You Were in Eden

It is dangerous to read the Bible. I mean the whole Bible cover to cover. It may not live up to your expectations. Of course, if we take Scripture seriously, we should read and consider the whole rather than focus on favored passages. Because I’ve committed to reading (or listening) to the whole thing, I’ve happened upon passages that challenge preconceptions and introduce new ideas. One of these is found in the lament against the king of Tyre in Ezekiel 28 (vv.11-19).

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“‘You were the seal of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden,
the garden of God;

You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.
You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you.
Through your widespread trade
you were filled with violence,
and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
from among the fiery stones.

The king of Tyre is described by the sovereign Lord as blameless in the garden of Eden until he fell. What are we to make of this? The entire passage is quoted at the end of this post.

Ezekiel 2Ezekiel was a priest from Jerusalem, taken to Babylon in the first wave of exile. He wrote from the banks of the Kebar river in Babylon, 1:1). His visions are impressive. This is one of a number of prophecies against various peoples and rulers. Generally they are among the passages that seem less important. With the exception of a few lasting images (e.g. wheels within wheels and a valley of dry bones) the book of Ezekiel is not often the subject of sermons, or even of bible studies. It contains some fairly graphic sexual imagery in describing the failures of Judah, fantastic apocalyptic imagery, the repeated notion that the righteous can fall away and the wicked can turn to God with a change in final status, a massive rebuilt temple at the end of the book. There are echoes of some of these themes in the New Testament, especially in Revelation. It would seem that any interpretation of The Apocalypse of John that doesn’t take into account the Jewish context, including the book of Ezekiel, will probably miss some important points.

Ezekiel is admittedly a hard book to understand. Daniel Bodi in Ezekiel & Daniel (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary) comments that “Calvin never finished his commentary on Ezekiel and Luther put forth no major effort toward its interpretation.” (p. 403, I have the hard cover edition that includes the prophets from Isaiah to Daniel and page numbers are from this version.)

The king = Satan? According to the word of the Lord in this passage the king of Tyre was in Eden, the garden of God. Clearly this is a problem for any kind of literal interpretation of the passage. Some commentators (only a few) have assumed that the passage must be referring to Satan. After all, the garden was a real place some 3500 years earlier. The only “persons” in the garden were Adam, Eve, and Satan. It isn’t reasonable to assume the passage refers to Adam, therefore it must reference the fall of Satan. Ezekiel 28 along with a passage in Isaiah 14 “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!” are the primary references for this idea. It is highly unlikely that this is an appropriate interpretation of either passage, and it is a particularly strained interpretation of Ezekiel 28.

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Surely the People are Grass

It has been a very busy start to the academic year. I’ve been planning to dig into the book (and video course) by Doug and Jonathan Moo Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World, but haven’t had the time. Today, finally, we return to look at chapter 4, Members, Rulers, and Keepers of Creation (episode 3 in the video series).

We start by looking the (in)significance of humans. We are creatures like all other creatures on earth. The study of biology shows just how true this is – from our genome to the chemistry and material structures that allow us to live and function. Biblically, this extends to our very souls. Jonathan emphasizes this in both the book and the lecture.

As I begin writing this chapter, I (Jonathan) am sitting near the shore of the Pend Orielle River in the far northeastern corner of Washington State n a cool and cloudy August morning. The breeze is rustling the aspen leaves above me and causing a mixed forest of aspen, western redcedar, hemlock, Engelmann spruce, Douglas fir, larch, white pine, grand fir, and lodgepole pine on the hills across the river sway gently back and forth. Three white-tailed deer bucks are slowly picking their way along the opposite shore, and a red squirrel is chattering loudly behind me. An osprey has just flown into a Douglas fir nearby. …

All of these creatures … and even the inanimate rocks and soil and water and clouds, are, I know, bringing God praise and glory simply by being what they were created to be. Yet what, then, I wonder, of me and my kind? (p. 68)

The picture at the top of this post is an osprey, although perched on a dead birch on a lake in northern Minnesota where I enjoyed watching it fish and eat rather than along a river in Washington state. Below is an image of the osprey eating the fish I watched it catch. As a human I am not a bird, or a cat, or a chimpanzee. But it is hard to identify precisely the features that set us apart. Turning to scripture it isn’t the soul. Jonathan points out: “We, like all other living things, are earthly creatures, formed from the dust of the earth, adam from the adamah. Our possession of the life-giving breath of God, making each of us a nephesh or psychē or “soul,” does not distinguish us from other living things, all of whom are also animated by God’s same life-giving Spirit.” (p. 70)

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Do Christians Hate Us?

How can you be a Christian?

In my experience there are three big subtexts to this question these days, science, women, and sexuality. Other questions are important as well … but these are the showstoppers.

How can you be a Christian when it is antiscience, oppresses women, and is homophobic?

Rebecca McLaughlin addresses these as seven, eight, and nine in her book Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion. We’ve looked at the first two of these, and turn today to the third: Isn’t Christianity homophobic?

Rebecca argues that while Christianity does expect a rather specific sexual morality that limits intimate sexual relations to marriage between a man and a woman, the label ‘homophobic’ overstates the case. You are invited to pick up the book and read her arguments in their entirety. It would make good a good conversation starter for face to face discussion. I find this topic a hard one to address in the rather impersonal forum of a blog.

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Doesn’t Christianity Denigrate Women?

How can you be a Christian?

In my experience there are three big subtexts to this question these days, science, women, and sexuality. Other questions are important as well … but these are the showstoppers.

How can you be a Christian when it is antiscience, oppresses women, and is homophobic?

Rebecca McLaughlin addresses these as seven, eight, and nine in her book Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion. Last week we looked at the first of these – hasn’t science disproved Christianity?

The short answer to the second question doesn’t Christianity denigrate women? is a resounding no. Christianity might not go as far as some in our culture today would like, but it certainly does not denigrate women.  Women play important roles in many places throughout Scripture. I’ve highlighted a wide selection of these in  several posts – most recently A Look at Biblical Womanhood and Women of the New Testament.

Rebecca emphasizes the way women are portrayed in the Gospels to make the point.

The portrayal of women in the Gospels – particularly in Luke’s Gospel – is stunningly countercultural. Luke constantly pairs men with women, and when he compares the two, it is almost always in the woman’s favor. Before Jesus’ birth, two people are visited by the angel Gabriel and told they are going to become parents. One is Zechariah who becomes John the Baptist’s father. The other is Jesus’ mother Mary. Both ask Gabriel how this can be. But while Zechariah is punished with months of dumbness for his unbelief, Mary is only commended. (p. 136)

The pairings continue – with Simeon and Anna, the lost coin and the lost sheep, the parable of the persistent widow followed by the pharisee and the tax collector. The Twelve were all male – but for the most part the segregation stops there. Women were with Jesus and involved in his ministry from beginning to end, at the cross, the first at the empty tomb. And turning to Acts, they were with the apostles in Jerusalem where … They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (1:14)

Many of the first converts in Acts or mentioned in Paul’s letters are women, important for the prominent roles they play … Junia, Lydia, Priscilla among them.

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Hasn’t Science Disproved Christianity?

This is the next question in Rebecca McLaughlin’s new book Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion. Anyone who has read my posts over the years will know that my answer to this question is a resounding no. Rebecca agrees and runs through a number of arguments. I’ll take some of her points, but approach the question from a slightly different angle.

First, what is the essence of Christianity? The Apostle’s Creed (see below) is a good starting point. There is absolutely nothing in the Creed that is disproved, or even addressed by science. Nothing here about the age of the earth or the shape creation took. The virgin birth and the resurrection are specific acts of God, and thus not anything that science can address. They are not ‘normal’ and repeatable, but both Christians and atheists agree here. Our future hope is for a new creation. Again not something addressed by science.

We have learned through the years that some human ideas about the nature of creation are wrong. The earth isn’t flat. It is easier to describe heavy objects moving around light ones than vice versa, the cosmos is unfathomably large and old. Humans are connected to other animals. There are not storehouses of hail above the firmament. But nothing here challenges the essence of Christianity.

The scientist believes that the ‘laws’ that govern the universe are rational and can be determined using reason, observation, mathematics, logic. The world makes sense. The Christian believes that the world makes sense because God is the creator. This belief played a role in the foundation of modern science. It hasn’t always played out as was anticipated (the earth is old, not the center of the solar system etc.), but this doesn’t challenge the underlying idea. The atheist has another ground for this belief.

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Explosive and Powerful?

I began leading a discussion class last Sunday using The New Testament You Never Knew, featuring N. T. Wright and Michael Bird. In the initial session Tom Wright comments that the New Testament is explosive and powerful.

I think anyone who picks up the New Testament will find, if they give it a chance, that it is one of the most explosive books ever written. … it forms one complete, rather strange, but very powerful book.

He goes on to say that it is powerful because Jesus and his followers believed that he, Jesus, was the place where heaven and earth come together. These comments are in the first minute or so of the 5 minute preview of Session 1 that Zondervan has posted on YouTube.

In our class, two of the discussion questions in the study guide brought a conversation that is quite pertinent given the last two posts on Rebecca McLaughlin’s book (Religion->Violence? and To Tell the Truth) and the comments that followed.

In what ways could we consider the writings of the New Testament “Explosive” and “Powerful”?

Have you experienced this power unleashed in your own life through the teachings contained in the New Testament?

A friend noted that it was reading the New Testament that brought him to Christ, back when he was about middle school age. It wasn’t a Romans Road or Bridge presentation. It wasn’t any conviction of his own sinfulness or his need to be saved from fiery torment or destruction in the afterlife. Although he does believe that “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” as Paul puts it in 1 Cor. 15:3, an appreciation of the importance of that came aspect of the faith later. It was simply sitting down and reading the New Testament – in large chunks.

The explosive power of the New Testament started with a realization of the ethic of love and forgiveness and the revolutionary nature of the kingdom of God contained in the teachings of Jesus, and later in the letters of Paul. This simply isn’t like anything else. Of course, the texts can be perverted by human seeking after power and wealth. But an honest and complete reading just doesn’t support those interpretations.

I would say it is the same for me – although the realization of the explosive power of the New Testament came much later than Middle School. I’ve written about this before and gathered some of the texts that impress me and provide an answer to the question “how can you be a Christian?” so often posed in our secular culture. It is worth listing them again.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. …Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Lk 6:27-28, 31) (See also Mt 5:43-45)

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:25-28) (See also Mt 23:8-12, Mk 10:42-45, Lk 22:24-27, Jn 13:14)

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To Tell the Truth

The next question in Rebecca McLaughlin’s new book Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion turns to the Bible. How can you take the Bible literally? The question, however, misses the point. As Christians we want to read the Bible faithfully – which means literally only when and how it was intended to be read literally. Metaphor, parable, poetry, apocalyptic imagery – all of these are featured in the Bible. We have to start by realizing that, as Rebecca puts in, “both literal and figurative language can describe reality. We can tell lies with literal words and speak the truth through metaphor. Indeed when it comes to the Bible, some of the deepest truths are metaphorically expressed.” (p. 95)

This isn’t really controversial. We all know that Jesus as word, vine, bread, water, shepherd, and lamb convey important aspects of his person and his mission metaphorically. Of course, as Rebecca points out, – sometimes we disagree. Arguments about the nature of the Lord’s Supper hinge on the issue of metaphorical versus literal. The nature of the elements remains a big issue for some of us.

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