Sunday 29 May 2011

Geering at 92

Late last year Lloyd Geering, New Zealand's best known progressive theologian (heck, the country's best known theologian full-stop), spoke with Finlay Macdonald at Auckland Museum.  The podcast is still available. Geering, now 92, has been disturbing the Christian comfort zone for many decades, and is the author of many books including Such Is Life!, discussed on Otagosh a year ago, and Christianity Without God.

McGrath on the Akedah

The Akedah is the incident involving Abraham, Isaac and a lethal knife. James McGrath makes some worthwhile observations.
Isn’t it time to stop attempting to harmonize what’s in the Bible, and allow that greatest of Biblical principles, the Golden Rule, to trump, invalidate, and expose as wrong those parts of the Bible that run counter to it? If we ask “What would Jesus do?”, surely the evidence from the sayings attributed to him in the New Testament suggest that he would allow one passage to override another, just as he allowed humanitarian concerns to take priority over the command to rest on the sabbath. Shouldn’t those who wish to call themselves Jesus’ followers approach the Bible in the same way?

Saturday 28 May 2011

The End quote

We run amok if we get involved in the details.  Almost all Biblical comment on the subject is metaphor--words in search of words to describe the indescribable... When you literalize it, though, everything turns kind of sour.  The Book of Revelation is actually a wonderful poem...  When you start fussing about how many horns the demons have, or the precise timetable of this or that, then, as we used to say on the farm, "Mister, you're driving your ducks to a mighty poor pond."

John Petty on Progressive Involvement

Friday 27 May 2011

From Sabbath to Sunday

When and why did the Jewish believers in Jesus "cross the tracks" from a Sabbath-observant community to Sunday observance?  If you have a Seventh-day Adventist or Armstrong-influenced Church of God background, chances are you've read a lot of historical reconstruction on this issue.  Much of this, if your experience has been anything like mine, has been a cheap mixture of proof texting, wishful thinking, and blunt apologetics.

A generation ago the battle cry went up again when SDA scholar Samuele Bacchiocchi published a dissertation called From Sabbath to Sunday. It was a remarkable accomplishment considering Bacchiocchi carried out his studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Shortly thereafter screams of outrage emerged from the evangelical establishment, and Zondervan released a volume, edited by D. A. Carson, with the title From Sabbath to Lord's Day.  More recently Henry Sturcke, a former Worldwide Church of God minister, stirred the embers with his own dissertation, published by Theologischer Verlag Zurich (TVZ) entitled Encountering the Rest of God

As far as I recollect, none of these authors mentioned a possible Mandaean connection.

The Mandaeans are a little-known community that traces its origins back to John the Baptist.  While that claim is sometimes disputed by Christian and Islamic scholars, there's no doubting that the Mandaeans themselves believe it, and that they have long been a feature on the religious landscape in Iraq (though now increasingly forced into diaspora.)

Here's a brief excerpt from the second chapter of the Mandaean Book of John. The words are ascribed to John the Baptist.
I stand by the authority of my father and with the commendation of my creator, The Man. I have built no house in Judea, nor founded a throne in Jerusalem. I have no love for the rosy wreath, nor the company of beautiful women. I have not loved imperfection, nor the cup of the drunkard. I have not loved the food of the body, nor has envy any foothold in me. I have not neglected my vespers, nor left the wondrous Jordan. I have not shirked my baptizing, nor the sealing with the sign of purity.
So far, so gnostic. But then the text states.
I have not forgotten Sunday and its evening has not accused me of neglecting it. (Translation by Robert Price in The Pre-Nicene New Testament.)
An editorial footnote reads; "Sunday is the holy day of the Mandaeans, who follow the Essene custom of bowing to the rising sun each day. Christians came from the same sectarian matrix and seem to have retained Sunday worship, later locating the resurrection of Jesus on that day to give it a uniquely Christian meaning."

It is, to say the least, an intriguing suggestion.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

It's 1844 all over again

Harold Camping is the William Miller of the early twenty first century.

Miller had a couple of flubs before hitting on October 22 1844. The faithful were "ready to rise" on April 18, and there had been a previous expectation a year before that.

Recalculations were made, and the date was adjusted. It didn't make any difference of course.

Miller seems to have been a sincere man. Can we say the same of Camping? Is it even faintly defensible for anyone today to build a doomsday doctrine based on the symbolic numbers in ancient texts, Hebrew, Greek or Mayan for that matter? Miller thought so, but he had few of the advantages available to those of us living today. Even a moron in a hurry now knows the Bible can't be read aside from some basic critical qualifications, just ask Al Mohler.

And Camping had the clear example of Miller's failure, along with a host of similar predictions since.

Now he's adopted the Miller strategy: He made a bit of a mistake by failing to factor in x. But no worries, it's still all good. And land-sakes, he's even come up with an October date! The 21st!

Unlike 1844, when it took time to spread "the good word" of the End, today news is communicated as it happens. Miller's final prediction is the one we all remember. But Camping has fired his cannon early, and the whole world heard it. His supporters have already spent their savings on billboards for the wrong date.

Miller was merely self-deluded; Camping is a fool.

Monday 23 May 2011


After a monogamous relationship with the KJB for so many centuries, when will the English-speaking Christian community stop its promiscuous affairs with so many Bible translations?

The "Rev. Dr." Peter Carrell
A Personage of some significance in the Anglican Church in New Zealand
Writing in Anglican Taonga.

Dear, sweet lord, where to begin with this one?

Sunday 22 May 2011

NIV - milestone or millstone?

This is the year the current incarnation of the New International Version of the Bible that we all know (and either love or detest) joins the dinosaurs. Also receiving the heave-ho is Today's New International Version. In their place let another arise, NIV 2011. It might not be obvious from the cover, but the text has had a major retread since the last one in 1984.

The NIV has always been an agenda-driven translation, and the agenda is evangelical. The introduction to the NIV Study Bible says it quite clearly:
All [scholars involved] confess the authority of the Bible as God's infallible word to humanity... Doctrinally, the NIV Study Bible reflects traditional evangelical theology.
Which is at least up-front. Beloved of evangelical Christians, the 1984 NIV has become the translation of choice for many, and perhaps most, and the officially sanctioned version of several denominations (including GCI). When the TNIV was launched in 2001 however, it was not received with a chorus of hallelujahs. Conservative evangelicals, knickers tightly knotted, were selectively appalled at the updated language, and especially the move to be more gender inclusive. Plans to replace the NIV with it were quickly withdrawn.

That said, the TNIV seems a far improved translation. Gender inclusive language is the way we speak today, whether the old NIV curmudgeons like it or not. The two versions were however still shackled together. The introduction to the NIV Study Bible (2008) begins: "The New International Version of the Bible (NIV) is unsurpassed in accuracy, clarity and literary grace." Be that as it may, the introduction to the TNIV Study Bible (2006) begins: "Today's New International Version of the Bible is unsurpassed in accuracy, clarity and literary grace." Uh? Okay... maybe someone can explain how that could be...

And of course, identical words to those first quoted above are also used to outline the excellencies of the TNIV's evangelical credentials. The new edition will be more of the same, but a more cautious foray into the twenty-first century than TNIV attempted. It's intended to replace both the existing NIV and TNIV, so get your copies while stocks last. But it must now compete with the ESV, another agenda-driven translation with even greater pretensions, despite being little more than a doctored rehash of the old 1950s RSV. Sadly, the really worthwhile English versions sell far fewer copies because they don't pander to biblicist insecurities.

The 2011 NIV has already hit the bookshelves, though I haven't seen one in my corner of the Antipodes yet. I suspect, though, that it too will be "unsurpassed in accuracy, clarity and literary grace."

Ignoring Camping

Those who do not learn from history...
Several bloggers have sniffed disdainfully at the attention Harold Camping and his rapture prediction have received. Bad enough "the media" have been caught up (if you'll forgive a rather weak pun) in it all; we, the enlightened, are being sidelined by circuses!

Nope. The media attention and the howls of delight from the cheap seats are much needed.

It isn't as though this hasn't happened before and, here's the issue, will happen again.

And each time decent, sincere, largely naive people get sucked in. Lives are affected. Later I want to share some observations on the demographic Camping preyed on, but let's be clear: Most of those folk with their placards are victims. They don't need to have their noses rubbed in their mistakes.

Camping, on the other hand, should serve as an abiding lesson for any who might follow in his wake.

Deane Galbraith makes a very pertinent point: "But can we write off Harold Camping as occupying the fringe regions of Christianity when some 55% of Americans believe in The Rapture, a concept which was only popularized as late as the nineteenth century by dispensationalist, John Darby?"

No, Camping shares the same loon rating as Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye and the entire faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary.

These people may represent a majority (isn't 55% a majority) viewpoint!

A disdainful sniff is hardly the response that's needed.

PS. Just in case you were still wondering, the other side of zero is... nothing!

Saturday 21 May 2011

Counter conundrum

The question of the hour. What will Family Radio do with its website counter. What happens on the other side of zero? After all, "the Bible guarantees it", so what's a Bible guarantee worth? Can people get a refund?

The Lord is late

Here I am, perched atop a cowshed roof in Rongotea, dressed in my white ascension robes and ready to go. It's 6.45. The Lord is late. Not as much as a tremor from passing cattle trucks.

Could it be a 1 Kings 18:27 moment? The prophets of Baal have been beseeching the deity to come down, but it's a no-show. Elijah, showing a singular lack of ecumenical compassion, begins to "take the Mickey."
At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, "Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened." (NRSV)
A note in my New Oxford Annotated Bible reveals that "he has wandered away" is a euphemism for Baal having been, um, "caught short." Harold Camping's god seems likewise indisposed. Nasty!

The prophets of Baal, of course, met a sticky end in the Wadi Kishon. Camping's fate will be less gruesome, no doubt. A mere byword for fanaticism and self delusion. Less pleasant will be the consequences for those folk who were sucked in by Camping. There'll be a lot of impoverished people with ruined lives and reputations after tonight, and they - unlike Camping - can probably do without the additional burden of ridicule.

What will be done with all those posters and billboards? What will Harold tell the faithful? Probably not "I've been a jerk and will gladly reimburse you all for the losses I've caused you."

Oh well, I'll give it another half-hour before climbing back down. Too chilly to stay up much longer...

Happy Campers - Less than 2 hours to go

Jim West has me confused. On his excellent Zwinglian blog he declares that Camping's prediction has already failed. Jim writes: "As you can see, the deadline he set (May 21 out in the Pacific and 6:15 pm Eastern Time May 20) has come and gone."

No, no, no. At least, not if the LA Times has its facts right.
The apocalypse will strike, Camping teaches, on May 21, wherever it happens to be 6 p.m. That means it will be Friday night in America when what Camping calls "super terrible" earthquakes will hit the New Zealand region.

The earthquakes will then roll on, time zone by time zone. The saved, perhaps 2% to 3% of the world population, will be whisked to God, while the rest will be obliterated in what he calls "a super horror story."

So there! Camping could still be a true prophet. And that's the way it'll stay for another 100 minutes or so. Meanwhile, if you attempt to click over to to follow the action, so to speak, you'll probably find the site has crashed due to all the good folk attempting to do the same thing.

Still time to repent, Jim!

Disappointment? What disappointment?

Here in Rongotea, where I'm "camping out," it's approaching 10 AM on Judgment Day, hallelujah! News is already coming in of an early sighting of Jesus over Dunedin. (Personally, I'd avoid Dunedin like the plague today, full as it is of the damnable relics of pestiferous Presbyterianism.) New Zealand is the first major country up on the timetable of wrath, so those of you lucky beggars in the USA should have a clear 'heads up' - and an opportunity for last-minute knees-down, hands-upraised repenting as the wave of destruction begins its inexorable march across the planet.

To aid you in coming to terms with the great event, why not zip across to the Everything Dies blog. Yeah, I know the title is a bit of a downer, but let's face it, it's a good day for sobriety. There you'll learn about Harold Camping's more successful forerunner, William Miller, and what happened when his predictions kept coming up empty. To add to the motivation, the tale is told in comic strip format. Brilliant. I mean, would you have time to read an academic treatise on the subject today before you get "caught up" (or "put down".)

Friday 20 May 2011

Last Tango in Rongotea

The bustling centre of Rongotea
Well folks, it's almost the end... or more precisely The End. Harold Camping has crunched the numbers and he has no "Plan B," so I guess that settles it. I've been digging through my old files to find an ancient Jack Chick tract - you know, the ones with the "sign on the dotted line and be instantly saved" form - but no luck so far. Just in case the Lord overlooks me on the 21st, being so busy and all, I've been looking for a safe bolt-hole to avoid the worst of the cataclysm that begins at about 6 o'clock Saturday evening. I daresay there'll be tsunamis and volcanic eruptions just as the Camping Christians are raptured upwards, so a celebratory beach barbeque is probably out. My little town is perched far too close to the fleshpots of Auckland to feel secure... it seems obvious that the fire and brimstone will be particularly heavy over the top half of the North Island and, well, I'd put good money on an extra-thorough pounding of the Laidlaw College campus, and even worse at that Baptist joint where Tim Bulkeley teaches...

So, where to go? I'm thinking of heading to Rongotea (Ron-go-tee-uh), where the maternal grandparents once lived. It's a fairly long drive, but I should be comfortably ensconsed by 6pm. Why Rongotea? Well, nothing much has happened there since about 1937, and most New Zealanders - even those who live in Palmerston North - have never heard of it, so hopefully it's low on the Wrath priority list. Plus, there are no nearby fault lines, volcanoes or vulnerable coastline. I've hired an abandoned cowshed, and have a survival kit ready (Pepsi Max cans, peanut butter, the complete DVD collection of Babylon 5, a copy of the The Message Bible, and a battered Windows XP laptop to follow the global catastrophe.)

So I don't expect you'll be hearing from me on the 22nd, what with you lot all being knocked off by the Armies of Heaven (with the possible exception of Larry and Velvet) and me being either ruptured raptured, or incommunicado in the town that time forgot.

Either way, have a nice weekend...

It keeps getting weirder

The Washington Post has a small article about Harold Camping. No surprise there, Mad Harry is big news. A guy in the queue at the takeaway joint I stopped by at tonight struck up a conversation about The End, due tomorrow. Bizarre!

What's strange about the Post article is that the online text links to a certain "biblical scholar" who is "confused." Now who might that be.

Yeah, yeah, I know who you're thinking about, but it's not. In fact it's the very obscure Doctor Bob. No not that Doctor Bob! Dr. Bob Thiel.

Who? I'm having a disturbing flashback. Far too painful to go further. The Post scores 50%. Bob (who I understand got his ThD via mail order from India) is either a biblical scholar (yeah right...) or terminally confused but, in my opinion at least, certainly not both.

HT to Reg for the link.

Purple Velvet in The Journal

Click to enlarge
Purple Hymnal, alias Aggie. The lady behind those frequent - and often angry - postings was outed some months ago, and we all got to meet Velvet Delorey, who proceeded to amaze almost everybody by doing a volte face and starting up a new blog where "Old Paths" WCG was dry-cleaned and rehabilitated.

Velvet has ratcheted up the Great Leap Backward with a 'testimony' of sorts in the latest issue of The Journal.

In the same issue you'll find extensive coverage of developments in the United Church of God since departure of the hard-liners.

The front and back pages are, as usual, available for free download.

Sunday 15 May 2011

The Bible Geek

Y'know, I don't care if Bob Price doesn't carry the Good Housekeeping seal of approval from some in the theological community. He's knowledgable, he's entertaining and, by golly, he's stimulating. What's more, his podcast, The Bible Geek, is now online and free to download. Nothing boring here! Here's the synopsis for May 9:
Might Mary "Magdalene" have been not just some whore but a temple "priestitute"? Might the "rib" God extracted from the man to form the woman have been intended as the bone in the penis that most mammals possess, but we don't? The story would explain why the man lost it. Is the vaunted "grammatico-historical method" of Luther, venerated by Protestants, actually fatal to biblical inspiration and authority? Can a traditional view of biblical inspiration accommodate critical source hypotheses (JEDP, etc.)?

Saturday 14 May 2011

Senseless Plenior

Christians have read their story back into the Hebrew Bible from the beginning. Or, more accurately perhaps, into the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The idea is that there is a meaning in the pre-Christian writings that goes way beyond the clear intent of those documents. This dubious strategy is dignified by the Latin term sensus plenior, meaning fuller sense.

Most famously, the Tanakh has been dredged for "prophecies of Christ." No matter that nobody previously imagined them as such, or that you have to grab a shoehorn to make them fit. If the life and death of Jesus is imagined as the culmination of a predetermined "salvation history," the crescendo of some "grand narrative," then the Jewish scriptures must be grabbed by the scruff of the neck and jammed head-first into the straight jacket.

The ESV Study Bible (2008) contains a feature entitled History of Salvation in the Old Testament: Preparing the Way for Christ. The title says it all. Proof texts are ripped, still bleeding, from the Hebrew Bible as exhibits in the cause of Christian apologetics. And not just the usual suspects. It's just amazing what can be made to "prefigure" what. Even unlikely books such as Ruth are pressed into service. Commenting on Ruth 3:9 (wherein Ruth makes an amorous advance when Boaz awakes to find her unexpectedly snuggled up in his bed) the ESV Study Bible piously informs us:
Christ spreads his protection over the church, his bride (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-27)
Do tell! I'm sure that's exactly what Ruth and Boaz had on their minds that night.

It's moments like this that you kind of wish that Marcion had succeeded in detaching the emerging church from the Old Testament, and leaving it in the possession of its rightful owners. 

Meyer on forthcoming documents

There's a revealing interview with Marvin Meyer, the Gnostic gospels scholar, on Sacramento's Capital Public Radio "Sound Advice" show. It begins with the usual ho-hum clearing away of popular misconceptions about the literature that failed to make it into the canon, but then Meyer provides a little news-teaser: more ancient documents relating to the earliest years of Christianity are being readied for release by European scholars.

Well, if anybody is in the loop it would be Marvin Meyer, but during the interview he was being coy about details, only disclosing that they're not in the gospel genre (like the Gospel of Judas released a few years back by National Geographic.)

Interesting times ahead.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Remnants of Clay

Over at Remnants of Giants Deane has posted a 13 minute episode ("All Alone?") from Davey and Goliath, an early claymation-type kiddie show produced circa 1960 by the then United Lutheran Church which, a couple of mergers later, is now incorporated into the ELCA.

The show is deep-dish apple pie middle-America, but the opening sequence is what grabbed my attention. A Luther Rose, medieval-style trumpeters and an adaptation of Ein feste Burg as theme music. Too cool!

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Famine of the Word

WordPress user
Well, not quite. Blogger has had issues, and some of us have been unable to post until a few hours ago. Which just goes to prove that WordPress isn't alone in having bugs. I sat down last night to make a couple of observations on Matthew Flannagan's petulant comments regarding Deane Galbraith, but alas, Satan hindered the effort by striking down Blogger...

Oh well, the moment has passed. I do wonder, though, whether and when Matt is going to address the substantive issues that Thom Stark raises in his online review of the Copan travesty book.

Sunday 8 May 2011

Camping it up - and reaping poverty

I bet that's a KJV he's holding
If you can stomach another reference to Harold and his camp-followers, I see (courtesy of Reg out in East Texas) that the Big Event is due to kick off close to... New Zealand!
On May 21, "starting in the Pacific Rim at around the 6 p.m. local time hour, in each time zone, there will be a great earthquake, such as has never been in the history of the Earth," [one follower] says. The true Christian believers — he hopes he's one of them — will be "raptured": They'll fly upward to heaven. And for the rest?
"It's just the horror of horror stories," he says, "and on top of all that, there's no more salvation at that point. And then the Bible says it will be 153 days later that the entire universe and planet Earth will be destroyed forever."
Happy happy joy joy! Of course, this kind of apocalyptic mind-masturbation has regrettable real-world consequences.
"Knowing the date of the end of the world changes all your future plans," says 27-year-old Adrienne Martinez. She thought she'd go to medical school, until she began tuning in to Family Radio. She and her husband, Joel, lived and worked in New York City. But a year ago, they decided they wanted to spend their remaining time on Earth with their infant daughter.

"My mentality was, why are we going to work for more money? It just seemed kind of greedy to me. And unnecessary," she says. And so, her husband adds, "God just made it possible — he opened doors. He allowed us to quit our jobs, and we just moved, and here we are."
Now they are in Orlando, in a rented house, passing out tracts and reading the Bible. Their daughter is 2 years old, and their second child is due in June. Joel says they're spending the last of their savings. They don't see a need for one more dollar.

"You know, you think about retirement and stuff like that," he says. "What's the point of having some money just sitting there?"

"We budgeted everything so that, on May 21, we won't have anything left," Adrienne adds.(From NPR)

Pleasing God by describing him

James McGrath has a post up in which he tries to briefly explain what Christianity means to him. I doubt it'll get him a rapture-pass on the 21st, when the Campingites are due to blast off (or perhaps drift up) into the stratosphere, but I'd be prepared to mumble a quiet 'amen' - especially to the two "I suspect" statements below.
...I suspect that one reason why, as human beings, we have historically focused so much attention on trying to please God by describing him accurately is that, however difficult that may be to do, it is still less demanding of us than loving our enemies, feeding the hungry, and setting the captives free... I suspect that it may be more Christian to actually follow in practice a Jesus we do not completely understand, than to get as close as possible to understanding a Jesus we don't really follow. 
James is currently going through mythicist Earl Doherty's Jesus: Neither God nor Man and subjecting it to a scholarly once-over. I'm not aware that this has been done before (excluding, of course, the ravings of knee-jerk apologists), so it's worth keeping tabs on.

Saturday 7 May 2011

Camping it up in Auckland

It's not just crazy Americans who have joined the not-so-happy campers predicting a May 21 Judgment Day, as mentioned in the previous blog entry. Lo, local zombie fundamentalists are putting up a Kiwi version of the Camping billboards in New Zealand cities too.

(Though, to be a bit pedantic, it isn't really a Kiwi billboard if they're spelling it as 'judgment' instead of 'judgement'.)

So what happens when May 22 dawns? Disillusionment, backpedaling or a creative reinterpretation?

Will Camping admit to being a gormless jerk?

Will the billboards disappear the night before?

Will Family Radio splutter out static then disappear off the airwaves?

I daresay that's hoping for too much.

Camping it up on the 21st

In two weeks time it'll be all over, according to Family Radio's Harold Camping.

Two weeks. I won't need to send my sister a birthday card for the 26th.

"Seven billion people are facing their death!" I guess that's what they call 'the good news."
Camping groupie with billboard
May 21 believers say the Bible contains clues that brook no argument. God tells Noah the world will end in seven days; the Bible also equates a day to 1,000 years. They set the date of the flood at 4990 B.C. So, adding 7,000 years and considering the missing year “0” produces the year 2011. Translating a biblical reference to a month and day, from the Hebrew calendar to the Gregorian, results in May 21... The gathering up of saved souls will begin, followed by five months of chaos and tribulation that will serve as a spiritual going-out-of-business sale, Camping teaches. It will culminate with the end of the world on Oct. 21.
Well, there you have it. As the billboard says, "The Bible Guarantees It."  Who could fight logic like that?

Friday 6 May 2011

Mighty Martin

No it's not the Mighty Thor, firmly clasping his manly hammer, but Brother Martin. Just when you thought CPH (Concordia Publishing House) had crashed through the floorboards at the House of Crass and couldn't fall any further.

It's not as though Paul McCain, CPH's blogatollah, can't recognise crass when he sees it. He rightly reviles the Berenstain Bears Bible. Yes, that's not a typo. The thought of Zondervan (who richly deserve to be owned by Rupert Murdoch) producing this icky kiddie-travesty is enough to send anyone's lunch rapidly heading in a northward direction. Who you gonna call though? Of course: SuperMartin!

But consider this partisan piece on the evils of gender neutral language in the upcoming NIV2011. CPH promotes the ESV, 'nuff said.

No wonder the LCMS is downsizing in both membership and finances.

Apologists create Atheists

"... Christians need to get wise and stop accepting dishonest answers just because they're the kind of answers we'd like to hear. If our faith is such that we have to be dishonest in order to maintain it, then woe to us!"

"Christian apologists create atheists."

Thom Stark, Is God a Moral Compromiser, p. 132 

Thursday 5 May 2011

Spare the Rod

Tom Verenna draws attention to a post by John Byron wherein John lists eight things not found in the Bible which your average pew potato might be surprised by. Some are innocuous (nowhere does it say there were three Wise Men.) But coming down the list we find this:
Spare the rod and spoil the child
Not there either. You can find a few verses in proverbs that encourages parents to use the rod on their children, but none that suggest sparing it will spoil the child (cf. Prov. 13:24; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15).
Well... what about the book of Sirach?

Sirach is in the Septuagint, which was the first Bible of the emerging Christian movement. It might not be in Byron's minimalist Protestant version, but it's large as life in the Catholic and Orthodox canons.
3 It is a disgrace to be the father of an undisciplined son,
and the birth of a daughter is a loss.
4 A sensible daughter obtains a husband of her own,
but one who acts shamefully is a grief to her father.
5 An impudent daughter disgraces father and husband,
and is despised by both.
6 Like music in time of mourning is ill-timed conversation,
but a thrashing and discipline are at all times wisdom. (Sirach 22)
Daughters take note! But, you might protest, there's nothing here about spoiling a child by failing to administer a beating. Try chapter 30.
1 He who loves his son will whip him often,
so that he may rejoice at the way he turns out.
2 He who disciplines his son will profit by him,
and will boast of him among acquaintances.
3 He who teaches his son will make his enemies envious,
and will glory in him among his friends.
4 When the father dies he will not seem to be dead,
for he has left behind him one like himself,
5 whom in his life he looked upon with joy
and at death, without grief.
6 He has left behind him an avenger against his enemies,
and one to repay the kindness of his friends.

7 Whoever spoils his son will bind up his wounds,
and will suffer heartache at every cry.
8 An unbroken horse turns out stubborn,
and an unchecked son turns out headstrong.
9 Pamper a child, and he will terrorize you;
play with him, and he will grieve you.
10 Do not laugh with him, or you will have sorrow with him,
and in the end you will gnash your teeth.
11 Give him no freedom in his youth,
and do not ignore his errors.
12 Bow down his neck in his youth,
and beat his sides while he is young,
or else he will become stubborn and disobey you,
and you will have sorrow of soul from him.
13 Discipline your son and make his yoke heavy,
so that you may not be offended by his shamelessness.
So there you have it. The Bible's guide to child-rearing according to the most ancient Christian canon in existence. And what a wretched guide it is.

Quotations from the NRSV. Sirach is also known as Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Sirach (or Ben Sira), depending on the translator's mood.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Moolah for the mo?

LCMS president Matthew Harrison must be deeply into crucifixes if the backdrop to his recent video is anything to go by. But it's not plaster Jesuses nailed onto pieces of pine that Harrison had on his mind as he sat in an overstuffed leather chair and talked to the camera for twelve long but relentlessly positive minutes, but synod finances. The details are in the Lutheran Witless Witness; but first the text of the day: "God loves a cheerful giver."

Uh oh!

Next there's a little tale about the collection Paul made for Jerusalem. Paul, it turns out, is using a "sacred, sacramental term" (koinonia) for moolah. Well, who'd have thunked it!

Now to the main point: "We face tremendous challenges." Restructuring is the reality. Jobs have been cut. "Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly." Harrison doesn't apportion blame, but an apparatchik is less hesitant: "After many years of increasing financial difficulty and shifting funds around between various accounts, effectively robbing Peter to pay Paul, we are getting a very clear and honest picture of the financial mess our Synod is in..." Translation: it was the previous administration.

Well, at least it's all fairly subtle, or more subtle than some tithing sermons you'll hear in certain other churches. I'm willing to respond to the call by putting the first dollar into a Matthew's Mo account. The idea is to sponsor Harrison in shaving off the luxuriant growth on his upper lip. The synod could raise millions!

Tuesday 3 May 2011

A Dog's Breakfast

Three quotes from two biblioblogs.

Quote 1 (from Steve Wiggins): "In some sense, the KJV also represents the origins of Protestant movement."
Comment: What!? More damn Anglo-myopia! No wait, the absence of the definite article before 'Protestant' may mean Bob intends a scatological reference, in which case there may be some merit in the statement...

Quote 2 (from Jim West, quoting Robert Cargill): "Eugene Peterson’s ‘The Message’ is a complete abomination of the entire concept of ‘scripture.’  It should never be read in a classroom or public worship setting. Ever."
Comment: Amen!

Quote 3 (from Jim West himself): "John Piper: The New Pat Robertson."
Comment: see Quote 2.

Sunday 1 May 2011

Which Bible to choose?

Most Christians have a favourite Bible translation. In Australia, for example, the big sellers, trouncing all opposition, are the NIV, the King James, and the New KJV.

But are they the best? There's a fallacy that confuses popularity with merit, but as every true music aficionado knows, it ain't necessarily so, or Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga would represent the finest accomplishments of the human spirit.

Enter Fuller Theological Seminary. They've just upped the number of English language translations approved for use in their biblical studies courses from two to three. Now, prediction time: Which versions do you think they've picked?

Here's the multiple choice version. Tick three on this list, helpfully arranged in alphabetical order.


Okay, yes the first hurdle is to work out what all those acronyms stand for. If you identified the lot without breaking out into a sweat take a fifteen point bonus before proceeding, or one point for each you identified.

So the solution to the question? Fuller had previously approved the New Revised Standard Version and Today's New International Version, which is a nicely balanced move considering the institution's demographic. Not the NIV, which is interesting. Just this month they added a third "as a translation for use in biblical studies courses for its more than 4,000 students, and particularly for all master's-level instruction in the seminary's School of Theology, School of Psychology, and School of Intercultural Studies on all eight of its campuses."

Hands up if you suspected it might be the ESV?

Nope. They've gone with the Common English Bible, "a denomination-neutral Bible sponsored by the Common English Bible Committee, an alliance of five publishers that serve the general market, as well as the Disciples of Christ (Chalice Press), Presbyterian Church (Westminster John Knox Press), Episcopal Church (Church Publishing Inc.), United Church of Christ (Pilgrim Press), and United Methodist Church (Abingdon Press)."

It's a good choice simply because breadth of scholarship ensures greater objectivity and honesty than many agenda-driven popular versions, and the already released NT appears to demonstrate that point. The complete Common English Bible is due to hit the presses in August.  In the meantime there are free downloads available of Genesis, Psalms, Matthew and Luke.

God's Wrath on the Bible Belt?

Steve Wiggins provides an interesting commentary on the destructive weather that has recently produced tragic results - 350 reported deaths - across a wide area of the United States.
Something seems to be absent. The blazing rhetoric of televangelists and others proclaiming the wrath of God on New Orleans when Katrina blew ashore are strangely silent as a massive outbreak of tornadoes has ripped through the Bible Belt... I do not make light of this disaster... There is, however, a lack of continuity.
I'm not sure whether Meredith, Flurry or Pack will feel any such constraint, but time will tell. More interesting will be whether fundagelical pin-up boy John Piper finds the hand of his punative god in these events - considering what he wrote, for example, a couple of years ago.

Steve's whole entry appears on Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.