E111 – June 2004
It was with great sadness that I learnt of the death of Ruth McHaffie earlier this year. She would certainly not want us to be sad on her account because, like Paul, she was convinced that it is a far better thing to leave this life and be with Christ. However, like Paul, she also continued to do more worthwhile work right up to the last, by continuing to encourage others at every opportunity and by completing what had been a long and detailed study of life and faith in our community. All those who have benefited from her ministry in the past will be able to continue to be helped by the results of her careful and honest account of her own experiences in our community and of its journey in wrestling with understanding prophecy. Her two books on prophecy have already been published and her analysis of our approach to it deserves careful consideration. Her two autobiographical books are expected to be published later this year.
As usual, we can expect them all to be challenging, but Ruth was never one for challenging others without facing up to the challenges herself. She was convinced that there is no room for complacency in either our beliefs or practices. Each new generation needs to find for itself how to express its commitment to our Lord and Master in both departments. True growth and maturity in Christ are never achieved by merely accepting what the previous generation said and did. It was never a question with Ruth of change for the sake of change, but rather of facing up to the challenge of Christ in new and changed circumstances and in the light of new knowledge as and when it becomes available. By her detailed and thoughtful study, consulting sources which most of us would have difficulty in accessing, she has made it easier for the rest of us to engage in a reassessment of our own understanding and behaviour. No longer have any of us any excuse for not realizing that our community has repeatedly changed its expectations and predictions about the future, something for which we are not slow to criticize others. So much so that it is no longer possible to honestly maintain that we have any better understanding of God’s plan for the future than anyone else. If matters were so plain, as we continue to maintain, then why the repeated disappointments and changes? Doesn’t our record in this department make our whole approach to prophecy questionable?
Perhaps we have not sufficiently listened to our Master. On one occasion Jesus said: ‘The Law of Moses and the writings of the Prophets were in effect up to the time of John the Baptist; since then the Good News about the Kingdom of God is being told ….’ (Lk 16:16 GNB) The clear implication of this saying is that the Law and the Prophets were part of the old order and the good news about the Kingdom (Reign) of God was beginning a new order. Have we really taken on board the plain sense of this passage? As disciples of Christ, we are no longer under the Law, but equally neither, according to this saying, should we be under the Prophets. We are being told, in no uncertain terms here, that both the Law and the Prophets had their major role in the old order leading up to Christ. We are now under Christ, in Christ, and not in the Law or in the Prophets. Christ has, in a real sense, brought both to an end, to their intended goal. That is not to say that we have nothing whatever to learn from them but that we are no longer under their authority in the way that the OT people of God were, for we are under Christ. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we give what Jesus says priority over what Moses and the prophets say. If we cannot glean from Jesus and his apostles clear teaching about anything, including the future, then we should not depend on Moses or the prophets for it. The Law and the Prophets were meant to prepare the people of God for Christ. In a sense they did, for we are told in the gospels of several people who were waiting for the kingdom, but even with the benefit of the prophets they did not anticipate what would be involved. The apostles and disciples themselves all assumed that Jesus’ death on the cross heralded the end of all their hopes and aspirations! What makes us think that we can use the prophets, that failed to prepare the people of Jesus’ day for what God had in mind, to predict what God has in mind for the return of our Lord and all the political intrigues that might precede it? There is no evidence whatever in the NT that converts to Christ were instructed by detailed political interpretations of the OT prophets. Why not? Because, as Jesus says, that was no longer their function for they were ‘in effect until John’ just like the Law.
That brings us to Luke 16:17. G B Caird has the following to say about this verse:
It is not clear what Luke believed to be the meaning of the second saying. It has usually been taken to mean that, although Jesus made the Law obsolete as a religious system and abrogated many of its ritual commandments, its great moral principles remained unchanged. But it is doubtful whether this sense can be got out of the text. The word translated ‘dot’ really means a serif or ornamental flourish added to a letter, and to say that not a serif of the Law can become void is to say that the whole Law, word for word and letter for letter, with all its minutiae and all its rabbinic embellishments, remains valid in perpetuity. Any rabbi might have said this, but we cannot imagine it on the lips of Jesus, especially in view of the fact that the very next verse contains an alteration of the Mosaic law of divorce. This being so, the simplest expedient is to regard the saying as an ironical attack on the pedantic conservatism of the scribes: it was easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the scribes to surrender that scrupulosity which could not see the Law for the letters.
(Saint Luke, Pelican New Testament Commentaries, p 189,90.)
So much do we apparently want still to be ‘under the Law’ that we can’t see the humour in this verse and want to insist that the Law must be reinstated at the return of Christ. All of us have to learn from life’s experiences that we must not be tied to the past, we must leave some things behind and move on. How difficult it is sometimes for those who have The Truth to do this. How often have our attempts to apply the OT prophets to the present and the future only led to disappointment! Isn’t it time to move on and apply ourselves more fruitfully to serving our Master in ways that will truly honour his name?
Ruth, along with her husband George, edited Endeavour from 1962 to 1967. In addition to articles and editorials, Ruth also contributed the prayer on the inside back cover and sometimes some of the art work. This was not her first writing. She produced a handwritten, hand-bound book at the age of 15 on Christ, The Messiah, and her first printed article was contributed to The [Christadelphian] Young Folks’ Magazine at the age of 16.
In earlier years she wrote regularly in The Christadelphian and in the Christadelphian Youth Magazine. After George died in 1985 she began working on some of his material, but soon became involved in research of her own. She was a meticulous student, accessing a large range of sources in the National Library of Scotland, New College Library (Edinburgh University) and in the British Library in London. She built up a wide knowledge of post-reformation religious history and thought, and made a detailed analysis of Christadelphian writings. This resulted in her first major book Finding Founders and Facing Facts (2001), and in Timewatching and Israel, a two-volume work which was still at the printers when she died but is now available. She completed her final two books, Cradled in Christadelphia and Born to Reform, two days before her death. They are a spiritual autobiography, charting her upbringing, with comments and observations on the community, the changes in thought and doctrine over the years, and why she believed reassessment is necessary. These are still on her computer, but it is hoped to have them printed later this year. A recent ALS leaflet also includes some of her writing.
Ruth was not a bookish person, despite her literary output. She brought up four children, and delighted in her seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. She worked at the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, became a social worker, and almost every day from 1969 until 1997 was involved in the day-to-day running of the old people’s home set up by Edinburgh Ecclesia. For 35 years the Ecclesia met in a hall attached to her house, which meant she was part-time caretaker there too. She regularly and reliably set out the bread and wine. It was she who found new premises for the Ecclesia when they expressed a desire to own their own hall, and she contributed in a major way in helping to decorate and furnish it.
She was well known as a lively and spiritual speaker at the New Year Gathering. One sister remembers how she began an address to a sisters’ class in England: ‘If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well. That applies to religion as well as in other areas of life.’ With George she produced one of the first write-ups in the brotherhood to advocate a wider involvement for sisters: The Work of Sisters in Gospel Fields. Four years ago she proposed the motion, arising from proposals at ecclesial discussions, that sisters should read at Sundays meetings. This was approved and is now established practice.
After she was told she had terminal cancer, she maintained a cheerful outlook and her committed concern for others. She said: ‘I’m 83 and I’ve got to die sometime. I’ve had a good life, a good family, and I have my faith. It’s all right.’ She pushed on right to the end, working with greater urgency over the last year when she realized her health was deteriorating.
Ruth loved nature, especially flowers. She did some gardening almost every day. She produced oil paintings, mostly of scenes with flowers and trees. But her major involvement was always in caring for others.
She was very much a person who put her Christian thinking into positive action: She collected in the annual street collection for Christian Aid until prevented by ill-health. She played the organ for hymn singing at a local old people’s home. In hospital she maintained this concern, helping to look after the other patients! She kept in touch with a wide circle of friends including some of those she had helped as a social worker, and others who contacted her through her writings. She was easily approachable: you could discuss anything with her, and receive a helpful, sympathetic response. Her hospitality has been enjoyed and remembered over the years. She wrote frequently to others, or phoned ‘for a chat’ and to see how people were; latterly she began to use email for longer distance communication. She will be missed by many. One wrote to her a month before her death: ‘You are such a good friend, and a very caring person. This world would be a much nicer place if there were more Ruth McHaffies in it.’
However, in herself she was unassuming and modest. She didn’t want a funeral service – ‘Just a few words at the grave side’, she said. Persuaded otherwise by her family, she chose the hymns, but suggested ‘Any good things they say about me should be taken with a pinch of salt.’
After her funeral a letter was received from the local council: her request that they install a seating-rail in the bus stop across the road had been acceded to. It is there now.
Her work lives on in her kind deeds, in her writings, and in the memory of those who have benefited from knowing her. She sleeps now in Christ, her Messiah, her Saviour. We give thanks and praise to God.
Extract read at Ruth McHaffie’s funeral from her first printed article.
The Star Of The Grass
We are inclined to despise such flowers as dandelions and daisies, and to pass them by as ‘just weeds.’ If you have ever stopped and looked closely at the golden flowers of the dandelion you will have found how truly wonderful they are. Each of what most of us call a petal is a flower, and the dandelion is a number of the small florets. So you see that the dandelion is even more wonderful than the larger flowers, and perhaps you have never noticed.
There are a number of people in the world who are very like this flower. They do not show you at first all the gifts they have and how good they are, because they do not boast. Rather than display themselves, they prefer to be trodden down, and to remain unnoticed. If, however, they are called upon to do something we find them ready. Perhaps we have not noticed them before, and yet all the time they have been working and doing those things which are pleasing to the Almighty God. We should try to be like this, humble and yet doing all those little deeds of good.
The next time you find a dandelion, do not despise it as a weed, but look closely and you will find that the little star of the grass is trying to show you the love of God and that it is glorifying its Father in Heaven who made it and all that is upon the face of the Earth. Then after that perhaps you will be able to find some people just like that – ‘Stars of the grass,’ who are also showing others the love of the Almighty and who are patiently and in works with faith, finding an entrance into the Kingdom of God which will one day cover the face of the whole earth.
Ruth M. Ward, 1936
A Prayer For Understanding
Help us, Father, to understand the true worth of eternal values:
Help us to know that material things are but as snowflakes which melt in the sun.
Help us to understand being in the world, bearing its burdens and sharing its sorrows;
Yet not being of the world, craving its lusts and seeking its follies.
Help us to understand one another, our differences of thought, character and circumstance:
Help us to know how to help in times of sadness, strain and difficulty.
Help us to understand the needs of the young who are in our care:
Help us to know how best to guide them into the paths of truth.
Help us to understand the weakness of human nature:
Help us to know Thy greatness and the strength of Thy power.
Help us to understand the inspiration of Thy Word, and the indwelling of Thy Spirit.
Help us to understand being temples fit for Thee.
In the name of our Lord, Who understands all,
Ruth McHaffie, 1965
(From The Endeavour Magazine, No. 15, Spring 1965)
An article in The Times of October 1st last year carried a banner headline: ‘Durham’s new Bishop abolishes Heaven and the Soul.’ It was accompanied by a number of letters expressing views that would have interested many of us because of one of our historic beliefs. The article commenced: ‘One of the most senior bishops in the Church of England has argued that people do not have immortal souls and that after death they go to a form of restful happiness rather than the Heaven depicted in much of Christian tradition. The bishop of Durham, the Right Rev Thomas Wright, will say in a new book that this “restful happiness” is a temporary condition that is the prelude to the New Testament hope of bodily resurrection, within God’s new creation.’ This is the theme of a new book which was then about to be published, For All the Saints?
The book duly appeared with a subtitle Remembering the Christian Departed. The new bishop seems to be following one of his predecessors David Jenkins, who had a reputation for disturbing his flock by putting forward ideas differing from traditional Anglican belief. That it is a serious consideration is indicated by the author giving his name as ‘N T Wright’, used previously by him on books intended for scholars. When he writes for the laity he is Tom Wright. In this book he commences by saying: that he has ‘been increasingly aware of a mismatch between what the earliest Christians believed about life after death – and about resurrection as a newly embodied life after “life after death” – and what many ordinary Christians seem to believe on the subject today.’ (p xii)
This is something that he returns to again and again, for example: ‘Indeed, sometimes the word “resurrection” has even come to be used as a synonym for “going to heaven”, which is about as misleading as it could be’. (p 2) Or again: ‘We should remember especially that the use of the word “heaven” to denote the ultimate goal of the redeemed, though hugely emphasized by medieval piety, mystery play’s and the like, and still almost universal at a popular level, is severely misleading and does not begin to do justice to the Christian hope.’ A remarkable departure from traditional Anglican belief to one close to our own.
This is not the first time Wright has ventured into this territory. He dealt with it more extensively in an earlier work, Jesus and the Victory of God (1996), an immense book of some 800 pages in which he says ‘Jesus taught his followers, after all, to pray that God’s Kingdom would come on earth. The phrase always refers in the New Testament not to a place but to the fact that God rules as King. This Kingdom – perhaps Kingship would be a better word, for it was longed for by many Jews of Jesus’ day, not in the way some longed to die and go to heaven, but in the way that people long to be rid of a bullying tyrant, and be ruled by a wise, just, and caring government, right here on earth.’ (The italics are Wright’s.)
Especially relevant is what Wright says about the soul :– ‘Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed that I have managed to avoid almost entirely the word “soul” – which many will have expected to play a prominent part in a book like this. Frankly, it both helps and doesn’t help. If we use the word, many readers will get the impression that I believe every human being comes already equipped with an immortal soul. I don’t believe that. Immortality is a gift of God in Christ, not an innate human capacity (see 1 Timothv 6:16)’ (p 71) This is far from being an isolated reference: part 4 of the book develops it at length and Wright comes back to it repeatedly.
First of all, however, we need to remind ourselves of the detail of our own belief. This has been set out with clarity in Studies in the Statement of Faith, a volume published 13 years ago by the Christadelphian Office, in which a number of well-known brethren set out in detail the meaning of the various clauses. Clause XXIV’ says that ‘the responsible (namely those who know the revealed will of God, and have been called upon to submit to it), dead and living – obedient and disobedient – will be summoned before his judgment seat.’ There follows some discussion about this, which concludes that there are three classes of believers who fall under this description: (these are) 1. ‘Wicked sinners who shut their eyes to the light that God sends.’ 2. Righteous saints who continue in well-doing: 3. Those who did run well but did not continue in well-doing.’ Those in categories I and 3 will be rejected.
Although there was considerable discussion it was assumed, for reasons not stated but not too difficult to appreciate, that this judgment would take place after the Second Coming. There was even speculation as to where it would be and how long it would take. Robert Roberts thought that it might be Sinai, or the Arabian Peninsula or Jerusalem, but he did allow that that should not be a question of fellowship. ‘Our sole thought on that Day will be what the Judge will say to us and not where the judgment is taking place.’
An underlying question not dealt with is why some should be raised only to be consigned to a second death? Was God not fully acquainted with their nature and character when they were alive? The answer was: ‘God has ordained it. It is right in God’s eyes and should therefore be in ours.’ This however is just avoiding the difficulty. Surely it would be more reasonable to suppose that those known to be worthy would be raised at the time of the second coming and the others remain in the grave?
My thoughts about this go back for more than 80 years. My father died in the ‘flu epidemic of 19I8 (the year of the Balfour declaration). He had a builders merchants shop, which was sold, and my mother bought in its place a ladies dress shop, some distance from where we lived in Liverpool, and also from relatives. I can clearly remember the high expectations of the Second Coming at that particular time, and it worried me. I asked my mother what would happen to my younger brother and myself. Who would look after us when she had to go Sinai, to the judgment? She said that God would send angels to look after us, which I have to confess, even at that age, seemed improbable to me. I mention this to show that it has been a continuing subject of argument.
But before we feel convinced about this development we should recognise that it does intensify a long-felt difficulty in our belief. When does the judgment take place? Surely God could ascertain at any time whether an individual was, or was not, worthy of resurrection to eternal life. If not worthy, he or she would know nothing of that fact. But our belief is that God will only make such a decision after resurrection at the Second Coming. For some, this would be a terrible event. Surely it would be better for them never to have known ‘the Truth’ than to be resurrected to endure a second death in the company of some of those who would live for ever? And how could someone, newly raised from the unconsciousness of death, be in a position to say anything in their own defence?
The problems associated with this gave rise to a division in our body about 130 years ago, which still exists today. In E108 (p 5) there is a photograph taken in 1872 in the garden of Dr. Thomas’s house, in which Edward Turney and Robert Roberts were standing together, side by side. Ironically, within a year, Edward Turney and his followers had been forced out of fellowship. One of the main reasons was a difference over this very question. Would not the faithful be raised immortal? Robert Roberts said ‘No. Immortality could only come after a judgment. Edward Turnev disagreed. Those who were faithful would be known by God and immortality would be bestowed on them upon resurrection. That question is still debated today, although Turney’s followers have long ceased to call themselves ‘Christadelphians’, preferring instead ‘The Nazarene Fellowship’. But they continue strongly this and other criticisms in the shape of a Circular Letter issued at two monthly intervals, and booklets sent to any who are thought to be interested. Included in these are detailed arguments in support of the belief which caused the break.
This question of the resurrection is one of the most fundamental of the points of disagreement. In 1991, The Christadelphian (so the title page) published an explanatory booklet, Studies in The Statement of Faith, to which ten well-known brethren contributed. Chapter 9 is concerned with Section XXIV of the Statement, which provides that, at the coming of Christ to establish the Kingdom, the faithful (dead and living) will be summoned before his Judgment Seat ‘to be judged according to their works and receive in body according to what. they have done, whether it be good or bad’. Some however, it says, had questioned this, maintaining that ‘since the Lord Jesus knows all about us there is no point in bringing the faithful to judgment.’ Indeed, why should there be such a judgment at all? Why not raise the faithful immortal and leave the unfaithful where they are? The response was: ‘The answer is that God has ordained it. It is right in God’s eyes and should therefore be so in ours, that certain unfaithful persons will stand before the One they have seen fit to reject.’ Another example of assuming the truth of what remains to be proved.
Our belief is not one peculiar to us. I have a book by Oscar Cullman, purchased in 1958, Immortality of The Soul or Resurrection of the Dead, in which he argued that there was a radical difference between the Christian expectation and the Greek belief in the immortality of the soul. His view is demonstrated in detail in the remainder of this short book. Since then a number of authors have written on the subject and the general trend has been away from the old traditional (church) view of ‘heaven’ towards that of the ‘Second Coming’, as for example by Stephen Travis in a book published originally in 1982 and again in 1997 under a new title, Christ Will Come Again. It is not alone in putting forward this belief. I have works by at least twelve authors who agree. Travis says (p 239) ‘The kingdom of God will also be peaceful. Peace in the Bible does not mean merely the absence of war, or a serene state of mind, it means well-being at every level, in relation to oneself, to others, and to God. It is important to stress that peace in its full sense will not arrive until Jesus returns and that, according to the New Testament, true peace is available only through relationship with him’ Which would seem to be at one with Christadelphian belief.
It is ironical therefore that while the belief of the churches over the years has drawn closer to our own the difference between Robert Roberts and Edward Turney has not changed. We (officially) remain the same as in the statement of 130 years ago mentioned earlier. The irony lies in the fact that although the Nazarenes explain and defend their belief fully, our response to their reasoned arguments is unsatisfactory. For example, in Studies in the Statement of Faith it is mentioned that the Nazarenes refer to 1 Corinthians 15:51. But this verse is not actually quoted although it is directly relevant: ‘We will not all sleep. but we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” I do not say that this verse in itself is a full reply but it should be food for thought.
To come back to Tom Wright and his For All the Saints? subtitle Remembering the Christian Departed (SPCK £12.99, paperback £7.99), he is far from being destructively critical. For example he quotes the scientist John Polkinghorne:
God will download our software on to his hardware, until the day comes when he gives us new hardware on which to run our own software once more.
An illuminating description of death and the Resurrection.
In 1998 I took my father to Jamaica to visit Brother Walter Draper at the Kingston Meeting. Brother Walter had been my Sunday School teacher many years ago and was close to our family, having brought my parents into the Truth. In conversation he mentioned the problem young brothers had in getting work. With the unemployment rate in Kingston high (70%?) and training something they could not afford, they were in a poverty trap. Training in woodwork skills is something I felt I could offer.
In 2000 I returned to Jamaica to explore the possibilities of running a training scheme. Brother Devon Walker was very helpful in arranging for the setting up of a workshop at Round Hill Meeting where he was based. We laid a concrete floor by the meeting room and later put over a palm thatch. We had thought that some of the young men in their late teens connected with the Meeting would be interested to take advantage of the skills training. They weren’t. There is a culture among some Jamaican men to do very little and these were taking that route.
The young teenagers, boys and girls, were very interested and in January 2003 I took out some tools and bought tools and materials on the Island. We made the workbench and tool cabinet and began a structured course teaching woodworking skills. The youngsters have been responsive and hard-working, achieving a high level of skills development. I have been able to go since then twice a year for about two weeks. That has proved sufficient time to complete a worthwhile unit of work.
This August it is hoped that the trainees can make their own toolbox, which can be stocked with second-hand tools which I can take across from the UK. This will enable them to carry on their woodwork while I am not there and give them the means to earn for themselves.
So far this project has been funded by ourselves with help from family and friends. The Lignum Project is now registered as a charity and so any donations from taxpayers can be enhanced by reclaiming tax. Anyone wishing to support this work in any way should contact the Editor.
We are grateful for the Lord’s blessing in this work and his care in a country that is not without danger.
One of the realities that all human beings are confronted with is the existence of evil. Bad things happen to people and people do bad things that harm themselves and others. As believers in the Bible, we recognize that we live in a fallen world and that the calamities that beset mankind are essentially the outworking of the sentence passed on Adam. The whole creation was cursed because of Adam’s sin and the harmony that previously existed between human beings and God was severed. Death and decay became operative principles not just for human beings but for all of creation, as the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:22. The existence of evil is part of that heritage.
While many people today dismiss the concept of ‘sin’, few people are willing to deny the existence of evil. In fact those who deny the claims of the Bible on the matter of sin often maintain that if God exists and evil exists, then God must have created evil. The basis for this assertion is the following syllogism:
God created all things; Evil is a thing; Therefore, God created evil.
If the two premises are true, then the conclusion logically follows.
In fact, those who reason this way point to a verses like Isaiah 45:7 where God speaks the following words, ‘I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things;’ or, Amos 3:6 where we read, ‘Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?’ (We will comment on these verses later)
However, the conclusion that God created evil is not generally acceptable to believers in the God of the Bible. Why not? Because God would not be absolutely good if He knowingly created evil. If God created evil, then His own essence would consist of both good and evil. If good and evil both resided in God, there would be no guarantee that good would necessarily triumph over evil or that God would be able to save us from something that was part and parcel of His own nature. Also, there could be no logical objection to the evil in the world, including injustice, oppression, immorality, corruption and cruelty, for these things would be a reflection of God’s own nature and a part of the world He created. In other words, if the conclusion of the syllogism stated above is true, then Christianity and the message of the Bible are essentially false. This is why a logically sound answer to the question – Did God create evil? – has occupied believers in the Bible for some two thousand years.
The best explanation I have come across from the standpoint of human reason was first articulated by Augustine of Hippo (354-430). We as a community rightly condemn Augustine for the influence he had in promoting the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and of substituting the concept of the church as kingdom of God rather than a literal kingdom on the earth. However, that does not mean that his thinking was deficient or in error in all matters. On this issue I believe he made a worthwhile contribution, a contribution I would like to review. (To do this, I am borrowing heavily from the ideas in a series of articles by Christian apologist Gregory Koukl – see references).
Augustine broke down his argument into two parts. In the first part, he stated two premises followed by a conclusion as follows:
1. God exists and is the Creator of all things;
2. All things God created were good;
Conclusion: Since evil is not good, evil was not created by God.
He relied on the Bible and evidence from nature to establish that God exists and is the Creator of all things. In addition, he relied on the Bible’s own testimony to establish that all things God created are good. For example, the term, ‘and it was good’ is used repeatedly in Genesis 1 in describing the creative acts of God, and in the concluding verse of chapter 1, v. 31, we read, ‘And God saw every thing that he had made, and behold, it was very good.’ By this means, Augustine established the validity of his premises which in turn made his conclusion logically sound, namely, that since evil is not good, evil was not created by God.
But this still left the problem of just what is evil and where did it come from? To deal with these issues, he added a second part to his argument. In this argument he stated two further premises and a conclusion as follows:
1. God created all things; 2. God did not create evil (as established in the first part of the argument); Conclusion: Evil is not a thing.
If evil is not a thing, then the case against the God of the Bible and by implication, the truth of Christianity as stated in the original syllogism, breaks down because one of its premises, ‘evil is a thing’, is shown to be false. But while he logically concluded that evil was not a thing, he still hadn’t answered the other two questions, namely, if evil is not a ‘thing’ what is it, and where did it come from?
To answer these questions, he argued that evil as a thing in itself does not exist. We might ask, how could this be since everyone knows that evil is a very real phenomenon? But is it a thing with a separate existence? To this last question Augustine’s answer was an emphatic no! He argued that there are many phenomena in our world which aren’t really things although we commonly regard them as such. To cite a modern example, the hole of a donut is not a real thing. It’s what is left when the middle is cut out of a donut. There is a space called a donut hole which is really a non-thing. Instead it is the condition that exists when part of the donut is removed. There are other examples of this in the physical world. Shadows don’t exist by themselves. They are simply the absence of direct light.
Cold doesn’t really exist as a separate ‘thing’ that is created. Cold is a description of a circumstance in which heat is missing. While heat is energy that can be measured, the removal of heat, which causes the temperature to fall, we call ‘cold. But there is no ‘cold stuff’ out there that causes the condition. It is simply the absence of heat.
Augustine argued that the same is true of evil. Evil isn’t a glob of something that floats around the universe, clings to people, and causes them to do bad things. Instead, evil is the absence of good rather than being a ‘thing’ in its own right. Evil is like a ‘moral hole’, a nothingness that results when goodness is removed. Just as a shadow is no more than a hole in light, so evil is a hole in goodness. Therefore, to say that something is evil is a shorthand way of saying that it lacks goodness or exhibits a lower order of goodness.
As cited earlier, we know from the book of Genesis that God created the universe in a very good state. However, after God was done with creating everything, something happened that reduced the good in the world. While God allowed this loss of good to take place, He did not create it. The event that manifested this loss of good was Adam’s sin. Adam turned away from goodness and from God.
So in the strict sense then, one cannot choose ‘evil’ since evil is not a thing. Instead, one can only turn away from the good or choose a lower order of good. Hence, an evil action is the act of turning away from the good or of choosing a lesser good. Augustine summarized this as follows, ‘For when the will abandons what is above itself, and turns to what is lower, it becomes evil – not because that is evil to which it turns, but because the turning itself is wicked.’
The basis for evil then, is the freedom to choose that God gave to all human beings – what we call free-will. This is because God did not want passive robots but individuals who would voluntarily respond to Him. This of course left open the possibility that human beings would choose to turn away from good.
Adam and Eve used their free moral agency to initiate actions that fell short of the goodness of God and hence they were responsible for their own evil. This loss of goodness had an impact on their future actions in that they were cursed with a disposition that turned them away from goodness. This disposition to turn away from the good was inherited by all their descendants.
Strictly speaking, evil as a ‘thing’ doesn’t cause our actions. In fact, it is the other way around. Our actions in turning away from good are what cause evil. Bad actions reflect a loss of goodness in us, and that loss of goodness results in evil. This turning from the good has an impact on future actions, giving us a pre-disposition to cause further evil.
This prompts another question – why did God allow this loss of goodness to become a fact of life? I believe we could cite several reasons.
1. It was a necessary condition if human beings were to have the freedom to serve God or to rebel against Him (what we call free-will moral choice).
2. It is apparent that God felt a greater good would come about by allowing human beings to turn away from goodness in comparison with the evil consequences that would result.
In other words, that which appears evil ultimately contributes to a greater good. For example, certain virtues could not exist without evil because they develop from the need to make moral choices. These include mercy, forgiveness, patience, the giving of comfort, heroism, perseverance, faithfulness, self-control, long-suffering, submission and obedience.
Since it is God’s purpose to take out of the nations a people for his name, a people who will reflect His goodness and who will be conformed to the image of His son, this requires that we work at developing the biblical virtues, and these can only be developed in this life and in this fallen world where evil (or the lack of goodness) is a fact of life. While it is certainly inappropriate to promote evil that good may abound, God is capable of taking a bad thing and making good come out of it. Mercy is an example. Without sin, there would be no need for mercy. Without someone doing something bad against you, there would be no opportunity for forgiveness.
In the Kingdom Age, we understand that the immortalized saints will not be subject to physical or moral corruption. But the foundation for their moral development must take place in this life. Even Jesus himself had to go through this process. We read in Hebrews that ‘learned he obedience by the things that he suffered’ (Heb. 5:8) and we regard suffering as an outcome of the evil in the world. So, while we could argue that a world that had never been touched by evil would be a good place, it wouldn’t be the best place possible. The best of all worlds would be one in which evil made possible the development of the godly virtues that can only develop where evil flourishes for a time.
It appears that a deeper, more profound good results when goodness is won by free, moral beings, struggling with evil, rather than by simply granting it to them as an element of their make-up (as in the apparent case of angels). Having said this, we must admit that these ideas only make sense in a global sense. It is hard to argue that a greater good can result from any single act of evil, such as the abduction and murder of a child. In fact, we might be tempted to ask, ‘Has it been worth it?’ Admittedly good can come out of evil but does the measure of good compensate for the measure of evil? Only God is in a position to answer that question because He alone has the perspective to appraise the situation. He obviously thinks the good is going to outweigh the evil in the eternal scheme of things or he wouldn’t have allowed it to happen.
How then do we explain those references we referred to at the start where God says plainly, ‘I create evil’ and ‘Shall there be evil in the city and the LORD hath not done it?’ The phrase ‘create evil’ in other translations has the connotation of creating calamity. For example, this is the way it is translated in the NKJV. In other words, these verses are not talking about the creation of a thing called evil. They are talking about God’s sovereignty over all things in which He initiates or allows bad things to happen. These include interventions where he rules in the Kingdoms of Men, or chance happenings reflecting the outworking of the curse placed on Adam and on the whole creation, or these may sometimes involve chastening those he loves. ‘For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son who He receiveth.’ (Heb 12:6, which is a quote from Proverbs 3:11-12). And the purpose of this chastening is stated in v.10 of Hebrews 12, ‘That we may be partakers of His holiness’. A similar concept is expressed in Lamentations 3, v. 32 and 33 where we read, ‘But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitudes of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.’
In summary then, if we accept Augustine’s line of reasoning, God is not the creator of a thing called evil, but inasmuch as He is sovereign over all things, He does allow bad things to happen in this world and sometimes uses these calamities to further His purpose or even to guide those He loves. In addition, in order to solicit a voluntary response from human beings in whom He wants to develop the godly virtues, He has given them the freedom to turn away from the good that is centered in Himself. This goodness we call godliness. The lack of goodness we call evil.
The good news for all of us is that God in His mercy sent His only son into the world to deal with the problem of sin and evil so that the goodness of His son would triumph over the lack of goodness (or evil) in the world. Hence, evil, as manifested in its products, sin and death, will be defeated. ‘But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (I Cor. 15:57)
Koukl, Gregory, Stand to Reason Commentaries, Augustine on Evil.
Koukl, Gregory, Ibid, Did God Create Evil?
Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves:
they will have no end of fun.
Blessed are those who can tell a mountain from a molehill:
they will be saved a lot of bother.
Blessed are those who know how to relax without looking for excuses:
they are on the way to becoming wise.
Blessed are those who know when to be quiet and listen:
they will learn a lot of new things.
Blessed are those who are sane enough not to take themselves too seriously:
they will be valued by those about them.
Happy are you if you can take mall things seriously and face serious things calmly:
you will go far in life.
Happy are you if you can appreciate a smile and forget a frown:
you will walk on the sunny side of the street.
Happy are you if you can be kind in understanding the attitudes of others:
you may be taken for a fool,
but this is the price of charity.
Happy are you if you know when to hold your tongue and smile:
the Gospel has begun to seep into your heart.
Blessed are they who think before acting and pray before thinking:
they will avoid many blunders.
Blessed are those who recognise the Lord in all whom they meet:
the light of truth shines in their lives.
They have found true wisdom.
The Ecclesia is the Body of Believers, regardless of where they meet, the actual building being of no importance. Yet, most ecclesias have an official or formal place of worship and, traditionally, a distinction is made between formal and informal meetings. Sisters are forbidden an active role in the fellowship of the Ecclesia, and the Scripture quoted to defend male exclusivity is:
Let your women keep silence (sigao meaning ‘hush’) in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak: but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. (1 Cor 14:34-35)
Thus, sisters in the Meeting are not permitted to exhort or lecture on a Sunday, or to give Bible Class addresses, read from Scripture, be a doorkeeper, serve the Bread and Wine, give thanks for the emblems, or to have the status of an Arranging Brother. But they are permitted to teach children at Sunday School, play the organ, prepare the memorial table, keep the ecclesial register, and supply food at Fraternals and other gatherings. At Business meetings, some ecclesias do not allow sisters to speak; others do, wishing them to make an active contribution to the work and fellowship.
When it comes to unofficial or informal assemblies, house Bible reading groups and studies, sisters are allowed to read and contribute to the discussion. By dint of tradition, we have accepted that meeting in a private house is not ‘the church’; but this does seem to be an artificial distinction, if the ecclesia is the Body of Believers and not the building where its members congregate.
The First Century
Women played a prominent role in the first century, which is clearly marked out in the Gospels:
The first day of the week came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre … and the angel said to the women, Fear ye not: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. Then Jesus said unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me. (Mat 28:1-10)
He went throughout every city … shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, and certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits … Mary called Magdalene. And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who ministered to him of their substance. (Luke 8:1-3)
The woman saith unto him, I know that Messiah cometh … he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he. And upon this came his disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman … The woman … saith to the men, Come and see a man, which told me all things that I ever did: is not this the Christ? … And many of the Samaritans believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that I ever did. (John 4:25-30, 39)
Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day … She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. (John 11:24-27)
Further, too little attention has been paid to the clear evidence of women exercising prominent authority of leadership in the Pauline epistles:
I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant (diakonos from which is derived the English word ‘deacon’) of the church which is at Cenchrea. (Rom 16:1)
A deacon held an official position in the first century, as in:
Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons (diakonois). (Phil 1:1)
It should be added that the original word is also used in the general sense of ‘service’.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers (sunergos, fellow worker) in Christ Jesus. (Rom 16:3 )
Note that Priscilla is named first, before her husband!
Salute Andronicus and Junia my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
Here we have a female apostle! Apostle (apostello, one sent forth – to preach the gospel.) It should be noted that ‘Junia’ in the original text is Iounian which can be masculine or feminine, but the weight of scholarship tends towards the feminine. ‘Junias’ would be the male translation.
Other ladies listed in Romans 16 (Mary v. 6; Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis v. 12) are all described as labouring in the Lord, an indication of leadership.
Women Keep Silence in the Church
Obviously, a woman ‘deacon’ or ‘apostle’ would be far from silent in the church, but would be active in preaching and teaching, and generally building up the ecclesia.
This, at first sight, would seem to contradict:
Let the woman learn in silence (hesuchia meaning ‘be quiet’) with all subjection But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence (hesuchia). For Adam was first formed, then Eve. (1 Tim 2:11-13)
The verb hesuchazo means ‘to speak in a whisper. This verse has to be considered in the context of first century society. Paul is referring to the hierarchical system of authority laid out in Ephesians chapter 5. First, the Lord God; then Jesus Christ His Son; followed by Man then by Woman – which principle needs to be recognised. Nonetheless, this Scripture has to be balanced against:
For ye are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:26-28)
Since brothers and sisters in Christ are equal in God’s sight, that would appear to be permission for sisters to participate in the ministry of the church, in their own right.
Silence Passages in their Context
A significant passage to explore is:
Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head…. (1 Cor 11:4-5)
From this it can be concluded that both brothers and sisters prayed (audibly) and prophesied (publicly expounded) in the Corinthian ecclesia. The only proviso was, that in respect of sisters, they were to perform their duties with their heads covered, whatever that might mean. It would certainly not be a modern-style hat as worn by sisters today!
The ecclesia in Corinth was in a parlous state, with rowdiness and drunkenness taking place at the Breaking of Bread service. Brothers with the gift of tongues were babbling away, so Paul had to call them to order:
But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence (sigao) in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.” (1 Cor 14:28 )
Similarly Paul rebukes the sisters for their incessant chatter:
Let your women keep silence (sigao) in the churches… (1 Cor 14:34)
To both parties Paul is saying, ‘be quiet’, settle down and proceed with your worship in a manner which befits Christians, not pagans. His edict did not mean that brothers and sisters should not literally speak in the ecclesia from then on. This would take the words out of their context. Sisters were to refrain from interrupting prophetic utterances (vv. 29 to 39) and stop asking unnecessary questions. In other words it was a local edict, dealing with a local problem.
In a number of ecclesias in the UK, at the official and formal Bible class, sisters give papers, participate in discussion, read from Scripture, and in special gatherings convened to pray for the sick, say a little prayer themselves. This seems to be in accordance with the spirit of service enjoined on both men and women called to the Gospel.
Finally, we, in our beloved Christadelphia, have a huge untapped source of spiritual talent in our sisters in Christ. They could play a more prominent role in our worship and fellowship, as they did in the first century Ecclesia, even reading and participating in the Memorial service on a Sunday morning.
This is something for us all to think about and pray about.
The majority of persons take their opinions, on difficult subjects, ready-made from those they deem special authorities, and hence when once a certain view of a subject has been broadcast and widely accepted as the right and fashionable one, it is very difficult to secure an unbiased reconsideration of it.
Sir Ambrose Fleming.
Few new truths have ever won their way against the resistance of established ideas save by being over-stated.
I think John 8:41 is a good example of these views. The ‘special authorities’ (?) in this case are prominent brethren who have expressed the idea, some in print, that this verse is a snide remark made concerning the parentage of The Lord Jesus. ‘WE be not born of fornication’, implying that He had.
Bro. John Carter in his book on John, P110 ‘… they had ‘one father, even God,’ yet in formulating their claim, may they not have intended a sharp thrust at Him about whose parentage they had made some investigation (6:42!), and about whom in the SECOND CENTURY the vilest slanders were circulated.’
Have we jumped on that band-wagon?
Consider briefly the recorded facts concerning the birth of The Lord. Mary had obviously not told Joseph that she was to be the mother of The Lord before she went to visit Elizabeth, for she went ‘with haste … and greeted Elizabeth’ who was then 6 months pregnant with John Baptist. ‘And Mary remained with her about 3 months, and returned to her home.’ So Mary was 3 months pregnant when she returned home.
At what time Joseph became aware of this fact is not at all clear, and again it is fairly obvious that Mary had still not told him that it was ‘of the Lord’, so, being the man he was, when he became aware of the situation, being a ‘just man and unwilling to put her to shame resolved to divorce her quietly.’ (R.S.V.) The nature of their relationship was much more legally binding than that of an ‘engaged’ couple to-day, as Edersheim points out.
But there is no record of a finger of blame, or gossip pointed at them, as far as the Word seems to say, and why not, if it was ‘common knowledge’ that Mary had been unfaithful? Indeed it needed a divine visitation to enlighten Joseph of the true situation. (Matt 1:20.) So he took Mary and she became his wife, but the marriage was not consummated ‘..until she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.’
It could not have been long after that when they went up to Bethlehem to be registered, according to the decree of Augustus, and she was ‘great with child’. It’s more than likely that they went up with others, all perfectly normal, with no indication of shame.
At the time of The Lord’s birth, the angels appeared to the shepherds, who went ‘with great haste’ and found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger. They then MADE KNOWN the saying that had been told them, and returned to their flocks ‘glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen as it was told them.’ The N.I.V. says ‘When they had seen Him they spread the word concerning what they had been told about the child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.’
So it must have been headline news in Bethlehem. Later they brought him up to Jerusalem, to the Temple ‘to present him to The Lord’. Bit brazen, and risky, if everyone knew that he was a child of adultery and illegitimate, indeed this would have had catastrophic consequences for Mary. Simeon and Anna gave thanks to God, having seen the Lord’s anointed.
Later the ‘wise men’ came … ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?’ These were not just ordinary events. Then the decree of Herod, and the reason for it; surely people would realize that this was no ordinary child, and it would have been emphasized by the slaughter of the children that then took place. But God had already protected His son, and they were safe in Egypt.
Just 30 odd years afterwards no one seems to have remembered these stirring events in Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary returned to their home town of Nazareth, where The Lord was brought up, ‘. .and He was submissive to them…and Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man.’ Elsewhere, reference is made to the family life of The Lord, as being perfectly normal, for when The Lord began His ministry they said ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? (Was Joseph still alive?) Is not his mother called Mary? and are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us. Where then did this man get all these things?’ (Matt. 13:54-57) They all knew that his parents were poor and could never have afforded Rabbinical tuition. Not that The Lord had need of it anyway for He was ‘taught of God’. ‘How knoweth this man letters having never learned?’ (John 7:15) also Lu.3:23, 4:22. Jn. 6:42 etc.
We can be sure that the enemies of The Lord, especially the Pharisees, would not have missed the chance, however slight, to vilify Him, and they had sought on many an occasion to do just that, without success. So we come to the ONLY reference, John 8:41, which, it is suggested, does just that, or does it?
We are often advised not to base a teaching, or doctrine, on just one verse. We condemn the Mormons for doing so. The context of John 8. does not support the idea that they were charging The Lord with being born of fornication, indeed it proves the very reverse. HE is charging and proving THEM to have been so begotten. If you put the emphasis of the passage correctly, in accordance to the context, then what they were denying was The Lord’s charge against them that it was the devil who was THEIR father, much though they tried to deny it. ‘Abraham is our father…IF you were Abraham’s children you would be doing what Abraham did ‘We were NOT born of sexual immorality. We have ONE Father-even God.’ ‘IF God WERE your father you would love me.’
The chapter is about parentage. The paternity of The Lord was ‘of Heaven’, theirs was ‘of earth’. It was not the first time that they had been charged with being ‘the seed of the serpent’. Matt. 3:7. 12:34. 23:33. Note the contrasts.
YE are from beneath, I am from above.
Ye are of this world, I am not of this world.
YE do that which you have seen with your father,
I speak the thing which I have seen with MY Father.
Ye judge after the flesh, MY judgement is True.
YOU are of your father THE DEVIL, I proceeded forth and came from GOD.
Were they really contending for being worshippers of the one true God? To worship anything else was described by the prophets as being ‘fornicators’, Jer. 3:8.9. 2:20. Eze. 16: los. 1:2. 4:12. etc.
As a nation they boasted a pure monotheism. We have ONE father, even God. (Dt.6:45) and had never been idolaters (!) or children of fornication, despite the fact that much of their history had been associated with idolatry. ‘But now O Lord you are our father, we are the clay and you are our potter, we are all the work of your hand.’ (Isa. 64:8.) Whatever future application this ref. had, they prided themselves in believing ‘The Lord OUR God is ONE Lord’, conveniently forgetting Isaiah’s condemnation: ‘But draw near hither, ye son’s of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore. Against whom do ye sport yourselves?against whom make ye a wide mouth and draw out the tongue? Are ye not children of transgression, a seed of falsehood.’ (Isa 57:3,4) Surely The Lord was using these scriptures against THEM.
To subscribe to the supposition that The Lord was subjected to such snide remarks I feel to be very distasteful, and without ‘chapter & verse’ to prove otherwise. I think it demeaning of our reverence for The Lord we serve.
The Lord Jesus, we are told in the Epistle to the Hebrews, was ‘tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (4:15 ESV). Because he was a man and shared the experiences common to all men, he must have known the urge to pander to his own nature and gratify his own desires and ambitions. He would not have been human had he not been so tempted. Yet, we are assured, he did so ‘without sin’.
In the 4th chapter of Matthew we are shown the three-fold temptation which our Lord faced at the commencement of his public ministry. When we read that account however, it must strike us just how unlike our own experience his temptations were. This was not temptation ‘in every respect like us’. I have never been tempted to turn stones into bread, to leap from a high building in expectation of angelic intervention, or to make myself ruler of the world. I suspect I would be deemed insane if I had been. But these temptations were real enough for the Lord Jesus. He alone had to face them and he alone could overcome them.
And it was God’s will that he should learn by that means, for it was the Holy Spirit which drove him into the wilderness: ‘Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil’ (v.1). The devil takes up where the Holy Spirit leaves off. In this context the word ‘temptation’ does not mean leading into wrongdoing, which, in our own day, is how it is commonly understood, it means testing.
Why did Jesus have to face this experience of testing, and why at that particular time? To answer these questions we must go back to the previous chapter. There we read of his baptism and of a voice from heaven which declared: ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’ (Mat 3:17). God acknowledged him as His Son. But what did divine Sonship mean? That was what he had to learn by temptation. Each time Jesus hears the voice of the tempter he is addressed by that same title: ‘If you are the Son of God’ – and each time the tempter either quotes the Old Testament directly, or alludes to something in the experience of God’s servants of old, and does so to induce Jesus to do the same as they.
How then should the Son of God conduct himself? Did it mean acting like Moses who provided the people of God with manna from heaven? Did it mean re-enacting the spectacular miracles of Elijah who called down fire from heaven? Or did it mean founding and presiding over an earthly kingdom like David and Solomon? All these must for a while have seemed valid ways of conducting his ministry, for all had Old Testament precedent. He had to learn by the experience of temptation what divine Sonship really meant, how he should use the powers conferred upon God’s Son; he through whose hands flowed power that could feed the hungry, manipulate the forces of nature, and at whose command legions of angels were ready to obey his word.
Mark records the same episode (1:12-13), but condenses it into two verses. But there is a wealth of meaning in those two verses. Each phrase harks back to an experience of temptation in the Old testament:
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
Israel was in the wilderness, tempted for forty years. Job was tested by Satan, and Daniel was surrounded by beasts when his faith was tested in the lions’ den but angels came to his protection. Or is the last phrase an allusion to Adam surrounded by beasts in Eden, and visited by the Elohim? Missing from Mark’s account is the details of the dialogue with the Tempter. This Matthew fills in for us.
He was alone, but his meditation is described as a dialogue with a figure called the devil. Who was the devil or Satan? He is clearly a symbol, but a symbol of what? The role he plays changes as Scripture unfolds. In the Old Testament he first appears as the accuser of Job, testing him to see whether his piety were genuine. In Zechariah he appears as a counsel for the prosecution in the court of heaven, where Joshua the High Priest is accused, then acquitted and reinstated (ch.3). In the New Testament he takes on a more sinister role, where he becomes an embodiment of everything in human life that works against God. He is the enemy of God and man, the ‘Prince’ or ‘god of this world’, ‘the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience’ (Eph 2:2).
In the ministry of Jesus he is the symbol of everything that opposes the setting up of the Kingdom of God. The rival and adversary of Jesus, the ‘Strong man’ who must be bound so that his goods can be plundered and his captives released (Mark 3:27). And in this language of symbol it is as though the leader of the enemy forces meets with Jesus and offers to do a deal with him – that they should join forces, and work together.
Which brings us to the next question – What exactly did the three temptations signify? They can be understood on different levels. On one level they simply referred to his own experience, to satisfy his own hunger, to see whether God was really able to provide a miraculous escape from certain death, and to take a short cut to power and glory by means of a pact with Satan. Comparisons are sometimes made with I John 2:16: ‘the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life’ (AV).
On another level they were a re-enactment of the experience of Israel when they were in the wilderness for forty years. The words with which our Lord answered the Tempter were not taken at random from Scripture, they were the words of Moses recorded in Deuteronomy with which he rebuked Israel after they had succumbed to temptation (Deut 6:13,16; 8:3). Forty years they spent in the wilderness, fed by the hand of God, yet largely indifferent to the spiritual teaching which came from God. They put Him to the test to see if He were true to His promises, and they worshipped something other than God.
Just as importantly, all three temptations had political connotations. They represent the work of Messiah as understood by the mass of Jewish people, a people who longed for a divinely sent leader who would grant them liberation. Before him lay the task of inaugurating the Kingdom of God and summoning men to enter it. But there were two possible ways to fulfil the work of Messiah; the human and the divine way; and Jesus had to learn by temptation which was the right way and which the wrong.
The first temptation then was: ‘If you are the Son of God command these stones to become bread’ (v.3). On one level of interpretation we can understand these words as a suggestion simply to satisfy his own hunger after fasting for forty days and nights; and who would not feel his body crying out for food after such a fast. In the wilderness God had once used the hunger of Israel to teach them, as Moses recalls in Deut 8:3, that ‘man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord’ – a lesson which Israel neglected both then and throughout their history, but which Jesus recognised when he quotes the words of Moses as his answer to the temptation (v.4).
On another level the first temptation can be seen as a suggestion to bribe the masses to follow him, and that by the most basic desire for physical sustenance. A leader who can provide the population with their most basic material needs will never lack followers. But knowing that history would repeat itself if he were to concentrate his powers upon feeding men’s bodies, he rejected the suggestion. The people would receive his bread gladly enough and follow him in their multitudes; but would care nothing for his spiritual message. He said No, and that set the scene for his whole ministry. From then on the Lord preferred to have only a few disciples who followed out of love and true loyalty rather than a multitude who followed out of material self-interest.
And then he faced the second temptation, to cast himself off the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem:
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down for it is written, He will command his angels concerning you, and on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone (Matthew 4:5-6).
It must have seemed a perfectly plausible thing for the Messiah to do, for the suggestion is a direct quote from Psalm 91, but the answer of Jesus was taken from the rebuke of Moses to Israel after they demanded water from the rock, (Exodus 17), so that Moses told them ‘Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God as ye tempted Him at Massah’ (Deut 6:16), a name which means Temptation. Israel put God to the test to see if He would keep His promises, whereas Jesus trusted his Father without performing miracles to test his Father’s fidelity.
Once again, we recognise a political dimension to the temptation. There is a side to human nature which demands of a great leader that he be shrouded in mystery, that he possess awesome powers far beyond what ordinary mortals possess. And Jesus had power to work miracles. What better way was there therefore, to win the masses over to his cause than to make a spectacular demonstration of these powers in the sight of the greatest number of people. To climb to the pinnacle of the Temple, and then cast himself into the air, born aloft by angels, what a spectacle that would be. It would have dazzled his contemporaries with such a display of miraculous powers as to leave them with no alternative but to believe his claims. They would accept his claim to be Messiah and never be able to doubt it. And this is just what they expected of him. All through his ministry Jesus was under continual pressure to satisfy their demands for signs and wonders as though these things were no more than glorified conjuring tricks. In Matthew 12, the scribes and Pharisees asked for a sign that would authenticate his claims, but his reply was ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah’ (v.39). Jesus refused to perform the miracles of showmanship.
Even when he was dying on the cross they taunted him with words similar to the second temptation: ‘Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe (Mark 15:32). Indeed they would have believed him then, but it would not have been the kind of belief which he wanted from men. ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’ – he himself would not misuse the power of God, and neither would he pander to those around him who demanded signs as a condition of their belief.
The third temptation was the most grandiose:
Again, the devil took him up to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these things I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me’
Israel succumbed to the temptation to worship something other than God, when they worshipped the Golden Calf (Exodus 32). Its counterpart in the experience of Jesus was to fall down and worship Satan. The same answer of Moses applied to both: ‘It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve … you shall not go after other gods’. It is worth comparing these words with the account by Luke (4:6):
To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I will give it to whom I will.
The New Testament tells us that ‘the whole world lies in the power of the evil one’ (I John 5:19) – for the present the world is indeed given over to the powers which work against God. In His mind’s eye Jesus was shown Greece and Rome in one direction, Parthia and India in another, Egypt and Ethiopia in the south, all the kingdoms of that age in their splendour and grandeur.
But what exactly was the temptation – to worship Satan, or to make himself king of the world? It was of course both, they amount to the same thing. To reach out for worldly dominion would have been equivalent to the worship of Satan. There is a side to human nature which has often been exploited down to our own day by rabble-rousers, tyrants and warmongers: and that is the desire to submit to the authority of a strong leader, to give unquestioning allegiance to his will. Jesus could have done the same. Men wanted him to be that kind of leader. This was the point of the temptation, that he should give his allegiance to all that the devil symbolised – the ideals, the goals and the ambitions of this world in its opposition to God. And the world sets its ambitions on power, wealth, national prestige, imperial grandeur.
Now it must be admitted that Jesus might have achieved a great deal of good if he had reached out and made himself king of the world. At a stroke he could have established justice, equity, peace, prosperity. These are the things humanity looks for in a good leader. But in the perspective of Jesus the kingdoms of this world are all satanic simply because of the way they are constituted. They are all founded on greed and exploitation, conquest and domination. But more than this they depend upon coercion. Caesar imposed order and stability by force, his word was law, millions of his subjects obeyed him not because they had any love for him, but because they feared the consequences of disobedience. Had Jesus founded an empire along the same lines, then that would have been the supreme betrayal of his own mission.
Yet this is what the common people expected of the Messiah. They took for granted that when he appeared he would establish and reign over a great empire like that of Solomon. The Lord Jesus possessed the means to achieve all this, to fulfil the dreams of his people and gratify their ambitions – ‘If you will fall down and worship me’. The point of these words was that the devil and all that he signified, would have been strengthened if Jesus with his God-given powers had joined forces with him, with the world order which the devil symbolised. But he would not. His Kingdom was to be of an entirely different character to the kingdoms of this world, founded on entirely different principles, and there could be no alliance or compromise between them.
These then were the three ways by which Jesus could have gained and held sway over the loyalty of men: miracle, mystery and authority. There would have been something for everyone. Some will follow a leader who satisfies their material needs – the poor, the dispossessed, the have-nots and the materialistic. Some will follow one who is shrouded in mystery, who can dazzle their minds with the exercise of powers beyond human comprehension – the credulous, the superstitious, those who crave excitement and emotional stimulation. And others will follow a strong leader, an autocrat, a conqueror, who can subdue their enemies and transform their nation into a mighty world power. It was as though the world were whispering in his ear: feed us and we will follow, dazzle us with miracles and we will believe, become our leader and we will obey.
When they heard Jesus proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God and saw him perform miracles, the masses flocked to his cause. This was the message they wanted to hear. They even tried to take him by force to make him king (John 6), after he had provided bread by miraculous means to feed five thousand of them. It is significant that in John chapter 6 all three temptations occur, but in a different context. Jesus produced loaves of bread by a miracle (v.11) and the people were so impressed that they tried to make Him into their kind of king (v.15), and in verse 30 they demanded a miraculous sign as a condition of their belief. Only this time it was not so much Jesus who was subject to temptation, it was they, the people who were put to the test, a test which they failed. In this they duplicated the failures of their ancestors in the time of Moses, who received the manna which God provided from heaven, who worshipped that which was not God and who put God to the test to see whether He were true to what He had promised.
Given the political climate in which they lived, it was understandable that these people of Galilee should try to take their benefactor by force and make him king. To them no better qualification could be found in a potential king than that he should provide the masses with their material needs. But their very acceptance of him for this reason was in fact a rejection of all that he really stood for, a rejection that becomes more explicit as the dialogue unfolds. They were effectively putting themselves in the place of Satan by asking Jesus to conduct himself in that way.
The same attitudes continually manifested themselves throughout the history of the Christian faith. Medieval Popes, kings and emperors claimed their political authority from Christ. They claimed to rule in his name. In our own time Marxists and liberation movements have emphasised the role of Jesus as the defender of the common people, the rebuker of the rich and powerful, and have done so to give legitimacy to their own revolutionary struggles. All through the ages men from every shade of the political spectrum have tried to take Jesus by force and make him into their kind of king. But Jesus has always refused to give his endorsement to any political system. His Kingdom is not of this world.
On many occasions the Lord did indeed use his powers to feed the hungry, to give sight to the blind and strength to the lame and even life to the dead. But it was not for these reasons that true disciples followed him. They followed him because they recognised in this man, in his words, in the character of his life a power and an authority which came from beyond himself. True disciples were those who longed for the salvation which he offered and the removal of the burden of guilt which he made possible.
Right from the start Jesus acknowledged that the cross must come before the crown if he was to obey the will of his Father. And he knew also the consequences of such a choice – violent death at the hands of men who hated all that he stood for, men who were disillusioned with him because he did not fulfil the role they had expected of Messiah.
Many of the people around him could not understand what Jesus was trying to achieve in his ministry. His crucifixion must have seemed to all who witnessed it to be the final defeat of his mission, the negation of his Gospel. Those who taunted him when he was dying that he should demonstrate his powers by descending from that cross of torture assumed that he did not because he could not. But what they did not realise was that it was precisely because he was indeed the Christ that he did not come down. What they thought was the reason which might have brought him down, was in fact the very reason which kept him there.
Which brings us to another level on which we can interpret the three temptations. They can be seen as caricatures of what his Father promised Him, and what in his Father’s name he performed as Messsiah. What the Devil put to Him his Father gave him and gave him more fully. ‘Command these stones to become loaves of bread’, was the first temptation, and Jesus said No for he would not produce bread either to satisfy his own hunger or as an inducement to win disciples. But at the end of his ministry he did in fact offer bread to his disciples: ‘Jesus took bread and after blessing it broke it and gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘Take eat; this is my body’ (Mat 26:26) – ‘This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die’ (John 6:50).
From the pinnacle of the Temple he was urged, ‘throw yourself down for it is written, He will command his angels concerning you, and on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’ (Mat 4:5-6). That would have been a sign to make all men believe, but he would not. Instead, an even greater sign was shown to those who genuinely wanted to believe – the sign of the prophet Jonah – when his disciples heard from the lips of an angel: ‘he is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay’ (Mat 28:6).
From the top of a mountain he was shown all the kingdoms of the world and was tempted to worship something other than his Father with the words: ‘All this will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me’. But he refused to give his allegiance to any but his Father, then or at any other time. And after his resurrection his disciples saw him and worshipped him. And what does he say to them? ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has given to me’ (Mat 28:17,18). Each temptation was a pale imitation of what in greater abundance his Father intended that he should have.
The Lord learned by the experience of temptation what the phrase ‘Son of God’ meant. It meant a confounding of all human expectations of the Messiah, a turning upside down of all notions of power, leadership and greatness. Only by saying No to temptations, by abasing himself and treading the path that led to the cross, could he achieve the only greatness and power that mattered. For beyond the rejection and the apparent defeat, the malice and taunts of his enemies, the shame and agony of his execution, lay resurrection, glory and life eternal. That is the pattern of the spiritual order. It was out of suffering that Christ obtained glory, out of sacrifice, strength and out of death, life. ‘Therefore’, says the Apostle, ‘God has highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2:9-11).
Ask 100 Christadelphians what they believe and why they are a separate group, and the first three points made by 99 of them will no doubt include ‘we don’t believe in the Trinity’. Ask them why and you will hear all about Jesus’ human traits. Survey Christadelphian web-sites and look at what they have to say about the Trinity, and you will see the same position: Jesus was fully human – he did not know many things, he grew in stature and wisdom, he learned obedience, he prayed to God, he was tempted, and he died – and these are incompatible with his being God.
The Humanity of Jesus Christ
Consider then if you feel the Christadelphian position is nicely expressed in the following excerpts:
While the man, Jesus, stood before God as the Son in whom the Father was well pleased, it is of the greatest importance to remember that the Jesus who stood before God in this way, was nonetheless a human being, a carpenter from Nazareth. As such, he stood before God ‘in utter creatureliness’. To say otherwise would surely be equivalent to saying that he was not really a human being at all: all human beings are, after all, creatures. (p57)
It was because Jesus stood before God in a creaturely way that the Scriptures, including the gospels, can present him as acting as only a creature can before God. It is why they can present him as praying to God. … It is because of his creatureliness that Jesus could also have felt abandoned by God, and so, could be represented as crying out on the cross the line from Psalm 22: ‘My God, my God, why have you deserted me?’ (p57)
As regards Jesus, Christians obviously are convinced that God was deeply and intimately involved in his life from its inception to its passing on to newness of life in the resurrection. However, once we say that Jesus was ‘truly human’, then we may not think of God’s involvement in his life as in any way taking away from his freedom. …. Because the divine presence and action in Jesus did not remove his freedom, the pattern of his life was basically the same as ours. Jesus, just as much as we, was frequently faced with various possible courses of action. He, just as much as we, was frequently choosing between the possibilities which lay before him… The second implication of Jesus’ freedom which is worth thinking about here is that Jesus could be, and was, tempted. … To be tempted is, then, to be attracted to make an immoral choice – it is to be attracted to be immoral. And it is to be really attracted to this, for if there is no real attraction, there is no real temptation. (p59-60)
Allowing for Jesus’ profound awareness of, and his deep communion with, God, and for the fact that he was a man of extraordinary perceptiveness and insight, we can – indeed must – say that the following two characteristics of all earthly knowledge were characteristics of his knowledge too: we can and must say this of Jesus if we are to think of him as a real human being. …
1. We can and must say, first of all, that whatever factual knowledge Jesus had of the world around him, was acquired gradually. Like ourselves, to use words from Luke, ‘he increased in wisdom’. …
2. We can and must say, secondly, that Jesus’ knowledge was conditioned by the historical and cultural situation in which he lived. (p73,75)
Unity is not the whole story of the relationship between Jesus and God, or, rather, the ‘Word’ of God. In the true Christian view there is also distinction between them – a point which is also often forgotten but which, again, may not be forgotten if we are to have a correct understanding of Jesus. The very fact that Jesus, as he lived in history and as he is perceived in faith, was a real human being itself shows that there was some distinction between him and the ‘Word’ who is God: human beings, we know, simply are not the same as God. … Unless the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, for example, saw a distinction between Jesus and God, he could hardly have said of Jesus what I have earlier quoted him as saying of him: ‘During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard.’ Nor could Mark and Matthew have put into the mouth of Jesus the words of the psalm: ‘My God, my God why have you deserted me?’ (p109-110)
These statements about Jesus were taken from a book entitled Jesus: Self Portrait by God, by Enda Lyons. Enda Lyons is a Roman Catholic priest and popular teacher at Catholic retreats. His book seeks to explain and clarify what the Catholic Church (and Protestants) have always taught about who Jesus was and is. Fr. Lyons is not introducing new ideas, he is not leading people on a detour away from his Church’s teaching, but simply explaining what it has always believed. So much so that the book, published in 1994 by Paulist Press (originally in 1993 by Columba Press, Ireland), received an Imprimatur from Fr. Lyons’ Archbishop. Fr. Lyons is writing from the view that all these things are true of Jesus and, as well, that the doctrine of the Trinity is a true description of God. Both. To see how that is possible, you would, I suppose, have to read the book for yourself.
The Divinity of Jesus Christ
Now consider if the traditional Christian (Trinitarian) position on the divinity of Jesus Christ, as you understand it, is well-stated by these words:
Thus, ‘the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us’ says John, ‘and we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ … and this Word became flesh in the manner testified. Was the product, therefore, not God? Did the union of spirit with flesh annihilate that spirit, and leave only flesh? Was the holy thing born a mere son of Adam? Or ‘the fellow’ and ‘equal’ of God? The latter unquestionably. After this manner then, the Eternal Power, or Yahweh, became flesh; and commenced the initiation of His promise.
Does the fact of manifestation transform God into that which is not God? Certainly not. Or is God in manifestation as much God as before He made himself visible? Certainly He is.
God is God though He manifest His wisdom and power through mortal flesh. The mortality of the flesh does not necessitate nor imply the mortality of God; nevertheless, God becoming flesh, and constituting a manifested individual, if that individual die and be raised again to life, and God again enter into combination with the resurrected body, so as to transform it into substance like the divine essence; in other words, to make that spirit which was before flesh, and so exalt it to the Father, God may say, with the strictest propriety, ‘I am the first who was dead;’ and yet, abstractly from the medium of manifestation, did never die.
On another occasion, Jesus said to the Jews, ‘I and the Father are one’ – one what? We are, in the words of Moses, ‘one Yahweh’.
All the true believers who have been immersed into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit – not three names, but the One Name of the divine manifestation – are a manifold unit – One in many and many in one.
I propose that the message of these quotations does not differ significantly from what the traditional Christian is trying to say about Jesus being the incarnate Son of God, the incarnate Word of God, or the incarnation of God the Son. They are, however, Christadelphian teachings. These words about Jesus and his relationship to the Father and his divine-ness come from, as many will have recognized, John Thomas (Eureka Vol. 1, pp 71-87 in the 1959 reprint). John Thomas is in fact trying to say the same thing as Christians are trying to say when they say ‘Jesus is God’, even though he would reject that statement. ‘Jesus is God’ is an unfortunate ‘slogan’ for evangelical Christians to focus on, for as Fr. Lyons acknowledges:
The simple statement ‘Jesus is God’ is a very unsatisfactory summary-statement of Christian belief. Taken as it is, the statement asserts only a unity between Jesus and God. It makes no reference whatsoever to the distinction which there is between them, and so, it gives the impression that Jesus and God are simply identical. We can see however that, in doing this it does not do justice at all to Christian belief.
It seems that what Christadelphians believe about Jesus and what Trinitarians believe about Jesus are virtually the same. But wait a minute, can that be true? If it is, what has all the argument been about? Could it actually be true that what Christadelphians have believed about Jesus for the past 150 years is no different, except in the words used, from that believed by the historic Christian churches? What amazing implications that has.
Since writing the above, I have been pondering how could I have gone through so much of life not seeing all this? I think there were three factors at work:
Firstly, I liked being ‘different’ and distinctive in my beliefs. I was proud of knowing the real truth, felt ‘smarter’ and maybe even morally superior because of that. It felt good. So I never seriously listened to what the evangelicals I met, or the historic Church, were teaching about Jesus, never really understood the traditional view, and opposed it out of misunderstanding. I only defended my view and didn’t listen to their view. Such discussions were little more than Bible verse ping-pong (I served up I Tim 2:5 or John 14:28 at them, they bounced back John 10:30 or John 20:28 at me, and on and on).
Secondly, traditional Christians, both evangelical protestant and Catholics, have done a terrible job at explaining all this, and maybe even understanding it themselves. As one example, the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that covers the humanity of Jesus (sections 464-478) speaks in a way that still seems to me almost unintelligible. As a second example, when on occasion I talked with evangelical Protestants, they insisted that ‘Jesus is God’, but took that as a straightforward and simple statement and were unaware of the depth of views that it is trying to summarize. They were uninformed about what their faith taught.
Thirdly, I misunderstood, as do many traditional Christians, the words used in the 4th century disputes to define the doctrine of the Trinity: ‘nature’, ‘person’, ‘substance’, ‘being’, ‘God the Son’, ‘true God’, and others. These words, which sound like they are ordinary English words, were used to translate the words being used then (in Greek and Latin, not English) in a very technical theological way, and they have evolved in their meaning since then. They sounded like simple concepts, but in this discussion they were not and are not.
By the Lord’s grace, I finally arrived at the place where I could hear the Lord’s command for continued unity in the whole church. By the Lord’s grace, I finally got to the point where I could listen with patience and love to what others are trying to say about God and Jesus, to ask questions that clarified their views, and shun the comments that only create challenge. Praise God.
A brief enquiry into another of the (infinite?) variety of pearls of wisdom contained in the Word of Truth.
3. The Love That Breaks The Law
Before we begin, this is nothing whatever to do with divisions in the Anglican church, scandals about bishops in the USA or epithets like ‘Unmerciful’ and ‘Unscriptural’ bouncing between Evangelicals and Moderates on that subject. This is about a law of nature; in reality one of the fundamental rules which God laid down before Creation for all matter known to earth’s population to obey – plus the fact that He deliberately caused one substance, the most commonly occurring on earth, to contravene that basic law. Don’t get any wrong ideas; that substance doesn’t merely fail to comply – it actually flouts the law, suddenly behaving in the opposite manner from a second or so previously.
Anyone reading this far, whose O-Level physics exam was at all recent, may already know the substance, the law and the way in which the one disobeys the other, but for the majority of us let me reveal that the substance is water and the law is of the thermal expansion of all matter – solids, liquids and gases – on being heated and contraction on being cooled, its Mass, however, remaining constant throughout.
What is this in plain, household English? Simply that according to the law, the more you heat anything the bigger it gets, although it still weighs no more, and the cooler it gets the smaller it gets, again without losing any weight. Now you don’t need to be Albert Einstein to work out that when something gets bigger but not heavier it gets less dense. That’s why ice floats on top of water, even though it’s colder. It’s also why hot air in a giant balloon can lift it – and a heavy basket, extremely heavy fuel tanks and burners and two, three or even four extremely heavy people – high in the sky through the surrounding colder, denser air. Hang on – that can’t be right, now can it?
In order to lift the balloon, you have HOT air INSIDE that’s less dense than the COLD air OUTSIDE, but to lift COLD ice through the WARMER water outside it and float it on top, surely something different has to happen, because if the law of thermal expansion still applies, then the colder ice is denser than the warmer water – and it ought to sink to the bottom! What’s gone wrong?
Nothing. Water is the one substance on earth which – although it obeys the law all the way down from boiling point (212ºF in my schooldays!) to almost freezing point (32ºF), suddenly, irresistibly and with massive energy, goes into rapid reverse for an instant and EXPANDS WHILE FREEZING, becoming almost instantly considerably less dense in the process. That’s why ice floats on top of water; that’s why water pipes burst on freezing. Yes, I know they don’t leak until the thaw, but that’s because the ice that burst them when it formed can’t leak while it’s still solid!
Yes, well – all very scientific perhaps, but the Endeavour Magazine isn’t a physics text-book, so why the ‘life-and-death’ language? Simply because on this sudden reversal of behaviour depends the life or death of the whole planet! Go back in time, to the very first winter after the Creation, and imagine seeing a section through the earth’s crust stretching from Canada, across the Atlantic and into Europe north of the UK. Pretend that water does NOT disobey the thermal law as it freezes.
The temperature gets lower and lower, until the first ice forms – which we are pretending is still contracting and is therefore now smaller and denser than the surrounding water. Where does it form? On the sea, river and lake BEDS. It has to, because it sinks there as it forms! And there it stays, until the warm sunshine of next Spring and Summer. But instead of melting in the sunshine it stays exactly as it is and where it is, because – didn’t I tell you? – water is a very bad conductor of heat, especially downwards! All too soon, winter No. 2 approaches. The water freezes again and forms on top of last year’s layer. Winter No. 3? You guessed it – same again, and so on ad nauseam. Great for shipping and sailing, but they haven’t been invented yet.
And so the process continues whose inevitable, inexorable end is an earth totally covered in ice, with an annual thin film of water on top a few millimetres thick. No animal or vegetable life whatever. No hope of any again.
Now, was it important for God to have caused the commonest substance on earth to break His thermal expansion law? Only if He so loved the world that He gave His one law a get-out clause in favour of water!
While thinking about water, and the seas, I got to thinking about salt. (Well, you would, wouldn’t you?) ‘Salt is good’, I can read in two gospels, and in Matthew 5 the Lord himself says: ‘Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing.…’
Well – is it? Good for NOTHING? NO! Read on to the end of the verse: ‘but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.’
Suddenly – and it was only in January this year (2003) – it hit me. Could Jesus have known what man only discovered centuries later, that salt literally ‘cast out’ – where the ice and snow are, drastically lowers their freezing temperature? Within seconds of landing, the reaction begins, and the solid, slippery and dangerous covering of our streets is changed into brine – salty water, which we dont slip or skid on, and which readily flows into the drainage systems and leaves the transport infrastructure safer again.
I reckon Jesus must have known, otherwise he wouldn’t have mentioned the one remaining good that ‘unsalty salt’ would have.
See what I mean? If you’re ever learning the right knowledge, you’re bound to be rewarded!
A New Thought: Chapter 11:1-6.
The first verse of this chapter is one of the most striking (and obscure) in this book, which is famous for its pithy sayings. Three versions are enough to show the problems:
Cast thy bread upon the waters for thou shalt find it after many days. (A.V.)
Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again. (N.I.V.)
Send your grain across the seas, and in time you will get a return. (R.E.B.)
The A.V., as usual, is starkly literal. The N.I.V. cannot avoid trying to help the reader by adding a little: ‘again’. It wishes to stress the eventual benefit of jettisoning one’s property at the moment. The R.E.B., sensing the lack of any clear meaning in the first clause, interprets more than translates. It is a paraphrase expressing what is a very common view about the meaning of the verse.
The second verse is parallel in giving instruction in the first phrase, but then tells us of the risk, not of the eventual return:
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. (A.V.)
Give portions to seven, yes to eight; for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land. (N.I.V.)
Divide your merchandise among seven or perhaps eight ventures, since you do not know what disasters are in store for the world. (R.E.B.)
Here the two modern versions correctly interpret the meaning of ‘evil’ in the context, but again the R.E.B. paraphrases with the same interpretation in mind as in the first verse.
This quite common interpretation of these verses, namely that Qoheleth is urging his readers to get rich from international trade, fits neither the words nor the context of the verse, nor the facts of life at the time. ‘Water’ in Hebrew is grammatically plural, but it does not therefore mean ‘a lot of water,’ nor does ‘water’ elsewhere in Biblical Hebrew by itself mean ‘the sea.’ Similarly ‘bread’ (Hebrew lehem) is often used for ‘food’ in general, but rarely. for ‘grain.’ A clear case is Isaiah 28:28, where its grinding is referred to, but often it is difficult to be sure precisely which meaning is intended. When there was famine in the land and the people asked Pharoah for bread (Gen. 4l:54-55), did they mean ‘grain,’ ‘food,’ or did they say ‘bread’ because that is what they would actually eat? Thus if Qoheleth meant ‘grain’ in this passage he expressed himself very ambiguously by using this word. A further problem is that the Jews of Qoheleth’s time were not and never had been a seafaring nation. Solomon used his wealth to acquire a merchant fleet, but employed Phoenician sailor’s to assist with manning it (I Kings 9:26-28). Jehoshaphat tried to do the same without Phoenician sailors, but the ships were wrecked and he declined to try again using Israelite sailors (1 Kings 22:48-49). A Jew thinking of a foreign, trading venture would plan overland trips. Egypt, Arabia and Syria were within easy reach. Also the world of Qoheleth’s time was not accustomed to trade in basic food commodities. That only came under the Roman Empire. Finally, the outcome as expressed in verse 1 does not fit trading. A trader exchanges goods he has for goods he wants, or for the equivalent of money: silver most often. But in this verse after a long delay one recovers what one originally started with!
In itself the verse is not clear, but the following verses are helpful. Verse 2 advises to give portions to any number of people because difficult times may lie ahead. ‘Seven, yes eight’ is a Hebrew figure of speech for an accumulation. Note – to use one instance only – Amos 1:3,6,9,11,13; 2:l,4,6. ‘Portion’ certainly implies distribution, but while some commentators again want to find a commercial application (‘diversify your investments in case hard times come’) better advice would be to take no risks at all. The following verses 3-6 are clearer. First, rain clouds will give rain (whatever we may want), and a falling tree cannot be instructed to fall in the most convenient direction for us. Verse 4 explains that climate – beyond our control – may disrupt even such basic tasks as sowing and reaping. Thus we reach a point in verse 5: just as the processes of development of the foetus in the womb are beyond our comprehension, so generally the workings of God are unknown to us. Verse 6 then draws out the practical implication for us: take every opportunity to do the necessary tasks of life because one does not know how far any of them will succeed.
Against this background the problems of vv. 1—2 can be tackled. ‘Cast’ in v. 1 does not mean ‘throw in’ but rather ‘let go,’ so that the bread drifts away. This remains obscure, and probably it was a proverbial saying of the times with a meaning from the contexts to which it applied. The reader is being urged to be generous to all and sundry without any thought for possible personal gain because eventually the matter will be repaid. Similarly in v. 2 the reader is urged to share his goods with all in need because one day he may be in need due to changing economic conditions. God controls all and we have to accept that fact and trust in him.
There is no need to worry dear readers, this is not going to be a regular feature . There is one subject however that I would like to discuss and that is children, the dear little things, the small and not so small. I must confess that I love them – at a distance. Jesus loved them; I wonder if they were nice to Him?
Recently, at the Pharmacist’s where I was waiting for my prescription to be made up, I sat on the only seat available, a privilege of the elderly. In comes a toddler with his mum in tow, straight up to me saying ‘I want to sit there.’ no please or thank you. I explained that I couldn’t stand very well. Everyone, including mum, thought he was a clever little chap and were highly amused. There was no word of disapproval from mum explaining that it was disrespectful to talk to elders like that, or to anyone else for that matter.
Well here we are once more in the car park. Lovely places car parks. Now a grandstand view from the front seat watching the world go by. It must be school holidays – so many children around, so much noise but we don’t mind that do we? Here comes a harassed looking mum. She parks the car nearby and immediately a voice is demanding to be released from the back seat. This is done as quickly as possible, Willie gets down and mm tells him to stay there whilst she releases Matilda. Willie has other ideas and decides on walkabout. Mum yells at him to stay – Willie gathers speed (a little deaf today). At this moment someone is backing out, stops just in time for Willie to bump into the side of the car. Now high-pitched cries from the infant, many running mums, much fussing over the poor little chap. No he wasn’t hurt, only his dignity. Soon peace is restored, both children are on a trolley ready no doubt to do their own shopping pulling brightly covered, packeted, unsuitable sweets into the usual pile. Mum raises no objection.
Now I am left wondering if a little early discipline would have been good for Willie. If I am wrong perhaps someone will write and tell me. There are lots of ‘whys’ occurring to me. Why do children demand their ball back when it comes into my garden, no please or thank you? Why do teenagers menace me when I am in my buggie in the park?
Now before the shopping trolley comes what is the conclusion of the subject? Scripture comes to mind. What about this one Prov 23:13 (NIV)? ‘Do not withhold discipline from a child, if you punish him with a rod he will not die.’ There are other references in similar vein. Or what about Heb 12:7 and applying it to ourselves?
There is more than a grain of wickedness in everyone.
Peoples of the Old Testament World
ed A Hoerth, G Mattingly, E Yamauchi, (Baker Books paperback 2002)
Christadelphians as a body tend to focus on the Old Testament, perhaps more so than other Christian groups, because they lay such emphasis on the promises to Abraham. Some forty years ago, I had the opportunity to take papers in Ancient History. Lectures were supplemented by the use of H. R. Hall’s The Ancient History of the Near East and the Thames & Hudson series Ancient Peoples and Places.
A decade later, having left my ancient history to become a school teacher, I purchased Peoples of Old Testament Times (edited by D. J. Wiseman 1973), and this became a very useful reference book for me, and hopefully for many Christadelphians. Peoples of the Old Testament World – with its 400 pages – is now becoming just as useful in giving a background to the Old Testament. Now that I am in semi-retirement, this new book has certainly re-awakened my enthusiasm in an area of study commenced so long ago.
Consisting of 13 essays, by American scholars, the authors aim to ‘give a better understanding of the distinctive feature of ancient Israel in God’s revelation of himself thr
Following a chart of the archaeological periods of Syria-Palestine, there is a simplified map of the ancient near east on which are noted the locations of the thirteen nations which form the essay topics, under three groups: Mesopotamia – Anatolia, Syria-Palestine and Egypt – and Transjordan.
Edwin Yamauchi deals with the Persians; not surprisingly, as his 580 page The Persians and the Bible (Baker 2002) is an excellent work for those students wishing to investigate this topic in depth. After a Biblical quote, we are given a brief look at the Medes, before the Persians are addressed. Cyrus II, Cambyses II, Darius I, Xerxes I, and Artaxerxes I are well-known monarchs to us as we read through the Old Testament each year. A short section on Persian architecture and art is followed by a two-page synopsis on Persian religion. Concluding the chapter, like all others, there is a list of recommended reading.
Perhaps the Phoenicians are best known to us for their alphabet and for their achievements as traders with their ships of Tarshish. William Ward is the author of this section, giving a history, followed by consideration of language and writing, art and craft, and religion. (For those who wish to explore these people, see The Phoenicians and the West, Politics, Colonies & Trade, M. E. Aubert, 2001 and The Phoenicians, ed S. Moscatti, 1997.)
I have found Peoples of the Old Testament World a most useful reference book, not only for its contents, its copious footnotes, indices of subject, author, and scripture. Each chapter should be read with an open Bible, so that the Old Testament references can be examined, and so deepen our understanding of what was written so long ago, for ‘our instruction’
The Warrior Tamed: An Exposition of the First and Second Books of Samuel, Roy Standeven. Pp. xxiv + 471 pp. including 25 sketch maps, charts and drawings.
Roellian Books, Mirfield, 2003. £7.00 plus postage.
This is the second and final part of the exposition of Samuel begun in the same author’s The People’s Choice, reviewed in Endeavour no. 102 pp. 46-49, with later comments in nos. 103 pp. 49-55 and 104 pp. 54-55. In terms of book production this second volume is improved in some ways. It is printed on thinner paper so that the much larger size (471 pp. as compared with 263) is easily accommodated. Also it is sewn and not only glued as was the first volume. The reviewer’s copy had a mousetrap binding so that he had to clamp it down to read it until well after the first half. The printing has been well done in India, and the author has indulged in fewer typographical idiosyncrasies, though there is still much room for improvement in this matter.
The content is generally of the same style as in Volume 1. It mainly consists of the author’s reflections on reading and. studying the two books of Scripture with frequent comparison of other parts of Scripture and digressions often of an exhortatory kind. The author continues to write with full clarity and grasp of what he intends, but this reviewer is still far from satisfied with the result as a work that can be recommended to any who wish to study these two books. A critic of my review of the first book suggested that the book was written ‘for the spiritual encouragement of Bible Class Christadelphians’ (no. 103 p. 55), but there is no way it can be kept out of the hands of other kinds of readers, and if it is used for the preparation of Bible Class talks, it is equally likely to be used for public addresses, to which those not in our community are invited though very few attend. It is then important that what is offered to our own members is fit also for others, and in this spirit the following comments on the new book are offered. As with the first volume, only a small selection of possible examples is given.
While the author often succeeds in presenting in his own words a very penetrating version of the various passages, it could often be briefer and less discursive. Those preparing Bible Class talks do not often have unlimited time on their hands! Much of this volume could be condensed with no loss. More serious are the occasions when in thinking out the various episodes the author not only adds what is neither contained nor implied in the Biblical accounts, but what even conflicts with it. A few examples:
Pp. 30-51 refer to ‘the king’s [Saul’s] physicians’ and ‘the court physicians.’ I Sam. 16 speaks only of ‘servants.’ It is unlikely that a new and so recently established court as Saul’s would have its own physicians.
P. 70. In describing Saul’s ecstatic behaviour when the prophetic spirit overcame him our author writes: ‘He divested himself of human rank and authority before the God of Israel until he was wearing but a single simple robe.’ The AV of I Sam. 19:24 states only: ‘he stripped off his clothes also,’ where the Hebrew term beged is a general term for clothes of all kinds. The NIV shares our author’s horror at the possible implication that Saul was naked, and so takes the liberty of translating ‘his robes.’ The AV with its literality is correct.
On pp. 81f. Jesus’ defense of his disciples’ plucking and eating ears of corn on the Sabbath is given a new twist not in the Gospels. They state only that the disciples were hungry. It is asserted in the book under review that this hunger was an aspect of the poverty of following Jesus. It appears that normally Jesus and the Twelve lived on charity and there is nowhere any suggestion that they came near starvation as a result. The hunger in question may have been accidental: it was the Sabbath and hospitality was not on offer for that reason.
Pp. 105, 119. In I Sam. 22 18-23 Doeg the Edomite massacres the priests of Nob and their whole community. According to 21:7 he was Saul’s head shepherd. Our author invents a troop of soldiers under him not known in Scripture. Samuel states ‘That day he killed eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod’ and continues with his massacre of all humans and animals in Nob. Our author apparently reasoned that one man single-handed could not have done so much killing, so be invented a body of troops under him not known to Scripture. The horrors of massacres in Africa in recent years leave no doubt that one wicked and determined man could easily kill 85 men in one day, but the whole town (not said to be on one day) does make one wonder if he got help. If one imagines, perhaps he roped in some of his under-shepherds? It is not sound policy to present such conclusions as fact.
Pp. 254-259. The author assumes throughout that the census of David was accompanied with the taking of a poll tax of half a shekel of silver from each person counted, in accordance with Exodus 50:13. No hint of this appears anywhere in the books of Samuel, and, as in The People’s Choice the author imposes Pentateuchal laws on the times of Samuel and David when the books of Samuel offer plenty of evidence that the written Pentateuch was lost at this time. Thus 2 Sam. 15:l2 is quoted on p. 557, according to which Ahithophel was offering sacrifices in Giloh. The position of the phrase is in fact ambiguous. It might mean while Absalom was offering sacrifices in Hebron, but in either case it is contrary to Pentateuchal teaching and rules. In this book it is passed over without comment, though it follows what Samuel and David did before.
Pp. 558ff. 2 Sam. 15:12 has an awkward phrase, literally: ‘Absalom sent Ahithophel the Gilonite, the counsellor of David, from his city . . .’ From the context it appears that Absalom sent for Ahithophel, and the latter responded by joining Absalom. Into the difficult word ‘sent’ our author reads an imaginative story: Ahithophel as a traitor was in fact sent to Jerusalem, where he spied out the situation for Absalom, and then he left Jerusalem and joined Absalom. This is excellent fiction, but completely lacking in authority. The various versions usually try to save the situation by fudging. The NIV’s ‘sent for Ahithophel’ is fine English, but not possible for the Hebrew. The solution in fact lies in a small group of late LXX MSS, the Lucianic recension, which the author drew on on p. 335 note 4, to justify reading ‘four’ instead of ‘forty’ in 2 Sam. 15:7, this time joined by other MSS also. They add a word: ‘Absalom sent and summoned . . .’
The author’s fascination for Hebrew continues unabated. The reviewer has explained in Endeavour no. 103 p. 43 why such works as Strong’s and Young’s are often unreliable, but use of them continues. It would take some 30 pages to go through all the untenable expositions of the meaning of Hebrew words and names in this book. Entirely at random, first a few small issues. The name Shammua has nothing to do with ‘devastation,’ being from the root meaning ‘hear’ (p. 208). According to p. 169 the name Hebron means ‘fellowship.’ It could, but there is no way of knowing whether it does, so it is wiser not to get involved in the matter. Ezrahite does not mean ‘helper’ (aleph and ayin do not interchange), as stated on p. 220. Its meaning is unknown. More important matters are involved from time to time. P. 224 expounds the foods distributed to the crowds when the ark was brought to Jerusalem, 2 Sam. 6:19 (not 20). Three items are named and are described as ‘unusual and archaic words.’ There is no evidence that any one is archaic, and the first certainly refers to bread. The third one is certainly ‘raisin cake’, as proved by Hosea 3:1, and the second one is often taken as ‘date cake,’ but the evidence is not fully sure. The author prefers: ‘bread, wine and a portion of meat,’ and thus finds a connection with Melchizedek.
It is very sad to find so little to praise in the exposition of Samuel. In contrast there is good exhortational material, for example stressing the need in ecclesia1 life to be concerned with the welfare of all members whatever their status (p. 43). But such gems may get lost in the life and times of Samuel. This book may serve to confirm the faith of simple believers, but it may repel any, including young people, who are not so easily satisfied and ask questions.