Category Archives: Bible

Scripture over tradition, yes, no, maybe, what makes me happy?

A very large part of the debate between Lutherans and Roman Catholics was and still is, the importance of Scripture versus that of tradition. Luther and others, Martin Chemnitz in this particular case, felt that the Roman Church was much more interested in elevating the importance of tradition and the ruling of the Church, via the Pope and the Cardinals. This was in reality, probably much more of a hot button issue in the debate than the discussion over indulgences. The debate over the unique and sole authority of Scripture certainly being inclusive of the debate over indulgences.

I’m reading Chemnitz’s “Examination of the Council of Trent” (Part 1 Translated by Fred Kramer, published by Concordia Publishing House copyright 1971). This council was called by Pope Paul III, as a reply to the Lutheran Reformation in 1547. The original intent was to try and reconcile some of the issues, I do believe it was a good faith attempt by the church to examine if maybe, just maybe, Luther might have a point in some areas. The result didn’t come close, in fact it hardened the position the Roman church held before the Reformation.

But as Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon left the scene a new voice stepped in to further the cause of the Reformation and Christianity. Martin Chemnitz wrote extensively and persuasively in order for the Lutheran Reformation to continue to advance Christianity. Well could be if it weren’t for Chemnitz, the Lutheran Reformation might have been a brief bright flash in the Church, only to be repressed by the Roman Church or limited to an obscure corner of the church.

Chemnitz argued that none of the early church fathers had favored the canon of Scripture that had been organized by the church in the 4th century. While there was a time that the apostles and early church leaders did not have canon and had to preserve and pass on Scripture orally, they never intended for that to be the practice. They had written down the books of the New Testament and as much as possible intended all Christians to rely on the written, universally agreed on, books of the New Testament.

Chemnitz writes: “…Irenaeus says: ‘The apostles delivered to us in the Scriptures what they had preached.’ And for what purpose? What use did the apostles want the church to make of this their Scripture? Irenaeus answers: ‘That that which they delivered to us in writing might in the future be the foundation and pillar of our faith,’ namely, of that faith which the church received from the apostles and delivered to her children. Therefore we have in the Scriptures which the apostles delivered to us by the will of God the foundation and pillar of the only true and life-giving faith of the primitive church, received from the apostles. It is called the foundation of faith, because faith is learned, known, built up and received from it. It is called a pillar because through it that faith which alone is true and gives life is proved, confirmed, defended against all corruptions, and preserved. A faith, therefore, which is built up, received, proved and confirmed from any other source than from the Scriptures transmitted by the apostles is not the true, life-giving, apostolic faith of the primitive church. This lies most clearly and firmly in the argumentation of Irenaeus. And later he says that those are heretics who do not agree with the apostolic writings, and he describes the marks of the heretics in these words in chapter 2: ‘When they are proved wrong from the Scriptures, they turn and accuse the Scriptures themselves, as if they were not correct and were without authority [wow! where do we see that today? Everywhere including the churches from across the spectrum who don’t like to get too dogmatic. Basically so much of Christianity today that likes to pick and choose and make it up]. “both because they speak now one way, now another, and also because the truth cannot be found from Scripture by those who do not know the tradition; for (so they say) the truth was not given through epistles, but through the living voice” etc [kind of the same whiney make-believe rationalism of today].

Chemnitz goes on to quote Irenaeus that the apostles had passed on God’s word and did not intend to leave room for tradition and additions to God’s word, that their writings were to be the foundation of the church: “…Irenaeus shows in this statement for what purpose the apostles delivered their doctrine to us in the Scriptures and what use they wanted made of this Scripture in the church, namely, that it should be the foundation and pillar of our faith who have not heard the living voice of the apostles. And he adds that those are heretics who either cast away those Scriptures or turn and accuse them of speaking inconsistently and say that the truth cannot be found in them, unless besides these Scriptures the traditions are added which are treated as having been handed down by the apostles orally.”

Chemnitz put a lot of weight on Irenaeus’ word on Scripture. Irenaeus was a very early defender of the Christian Church, going back to the second century. He was also a leader in opposing the heresies of the period. He took Scripture seriously and did not take lightly any attempts to dilute what was written by the apostles only about 100 years earlier and passed on through the church from all over the Christian world, Asia, Europe, Africa, which generally subscribed to the canon of the New Testament.

 

The Bible’s authenticity

In his book Walking The Bible, (published 2001 by William Morrow) Bruce Feiler writes about taking a trip, by various modes, through the lands of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible). These books describe Moses’ journey through , essentially, the Sinai, Jordan and Israel. Over 400 pages of Feiler going to some of the most challenging sites described in the Bible; walking, all terrain vehicles, jeeps, camel, donkey. It is definitely an interesting read, in which he also includes a lot of the contemporary political situation in the area. As much as I can remember Feiler doesn’t write about any of his personal religious beliefs. Furthermore he regularly contributes to National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and also writes for the New York Times, Conde Nast and Gourmet. None of which makes one think of “Christianity Today”, in other words, if he is a Christian or Jewish, he doesn’t make it apparent in 400+ pages.

There is doubt, there are questions, reservations, disagreements, but through it all he interacts with Arabs, Bedouins, Christians all of various stripes and he seems to maintain a respect even admiration for vastly different people. He seems to maintain a good level of professional objectivity (which is becoming very rare in this day and age), and let’s the facts and guidance of various people take him where it seems most reasonable to go. So yes, overall, definitely a worthwhile read.

This leads me to one of his closing observations: “Put tautologically: The Bible lives because it never dies. As a rabbi friend of mine said, it’s like a fungus that can live underground for long periods then pop up and thrive whenever it appears.”

“Though my friend quickly regretted his remark, he actually made a significant point. Easily the most impressive thing I learned during my trip was that the Bible’s ability to be relevant to contemporary life was by no means guaranteed. If anything, over the last two hundred years it has undergone the most concentrated and ruthless academic scrutiny that any written book has ever faced. This scientific interrogation, from every conceivable corner – archaeology, history, physics, metaphysics, linguistics, anthropology – was designed, in many cases to undermine the Bible, to destroy its credibility. But in every case (at least the ones involving historical events, after the primeval stories of Creation), the Bible not only withstood the inquisition but came out stronger, with its integrity intact, and its nuances more on display. The doesn’t mean that the stories are true, but it does mean that they’re true to their era. The bible lives today not because it’s untouchable but precisely because it has been touched – it has been challenged – and it remains undefeated.” ( Bruce Feiler Walking The Bible pp 408-9, 2001).

The Bible, Jesus, have been the most highly scrutinized book and person in history, by far. Does kind of make you wonder why this agenda to so relentlessly and aggressively try to undermine the Bible. If, as most sceptics like to point out, the Bible is a book of fables and myths, why is there this zealous need to take it down. And then ironically, not weaken it, but strengthen the Bible’s scholarly authenticity, in addition to the fact that it is the inspired word of God. So it does stand to reason the more God’s word is scrutinized, the more it would validated, whether that was the intent of the scrutinizer or not.

Angry God Leviticus 18-20

One of the main shots at God is that the Old Testament God is so cruel. How could Yahweh send His people into Canaan, the Promised Land and tell them to kill the people who were already there?

The answer is, yes, in Scripture, But hey, we don’t want to read through those first five books. Yea, Genesis, Exodus (thanks to Cecil B DeMille) Exodus is OK, there’s entertainment value there! But Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy? Boring. Telling us all those thing we can’t do, or we have to do.

Despite the perception, there is interesting history in those books and, come on, if God’s telling us something, it’s not  “boring”! But hey, we want to be entertained, “ESV 2 Timothy 4:3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,” (BibleWorks)

The attitude is; If I have to read the bible then at least amuse me, you like how you entertain me at church, referring of course to Sunday morning service, what’s supposed to be worship. But the rest of the world sees as “amuse me”.

God intended His people, the Jews, to be His people, a nation of priests. They were supposed to be dedicated to Him, His chosen people and not be influenced by the people who were in Canaan, who were, according to God “detestable” (Lev 20:23).

As it happened despite all His attempts, His people did not follow His directions (of course none of us do, we all being sinners). The Israelites did leave Canaanites alive because it was to their advantage to keep them alive. But they paid the price.

Through its history, Israel turned to these evil ‘gods’, begin to ignore Yahweh, Yahweh would send an enemy as punishment for Israel turning from Yahweh, they would be conquered, suffer, regret what they did to be punished, and the fact they were ruled by an evil people. They would repent, God would restore Israel, things would go well for awhile and then rinse, repeat. From their escape from Egypt until the time that the Rome destroyed the temple, about 2,000 years. Now we can wag our finger but the same thing happens to us. We are certainly becoming more and more evil as a society, more and more it’s about me and very little about God.

You can’t blame God for not telling us. The Books of the Law, the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) certainly give us straight forward ground rules, but hey, it’s about us, remember?

Yahweh lists out some of the more heinous things that we don’t do. Leviticus 18-20 are pretty specific, if not a little graphic (have your attention now?): “ESV Leviticus 18:1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. 3 You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. 4 You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. 5 You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.” (English Standard Version, BibleWorks)

Right out of the gate, before they’re allowed into the Promised Land, Yahweh is making it very clear, He is not leading them to Canaan to be Canaanites. He has lead them there to be His Chosen People and not to get swept up in the Canaanites sick, twisted depravity. “God detailed the sexual practices He abhors, in order that the Israelites might live before Him in purity, unlike the Egyptians and Canaanites. Because of their sexual practices, Canaan, the land promised to the Israelites, is defiled and their people will soon be ‘vomited out’ of the land as God leads the Israelites in (v 25).” (Lutheran Study Bible p 191)

This is where God lists out the prohibitions against incest, and yea, does go into detail. Let’s face it, if we’re not explicitly told, someone’s going to look for the loophole and decide that somehow he can’t be saddled with the same woman or be denied his “fun”. When I say the laws against incest, every, heterosexual, possibility. Why did God describe every possible situation? Because the Canaanites were doing every possible incestuous situation. Nice, huh? Next, how about a threesome? “ESV Leviticus 18:17 You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, and you shall not take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter to uncover her nakedness; they are relatives; it is depravity.” Sweet, huh, again, the Canaanites were doing it. How about this: “ESV Leviticus 18:18 And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.” Nice people, huh? “OK, babe, think I’m going to set up a little competition, let’s see between you and her who can … oh, perform better?” But these are the people that so many “nice” people are outraged at God for killing them off.
Let’s cut away from sex awhile: “ESV Leviticus 18:21 You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.” It was a regular practice of these nice Canaanite people to sacrifice their first born son to Molech.

MolechSacrificeAltar

The baby would be put in the idol’s arms which were pitched so that the baby would roll down into the furnace in the idol. Yea, nice people. Oh yeah, not specifically delineated, but let’s not forget temple prostitution. The practice where the men, married or not, would have sex with temple “priestesses”, like the baby sacrifice, all so that Molech would bless them with rain, fertility both in terms of crops, animals and babies. Yeah, nice people, they’d make great neighbors, huh? Yahweh restates His position: “ESV Leviticus 20:2 “Say to the people of Israel, Any one of the people of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones.” Not pulling any punches there are we? But really how could anyone roll their baby son into a furnace? And yet those poor put-upon people were.

Here’s the big one: “ESV Leviticus 18:22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Hey God’s words, not mine. And again: “ESV Leviticus 20:13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” One has to think if God restates it, He must really mean it.
This next one is classic: “ESV Leviticus 18:23 And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion.” Yup, those nice Canaanites. And just to make sure we know what we’re talking about: “ESV Leviticus 18:24 “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, ESV Leviticus 18:25 and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.” The Canaanites did all these things and now, God is telling you, do not do them and make sure there are none left in the Promised Land who have been a part of this culture and will be left to corrupt you. You may not like it, of course there will those who will think that this is all so “unfair”, but that’s too bad. It’s not your world, God created it, it is His, and if He will no longer tolerate such decadence then it’s His call. Like it or not He can do what He wants to. Whether you think it’s fair or not, matters not a whit and I think it’s kind of bizarre that your opinion really carries any weight in this to begin with.
Why do Christians have a problem with all the things these Canaanites did? “ESV Leviticus 18:26 But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you ESV Leviticus 18:27 (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), ESV Leviticus 18:28 lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.”

Yea, Christians will be taken and protected by the Father, we have that hope and promise, in Jesus it’s a done deal. But for those who have to tell everyone how unfair it is, how we should be “free”, everyone do their own thing. It’s just not going to be that way and we don’t want to see those we love and care for be swept away. You can live in any delusion you like, but that’s not going to change who God is, what He has done, and what He will do. Whether you think it’s compassionate or not, it is compassionate. Just as you might like taking the medicine to cure you, let your boss tell you what to do, the reality is, that God has said, He has shown that He has meant it and for those who do have the truth, we do have a responsibility to be compassionate and that compassion is shown in how we tell the truth about Christ.

Here’s another one: “ESV Leviticus 19:9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. ESV Leviticus 19:10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” What this means is that the Canaanites did not perform acts of charity. Israel was told in this verse, that the least you can do is not pick up everything when you harvest crops and leave it for those who don’t have anything else. Yea those nice picked on Canaanites wouldn’t even leave a little food for those who were genuinely starving. Needless to say they didn’t do anything else to provide for the poor, it was all about them and what made them happy, hmmm, sound familiar?

Yahweh lists out pretty much the Ten Commandments, meaning? Yes, the Canaanites violated them all, lying, stealing, cheating ya, regular practice.

How about this? “ESV Leviticus 19:13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning.” People would fail to pay those who performed work for them. They would also not pay them at the end of the day. In this society, there was no refrigeration, it was hot, dirty. When you received your pay at the end of every day, you went out, bought food and ate. If you didn’t have any money, after an entire day of working, you went to bed hungry. But those nice Canaanites, would literally take the bread right of their brother’s mouths after they did a whole day’s worth of work for them. If they couldn’t pay them, why would they hire them at the beginning of the day?

How about government corruption? “ESV Leviticus 19:15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” If you were poor, you got no justice, the highest bidder got their way. Public Defenders? Haaaaa! Ya right!

Verse 19:20, own a slave woman? Canaanite men could do whatever they wanted to do with them. Israelite men? No way! Slaves in general and women slaves in particular, had to be treated humanely. Nice people, huh? All you high-minded people who think that God was so unfair having them wiped out.

“ESV Leviticus 19:29 “Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity.” Prostitute your daughter? Hey, ya gotta do, what ya gotta do.

“ESV Leviticus 19:31 “Do not turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.” Ya, I know, today, Ghost Hunters, palm readers, astrologers etc. What’s the harm? God said stay away from it, and I have no doubt there is serious harm involved. In this post-modern era we are seeing more messing with the demonic, and you would have to be clueless to claim otherwise. Yahweh restates His position on mediums and wizards on Lev 20: 6. And in verse 27 adds that a medium or wizard should be put to death.

“ESV Leviticus 19:36 You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” These were measurements used in commerce, in this context. They were ripping each other off in the marketplace, ya how nice.

“ESV Leviticus 20:9 For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.” Ya, I know, not a big deal in our highly enlightened contemporary world.

Just to make sure there’s no misunderstanding Yahweh restates His opinion of the Canaanites: “ESV Leviticus 20:23 And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them.” Having God detest you is not where you want to be. And He tells Israel: “ESV Leviticus 20:26 You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”
You can keep living in your state of denial and think it’s all about you and not about God, but in the end God will make the calls. For those who’ve played their whole lives, will be called to account and there will “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, Jesus’s words, six different times in Matthew. For those who are holy to the Father in Jesus, there is salvation, there is the resurrection. God doesn’t tolerate the absolutely detestable life-style of the Canaanites and neither should you. But that is exactly where we are headed to as a culture, frankly we’re pretty much there. You really expect a completely just, completely holy, completely pure and all- powerful God to just sit back? That’s just not reality.