Unforgivable Sin (Part 1)

In Luke 12:10 it reads: “And anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven.” Here we have an example of an unforgivable sin. In all, I can account for three such sins which biblically or philosophically need to be avoided.  I will address two of these today. One is scripturally prohibited directly, one is scripturally applied and philosophically arguable.

The first is the above mentioned blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In its simplest form it would be that if one denies the ability of God to forgive sin, then that sin is unforgivable as such a person would not seek such forgiveness.  It would also follow that speaking against the inner voice which convicts one of their errors, would lead necessarily to that voice (the Spirit) being demeaned (and in practice ignored).  Here may also be the issue of “quenching” the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19), though this seems more just the ignoring or limiting within one’s Christian life rather than a denying of the Spirit’s role and power. {I will return to the quenching of the Spirit in a future post rather than deviating from the clear “unforgivable sin” here}.  Some might add that denial of the Trinitarian nature of God would be the denying of the Spirit, but while this may be so, it is a weak argument in light of “anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him.” {This too will be addressed more later}. In summary to deny the power of God (manifested in the Spirit) alienates the blasphemer from that power.  It is His spirit that gives us life (see Genesis 2:7 and I Peter 3:18).  Do not therefore deny or speak ill of the advocate, comforter, and guide which God has sent to us.

A second unforgivable sin is any misdeed already forgiven!  We beat ourselves repeatedly with our past failings, but God who is faithful, no longer recalls those things once confessed and repented of.   He says, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more (Isaiah 43:25 NIV);” (see also Hebrews 8:12). How marvelous is that?

Do you keep asking forgiveness for things which the Lord responds: “What are you talking about?”  Feel the freedom in the Lord today!  You are forgiven.

Padre

{Today’s post is clearly a spiritual musing and not a theological discourse, so please read it as a work in progress}

 

Cornelius: The Devout, God-fearing Man

In Acts 10 it states:

1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. (NIV)

Roman soldiers of this period (Augustus through to Septimus Severus [193-211 CE]) were prohibited from marrying [“The men serving in the army, since they could not legally have wives, were granted the privileges of married men.” Cassius Dio 60.24.3] This view seems further supported by the Cattaoui papyrus, which records  law cases in Roman Imperial Egypt.

This raises the question who are the οἴκῳ of verse 2? Are these an illicit family, thus raising questions of “devout and God-fearing;” or are they merely servants and retainers? If the former does indicate that since such non-married living and family arrangements were unofficially sanctioned by Rome, that Cornelius’ situation was an application of Acts 17:30 being in play, that his ignorance was overlooked until his repentance?

It seems while the later case may have its merits, that the former is the more biblically sound, as that even if sin was being “winked at” to a Gentile of the time, it seems inconsistent that the inspired word of God would still style him as “devout and God-fearing.”

I have discussed this with some knowledgeable men, and find the best answer to be the former, that the οἴκῳ are not “family” but “household,” which could include brothers, sisters, and even a widowed mother, as well as servants.

One of my advisors on this supported the view by noting that “According to ancient Roman laws of inheritance (1):

When a man died, a certain person or certain persons succeeded to all his property, under the name of heres or heredes … (a)

If a man had a son in his power, he was bound either to make him heres, or to exheredate (exheredare) him expressly (nominatim) … (b)

Therefore, “the οἴκῳ of verse 2 may simply have been the estate that came into Cornelius’ possession by inheritance, and of which he was then the recognised head.”

(1) A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875. – William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D. (a) p 598 (first paragraph) (b) p 600 (last paragraph)

An Eastern Orthodox commentator concluded (as I myself surmised)  “Those living in the Centurion’s house could very well have been servants and not immediate family. (In the Orthodox Christian Synaxaria – e.g. Simonas Petra volumes, Prologue of Ohrid, Lives of Sergius of Radonezh – there is no account of his having been married).”

Therefore we can conclude that, in Acts 10 we do indeed find a “devout and God-fearing” man. One who while many of his Roman peers flouted the military marriage laws, he was a model of righteousness (and of good works).  He is for us an example, not of mindful sinfulness awaiting repentance, but of a seeker after God awaiting a Saviour.

Padre

Image result for roman centurion drawing

Thirty Pieces of Silver

I recently had a student ask me if Jesus had free will.  It was a rather interesting question if dug into.  Yes, the short answer is easy – He had free will.  Otherwise the struggle at Gethsemane makes no sense.  Jesus had the choice, but He also had a mission.  He chose to “lay down His life for His friends.”

But this lack of choice question intrigued me, as I have often heard reference made to the fact that the “price paid” for Jesus to Judas was the legal  compensation liable for the loss of a slave – 30 pieces of silver (See Exodus 21:32).

To follow this line of thinking might suggest that Jesus was “bound” to His path.  Let’s examine the Matthew account.

“3 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.” And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, 10 and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me (chapter 27).”

This passage offers three reflections: The first is that it supports the view that Jesus was not a slave, as Judas was His disciple, and He was the master, so no payment would be due to Judas.

The second is that it presents a two-fold fulfillment of prophecy:  i) that the 30 pieces of silver would go to the potter, ii) and that the silver transaction would be linked to the House of the Lord (the Temple).

Some cite this fulfillment as a biblical contradiction as the passage comes from Zechariah not Jeremiah: “12 I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. 13 And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord (Zech 11).”

This is not a problem, however, as in rabbinic tradition there was an accepted formula of referring to a set of books by the name of the first book in the collection. In the Tanakh, the Jewish scriptures, the prophetic books  begin with Jeremiah, not Isaiah, and the collection in Matthew’s time would all be known as Jeremiah.

There is a lot that 30 pieces of silver can teach us.

Padre

 

 

Deliverance

Pastor Vince spoke on Isaiah 9:6 ” For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” today.   This child, bringer and ruler of peace, a counselor and reconciler of our needs, and governor of our lives and burdens, is named in Matthew 1:16 as Yeshua (Jesus) “God (Yah) saves.”  This was the purpose of the coming of “this child” in Isaiah.  To Save! To do this He came to Earth.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . .The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-5; 14).” He was indeed Emmanuel “God with us”  (Matthew 1:23). 

This God with us offers each of us the deliverance of our burdens (Matthew 11:28), our strife (Isaiah 9:6) and our mental turmoil.  What could be a cleared answer to David’s prayer in Psalm 143: “Lord, hear my prayer [Councillor], listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief [On your shoulders]. Do not bring your servant into judgment, or no one living is righteous before you. The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in the darkness like those long dead.So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed [I need a saviour]. I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. I spread out my hands to you [mighty God]; I thirst for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly, Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love [Prince of Peace], for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. Rescue me from my enemies [Saviour], Lord, for I hide myself in you [Emmanuel]. Teach me to do your will [Councillor], for you are my God [Mighty God]; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life [Saviour]; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble. In your unfailing love, silence my enemies [Prince of Peace]; destroy all my foes, for I am your servant.”

Padre

nativity

A Tree By The Waters

Psalm 1:1-3 reads: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.”

My wife shared this passage with me yesterday, and the illustration of the tree providing good fruit, and being full of healthy leaf, is a great simile for the righteous. They provide teaching, compassion, and  love as good fruit to those they meet; their nourishment is constantly provided by God’s living waters, and have no fear of drought, as His loving kindness is forever.

It brought to mind a rabbinic story I had read recently, but to which I had no immediate application.  It goes:  “A man was travelling through the desert, hungry, thirsty and tired, when he came upon a tree bearing luscious fruit and affording plenty of shade, underneath which ran a spring of water. He ate of the fruit, drank of the water and rested beneath the shade. When he was about to leave, he turned to the tree and said: “Tree, O tree, with what should I bless you? “Should I bless you that your fruit be sweet? Your fruit is already sweet. “Should I bless you that your shade be plentiful? Your shade is plentiful. That a spring of water should run beneath you? A spring of water runs beneath you. “There is one thing with which I can bless you: May it be G‑d’s will that all the trees planted from your seeds should be like you . . . ” (Talmud, Taanit 5B).

Are we such trees and what are our seeds going to grow into?

Padre

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Seeing Blessings

Johnson Oatman wrote a hymn which states: “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your blessings, see what God hath done; Count your blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”  The counting of our blessings should be easy, but in an age of celebrity culture, instant gratification, and conspicuous consumption it is often the case that we can lose sight of Our blessings when we are looking at “the Jones’ blessings” we are figuratively “keeping up with.”

So how do we focus on God’s blessings in Our own lives?  The answer is not to play the checklist game of searching for the “wow” factor or looking for “good days” with worldly eyes.

The story is told, that some students approached their teacher with a question: “Rebbe, we are puzzled. It says in the Talmud that we must thank God as much for the bad days, as for the good. How can that be? What would our gratitude mean, if we gave it equally for the good and the bad?”

The teacher replied, “Go to Anapol and find Reb Zusya, he will have an answer for you.”

The students set out on their  journey  and when they arrived in Anapol, they asked where they might find Reb Zusya.  The were guided to the poorest street of the city. There, crowded between two small houses, they found a tiny shack, sagging with age.

When they entered, they saw Reb Zusya sitting at a bare table, reading a volume by the light of the only small window. “Welcome, my friends” he said. “Please pardon me for not getting up; I have injured my leg. May I offer you something to eat? I have a little bread and there is water if you would like.”

“No. We have come only to ask you a question. Our teacher told us you might help us understand: Why do our sages tell us to thank God as much for the bad days as for the good?”

Reb Zusya looked puzzled. “Me? I have no idea why he would have sent you to me. You see, I have never had a bad day. Every day God has given to me has been filled with blessings and miracles” (Adapted from Doug Lipman).

Blessings, material and spiritual abound in our lives.  Each day that we have life, is a day of blessing from God.  (see Ephesians 3:14-21 on Spiritual blessing).

Can you count your blessings as Oatman suggests? Do you see just the “life’s billows” or are you a Zusya?  “Count your blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

Padre

 

When the Wind Blows

crossbible

In Proverbs 26:20 we read “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down (NIV).”  Gossip, whether true or false, is still harmful.  It stirs up disagreement, and breaks relationship.  Even if someone has done wrong, it is better to go quietly to them over it, than to advertise the misdeed, or more generally the perceived misdeed, publicly. Remember as it says in Proverbs 15:1a “A gentle answer turns away wrath.”

Yet many like a good story, we feel we are in control when we “share all.”  But do we count the costs?  There is a rabbinic story about a man who was one such tale-teller.  His gossip was beginning to cause not only discord in the synagogue, but feuds within the village.  So the rabbi called the man to his study.

“You seem a popular man,” the rabbi said, “there seems always to be people in your shop.”

“Yes, business is good,” said the man.

“And, why is this?” inquired the rabbi.

“Oh, people come and chat, browse, and catch up on the news,” the man said.

Then the rabbi asked, “Do you have a feather pillow at home?”

“Why yes,” said the man, “I am far from poor. In fact I have several.”

The rabbi then asked the man to bring one by the study.  The man was confused, but the following day complied.

“Thank you for bringing the pillow,” the rabbi began.  “Now please stand by the window and tear the pillow apart.”

The man was puzzled. “Here?  In the study? Now?”

“Yes,” replied the sage man.

So the man tore the pillow, and feathers spread across the room, covering the furniture, and floor, and several feathers floated out the window as well.

After a few minutes the rabbi instructed the man “Now gather all the feathers and put them back into the pillow.  Don’t miss a single one.”

The man struggled to gather the down from the rug, and to pick each feather from the curtains, and shelves.  But those that had drifted out the window, had been seized by a gust of wind and were nowhere to be found.

The man, in frustration and exhaustion said “Rabbi, it is impossible, there are too many to collect them all, and some are beyond my ability to even find.”

“So it is with your stories,” the rabbi responded.  “They are like the feathers, once loose they cannot be retrieved, and our little community like the pillow has been damaged and is now in need of repair.”

The man saw the folly of his ways, and spent years trying to make amends. How about us? Do we scatter our feathers? (See James 3:4-5)

Padre

Atheist Theologians?

I recently read an article about Robert McNair Price, who is a “theology” professor in the United States.  He views the Christian narrative as a myth, based on the amalgamation of Greco-Roman and  ancient Near Eastern religio-mythological constructions.  Price denies the reality of a historical, much less divine Jesus, and says that if there ever was a historical figure of that name, that any “true” account of him has been lost to antiquity behind a screen of mythology.

What a sad commentary!  I will not reduce this to an assault on the philosopher rather than his philosophy, however, the parallel to Paul’s warning to Timothy is clear, “. . .Have nothing to do with such people. . . [they are] always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds,who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected.  But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone ( 2 Tim 3:5-9).” Here is a theologian (one who studies God) who does not think that what he is studying exists. 

Here are some points to ponder on arguments which deny a historical Jesus [so called Christ Myth Theology] as advocated by  Price and Tom Harpur.  Harper notes Paul’s epistles pre-date the gospel accounts and suggests they do not acknowledge a human Jesus, implying that these are later constructions in the Gospels.  To those who object he writes: “Of course, a critic will argue that Paul does occasionally speak of Jesus by name. This is quite true. But today, most Bible theologians agree that even when he does so, he is not talking about a man of flesh and blood, a historical person, any more than the Egyptians were when they spoke of Iusa millennia earlier…. Yes, Paul does talk about “this Jesus whom we have seen,” and at times he gives the impression he has an interest in an actual person, but closer examination shows that he really is speaking always of mystical visions of an exalted, spiritual being whom he calls Christ (The Pagan Christ pp. 167-168 – cited in Butt 2010).”

“Occasional mention? Do 218 times count as occasional?  And does “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5),” sound as if there is any question to His physical human presence?  How “closer [an] examination do we need? Perhaps 1 Timothy 6:13 and Romans 1:3 will shed some light.  After all how many “born according to the flesh,” “and making good confessions” in a historically recognised court are “merely” spiritual?

Food for thought: Let’s see the “folly … clear to everyone” in atheist theologians, meat-eating vegetarians, square circles, and anyone else who uses two opposite conceptions to describe themselves.

Padre

 

My thanks to Kyle Butt for his article on Harpur.

What The Bible Doesn’t Say (Part 2)

In the previous posting on the Trinity, I noted that the word was extra-biblical, but the concept is scripturally sound.  Similarly the  word “Shekinah” (שכינה) is not to be found in the biblical text, but this “settling” of the divine presence is clearly evident in the annals of God.

The term was coined in rabbinic literature to express the presence of God in the tabernacle and temple.  This presence was observable to the children of the promise in the form of clouds, thundering and fire (see Leviticus 9:23-24 and I Kings 8:10-11), but first appeared at the exodus from Egypt ” . . . the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people (Exodus 13: 20-22).” This was a real presence, a prefiguring of Emmanuel “God with us.”

This  glorious presence of God was so great that 2 Chronicles 5: 13-14 says “Then the temple of the LORD was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.” This divine glory can begin to be grasped by considering that when Moses was in God’s presence that he (Moses) glowed with the after wash of the glory.  Moses only say the back of God! God’s presence, His full splendor is too great for man! In his vision of Christ enthroned John writes: “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead (Revelation 1: 14-17a KJV).” Yet,  it rested in the tabernacle and temple.

Again, some argue we should use Bible words for Bible things.  Okay, there is no “Shekinah” word, but there is a Skekinah presence: a real dwelling, abiding of God with His people.

Do you fell His presence? Remember, He has promised to abide In You. “Abide in me, and I will abide in you. . . (John 15:4 NIV).”  Feel His Glory!

Padre

 

 

 

 

The Silence of Heaven

From the close of Malachi (circa 430 BCE) to the coming of John the Baptiser there was a period when heaven was silent to the people of Israel.  No prophet arose, no utterance from God blessed his people. Malachi declares:  “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.  And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction (Mal 4:5-6).”

In this period of prophetic silence, the Medo-Persian Empire was eclipsed by Greece, and the Hellenistic successors of Alexander occupied the Land of Promise.  Much of the action of this Inter-Testamental period is recorded in secular history, or in the Apocryphal literature, but no true Prophet arises, until “A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

It may well be the reason “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River (Mark 1:5 NIV).”  They were starved of the Word of God.  Yes, they had a priestly class dominated by the Sadducees  who “say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits (Acts 23:8).” And there was a rising class of rabbis, led by the Pharisees who disputed not only with the Sadducees, but among themselves particularly the schools of  Hillel and Shammai. But direct guidance from God was lacking.

The coming of John, and his preparing a way for Jesus and God’s Spirit, opened a new dispensation in which “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams (Acts 2:17/Joel 2:28 ).” 

Despite this we face a world in which there is a new type of “silence:”  one of ignorance and neglect of God’s Word.  How similar it is to time of King Josiah when  “Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it. Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: “Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the Lord and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.”  Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.  When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us (2 Kings 22:8-13).” Josiah’s father and grandfather were especially noted by the scriptures as ungodly, and Josiah while a man who strove to “do right” in God’s eyes, was doing so blindly without the Word of God.  No wonder he despaired!

But we have a printed Bible, we live in the dispensation of the Holy Spirit’s presence as our guide and comforter.  Its time for us to “MAKE SOME NOISE!”

Padre