A Whole New World

May 27, 2006 at 10:21 am (Education, Theology and the Bible)

*sings*A new fantastic point of view…*sings*

Okay, enough of that. So this past Thursday, Calvin and I went to the final session in a 3 part series at the Jewish Community Center on “God at Mt. Siani”. We had gone to all three sessions, which basically were an educational experience for us in how the three main Jewish denominations think about inspiration and revelation of the Torah. The first night was the orthodox point of view, then last week was the reformed, then finally this past Thursday was the conservative. All-in-all, it was just really fascinating. It is one thing to hear people say, “Well the Jews say this, or this,” but to hear them speak on it themselves was fantastic. Not only that, but we got out feet wet in understanding Judaism as a whole, meaning, how the religion works and what it is about.

The lectures were set up in a panel format, where the certain rabbi that was giving the main lecture than night would speak for 20-25 minutes, and then the other two (or three; one night there was a Hasidic rabbi there as well) rabbis would have the opportunity to respond to what he said. Then, the moderator, who was a professor from the BU college of Judaic studies (or something like that) would open up the floor for questions from the audience. Just to see the interaction between the different points of view, and all that, was fascinating. Anyways, we learned alot, and were given much food for thought. I’m glad that we attended, even if it was quite obvious that we were the only goyim there, sitting in the back of the room with our little notepads scribbling furiously!

I only wish I wasn’t such a chicken; I wanted especially after the final session to talk with the reformed Rabbi, as he graduated from the same school as our beloved Rabbi Snyder, Hebrew Union College, but alas, I am afraid I am still much too shy in such situations. And my husband isn’t much better. 😉

Now, I’m going to work my way through Galatians, to see if my understanding of Jewish thought has helped my understanding of Paul any. One big thought that the light bulb went on for me on is that for Judaism (and they said this over and over!) it’s about doing doing doing, not faith. The reformed Rabbi even mentioned the difference specifically between their ancestors, the Pharisees, and the Hebrew Christians in regards to how they viewed things. The Hebrew Christians stressed faith –> works, whereas the Pharisees stressed works –> faith. Now mind you, I’m still not sure if we’re talking getting in here, because the Jews were (are?) all in already, you must understand. Or maybe “in” and “out” are just not words we should be using at all. But somehow there is a huge difference, and I began to understand that just sitting there listening to these rabbis expound on their own religion.

Well anyways, I just wanted to say something about our little fun journey into a world not our own.


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How God Never Ceases to Jump Outside of His Box

May 6, 2006 at 12:05 am (Theology and the Bible)

Jeremiah 15:6 (ESV)
6You have rejected me, declares the LORD;
you keep going backward,
so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you–
I am weary of relenting.

When I came to this passage in Jeremiah I became trapped in it. I read it over and over again. This verse in particular burned in my mind. Set in the immediate context of Jeremiah’s intercession to God for for his people and God’s refusal to change his mind as he did for other “powerhouses” of the faith, it shook me and then grieved me.

While the concept of “lo-ruhamah” is certainly not new to me, it is stated so bluntly and in such a…human…way here that it took me somewhat aback. God, tired of changing his mind, tired of taking it back, tired of saying he’s going to judge and then relenting, giving another chance, his hesed flowing on and on. It seems, however, that even God’s compassion has an end. Eventually, it reaches the end of the line and enough is enough. Except…these are his people. He’s tired of having compassion on his people. It’s the last straw. They’ve stepped over the line. He’s had it up to here. In another way of looking at it, they’ve drained him, sapped his compassion and mercy, made him weary. There are so many way to look at it, and all of them astounding. God, tired of relenting. Where does that fit intou our theological boxes?

Then after I was done being taken aback, I was grieved. How could God’s people have gotten to such a point, that God could have become weary of feeling sorry for them, giving that compassion? To the point where he hardened his heart against them, and let the wrath flow? Destroyed them? And if it grieves me, under the weariness and behind the wrath, how must it have grieved God? How must it have hurt him that they turned away, again and again, despite his continual in-spite-of-ness?

And then I wonder: would we know it if God tired of relenting today? How would we know? Has he already? What would judgment look like? Are we bad enough yet? What would bad enough be? These sort of things should scare the Church into obedience, but we’re just like Israel: we’re his people, and surely God wouldn’t judge his own people, so we think. He’s too compassionate and loving, and forgiving. Well, apparently God’s compassion can run out. I don’t think we want to find out when.

Finally, I think this verse is a good summary of much of the book of Jeremiah. While there are some hopeful restoration sections sprinkled here and there, much of it is more of the same. And can you imagine being poor Jeremiah, called by God, yet knowing it’s a hopeless cause, at least in his lifetime? The poor guy is an emotional wreck; one day he’s begging God to stay his hand of judgement, the next he’s pleading with him to zap them all. He has plots against his life, he’s thrown in a pit, and when he tries so hard to do the prophet intersession thing, he gets a firm rebuttal from God. And all the while, and maybe this is the worst of it all, his heart is broken and continually grieving.

In my own small way, I can identify with Jeremiah in his grief. At times my heart feels as though it’s going to implode with the tension. I enjoy the book of Jeremiah because it allows not only a look at a message, but a look at the heart of the person carrying the message. Jeremiah is unique in that respect. Not only that, but boy does God say some exciting things.

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So I’ll Jump on the (Theology) Bandwagon Too

February 28, 2006 at 9:24 pm (Theology and the Bible)

Well, everyone else seems to be talking about theology lately on their blogs, so I figured I’d put in my 2 cents.

First of all, I have to say up front that I love theology. I love reading other people’s opinions about theology, discussing theology with my friends, pushing the envelope on both accepted Christian theology and my own personal theology – this all thrills me. I have my own little theological constructs that I think are quite fun. I am constantly striving to understand theology, reform theology, and yes, critique theology.

It is not theology I have a problem with. To me, theology is merely an expression of my study and love for the word, and trying to understand God’s revelation. The Bible is a theology book, because it is all about God. But there seems to be some rumor going around that there are people throwing out theology altogether. Now that’s probably true, but at least from what I’ve read on my friend’s and aquaintances blogs, I am not under the impression that any of them wanted to just do away with it all, but I won’t speak for them.

No, I say it again: it is not theology itself that I have a problem with. It is what man does with their theology that I have a problem with: namely, turn it into absolute dogma that cannot be questioned. Now I know all the great theologians were/are about reforming theology, and understood that you can’t understand God. But, the problem is, the people in the pews don’t understand that. I am not concerned with great theologians, I am concerned for the average Christian, who is taught that what they have been taught (someone’s systematic theology) is the only way of thinking. There are too many things that are set in stone and not to be touched, too many doctrines that fall under the category of heresy, to the people in the pews. Is it wrong to have a set of beliefs, or even a set that all works together into a system? Of course not. But only as long as the understanding is always there that that system, those beliefs, are open to critique. The average Christian will give lip service to this, and because this is what their theology tells them to do. But should something new come up against a belief – heresy! If not heresy, then you are plain wrong, and that’s that. Why? Why can’t things be challanged? This is the thrill I get from studying God! He is so incomprehensible that there is always more to be learned, to be included to be changed, radically! Theology is fluid, and should be. Your average Christians, however, wants to fight against new/different theological ideas, not dialogue with them – and “new” could mean old or even ancient ideas from great theological scholars whose ideas have gone out of style, or are not accepted in a particular denomination.

I get nervous when people say that it’s my way or the highway. This is generally speaking what people are taught to do in church, some more than others, and only generally speaking of course, no offense meant to anyone. Even pastors believe this way. Professors. And even some of those theologians, though perhaps to a lesser extent. There is no room for disagreement with my theology. If something disagrees with my theology, even be it a Bible verse! well we must have interpreted it wrong. Or maybe your theology is wrong? No no no…never. The Bible is wrong, not my theology. What! Well, that is what we make it – we have to “fix” the Bible because it disagrees with preconceived notions of theology, rather than gently exploring how perhaps the theology needs to change. Then we end up with the filling in of holes, and trying to “explain away” problem passages. Taken down a path of narrow-mindedness, theology becomes a box, and God joins theology in the box.

It is the close-mindedness, the dogmaticness, that comes out of systematic theology, especially, that I dislike. Explore everything we can learn from the Bible about a topic? Absolutely! But for many people, theology becomes the starting point rather than the end point. The Bible is compared to existing theology, instead of the other way around.

So. There’s my problem, and there’s my rant.

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February 14, 2006 at 11:00 pm (Education, Theology and the Bible)

I found this article through Christdot.

“Evangelist Ken Ham smiled at the 2,300 elementary students packed into pews, their faces rapt. With dinosaur puppets and silly cartoons, he was training them to reject much of geology, paleontology and evolutionary biology as a sinister tangle of lies.”

It’s not that I disagree with everything that Ken Ham believes, nor that I personally take any of the many less “fundamental” ways to interpret the creation story. It’s not that I care that he’s building a creation museum or publishing lots of nice books and pamphlets or going around speaking. However, brainwashing young impressionable children into thinking that anyone who disagrees with this exact way of believing (nevermind the numerous ways of interpreting the passage that does not disgrace the inspiration of Scripture nor claim that everything came from goop) doesn’t really believe in the Bible, well, that’s just disgusting. I’d just like to congratulate Ken Ham on compounding many-fold an issue I already face in youth ministry: having to teach teenagers how to think for themselves again. Bravo!

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Jeremiah’s Loincloth

February 4, 2006 at 12:04 am (Theology and the Bible)

I am currently reading through Jeremiah, and I finally came to this passage (Jeremiah 13:1-11), which I had forgotten was there. And I must say it amused me as much this time as the first time I stumbled across it:

1 Thus says the Lord to me, “Go and buy a linen loincloth and put it around your waist, and do not dip it in water.” 2 So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the Lord, and put it around my waist. 3 And the word of the Lord came to me a second time, 4 “Take the loincloth that you have bought, which is around your waist, and arise, go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a cleft of the rock.” 5 So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me. 6 And after many days the Lord said to me, “Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the loincloth that I commanded you to hide there.” 7 Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.
8 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 9 “Thus says the Lord: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10 This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. 11 For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.

From my quick Libronix study of the word for loincloth (others, linen waistband) here, I see there is a slight variation of thought on whether it is more an undergarment or more of a belt (or maybe I’m missing the point and it’s both?). It comes from a root which means, according to my friends Brown Driver and Briggs, to gird, encompass and/or equip. Either way, it’s still rather odd. I mean…

“Okay, Jeremiah, here’s what I want you to do: Go and get yourself a loincloth and put it on. Then, take it off and stick it under a rock for a while. Then, take it out and observe how it is no longer good for being a loincloth anymore. What this means is that as a loincloth is tight to a man, so I stuck Israel tight to me. But since they didn’t listen, they are now ruined and useless, as this loincloth which you just put under a rock is.”

Let’s put it another way:

loincloth is to man as Israel is to God

Does anyone else see the humor in this analogy? Obviously in the context of what I’ve read up until this point, and the context of the passage in general, it’s not meant to be funny and really isn’t; the point is quite sad actually. But that aside, (and I think that’s okay temporarily, after all I can’t hide from God that I find his analogy here amusing anyways!)…a loincloth? I mean, a loincloth? He might as well have said that Israel was like a sock!

My apologies; perhaps next time I will have something to write more serious about Jeremiah (as it really is a good read and is giving me much to think about). But, for now – I just have to say how I am reminded that God is rather wierd sometimes…

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The Incarnational Analogy

December 18, 2005 at 10:33 pm (Books, Theology and the Bible)

I have just finished reading the 3rd chapter in a book I have been reading (for this book, that is more than halfway through). The title is
“Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament”
I picked it up at Aaron’s Rod (of all places!) this past summer because the title caught my eye. But, I did not make the time to delve into it until recently. I am glad that I finally did, because it has helped me to sharpen some thoughts that I have had rolling around in my mind since before I even graduated from college.

The basic theme of the book is what the author, Peter Enns (Associate Prof of OT at Westminster, as a shout out to Mr. Boulet!), prefers to call the “incarnational analogy,” and how this helps us to better understand the problems of the Old Testament. To aquaint any readers I may have to where I am coming from, the “incarnational analogy,” in brief, and in his words, is the starting point that “as Christ is both God and human, so is the Bible.” In other words, as Jesus was God, yet fit as a human with the culture of his day, the Bible is from God, yet spoke to the ancient cultures it belongs to. Hopefully that is enough of a starting point that the rest of what I have to say makes sense to anyone who hasn’t read the book!

From the first Dr. Enns put flesh on a skeleton of thought that I had already constructed in my own mind and was playing with. What a relief to have my musings confirmed by someone far more educated than I! The second chapter deals with the Bible and its seeming “entrapments” of the cultures around it. The creation story, the flood, the law, and the wisdom literature all have comparable components to other literature of the same time in the ancient near east. Of particular fascination to me in this chapter were two points: the creation story and historiography. Mythology is particularly interesting to me, because I have seen the way the Old Testament interacts with it. Here, in the very beginning, we are presented with a story that has remarkable parallels to other creation myths of its time.

I say “other,” because I have come to understand in my study of mythology that the word “myth” carries baggage and presuppositions with it that are not true. The word, and I will quote Enns here because he is readily available, really means, “an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories: Who are we? Where do we come from?”Genesis 1-3 certainly falls into the myth category, and so you cannot call me a heretic in this instance. But, I digress.

In my own personal journey of faith, I have come to realize slowly – and I say this with great pain, as it is a matter that I have in the past clung to quite tenatiously – that really it does not matter if the earth was created in 6 literal days, or in the order in which Genesis claims it was. I will quote Enns on this point, since he says it better than I:

“It is a fundamental misunderstanding of Genesis to expect it to answer questions generated by a modern worldview, such as whether the days were literal or figuartive, or whether the days of creation can be lined up with modern sciene, or whether the flood was local or universal. The question that Genesis is prepared to answer is whether Yahweh, the God of Israel, is worthy of worship. And that point is made not by allowing ancient Israelites to catch a glimpse of a spherical earth or a heliocentric universe. It is wholly incomprehensible to think that thousands of years ago God would have felt constrained to speak in a way that would be meaningful only to Westerners several thousand years later. To do so borders on modern, Western arrogance. Rather, Gensis makes its case in a way that ancient men and women would have readily understood – indeed, the only way.”

This quote sums up the whole of the discussion – the Biblical creation account is God revealing himself to his people in a way they would understand – which corresponds to the culture of the time. Yet, in its own way, it is different: the creation of the earth did not happen because of a fight between two gods, but rather because God spoke it into existance. This makes a bold statement about the God that Israel was being called upon to worship. This is the point of the story.

I qualify this by saying that I am not at all stating that I believe the Biblical creation account is not true, nor that it did not happen in the way it describes. I am merely proposing that we view creation science for what it is: a disgrace to the beautiful text that God inspired.

Now you might call me a heretic, but I ask that you not, as I enjoyed hearing it put, call me a heretic with a capital H just yet! I still have more to go – then you may draw your own conclusions.

The second point in chapter two is the point of historiography. Since Dr. Snyder began mentioning it in class, I have to admit that I have struggled with understanding his statement that “the text is inspired, not the event.” I think that I have finally put it together, because Dr. Enns says essentially the same thing. Somehow, he has worded it so that I at last understand and acknowledge the truth of the statement. The Old Testament authors, though you might disagree with me, wrote what they wrote from a certain perspective, with a particular purpose in mind. This is meant to communicate something to the intended audience, and by default, now we today may learn from it. Once again, I am not saying that the facts are not true, but those facts have been interpreted and shaped for the author’s purpose (as all writers of history do!). It is the text that is inspired, not the event. At last, and this is a great relief to me, I understand the meaning behind that statement. Once again, and in defense of my statements, I will quote Enns: “Whether biblical historiography conforms to our expectaions of how it should look is not the point. The point is that our expectations should be informed by how the Bible in fact behaves…” It does not make the Bible untrue or in error – the Bible is written to humans, by humans, and God has chosen to reveal himself in this way. (We see how the incarnational analogy helps understanding here.) Who are we to demand that he make it all fit?

Finally, I come to chapter three, which deals with the Old Testament and “theological diversity.” I shall come out and say it bluntly – contradictions! Yes, they are there, and I feel a great weight lifted off of my shoulders in stating it! So much of Christianity is consumed with polishing away contradictions and “diversity” within the Biblical canon. But why? It is such a heavy burden on Christian to attempt to unify the Bible and defend it in such a manner to those who would seek to undermine its inspiration.

Enns makes the interesting statement that both evangelicals and critical scholarship make a grave error in their view of the Bible, and it is the same one. It is the assumption that if diversity exists within the book, than it cannot be God’s word. The former thus takes up the banner of proving that they are not there, and thus it is God’s word after all, and the latter takes up the call that since they are there, it is not God’s word at all!

The assumption is what is faulty, and it, on the evangelical’s part, causes him to miss so much of the point of the text in our attempts to “cover up” and/or “solve” the problems. We must instead start from our belief that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and take it for what it is from there. The Old Testament, and indeed the Bible, is messy – recognizing that lifts off the heavy weight of trying to prove that it is not.

And so I am left with the next chapter, which deals with the New Testament’s interpretation of the Old Testament. I am sure I will have more to write after that!

In closing, I have to say that I did not write this to give a review of the book. Indeed, I have left out so much and have not nearly written enough to prove that I am not a heretic capital H, as most probably won’t understand where I am coming from. I wrote it to express that I have journeyed further in my faith in three ways: 1) in letting go of my attachment to having to prove that the creation story is literal (though, at this juncture, I still hold on to the belief that it is) 2) in having finally understood after much struggle the statement that the text is inspired, not the event, and 3) in having had the heavy burden of having to prove that the Bible is free from contradictions (which is a heavy burden indeed, as it cannot be done!) lifted off of my shoulders.

I feel so much more free now, than I ever have before, to explore the Bible and its depths without the fear of finding something (as I have previously stated not too long ago) that should cause me to doubt its inspiration. I am free to appreciate it in all its beauty, and I am above all else free to kick systematic theology in the pants once and for all! (Sys theo, after all, produces many constructs as a result of trying to make the Bible “fit” together.)

It is a breathe of fresh air to me. If only I could convince others to allow themselves the same freedom! But, I acknowledge that it has been a hard journey, starting mainly with my entrance into college, that has placed me at this point on the road, and I cannot expect others to come more quickly than I. In fact, if myself of 4 years ago saw myself now, I am sure I would have pronounced myself a Heretic (capital H!). And yet I have so far to go! I look forward to my continued journey with excitement, even more so than before.

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Walking the Line

December 10, 2005 at 1:15 pm (Education, Theology and the Bible)

Sometimes, I catch myself saying and thinking things that are considered quite liberal by the conservatives…even the more open-minded conservatives. And then other times, I find myself saying and thinking things that would cause a liberal to think I’m quite conservative, should one be listening in.

I take a step back to look at myself, and I see myself walking a thin line between liberalism and conservatism, and I see how I don’t quite fit with either group, and I wonder at how much of an anomoly I am in the big nebulous world of Christianity. The conservatives won’t have me, because I ask too many questions, and I leave much more open for discussion than they would like. Indeed, every year that passes, I question more, and yet in the process, affirm more of what is really important to my faith. I can’t really fit with the liberals either, however, because they wonder at how I still cling to doctrines like the literal ressurection of Christ, and his death for the atoning of sin, or even the deity of Christ. (In my little world, a liberal is one who rejects belief in the basic tenants nessecary for salvation, but still places himself under the banner of Christianity.)

At times I scare myself, because I see myself in a dangerous position: always questioning – and my faith is always changing, growing, allowing room for this or that, whether I believe “this or that” or not at this point in my life. Even more frightening is my insatiable quest to find bits of knowledge about the Bible that would scandalize the typical Christian (or at least burst their theological bubble) – and be thrilled by them, no less! Yet still I tenaciously cling to those things which are essential to being a true follower of Jesus Christ.

And now, as I look to furthering my education among those who don’t even claim to be Christians, I know even now that I am going to run up against bits of knowledge that perhaps won’t thrill me as much as they used to: I have learned enough to know that sometimes, some knowledge is a little more scary than thrilling. Wistfully, I wish at times, that the Bible really were as neat and tidy of a package as most Christians would like to imagine it, rather than full of many dark and mysterious holes and places to pry into and be shaken by what is found. My constant struggle may be continuing to cling regardless of what I come up against – but to not allow that clinging to urge me to narrow-mindedly reject things that may be beneficial to my education. I know that I have not even begun to scratch the surface of what is out there to be learned, and sorting through all of it and in the end coming out unscathed may be near impossible.

I am, of course, not expecting to come out unchanged – but I have decided to undertake this task, however, for my own knowledge and desire, and because I am passionate about the subject, yes, but also in that I may be more prepared in some way to help those who struggle with “lesser” issues that I have already come through and sorted out (if “sorted out” is a term that may be employed at all!). I think – and this is a big thought – that I will come out okay on the other side, merely because I have chosen to follow Christ (and for you Calvinists, yes, Christ has chosen me!). Is it a choice that I have made, and there is no turning back. I cannot live outside of my faith, nor can I reject it. And, because I have recognized my faith for what it is – faith – I know that “fact” and “knowledge” shouldn’t be allowed to touch it – though people allow it to all the time. Do I believe or not? I do. Whatever may be thrown at me, in the end, I will still cling to Christ. Is that not what really matters?

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The Day of Atonement and the Desert Demon

November 19, 2005 at 7:22 pm (Theology and the Bible)

We all know about the Day of Atonement right? Well, I bet what you didn’t know is that the goat that they sent out into the wilderness (as opposed to the one they sacrified) was sent out to the desert demon, Azazel!

Okay, let me backtrack. This week, I am gleeful over my newest discovery in my journeys with the Hebrew language, thanks to Dr. Snyder having pointed a student in his Pentateuch class in my direction for help with a paper she is writing. The topic: the Hebrew word for scapegoat.

First of all, for reference, here are the pertinent verses, in the NKJV, NASB, and ESV, since those are the versions I will be referencing:

NKJV: 8 Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. 9 And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the LORD’s lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. 10 But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness….
26 And he who released the goat as the scapegoat shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.

NASB: 8″Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat.
9″Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the LORD fell, and make it a sin offering.
10″But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat….
26″The one who released the goat as the scapegoat shall wash his clothes and bathe his body with water; then afterward he shall come into the camp.

ESV: 8And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for Azazel. 9And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the LORD and use it as a sin offering, 10but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the LORD to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel….
26And he who lets the goat go to Azazel shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.

I already knew that the word for “scapegoat”, transliterated, was “azazel,” but, of course, I still had to look it up in my Hebrew Bible, and, obviously, it was there where it was supposed to be. Well, sort of. But I’ll get to that later. Now, this word only appears 4 times in the entire Hebrew Bible, and they are all in Leviticus 16, which is the chapter on the Day of Atonement. The first thing I noticed in the original language before I even did any further research was that the word was not just plain old “azazel,” or even “the azazel” but it was “to azazel” (or “for azazel”). This interested me as it didn’t really make sense – they are sending the goat to the scapegoat? That was wierd. But, I kinda ignored that for the time being and went on to look up the word in some Hebrew resources.

BDB says that the word is a masculine noun meaning “entire removal” (presumed related to the Arabic “azal” which means “remove”). “Entire removal” kinda makes sense if you plug it in to the NASB or NKJV translations, the problem is as I soon discovered (of course) that the ESV is the most accurate here. The other two translations switch around some words, making it sound like the second goat is called a “scapegoat”, or if you want to plug in BDB, the second goat is “for entire removal.” Now, that sounds nice and everything, but the language insists that the second goat was sent “to” azazel, not that it *was* azazel. In other words, the NASB, NKJV (and NIV and every other translation, except, once again, the JPS) interprets what azazel means and kinda changes it a little to make it fit.

Well, I realized off the bat that’s not good enough for me. Entire removal was okaaay but the language didn’t support it actually being the literal translation. Whether or not the author meant that is a different story, and one we’ll get to later. So, I read a little more in BDB under the word, trying to dicipher what this meant:

Me in Schenkel; > most, n.pr. of spirit haunting desert, Thes Di Dr [a fallen angel, Lv 16:8ff being late, acc. to Che, who der. fr (Hebrew) ; cf. Benz as in Jewish angelology, where prob. based on interpret. of Lev. 16:8ff; name not elsewhere

Obviously the first things that caught my eye were the words “spirit haunting desert,” “a fallen angel,” and “Jewish angelology.” I had no idea what that was all supposed to mean, but it sounded like something that would get me called a liberal if I went around talking about it so of course I had to find out more. I did the easiest thing first and googled the word to see what would come up, and quickly found many references to the word in relation to Azazel, the goat-desert-demon-Satan and many other exciting things. Going to a more reliable source than the Internet, I then booted Calvin off of his computer and started up our new copy of the Logos Scholar’s Edition.

There, I checked out Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, and Easton’s Bible Dictionary. I also read up in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testment on the word. Paraphrased and summed up, here seem to be the main four views on this whole issue:

1. Azazel refers to the second goat itself, the “scapegoat.”
2. Azazel is the name of a place to which the second goat was sent.
3. Azazel is an abstract concept symbolizing entire removal of sin, and the goat was sent away to this abstract place of “unbeing” or nothingness.
4. Azazel is the personal name of a being, such as a demon, that the second goat was sent to.

Now after doing this quick search, my mind was spinning with excitment. The scandal! The second goat was sent to the desert demon! Well, of course there are some other interpretations, but the fourth is certainly the most exciting. Who wants boring old symbolism when we could have desert demons? Ah, you say, now at last she has come to the point!

Here are some of my thoughts (and maybe some stolen from the people I read) on the four views:

1. This is unlikely, and many agree, though it seems to be the view that all translations except the ESV and JPS take. Or, more likely, it is how the King James Version translated it and no one else had enough guts to change it. Anyways, it’s unlikely because verses 10 and 26 say that the goat was sent “to” Azazel. I think it’s fairly obvious that the second goat cannot = Azazel, unless it’s being sent to itself.

2. This is apparently the view of many Jewish scholars, based on some tradition and their own writings and such. Some say it was a cliff the goat was thrown off of. (I read some interesting legend about why they supposedly started throwing it off of a cliff, but that’s for another blog entry.) This is okay, but, really, it’s rather boring. Besides, I don’t think (at least from my quick study) that there is any other support for it other than the Jewish tradition.

3. The concepts here are certainly supported in the text. The idea of the live goat “bearing away” the sins of the people is stated clearly (see v. 20-22). I don’t want to say that the symbolism isn’t there, because it is – Aaron was supposed to confess all the sins and put them onto the goat’s head and then it takes all the sins away into the wilderness. So certainly, this idea of the removal and sending away of sins is there. However, is that what azazel means, or is that just what is symbolized by the sending the goat away? I think the latter, personally. Some think, such as BDB above, that the word itself means “removal”. That doesn’t seem to be well supported though. I *think* that is an older idea, meaning modern research doesn’t agree.

4. Modern scholarship (read: not conservative Christian scholars) supports the fourth viewpoint. This, to me, has some good points to it. First, textually, if we look at verse 8, “And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for Azazel,” we can see a certain parallelism here. One goat (the sacrifice) was a sin offering for Adonai (personal name here), and the live goat, was for Azazel (personal name?). It parallels it nicely. Second, there is support in the book of Enoch, my favorite noncanonical book, where Azazel is one of the ringleaders of the fall of the “watchers,” who are the sons of God in Genesis 6. Third, some say that the word itself means “angry (azaz) god (el)”. Fourth, (now these are internet sources so I don’t know) I found a few sources that cite Azazel as being an evil being cast from heaven in Moslem demonology. Fifth, I also found serveral internet sources that cite Azazel as the chief of the goat-demons.

So, yes, basically, the support for the fourth point comes from extrabiblical sources (though the literal translation lends as much support as it does to options 2 and 3). But, it is interesting, and I just say *interesting*, that this Azazel is apparently an evil being of some type in other Semitic mythologies , religions, and writings. That fascinates me, as I know that the Bible in many other places interacts with these mythologies readily. However, I’m not sure that until now, I’ve seen it interact in quite this way in narrative. What does that mean? What did Moses and the Israelites think it meant? I don’t know. It doesn’t mean they *believed* in a desert demon, it could just be the interaction with the idea of the desert demon, lending to the symbolism of the event. So in that way it dips into viewpoint 3. And I’m not even saying that it is a personal name – it could just be number 2 – who knows?

However, most conservative Christians want to write off (and I noticed this in reading my conservative Christian sources) option 4 (though they will mention it) because their box just doesn’t know how to handle it.

I say, expand your box!

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Foreknowledge, Choosing, and Holiness

July 11, 2005 at 10:33 pm (Theology and the Bible)

1 Peter 1:1-2

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. NASB

Those…chosen, but for what? according to the foreknowledge of God (what does that mean?) by the sanctifying work of the Spirit…to obey! and be sprinkled w/ his blood. Two words: sanctifying (holifying?) and to obey. God chose “those” (churches? people? people who make up churches?) “according to his foreknowledge” (still don’t know what that is supposed to mean…his foreknowledge of what? what did he know? and why does that relate to his chosing?) Either way, the choosing was by the holifying of HS, to obey. Not to be saved from hell – but to obey. He chose – to obey, a holy priesthood for himself. He chose “those” to be holy. That is the purpose of his chosing. And to be sprinkled…but what does that signify? cleansing? “justification” (oh no!)? atonement? sprinkled…OT…sprinkling atoned but for those already chosen…not for salvation. Same idea?

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Little Guys Can Do Big Things Too

February 27, 2005 at 4:41 am (Theology and the Bible)

I was sitting calmly in Dan-Rev class a few weeks ago when my most recent thrilling discovery hit me. We were talking about (well, rather, the professor was lecturing about) the 70 weeks in Daniel, and as I was following along in my Bible, I began to find myself quite in a fluster. I just couldn’t seem to match what the professor said the passage said with what the passage said. It really bugged me, and I was quite confused, so at the end of class, I turned to Calvin and asked him if he was confused as well, and explained my dilemma. To my surprise, he didn’t seem to have any trouble at all following along. “Well, what does your Bible say?” I asked. And so we compared translations. To my utter shock, the way my Bible (the ESV) worded verses 25 and 26, in particular, completely changed the nice little timeline that the professor drew on the board. Naturally, this aroused my curiosity. Even more so after realizing that the way my Bible translated it messed up the premillenial view of this passage. And even more so after realizing that my translation is one of the only (1 out of 2, in fact, that I have found as of yet) that translates it this way. A challenge to the status quo? I was delighted. How could I resist? And so I began to investigate.

Here’s the problem:

First, let’s look at the NASB, one of the best out there, in my opinion. I’ve bolded the most pertinent part.

25″So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.
26″Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.

And just as another sample, let’s review the NKJV (again, I’ve bolded the pertinent part):

25″Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times.
26″And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined.

Let’s do one more, just for good measure, how about the NIV:

25 “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.

Basically, here’s the picture these, and almost any translation will offer you:

>From the command to rebuild until the coming of Messiah, seven weeks and sixty-two weeks (totaling 69 weeks). Then, the Messiah is cut off. Let’s see if I can actually draw a picture.

………… 7 wks ………………………. 62 wks ………………………………1 wk
Command ——–|———————– Coming of M ( M Cut off ) —|—

I hope that made sense (sorry about the periods, I had to put them there to make it space over, and I didn’ feel like using the Unicode for a space, too long. Just ignore them). Anyways, as you can see, this is a nice premillenial picture, because whatever means they use to calculate it, here we have a command (starting with Artexerxes, so they say) to rebuild, until the coming of the Messiah, which obviously, refers to Jesus (so they say) and his being “cut off” (crucifixion). The dates work out nicely…well…some people play with them a little…but that’s neither here nor there. The issue at hand is the text, and the translation. So this is all fine and good, according to every translation out there…save 2. (There may be more, but I haven’t found them). Drum roll please, here is the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the ESV’s translation (the excitment is just overwhelming!).

25Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.
26And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.

Do you see? Do you see the difference? It’s subtle, but important. Here’s it is: the ESV (along with the JPS, Jewish Publication Society) make the time frame between the Command and the Coming 7 weeks, not 7 and 62 (hence, 69). Then, after this time frame, the 62 weeks happens, and so on, and so forth. Here’s the revised picture, according to the ESV:

……….7 wks………………………62 wks……………………………1 wk
Command ——– Coming of M ———————– M Cut off —|—

Oh dear, we do have a problem here, don’t we? Not only do we now have two Messiah’s (let’s just call him an anointed one – it is indefinite in the text, after all, and that’s all Messiah means – yet another reason the ESV is wonderful), but the first A.O. can’t possibly refer to Jesus, if we take the weeks to mean years, and literally.

Do you see my delight now? How exciting! A translational variant, and one that changes the interpretation of the text! It just keep getting better and better. But wait! I know you can’t believe it, but there’s more!

Obviously, I couldn’t just let this rest. Which is it, after all? The way the ESV translates it, or the way every other translation translates it? One of them has got to be right. Why did the ESV go against the grain of everyone else? Of course, the most logical place to check is in the original language. There it was that I hoped to find my answer, and there I found it.

The answer lay in a little mark, so small, so unassuming, yet it’s placement so important. Yes, it was…an atnach. What is an atnach, you say? Well, it’s a Hebrew punctuation that is the modern equivelant of a semi-colon. In other words, it makes a division. The suspense is building, I can hardly stand it. Where was the atnach?

Right were the ESV said it should be. Between the seven weeks and the sixty-two weeks, thus dividing them into two parts. They should not be read together, not as 69 weeks. Not with that atnach there, and my Hebrew professor confirmed that. The ESV translation is correct, and there is no doubt about it. True, it was the Masorites that put those pointings there, along with all the vowel pointings, and they are not inspired. However, we never go against what they put. Those pointings decide whether it’s a Qal or Hif’il, past or future, period or comma. We never go against them. Why, and this question is still bugging me, did all the translations do it then? The only answer I’ve been able to find is that the KJV did it, and sometimes the KJV sets a precedent that all other translations follow, regardless of its accuracy. It does make sense, as well. Why on earth would the author separate the time period into 7 and 62 weeks when nothing important happens to justify it? Why not just say 69 weeks? That’s the point – in the original, it is separated. It really, really is.

So what does this do to my theology? I’m still working on that one, and let me tell you, I’ve thrown a bunch of crazy things into the pot, and nothing adds up, nothing like the premillenialists would have you believe. I think I’m missing something. But that little atnach makes all the difference.

(When I figure out how to put this on here in readable Hebrew, I will)

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