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Category Archives: Theology

Theology and the Bible

Jesus’ brothers and sisters

The Gospel According to John, chapter 7:2-10 reads:

2 Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. 3 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. 4 For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For not even his brothers believed in him. 6 Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. 8 You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After saying this, he remained in Galilee. 10 But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.

Three times the text mentions “Jesus’ brothers”, or as the footnote states, it can be translated, “Jesus’ brothers and sisters”. Who are these brothers and sisters?

1. Literally speaking, someone’s brother or sister is a person with the same parents. Since Jesus is uniquely the Son of God (John 3:18), he cannot have any brother or sister in the literal sense. Therefore, these verses cannot be read literally.

2. Someone’s half-brother or half-sister has one parent in common. Is it possible that Joseph and Mary had natural children after Mary gave birth to Jesus? John 19:26-27 reads:

26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

This action of Jesus as he was dying makes no sense if either Joseph were still alive or Mary had other children who would take care of her. So Jesus did not have a half-brother or a half-sister.

3. Someone’s step-brother or step-sister is a child of a parent from a previous marriage. Is it possible that Joseph was widowed and had children before marrying the Virgin Mary? The John 19 passage above shows this would make no sense because if either Joseph were still alive or Mary had other children, they would take care of her. So Jesus did not have a step-brother or a step-sister.

4. In some cultures such as first-century Jewish culture another relative such as a cousin may be called a brother or sister. This is the remaining possibility and must be the meaning of the passage. These brothers and sisters were likely cousins of Jesus.

The conclusion is that Jesus of Nazareth was an only child.

Hartford Appeal

The 1975 Hartford Appeal deserves to be better known. It may be viewed here. A book was written about it: Against the World for the World: The Hartford Appeal and the Future of American Religion by Peter L. Berger and Richard John Neuhaus (New York: Seabury Press, 1976). A 40th year anniversary reflection was written by Richard J. Mouw (see here). What follows are the 13 false themes identified:

Eighteen theologians and religious thinkers from nine denominations gathered at the Hartford Seminary Foundation, Hartford, Connecticut, January 24-26, to draft a declaration in response to themes in contemporary Christian thought which they viewed as “pervasive, false, and debilitating.”

Theme 1: Modern thought is superior to all past forms of understanding reality, and is therefore normative for Christian faith and life.

Theme 2: Religious statements are totally independent of reasonable discourse.

Theme 3: Religious language refers to human experience and nothing else, God being humanity’s noblest creation.

Theme 4: Jesus can only be understood in terms of contemporary models of humanity.

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Catholic and evangelical

The capitalized term Catholic refers to Roman Catholics, led by the Pope. The capitalized term Evangelical refers to revivalist Protestants, especially in English-speaking countries.

Lutherans are both catholic (uncapitalized) and evangelical (uncapitalized). This is sometimes called evangelical catholic, though it could as well be called catholic evangelical.

What is an uncapitalized catholic Christian?

The word ‘catholic’ means ‘universal’. A catholic Christian is a universal Christian. That is, one who identifies with whole Christian body throughout the history of the world. They retain traditions and doctrines that have had wide currency in the universal church, such as the liturgical calendar and the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist.

What is an uncapitalized evangelical Christian?

The word ‘evangelical’ means related to the gospel, the good news of grace through faith in Jesus Christ. An evangelical Christian is one who emphasizes the proclamation and sharing of the gospel, the authority of the Bible, and centrality of Christ.

Entropy here and hereafter

While the quantity of energy remains the same (the first law of thermodynamics), the quality of energy deteriorates gradually over time (the second law of thermodynamics). That is, energy tends to become less usable over time.

This is expressed with the concept of entropy, which is a measure of energy usability within a closed or isolated system (the universe, for example). As usable energy decreases and unusable energy increases, entropy increases.

Since the minimum entropy is zero, one conclusion is that the universe must have had a beginning with zero or very low entropy, like a clock that was wound up and continues to wind down. But some say that any increase in entropy is bad, which shows the imperfection of the physical universe.

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Is Christianity a religion?

It’s not uncommon for evangelical Christians to say that Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship. Or to contrast works-based religion with faith-based Christianity, making that the difference between religion and non-religion.

But it’s a mistake to say that Christianity is not a religion. For one thing, that would mean religious freedom wouldn’t be important for Christians. But we dare not give up religious freedom. For another thing, it drops the question of which religion is true. And it promotes negativity about religion, which is bound to impact how people react to Christianity, too.

One problem is that the word religion is almost impossible to define since there is such a variety of religions. For example, not all religions are theistic. And where does irreligion fit in? Is atheism a religion? How about secularism as a way of life? There could be no end to what counts as religion.

The Oxford dictionary defines religion as “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” Does that apply to Christians? Certainly it does. And it justifies the separation of the state from oversight of religion: a secular state has no competence or authority over what is beyond life in this world.

Christians would do better to adopt a positive attitude toward religion, since at least religion as defined includes “belief in and worship of” something or someone beyond us. That is a better place to begin than secularism, atheism, or irreligion. Christian apologetics could focus on making “the case for Christ” rather than having to convince materialists that transcendent reality exists.

Marriage as a sacrament

The dissertation When Two Become One: Reconsidering Marriage as a Sacrament in Protestant Theology by Adam Neal is online here. What follows are excerpts from the conclusion, pp. 304-310.

This study has set out to provide a coherent presentation for why Christian theology should consider marriage as explicitly sacred, and, in particular, advanced comprehensive argumentation for renewing its place as a sacrament in Protestant theology.

In addition to building a cohesive and comprehensive textual argument in favor of defining marriage as a divinely mandated sacred institution, this study has provided substantive historical research that challenges the sacramental theology established by the Scholastic tradition to which the Reformation reacted even while assuming certain untenable definitions.

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False Gospels

The false gospel of sensitivity: Christians should always to be sensitive to other people, and never offend them in any way.

It is false because Jesus offended many people.

Matthew 15:12:  Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”

The true gospel itself is offensive. For example:

1 Peter 2:7-8: So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

On the other hand, Christians should not needlessly offend others.

1 Corinthians 10:32: Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God

Oversensitivity and lack of sensitivity are extremes to be avoided.

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Authority of the Bible

The authors of the texts that later became books of the Bible certainly did not think they were writing parts of Scripture. Yet they certainly did think they were writing texts with authority for a particular group of people at a particular time. Others realized later that the texts had a wider audience and a higher authority. In that sense, the various writings became the Scriptures over time.

One of the continuing questions then is to what extent the words written for a particular audience are authoritative for other audiences. This is commonly expressed in the question as to whether every word and sentence is “inspired” but that leads to side matters about theories of inspiration. It is better to focus on the authority of the texts.

The truth of the Scriptures follows from its authority but its authority also presupposes its truth. Those who first recognized their authority had to recognize their truth, too. The two cannot be separated.

The question then is how far down does the authority and truth of the Scriptures go? That is, are each paragraph, each sentence, each word authoritative? Are the grammatical mistakes authoritative? The apparent inconsistencies? The language if not the concepts of archaic knowledge?

It’s best to start with the literary styles and conventions of the time and place of writing. These are not those of today, and are not the way “we” would write. But we should read them in context. Variations in names and spellings were common. Different authors writing of the same events may have a different purpose and take on them, and may adopt a different chronology.

All these are not “mistakes” or “errors” – they are differences, between them or between us and them or between them and other sources. So a correct understanding requires some historical background.

This goes all the way down to the words and grammar. The languages and usages are different from ours. The idioms and forms of expression are different. Some words are obscure. Some grammar is nonstandard. The writer may be writing in a foreign language they don’t understand all that well.

These are all cautions, not criticisms. They do not undermine the authority of the Bible but qualify its interpretation. There is no reason that the authority does not go all the way down.

Some will consider this excessive. After all, what does it matter if a few geographical details are mistaken? Or if some names aren’t right? It’s not for me to say how much it matters because what really matters is whether the Bible is authoritative. If it is, then it’s not for us to limit how far down that authority goes. The text is what we have, and the text is authoritative.

General and special knowledge

General knowledge is based on common experience and is available to everyone. No special training or vocabulary are necessary for general knowledge. It is also called ‘general revelation’ and ‘common knowledge’. This is the knowledge that realist philosophy builds on.

General sciences are the areas of general knowledge. In philosophy these are ontology, epistemology, and ethics. Since the existence of God and creation may be demonstrated from general knowledge, there is a general science of theology. General creation is general knowledge of creation.

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Special knowledge is based on uncommon experience that is available only to those who make a special study of them and learn their special vocabulary. The special sciences such as chemistry and physics are forms of special knowledge. They begin with general knowledge but then add special studies of particular aspects of general knowledge. This is the knowledge that anti-realist philosophy builds on.

Special revelation is another form of special knowledge; it requires knowledge of revelatory texts and faith in their message. Special creation is special revelation or knowledge about creation such as the special status of humanity.

Special knowledge in the light of special revelation is different from special revelation in the light of special knowledge. Here is a diagram of their relationship:

General knowledge/revelation ⇒ special knowledge1 ⇒ special revelation2 vs.

General revelation/knowledge ⇒ special revelation1 ⇒ special knowledge2

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Examples of general revelation in the Bible:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalm 19:1

Examples of special revelation in the Bible:

Genesis 1:2 – 3:24; Romans 16:25; I Corinthians 14; II Corinthians 5:19; Ephesians 3:3; Revelation 1:1

Terms for rates of motion

The scalar space of a motion is the arc length along the curve it traces out. The scalar time of a motion is the travel time along the route it traces out.

The time rate is “The rate at which something takes place over time.” The space rate is the rate at which something takes time over a route.

A quantity at an instant of time is instantaneous. A quantity at a point in space is punctaneous, from Latin punct(us) + (instant)aneous.

Speed is the time rate of motion, the scalar space per unit of scalar time. The speed at an instant of time is called the instantaneous speed, which equals the differential scalar space per differential scalar time or the magnitude of the instantaneous velocity.

Pace is the space rate of motion, the scalar time per unit of scalar space. The pace at a point of space is called the punctaneous pace, which equals the differential scalar space per differential scalar time or the magnitude of the punctaneous legerity. A gradient is the space rate of change of a function or scalar field.

Displacement is the directed distance or vector difference between two points in three-dimensional space. Distimement is the directed duration or vector difference between two instants in three-dimensional time.

Velocity is the time rate of change of distimement, which consists of the speed and direction of motion. The average velocity is the displacement per scalar time of motion. The velocity at an instant of time is called the instantaneous velocity, and is the differential displacement per differential scalar time. The instantaneous velocity equals the time rate of change of the displacement.

Legerity is the space rate of change of distimement, which consists of the pace and direction of motion. Legerity is the rate of progress on a trajectory or path. The average legerity is the distimement per scalar space of motion. The legerity at a point of space is called the punctaneous legerity, and is the differential distimement per differential scalar space. Cf. velocity.

Acceleration is the time rate of change of velocity. Expedience is the space rate of change of legerity.

The first moment of mass is mass times distance. The momentum is the time rate of change of the first moment of mass. The first moment of vass is vass times duration. The space rate of change of the first moment of vass is the fulmentum, from Latin for prop, support.

Power is the time rate of change of energy. Force is the space rate of change of energy.