 7-12 with other apocalypses. I selected the Animal Apocalypse in 1 Enoch because it and and Daniel both apply to the same historical crisis.

In Daniel 10:20-21 an otherworldly being presents a book that contains the history of the world from King Darius of Persia to Antiochus IV Epiphanies. The history details particularly the divided Greek empire and highlights the northern (to Israel) branch spanning Syria all the way to Persia and the southern (to Israel) branch that covers the historical region of Egypt. The rulers of those two branches of Greek empire constantly bickered over who controls Israel. Eventually, the northern branch gained control of Israel under the leadership of Antiochus IV Epiphanies. In the prophecy, Antiochus IV is the most interesting actor (Daniel 11:20-39). The writer describes the friction that ensues between Antiochus IV and Ptolemy VI Philometor of Egypt (Daniel 11:25-28).

The whole vision that is detailed in the chapter is extraordinarily accurate historically... right up to Daniel 11:39. Then the seer predicts "The time of the end" which happens when Ptolemy VI attacks Antiochus IV. They will war against each other and Antiochus IV will die alone. The beginning of the end in Daniel 11:40-45 has no historical parallel. The accuracy of the events in Daniel 11 suddenly falls apart beginning with verse 40. Was the seer just wrong? No. What he is doing now (and for the first time in chapter 11) is prophesying. John Goldingay notes in his commentary on Daniel, "It is not the nature of biblical prophecy to give a literal account of events before they take place" (305).

The eschatological events described in Daniel 12 include eternal reward for the righteous, both living and dead, and eternal punishment for those who practiced wickedness. Those who are punished may include Jews who insincerely cheered on the ones who resisted the occupation (Daniel 11:34).

Note that this prophecy has nothing to say to people in Daniel's time; nor does it have anything useful to say to anybody else living in the period between Daniel and Antiochus IV! But for the people living just before the "time of the end," the prophecy has an important message. The message is to remain faithful. Antiochus may kill you but he cannot take away your eternal reward. Martyrdom is not meaningless. Your righteousness and patience means something.

Why did the seer write under the pseudonym Daniel? Possibly, he wanted to disguise his true identity. He selected Daniel possibly because he is a great example of one who remained faithful against threats of death. Daniel thus served as an example for people in the time of Antiochus IV. Their lives were likewise threatened by their righteousness.

Following the standard rubric of an apocalypse, the writer wrote under a pseudonym. He wrote for people living in a time of moral crisis. He wrote their history as if he were Daniel himself; so the history comes across as quasi-prophecies. The readers recognized their time in the quasi-prophecies and they knew that the writer had written under the pseudonym of Daniel. They read the prophecies of Daniel 11:40ff as a logical "what's next" of history up to the point before the expected fulfillment. The seer himself consulted the Bible to try to understand the nature of his times (Daniel 9:2).

Finally, the apocalypse ends with an eschatological expectation that features eternal reward and punishment for those both living and dead.

The original readers of the book of Daniel did not believe the author was being dishonest. The readers were quite familiar with the genre and they knew they were reading pseudonymous literature. The seer was writing in the style of a kind of writing that was well represented in those days. That kind of Scripture is called an apocalypse.

Crawford, Sidnie White. "Apocalyptic." Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible. Ed. David Noel Freedman. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000. Electronic.

Goldingay, John. Daniel. WBC 30. Dallas: Word, 1989. Print.

Isaac, E. "Translation and Introduction of 1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) Enoch." The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments. Ed. James Charlesworth. Doubleday, 1983. Print.

Murphy, Frederick J. "Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature." The New Interpreter's Bible 7. Nashville: Abingdon, 1996. Print.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Robert Stein on Luke. Luke Johnson on Acts.

I just want to register a few reactions to a set of commentaries I have begun to use in supplementing my study of Luke-Acts. I have studied through the Luke-Acts duo in the past; but the motive was as a family devotional study. Thus, my study was centered around teaching my children. This time, I am studying the books for me and I want to go into a little more depth. I picked up Robert Stein's New American Commentary on Luke on the merits of online reviews. I picked up Luke Timothy Johnson's Sacra Pagina Commentary on Acts on the good reputation of Luke Timothy Johnson.

Stein's comments are quite excellent. He has an astounding command of the Old Testament especially as it relates to a reader's understanding of the book of Luke. He does not get bogged down in modern denominational doctrinal quibbles. His aim is to help us understand what Luke's account meant to a first century reader, notably a man named Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1). Stein's comments are outstanding.

He does, however, occasionally succumb to modern consensus. A careful reader notices when a writer takes a doctrinal stand without Biblical proof or with weak proof. The particular poorly stance of which I speak is the modern view that "God is in control." As much as a modern reader is inclined to accept that particular theology, I have never seen adequate Biblical support for it. Stein makes the claim in in his introductory remarks and continues to make it in the commentary proper. He makes the claim in his comments on Luke 1:9, which reads,
he [Zechariah] was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense.
Stein's comments:
This indicates that God's providential leading caused Zechariah to be chosen. For Luke this was not the result of "chance" or "fate." God was clearly in control of this event.
Stein includes this footnote:
This example and the fact that the selection of Matthias (Acts 1:26) was preceded by prayer (Acts 1:24-25) make clear that that act should also be understood as taking place according to God's providential will.
I'm sorry. I need Stein to present for me a better argument. I don't see either one as God controlling how the dice are rolled, or how the straws are drawn, or however they took their lots. If there is a suggestion of providence, it sure is not clear!

Stein's "God is in control" assumption motivated me to peek ahead at Luke 22:31-34 to see what Stein says about Jesus' prediction of Peter's denials. The text reads:
31 “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 33 And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”
Stein comments on the clause, "I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail."
Jesus, as well as Luke's readers, knew that Peter would deny the Lord (Luke 22:34, 54-62). Thus the content of this prayer should not be understood as a prayer that peter would not deny Jesus. If this were so, then Jesus' prayer failed completely. Rather the prayer was that Peter would not disavow his allegiance and loyalty to Jesus. This Peter did not do; and the reader, who is aware of Peter's leadership role in the early church, knows that Jesus' prayer for Peter was answered.
"When you have turned back...."
The issue was not whether Peter would repent but what he would do after he repented. Jesus foreknew that Peter's faith would not fail but that after his denial he would repent because he prayed for him.
I don't see definite foreknowledge here and I am not convinced that Luke's main reader, Theophilus, necessarily saw it either. I am not convinced that Jesus got everything he prayed for either. Maybe so. I'll think about it harder when I get to that passage in my study. At this point in my study, the passage looks more like an indicator that it is possible for a person to be restored to ministry once he has fallen away. It does not look to me like an indicator of the infallibility of Jesus' prayer.

It may sound like I am not a fan of this commentary. So far, it is pure gold with only a few impurities. Another example. This one regards the virgin birth of Jesus (Luke 1:34). Stein mined ancient tradition to find an antecedent of a virgin birth upon which Luke's report may have been based.
Yet we find no evidence anywhere of a Jewish expectation that the Messiah would be born of a virgin.

Footnote: Isaiah 7:14 was not interpreted in the intertestamental period as teaching a messianic virgin birth. It is much more likely that after the origination of the virgin birth traditions, Isa 7:14 began to be used to support the traditions rather than that it created this tradition.
That's good writing. It is also very insightful.

Since I plan to consult Luke Timothy Johnson in my Acts study, I thought I would check out how he handles passages that lean towards determinism. The exercise should be profitable since both commentaries comment on the companion book. That is, Stein has a lot to say about Acts in his commentary on Luke. Likewise, Johnson has a lot to say about Luke in his commentary on Acts. My test passages is Acts 13:48.
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers.
 The context shows that the people who "had been destined" were so destined by their own choices and attitudes (Acts 13:42). Let us see what Johnson says.
The verb tassō ("set/appoint") in the perfect passive participle takes on the sense of "destined/allotted." The language reminds us of that used at Qumran for those slotted for everlasting light or darkness, life or death (see CD 3:20; 1QS 3:18-4:1). The term "eternal life" picks up from Acts 13:46, the only other time it occurs in Acts. The Jews "rejected the word of God" and judged themselves "unfit for eternal life"; in contrast, the Gentiles show that they are destined for eternal life by "glorifying" this same "word of the Lord."
That is not bad. Johnson emphasizes the method by which the Jews and Gentiles in this account found themselves destined. It was by their respective embrace of the word of the Lord. That may motivate me to pick up Johnson's companion volume on Luke.

Matt Skinner has written a book on Acts. I appreciate Skinner's perspective in the few things I have read from him. Unfortunately, he has not written anything that I can find on Luke.

A final word about these two commentaries. Sometimes in commentary series such as those that include Stein and Johnson's commentaries, there are rigid format requirements. Stein's comments begin with a few pages discussing "Context" followed by verse-by-verse comments and then a few pages focusing on "Message." That format makes for a little tedium when using the book as a reference. To answer what Stein thinks about a particular verse, one must read all three sections, for Stein may have commented on the verse three times in three different places. I would prefer to see all of his various thoughts on a particular verse located closer together.

The Sacra Pagina commentary format has a section of verse-by-verse comments followed by an "Interpretation" section. I am finding that format much more friendly than the New American Commentary structure.

Monday, December 12, 2016

What about prophecies that predict human behavior?

When Biblical prophecies predict divine action, the fulfillment of those prophecies depend upon the continuation of the current state of affairs when the prophecy is delivered. God reserves the right to change his mind and change his plans (Jeremiah 18).

When prophecies depend upon human behaviors, their precision is less dependable because people often respond to events in surprising and unexpected ways. They may repent of their sinful ways or they may respond to a prophecy in ways that nullify the prophecy's fulfillment. Sometimes, prophecies only predict how people will behave in certain situations. When the time comes for fulfillment, for some strange reason, those people respond in unanticipated ways. Consider Isaiah's prophecies about the Assyrian king Sennacherib when he threatened Jerusalem (2 Kings 19):
2 And he [Hezekiah] sent Eliakim, who was in charge of the palace, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. 3 They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. 4 It may be that the Lord your God heard all the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the LORD your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.” 5 When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, 6 Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. 7 I myself will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.’” 
God did indeed cause Sennacherib to believe two rumors; but Sennacherib's consequent actions did not go as predicted.
8 The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah; for he had heard that the king had left Lachish. 9 When the king heard concerning King Tirhakah of Ethiopia, “See, he has set out to fight against you,” he sent messengers again to Hezekiah, saying, 10 “Thus shall you speak to King Hezekiah of Judah: Do not let your God on whom you rely deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 See, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, destroying them utterly. Shall you be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my predecessors destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?” (2 Kings 19:2-13)
The Assyrian king heard two rumors. He heard Libnah was rebelling against the Assyrian army. He also heard that the Ethiopians were coming up against him. It appeared that Judah had two new allies, Lackish and Ethiopia. Neither was true; but Sennacherib believed the rumors, as God promised. The expected result was for Sennacherib to abandon the Jerusalem effort and head back to Assyria. Surprise of all surprises, Sennacherib did not go home. Instead, he steeled his resolve against Jerusalem. Well. That was totally contrary to the prophetic expectation! How could God have been so wrong? The reason is because the prophecy was based upon Sennacherib's likely response to the rumors. His response was not certain, even from God's perspective. The prediction was a likelihood but not a certainty.

In round two, Hezekiah himself prays. The prayer plus Sennacherib's blasphemous bragging provoke a new divine response. God sent an angel into the Babylonian camp. The angel killed 185,000 Assyrians. Sennacherib finally went home to Nineveh.

When God predicts human behaviors, the predictions are based upon strong likelihoods rather than on unalterable certainties. Thus, for example, we recall that Jesus told Peter that he would deny Jesus three times. A short time later, he instructed the disciples‒and Peter‒to pray that they will not come to the time of trial (Luke 22:40, 46). That means Jesus' prediction of Peter's denials was not a certainty but rather a strong likelihood.

There is an interesting side-lesson here. Prayer affects God. God makes plans and alters plans based upon people's prayers. The sincerity of an offered prayer seems to matter. Hezekiah's prayer resulted in stronger divine action than did Isaiah's prayer. We do not know why; but it is very possible that the reason for the stronger divine response was due to Hezekiah's greater commitment in the prayer. Hesekiah's appeal reminds me of the prayer of Epaphras when he prayed for his friends in Colossae.
Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you. He is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in everything that God wills. (Colossians 4:12)
When you need prayers, be sure to ask your friends and maybe even your minister to pray for you; but be sure to bend your own knees in prayer too. Your prayer may be the one that has the biggest impact on God.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

How is prophecy fulfilled?

Most Bible readers unknowingly impose upon the Bible their own notions of what they see as appropriate characteristics of the Bible. That is, if the Bible is God's revelation of himself to mankind (which it definitely is), then it ought to be infallible. Some Christians use the word "inerrant" to describe the Bible, and then they discuss among themselves what "inerrant" even means.

One area where people have their own expectations of the Bible is in the area of prophecy. We see a word of prophecy kind of like the mythological prophetic oracle received by Oedipus in Sophocles's tragedy Oedipus the King. In the mythological story, Oedipus was told by the oracle that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus tried very hard to prevent the fulfillment of the oracle and his efforts actually worked to bring about its prophetic fulfillment.

The Bible does not expect prophecies to be fulfilled in that way. If a prophecy is given that involves the actions of people, the actual fulfillment may or may not come about. That is the nature of biblical prophecy. Many Bible readers, when they realize that biblical prophecy does not always find fulfillment, are thrown off their balance and come to doubt the divine influence upon the Bible. We should permit Scripture to speak for itself. We should get to know the Bible by spending time with it and learning its personality. Our faith in God should not be threatened when we discover a surprising aspect of the character of biblical prophecy. Instead, we should register our surprise and apply the new discovery to our understanding of God.

Most prophecies are conditional. They depend to a large extent on the assumption that current conditions (as they are when the prophecy is given) continue. If reality changes at some point between the giving of the prophecy and the point of expected fulfillment, the fulfillment of the prophecy may not take place.

Today, I am making a very strong and cautious claim: Literal fulfillment of biblical prophecy is conditioned upon the continuation of the current state of reality at the time of the prophetic pronouncement.

Now, why would I, a believer who wants to facilitate stronger faith in fellow believers, write such an article? The reason is a little bit strategic. The information is available already on the Discovery Channel, PBS or in college classrooms. The information is often presented by Bible scholars who are atheists and don't really care how believers will process the information. Well, I care. Furthermore, if you read the Bible, you will eventually make these discoveries yourself. Most biblical apologists will try to show that your assumptions about the Bible were right all along; but sometimes, the case really cannot be made and you, the Bible reader, are left with a lingering unanswered question. How the God of the Bible acts in prophecy tells us something about how God works in the world. God reveals himself and his experiences to us through Scripture. That is pretty cool if we pay attention.

I give one exception to the above claim of conditional prophecy fulfillment. There is going to be an "End" (e.g., 2 Peter 3) and a judgment (e.g., Matthew 11:22; Luke 11:32; Matthew 7:21-23).

We are interested here with prophecies that anticipate something about the future. I am going to divide those prophecies into two groups. One kind of forward-looking prophecy is described as something God is going to do. God reserves the right to alter his plans as reality changes with respect to the original purpose of God's original plan of action. That divine right is abundantly clear in Jeremiah 18, Exodus 32, the book of Jonah and in other passages.

The second kind of forward-looking prophecy deals with people's actions as anticipated by God. God expects people to behave in a certain way and he reveals that particular expectation to a prophet. Most of the time, the human actors to which the prophetic word pertains do indeed behave as expected. But not always. Sometimes, a word of prophecy is proclaimed that a particular person will behave in a certain way and then the person behaves in a different way resulting in an unfulfilled prophecy. There are many examples; but I will present here what I see to be the most clear examples.

In 1 Samuel 23, David is a fugitive. He is doing his best to keep a comfortable distance between himself and King Saul. At one point, David asks the priest to inquire of the LORD what Saul's actions will be.
10 David said, “O LORD, the God of Israel, your servant has heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account. 11 And now, will Saul come down as your servant has heard? O LORD, the God of Israel, I beseech you, tell your servant.” The LORD said, “He will come down.” 12 Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” The LORD said, “They will surrender you.” 13 Then David and his men, who were about six hundred, set out and left Keilah; they wandered wherever they could go. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the expedition. 14 David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country of the Wilderness of Ziph. Saul sought him every day, but the LORD did not give him into his hand. (1 Samuel 23:10-14)
This example is pretty straightforward. The prophecy about King Saul's actions depended upon the current given state of reality. As soon as David and his men changed their plans, the fulfillment of the prophecy was no longer expected. The word of the inspired priest was not foreknowledge in the sense of God standing outside of time and observing the future and then giving a report to the priest. It was, rather, the case of God's foreknowing the future based upon the current state of reality. It was a view of the future that takes into account all available contemporary (temporal) evidence.

Here is another fascinating example from 2 Kings 13.
14 Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, King Joash of Israel went down to him, and wept before him, crying, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” 15 Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows”; so he took a bow and arrows. 16 Then he said to the king of Israel, “Draw the bow”; and he drew it. Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands. 17 Then he said, “Open the window eastward”; and he opened it. Elisha said, “Shoot”; and he shot. Then he said, “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram! For you shall fight the Arameans in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” 18 He continued, “Take the arrows”; and he took them. He said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them”; he struck three times, and stopped. 19 Then the man of God was angry with him, and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Aram until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Aram only three times.” (2 Kings 13:14-19)
I always imagine the sound of a cat's shriek when Joash shoots the arrow out the window. Anyway, in this interesting example, a word of prophecy is changed on the fly. The prophet gives a word of prophecy and within a minute he cancels the prophecy and gives a different prophecy! The prophet, in his divinely inspired wisdom, gave the first prophecy, that King Joash would put Aram to a complete end. We can see in this short account that the fulfillment of the prophecy depended at least in part upon the will of King Joash. The prophet believed Joash was sufficiently motivated to bring the prophecy to its completion. On the other hand, when Joash struck the ground with the arrows, the prophet saw that the king's determination was lacking. The prophecy depended upon the will of King Joash which was not as strong as the inspired prophet had originally thought. The details of the prophecy had to be adjusted.

Sometimes, the actors involved with the fulfillment of a prophecy are very determined to bring it to fulfillment and yet the prophecy somehow still fails.

Ezekiel 26 features a prophecy against the island city of Tyre. In the prophecy, King Nebuchadrezzar (NRSV) will be the instrument by which God destroys Tyre. Nebuchadrezzar and his army tried really hard to capture Tyre but he failed. God saw the hard work of Nebuchadrezzar's men and he believed they deserved some loot; so God authorized the Babylonian king to invade Egypt and get its loot there.
18 Mortal, King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon made his army labor hard against Tyre; every head was made bald and every shoulder was rubbed bare; yet neither he nor his army got anything from Tyre to pay for the labor that he had expended against it. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: I will give the land of Egypt to King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon; and he shall carry off its wealth and despoil it and plunder it; and it shall be the wages for his army. 20 I have given him the land of Egypt as his payment for which he labored, because they worked for me, says the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 29:18-20)
The text does not explain why the king was unable to bring the prophecy against Tyre to fulfillment. It does report the determination of the king and his men. They were motivated. We might speculate that the city of Tyre anticipated the coming battle and better prepared for it than they had been at the time of the original prophecy. Something changed that resulted in the prophecy's failure.

Realizing that fulfillment of prophecies involving the actions of free agents depend upon those agents' choices gives us a more honest way to read scripture. We may read about a prophecy concerning King Zedekiah.
4 Yet hear the word of the LORD, O King Zedekiah of Judah! Thus says the LORD concerning you: You shall not die by the sword; 5 you shall die in peace. And as spices were burned for your ancestors, the earlier kings who preceded you, so they shall burn spices for you and lament for you, saying, “Alas, lord!” For I have spoken the word, says the LORD. (Jeremiah 34:4-5)
Then we read that Zedekiah had his eyes plucked out and he died in prison (Jeremiah 52:8-11). The compilers of the book of Jeremiah were not bothered that this prophecy did not find fulfillment. Neither should we. The fulfillment of the prophecy depended upon the attitudes of free agents at the time of the prophecy. People's attitudes change and they sometimes make unexpected choices.

The book of Jeremiah also records a prophecy about Jehoiakim.
Therefore thus says the Lord concerning King Jehoiakim of Judah: He shall have no one to sit upon the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night. (Jeremiah 36:30)
But King Jehoiakim received a proper burial and his son succeeded him (2 Kings 24:6).

A proper reading of prophecy helps us to appreciate passages like Haggai 2:21-23 which anticipates Zerubbabel's rise to full kingship and yet we never see that prophecy fulfilled. Zerubbabel seems to disappear from history shortly after Haggai's prophecy about him. Why? Nobody knows. It is very possible that the king of Persia detected Zerubbabel's ambitions or he heard about Haggai's prophecy. The Persians then responded maybe by removing Zerubbabel from his office of governor of Judah.

Biblical prophecy functions very differently than the oracle at Delphi in Oedipus. There were real prophecies that came from Delphi; but on the mythological level, they were expected to be bullet-proof. The fulfillment of biblical prophecy involving the free actions of humans depends upon how those choices will eventually be made. Such prophecies do not need to find fulfillment.

Footnote: There are prophecies in the book of Daniel that detail very specific future actions of several people. I will address those prophecies in a separate article.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Matthew 10:29 - Does God determine when sparrows die?

Matthew 10:29 (NKJV)
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will.

This verse suggests that sparrows do not fall to the ground (die?) without God's authorization. In other words, God limits the lives of sparrows on a sparrow-by-sparrow basis.

This understanding requires a Bible translation that characterizes falling sparrows as God's will (NKJV, RSV) and ignorance of the verse's context. The passage is offering multiple reasons to not worry. Why not worry? Because God's judgment will come to your persecutors; because your persecutors cannot kill your soul; because of the thing about sparrows and because God has your hairs numbered.

This verse in Matthew has a parallel in Luke:
Luke 12:6 (NRSV)
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. 
The point in Luke is more clear that God is paying undivided attention. Luke also mentions an example of ravens. God cares for them.
Luke 12:24 (NRSV)
Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!
The point of the sparrows example in Matthew is that God is keenly aware when believers are being persecuted and they are never going through it alone. The old spiritual has it right: "His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me."

I am motivated to put a little sharper of a point on this reading of Matthew 10:29. A very common interpretation of the verse is that sparrows die only by God's permission. Insisting on that really alternative translation and meaning forces the passage to lose coherence. The meaning becomes something like, "None of you will suffer a violent martyr's death without the Father's permission and providence." The better and more obvious meaning, especially in light of the parallel passage in Luke 12:6, is that the Father cares for sparrows even when they fall. Your souls are safe with the Father if you "do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul" (Matthew 10:28).

Here is Grant Osborn.
God registers and cares for the smallest sparrow; how much more will he care for us. ("Matthew." Zondervan Exegetical Commentary)
And here is Anthony J. Saldarini.
Their fear, which might impede them from disclosing Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 10:26-27), is groundless because human opponents can kill only the body, not the soul, and because God, who cares for sparrows and knows the number of hairs on people’s heads, will care for them (Matthew 10:28-31). The comforting reminder of God’s care for birds and humans does not change the harsh realities of following Jesus, nor does it bring about social peace. Joining Jesus and his “household” causes disruption and conflict within one’s family (Matthew 10:34-36; cf. Luke 12:51-53 and Q, which depend on Micah 7:6), as already predicted in this chapter (Matthew 10:21-22). Contrary to the most fundamental social values of the Near East, those who follow Jesus must love him more than their parents or children and take up his cross, that is, be willing to suffer violent and dishonorable death and all that goes with it (Matthew 10:37-38). Though the imagery is familiar through frequent repetition, the author of Matthew envisions a catastrophic loss of everything which is humanly valuable and necessary for social and individual survival. He rebukes those who would preserve (“find”) their lives and promises that those who lose their life will find it in return (at the end). ("Matthew," Eerdman's One-Volume Commentary)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Duane Warden's commentary on 1 & 2 Peter and Jude: a book review

I am quite excited to acquire Duane Warden's Truth for Today Commentary on 1 & 2 Peter and Jude. Warden's writing came to my attention when I was recently studying 1 Peter 1:10-12. Warden is strongly Restorationist in his approach to Scripture; but he is not a card-carrying member of the Restorationist club. That is, he is unwilling to toe the Restorationist line only on the basis that a particular teaching has been taught among Restorationists for a hundred years. I hae seen a propensity on occasion for teachers and commentators in the churches of Christ to teach in lock-step behind Jim McGuiggan, Burton Coffman, Guy Woods, Foy Wallace, Barton Stone or even Alexander Campbell. While the teachings of these gentlemen (and others) carry weight, they are not above Scriptural scrutiny. Unfortunately, nobody bucks against traditional church teaching without push-back. That's probably a good thing as long as the push-back includes personal unbiased Bible study. Unfortunately, again, many people look to the Scriptures in order to only refute something they just heard that bucks against traditional teaching. That's not honest Bible study. I have recently been on the receiving end of such buck-back and it can be handled very unfairly.

But I digress.

It is refreshing to discover a Restorationist writer who is willing to challenge long-held assumptions. Warden brilliantly challenged standard assumptions in his handling of 1 Peter 1:10-12 with thorough examination of the Greek text and with comparisons to similar Greek structures. He also appealed to the natural reading of the text. His conclusions qualify as a minority view; but he supports his conclusions upon very strong pillars. I approve.

Warden digs into the text without apology. For example, he forcefully challenges the standard Reformist teaching about baptism when he comments on 1 Peter 3:21 which reads:
And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ...

I have several commentaries from Evangelicals who, on this verse, write pages trying to explain how the verse does not say what it appears to say. None of the arguments (which come across to me as waffles) are persuasive. They treat the verse like it is difficult. Well, it is difficult... if you march in lock-step with standard modern Christian thinking. Warden writes, in part,
[The original readers] would have understood that [baptism] was no mere mechanical act. Its efficacy springs first from the work of Christ who "died for sins... the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18). Second, it springs from the faith response of his readers. What is clear is that "baptism" is a human act, but it is also a divine act. The penitent believer is saved whet he is baptized (Romans 6:3, 4). Calvin, Zwingli, and other reformers were correct in many of their criticisms of Roman Catholicism, but they were mistaken when they rejected the notion that God acts when faith is expressed in baptism.

D. A. Carson was mistaken when he suggested that churches of Christ have a peculiar view of baptism without historical roots in the Christian tradition.... Many biblical scholars who have no connection with the churches of Christ point out that in the New Testament and the early church, baptism, conversion, and the remission of sins were inseparably connected. They may not agree on the way the modern church is to be guided by the practice of Christians in the New Testament, but there are many who understand that for the early church there was no such thing as a Christian who had not been baptized. (190-191)

The structure of the book is quite good. It is a nice hardback with sewn-in pages.

As far as I can tell, this commentary is available only from its publisher, Resource Publications, but it may be available from other sources.

posted from Bloggeroid

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Prophecy in 1 Peter 1:10-12

1Peter 1:10-12 (NRSV)
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look!

This passage appears to say that the Old Testament prophets directly predicted the suffering of Christ and they knew their prophecies of Christ applied to a time well into their future and not for their own times.

There is an exegetical problem with that understanding of the passage. It is a problem with Biblical consistency. The real problem comes in verse 12 where the writer says, "they were serving not themselves but you." That is, the prophets knew what they were predicting applied to people hundreds of years into the future. There is no prophecy that I know of that has no message for the people of the prophets' times (except one, discussed below). Verse 11 mentions "the sufferings destined for Christ" (NRSV) which might motivate us to look at the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. Indeed, Peter cites in this epistle that very chapter in Isaiah (1 Peter 1:19; 2:22, 23, 24, 25); but a careful look at those passages reveals that the writer is not citing them as prophetic of Jesus but is citing them because they appropriately apply linguistically to Jesus. However, 1 Peter 1:11 comes pretty close to saying that the Lord's suffering was predicted by prophecy.

I will report without extensively arguing the point that the suffering servant in Isaiah 40-55 is captive Israel (Isaiah 41:8-10; 44:1-2; 44:21; 45:1-4; 48:20 with Isaiah 42:1). Occasionally, the identity of the Isaiah servant blurs into that of the prophet himself; but never is the suffering servant a prophecy of a distant future Messiah.

Could the writer of 1 Peter mean the one prophecy that was definitely far reaching? God told Abraham:
I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families on the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)
That statement by God to Abraham is prophetic and the rest of the history of God with his people in the Old Testament is obvious (in my view, anyway) divine working towards the salvation of all mankind through the seed of Abraham (e.g., Isaiah 11:16; 19:18-25; 24:3; 62:10). That is, in the Old Testament, Israel's vocation was to restore the world to God. That promise was finally fulfilled with Jesus and the establishment of the church. God is still working with the church for the salvation of all mankind (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Could that prophecy be the one identified in 1 Peter 1:10-12? As far as I have been able to ascertain, there is no prophecy of Israel's outreach vocation that includes suffering either for a future generation or for a Messiah at least as it might point directly to the Christians of the writer of 1 Peter's day.

Was the 1 Peter writer just reading the Old Testament wrong? I am not willing to resort to that solution without very strong argumentative proof.

What if the prophets mentioned here are not Old Testament prophets? What if they were prophets like John the Baptist? What if they predated the ministry of Christ just a little bit in advance (a few decades)? John Baptist had some predictive things to say about Jesus' ministry. Jesus himself had some things to say about the sufferings of his disciples once their own ministry began. There were definitely plenty of prophets contemporary with John Baptist. If they were the ones who predicted the suffering of Christ or the church (Revised English Bible translates 1 Peter 1:11 to mean Christian suffering), then the passage comes into contextual agreement with the rest of the Bible. If we understand the "prophets" as people prophesying around the turn of the millennium (shortly before Jesus and during the Lord's youth), the tension of the passage with the rest of the Bible is resolved.

Just how popular is this view of the identity of the prophets of 1 Peter 1:10-12? The vast majority of scholars believe the 1 Peter writer means Old Testament prophets; but the view is not unanimous. None that I consulted went so far as to accuse the writer of reading the Old Testament wrong; but the way I see it, they must have to accept that uncomfortable conclusion. One commentator who says the prophets here are John Baptist types is Edward Gordon Selwyn in a commentary he wrote in the 1940s. Another, and more interesting to me, is Duane Warden. He said the prophets here were John Baptist types. He argued the point in the Restoration Quarterly, volume 31, 1989. Unfortunately, that particular issue is not available online. In Warden's commentary on 1 & 2 Peter and Jude (Truth for Today, Searcy, AR: Resource Publications, 2009), he effectively argues that the prophets were New Testament prophets rather than Old Testament prophets, which include Christians who had the Spiritual gift of prophecy (pp. 56-59). (Some readers may be interested in an article by Warden in Evangelicalism & the Stone-Campbell Movement, Vol 2. In that article, Warden speaks quite favorably for Open Theism and the fact that, for the most part, it is already mostly accepted by Restorationists today. They just don't know it yet.)

First Peter 1:10-12 does not force a new way of reading the Old Testament, that is as prophecy that becomes suddenly clear when looking back through Christ. When the New Testament writers see Jesus in the Old Testament, they see him as an type of the things written there. The old words can be applied appropriately to Jesus.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review of the Ark Encounter

I just visited the Ark Encounter in Kentucky.

I have several reactions to it. My feelings vary along the continuum between "excellent" to "needs improvement."

The theme park designers were meticulous about demonstrating that the ark was sufficiently large to house all the living creatures that needed saving (including dinosaurs) for the necessary length of time they were to be housed (about a year? Genesis 8). They are on their way to abundantly making the point; but they are not quite there yet.

On the outside, it was interesting to appreciate the Biblical size of the ark. My thoughts on the matter were, "Yes, this boat is big enough to carry of a LOT of animals. It is also believable that a small number of fellows could build it if they had a hundred years." (I don't know how long it took those four guys to build it; but they did have a lot of time). I noticed that this re-creation of the Biblical ark has a keel. "Ark" just means "box;" so we might imagine the ark should have had square ends. For structure, it probably had at least rounded ends. Very likely, the reason the book of Genesis calls this boat an "ark" is so that it can be liturgically linked to the "ark" of the covenant that had its place in the tabernacle (Exodus 26:34) and whose purpose was to save mankind, and to carry mankind through judgment to covenant.

I will not quibble about the shape of the ark's bow.

The inside of this ark features (correctly) three decks. Once I had made my way to the second deck, I was thinking, "This ark can certainly accommodate six decks in the same vertical space." But there may have been logistical issues with available air, and, quite frankly, three decks was sufficient to house all the animals and eight people.

The Ark Encounter featured only a few animal cages. Obviously, there was room for many-many more animals; but this place is a museum and there needs to be a way for a lot of museum visitors to go around and see everything. That means wide walkways that are wheelchair accessible. The real ark functioned more like a cargo ship. The Ark Encounter curators want to show that the Biblical ark account is logistically believable. It would be impractical to be overly realistic in a museum setting.

What few animals they featured in the Ark Encounter demonstrated that it was sufficient to get the necessary genetic information through the flood to afford the wide variety of animal life we see on this side of the flood. They also demonstrated that land dinosaurs could have been brought through the Genesis flood on the ark. My favorite exhibit was the Tyrannosaur Kind cage. The information plaque on the cage very briefly explained a few things about the Tyrannosaur kind and noted that many adult tyrannosaurs were nine feet long from tail-tip to snout. I have done my own research on tyrannosaurs and have learned that most tyrannosaurs were about that size. When standing as tall as they could stand, they were about six feet tall. The point is, it is completely reasonable to believe that those six-foot-tall tyrannosaurs carried sufficient genetic information to eventually result in the few quite large Tyrannosauruses Rex that have been discovered.

This museum is far from complete. The Ark Encounter people need to think of ways to portray how the inside of that Genesis ark probably looked without totally crowding out the museum visitors.

The animal exhibits feature animal sculptures of meticulous artwork. It is commendable that the Ark Encounter people went to so much trouble to put together such life-like animal sculptures. On the other hand, the animal sculptures are positioned in (yes, believable) cages that make viewing the animals unfulfilling. You cannot see the animals very well. The Ark Encounter people need to find some way to better display the artwork while still portraying how they might have been housed on the Genesis ark.

Along the walls are little theme based educational mini-museums where visitors can learn about related topics such as the origin of the ice age, the history of the world before the flood, different memories of the flood in other world cultures and how they compare with the Genesis account, etc. etc. etc. Those little side-museums were insufficiently spacious for me. I don't like going into small crowd-filled rooms. All of the information featured in the little mini-museums is available from books and videos published by Answers in Genesis.

Some of the themes are a little preachy and are presented from a Calvinist perspective. Adam and Eve ate the fruit > total depravity > Cain kills Abel > great wickedness of mankind > flood. It's all Adam's fault. I don't see why that perspective is necessary. Whatever.

The price to get in is pretty stunning. The park is still in development. They probably need the money.

They are putting together a theme zoo that promises to be quite interesting when it is ready.

Oh, and the air conditioning is not strong enough to keep that big ark building cool. If they had piped in a bunch of humid manure smell I would have thought it was a planned part of the experience.
posted from Bloggeroid

Friday, October 7, 2016

What about the Thief on the Cross?

When presented with Bible passages that demonstrate that baptism is the action (ceremony/rite/ritual/sacrament) God has prescribed as the point at which a believer is saved (e.g., Acts 2:38; 22:16, see this article), many Christians dispute the conclusion by citing the example of the Thief on the Cross. In the Thief example, a man was saved without being baptized.

The account of the Thief on the Cross is documented in Luke 23. Luke informs us that Jesus was crucified with two criminals. One of the criminals derided Jesus for being a crucified Messiah. The other criminal, the Thief on the Cross, rebuked the first criminal for criticizing Jesus, a condemned yet innocent man. Here is how the conversation went.

Luke 23:41-43 (NRSV):
41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
There is a lot of Gospel in this account and it makes a lot of sense that Luke would have included this conversation for just that reason. Firstly, Jesus was an innocent man hanging there on the cross. If he had been guilty of something, his death would have been unable to provide forgiveness of sins (1 Peter 2:24; Hebrews 10). Next, the Lord's death was necessary to provide the kind of forgiveness the Thief needed. If Jesus had called for his own rescue from the cross (Matthew 26:53), as was suggested by the first criminal (Luke 23:39), then the sacrificial death by which salvation came would have not happened. Next, the Thief professed faith in Jesus and requested salvation. At that point, the Lord granted salvation to the Thief.

To dismiss this account as occurring at the end of the period of the Old Covenant and before the beginning of the New Covenant misses Luke's point. If the Thief had not been so indisposed, being nailed to a cross himself, and he had requested baptism, the baptism he would have received would have been John's baptism (for the forgiveness of sins, Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3) - not Christian baptism. In New Testament times, Christian baptism was connected symbolically with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 6). Christian baptism would have made no sense until after the Lord rose from the dead. Nevertheless, the reason the Thief on the Cross was not baptized is because he couldn't be baptized. He was indisposed.

The church, for the first 15 centuries, believed (from the Bible) that baptism was essential for salvation. From very early on, the church recognized a couple exceptions. The first and obvious exception was when a person came to faith but was martyred for her faith before she could be baptized. The church called it the baptism of blood. See the quote at the end of this article for a brief explanation of the martyr's baptism.

The second exception is called "baptism of desire." In that case, the person believes in Jesus but is somehow prevented from receiving baptism.
“Baptism of desire” refers to any situation in which a believing person honestly desires to meet the condition of baptism but is prevented from doing so by unavoidable physical circumstances, e.g., confined to prison, nailed to a cross, pinned down by enemy gunfire, lost in a desert. In such cases it is reasonable to assume that God “takes the will for the deed” and saves a person without baptism, as long as he or she believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Jack Cottrell)
We should all agree, minimally, that it was impossible for the Thief on the Cross to receive baptism. He had met the other critical conditions of salvation (Faith, confession/repentance of sin). In the Thief's special case, the more important condition, faith, had been met. The Thief's failure to submit to baptism cannot be blamed on his lack of desire.

Many Christians argue that Acts 2:38 (for example) cannot mean "you have to be baptized" because it would contradict the experience of the Thief on the Cross. That argument misses the point of Luke's account which is to highlight the salvific importance of the Lord's death. To enlist the Thief's salvation experience this way commits the fallacy of false analogy (comparing two situations that are not alike in important aspects). It also commits the fallacy of hasty generalization (drawing a conclusion from too little, bad or misunderstood evidence). It is a fallacy to say, "The Thief on the Cross was not baptized; so nobody has to be baptized."

Most of us are not physically prevented from being baptized for the forgiveness of sins. We don't have the Thief's excuse.

Here is another really basic point. Jesus on earth had authority to forgive sins (Luke 5:24). If Jesus walks up to you in person and tells you your sins are forgiven, you can be certain that they are. If not, I recommend you be baptized.

Everett Ferguson, Church History, vol 1, 2nd edition, electronic resource:
Writing on the subject of second century persecution:
Their death brought forgiveness of sins to the martyrs. Theirs was a “baptism of blood.” As Jesus Christ had spoken of his sufferings as a bitter “cup” to be drunk, so he had spoken of them as a “baptism” (Mark 10:38), for he was overwhelmed in suffering. The martyr shared this baptism of suffering, and the same benefits attributed to baptism were ascribed to martyrdom. This was one exception the ancient church made in its normally strong teaching on the necessity of baptism (chapter 8). Often catechumens who had not yet received baptism were caught up in the accusations made against Christians; not all had the opportunity to be baptized, as did Perpetua. It certainly made no sense for these persons to deny Jesus Christ so as to gain time to be baptized, hence the church assured them that their death for Christ was equivalent to the baptismal confession of faith. In spite of some defections, the persecutions—instead of crushing the church—strengthened the resolve of devoted believers. Their steadfastness under pressure, even to martyrdom, called attention to Christian faith and attracted inquirers. Opponents on the outside, however, did not provide the only problems faced by the second-century church.
composed partly with Bloggeroid

Friday, September 16, 2016

What is divine hardening? NOT!

The most famous person in history to ever be divinely hardened was Pharaoh of Egypt in the time of Moses in the book of Exodus. The main purpose of this article is to rebut the notion that divine hardening means locking a person into some course of action. I will attempt to define what divine hardening is NOT. I will then examine the biblical concept of divine hardening.

We have seen the charts of Pharaoh's self-hardening and his divine hardening. He hardened himself a number of times before God began hardening him. Those charts seem to make the point that, since Pharaoh had hardened himself over and over again, he finally deserved to be locked in to certain behavior by God. Those charts do not help us very much because "locking in" is a misguided understanding of divine hardening.

Let us begin by observing the first time Pharaoh was divinely hardened. That happened in Exodus 9:12. It happened at the end of the plague of boils.
But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.
It can be effectively shown that even in that case, Pharaoh's behavior was not under God's control. Exodus 9:2-3 features conditional language when Moses warns, "For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, the hand of the LORD will strike...."

Nevertheless, we benefit by examining the features of the next plague - the plague that God sends against the Egyptians after Pharaoh's first divine hardening. Moses presents himself before Pharaoh and he warns the king about the next plague. Check this out! Exodus 9.
13 ... Thus says the LORD... 17 You are still exalting yourself against my people, and will not let them go. 18 Tomorrow at this time I will cause the heaviest hail to fall that has ever fallen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. 19 Send, therefore, and have your livestock and everything that you have in the open field brought to a secure place; every human or animal that is in the open field and is not brought under shelter will die when the hail comes down upon them.
In verse 17, God accuses Pharaoh of bad choices. Since God hardened Pharaoh a few verses earlier, it is strange that God would so accuse Pharaoh - unless divine hardening does not mean divine control! Interestingly, God also gives Pharaoh advice for how he can save the lives his livestock and field servants. Verse 20 reports that some of Pharaoh's officials followed God's advice and sheltered their livestock.

When the plague proceeded, Pharaoh admitted that he had sinned (verse 27). Sin is an act of the will. If someone else (God) is in control of Pharaoh, then the blame for sin is not with Pharaoh but with the one who is in control. Not only does Pharaoh admit to his own sin but the writer of the account also accuses the divinely hardened Pharaoh of sin.
But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned once more and hardened his heart, he and his officials. (Exodus 9:34)
The text seems to be making the point, lest we jump to wrong conclusions, that divine hardening (9:12) does not force certain behaviors. Divinely hardened Pharaoh, for the last time, hardened his own heart. But in the next breath, God tells Moses that he hardened Pharaoh's heart and the heart of his officials (Exodus 10:1). This little pairing of verses (Exodus 9:34 with Exodus 10:1) equates self-hardening and divine hardening. I believe they mean the same thing in Pharaoh's case. I will hit on this point below; but for now I want to shine some light on it while we are reading these particular verses.

Observe again that God hardened Pharaoh and Pharaoh's officials in Exodus 10:1.
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his officials, in order that I may show these signs of mine among them..."
God had Moses go to divinely hardened Pharaoh and tell him that he is able to make a choice. Divinely hardened Pharaoh has a choice that he is actually able to make!
For if you refuse to let my people go, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country. (Exodus 10:4)
Next, Pharaoh's divinely hardened officials advise Pharaoh to concede to Moses's demands.
Pharaoh's officials said to him, "How long shall this fellow be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship the LORD their God; do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?" (Exodus 10:7)
What an interesting behavior from someone who has been divinely hardened! The officials actually take action to submit to God. Unfortunately for them, Pharaoh does not listen.

It is abundantly clear that divine hardening does NOT mean divine forcing of a person into a particular course of action. Whatever divine hardening is, it is not that.

Even when we look at a passage like Exodus 14 we should be cautious about what we think is happening.
When the king of Egypt was told that the people fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people and he said, "What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?" So he had his chariot made ready, and he took his army with him; he took six hundred chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over them. (Exodus 14:5-7)
Clearly, Pharaoh is very determined to round up the Israelites. Very determined. Very! So why the next verse?
The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. (Exodus 14:8)
1 Timothy 4:1-2.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron.
When you have a choice to make and you make the wrong choice, the choice becomes easier to make the next time the choice is available. And next time, it is easier yet. And the next and the next. Eventually, the wrong choices is almost automatic and there is very little feeling of regret any more.

When God offers a person the opportunity to make a good choice but she resists the good choice, there is a hardening affect. Since it is a hardening against an offer made by God, it is understood as divine hardening. It is divine hardening because it happens when a person resists God's redemptive operation on the heart. When God is operating on the heart and the person resists God, then he is hardening his own heart. But the exact same hardening can be equally described as divine hardening since it happened in the context of God's redemptive offer.

Finally, what happened to Pharaoh in Exodus 14:8? Pharaoh had an opportunity - the next in a long sequence of opportunities - to let the Israelites go for good. Pharaoh resisted that obvious choice which resulted in self- AND divine hardening.
The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. (Exodus 14:8)

Footnote: Much of my thinking on Pharaoh's hard heart was clarified for me by the very excellent commentary on Exodus (John  Knox Press) authored by Terence Fretheim. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Addendum: I was just asked to deal with the following passage:
The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)
Does this passage describe direct divine hardening? A couple observations are in order about what happens to these people.
  1. Any hardening that goes on in the hearts of these stubborn folks is self-inflicted right up until God is described as sending them a powerful delusion.
  2. What the delusion does is lead them to believe what is false. It does not force them to continue their current course of unrighteousness. This is not a "locking in" measure.
This is not a case of divine hardening but of divine deception. That may be a topic for another article. We can still make the point that these people do not reach the point where there is no longer a chance for redemption. I offer, for consideration, 1 Kings 22. In that chapter, kings Ahab and Jehoshaphat join forces in a war against Aram. Ahab brings out a parade of prophets who tell the king exactly what he wants to hear, that Judah and Israel will be victorious against Aram. Jehoshaphat strongly requests to hear a prophet who will give a contrary oracle (which is a good policy, by the way). Ahab brings in a prophet named Micaiah, a prophet known for his doom-and-gloom oracles. Long story short: Micaiah tells the truth AND he informs the two kings that God has provided for false oracles to be given to the other prophets. Yes, God has made provisions for deceptive prophecies. It must be observed, however, that the oracles that were given to the other prophets were the exact messages that King Ahab wanted to hear. Essentially, the king had surrounded himself with a crowd of yes-men. God planted flowers along the beautifully decorated path of doom the king wanted to walk. On one hand, it was divine deception. On the other, as Mikaiah informed the kings of this divine deception, they had the truth. They had all the information. What was hidden was divinely revealed. Now the choice was given to the kings and they made their choice.

God helped King Ahab along in his self-inflicted deception; but God also provided a huge invitation to escape eminent military defeat.

There is every reason to understand 2 Thessalonians 2:11 the same way. God will plant flowers along the path the unrighteous insist on walking; but he also continues to present them with the truth and a welcome invitation to turn from that path.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The line between a WORK OF FAITH and OBEDIENCE.

Exo 14:5-14
When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

I pause here to ask a pointed question. If we are familiar with this account, we recall that God parted the Red Sea and Israel escaped through the parted waters. What we just read above, in Exodus 14:14, is that God is going to do the saving and the Israelites didn't have to do anything. They didn't have to do squat!

Exodus 14:15-22
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”
The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

Again I ask, If this is an account of God's salvation, why did the Israelites have to walk through the sea? Isn't that a work? Everybody knows that salvation is not by works but by faith! Why did the Israelites have to walk through the sea? The reason is because walking through the sea is NOT a work of faith nor is it a work that merits salvation. It is simple obedience. It is appropriating a gift that was created apart from their own doing. Is it obvious that there would have been no salvation if the Israelites had declined to cross the sea? if they had refused to cross on the basis that crossing smacks too much of their notions of a work of salvation? Yes. It is obvious.

posted from Bloggeroid

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Judas, the son of perdition

Was Judas predestined to be lost? This short article will support the position that Judas was not predestined to be lost; but I will first acknowledge that a passage within the Lord’s priestly prayer seems to support Judas’ destiny to perdition (hell).
When I was with them I kept them safe and watched over them in your name that you have given me. Not one of them was lost except the one destined for destruction, so that the scripture could be fulfilled.
(John 17:12, NET)
King James Version calls Judas “the son of perdition.”

Jesus seems to be claiming here that keeping his apostles or that losing one (Judas) was a fulfilment of scripture. We must take care to not place more burden upon a passage than it is intended to support. John 17:12 supports the truth that Judas’ loss was a fulfilment of scripture. It does not require that Judas’ loss was a fulfilment of a prophecy directly about Judas. I know of only a few passages that are quoted to show that Judas “fulfilled” scripture. One is quoted in Acts 1:20.
For it is written in the book of Psalms, `Let his
habitation become desolate, and let there be no one
to live in it'; and `His office let another take' (RSV).
The verse quotes from Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8. Psalm 69:25 speaks of David's enemies in the plural, not singular as Peter quoted it. Peter modified it a bit to apply to Judas. Peter’s use of the scripture was not to show that Judas was spoken about by David; but rather, something David said in Psalm 69:25 can be repeated in application to Judas. He is quoting it much like somebody today may
quote a famous speech and apply the quote to a contemporary event. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. He is applying David’s words without applying David’s specific meaning. David’s situation regarding his enemies paralleled the apostles’ situation regarding Judas.

Peter also merged Psalm 69:25 with Psalm 109:8 to bolster his proposal, with classical language, that Judas’ apostolic vacancy needed to be filled. Psalm 109:8 is about an unrighteous judge, probably a priest, who tolerated mistreatment of the poor.

Jesus similarly applied Psalm 41:9, about David’s betrayal by Ahithaphel, to his current situation with Judas in John 13:18.
I am not speaking of you all; I know whom I have chosen; it is that the scripture may be fulfilled, `He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.' (RSV)
A reading of the Psalm reveals the passage is about neither Jesus nor Judas. In the same Psalm, verse 4 clearly does not apply to Jesus.
As for me, I said, "O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against thee" (Psalm 41:4, RSV)!
Thus, there seems to be no Old Testament prophecy directly about Judas or about his relationship to Jesus. We now return to our original question: Was Judas predestined to hell? Let us examine the evidence.

Judas left everything to follow Jesus (Mark 10:28=Matthew 19:27).

Judas was given authority to cast out demons, heal the sick and preach the gospel (Matthew 10:1-27).

Judas’ name was written in heaven (Luke 10:20).

He had a throne in heaven upon which he would judge Israel (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30).

Although Jesus called Judas a devil (slanderer, John 6:70) he also called Peter “Satan” (adversary, Matthew 16:23).

Even Peter lost his salvation at one point (Mark 8:38; Matthew 10:33; cf, Matthew 26:34). Peter’s restoration to salvation required conversion, or
repentance (Luke 22:31-32).

Judas began his apostolic vocation on the right foot; but somewhere along the line he took a wrong turn, embraced a selfish attitude and hatched a plot against Jesus. The scriptures report in John 6:70-71 and 13:10-11, 26 that Jesus was aware of Judas’ plans.

Judas was not predestined for hell; but he became so destined by his own choices. He destined himself by embracing sickness in his heart. Another example of this kind of destiny is seen in Acts 13:48.
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers (NRSV).
The reason these Gentiles were disposed (destined) to eternal life is because they were receptive to the gospel.
As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next sabbath (Acts 13:42, RSV).
Earlier, the Jews disrupted Paul’s sermon. He explained that the election, to be enjoyed by the Gentiles in just a few minutes, belonged to the Jews; but the Jews rejected it and thus were forfeiting their election.
And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46, RSV)
Thus, in those few days, the Jews in that town prepared their own hearts to be unreceptive to the gospel and they disposed (destined) themselves against eternal life. On some later occasion, those same Jews might have chosen to be receptive and then oriented themselves towards a better destiny. We too should examine ourselves to determine if our hearts are receptive to the gospel. We must heed Paul’s warning that the Jews ignored.
Beware, therefore, that what the prophets said does not happen to you:
‘Look, you scoffers!
Be amazed and perish,
for in your days I am doing a work,
a work that you will never believe, even if
someone tells you.'" (Acts 13:40-41, NRSV).

Monday, August 15, 2016

Matthew 26:54, But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled?

Matthew 26:54
But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?

Jesus asked the above rhetorical question in response to one disciple's attempt to rescue Jesus from abduction by the Jews.

It can sometimes be frustrating when a Gospel writer tells us that a scripture was fulfilled but he does not tell us what particular scripture was fulfilled. In this case, he is not even clear what events were on their way to fulfilling scripture‒although we might suspect events such as the Lord's arrest, trial and crucifixion.

As we have already examined the way Matthew sees fulfilled scripture, we can be pretty confident about the nature of the scriptures he would have cited. He would have cited Old Testament scriptures that feature language that is easily recycled to fit the current event.

The book of Matthew was written for readers who appreciated that kind of scripture fulfillment; so such mention was particularly persuasive. When we look at the parallel accounts of this passage, this particular Matthean feature becomes more apparent.

Both the Matthew and the Luke accounts came either from Mark or from a source that Mark copied verbatim. I definitely do not have room to defend that claim; but I will leave it to you, if you doubt me, to do a little bit of your own research on the Synoptic Gospels and of Marcan priority.

In Mark, Jesus is quoted as saying, "But let the scriptures be fulfilled" (Mark 14:49). Luke omits the mention of fulfilled scripture in that account altogether.

Mark's account of Jesus' quote indicates that the priests and soldiers would be fulfilling scripture if they continued on their current course and that Jesus is prepared for that particular course. Luke dropped Mark's account of the Lord's mention of scripture fulfillment.

Matthew, on the other hand, worked the quote into a rebuke of the disciple who attempted to rescue Jesus from the soldiers. In Matthew's presentation, it is Jesus, not the soldiers, who is in a position to change the course of these events. In Mark, Jesus informs the soldiers that it is in their power to change the course of these events but Jesus invites them to continue on the current course. In Matthew, Jesus informs the disciple(s) that it is in his (Jesus') power to alter the current course of events and he chooses to let them proceed as they are going.

The reader was never intended to be impressed by the mention of scripture fulfillment. If we were so intended, we would have been told what scriptures were being fulfilled. What should impress us is that it was indeed possible for Jesus to avoid the course for which he had steeled himself. It was in the power of the soldiers to chose to not arrest Jesus. (According to John 18:6, the soldiers knew Jesus' true identity).

These alternate possibilities are not theoretical. Jesus really could have called for divine rescue. The soldiers could have really chosen to set Jesus free. Fulfilling the scriptures (whatever scriptures the evangelists had in mind) was not destiny. In this circumstance, it was by the choices of all the actors involved.

Our own actions are also our choices. They are not choices fixed in theoretical time. If we have a choice, it is a real choice. God expects us to make righteous choices.