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Ethan Longhenry
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We do well to remember in these difficult times that YHWH, and only YHWH, should be our refuge and strength.
466 | 07.19 | Refuge | Psalm 18:1-3

I love thee, O YHWH, my strength.
YHWH is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer / My God, my rock, in whom I will take refuge / My shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower.
I will call upon YHWH, who is worthy to be praised / So shall I be saved from mine enemies (Psalm 18:1-3).

It is easy to feel that repetition of themes can be boring. Why say the same thing over and over again in slightly different ways? Nevertheless, there is wisdom in setting aside such a question so as to get to the heart of the matter: why would it be necessary to emphasize a given theme over and over again? Perhaps we have much to learn from it.

The Psalms are saturated with primary themes. YHWH is our Creator; YHWH shows covenant loyalty (Hebrew hesed, translated “steadfast love” and “lovingkindness”) to Israel; and, as in Psalm 18:1-3, YHWH is Israel’s refuge, worthy of praise, Deliverer from enemies. These premises are brought up time and time again in song after song, prayer after prayer.

They do not represent repetition for repetition’s sake. Instead, the Psalmist never wants these themes to depart from our subconscious. In their constant repetition we begin to recognize that YHWH is our Creator, shows covenant loyalty, and should serve as our refuge almost reflexively. In that repetition these themes reform and re-shape our thoughts, our perspectives, and thus our feelings and actions, as God had intended from the beginning.

The superscription of Psalm 18 declares how David wrote it after God delivered him from his enemies, including Saul. It would be easy for David to have despaired of his life in 1 Samuel 19:1-26:25: Saul pursued him viciously, and he still had to deal with Israel’s historic enemies, not least the Philistines. David would eventually seemingly go over to the Philistines, took refuge in Ziklag, and appeared to be a model vassal while in reality destroying Israelite enemies who were Philistine allies (1 Samuel 27:1-30:31). According to human logic and worldly standards the situation was dire and nearly impossible. If David would have trusted in his own strength all would have been lost.

Yet, as he proclaimed in Psalm 18:1-3, he did not trust in himself, nor his arms, nor his men, but in YHWH. He loved YHWH (Psalm 18:1). YHWH was his rock, fortress, deliverer, refuge, shield, horn of salvation, and high tower, all potent metaphors for permanence, strength, and defense (Psalm 18:2). David will call upon YHWH and put his trust in Him; YHWH is worthy of praise; only in YHWH will David find rescue from his enemies around him (Psalm 18:3). David would continue on praising God for his rescue and deliverance (Psalm 18:4-49). David was not at all confused about the means by which he succeeded and prospered despite all odds. It was not about him; YHWH rescued him and delivered him. Therefore, David would continually call on YHWH for aid and refuge.

Throughout its history Israel would be tempted to look for strength and refuge in other places. At times they would trust their armed forces; at times they trusted in neighboring allies. Their armed forces would fail and their allies would disappoint; they would go into exile, sometimes with their allies, sometimes with their allies suffering humiliation soon afterward. Israel would pay a terrible price to continually re-learn the lesson David absorbed and to which he gave voice in Psalm 18:1-3.

Yet in distress and trial, and especially under foreign oppression, Israel did seek refuge in YHWH. His rescue and deliverance was not always dramatic or instantaneous, but somehow the Jewish people persevered despite existential crises in the days of the Persians and Macedonians.

We Christians are no less tempted than Israel to look for strength and refuge in other places than in God. We are tempted to look to government or political figures or culture; we are tempted to rely on the prosperity we have gained; we are tempted to follow in our own paths and fulfill what we imagine to be our individual destinies. We are tempted to look at God the way people in culture often do, as the last minute emergency 911, the One to whom we turn after we have exhausted every other avenue.

Sometimes these places of strength and refuge seem to hold up. Yet we should not be deceived; none of them can save or rescue. The government, political figures, and culture will fail and perhaps even turn on us. All of our prosperity can be wiped out by terrible circumstances. We can persevere in our own strength for a time, but it will fail us as well. If these things are our strength and refuge we will grow cynical, despondent, and distressed, for according to human logic and worldly wisdom their chances of providing resounding success are slim to none. We will be afraid, exposed, and we will find only profound disappointment.

We do well to learn David’s lessons before circumstances force them upon us as they did Israel. No army or government will be able to provide refuge and to be a strong tower as YHWH is. No ideology or worldview can be a horn of salvation as YHWH is. No earthly prosperity or self-help philosophy will be able to serve as our shield as YHWH does. To build upon any of these is to build on sand; we do well to seek the Rock. We must love YHWH. We must find our strength and refuge in Him, for His purposes alone will endure for eternity.

It may take many repetitions and constant meditation, but we must absorb the lesson of Psalm 18:1-3 in a profound and deep way. Only YHWH can be our Rock, shield, and refuge. All others will fail and disappoint. Only in YHWH can we find joy and hope, for only YHWH can rescue and deliver. May we call upon YHWH who is worthy to be praised, and through His Son Jesus Christ be rescued and delivered from sin and death!

Ethan R. Longhenry

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New Atheism and the Experience of the Divine

Much has been made regarding the controversies surrounding New Atheism. One can learn regarding this trend from Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. On the opposing side there are books like Francis Collins’ The Language of God and Alister McGrath’s The Dawkins Delusion? and The Twilight of Atheism.

The arguments of the New Atheism should not be disturbing to the faith of the believer, for they are not new arguments. They are the same arguments with the same presuppositions as have been produced since the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Religion is seen as a “mind virus,” infecting and plaguing humanity, and the idea is that if religion could be removed, humanity would be better off. McGrath helps to put New Atheism in perspective: it’s really an attempt to resuscitate Enlightenment triumphalist rationalism and modernism, ideologies that were necessarily put to bed with the unrestrained horrors of the twentieth century. The Stalinist regime in the former Soviet Union puts to lie any belief that atheism, by necessity, must be kinder to humanity than religion.

In fact, the suppositions of atheism, once more uncritically accepted, are now subjected to much greater scrutiny, and they are lacking. Granted, it cannot be proven that there is a God; nevertheless, God cannot be disproved, either. One must have trust, or faith, in a given set of propositions (or assumptions) to believe that God exists or does not exist. The piece of evidence paraded out by New Atheism, Darwinianism in its various permutations, does not inherently suggest what they suggest. In fact, questions of origin, the anthropic principle, and an utter failure to cogently explain the persistence of a consistent moral standard and belief in the divine do well to indicate the failures and limitations of purely Darwinian ideology. Even in the post-Enlightenment twenty-first century there are good reasons to believe that there is a God.

Yet, unfortunately, the New Atheists have many points worthy of consideration. It is not from their understanding of theology (which is woefully deficient by any metric) but from their perception of what religion has done to the world and to society. The believer, when considering their vitriol, is surely disturbed, but if he or she is honest, it must be admitted that much of what is said is just. In terms of Christianity, while Jesus promotes a belief system that involves love, compassion, humility, and service, there are too many people who use the Christian moniker to justify or promote their particular economic, social, or political ideology, and in the end, Christianity as practiced is made to look completely different than Christianity as its Founder intended.

There will always be some atheists who will always find some reason or another to critique Christianity and the practice thereof, but it behooves the believer to consider the charges, their validity, and to do better in reflecting the true virtues and values of Christ (Romans 8:29).

I found much value in Alister McGrath’s The Twilight of Atheism, not just for its presentation of the history of atheism over the past two hundred and fifty years or so but also the social/cultural/religious context that led to its popularity.

For instance, the oft-quoted remark of Friedrich Nietzsche about God being dead. It is fascinating to me to learn that Nietzsche was not attempting to be prescriptive, but instead descriptive. The idea of “God being dead” is that, for all intents and purposes, “He was killed,” especially in late nineteenth century Germany (and, perhaps to a lesser degree, in Britain). At that particular moment in time, the prevailing social and cultural norms had no real need for God. Whether this was a good thing or not was what Nietzsche wanted to discuss; he was sadly too prescient about what would happen in a society that cast off belief in a higher power.

It was not a matter of evidences. It is not as if society just cast off belief in God because they no longer felt that the evidence held up. It was that the perspective of God and religion being offered to them did not in any way satisfy their needs or wants. McGrath goes so far as to suggest that part of the problem was the attempt to “prove” the existence of God and the truth of Christianity: whereas people were content to believe before such examinations, when the arguments were put forth and found to be rather on the weak side, it led to questioning where beforehand there was none.

But how was it that the groundwork could even be laid for a society and culture that had been so strongly Christian for so long to no longer have a need for God? McGrath presents a most compelling thesis, not original with him, about how Protestantism paved the way for the rise of atheism.

On the surface, such a statement seems odd, and perhaps counter-intuitive. Yet it is most probably true, and it has everything to do with the experience of the Divine.

For better or worse, for thousands of years, humans have believed that their world is suffused with the supernatural. Sadly, most of this belief has gone toward the worse: making gods out of natural forces, dabbling in the black arts, or an overtly strong emphasis on ritual (cf. Romans 1:18-32). And yet the Bible testifies to the fact that the One True God is present and in evidence in the creation, and that we exist in Him:

“The God that made the world and all things therein, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is he served by men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he himself giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and he made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us: for,
‘in him we live, and move, and have our being’;
as certain even of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his offspring'” (Acts 17:24-28).

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hinder the truth in unrighteousness; because that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse (Romans 1:18-20).

There is an expectation, therefore, that humans seek after the Divine. And people have, in various ways, for millennia. In the medieval world, this was popularly expressed through the belief in all kinds of supernatural entities that held sway on the earth along with the opportunity, it was said, to experience association with the Divine through the Mass, and especially the Eucharist, of the Roman Catholic church.

A major thrust of the Reformation was to remove all “superstition” from the religious organizations of the day, and we can certainly sympathize with that effort. Yet the forceful, almost unique emphasis on the proclamation of the Word in preaching and teaching led to matters of faith being a matter of the mind in the Protestant organizations. There was not given much room for experience of the Divine in many Protestant churches.

This excess was perceived and in some ways mollified in the Pietist and Wesleyan movements, but they continued to remain in Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican churches. The emphasis was firmly placed on understanding the faith with the mind which was then assumed to lead to right belief and right action. It would all be objective, systematized, and processed. One could go through all of the training and be extremely active in such a religion and never have any form of experience of the Divine. They could live their lives according to these rigorous standards as if there was no God.

As McGrath indicates, it’s not that far of a journey from living as if there was no God to believing that there is no God. The climate was ready for atheism because the experience of the Divine was all but removed from the faith.

And herein we have the challenge. The groups that are most successful today are those that stress (and with most, probably too much) some kind of experience of the Divine: from Pentecostalism to megachurch Evangelicalism. Yet, from experience with churches of Christ, there is at best discomfort and at worst strong suspicion of any attempt to incorporate the experience of the Divine in faith.

It is easy to see why. The church grew strong in the immediate aftereffects of the Enlightenment and the emphasis on reason and the rational. When confronted with Evangelicalism and especially Pentecostalism, there was a strong reaction, to the point where many to this day deny that God works miracles today (or, for that matter, that the demonic has any power at all). Anything that was experienced-based, regardless of its relationship to the revealed standard, was just too subjective and too questionable.

None of this is to say that all the various experiences that people claim to have with the Divine or supernatural forces are acceptable. We are strongly warned to avoid the black arts (Galatians 5:19-21). Everything must be tested by the standard of the truth as it has been revealed through the New Testament (Galatians 1:6-9, 1 John 4:1, Jude 1:3). Most of what has been promoted as the experience of the Divine has not been according to that standard, either because it was idolatrous (cf. Romans 1:18-32), or because it purported to be something that has been fulfilled (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).

Yet there is nothing in Scripture that teaches us that we should not expect to experience the Divine in any meaningful way. In fact, there is much in Scripture that teaches us that we should experience the Divine! We have seen in Acts 17:24-28 that we should “seek after God,” and that “in Him we live and move and have our being.” Our lives, therefore, should be saturated with the Divine in whom we exist and subsist.

The Lord’s Supper has been one of the most controversial elements of the faith throughout time. It is lamentable that the feast was taken so literally to the point of being considered cannibalism. Yet there is still force in what is written. Yes, the bread remains bread, and the fruit of the vine remains the fruit of the vine. Nevertheless, to partake of them represents a joint participation in the body and blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). We are called to experience the Divine in the Lord’s Supper!

Prayer is another significant aspect of the experience of the Divine. Something is seriously wrong if we are praying and all but believe that we are just having a monologue with ourselves. When we are praying it is as if we are before the very throne of G0d (Hebrews 4:16, 10:22). We are making our petitions before the most awesome and holy God: that em>should be an experience with the Divine if there ever was one!

Consider the emphasis in the New Testament on drawing near to God (cf. Hebrews 4:16, 7:19, 7:2, 10:1, 10:22, James 4:8). While the reference is not intended to be made concrete, it still seems awfully strange to draw near to God in an entirely objective, systematic way. There is an expectation that we experience the Divine in our existence.

Ephesians 3:10-11 declares that God’s manifold wisdom is made known in the church, and this is according to the eternal purpose of God in Christ. If God’s purpose is eternal, it has as many ramifications for our lives today as it did for the people who lived in the first century. Granted, it is not for us to experience God in the flesh as the Apostles did (cf. 1 John 1:1-3), and we do not experience the Divine as directly and in the same revelatory function as did those who came before us in the first century (1 Corinthians 13:8-10), but this by no means negates the need for us to experience the Divine and to have a faith that has subjective as well as objective dimensions.

There is wide appeal today for an experience of the Divine. This is what draws so many to various forms of Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism, let alone all the recent adherents to various “spiritual” disciplines, as well as the resurgence of interest in Eastern religion. This should not surprise us, for it is exactly what the Bible teaches: we are imbued with a desire to seek after God (Acts 17:27), and that seeking is not just a matter of intellectualism.

The appeal to the brain only will not work for many people. It did not in the first century and it does not now. The strongest appeal these days seems to come from authentic discipleship. If we set ourselves to the task of serving Jesus Christ as His disciples, believing what He taught, promoting it among ourselves and to our fellow man, and serving one another and those without, being open and honest about the challenges of faith, and being willing to consider and even speak of how God works in our lives, then the faith is clearly something worth investigating and even accepting. Saying one thing and doing another? That’s hypocrisy, the world sees through it, and people can find plenty of hypocrites around and get the ability to sleep in on Sunday. Saying and doing “as if there were no God”? Making an appeal based only on rational argument and reasoning, divorced from the Divine? Such is more like a mildly ascetic, slightly more humble atheism at worst. At best, it is a new variant on Deism: as opposed to believing that God created the world and then left it alone, here we have the belief that God created the world, was intimately involved at times with groups of people from the beginning of time until the end of the first century, and then He left it alone.

If we believe that we are God’s people, and that we are serving God, do we provide any evidence to the world that the supernatural does exist and that it is working? Consider these promises, of which we are given no indication from Scripture that they have expired:

“And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32).

I understand that we must be humble when it comes to the experience of the Divine. The world has never lacked people who claim that everything that ever happens to them is some kind of an experience of the Divine, and not a few have been carried away in their beliefs about how they have experienced God. We must take the Bible seriously when it says that we must test the spirits, proving all things (1 John 4:1). But we must remain open to experiencing the Divine and being open to see how God works in our lives. If our faith is nothing more than Christian Deism, we should not be surprised when it is unappealing to others, rejected by our descendants, and even unable to support us in times of difficulty. God did not intend for His believers to accept Christian Deism, for as long as the world continues to exist, Jesus is Lord, and God actively works on behalf of those who love Him (Matthew 28:18, Romans 8:28-39, 1 Corinthians 15:23-58). If this is true, and we live out our lives as if there were no God, then we have lived poor lives indeed.

The truth exists and we discover it in the Person of Jesus Christ and the message that He revealed through His servants (John 14:6, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Truth must never be compromised. Faith in God requires adherence to the truth, but faith is more than just accepting the Bible. Faith requires us to seek after God, serving Him by the standard of what is written, and prostrating ourselves in spirit (cf. John 4:24, Hebrews 11:6). It is within each and every one of us to seek after God, and that search is more than just an intellectual adventure. We do ourselves, our brethren, and our associates in the world a disservice if we have a faith life that would be little different if God really did not exist.

Experiencing the Divine is subjective, fraught with complications, and can be misinterpreted and misconstrued. But if we believe that God exists and that He desires for us to draw near to Him, what else can we do? Let us be willing to experience the Divine, to receive the comfort that comes from the Divine, and be willing to speak of God’s work in our own lives to one another and to our fellow man!

Ethan R. Longhenry

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A Crisis of Communication and Understanding

It is becoming evident that the fundamental language and perspective of Christianity is quite dissonant from the language(s) and perspective(s) of many of those within greater society. Many times we feel as if we are speaking a different language from those among us! Indeed, it seems that if we are going to have something meaningful to communicate to our fellow man we are going to have to re-orient his thinking in some way or another.

This fundamental insight has been lost on “Christendom” at large. On one side of the “spectrum” we have groups who rather explicitly shun or move away from their historic underpinnings, and on the other side, we have groups railing against the effects that this paradigm shift have engendered.

It is not as if this all happened at once; in fact, one can trace the pattern for at least the past few hundred years. It has taken many forms. An evident one involves science: as the seventeenth century moved into the eighteenth, scientists for all kinds of reasons moved away from positions of faith, and over time, as religious influence has waned, science and the scientific endeavor have taken its place in the eyes of many. Whereas many were once content to use Christianity (or some other supernatural system) to guide the way they saw their world we now have plenty of people who use science as the prism through which they understand everything. This is not to say that science has no value, for in its own realm it can serve humanity wonderfully. But while science can provide insights that may help inform philosophy, ethics, theology, and the like, philosophy, ethics, and theology ought to also inform science, as opposed to making science and scientific inquiry the Absolute it was never designed to be.

Much could also be said about the divinization of reason and rational thinking. It seems almost public heresy anymore to question the status of Reason as the Ultimate Guide for all things. Skepticism also has become one of the standards of the modern age, but curiously, few seem willing to doubt their doubts, or question the reasonableness of reason as the standard.

It is evident that the belief in the supernatural was anathema to many in society from the Enlightenment until recently, and even though postmodernism has returned in a sense to the supernatural, it eschews any form of the supernatural most would deem “traditional,” especially New Testament Christianity.

Meanwhile, relativism and “tolerance” and a questioning of any and all standards except the ones we implicitly assume are standard procedure. Something as simple as thesis and antithesis, that A and not-A cannot be both true at the same time, is now questioned. There is no mutually agreed upon standard for much of anything, let alone belief in a personal God who is our Creator and to Whom we are subject. This is all compounded by an astounding ignorance of the Bible both as a cultural standard and as a religious text.

In such a climate it is not surprising that many who still hold to Christianity in some way or another would want to protest. Many want things to be like they were at some hazily defined moment in the past, back when people at least seemed to be more moral. Yet Ecclesiastes 7:10 applies. We have not been called to live in 1840s America or 1910s America or even 1950s America; we are called to live as Christians in early 21st century America.

But what we do have to come to terms with is that we cannot expect to communicate with many of our fellow human beings like we would in previous eras and expect a lot of success.

The Restoration Movement grew exponentially in the middle of 19th century America when entertainment choices were few, hymn singings were a popular way of passing an evening, and people learned how to read by reading the Bible. People accepted that there was right and wrong, even if they were doing wrong. Most people with whom you would speak would already share much of the same ideology as you would, and therefore you had common ground upon which to begin a conversation. In such a climate we can understand why the issues were focused on the specific forms of disagreement with the wider denominational world: issues like church organization and governance, baptism, frequency and nature of the Lord’s Supper, and other assembly matters. Issues of the assembly deserved focus because you could assume that the people with whom you were speaking shared the general outlines of a “Christian” worldview, and “everyone” knew that all good citizens should conduct themselves as good “Christian men” and “Christian women.”

That was then. This is now.

Today we have very little of that foundation left intact. We cannot assume that the people with whom we come into contact believe in God. We cannot even assume that they believe that there is an objective standard delineating right from wrong. There is no certainty that they are even open to the belief that there are forces beyond themselves, and they may never have been challenged to look at the world beyond the lenses of materialism and physical perception.

Yet the statistics show that the vast majority of Americans do believe in God, the Bible, Jesus Christ, and even heaven and hell. Nevertheless, we cannot assume that people really understand much of any of these things. We cannot assume that by believing in God that they believe in God the Creator to whom all the creation is subject (cf. Genesis 1:1-2:4, Romans 9:20-24). They may profess belief in the Bible, but we cannot know how much they really know about its teachings; and, for that matter, how many times they may know its teachings but declare some of them to be wrong or not true for themselves. They may say that they believe that Jesus is the Christ but they certainly may not understand the consequences of such a view– Jesus Christ is God the Son and the Son of God, the Son of David, the only Way to God, and presently Lord of all to whom everyone will subject themselves, willingly or otherwise (Romans 1:1-5, John 14:16, Philippians 2:5-11). In short, even among those who profess Jesus, we cannot be sure whether they have culturally conditioned beliefs or have truly grounded themselves in the perspective of God in Christ (cf. Colossians 2:1-11).

This may sound distressing, but what it is trying to get us to understand is that we do truly live in a “post-Christian” era. The twenty-first century has returned to being like the first two centuries of the faith in many ways. We can complain about it and get distressed about or we can try to figure out what can be done about it. And there is much to do.

I believe that these understandings lead to at least two important insights in regards to evangelism in the 21st century. The first is that our defense of the faith must be buttressed with a good offense. In many of the American resources for Christian apologetics that I have seen the evidence is marshaled in ways not unlike a basketball team attempting to maintain a 15 point lead on their opposition in the last quarter of the game: a mostly defensive posture that attempts to persuade without doing any fundamental damage to the worldview of the person we are trying to persuade. The problem is, of course, that if we get too defensive, we lose without much hope of gain.

An instructive example is Minucius Felix’s Octavius, a treatise written around the end of the second century, relating how Minucius’ friend Octavius converted a mutual friend Caecilius out of paganism. The dialogue begins with Caecilius’ argument against Christianity, full of inaccuracies about Christianity but a relatively robust presentation of the standard pagan argument of the day. When confronted with this argument Octavius does not start by merely clarifying what Caecilius has misunderstood about Christianity but by metaphorically going for the kill. Octavius uses the words of the Greeks themselves to demonstrate the existence of One Creator God, demonstrates the weakness, fallacies, and foibles of the Greek pantheon, demonstrating the ridiculousness of the belief system, and then he sets Caecilius straight about his exaggerations about Christianity. Octavius had to tear down in order to build up.

We cannot mince words or thoughts here: the Christian worldview and ideology is fundamentally opposed to the worldviews and ideologies proposed by society and culture of today. If we believe that we can just go out and teach Jesus without any attempt to challenge the prevailing assumptions of people, we should not be surprised when our evangelism efforts are not very successful, and when they are successful, that the people converted often fail to develop the type of faith the Bible demands.

We must do this with gentleness and respect, for certain (cf. 1 Peter 3:15), remembering that the people with whom we speak are not the enemy (Ephesians 6:12), but it must be done. One cannot have a mind to believe that Jesus is the Christ while still believing that many paths lead to God. One cannot be ready to cling to what is good and to abhor what is evil while believing that good and evil have no absolute basis in reality. One cannot profess belief in God while being wedded to an anti-supernatural view of our universe. Even though this may be offensive to much of what passes for “liberal” Christianity, there are times when we must call a spade a spade and recognize that far too many groups professing Jesus have compromised with the world in matters of truth and righteousness and that we must make a contrary stand not just for the truth of God as revealed through Jesus Christ but in the belief that there is a God, that He is alive and active and powerful, that Jesus of Nazareth truly existed as God in the flesh, truly died, and was truly and actually raised by God in the flesh in power on the third day, that all of these things are historical reality, just as presented by the church in the first century (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, 2 John 1:7-11). If people want to reject these statements as being true, they are certainly able to do so; but they are no longer being true to the Christian worldview and ideology as expressed in Scripture.

In order for the message of the Gospel to be heard properly there must be a recognition of disturbance in life: something is not right. Most people have never had their assumptions questioned or challenged. There is no doubt that many people, when so questioned, will retreat and would rather remain inconsistent than to come to grips with being wrong. But if we present the message of God in such a way that never leads anyone to question the way they have always been conditioned to see the world we should not expect to see much in the way of results. While it may be true that Christianity has never really been tried by most so as to be found lacking, too many people believe that Christianity has gone or should go the way of the dinosaur, Zeus, and animal sacrifices, and no amount of pleading without challenge will change that perception.

Therefore the presentation of the Gospel in the modern world must really be a two-edged sword: first challenging current assumptions, and then presenting a radical alternative. But there must be work done before we even get to that point.

If you noticed from the description of the Octavius, Caecilius the pagan was invited to give the first argument. I do not believe that this was merely coincidental or done out of respect; there is a definite advantage to this. By making the argument first, Caecilius lays his proverbial cards out on the table, and Octavius is then able to discern exactly what Caecilius believes and therefore what is the best way to go forward with his refutation and defense.

I fear that our evangelistic efforts may be hampered because of our forwardness. A large number of our evangelistic methods attempt to get to the point of the Bible study: the opportunity to open the Bible and to see what it says. This, in and of itself, is right and good and quite necessary (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Romans 1:16). But if we engage in such things without really knowing where the people with whom we are studying are coming from our efforts may be in vain.

There is a sense in which we today must engage in “pre-evangelism” in order to get to evangelism. There will always be a select few who are seeking and are willing to give the presenter of the Gospel the benefit of the doubt, and God be praised for such people. Nevertheless, a lot of the people with whom we come into contact are going to be more suspicious and leery. The adage of Dave Barry rests in their heads: people who want to share their religious convictions with you rarely want to hear yours. Even though it may not be intended there can be a patronizing air in a Bible study– we come to you with superior Biblical knowledge and insight, and we expect you to come to terms with it. Some people can handle that; many more cannot. Furthermore, if we engage in such a study without really knowing the person with whom we are having such a study, we are unlikely to know precisely what they believe, why they believe it, and therefore are robbed of the best way of promoting the Gospel. We may be guilty of focusing too heavily on common ground while entirely neglecting critical grounds of disagreement.

If there is one thing that is still true about people, however, it is that people enjoy talking about themselves. Perhaps as opposed to beginning with us or the Bible we should begin with them– who they are, what they have experienced in the past in terms of spirituality or religion, what they believe about God, Jesus, the Bible, salvation, eternity, and so on and so forth.

This has many benefits. First of all it demonstrates that we do care about the people with whom we want to study– we want to get to know them, and they are not just a number. If we gently prod regarding matters of inconsistency in their ideologies (and there will no doubt be matters of inconsistency), it may lead them to already reconsider how they look at the world. Many people may not believe in the truth and believe that they have a good argument against it, yet, when actually expected to make that argument, realize that in reality it is pretty weak. Finally, you know exactly where they stand, and thus are better able to present the Gospel, with both the challenge and the solution, in regards to exactly where the person is. One may have to clear a lot of philosophical ground to get to the point where the Gospel can be considered. Or one may be able to just focus on the distinctives of the church. Most will be somewhere in between.

If we are honest with ourselves, we recognize that we are currently suffering a crisis of communication and understanding. Methods that used to do well at communicating the Gospel are not as successful anymore. We often struggle to have any form of meeting of the minds with many of our fellow humans. But we can take comfort from our brethren in times long past, for if Christians of the first few centuries of this era could turn Greeks and Romans saturated with paganism and immorality and get them to understand the futility of their ideology and the truth that is in Jesus Christ, we can do the same with the secularists and others in the twenty-first century. Let us work to communicate with our fellow man so as to present the Gospel of Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

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Today's sermon.
The Hebrew author expected his audience to have already matured beyond elementary principles (Hebrews 5:11-6:3). Why did he have that expectation? Why must we mature in Christ?

07.17 | Maturing in Christ
Sermon Outline | http://www.deusvitae.com/outlines/maturenecessity.txt

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Gender Roles in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35

For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, let the women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law. And if they would learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home: for it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church (1 Corinthians 14:33-35).

We have witnessed a major change in attitudes regarding gender and gender roles in Western culture in the past few generations. Previous cultural consensus has been overthrown; everyone must attempt to come to grips with the new cultural consensus and sort out what is commendable from what is to be rejected. Christians must seek to understand how to manage gender roles in light of what God has revealed in Christ and in the pages of the New Testament (Colossians 3:17, 2 Timothy 3:15-17). The New Testament addresses gender roles in many passages. We do well to explore gender roles in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35.

In 1 Corinthians 14:1-40 Paul instructed the Corinthian Christians regarding the proper use of spiritual gifts to build up the entire congregation. He is concerned for good order in the assembly so that its constituent members can understand what is being said and done and derive edification and encouragement from it. In 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 Paul spoke specifically regarding at least wives in the assemblies: they were to keep silent, to remain in subjection, and to ask whatever they would need to learn from their husbands at home; Paul considered it shameful for a woman to speak in the assembly. This instruction was not limited to the church in Corinth, but was regulative for “all the churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

In making this declaration Paul appealed to “the law” as a witness to the need for at least wives to be in subjection in the assembly (1 Corinthians 14:34). This allusion has proven difficult since the Law nowhere explicitly makes such a claim; the passage which comes closest to the sentiment is found in Genesis 3:16:

Unto the woman [YHWH God] said, “I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy conception; in pain thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”

Paul’s instruction is explicitly directed toward wives; they have “husbands” whom they can ask at home, and they are the only ones mentioned in the Law as being in subjection to their husbands based on Genesis 3:16. The application of this instruction to unmarried women, particularly widows or any other women not directly associated with a household, is left unstated.

Many challenges have been made regarding this text. The first involves “as in all the churches of the saints,” and whether this thought is connected with God as of peace and not confusion or with the discourse on women that follows. While Paul does tend to end his discussions with an appeal to churches (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:17, 7:17, 11:16), the connection between his statement regarding God and then regarding behavior in churches is tenuous, especially since the conversation that follows does feature matters within the assembly. Regardless, Paul writes about women in the assembly in terms of God as a God of peace and not confusion, and what he writes to Corinth would be true elsewhere as well. Many others dispute the originality of the passage, suggesting that it is a later interpolation, or belongs after 1 Corinthians 14:40. Nevertheless, all textual witnesses to 1 Corinthians include the passage, which speaks highly regarding its authenticity; in either location, the message is consistent both with Paul’s premise and the theological forms of argument seen previously in 1 Corinthians 11:2-12. Arguments attempting to dismiss the passage tend to be culturally and theologically motivated on account of its substance.

Many wonder how Paul’s exhortation for women to remain silent can be reconciled with his exhortation for all to participate in prayer and song (1 Corinthians 14:14-17, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). We do well to note in those passages about the unified nature of prayer and song: it is a shared activity. As members of the body of Christ, women do well to participate in the prayer and affirm it with “Amen,” and women do well to participate in the speaking and teaching to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (cf. Galatians 3:28). Paul’s concern in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 focused primarily on wives speaking in an individual role; they are to ask their husbands at home.

Thus Paul set forth certain expectations regarding gender roles in the assemblies of Christians in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35. Wives were to remain silent and to ask whatever they would need to learn from their husbands at home. Such is because they are to be under subjection to their husbands, as the Law also says, most likely based in the creation story in Genesis 2:3-3:23, particularly Genesis 3:16. Paul made no appeal to cultural norms but rooted his exhortation in the same ground as 1 Corinthians 11:2-12, deriving his principles from the relationship of men and women manifest in Adam and Eve. How these principles relate to women who are not wives is worthy of discussion: does γυμαιξιν in 1 Corinthians 14:35 refer to all women or just wives? Is Paul’s primary argument a concern for respect of the husband’s authority, and thus not relevant for unmarried women? What would the rest of what is revealed in Scripture say regarding unmarried women speaking in the assembly?

Paul’s instruction regarding women in the assembly in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 maintains continuity with what had been previously revealed in Scripture and remains theologically grounded in the creation narrative. We do well to respect the integrity of the revelation of Scripture and form our understanding of gender roles in the assembly from what God has revealed in Christ through His Apostles!

Ethan R. Longhenry

(as seen in this week's edition of The Voice, a weekly publication of the +Venice church of Christ)

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Prophesying Uncomfortable Truth

It is difficult to ever say that one “takes comfort” in Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s message, after all, is extremely distressing and disconcerting. He is the epitome of the “doom and gloom” prophet.

On the other hand, there is a reason why he must be the “doom and gloom” prophet. He is given the unenviable task of prophesying the most uncomfortable truth, a truth that the people do not even want to consider.

Some of the best insights from the book of Jeremiah have less to do with what Jeremiah and more with the people of Israel around him. After all, as we read Scripture and understand the historical events, it is easy for us to wonder why it is that no one ever seems to listen to the prophets. Did they not understand? Did they not consider the message?

When we see the “one side” of the story, the presentation of the true prophets of God, these questions are difficult to answer. Yet, when we see the perspectives set forth in Jeremiah, it is more easily understood.

What we set forth must be understood in context, and we cannot allow our understanding of what will take place to slant our perspective. The disaster of 586 BCE is still in the future for these people; they do not know, as we know, what exactly will take place. These are the Israelites, the people of God. Sure, God exiled the northern tribes, but they were clearly in sin because they served the golden calves in Dan and Bethel (cf. 1 Kings 12, 2 Kings 17). They lived in Judah. The Temple of YHWH was in their midst. The mighty Assyrian empire came a century earlier, and, indeed, devastated the region, but God struck them so that they could not take Jerusalem (2 Kings 18-19). Isaiah had indicated that such would take place.

Yes, there was the new menace of Babylon, but was Babylon really any stronger than Assyria? After all, YHWH is the God of Israel. YHWH would not allow His holy Temple to be defiled by the Babylonians.

In this context, the “prophecy” of Hananiah makes complete sense:

And it came to pass the same year, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fourth year, in the fifth month, that Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet, who was of Gibeon, spake unto me in the house of the LORD, in the presence of the priests and of all the people, saying,
“Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, ‘I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of the LORD’s house, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place, and carried to Babylon: and I will bring again to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, with all the captives of Judah, that went to Babylon,’ saith the LORD; ‘for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon'” (Jeremiah 28:1-4).

And Hananiah spake in the presence of all the people, saying,
“Thus saith the LORD: ‘Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon within two full years from off the neck of all the nations'” (Jeremiah 28:11).

Let us revisit the question: why do the people not listen to the prophets? Hananiah really provides the answer: the people do listen to prophets. They just listen to the prophets who speak the message that is consistent with their perspective and their expectations.

Jeremiah stands up and dares to assert that YHWH will hand over His city, His Temple, and His people Israel to the pagan Babylonians, and that all nations will have to submit to the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar, since YHWH has handed all things over to him (cf. Jeremiah 27). Meanwhile, Hananiah says that YHWH will destroy Nebuchadnezzar and restore the fortunes of Judah. Which message do people really want to hear? Which message is consistent with their expectations?

We can understand this further from some of the words of the enemies of Jeremiah:

Then said they, “Come, and let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, and let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words” (Jeremiah 18:18).

These enemies do not like Jeremiah, in part, because he dares to challenge their fundamental worldview. He prophesies what is “impossible.” After all, God said in the Law that the priests would always set forth the Law to the people. There had been prophets speaking the word of YHWH since Moses.

Thus, one of Jeremiah’s great hindrances is that he dares to prophesy uncomfortable truths– truths that thoroughly disturb the people of Judah to their very core. Yes, it is true that in reality the people have misplaced their confidence: they should trust in YHWH and seek to do His will, and not rely on the idea of YHWH’s Temple or His priests or prophets. Nevertheless, it was easier to continue to believe the lie than to face the uncomfortable reality, even after the uncomfortable reality came to pass.

Hananiah was dead wrong. Jeremiah, unfortunately, was right. Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians. The king’s sons were killed, and the king was blinded and imprisoned. The city and Temple were thoroughly burned and plundered. A large proportion of the population was exiled. Some remained. Difficulties ensued, and the people consider moving to Egypt (Jeremiah 39-41). Before they go, they want Jeremiah to ask YHWH whether they should stay or go. He does, and YHWH’s message is clear: stay in the land (Jeremiah 42).

If ever there were more justification to listen to Jeremiah, this would have been the time. What he spoke happened without fail.

And it came to pass that, when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking unto all the people all the words of the LORD their God, wherewith the LORD their God had sent him to them, even all these words, then spake Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the proud men, saying unto Jeremiah,
“Thou speakest falsely: the LORD our God hath not sent thee to say, ‘Ye shall not go into Egypt to sojourn there;’ but Baruch the son of Neriah setteth thee on against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may put us to death, and carry us away captive to Babylon.”
So Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces, and all the people, obeyed not the voice of Jehovah, to dwell in the land of Judah (Jeremiah 43:1-4).

What indignity! After everything that happened, after all that Jeremiah personally suffered because of his prophesying, his motives are now questioned! Even after all the devastation, despite all the distress, people still rebel against the word of YHWH. They still refuse to trust in YHWH and not in their own reasoning. Jeremiah 44 indicates that many of the Jews did not even trust in YHWH, but returned to making offerings to the “queen of heaven, ” believing that their distress was caused because they stopped making offerings to her!

For many such Jews, the disaster did not bring them back to repentance; it merely solidified their previously existing beliefs. But it did chasten many others. Many Jews would return to the land and not commit the same sins as before. Yet they were still wedded to their particular worldview.

Jesus therefore said to those Jews that had believed him, “If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
They answered unto him, “We are Abraham’s seed, and have never yet been in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, ‘Ye shall be made free?'”(John 8:31-33).

When they were not taking pride in the Temple, the Jews took pride in being the “children of Abraham” and therefore “entitled” to the privileges of covenant. When Jesus dares to assert that, in truth, they have become children of Satan because they sin without repentance, the Jews who believe in Him turn against Him, ready even to stone Him (John 8:34-59)! Uncomfortable truth still did not sit well with people.

Today we do not have inspired prophets speaking forth the word of YHWH as before (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). Nevertheless, I believe that those who believe in Jesus Christ and seek to serve Him do have a burden to speak the prophetic word. It may not be directly inspired, but it is to be based in the message of the prophets of old and the message of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, this prophetic message is going to involve the same types of uncomfortable truths as in days of old.

We are living in very trying times economically. There are many “prophets” out there who are trying to make people feel better and promote a message that is satisfying to them. “The economy will recover soon.” “Job growth will happen.” “Everything will be back to the way it was soon.” These messages are popular– they comfort, and they appeal to people’s expectations.

This is not limited to the economy. It is also true about climate change, healthcare, violence, and a host of other issues. Plenty of “prophets” stand up and say what people want to hear. They will make statements that satisfy people’s expectations.

On the other hand, what if the economy will not recover soon? What if this economic downturn really is exposing major faults in the way that we view the world? What if the challenges we are suffering with the economy, climate change, healthcare, and other matters really reflects fundmental worldview problems that need to be addressed?

The uncomfortable truth for Americans is that we are reaping what we have sown. We have lived on credit and the bill is coming due. Things will not really get better until we scale back our expectations and our lifestyles. We must return to the virtues of self-discipline and sober-mindedness (1 Peter 4:7). We must return to God’s intention for finances: work an honest job, making honest money, having enough for one’s needs, and having something to give to those in need (Ephesians 4:28). If we scale back in our consumption and work to exist sustainably on the earth, we will be also addressing some of the root problems of climate change. If we return to a more holistic and proper diet, we might even reduce healthcare costs over the long term!

Why is this message not being shouted on the rooftops? The same reason why Hananiah’s messaeg was more popular than Jeremiah’s. Sacrifice is not easy, especially when society has presenting the message of self-gratification for years. Long-term gains come only at the cost of short-term sacrifices and challenges, and humans rarely have the stomach to suffer in the short-term for the benefits of the long-term. It is quite telling when presidents of this country boldly affirm that the standard of life that Americans have come to enjoy is not negotiable. Such a statement evokes the “confidence” of the Jews of Jeremiah’s day: “the law will not perish from the priests, nor the word from the prophet.” We shall certainly see!

But the challenge of “prophesying” uncomfortable truth is not just present on the societal level. It is also quite true in the church.

While many would focus on the “distinctive issues,” and declare that speaking about them is “uncomfortable” for many, such is not really the truly uncomfortable truths that bedevil the church. While some in the church may have some discomfort in terms of the “distinctives,” most people in the pews entirely agree regarding the “distinctive issues.” It has come to the point where preaching on the distinctives constantly is, essentially, “soft preaching.” It is unoffensive to the people who sit in the pews, since they are already in agreement, and everybody walks out the door afterward feeling as if the Gospel has been preached and their worldviews validated.

The “uncomfortable truth” is whenever our mentalities or worldviews clash with revealed truth. The Scriptures speak a lot of “uncomfortable truth” about the role of women and how they are to “submit to their husbands” and be “workers at home” (Ephesians 5:22-24, Titus 2:4-5). There’s “uncomfortable truth” about being as diligent to do good things as we are in avoiding evil (Romans 12:9, James 4:17). Other topics include matters of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, association with those who practice adultery on account of their views of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, women and the assembly, involvement in the political realm, and a host of other challenges that have faced the church for years.

But a lot of “uncomfortable truth” that does not get said or realized is the sad state of affairs in the area of congregational growth.

There is a natural tendency to appreciate “comfort” in religion. People seek stability and comfort from their religious beliefs. To a point, that is well and good, as Paul indicates in 2 Corinthians 1. On the other hand, Christianity was never meant to be static or “comfortable.” Jesus demands change; after all, that’s what repentance means (Acts 2:38). We are called upon to be transformed to reflect the image of Christ, and that process is neither easy nor comfortable (Matthew 10:37-39, Romans 12:1-2, Galatians 2:20).

Furthermore, we are called to be lights in the world for Christ, constantly seeking to build up the Kingdom (Ephesians 4-5). If all things work properly, growth is the result.

Most everyone will agree with much of what is said. The difficulty, however, that is a challenge to face is that we’re not really growing.

When anyone starts talking about why we are not successfully reaching people with the Gospel, talk immediately begins to shift toward “the other.” People are just not interested anymore, many will say. People aren’t willing to change, say others. Christians who fall away? They should just “know better.”

All of these are the “easy” answers. They are comfortable in our worldview because they absolve us of any challenge.

But here’s the rather uncomfortable truth: part of the reason why we are not more successful in our evangelistic endeavors involves ourselves and our habits.

Are believers active in reflecting Christ’s love and speaking to others about the truth of God? How well does the church climate welcome those who are not of the fold? When those who are outside see the association of believers, do they see anything different about them, or do they see the same type of worldliness they see everywhere else? Are there unspoken yet strongly present prejudices that hinder effective encouragement of the lost soul? Are the members of the congregation rather welcoming? Are they honest and open with one another, living out authentic Christian lives? Or, quite frankly, is the church acting like a holy country club that is full of a bunch of people who are putting on pretenses?

That sounds harsh and is doubtless not true about many, at least according to their intentions. On the other hand, uncomfortable truth is no more easily swallowed today than it was in the days of Jeremiah. Sure, it is true that even if our efforts were everything they were supposed to be, many would not heed the call. Many in the world are attracted to that which pleases them according to their own perspective and expectations, and in twenty-first century America, there is no lack of religious organizations that try to accommodate those expectations. Nevertheless, the situation is likely not nearly as grim as it is often portrayed.

It’s just easier to always blame “the other” and not ourselves. If we have a share in the responsibility, that challenges not only our actions but our perspective, and that may lead to some discomfort. Yet, in truth, spiritual growth only comes through discomfort (James 1:2-3).

At many points in life, a prophetic message of uncomfortable truth is exactly what the Great Physician orders. We can either choose to swallow hard, accept the hard truth, change, and grow, or we can refuse to accept that message and choose to continue to look at things the way we always have. We just need to remember that we can hold off hard reality for only so long. The day of reckoning will come.

Ethan R. Longhenry

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As seen in this month's edition of Truth Magazine.


Babel and Civilization

Few things prove as dangerous as “givens,” those things which we just automatically assume are the way things should be and which are good. Yet everything in this creation has a dark side because of the corruption of sin. Civilization is one such “given.” In the modern world we certainly enjoy our “creature comforts,” advances in health, science, and technology which allow for us to live comfortably and thrive. Many among us enjoy urban or suburban life. When humans build on a piece of land they call it “development”; land left as God made it is called “undeveloped.” We might enjoy the outdoors and living “in the wild,” but only recreationally. In history, moments of cultural production are “golden ages of civilization”; periods of difficulty and the breakdown of civilization are seen as “dark ages.”

We might assume that civilization is seen in Scripture as fondly as it is among people today. If so we are in for quite the surprise! The first man to build a city is not Adam, nor Abel, nor Seth, but Cain (Genesis 4:17). Those who developed the tools of technology, instruments of metal and mirth, were Cain’s descendant Lamech’s sons (Genesis 4:21-22). Nimrod, called a “mighty one” on the earth, was associated with the many cities of Mesopotamia, and he built what would become Assyria (Genesis 10:8-12). Throughout the rest of Biblical history those associated with the “great civilizations” of the ancient Near Eastern and Classical worlds, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans, would each in turn oppress the people of God.

God, meanwhile, made man and put him in a garden (Genesis 2:3-28). Abel was a shepherd; many of the mighty people of God would either be shepherds or own many animals (Genesis 4:2). God called Abram out of “civilization,” from Ur of the Chaldees, the greatest city of its time, to live in the relative backwater of Canaan (Genesis 12:1-3). Abram chose well to remain in Canaan, while Lot suffered greatly for choosing the plain around Sodom, a city full of wickedness (Genesis 13:9-13). Throughout the Bible value is placed on living off the land; the only city which receives great commendation is Jerusalem, the City of David, the place where YHWH made His name to dwell, and which would represent the location of the people of God (Psalm 135:21, Isaiah 62:1, Zechariah 2:12, Hebrews 12:22, Revelation 21:2).

What would be so wrong with civilization? Its difficulties are encapsulated in one city: Babel, also known as Babylon. Babel is the place where all mankind gathered to build a tower to make a name for himself and to avoid being scattered on the earth (Genesis 11:4). While man’s intentions at Babel were frustrated by God, he never forgot that tendency; ever since, when humans come together, they tend to work to build monuments to their own greatness. This same Babel would become the city and empire that would lay siege to Jerusalem and destroy it and the Temple within its gates (2 Kings 25:1-21). The prophets roundly denounced Babylon for her arrogance and presumptuousness (Jeremiah 50:1-51:64); not for nothing does John see Rome as Babylon the Great, a harlot, drunk on the blood of the prophets and saints (Revelation 17:1-18:24). Babylon thus represents the human power arrogating itself against God and His purposes, drawing resources from the earth and from other people to its own aggrandizement no matter what the cost. It was true of Babylon; it was true of Rome; it has proven true of every civilization.

It is not wrong to live in civilization or to enjoy its benefits; early Christians lived in the Roman Empire and took advantage of its opportunities. But we do well to recognize how civilization is used to continually represent Babel. “Civilized” nations think nothing of storming across the land in the ravages of war. “Civilized” nations continually work against God’s purposes and oppress and persecute those who seek His will. Civilization is all about man’s attempt to make a name for himself. Civilization produces some benefits, but “development” is not always the best or greatest. We do well to honor what God has made, and seek to glorify God in the midst of “civilized” nations. May we seek to live as humble servants of God, seeking the heavenly Jerusalem!

Ethan R. Longhenry

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Hell and Theology

If so be that it is righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict you, and to you that are afflicted rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus: who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at in all them that believed (because our testimony unto you was believed) in that day (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).

In the past year there has been a significant controversy within many parts of “Christendom” in regards to hell, its existence and nature, discussed in terms of Rob Bell’s Love Wins. Yes, I know that I am late coming into the game, so to speak; nevertheless, I have had an opportunity to read Love Wins along with Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell and some other resources in regards to this issue.

Many of the pertinent issues have been addressed well in other places; I especially recommend Erasing Hell toward that end. What has interested me is just how much we learn about our theology based upon our understanding of hell.

The very word “hell” and our reactions to it tell a lot about our theological inclinations. Some shudder at the concept are convinced that it is the bloodthirsty concept of some less developed society. Others prove very comfortable with the idea, and most often are quite sure that it is for all sorts of other people and not themselves. These are the extremes, and most everyone else falls somewhere in the middle.

These theological inclinations come out when arguments about hell are presented. On the one side, God’s love (or, perhaps better, human conceptions regarding what God’s love must be) is maximized, suggesting that His love for mankind demands that hell either cannot exist or cannot exist permanently for whatever reason. On the other side, God’s wrath is maximized, leaving many to wonder how anyone could ever be rescued from it.

Therefore one’s view of hell says a lot about one’s theology, and understandably so. Hell is one of the most challenging and contentious aspects of Scripture, not only about the place itself and its function, but what it says about God in terms of His love and wrath, justice and mercy. Since the Bible speaks of God’s love, God’s wrath, God’s justice, and God’s mercy, it becomes very easy to get distorted and overemphasize some of these to the detriment of others. This exacerbates the problem, for very often believers are tempted to react to the distortion of others and themselves distort in the opposite way. Finding balance is hard enough on most issues; finding balance when it comes to how we understand who God is and the presence of hell is that much harder!

This is my greatest criticism of Rob Bell’s presentation of hell: it demonstrates a distorted theology. Much can be read about God’s love in Love Wins, but there are few, if any, references to God’s wrath or God’s justice. Although I am quire sure that Bell is aware of the passages in the Bible speaking about God’s exhortation for Israel to commit ethnic cleansing (1 Samuel 15), the swift execution of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-13), and even discussion of God’s wrath as poured out in the Judgment (Romans 2:4-11, 12:19-21), but there’s no hint of wrestling with or grappling with these realities in Love Wins.

I will grant that there is plenty of bad theology and bad eschatology out there, and there are plenty of people whose view of hell and what goes on there is more influenced by popular cultural theories than what is in Scripture. There are people who seem to revel in God’s wrath; one has to wonder if such people have soberly considered Amos 5:18-20!

But if theology is going to be a useful practice, it must be based not in what I think or whatever “groupthink” comes up with but what God has revealed about Himself. Rob Bell knows this and speaks frequently about his opponents and “what kind of god” it is they believe in. But the same criticism can and must be leveled at him as well (as well it should be for all of us, and a good corrective for all of us): is the “god” presented in Love Wins (or in my theology, your theology, etc.) the Creator God who revealed Himself to Israel and through Jesus, or is it an idol that may have some resemblance to the God revealed in the Bible but full of distortions based upon culture, society, and other factors?

It would probably be good to attempt to explain what Bell is trying to say about hell. This is not easy to do since he never comes out and provides a full explanation. From my attempt to understand the book, it seems that he understands hell mostly in terms of all of the pain, misery, and injustice experienced on earth. He seems to think it honorable of himself that he says that there is a perfectly good word to describe all of the evil in the world, and that word is “hell.” It does seem that Bell believes that there will be a place in the next world that is separated from God; he suggests that most people in that place will then realize how terrible it was and is to be separated from God and that most, if not all, will desire to be reconciled back to God. He asks whether God will say “no” to such a person in that condition (and we’re supposed to believe that God will not tell such a person “no”), and thus believes that everyone will get another chance in the afterlife to be reconciled back to God. This, in his estimation, is how “love wins.”

There are a lot of evils on earth; there’s a reason why people speak of “hell on earth.” Nevertheless, the better word to describe such things is hellish, not hell. Jesus is perfectly aware of the problems of pain and evil in life, but when He speaks of the condemned, he speaks of their fate as one where the worm does not die and the fire is unquenched (Mark 9:47-48), a fiery furnace or the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:41-42, 49-50, 25:30; it is worth noting that when Bell describes what Jesus says about hell, he focuses on Jesus’ use of gehenna but entirely ignores the other images Jesus uses to describe the same place). To speak of earthly evils as “hell” is not to use the term properly; it is to dangerously minimize the power and the import of the term. What happens on earth is bad, but it is only hellish. From everything we gain in Scripture, the actual hell is far, far worse!

I found Bell’s question about whether God would say “no” to people who would want to reconcile with Him yet find themselves in hell to be a desperate plea; in fact, the minute I read it, I thought of the following passage:

“Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us.’
But he answered and said, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not.”
Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:11-13).

Here we have an instance of people who wish to get that “second chance,” but they come to a shut door.

One can only wonder how Bell would reconcile such a question with Paul’s:

And reckonest thou this, O man, who judgest them that practise such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? (Romans 2:3-4).

Why would Paul be worried about anyone despising God’s forbearance and longsuffering unless he envisioned a time when such foebearance and longsuffering would cease?

And, of course, there remains Hebrews 9:27:

And inasmuch as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh judgment.

Bell is convinced that all the passages that speak regarding God “reconciling all things to Himself” means that all people at some point will be fully reconciled to Him, and yet without that premise, the entire concept of a post-judgment chance at reconciliation falls flat. There is no Scripture that speaks about it; all the Scriptures speaking about the Judgment have an air of finality about them.

The implications are worse. People are carnal; we have numerous examples of well-intentioned doctrines being distorted by people to justify their immorality. In Bell’s doctrine, it would not matter if one lived completely sinfully on earth without repentance; they could receive reconciliation after the Judgment. Bell would not advocate for this, but it won’t take too long for people to draw that conclusion from what he has said. And, if it is possible to be reconciled back to God after the Judgment, is it also possible to fall away from Him after the Judgment? Where do we hear of these matters? Why are they being introduced?

We have no reason to believe that God’s reconciling all things to Himself will involve the reformation of all persons and entities who are in rebellion against Him; in fact, we know as much, based upon Matthew 25:41 and 2 Peter 2:4: Satan and his angels will experience eternal fire and we have no indication that they will be reconciled back to God. Therefore we have no reason to believe that those cast into that fire with Satan and his angels will be reconciled back to God, either.

All of this has been well-covered by others in more effective ways. I do find it interesting, however, that the one thing Bell does not seem to analyze or question much is this “love” which wins.

And this is the trap: it’s our assumptions that often get the better of us. In the entire book there is a tone that says that God’s love is incompatible with the “standard views” on hell.

Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a).

Bell understands that coercion and compulsion are incompatible with love; in that sense, he is not fully “universalist.” He understands that God will not coerce or compel anyone into believing in Him.

Nevertheless, Bell has seemingly ignored or missed the aspects of love that are not charitable to his case: love does not rejoice in unrighteousness (and Greek adikia refers to injustice as much as to unrighteousness). Love rejoices in the truth. Therefore, that which is unrighteous and/or unjust and against truth is against love. Love cannot embrace both truth and unrighteousness/injustice. Yes, it is true that love does not “take account of evil,: but that means that love is not resentful, and God is not resentful: He does not act out of personal animosity.

If love does not rejoice in unrighteousness/injustice, justice and righteousness must maintain a prominent place in love. This is made perfectly evident throughout the Prophets and their insistence on Israel following the ways of righteousness and justice. In Malachi 2:17, the Jews cry out, wanting to know where the God of justice has gone.

God is love, yes, but God also upholds justice and righteousness (Psalm 33:5). This is a necessary aspect of theology because it is a necessary aspect of God. Yes, it is difficult to define justice clearly, but there is agreement that whenever evil is perpetrated without consequence, injustice has taken place.

This is why so much emphasis is placed on the day of Judgment in Scripture. It is a warning, yes, but also a promise: there will be a day of reckoning. This was already expected by the Jews (cf. the Day of the LORD, also Daniel 12:1-2); it should not pass without notice how often it is emphasized in the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles (e.g. Acts 10:42, 17:30-31). With the Judgment comes the consequences for lifestyle, as Romans 2:5-11, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, etc. make clear.

Granted, too much emphasis on justice would mean all of us are going to hell; there is a place for God’s mercy and grace as expressed through Jesus (Romans 5:6-11). This also renders rejection of some concept of Jesus as paying the penalty for sinners untenable: after all, if there is no concept of justice in God’s saving act through Jesus, how can the Judgment have any pretense of justice? If there was no penalty paid for some sinners to be justified, how is it just to force other sinners to pay the penalty for their sin? If there is no concept of justice in the atonement, how can anyone argue against what Bell is suggesting?

In all of these things, balance is essential. God’s love demands that injustice be addressed; repentance and change is ideal, but condemnation is a very real and just sentence as well. The Scriptures are quite clear that Judgment involves what we have done in the flesh: our chance for repentance and finding life in Jesus come in this world, and once we die, we’ve exhausted our chances. That does not mean that God is now somehow unjust or unloving; He gave us plenty of chances, did He not? At some point, God will say “enough.” Who are we to argue with Him?

And that’s the issue in the end. God is who God is. We either accept that or reject it. There’s every temptation in the world to accept the aspects of God we like and try to refashion all of God’s more “negative” attributes into something more socially acceptable. Israel did the same thing: it was great that YHWH rescued them from slavery, but who could serve a god without an image? And so they made a golden calf and called it YHWH and felt better about themselves. But the calf was not YHWH. YHWH cannot be so easily fashioned into a god of our own liking.

He lets us do it because He loves us; He does not coerce or compel us to accept Him as He is. We must seek after Him (Hebrews 11:6), and He desires to be found, being quite nearby (Acts 17:26-28).

There are some aspects to God and Scripture that are difficult. What the Scripture says about the fate of the unbelievers and the wicked is difficult to swallow and hard. Understanding how God could command Israel to commit ethnic cleansing is hard. There are a lot of things we will find out about God which we may not agree with and perhaps we might strongly dislike.

We don’t have to like it. But we have to confess that it is true.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God (John 6:68-69).

It is very easy to make an idol out of knowledge, understanding, and preference. We will never know everything, understand everything, or even like everything about God in Christ, but that does not mean that we reject whatever we do not know, understand, or prefer. This is not a call for us to presume that we know the answer even when we do not know the question, or to get so lost in the challenges of many of the questions that we lose heart. Instead, we are called upon to trust. To have faith. To accept what God has revealed about Himself, us, and the fate of everyone. We may not always know everything, understand it all, or even like it, but we can know that Jesus has the words of eternal life, and He is the Holy One of God. Let us be rooted in that faith, and allow Jesus’ message to inform our understanding of God.

Ethan R. Longhenry

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The 1 Enoch Conundrum

Christians strongly believe that what Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is true:

Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness. That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.

The Scriptures represent the sacred words of God that teach us His truth and how we are to live. We understand that Paul is not here specifying what books are Scripture and what books are not Scripture; no Apostle or associate of an Apostle write such a list. Instead, the boundaries of what is Scripture and what is not developed over a few hundred year period after the Apostles and has led to our current Bible. This process was also taking place in Judaism at much the same time.

Despite all of the sensationalist claims promoted in society, history shows that there was not much dispute about the majority of the books now known as Scripture. Most of the books now understood as Scripture were never disputed as Scripture. Likewise, most of the “extra-canonical” books were never claimed to be Scripture: apocryphal and psudepigraphal works, Gnostic gospels and treatises, and post-Apostolic Christian literature.

We should not paint with too broad a brush, however, because there were some disputes. Questions circulated about Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon since they did not include the Divine Name. The Hebrew letter was disputed because its author was never listed; Revelation was suspect less because of its origin and more because of how heretics used it. 2 Peter, Jude, and 2/3 John were also disputed at times. On the other side of the equation, many believed in the inspiration of 1 Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Letter of Barnabas. The place of the apocryphal works, including Tobit, Judith, Baruch, 1/2 Maccabees, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, the expansions of Daniel and Esther, among other works, were also disputed, some believing that they were inspired, and others not. Included in this list is 1 Enoch.

There is an understandable level of inertia about the canon of Scripture. We understand that those who were drafting up lists were not inspired men, but we believe that God providentially preserved His revealed Word in the Scriptures for us. To argue to withdraw a book from the canon, or to add a book to it, casts doubt and aspersions upon the process. Therefore, it always seems safer to make arguments justifying the inclusion of canonized books while justifying the exclusion of the non-canonized books.

These arguments, on the whole, are robust. While it is true that the Divine Name is not in Esther, Ecclesiastes, or the Song of Solomon, their value in expressing the events of history and elements of life have not been disputed by believers over the centuries. In the New Testament, Hebrews, 2/3 John, Jude, and Revelation are alluded to or cited by Christians in the late first and early second centuries. The value and inspiration of the content of Hebrews was not in doubt; the question of authorship was what was most pressing. It is not the fault of the Revelation that it was abused by heretics. The most questionable letter of them all would be 2 Peter, for which we have comparatively little evidence of second century use, and Origen in the third century expresses some doubt about it but confesses that it is considered from Peter and inspired by most in his day.

Apocryphal and pseudepigraphal works do have value in terms of describing the realities of Israel in the intertestamental period, yet they themselves confess that the Spirit was not inspiring people during those days:

And laid up the stones in the mountain of the temple in a convenient place, until there should come a prophet to shew what should be done with them (1 Maccabees 4:46).

So was there a great affliction in Israel, the like whereof was not since the time that a prophet was not seen among them (1 Maccabees 9:27).

Also that the Jews and priests were well pleased that Simon should be their governor and high priest for ever, until there should arise a faithful prophet (1 Maccabees 14:41).

Likewise, while there is value in books like 1 Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Letter of Barnabas in terms of understanding early Christianity, claims of inspiration tend to fall flat. Hermas lives in the middle of the second century, long after the Apostles; Clement’s letter points back to the Apostles, and there is little confidence to be had in the idea that Barnabas wrote the letter ascribed to him.

The standards of early Christians, on the whole, worked. To be considered Scripture, books had to be attested as Scripture by Jesus and the Apostles, must have been written by an Apostle or a direct associate of an Apostle, and to bear the hallmarks of the Holy Spirit.

But then there is the 1 Enoch conundrum.

And to these also Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their works of ungodliness which they have ungodly wrought, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 1:14-15).

And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones to execute judgment upon all, and to destroy all the ungodly: and to convict all flesh of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him (1 Enoch 1:9).

Jude quotes 1 Enoch as representing the prophecy of Enoch, and yet what we consider 1 Enoch is not part of the canon of Scripture.

All kinds of arguments are brought forth to explain this conundrum, and I would like to investigate many of them. Since 1 Enoch is not considered canonical, it seems like there is an automatic prejudice against the work. We will attempt a level of objectivity and try to consider “both sides” of the argument. On the “one side” is the current situation: 1 Enoch is reckoned as pseudepigraphal, not part of the canon, uninspired, perhaps preserving somehow a snippet of what Enoch said. But let us also consider the “other side,” and imagine what would have happened if the Book of Enoch was considered canonical, perhaps heading up the Prophets in the Old Testament, and how the argument would shift to defending the book.
What is 1 Enoch?

The book of Enoch, called 1 Enoch to differentiate it from two other pseudepigraphal works attributed to Enoch, stands today as a 108 chapter book divided into no fewer than five books, or sections:

I. The Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36)
II. The Similitudes, or Parables, of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71)
III. The Astronomical Book, or Book of Luminaries (1 Enoch 72-82)
IV. The Book of Dream Visions (1 Enoch 83-90)
V. The Letter of Enoch (1 Enoch 91-108)

The book purports to be the words and visions of Enoch, the seventh generation man in Genesis 5:18-24, and relates often to Methuselah and Noah, Enoch’s son and great-grandson, respectively. The book includes a defense for a solar calendar (the Astronomical Book) and an extended metaphor describing the history of Israel (the Book of Dream Visions). Perhaps the most significant element of 1 Enoch is the first book, the Book of the Watchers, describing the actions and downfall of the angels who took daughters of men to themselves and further corrupted mankind, described in Genesis in Genesis 6:1-4.

More detailed information about material in the book of Enoch can be found in this introduction or on Wikipedia. An early twentieth century translation of 1 Enoch by R.H. Charles can be found here or here.

Arguments have been made for years about the influence of 1 Enoch on the New Testament. It is quite clear that Jude quotes 1 Enoch and even alludes to other events in 1 Enoch, as we shall see, and Peter does the same in 2 Peter and perhaps 1 Peter also. One may see some allusion to elements of 1 Enoch in Revelation, and some discern certain phraseology in other New Testament books as being influenced by 1 Enoch. As we will also see, 1 Enoch was considered the inspired production of Enoch the prophet by many of the early Christian writers of the second and early third centuries.

Disputes circulated around the book from all sides. Its focus on angels and easy use in Christology no doubt weighed against it in the eyes of the Jews; it was not accepted into the Jewish canon. Ultimately it would not make it into the canon of the Christian Bible except in Ethiopia, where it has always been part of the Bible of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Its preservation is a major issue. The only extant copies of the manuscript are the Ethiopic version, which is itself a translation of a mostly lost Greek version. There are some portions of the text that have been preserved in Greek and Latin, and it was known from its citations in patristic literature. On the whole, however, 1 Enoch was lost to Western (and even most of Eastern) Christianity from the medieval period until the beginning of the nineteenth century, when 1 Enoch was “rediscovered” and translated into Latin and English.

Ever since there have been disputations about the provenance of 1 Enoch. The discussion was forever changed by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, for in cave 4 at Qumran scrolls and fragments were found of every book of 1 Enoch in Aramaic except for the second book (the Similitudes), including a part of 1 Enoch 1:9 itself; three small portions of 1 Enoch were found in Hebrew in cave 1. 1 Enoch, then, has a history before the Greek text. Whether it was originally written entirely in Hebrew or in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic is not definitively known at this time.

1 Enoch, therefore, is most certainly a pre-Christian Jewish apocalyptic work written in Hebrew or perhaps Hebrew and Aramaic.
1 Enoch: The Evidence

Let us now consider the evidence that we would use in order to make the case that 1 Enoch, or at least some part of it, is inspired.

Such a case must begin with Jude 1:14-15 and 1 Enoch 1:9:

And to these also Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their works of ungodliness which they have ungodly wrought, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones to execute judgment upon all, and to destroy all the ungodly: and to convict all flesh of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.

This is fairly strong evidence: we do not have such citations from books like Esther, Ecclesiastes, or Song of Solomon. Furthermore, Jude calls it prophecy, and what does Peter say about prophecy?

And we have the word of prophecy made more sure; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:19-21).

Therefore, we must conclude that Enoch is one of the prophets, and very likely the first prophet, moved by the Holy Spirit to speak.

Against this some in the past were willing to cast doubt on the inspiration of Jude since he quoted what was regarded as an apocryphal book, but most conservative Christians would reject such a notion as going too far.

Many attempt to advance the argument that Jude is not really quoting 1 Enoch 1:9 since there are some discrepancies between what Jude has presented and what is recorded in 1 Enoch. But if the book had been previously been considered canonical, such opposition would not take place; we would say that Jude is not attempting to provide a precise quote or there is textual corruption somewhere.

We are not really in a position to judge Jude’s citation since we lack the Hebrew or Aramaic source text. For all we know, Jude may be directly translating the Hebrew/Aramaic original we do not have. But even if he is not, we must recognize that many quotations are not precisely word-for-word in the New Testament, and we do not use such arguments to cast aspersions on those texts. Finally, if we were to reject the idea of direct quotation, we must then suggest that Jude is quoting the true statement of Enoch that sounds very, very similar to a statement written in a book years before him but which has no influence upon him. Such an argument seems quite forced and artificial and lacks credibility.

Jude describes Enoch as the “seventh from Adam” in Jude 1:14, which may be influenced by 1 Enoch 60:8-9:

But the male is named Behemoth, who occupied with his breast a waste wilderness named Duidain, on the east of the garden where the elect and righteous dwell, where my grandfather was taken up, the seventh from Adam, the first man whom the Lord of Spirits created.

But it might just be that Jude’s use is coincidental. Yet again, if Enoch had always been considered as canonical, we would more likely than not consider it a reference to 1 Enoch 60:8.

Both Jude and Peter also seem to allude to the story of the angels in prison as written in 1 Enoch. Consider 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 1:6, and 1 Enoch 10:4-6:

For if God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.

And angels that kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation, he hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.

And again the Lord said to Raphael: “Bind Azazel [one of the fallen angels, erl] hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness: and make an opening in the desert, which is in Dudael, and cast him therein. And place upon him rough and jagged rocks, and cover him with darkness, and let him abide there for ever, and cover his face that he may not see light. And on the day of the great judgment he shall be cast into the fire.”

The parallelism is breathtaking. Jude’s and Peter’s references (and it is often believed that Peter is influenced by Jude, or vice versa) have no real parallel in any Old Testament passage, and it has often been adduced that they are speaking of things not otherwise known from Scripture. Yet the details, sinful angels, cast into a prison, darkness, reserved for fire, are all found in 1 Enoch 10:4-6!

This is challenging for many because it directly bears on the interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4:

And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all that they chose.
And the LORD said, “My spirit shall not strive with man for ever, for that he also is flesh: yet shall his days be a hundred and twenty years.”
The Nephilim were in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them: the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.

The identification of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” has been disputed over time. The earliest Christians, influenced by 1 Enoch, believed the “sons of God” to be fallen angels, and “daughters of men” as exactly that. Later interpreters have suggested that the “sons of God” are the descendants of Adam through Seth and the “daughters of men” are the descendants of Cain.

The events described in Genesis 6:1-4 are discussed in greater detail in 1 Enoch 6-10: the angels see the beautiful women, lust for them, make an agreement to take them; these fallen angels are named; they teach mankind astrology, magic, medications from plants, war instruments, and makeup; men become even more depraved, shed much blood; God’s judgment regarding the Flood is then made at least partially on the basis of these events and He then imprisons all the angels who have engaged in this immorality.

It is to the latter part of this story that Peter and Jude seem to be alluding. If this is the case, then the identification of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” in Genesis 6:1-4 is completely evident: the angels are “sons of God,” and human females the “daughters of men.”

It is natural, then, for those who affirm the contrary interpretation to cast aspersions on the allusion and Peter’s and/or Jude’s use of 1 Enoch. Yet again, if the book had always been canonical, would such aspersions be tolerated? The argument would never have come up to begin with and we would all have understood, as it was understood in the second century, how the story was to be interpreted.

And again: if we reject the allusion, then we have the situation where Peter and Jude make reference to some otherwise unknown story about angels sinning and being imprisoned and have no knowledge of 1 Enoch and its story, even though 1 Enoch comes earlier than both of them. This argument is forced and lacks credibility, especially since Jude quotes Enoch from 1 Enoch eight verses later!

One of the arguments often used to advance the idea that Genesis 6:1-4 is about Seth’s vs. Cain’s descendants is Jesus’ declaration that angels do not marry (Matthew 22:30). Yet consider 1 Enoch 15:1-7:

And He answered and said to me, and I heard His voice: “Fear not, Enoch, thou righteous man and scribe of righteousness: approach hither and hear my voice. And go, say to the Watchers of heaven, who have sent thee to intercede for them: ‘You should intercede for men, and not men for you: Wherefore have ye left the high, holy, and eternal heaven, and lain with women, and defiled yourselves with the daughters of men and taken to yourselves wives, and done like the children of earth, and begotten giants (as your) sons? And though ye were holy, spiritual, living the eternal life, you have defiled yourselves with the blood of women, and have begotten (children) with the blood of flesh, and, as the children of men, have lusted after flesh and blood as those also do who die and perish. Therefore have I given them wives also that they might impregnate them, and beget children by them, that thus nothing might be wanting to them on earth. But you were formerly spiritual, living the eternal life, and immortal for all generations of the world. And therefore I have not appointed wives for you; for as for the spiritual ones of the heaven, in heaven is their dwelling.”

Here 1 Enoch affirms that angels in Heaven do not marry, for they do not have wives appointed for them. Yet they sinned and acted in defiling ways by taking wives of humans. Some might suggest that Jesus is alluding to Enoch’s declaration about angels in Matthew 22:30. That is possible; it may not be so. Regardless, this evidence shows that it was believed that angels were not given in marriage in Heaven yet could still sin by lusting and taking wives of humans.

Some have also suggested that there is an allusion to the angels in prison in 1 Enoch in 1 Peter 3:18-20:

Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God; being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison, that aforetime were disobedient, when the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.

The allusion is suggested to be 1 Enoch 21, although I personally cannot see the correlation. If the “spirits in prison” were to refer to those spiritual beings who sinned, it would provide a better answer to the question why they would receive the preaching of Jesus but human souls at other times did not. On the other hand, such an interpretation is entirely ruled out if 1 Peter 4:6 is referring back to 1 Peter 3:19, and the allusion is then not a legitimate one.

There is then the evidence from patristic literature. The Epistle of Barnabas, likely an early second century document, directly quotes 1 Enoch 89:56 as Scripture in the 16th chapter, and refers to Enoch as a prophet in the 4th chapter. Justin Martyr (Second Apology> 5), Athenagoras (Plea for the Christians 24), Irenaeus (Against Heresies 1.15.6, 4.16.2, 4.36.4), and Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 5.1.10.1-2, Selections from the Prophets 2.1, 53.4), all mid-to-late second century authors, talk about Enoch in terms of information revealed not only in Genesis but also 1 Enoch, and at times refer to characters within 1 Enoch. Yet perhaps the most interesting witness comes from Tertullian in the early third century (On the Apparel of Women, 3.1-3):

I am aware that the Scripture of Enoch, which has assigned this order (of action) to angels, is not received by some, because it is not admitted into the Jewish canon either. I suppose they did not think that, having been published before the deluge, it could have safely survived that world-wide calamity, the abolisher of all things. If that is the reason (for rejecting it), let them recall to their memory that Noah, the survivor of the deluge, was the great-grandson of Enoch himself; and he, of course, had heard and remembered, from domestic renown and hereditary tradition, concerning his own great-grandfather’s “grace in the sight of God,” and concerning all his preachings; since Enoch had given no other charge to Methuselah than that he should hand on the knowledge of them to his posterity. Noah therefore, no doubt, might have succeeded in the trusteeship of (his) preaching; or, had the case been otherwise, he would not have been silent alike concerning the disposition (of things) made by God, his Preserver, and concerning the particular glory of his own house.

If (Noah) had not had this (conservative power) by so short a route, there would (still) be this (consideration) to warrant our assertion of (the genuineness of) this Scripture: he could equally have renewed it, under the Spirit’s inspiration, after it had been destroyed by the violence of the deluge, as, after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian storming of it, every document of the Jewish literature is generally agreed to have been restored through Ezra.

But since Enoch in the same Scripture has preached likewise concerning the Lord, nothing at all must be rejected by us which pertains to us; and we read that “every Scripture suitable for edification is divinely inspired.” By the Jews it may now seem to have been rejected for that (very) reason, just like all the other (portions) nearly which tell of Christ. Nor, of course, is this fact wonderful, that they did not receive some Scriptures which spake of Him whom even in person, speaking in their presence, they were not to receive. To these considerations is added the fact that Enoch possesses a testimony in the Apostle Jude.

Those opposing 1 Enoch focus on the fact that Tertullian confesses that 1 Enoch is “not received by some,” and thus that it is disputed. Tertullian does say this, but that is not his argument: instead, he is attempting to defend its authenticity. Tertullian is willing to suggest that a “hard copy” of 1 Enoch might have been preserved throughout time, carried by Noah on the Ark. If a hard copy did not always exist, he suggests that it would be perhaps written again by inspiration first by Noah and then again later by Ezra. Tertullian then invokes both 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Jude, making the case that 1 Enoch edifies and that Jude testifies to the book. We will return to these arguments later, but it is important to note that the book receives a robust defense as inspired even in the early third century.
1 Enoch: The Opposition

Having seen the evidence that would be provided for the argument of inspiration, it is good for us to consider other challenges that come about regarding 1 Enoch.

Scholarship is mostly in agreement regarding the pseudepigraphal nature of 1 Enoch. While scholars have been compelled to date the book further into the past because of the Dead Sea Scrolls, they do not go too far back: it is believed to have been written no earlier than the third century BCE and most likely in the early second century BCE, perhaps just before the Maccabbean revolt.

Scholars also believe the book to be a composite collection written by different authors at different times. The lack of evidence for book 2 of 1 Enoch (The Similitudes, 1 Enoch 37-71) in the Dead Sea Scrolls have led many to posit that it was not originally there at Qumran, and was perhaps filled with “the Book of the Giants” that was found in the Cave 4 scrolls (a disputed thesis).

Those who oppose 1 Enoch as inspired hold firm to these declarations, but again, let us consider what would happen had 1 Enoch always been accepted as Scripture. Conservative Christians have deep skepticism when it comes to scholarly hypotheses about dating and authorship. Not a few scholars would date Daniel, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, and parts of Zechariah to the same time frame as 1 Enoch! Many scholars also claim that Isaiah 40-66, parts of Zechariah, and the Pentateuch as pseudepigraphical, being composite works of different authors at different times.

Furthermore, if it is true that Jude is alluding to 1 Enoch 60:8 in Jude 1:14, then Jude is indirectly attesting to the validity of at least something in the second book of 1 Enoch. The early Christians, admittedly, mostly quote from the first 15 chapters of 1 Enoch, but references are also made to the Astronomical Book and Dream Visions (Books III and IV).

Therefore, it is hard to argue that the book of 1 Enoch looked radically different in Jude’s time than it does today. But we do not have any evidence for the text much before Jude’s time, and have very little basis on which to make any argument, for or against, whether 1 Enoch was previously accepted as a unity. It would seem that the Qumran community found value in 1 Enoch but did not place it with the Biblical scrolls.

What Jude meant by the quotation is also a point of disputation. Many will compare it to Paul’s citation of Greeks in Acts 17:28 or the “Cretan prophet” Epimenides in Titus 1:12, and allege that just as we would never consider these pagans to be truly prophets or truly inspired, the same is true for Jude’s use of 1 Enoch.

But again, what if 1 Enoch had always been canonized? Such an argument would never dare stand. We would immediately compare Jude’s quotation of 1 Enoch to, say, Paul quoting the prophet Isaiah in Acts 28:25ff or some other similar situation.

No early Christians claim Epimenides to be a prophet, but many claim Enoch to be a prophet, and that is true in part because of Jude’s description of Enoch as such and his quotation of 1 Enoch.

Whether Jude believed all of 1 Enoch to be inspired or only parts of 1 Enoch to be inspired, or whether he saw it as having some form of deuterocanonical status can never be satisfactorily answered. But his quotation of Enoch seems to be more in line with the Apostles quoting the Hebrew Prophets than quoting the Greeks.

Opponents also appeal to the disputed nature of the book: the Jews did not accept it as Scripture, it was disputed as early as the third century, according to Tertullian, and later Christians like Origen, Augustine, Jerome, and others opposed it, and such is why it is not in the canon.

There is no doubt that the book is disputed, but why? Tertullian suggests some of the reasons why the Jews would dispute the work, and others are suggested by research into Jewish sensibilities of the time (the focus on angels, in particular, and the “angelic” interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4, was offensive to rabbinical understanding). Yes, later Christians did dispute the work, but the early Christians are almost unanimous in their approval.

In how many other circumstances would conservative Christians side with Augustine and Jerome over the witness of earlier Christians? They would do no such things in terms of infant baptism, original sin, offices in the church, and so on and so forth. This is not to say that any such persons are inspired or their judgments are inspired; many other books, not least the Apocrypha, were believed to be inspired by many, and we reject that today.

In the end, the fact that the book is disputed over time is a piece of evidence, but it is no more overwhelming for 1 Enoch than it would be for Esther, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Hebrews, 2 Peter, Jude, 2/3 John, and Revelation.

Many in opposition accept the date of the third century BCE to first century BCE and appeal to the fact that, as with other apocryphal books, there is no prophet at this time, and hence no inspiration. Yet there remains the major complication that Jude considers 1 Enoch 1:9, if nothing else, to be an authentic prophecy from Enoch, way back when there was still inspiration, evidently, since prophecy is not of private interpretation but comes from God through the Holy Spirit (Jude 1:14, 2 Peter 1:20-21). If 1 Enoch does faithfully represent what Enoch spoke, then this argument has no merit.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to 1 Enoch is in the fact that it was not accepted into the canon and, for all intents and purposes, lost to the majority of Christianity for over a millennium. Yes, it has Biblical citation, but so do books like the Book of Jashar and the Book of the Wars of the LORD (cf. Joshua 10:13, Numbers 21:14). If we were to suddenly discover one of these books in a fantastic discovery, would we open up the Biblical canon for them? This poses a major theological problem: if God has preserved His Word, how can some of it be left aside? How can we believe that God’s Providence directed the process if some books were left out?

On the other hand, all of this represents a bit of cultural prejudice. After all, if one were an Ethiopian Christian, this is a moot argument, for they have never “lost” the book. It has always been a part of their canon. It was only “lost” to Christians in Europe, Asia, and the rest of Africa, and done quite willingly. Is it not possible for men, however well-intentioned, to reject part of what God inspired? 1 Enoch, after all, is a special case, for unlike other possible “Biblical” books, it never has been completely lost, and an Apostle and a brother of the Lord allude to its main story and cite it as authoritative.
(Tentative, Apprehensive) Conclusions

Thus we have the 1 Enoch conundrum. Based on all of the above, I am willing to offer somewhat of a conclusion.

First of all, it should be noted that 1 Enoch is not a “salvation issue” in the least. There is nothing in 1 Enoch that changes any part of God’s plan of salvation; whatever bearing it has is on Genesis 6:1-4 and our understanding of Peter and Jude. If more of it is accepted as inspired, it provides some scientific observations, predictions about the Messiah, and discussions of Israel. With the exception of what was discussed above about the angels, there is nothing in 1 Enoch that is not otherwise made evident in Scripture or through scientific observation. And that which 1 Enoch more clearly illuminates does not impact salvation.

After all of this research I still have reservations when it comes to considering 1 Enoch, as is, inspired, for two main reasons:

1. Textual condition. 1 Enoch exists today as (at least) a translation of a translation: the Ethiopic (Ge’ez) translation of a Greek translation of the Aramaic and/or Hebrew (or, perhaps, the Greek translation of the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew; who knows?). It was written in a Semitic language, translated into an Indo-European one, and back into a Semitic one. Even if the Aramaic DSS fragments and Greek/Latin fragments proved valuable in correcting the text, it will still be difficult to trust that the 1 Enoch text we have, on a word-for-word basis, highly corresponding to the presumed original. This state is unlike the Hebrew OT or Greek NT for which we can have much more confidence, on the whole, on a word-for-word basis.

This is not to say that 1 Enoch is corrupted beyond recognition; far from it. We can still understand 1 Enoch on the basis of the texts we have. But when it comes for the strict standard we should expect from Holy Scripture, it is hard to have confidence in the current textual condition of 1 Enoch.

2. Lack of Canonicity, Means to Ascertain What is Canonical. While there are two sides of the canonicity argument, I still have reservations in wholeheartedly embracing a book the majority of Christianity did not embrace. I believe that God has spoken in His Word, and that He has providentially provided that Word to His followers, and it does pose a major theological issue to suggest that something was left out.

Furthermore we have the issue of what would make 1 Enoch inspired. It is theoretically possible, as Tertullian suggests, for Enoch to have written down his prophecies and to have them transmitted over the ages, but that is highly speculative. We do not see it influencing a lot of later texts until the New Testament. It looks more akin to what was being composed in the Persian and Hellenistic times than anything pre-exilic. Why would the Jews insist on a lunar calendar if they had a prophetic text from the antediluvian period insisting on a solar calendar, for instance? And, granting that the text as we have it is substantially the same as in Jude’s day, is Jude attempting to suggest that the whole work is inspired? It would seem that early Christians just accepted the whole thing, and while that could be possible, can we put such heavy reliance on the quotations on the first part so as to extrapolate that it is all inspired? What if not all of it comes from Enoch, but that it is true that some of the books of 1 Enoch were written later?

On account of these things I cannot have the confidence to declare all of 1 Enoch inspired. Nevertheless, I must conclude that 1 Enoch deserves more respect among Christians than it has obtained.

Whatever one thinks of the rest of 1 Enoch, the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36) must be given some kind of place in our consideration. It is from this section that Peter and Jude both make allusions, and Jude quotes directly from it. It was the section emphasized by early Christians in their citations, quotations, and allusions.

When we interpret Genesis 6:1-4, 2 Peter 2:4-9, or Jude 1:6-18, 1 Enoch must come into consideration. If one is going to advance the theory that the “sons of God” are Seth’s descendants, and the “daughters of men” are Cain’s descendants, Peter and Jude’s allusions to 1 Enoch 6-10 must be addressed, and some kind of argument must be offered against the substance of what is written, not just the attempt to denigrate the book as pseudegraphical.

In reality, I believe that 1 Enoch 6-10 is the definitive evidence against the Seth-Cain theory of Genesis 6:1-4. The reason why Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian believe that the “sons of God” are angels because of the testimony of 1 Enoch 6-10, and they are assured of their conviction because Peter and Jude both allude to that story. We must make reference to 1 Enoch 10:4-6 in order to understand 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6, and in so doing, can only come to a proper understanding of Genesis 6:1-4 on the basis of the evidence in 1 Enoch 6-10.

Therefore, while I do not have confidence in the inspiration of the whole of 1 Enoch, the testimony of the Apostle Peter and Jude the brother of the Lord lead me to believe that 1 Enoch 1-10, if nothing else, substantially represents the inspired prophecy and declarations of Enoch the seventh from Adam. Enoch ought to be considered one of the prophets alongside Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, and the rest, according to Jude 1:14. We should be more familiar with the contents of 1 Enoch than we are (myself included). We should not be afraid to make reference to 1 Enoch 1-10 in order to understand Genesis 6:1-4, 2 Peter 2, and Jude, and we should not believe that we have “sold out” the Bible in favor of pseudepigraphal texts, considering the confidence Jude has in at least that early section of 1 Enoch.

Ethan R. Longhenry

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We can try to construct an elaborate theology so as to put God in a box. But then there will be stories which confound those categories. So it is with Naaman and Elisha.
465 | 07.12 | Discomfited Theology | 2 Kings 5:17-19

And Naaman said, “If not, yet, I pray thee, let there be given to thy servant two mules’ burden of earth; for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt-offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto YHWH. In this thing YHWH pardon thy servant: when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, YHWH pardon thy servant in this thing.”
And he said unto him, “Go in peace.”
So he departed from him a little way (2 Kings 5:17-19).

Biblical narratives discomfit easy, comfortable theology.

2 Kings 5:1-19 relates the story of the cleansing of Naaman the Aramean. The Arameans are “frenemies” of the northern Kingdom of Israel, often forming an alliance when threatened by Assyria to the north or if they want to take advantage of Judah to the south (cf. Isaiah 7:1-7), but more often an enemy, more likely to overcome the Israelites than to be defeated by them (e.g. 2 Kings 8:11-15, 10:32-33). Naaman was a distinguished and honorable captain of the Aramean army; YHWH had given him victory, perhaps even over Israel; yet he was a leper (2 Kings 5:1). A captured Israelite servant girl informed Naaman’s wife about the prophet in Samaria who could heal Naaman’s leprosy (2 Kings 5:2-4); Naaman was dispatched to Israel, eventually was sent to Elisha the man of God, and Naaman was healed of his leprosy by dipping seven times in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:5-14). Naaman recognized that there was no god but the God of Israel; he wished to receive Israelite earth which he could ostensibly take back to his residence, and build upon it an altar so as to offer sacrifice to YHWH (2 Kings 5:15-17). Naaman then asked Elisha for pardon in one matter: when he goes into the house of Rimmon, the idol god of Aram, with his master the king of Aram, and prostrates himself there, he wished to be pardoned for doing so (2 Kings 5:18). Elisha told him to “go in peace”; he departed with the earth he requested (2 Kings 5:19).

Yet wait a moment! Did not YHWH tell Israel to put no other gods before Him, to prostrate before them and to serve them (Exodus 20:3-5)? Should Naaman not bring his sacrifices and offerings down to Jerusalem to the place where YHWH made His name to dwell (Deuteronomy 12:11)? If Naaman is so aware that there is no God but the God of Israel, should he not take that stand in Aram?

God’s working tends to be more complicated than we would like to admit. Yes, YHWH commanded Israel not to put other gods before Him; Israel and Judah would be cast into exile for not abiding by this commandment (2 Kings 17:7-23, 2 Chronicles 36:15-16). Yes, YHWH commanded that Israelites should bring their sacrifices to Jerusalem. But Naaman is not an Israelite; even while leprous and thus unclean, YHWH gave him victory, according to the author of 2 Kings. YHWH may well have given Naaman victory over Israel itself! If nothing else, YHWH allowed Naaman to advance in the Aramean army; it may be well be that YHWH elevated Naaman to his position because of his character, to provide him the opportunity not only for cleansing, but more importantly, to come to an understanding of His unique power in the universe.

In a similar way we can understand Naaman’s request for pardon. He is an Aramean, not an Israelite; in his station he is expected to show at least the pretense of honoring the god of Aram. We do well to note just how extraordinary this situation proves to be: while Israelites are falling over themselves to serve the Baals, this Aramean comes to the understanding that Israel should have maintained for 600 years! He may prostrate before and serve Rimmon in pretense, but Israel may be serving him substantively!

Naaman, a Gentile, wished to serve YHWH, God of Israel, as the only God; he wanted earth and to offer sacrifice to YHWH; he had to put on a pretense of serving Rimmon to satisfy his master. Whatever we may wish to think about these matters, Elisha, the prophet, the man of God, told him to “go in peace.” If Elisha, a mighty prophet of God, commends and pardons Naaman in this way, who are we to disagree? When Jesus, our Lord and Savior, commends Naaman (Luke 4:27), who are we to condemn?

What are we to make of Naaman’s faith and pardon? Some, wishing to defend their construct of theology at all costs, wish to cast aspersions on the narrative and any consequences that may be drawn from it. Others, looking to overthrow constructs at all costs, make much of such narratives and draw many consequences from it. Neither is a wise way forward. Naaman is extraordinary in every sense of the term; what God may allow for him in his situation is not what is expected out of the people of God who received Torah and will be held liable to it. Nevertheless, God is extraordinary, and does extraordinary things, and it is not for us His creation to force Him into tight theological boxes of our convenience. Any god that fits into a box is not the Creator God; what we know of Him is thanks to His revelation to us regarding Himself (Hebrews 1:1-3). We can be sure that there is far more that is true about Him than He has or could reveal to us (Isaiah 55:8-9). What seems contradictory to us in our perspective may not be at all from a higher perspective. God understands what He is doing; we are invited to get a glimpse into some of His work, but must never pretend that what He has revealed provides a fully comprehensible and accurate view of things.

Our basic impulse, as humans, is to know; once we know, then we can trust. With God we must trust in order to know; He has proven faithful, and we are to put our trust in Him so that we can have true wisdom and insight (Job 28:28, Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10, 15:33). Every so often we will get a glimpse of something that does not seem right or that fits existing categories. In those moments, will we despair in our discomfited theology, or will we be spurred on to greater trust in our great and magnificent God who is above all else?

Ethan R. Longhenry
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