Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Layman's Review of NT Wright's, The Resurrection..., Part 23, Early Christians feared admitting that WOMEN found the empty tomb

NT Wright, page 326:

(Explaining why Mary Magdalene and the other women are not mentioned in the list of resurrection witnesses in the "creed" of I Corinthians 15) Recent scholarship has settled on what is far and away the most likely solution historically, one which explains the present passage and highlights the real shock in the gospel accounts.  it is notorious that women were not regarded as reliable witnesses in the ancient world.  They could not be expunged from the gospel accounts; their story of finding the tomb remained a primary datum, which we shall discuss later.  But when, in the very early years, the Easter story was being told both for the benefit of members of the church itself and in its witness to outsiders, and especially when it was 'handed on' to new converts in the wider world, the pressure to omit mention of the women in a brief formal statement must have been enormous.

Gary:  Wow!  And I thought that it was the supernatural power of the Word of God that converted the hardened hearts of sinners, not a slick "selling tool" like a creed of male witnesses to this shocking supernatural event.

This is a perfect example of the lengths to which conservative Christians will go to "plug all the holes" in their hole-riddled belief system.  So early Christians were willing to preach that their leader had walked on water, healed the blind, and raised the dead (including himself), but they just couldn't take the chance of telling potential converts that it was a group of (silly, feeble-minded) women who first found the empty tomb!


A Layman's Review of NT Wright's, The Resurrection..., Part 22, Did Paul "see" a Body?

NT Wright, page 329:

These two verses (I Corinthians 15:9-10) continue to keep him (Paul) lined up alongside the other apostles, some of whom were themselves known to the Corinthians; but his point in verse 11, which has been the strength of the whole paragraph, is that the gospel he and they all preached was the same.  Paul, Cephas, James and everyone else announced that the Messiah had died and been raised.

What they must have meant by this, for the present paragraph to work is the sense that those words would naturally have borne in both the pagan and the Jewish worlds of the day:  that, following bodily death and burial, the Messiah had been bodily raised from the dead.  If Paul and the others had intended to refer to anything other than this, the talk of 'seeings' would be irrelevant; the idea that they occurred for a while and then no more would be incomprehensible; and the idea that with this event the new age had broken in to the present age would be unimaginable.

Gary:  Ok, I buy this argument.  But the issue is this:  Paul, in Acts chapter 26 very specifically states that he only saw a bright light and heard a a "vision".  If Paul believed that he truly "saw" the resurrected Jesus when all he saw was a bright light in a vision, how do we know that the other "eyewitnesses" did not have the same experience??

And if your next counter is:  "But how could 500 people have had the same vision all at the same time?" I  refer you to the multitude of "Virgin Mary sightings" where up to 70,000 people saw the Blessed Mother at the very same time!  Recently in Kenya, a group of 700 people reported to have seen Jesus...all at the same event!

Superstitious, emotionally vulnerable people are prone to "see" most anything that they want to see.

A Layman's Review of NT Wright's, The Resurrection..., Part 21, An examination of the list of Witnesses in I Corinthians 15

NT Wright, page 324

The list of witnesses in I Corinthians 15 , despite the anguished protest of Bultmann and his followers, is a clear indication that Paul does not suppose Jesus' resurrection to be a metaphorization of an experience of the disciples, or of some 'ineffable truth beyond history'.

Gary:  On the previous pages Rev. Wright just told us that this list of witnesses was an early Christian formula or creed, handed down to Paul.  If Paul is simply repeating a creed...he is just repeating a creed.  The reciting of a creed tells us nothing as to whether or not the disciples saw a walking, talking resurrected body, a vision, or a dream.

NT Wright:

(continued from above) What is more, 'the great variety in times and places of the appearances makes it difficult to hold all the reports of appearances to be legendary'.

Gary:  Not if he is simply reciting a creed; a creed which he received from others.  We have no proof that Paul has interviewed any of the eye-witnesses regarding what Jesus looked like, details of the events of that first Easter morning, the Ascension, etc.  Paul simply tells us that Jesus died, was buried, was raised from the dead, and then quotes a creed of alleged witnesses...given to him by others.  If Paul is quoting a list of witnesses whom he has personally interviewed/interrogated regarding the events of the Resurrection....and found the testimony of all these many witnesses, interviewed separately, to be in agreement, then we would have remarkable evidence for the resurrection.  However, Paul says no such thing.  What he does do is quote a creed, handed down to him, and then states that he too saw the resurrected Jesus.  But if we are to believe "Paul's" statements in Acts chapter 26, all Paul saw was a bright light and heard a a "vision".  A "vision" folks, not a walking, talking body.

If you don't believe me, read Acts chapter 26 for yourselves.

No where in his epistles nor in the Book of Acts does Paul say that he saw a resurrected body.  No where.

NT Wright, page 325:

....the crucial note here, at the end of verse 6, makes it clear why Paul (and/or the tradition he is quoting) is referring to the 500:  though some are now dead, most are still alive, and---the strong implication---they could be interrogated for their own accounts of what they saw and knew.

Gary:  If Paul is simply quoting information given to him as he states at the beginning of this passage, how do we know that this "500" figure is something that Paul himself knows is a fact or something that he has been told...and believes without asking for proof?

Bottom line:  if the Resurrection was so critical to Paul's theology, then why in heaven's name doesn't he give us any significant details anywhere in his epistles regarding the most important event in the Christian Faith???  Paul gives us one Creed, that was handed down to him (second hand information), that lists some witnesses....out of order, and leaves other important witnesses out (at least according to the authors of the Gospels), but gives us no details of that first Easter; the most spectacular day in the history of the world since the Creation!

NT Wright, page 325:

The appearance of James (the brother of Jesus) is especially interesting in that it is not mentioned in the gospel accounts, except for one much later text which may be dependent on our present passage.  It is of course common knowledge that James, the brother of Jesus, became the central leader in Jerusalem in the mid-century, while Peter and Paul and others were travelling around the world.  Since he had probably not been a disciple of Jesus during the latter's public career, it is difficult to account for his centrality and unrivalled leadership unless he was himself known to have seen the risen Jesus.

Gary:  Wow!  Rev. Wright has started making assumptions right and left!  It is true that the family of Jesus (according to at least one Gospel author) believed him to be "nuts" early in his ministry in Galilee.  But does that mean that they continued to think he was nuts up until they saw him appear to them as a walking/talking zombie post resurrection??

We are talking about uneducated, superstitious, first century peasants, here.  Jesus had become a major figure in Jewish society.  People were following him by the hundreds if not the thousands.  People were saying that he was a miracle worker.  And after his death, people were selling all they had and putting everything into a communal treasury from which to live.  So if I were a brother of the famous leader, would I go home to live in poverty and obscurity in Galilee...or take a position at the top of this movement as the brother of the "resurrected" messiah?

A Layman's Review of NT Wright's, The Resurrection..., Part 20, I Corinthians 15

NT Wright, page 322-323:

But it is not enough for Paul, or the early tradition, simply to declare that the Messiah was in fact raised.  Witnesses must come forward:

and that he was seen by/appeared to Cephas, then the Twelve, then he was seen by/appeared to more than five hundred members of the family at one time, of whom most remain alive to this present day, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he was seen by/appeared to James, then by all the apostles.

As this carefully ambiguous translation shows, the verb ophthe, occurring three times here, and then again with reference to Paul in verse 8, can in principle be translated either way.  Some, wanting to stress the 'visionary' nature of the appearances, and hence to insert the thin end of a wedge with which to force a 'non-objective' understanding of Easter, have emphasized the meaning 'appeared to' may be marginally preferable.  However, the verb is passive, and its normal meaning would be 'was seen by'.

The use of ophthe is in fact quite varied, as a glance at the LXX concordance will show.  The word occurs 85 times, of which a little over half refer either to YHWH, or YHWH's glory, or an angel of YHWH, appearing to people.  The remaining 39 occurrences refer to people appearing before YHWH in the sense of presenting themselves in the Temple, or to objects being seen by people in a straightforward, non-visionary sense; and to people 'appearing', in a non-visionary and unsurprising way, before someone else.  The classical background does not give much more help; the passive of the verb is not found in Homer, and the usage elsewhere more or less mirrors what we have seen in the LXX.  It is in fact impossible to build a theory of what people thought Jesus' resurrection appearances consisted of (i.e. whether they were 'objective', 'subjective', or whatever---these terms themselves, with their many philosophical overtones, are not particularly helpful) on this word alone.  The word is quite consistent with people having non-objective 'visions'; it is equally consistent with them seeing someone in the ordinary course of human affairs.  Its meaning in the present context---both its meaning for Paul, and its meaning in the tradition he quotes---must be judged on wider criteria than linguistic usage alone.

GaryVery interesting.  So when our English Bibles say that Jesus "appeared" to Cephas, etc., we cannot be sure just from this passage whether it infers a vision or a real 'sighting'.

I wonder if Rev. Wright will explain why this ancient Christian "formula" or creed lists the order of Jesus resurrection "appearances" very differently than those recorded in the Gospels.  None of the Gospel accounts say that Cephas was the first to receive an appearance (the word 'then' that follows mention of Cephas  infers that there is a chronological order being presented).  Even if we limit the post-resurrection appearances to the male disciples of Jesus, this order is not consistent with the Gospels.

Also, if Paul is simply reciting a Creed composed by earlier Christians, how do know that Paul knew for sure that some of the witnesses were still living if this was simply part of a Creed?  Paul explicitly states that this is information which he had received from someone else.  Nowhere in this passage does Paul state that he has met and conversed with witnesses to the resurrected Jesus.

Not quoted above but an interesting point:  Rev. Wright poo-poos the criticism by skeptics that Paul does not mention an 'empty tomb' in this passage.  He asserts that "being buried" infers a tomb and the statement that "he was raised" infers the tomb was found empty.  He gives the comparison that if one says that he is going to walk down the street, you do not need to clarify by adding "on my feet".  It is assumed that you will be walking down the street on your feet.  I have to agree with him on this point.  That fact that Paul does not mention an empty tomb in this passage is immaterial.  However, the fact that Paul never mentions an empty tomb in any of his epistles is another matter altogether!

Imagine a modern day pastor never mentioning the empty tomb.

Odd.  Very odd, indeed.

A Layman's Review of NT Wright's, The Resurrection..., Part 19, A Review of Paul's interpretation of Resurrection

NT Wright, page 276:

So why did Paul say the resurrection had occurred, and say so not just as one odd statement out of the blue, but as the very cornerstone of his proclamation, the reason for believing that Jesus was the Messiah, the reason for redrawing and revising his entire worldview?

Paul's own answer is of course obvious:  he said it because he believed it.  When he spoke of Jesus' resurrection, this was not a coded way for saying that he personally had had a dramatic new spiritual experience, or that he had glimpsed a new pathway of spiritual or psychological development.  Nor was it a way of saying something like, 'The one God loves us even more that we thought.' It was a way of referring to something Paul believed had actually happened.  What is more, the developments in his view of what "resurrection' meant, developments from within the Jewish view but going to places where no Jew had gone before indicate that he thought he knew something more about what resurrection was, something for which his tradition had not prepared him.  Resurrection was now happening in two stages (first Jesus, then all his people); resurrection as a metaphor meant, not the restoration of Israel (though that comes in alongside in Romans 11); but the moral restoration of human beings; resurrection meant, not the victory of Israel over her enemies, but the Gentile mission in which all would be equal on the basis of faith; resurrection was not resuscitation, but transformation into a non-corruptible body.  And the only explanation for these modifications is that they originated in what Paul believed had happened to Jesus himself.

This initial survey of Paul, leaving aside for the moment the two letters where some of the more contentious exegetical battles have taken place, is hugely important not only for our understanding of Paul but also, because he is our earliest witness, for our understanding of early Christianity as a whole.  We must not, of course, make the mistake of thinking that Paul spoke for all other early Christians.  He gives plenty of indications that this was not so.  But however much he criticizes other teachers, however much he develops his own thought in his own way, he hardly ever has cause to disagree with anyone on the basic point that the Messiah had bee raised from the dead.

All of which brings us at last to the correspondence Paul had with his beloved, muddled, infuriating---and, for our purposes, very informative---church in Corinth.

Gary:  Rev. Wright spends over sixty pages in his attempt to demonstrate that Paul believed in a 'bodily resurrection' not just a spiritual one.  I have no issue with this assertion.  Paul, after all, was a Pharisee, and the Pharisees believed in a bodily resurrection.  The difference being that the Pharisees believed that the righteous would be bodily resurrected at the same time that the nation of Israel would be restored and the pagan occupiers overthrown.  Paul believed that the resurrection was a two step process:  the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah had already occurred, to be followed at some time in the future by a general resurrection of the righteous, Jewish and Gentile believers, along with the establishment of God's Kingdom on earth.

So how did a devout, Jewish Pharisee, arrive at this new variation of the Pharisee belief in a bodily resurrection?  Was it because Paul saw the resurrected body of Jesus with his own two eyes? Was it because someone he trusted told him that he had seen the resurrected Jesus with his own two eyes and Paul believed him?  Or did Paul have a fantastic vision that was so real, so life-like, that he truly believed that he had seen, met, and engaged in conversation with the real, resurrected body of Jesus of Nazareth?

A Layman's Review of NT Wright's, The Resurrection, Part 18, "Resurrection in Paul"

NT Wright, page 209:

One of the most striking features of the early Christian movement is its virtual unanimity about the future hope. We might have expected that the first Christians would quickly have developed a spectrum of beliefs about life after death, corresponding to the spectrums we have observed in the Judaism from within which Christianity emerged and the paganism into which it went as a missionary movement; but they did not.

This observation forms the hinge upon which turns one of the central arguments of the present book.  This can be expressed in the form of a question.  Granted that the early Christians drew freely on Jewish traditions, and engaged energetically with the pagan world of ideas, how does it happen that we find virtually no spectrum of belief about life after death, but instead an almost universal affirmation of that which pagans said could happen and that which one stream (albeit the dominant one) of Judaism insisted would happen, namely resurrection?

Let us be quite clear at this point:  we shall see that when the early Christians said 'resurrection' they meant it in the sense it bore both in paganism (which denied it) and in Judaism (an influential part of which affirmed it).  'Resurrection' did not mean that someone possessed a 'heavenly and exalted status'; when predicated of Jesus, it did not mean his 'perceived presence' in the ongoing church.  Nor if we are thinking historically, could it have meant 'the passage of the human Jesus into the power of God'.  it meant bodily resurrection; and that is what the early Christians affirmed.  There is nothing in the early Christian view of the promised future which corresponds to the pagan views we have studied; nothing at all which corresponds to the denials of the Sadducees;  virtually no hint of the 'disembodied bliss' view of some Jewish sources; no Sheol, no 'isles of the blessed', no 'shining like stars', but a constant affirmation of newly embodied life.  As Christopher Evans put it a generation ago, 'there emerged in Christianity a precise, confident and articulate faith in which resurrection has moved from the circumference to the centre'.

This alone demands historical explanation.

Gary:  Is this sweeping assertion true?  Was there unanimity in early Christianity on the definition of 'Resurrection'?  What about the Gnostics?  I will have to read further to see the evidence for this assertion.

A Layman's Review of NT Wright's, The Resurrection..., Part 17, The Views of post-Biblical Judaism

Chapter four of NT Wright's, The Resurrection of the Son of God, is a very, very long read, all 76 pages of it.  It deals with only one subject:  the views of Jews living in the period of time between the Old and New Testament eras regarding an after-life.  Below are excerpts:

NT Wright, page 129:

Jews, it used to be said, believed in resurrection, while Greeks believed in immortality.  Like most half-truths, this one is as misleading as it is informative, if not more so.  If the Bible offers a spectrum of belief about life after death, the second-Temple period provides something more like an artist's palette:  dozes of options, with different ways of describing similar positions and similar ways of describing different ones.  The more texts and tombstones we study, the more there seem to be.  Almost any position one can imagine on the subject appears to have been espoused by some Jews somewhere in the period between the Maccabean crisis and the writing of the Mishnah, roughly 200 BC to AD 200.

And yet.  The old half-truth had got hold of something which is in itself quite remarkable.  As we have seen, the Bible mostly denies or at least ignores the possibility of a future life, with only a few texts coming out strongly for a different view; but in the second-Temple period the position is more or less reversed.  The evidence suggests that by the time of Jesus, roughly in the middle of the period we are now examining, most Jews either believed in some form of resurrection or at least knew that it was standard teaching. 

Gary:  So what happened?  Did God just forget to mention the concept of an after-life in the first 2/3 of the Old Testament?  Or did God intentionally withhold, hide, or only occasionally hint of this information for several thousand years, for reasons known only to him, allowing millions of human beings to perish in the torments of Hell without any advance warning? 

Or,...was the concept of an after-life simply invented by despondent, oppressed Jews, suffering one disaster after another after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians,  struggling to maintain any hope possible,under the boot of one Gentile occupier after another for over 500 years?

NT Wright, page 137:

(Speaking of the first century Sadducees, the aristocratic ruling and priestly class of Jewish society)  ...Their own supposed explanation (for why they held out against the doctrine of resurrection)---that the doctrine was not to be found in the foundational texts of scripture, namely the Pentateuch---is as we have seen prima facie true; there is nothing remotely like Daniel 12:2-3, Isaiah 26:19, or Ezekiel 37:1-14 to be found either in the Pentateuch or in the whole of the "Former Prophets' (the historical books from Joshua to Kings).  But by the first century, as we shall see, the discovery of 'resurrection' texts even in the Torah itself had become a regular occupation of the Pharisees, as it was to become, in a measure, of the Christians also.

Gary:  From here, Rev. Wright launches into a lengthy discussion of the concept of resurrection appearing in all sorts of non-canonical Jewish writings during this inter-Testament period, such as I and II Maccabees, I Enoch, the Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch, the writings of Philo, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and much more.  In these writings the concept of a re-embodied existence occurring after death...and not just after death, but after 'life after death'...becomes more and more the standard view of most Jews...including Jesus of Nazareth.  However, no Jew during this time period believed that the general resurrection of the dead and of the nation of Israel had happened yet.  This resurrection would occur sometime in the future.  Neither did any Jew of this time period believe that any individual had ever been resurrected in the past; not Adam, not Enoch, not Noah, not Abraham, not Moses, nor Elijah.  The idea that an individual would be resurrected prior to the general resurrection of all the "righteous" dead was unthinkable in first century Judaism.

Ok, I get the point Reverend.  I would agree:  no first century Jew would have believed that a dead man had been resurrected without an enormous amount of seeing this resurrected dead man with his own two eyes!

But doesn't the issue of an evolving belief in resurrection...only occurring in the post-exilic era bother Rev. Wright?  It doesn't seem to.

It bothers me.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Septuagint altered the Hebrew text regarding Resurrection! A Layman's review of NT Wright's, the Resurrection, Part 16!

I cannot believe what I am reading...and from the premier orthodox/evangelical Bible scholar and apologist of our time!  Listen to NT Wright's statements below from the fourth chapter of his monumental work, The Resurrection of the Son of God, regarding the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, written in Egypt in the third century B.C.:

As the Bible (Old Testament) was translated into Greek the notion of resurrection became, it seems, much clearer, so that many passages which might have been at most ambiguous became clear, and some which seemed to have nothing to do with resurrection might suddenly give a hint, or more than a hint, in that direction.

The passages (found only in OT books written at the end of the Old Testament era) which already speak unambiguously of bodily resurrection come through loud and clear; there is no attempt to soften them.  Daniel 12.2-3, 13, and the relevant passages in 2 Maccabees (e.g. 7.9, 14; 12.44) all use what became the standard 'resurrection' language, namely the Greek verbs anistemi and egeiro and their cognates. 

We find the same with Isaiah 26, both in the verse that denies resurrection (14) and the verse that affirms it (19).  They both emerge clearly in the Greek:  26.14 declares that the dead will not see life, and that 'the doctors' will not rise.  In its turn, 26:19 insists that the dead will be raised, and that those in the tombs will be aroused.  Similarly, the passage in Hosea (6.2) that some think (whatever its original meaning) provided a key influence for both Isaiah and Daniel, is also explicit in the Greek:  on the third day we shall be raised and live in this presence.  No second-Temple reader would have doubted that this referred to bodily resurrection.

Cavallin lists other passages where, despite the lack of actual reference in the original, the translators may have intended to refer to resurrection: .  These include Deuteronomy 32.39, Psalms 1.5 and 21.30 (22.29).  In addition, he notes the striking way in which the LXX (Septuagint) has reversed the sense of Job 14.14; instead of blank denial of a future life ('if a man die, shall he live again?'), the LXX declares boldly, 'If a man dies, he shall live' .  In the same way, the deeply obscure passage Job 19.26a ('after my skin has been thus destroyed') has been turned around:  God 'will resurrect my skin'.  Finally, the LXX adds a postscript to the book.  After 42.17, where Job dies, an old man and full of days, it adds (42.17a LXX):  'It is written of him that he will rise again with those whom the Lord will raise'.  Clearly, whoever drafted the translation of LXX Job had no doubt both of the bodily resurrection and of the propriety of making sure the biblical text affirmed it. ("God", the original author in the Hebrew, obviously did not explain himself well enough.  The translator had to help God out.)

A similar point emerges from the LXX of Hosea 13.14.  The Hebrew text asks, 'Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?  Shall I redeem them from Death?'  and expects the answer 'No'.  The LXX, however, has turned this into a positive statement:  I shall rescue them from the hand of Hades, and I shall redeem them from Death.  Someone who read the text in this way might well then hear overtones of resurrection in the next chapter as well:  'I will be like the dew to Israel...they shall blossom as the vine...'

In light of this, we may cautiously suggest some other passages in which similar influence might be present....

What is NT Wright clearly inferring here?  Answer:  Jewish translators in third century B.C Egypt, translating the Hebrew Bible into Greek to form the Septuagint, purposely altered the original text (of God's holy, inerrant Word) to support the emerging/evolving Hellenistic concept, which was at that moment in time permeating Jewish culture and even its religious beliefs during the Greek Empire's occupation, of a life after death, a belief not found anywhere in the Pentateuch nor in the subsequent other pre-exilic books of the Hebrew Bible!

How on earth can Rev. Wright and other knowledgeable conservative Christian scholars and apologists see this blatant "doctoring" of the Holy Bible, and still believe in its inerrancy???

And most damning of all is this:  Jesus did not use the Hebrew Bible in his teachings.  He used the Septuagint, a text which modern research clearly shows was 'doctored' to conform to a Hellenistic (pagan) world view of an after-life.  This means that Jesus, whom Christians believe to be God the Creator, and author of the Hebrew Bible, preached his sermons from a foreign translation that he knew, being God, taught a pagan concept of life after death.!

A Layman's Review of NT Wright's, The Resurrection..., Part 15, The sudden, late appearance of Resurrection in the OT

NT Wright, pages 127-128:

The constant factor, throughout the types of belief we have surveyed, is Israel's god himself.  The vision of YHWH's creation and covenant; his promises and his faithfulness to them; his purposes for Israel, not the least his gift of the land; his power over all opposing forces, including finally death itself; his love for the world, for his human creatures, for Israel in particular, and especially for those who served him and followed in his way; his justice, because of which evil would eventually be condemned and righteousness upheld---this vision of the creator and covenant god underlies the ancient belief in the national and territorial hope, the emerging belief that the relationship with YHWH would be unbreakable even by death, and the eventual belief that YHWH would raise the dead. 

The biblical language of resurrection ('standing up', 'awakening' etc.), when it emerges, is simple and direct; the belief, though infrequent, is clear.  It involves, not a reconstrual of life after death, but the reversal of death itself.  It is not about discovering that Sheol is not such a bad place after all.  It is not a way of saying that the dust will learn to be happy as dust.  The language of awakening is not a new, exciting way of talking about sleep.  It is a way of saying that a time will come when sleepers will sleep no more.  Creation itself, celebrated throughout the Hebrew scriptures, will be reaffirmed; remade.

The national element in this hope is never abandoned.  The promise remains.  But out of that promise there has grown something new, which, once grown, will not (as we shall see) wither away:  the belief in resurrection, not just as an image for the restoration of nation and land but as a literal prediction of one element in that restoration; not simply metaphor, but also metonymy.  It is that double function that we shall now explore as we trace the meaning of 'resurrection', within the broader context of continuing thought about life after death through the turbulent world of second-Temple Judaism.


Did you ever watch the art program that featured a British nun with huge "buck" teeth who would go on and on about a painting, telling you everything you didn't want to know about it, and more?  The good Sister would see in a painting the subtlest of nuances...or she was just making up a lot of crap.

"Look at the dim background behind the man in this painting.  Do you see how this demonstrates the artist's somber mood; his melancholy character; his ambivalence to the central character in the foreground?  And notice the anguished face of the man in the painting.  It is as if every injury and hurt of his young life can be summed up in his furrowed brow....Can you see that?"

To which I would respond, "No, Sister.  All I see is a dead guy slumped over in a bathtub."

I get the same feeling when reading Wright's statement above. 

So much deep, poetic contemplation interwoven with deep philosophical undertones regarding the emerging belief in a bodily resurrection, which suddenly appears in the final books of the Old Testament during second-Temple Judaism.  Not a new belief, mind you, but the "harvest" of the seed planted in the earliest texts of the OT: of the Hebrew God's faithfulness and promise of redemption to his people...even after death.

"No, Rev. Wright.  Beautiful, poetic explanation, but face the facts:  the emerging (new) belief in a bodily resurrection was the product of a brutal conquest and occupation of Judah by foreign powers.  Whereas in the past, Jews expected blessings in this life for obeying Yahweh's Law, now with no hope of blessings in this life, the reward for obeying God's Law is pushed into the future by the astute preachers and theologians of the day.  A future reward that no one will ever be able to come back and tell us whether or not they actually received it.  In this emerging, flowering, coming of age belief system, God's blessings and rewards will be given after death...and no one will ever be able to deny the veracity of this righteous reward system."

Friday, August 29, 2014

Did my Deconversion from Christianity really begin in my LCMS Catechism Class?

When I became an orthodox Lutheran approximately four years ago, it was like an evangelical born again experience:  I was so emotionally energized over my new found "faith" and ready to preach the truths of orthodox Lutheran Christianity to the whole world!  This was my motivation for starting this blog.  The teachings of orthodox Lutheranism just made so much sense to me.  Instead of trying to harmonize the many passages in the Bible that seemed to contradict one another, I learned that these passages were to be accepted as they are as divine paradoxes.   God works in mysterious ways and we humans are obligated to simply accept whatever God says as truth, even if it seems to our simplistic, fallible brains, that he is contradicting himself.

I no longer had to explain away "problem passages" as I did when I was an evangelical.  It was great!  I could once again believe in the inerrancy of the Bible as the trustworthy Word of God, but without all the rules and prohibitions of the fundamentalist Baptists.

I trusted the teachings of my new denomination, the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.  I had studied orthodox Lutheran theology and I came to believe that the Lutheran Confessions and the LCMS Doctrinal Statements held the purest form of the absolute truths of the ancient Apostolic Christian Faith.  I had absolutely no difference of opinion with the LCMS on any doctrine or teaching.  I was a happy, faithful, "quia" orthodox LCMS Lutheran.

I hung on every word that my orthodox LCMS Lutheran pastor said.  I was amazed at his knowledge of the Bible and of Christian theology.  I trusted his word on these issues explicitly.

Even though I had been a Lutheran for 25 years, I had been an ELCA apostate liberal, in LCMS thinking.  I did not need to go through formal catechism to join the ELCA, and since Baptists and evangelicals do not require (or believe in) catechism/confirmation, my LCMS pastor suggested that I undergo formal catechism to join the parish.  I signed up.

These are some of the things I learned in my orthodox Lutheran catechism classes taught by my LCMS pastor:

1.  Baptized Christians cannot lose their salvation.  Lutherans are the original "Eternity Security" denomination.  There may be disagreement on this issue among Lutheran scholars, but a significant number of Lutheran theologians believe in "Once Baptized, Always Saved".  This is an acceptable belief within Lutheranism, within the LCMS, and within my church.  In addition, the infants of baptized Christians inherit a covenantal right to baptism and salvation.

2.  Methuselah never lived to be over 900 years old.  This is silly.  This large number is actually an ancient Mesopotamian metaphor for a person's fame and stature in society.  Anyone with a high school diploma knows that people have never lived to be hundreds of years old.  Christians who believe otherwise are ignorant "Biblicists".

3.  The world is billions of years old.

4.  Humans share a common evolutionary pathway with the great apes.

5.  The Genesis account of the Creation cannot be understood literally.  Everything living on earth evolved over billions of years....except man...who was made in the image of God...although, in the process of creating man, God quite possibly used some gorilla dung mixed in with the dirt to make the first man, Adam.

6.  Death pre-existed the Fall, but only for plants and animals.  Evolution would be impossible without the process of dying.

7.  The reason why the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod still teaches the outdated, silly idea of a literal 24 hour, six day Creation and a Young Earth is because the denomination is controlled by ignorant, Mid-western "hicks".

I just about fell out of my chair when I heard this.  So who is right, my LCMS pastor...or the LCMS??  My LCMS pastor is so brilliant, with very impressive education credentials.  He teaches theology at a prestigious local private university here on the West Coast.  Maybe the folks in the Midwest are a little behind the times.

But the more I studied the Bible and orthodox Lutheran theology, the more confused I became.  I could not find even one Lutheran theologian who believed in "Once Baptized, Always Saved".  In fact, several prominent orthodox Lutheran theologians stated in their books that anyone who teaches any form of "Once Saved, Always Saved" is teaching heresy Is my LCMS pastor a heretic??

My trust in my LCMS pastor had been shattered.

I came to realize that my very educated, very intelligent, very charismatic LCMS pastor had created his own theology.  It wasn't Lutheran.  It wasn't Catholic.  It wasn't Reformed.  It was a hybrid of the three.  When questioned on this issue, he defiantly countered that he could prove these teachings from the Bible and that the LCMS was just wrong; the LCMS had been infiltrated by false Reformed and evangelical teachings.  "Even the most simpleton of grammarians can see that Hebrews chapter 6 is speaking hypothetically about persons losing their salvation.  That passage is not to be understood literally."

So when I read the Bible, how do I know when to believe the simple, plain interpretation of the passages and when to understand them to be speaking hypothetically, symbolically, or metaphorically??

And just about that time...sitting at my computer one day...surfing the internet for ex-fundamentalist Baptists and their stories...I came upon the blog of a one-time fundamentalist Baptist preacher...turned atheist. 

And the rest is history.  Four months later I no longer believed in Jesus Christ as my resurrected Savior and Lord.  I no longer considered myself a Christian.

So when did my deconversion start?  Who can tell for sure.

Here is an excerpt from the final email message I received from my LCMS pastor regarding my deconversion from the Christian Faith:

"There are 2.3 billion baptized persons on this planet and, at any given time, some discontinue confessing the faith and others return to its communion. In this respect, _______ Lutheran (church) has not experienced anything new with your departure, unwelcome though it was, yet it was not with angst or fret or personal slight on my part.... Sad to see you and your lovely family go, but people go from time to time. We respectfully appreciate your life journey and, as I personally wrote to you, thanked you for your care and commitments when you were a Lutheran Christian."