Tag Archives: Jesus

Of Yehovah and Jehovah’s Witnesses

A week or so ago I saw something on Twitter that made me shake my head. An apparently well meaning Hebrew enthusiast gleefully reported that, after searching through hundreds of manuscripts, he’d found thousands of places where the divine name (YHWH) was vocalized by scribes as “Yehovah” but (and here’s what tickled him) none vocalized as “Yahweh”.

I’m not really sure why this would be so exciting,  but I’ll hazard a guess — there’s probably some dislike for “Yahweh” as the pronunciation of the divine name and an urge to be “truly Hebraic” by proving he knows better — that the name is really Yehovah.

This is silly. It shows a misunderstanding of why the scribes did what they did and why we can tell. I decided to make a short video explaining that.

The discussion of Yehovah also made me think of Jehovah’s witnesses. I’ll be interviewed this weekend for the Deeper Waters podcast. We’ll be talking about how my work in Unseen Realm matters for talking to Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. I thought I’d show you all something here that I will likely reference on that show.

Jehovah’s witnesses are fond of saying that John 1:1 doesn’t said “the Word [Jesus] was God” but “the Word was a god.” They base that on the absence of the definite article before the Greek word theos (“God”; “god”). Now, there are lengthy scholarly refutations of their approach, but here’s something simple. You could show this to the next JW who knocks on your door.

Question 1: are there any other instances in, say, just John 1, where theos lacks the definite article?
Question 2: If there are, does it make any sense to translated those occurrences “a god” instead of “God”?

Short answers: yes … and no way. Here’s a graphic to illustrate the point:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are all the instance of theos (in any form) in John 1. Most of them have the definite article (green rectangle). That means the rest lack the article. Now how would those verses (aside from John 1:1, which the JW wants to read “a god”) sound if we read “a god” instead of “God”? Here you go — have fun with your JW visitor!

John 1:6 –

There was a man sent from a god, whose name was John.

(So the God of the Bible didn’t send John — but some old, other god did!).

John 1:12-13 –

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of a god, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of a god.

Hmm.. . . I wonder which God was the father of people who believed in Jesus. Maybe they got to pick their favorite!

John 1:18 –

No one has ever seen a god; the only god, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

So, no one ever saw a god … not even Moses (Exod 33-34)? Abraham (Jehovah comes to Abram as a man – Gen 18)? But the particular god at the Father’s side (if that isn’t Jesus, which god is at Jehovah’s side?) has made him known. How? How did that other god make Jehovah known?

Naturally, JWs have their own Greek NT. They may have thought of this before — but how many JWs bring a Greek NT with them? At any rate, I usually go right to Exod 23:20-23 and other passages where the angel of YHWH is identified with YHWH and then go to Gen 48:15-16. They don’t see that coming. But it’s in their preferred Bible, the OT.

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Was Jesus a Failed Prophet?

I’ve blogged on this topic before, but I’ve recently gotten a few questions on it in email. I decided to revisit it by posting some PDF resources.

Here’s the short answer to “Was Jesus a failed prophet?” Yes, if you don’t understand the idea of conditional prophecy, which occurs frequently in the Bible, and therefore read the New Testament deficiently. (Even shorter: Yes, if you’re ignorant).

When I blogged about this before, I drew attention to Chris Tilling’s post on a new book (now not so new): When the Son of Man Didn’t Come: A Constructive Proposal on the Delay of the Parousia, by Christopher M. Hays, in collaboration with Brandon Gallaher, Julia S. Konstantinovsky, Richard J. Ounsworth OP, and Casey A. Strine.that covers the subject. Chris introduced his post this way:

So Christians must choose. Either the NT isn’t even somewhat reliable, or Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet. In either case this falsifies Christianity ”. So says John Loftus in his conclusion to his essay “At Best Jesus Was a Failed Apocalyptic Prophet”, in The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails. 

Got your attention?

He sure did. Chris goes on to talk a bit about how prophecy is conditional — more than many realize. Lapsed fundamentalists like Loftus, who seem incapable of talking about Christianity in any way other than his caricature of the movement he left, certainly doesn’t know that (and likely has still not read the book recommended by Tilling). When I posted the link to Tilling’s blog, I mentioned conditionality as well. Below are three papers / essays by scholars relevant to this topic. The ones by Chisholm and Pratt specifically address conditionality in prophecy. Chisholm utilizes the work of Pratt, so it may help to read Pratt first. Bauckham’s essay goes a different direction. He points out, using examples outside the Bible, that the idea of “eschatological delay” wasn’t uncommon in apocalyptic literature. So, while something like the delay of the parousia might be upsetting or puzzling to us (because how many pastors actually teach their people about genre and context?), it would have been more familiar to ancient readers and thinkers.

Pratt Historical Contingencies and Biblical Predictions

Chisholm Contingency in Biblical Prophecy

Bauckham Delay of Parousia

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PEERANORMAL Episode 13: Bible Codes

Back in mid-nineties a peer-reviewed article was published that sought to legitimize the idea that the Hebrew text of Genesis encrypted meaningful information about modern persons and events. Their method for detecting the presumed encrypted knowledge was known as equidistant letter sequencing (ELS).This article (Witztum, Rips, and Rosenberg) became a reference point for journalist Michael Drosnin, who wrote the bestselling book, The Bible Code, shortly thereafter. Subsequent to the success of Drosnin’s book, Bible-code research expanded to the full Torah and beyond, to the rest of the Hebrew Bible. In this episode we ask whether there is such a thing as ELS Bible codes. Have other statisticians and biblical scholars agreed with Witztum, Rips, and Rosenberg, or are there serious problems with the method and its assumptions?

The episode is now live.

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Christmas a Pagan Celebration? What You Know May Not Be So

Hat tip to Stephen Huebscher for this one!

Here’s a link to an interesting short essay on this topic. The author argues (with some justification) that rather than Christians adapting a pagan holiday to their sacred calendar, pagans co-opted December 25 from Christians. Here’s a teaser paragraph:

It is true that the first evidence of Christians celebrating December 25th as the date of the Lord’s nativity comes from Rome some years after Aurelian, in A.D. 336, but there is evidence from both the Greek East and the Latin West that Christians attempted to figure out the date of Christ’s birth long before they began to celebrate it liturgically, even in the second and third centuries. The evidence indicates, in fact, that the attribution of the date of December 25th was a by-product of attempts to determine when to celebrate his death and resurrection.

I’m considering devoting an episode of the Naked Bible Podcast to this topic. I’m reading through the only two academic books on Christmas origins I know of. We’ll see if I get through the material in time.

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Naked Bible Podcast Episode 182: Hebrews 4:1-13

Hebrews 4:1-13 continues an important theme introduced in Hebrews 3—holding fast to faith so as to enter into God’s rest (i.e., inherit the promise of eternal life). The writer strikes an analogy between the rest of God, earlier related to entrance (or not) into the Promised Land (Numbers 14), and God’s rest at the end of his creation work. God’s Sabbath rest is therefore identified with eternal life—a rest that is the result of God’s efforts, not ours. Since Christ is the one who provided eternal life through his work on the cross, Christ is our Sabbath.

The episode is now live.

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Naked Bible Podcast Episode 176: Hebrews 1:5-14

The writer of Hebrews builds on his assertions that the particular son of God (Jesus) who was the agent of creation, eternal wisdom, and the essence of God, by comparing him to other supernatural sons of God (angels). But what does a phrase like “You are my son, today I have begotten you” mean? Does this mean Jesus was a created being? This episode notes the use of this phrase and other Old Testament passages utilized by the writer of Hebrews to explore its actual meaning. Along the way, the episode discusses two links in Hebrews 1 to the Deuteronomy 32 worldview and the divine council.

There was a special deal from Logos Mobile Ed associated with this episode:  Get 40% off Dr. Heiser’s Jewish Trinity course. Limited Time Offer.
logos.com/nakedbiblepodcast

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Naked Bible Podcast Episode 175: Hebrews 1:1-4

Hebrews 1:1-4 sets the tone for the entire epistle. The writer asserts that the revelation given by God through one particular son—Jesus Christ—is superior to Torah. It is Christ who is the full expression of God’s wisdom, and the actual, essential being of God Himself. Since the “inheritance” language of Heb 1:1-4 cannot suggest that God himself is being retired and succeeded, the language needs to be understood in terms of co-rulership. But why is this particular son (1:2) different than all others? This episode explores and expands on these themes and addresses this question by discussing the Old Testament context for the phrase, “the radiance of the glory of God,” Wisdom Christology, and hypostasis terminology.

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Heavenly Worship in Second Temple Judaism, Early Christianity, and Gnostic Sects: Part 4

Part 4 of a series by guest blogger, Stephen Huebscher

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C. CONCEPTIONS OF HEAVENLY WORSHIP IN GNOSTIC GROUPS

This post deals with groups that are known as “Gnostics” from the Greek word gnosis = “knowledge.” They developed the century after Christianity. They are the darling of much of contemporary scholarship, which tends to trust them more as authentic christianities and distrust the NT—it is so backwards! One of the results of the problem these groups posed, is that early Christians developed their understanding of Christianity in order to show the distinction. But when you read these, you will see a sampling of how these groups derided and scorned followers of Jesus.

Some scholars are using the term “Gnostic” less these days, because we have come to see that there was a fair amount of diversity among these groups. But the term is still useful. To follow up on the previous point, the groups who drew on the mystical elements present in some streams of Judaism (e.g., Enoch) as well as middle-Platonism came to be known as “Gnostics,” though many scholars regard this as a fairly elastic, catch-all category. There were many different Gnostic groups, which have been divided into three major types, based on their liturgical practices: (1) Cults of Power—e.g., Simon Magus; (2) Groups originating from the Separation of Christianity from Judaism—and (3) ‘The Gentile Counter-Churches’—e.g., Valentinus, Marcion, and Tatian. (Although Montanus may be classed in this division, he and his Church cannot usefully be pushed into the same theological classification with the others as a ‘Gnostic’ phenomenon.) Look at some of the things they wrote. (Word that are between angle brackets show where there was a break in the text, and the scholar inserted their best guess.)

 Treat. Seth 60.16-29. It is an ineffable union of undefiled truth, as exists among the sons of light, of which they made an imitation, having proclaimed a doctrine of a dead man and lies so as to resemble the freedom and purity of the perfect assembly, (and) themselves with their doctrine to rear and slavery, worldly cares, and abandoned worship . . . .  [This Sethite text scorns Christians for imitating the heavenly world, but in the process admits belief in a perfect, heavenly assembly. Boldface added.]

 Ap James 15.13-23. And when we had passed beyond that place, we sent our mind(s) farther upwards and saw with our eyes and heard with our ears hymns and angelic benedictions and angelic rejoicing.  And heavenly majesties were singing praise, and we too rejoiced. [In this text, the disciples mentally ascend to heaven, where they join the heavenly worship.]

 Disc. 8-9, 56.22—57.9. Lord, grant us a wisdom from your power that reaches us, so that we may describe to ourselves the vision off the eighth and the ninth.  We have already advanced to the seventh, since we are pious and walk in your law. . . .  Lord, grant us the truth in the image.  Allow us through the spirit to see the form of the image that has no deficiency, and receive the reflection of the pleroma from us through our praise. [Here, the speakers pray for the ability to ascend to the eighth and ninth heavens so that they may have the heavenly vision of God.]

 Irenaeus AH 1.21.3. For some of them prepare a nuptial couch, and perform a sort of mystic rite (pronouncing  certain expressions) with those who are being initiated, and affirm that it is a spiritual marriage which is celebrated by them, after the likeness of the conjunctions above [italics mine].

 Irenaeus AH 1.21.3. After this [baptism] they anoint the initiated person with balsam; for they assert that this unguent is a type of that sweet odour which is above all things.

 Zost 8.10-14. And about this airy-earth, why it has a cosmic model?  And about the aeon copies, how many there are, and, why they are [not] in pain?

 These groups generally believed that there was one God, but many lower, divine beings in heaven, and that there were angels. Some also believed that the male God had a female consort.  Most references to worship in the realms above the earth are rather general, whether in the presence of God or merely in the Aeons between heaven and earth. There is not much material extant on what most of them did for liturgy, and even less on what they thought they were accomplishing by what they did. These references often only say that “x praised y” or that “x prayed for forgiveness.”  Generally, liturgical form is not implied.

Here are some more texts which refer to some kind of religious acts that might be called “liturgy” or “piety” or “worship.”

Origen, Comm John 13.114 – Heracleon thinks, however, that the expression “we worship” means the one who is in the aeon and those who have come with him, for these, he says, have known whom they worship, because they worship in truth. [Italics original.  Those who have already ascended and are in the aeon, one of the intermediary levels of heaven between the Father and earth, are presumed by Heracleon, a Valentinian, to worship the Father properly.]

 Val Exp 25.30—26.21 – [He is] . . .the [true] High Priest, [the one who has] the authority to enter the Holies of Holies, revealing the glory of the Aeons and bringing forth the abundance to . The East [. . . that is] in [him.  He is the one who revealed himself as] the primal [sanctuary] and [the] treasury of  [the All]. [liturgical terms and cosmology with heavenly paradigm—primal sanctuary—implied]

 Val Exp 39.20-22 – [The complete one glorifies] Sophia; the image [glorifies] Truth. [worship in the heavenly realms, but not worshiping Jesus]

 Val Exp 40.20-29 – And we [glorify] thee:  [Glory] be to thee, the Father in the [Son, the Father] in the Son, the Father [in the] holy [Church and in the] holy [angels]!  [glory to God among the angels]

 Gosp Truth 40.30—41.3 – For that very reason he brought him forth in order to speak about the place and his restingplace from which he had come forth, and to glorify the pleroma, the greatness of his name and the sweetness of the Father. [The Son was created to praise the pleroma (in heaven?)]

 Tripart Trac 64.20-22 – The one whom they hymn, thereby glorifying him, he has sons. [the beings created by the ?son sing hymns of praise to him]

 Tripart Trac 68.22 – Therefore, in the song of glorification and in the power of the unity of him from whom they have come, they were drawn into a mingling and a combination and a unity with one another.  They offered glory worthy of the Father from the pleromatic congregation, which is a single representation although many. . . .   Now this was a praise […] [the pleromas sing praise]

Some groups, such as the Valentinians, believed that the person’s soul passed through multiple heavens, each higher than the last, in order to gaze upon God and sometimes participate there in the angelic liturgy. (In the Valentinian form, one had to ascend first through thirty levels (Aeons). In other words, worship = ascending to heaven. A key difference from early Christian texts is that Jesus was not worshiped, either in heaven or on earth. After all, he was merely the human body that the heavenly Savior or Christ descended on.  There were many other heavenly beings who were much higher and much more important and glorious than the Christ.  For instance, in the Gospel of Philip, “the sacramental catechesis. . . insists that its rites transform the initiate into Christ in contrast to those of conventional Christians which merely lend the name Christian” (Pheme Perkins, “Identification with the Savior,” 183). Also, they believed it was an error to worship God as the Creator. This is because at least one group (the Valentinians) distinguished between God and the creator. The one who created the world was not God, but said was a lower being that resulted from a botched abortion by Sophia. This, of course, was a significant difference from OT and early Christian practice.

Not covered here are the mysterious references to the heavenly “bridal chamber,” about which little is known.

CHRISTIANITY COMPARED TO GNOSTIC GROUPS

  1. Christians worshiped Jesus. This was a big deal. Gnostics never did.
  2. Christians worshiped God as Creator. Gnostics never did.
  3. Some Gnostic groups (e.g., Valentinians) believed in ascending to heaven as a substitute for worship. They didn’t need Jesus, etc.

“We may not always know what we are reading in ancient documents.  We do not always know how a document is related to its own context, since the context is not always known.  In the final analysis, we can only do what we are mandated to do by the dominical institutions as we have them in the writings that the church canonized as sacred scripture.  We preach the gospel to all people and baptize in the triune name those who come to faith in Jesus.  We take bread and wine and give thanks over them.  There are models in the tradition that can instruct us in how to do these things.  But we must finally do them in a way that reflects our own obedience of faith and expresses our own devotion to the Giver of every good and perfect gift.” (Frank Senn, 327-28)

NOTES/BIBLIOGRAPHY

David H. Tripp, “‘Gnostic Worship’: the State of the Question,” in Gnosticism in the Early Church, Studies in Early Christianity 5, ed. David M. Scholer (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1993), 322-23; reprinted from Studia Liturgica 1 (1987): 210-20.

Margaret Barker, Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (London and New York: T & T Clark, 2003).

Robert A. Oden, Jr., “Cosmology, cosmogony,” Anchor Bible Dictionary 1.1170.

Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. by James Robinson, 3rd edition.

April D. Deconick, “Heavenly Temple Traditions and Valentinian Worship: A Case for first-Century Christology in the Second Century,” in Carey C. Newman, James R. Davila, and Gladys S. Lewis, Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism:  Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, SJSJ 63 (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 308-41.

Pheme Perkins in “Identification with the Savior in Coptic Texts from Nag Hammadi,” in Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism, ed. Newman, Davila, Lewis (Leiden: Brill, 1999).

Frank C. Senn, “Lutherans Are Natural ‘Splitters’,” Worship 79 (July 2005).

Gordon W. Lathrop, Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.

  1. K. Beale, NIGTC,Revelation(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999),

David E. Aune, WBC, 3 volumes: Revelation 1—5Revelation 6—16, and Revelation 17—22.

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Naked Bible Podcast Episode 162: The Evil Eye

The “evil eye” was a widespread superstition in the ancient world, one that continues on into the present day. The belief that one could cause someone harm merely by looking at them, or cast a spell over them by the same means, shows up in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamian, Greece, Rome, and Rabbinic writings. But does the Bible contain any reference to the notion? This episode explores biblical references to having an “evil eye” and discusses the meaning of those references in biblical thought.

The episode is now live.

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