Monday, May 21, 2018

The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus


Over the weekend, I got involved in a thread at the blog, Allan Ruhl - Truth Without Compromise, under the title: Ibn Khaldun on Christianity (LINK).

Though I have been a keen student of Islam for over two decades now, it had been about six months since I was last engaged in extensive research focusing on Islamic studies. As my weekend research continued into Monday, I came across a historical legend—some folk believe that it was an actual event—in a Festschrift honoring the famous British orientalist, E. G. Browne, that I had never heard of: The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.

The title of the Festschrift is, A Volume of Oriental Studies Presented to Edward G. Browne On His 60th Birthday (link to PDF copy HERE). The specific paper that discusses The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, was C. C. Torrey's, "Three Difficult Passages in the Koran" (pages 457- 471).

I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of this event/legend before this morning. I have been studying early Christian history for over thirty years now, yet never came across it. More embarrassing is the fact that I have read the Qur'an, cover-to-cover, two times and did not realize that this event/legend is mentioned in Surah 18, The Cave—though not by name. But with that said, I am quite pleased that I am now fully cognizant of this wonderful story of seven Christian youths who escaped the Decian persecution of 250 A.D. by fleeing to a cave outside of Ephesus where they miraculously sleep for some 180-309 years (length varies in different versions), and then emerged from the cave not having aged a single day. Lending credence to this event is the fact that the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have feast days for it—October 22/23, August 2 for the Orthodox, and July 27 for Catholics.

There is a good deal of information on the internet about the The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus—the following links are some of my recommendations:

Tony Devaney Morinelli's English translation - LINK 1 ; LINK 2

Orthodox Church of America, online article 

Wikipedia entry

Catholic Encyclopedia entry via New Advent

Martyrs For The Faith

Huffington Post, blog contribution by Bob Schulman

Bartłomiej Grysa's, The Legend of the Seven Sleepers in Syriac and Arab Sources


Looking forward to dialogue on this event/legend...


Grace and peace,

David




Thursday, April 26, 2018

Jehovah's Witnesses and salvation by faith: some germane selections and a related, unique event


Do Jehovah's Witnesses believe that salvation comes by faith, or by works? It is a very rare occasion when this question is posed to a non-JW (including those who may have been a JW), that one will get the correct response. Rather than give my own opinion on this issue, I am going to let the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WTBTS) provide the answer.

First, from the book, Reasoning from the Scriptures (which is similar to a Biblical topical guide), under the subject "Salvation":

Is anything more than faith needed in order to gain salvation?

Eph. 2:8, 9, RS: By grace ["undeserved kindness," NW] is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.” (The entire provision for salvation is an expression of God’s undeserved kindness. There is no way that a descendant of Adam can gain salvation on his own, no matter how noble his works are. Salvation is a gift from God given to those who put faith in the sin-atoning value of the sacrifice of his Son.)

Heb. 5:9, RS: “He [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” (Italics added.) (Does this conflict with the statement that Christians are “saved through faith”? Not at all. Obedience simply demonstrates that their faith is genuine.)

James 2:14, 26, RS: “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” (A person does not earn salvation by his works. But anyone who has genuine faith will have works to go with it—works of obedience to the commands of God and Christ, works that demonstrate his faith and love. Without such works, his faith is dead.)

Acts 16:30, 31 RS:
 “‘Men, what must I do to be saved?’ And they [Paul and Silas] said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’” (If that man and his household truly believed, would they not act in harmony with their belief? Certainly.) [Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, 1989, p. 359 - full entry for the "Salvation" topic HERE]

Second, from the entry "DECLARE RIGHTEOUS", in Insight on the Scriptures:

Finishing his earthly course free from flaw in any sense of the word, Jesus was acknowledged by God as justified. He was thus the only man, who through test, stood firmly and positively just, or righeous before God on his own merit. By this "one act of justification [form of di•kai'o•ma],"that is, by Jesus' proving himself perfectly righteous his entire flawless course, including his sacrifice, he provided the basis for declaring righteous those persons having faith in Christ.—Rom. 5:17-19; 3:25, 26; 4:25. [Insight on the Scriptures, 1988, vol. 1.604, 605 - full entry HERE]

The third selection is from an extensive book published in 1973:

These sheeplike ones are not justified or declared righteous on the basis of their own works any more than the 144,000 heirs of Christ are. The prime thing that counted was the thing that was evidenced by their trying to do what they could in behalf of Christ just as the situation afforded, namely, their faith in him as the Messiah or Christ of God. They recognized that they had no righeousness wholly pleasing to God in themselves. In harmony with this they availed themselves of the propitiatory blood of the sacrificial Lamb of god, Jesus Christ. (John 1:29, 36) To gain a righteous apperance before Jehovah God, they did a washing, as it were, of their symbolic robes. [God's Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached, 1973, p. 274]

And finally, in one of the few full length commentaries published by the WTBTS, we read:

James attacks several problems that had arisen in the congregations. One that caused much trouble was the misunderstanding and misconstruing by some persons of the doctrine of the free gift of righteousness through faith. (Rom. 5:15-17) These individuals mistakenly claimed that a Christian, having faith, did not need works-that faith had nothing to do with works. They overlooked the fact that true faith would show itself in some form of action. They were thereby denying that Christ "gave himself for us that he might deliver us from every sort of lawlessness and cleanse for himself a people peculiarly his own, zealous for fine works." (Titus 2:14) James was contending with the idea held by some Christians that a purely intellectual faith was sufficient for the Christian. This would ignore any need for faith to affect the heart, and would deny that faith had power to move a person to make changes in his personality and his life and to do things for others in positive expression of that faith. They were, if they maintained this idea, becoming like those of whom Paul speaks as having "a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power."—2 Tim. 3:5.

It should not be understood that James argued against the doctrine of righteousness "apart from works of law," which teaching the apostle Paul clearly defines in Romans chapters three and four. (Rom. 3:28) James' comments and counsel on Christian conduct always rest on the basis of "the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ."(Jas. 2:1) James was not in any way saying that works of themselves can bring salvation. We cannot properly devise a formula or build a structure through which we can work out our salvation. The faith must be there first. As James clearly emphasized, good works will come spontaneously from the heart, with the right motive of helping people in love and compassion. Jesus' life is an illustration of this. The law that the Christian follows is "the law of a free people," not a law code like the Mosaic law. (Jas. 2:12; Rom. 2:29; 7:6; 2 Cor. 3:6) It is the divine law that is written on the Christian's heart.—Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10. (Commentary on the Letter of James, 1979, pp. 6, 7 - bold emphasis mine.)

A bit later, the book relates the following:

Genesis 15:1-6 shows that Abraham was declared righteous by faith when he believed God's promise to make his seed like the stars of heaven for number, this at a time when there was no tangible evidence that Abraham would have a child, since Sarah had long been barren. Why, then, can James state that Abraham was "declared righteous by works"? Because God later gave a pronouncement or verdict of righteousness to Abraham as a result of or out of his works, when he offered Isaac. By this act Abraham proved, demonstrated beyond question, that his original faith in God and in his power had been, and still was, genuine. He proved that his faith was a living faith, not a dead one. It was not Abraham's works of themselves that brought righteousness to him, but his works were a product of that genuine faith that he had, and God, by his verdict, affirmed this fact. Abraham's willingness to obey God's command to sacrifice his son was an outstanding point at which to make the pronouncement of Genesis 22: 12. (Ibid., p. 85 - bold emphasis mine)

[PDF copy of the entire book available online HERE]

I do not feel any need to add commentary to the WTBTS's position on salvation by faith. However, with that said, a very interesting event took place concerning the publication of the above book—Commentary on the Letter of James—that I would like to chronicle, for some folk are of the opinion that it has pertinence to the WTBTS's position on salvation by faith.

Note the following from Raymond Franz—a former member of the Governing Body:

It had been very difficult to get the Governing Body as a whole to agree to the Writing Department’s recommendation for the preparation of a Bible commentary, not just on the letter of James but any commentary. For some reason certain members seemed to view it as a risky undertaking, and voiced strong reservations or negative feelings toward the project. Though eventually approved, published and included in the study program of the organization for a period, this commentary (the only actual Bible commentary the organization ever produced) has since been allowed to go out of print. Something that helps explain why is a decision made with reference to the book in one of the Governing Body sessions.

In the paragraph that follows the points quoted earlier, the book as originally written went on to state:

As James shows, no Christian should judge his brother or set up human standards that he must follow, though he may encourage a brother and incite him to fine works: and he may even reprove his brother where there is definite Scriptural reason and Scriptural proof for what he says.(Jas. 4:11, 12; Gal. 6:1; Heb. 10:24) When the right works are performed they must be carried out at the direction of conscience. The real Christian will not do things by rote, and he does not need a detailed code of rules. Neither does he carry out his good works because of pressure from others. The apostle Paul points out these facts at Romans chapter 14. So if a person has a genuine, living faith, the works will reasonably follow. They will be good works that God will reward, because they are performed out of heart devotion. However, one who tries to gain righteousness through a minutely defined structure of "dos" and "don'ts" will fail. Such "righteousness" is of men and not of God. [Original paragraph - typed from photocopy provided by Raymond Franz]

This is a photocopy of the way this paragraph (of page 7) was originally approved by the Writing Committee of the Governing Body, sent to the Watch Tower’s Brooklyn printing plant, and actually printed up in hundreds of thousands of copies. Yet outside of the Governing Body members and a few other persons, no Witness has seen this wording nor will he find it in the copy of the commentary he possesses. The reason is that due to opposition of certain Governing Body members the paragraph was rewritten and the hundreds of thousands of copies already printed were destroyed—not just hundreds of thousands of individual pages but of sections of 32 pages each. Why? The points they objected to, and ultimately changed, are significant in what they reveal as to the thinking of the men themselves.

Consider this same paragraph as it appears in the commentary as finally published and distributed:

As James shows, no Christian should judge his brother or set up human standards for gaining salvation, though he may encourage a brother and incite him to fine works; and he may even reprove his brother where there is definite Scriptural reason and Scriptural proof for what he says. (Jas. 4:11, 12; Gal. 6:1; Heb. 10:24) When the right works are performed they must be carried out in response to direction from God's Word. The real Christian will not do things by rote, and he does not need a detailed code of rules. Neither does he carry out his good works just to please men. So if a person has a genuine, living faith, fine works will reasonably follow, including preaching and teaching the good news of the Kingdom. (Matt. 24:14; 28:19, 20) They will be good works that God will reward, because they are performed out of heart devotion. However, one who tries to gain righteousness through a minutely defined structure of "dos" and "don'ts" will fail. Such "righteousness" is of men and not of God. (In Search of Christian Freedom,  Second Edition, 2007, pp. 181-183.)

Though the event related above is an interesting, historical fact, I do not believe that it should alter one's understanding of the WTBTS's position on salvation by faith. Have I perhaps missed something?


Grace and peace,

David

Friday, April 20, 2018

Independent Baptists and 'Quick Prayerism'


Being raised a 4th generation Jehovah's Witness, I had virtually no knowledge of other Christian denominations apart from what I read in Watchtower publications, and my brief contacts with individuals while engaged in the 'field ministry'. Some of the first non-JW churches I attended in the 1980's were Independent Baptist churches. Though by nature staunchly 'independent', there existed a good deal of common doctrines and practices within the Independent Baptist paradigm, which included: dispensationalism, 'alter calls', 'soul winning', King James onlyism, and salvation by faith alone.

I soon learned that there was some disagreement among Independent Baptists concerning exactly what was meant by 'salvation by faith alone'. Some maintained that 'saving faith', in a very real sense, included signs of repentance and ongoing sanctification; while others believed that the inclusion of such signs turned 'salvation by faith alone' into a form of 'works-righteousness' salvation. These two opposing views—which also exists within Evangelicalism—has been termed by a number of folk as the Lordship salvation controversy and/or easy believism.

Now, I had read a good deal of literature on this issue back in the 80s and 90s, and thought I was pretty knowledgeable on the topic. However, earlier today while reading David Cloud's, "Friday Church News Notes", I learned of a certain aspect of this controversy that was new to me: "Quick Prayerism" (see this link). Note the following from David's online article:

Hyles-Anderson Baptist College and First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, have had the greatest responsibility for spreading the weird heresy of Quick Prayerism throughout the world. This occurred under the leadership of Jack Hyles. The Sword of the Lord published Hyles’ books on Quick Prayerism soul winning beginning in 1962 (Let’s Go Soul Winning and Let’s Build an Evangelistic Church). Quick Prayerism is an evangelistic methodology that is quick to get people to pray a sinner’s prayer after a shallow gospel presentation that, typically, is devoid of any hint of the necessity of repentance. It is quick to pronounce those people saved and give them “assurance” and to try to baptize them even if they demonstrate zero biblical evidence of having been born again. Quick Prayerism incorporates psychological salesmanship manipulation and is characterized by soul winning reports that are grossly exaggerated, since the number of actual spiritual conversions are exceedingly minute compared to the overall statistics.

I am wondering if any other folk have of heard this, "weird heresy of Quick Prayerism"?


Grace and peace,

David

P.S. David Cloud has an extended treatment of this subject which is available online without cost in a PDF format HERE.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Book of Mormon: support for the 'stone in a hat' translation method from an early, unique source


In my preceding, last six posts on Mormonism (link), I focused on the recent paradigm shift within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints concerning the 'translation' method of the Book of Mormon. The long held view that the Book of Mormon was translated by Joseph Smith via the use of the 'gold' plates and spectacles which were buried together in the Hill Cumorah, is being replaced by the use of a single 'seer stone' in a hat without the plates being used.

On Thursday, I discovered in an early, unique source, certain comments which support the latter process. To my knowledge, no LDS scholar who has written on the subject of the translation method of the Book of Mormon has mentioned this source. The source is a book written in 1854 by the notable 19th century Catholic convert, Orestes Augustus Brownson, under the title, Spirit-Rapper: An Autobiography. Brownson was a prodigious authorThe Works of Orestes Brownson (20 volumes) contains more than 12,000 pages. Prior to this week, I had read only his contributions on the subject of doctrinal development, and had no knowledge of the aforementioned book. It was on Wednesday that I learned of the existence of this book via an article published on the The Catholic World Report website under the title: "The devil always leaves us in the lurch" (link). From the article, we read:

If weirdness were an Olympic sport, the American nineteenth century would have a closet full of gold medals.

But out of that weirdness comes the strange and compelling figure of Orestes Brownson, a Catholic convert who wrote an equally strange and compelling book: The Spirit-Rapper: an Autobiography. Newly reissued by Cluny Media under the (improved) title Like a Roaring Lion, Brownson’s 1854 book dissects some of the biggest bad ideas of his day, and warns of a menacing darkness that lurks beneath them. But Brownson’s novel also speaks to us today about the errors and practices that open our souls to the work of the devil.

I ordered the book, but could not wait to receive it, so I looked for the 1854 edition online, finding a PDF copy (link), that I downloaded and read. Note the following:

Much nonsense has been vented by the press about the origin of his Bible, or the Book of Mormon. The most ridiculous as well as the most current version of the affair is, that the book was originally written as a novel, by one Spalding, a Presbyterian minister in Pennsylvania, and that Joe got hold of the manuscript and published it as a new Bible. This version is refuted by a simple perusal of the book itself, which is too much and too little to have had such an origin. In his normal state, Joe Smith could never have written the more striking passages of the Book of Mormon ; and any man capable of doing it, could never have written any thing so weak, silly, utterly unmeaning as the rest. No man ever dreamed of writing it as a novel, and who ever had produced it in his normal state, would have made it either better in its feebler parts, or worse in its stronger passages.

The origin of the book was explained to me by one of Joe's own elders, on the authority of the person who, as Joe's amanuensis, wrote it. From beginning to end, it was dictated by Joe himself, not translated from plates, as was generally alleged, but apparently from a peculiar stone, which he subsequently called his Urim and Thummim, and used in his divination. He placed the stone in his hat, which stood upon a table, and then taking a seat, he concealed his face in his hat above it, and commenced dictating in a sleep-waking state, under the influence of the mysterious power that used or assisted him. I lived near the place where the book was produced. I had subsequently ample means of investigating the whole case, and I availed myself of them to the fullest extent. For a considerable time the Mormon prophets and elders were in the habit of visiting my house. They hoped to make me a convert, and they spoke to me with the utmost frankness and unreserve. (Pages 165, 166 - bold emphasis mine.)

I find it more than a bit interesting that Brownson's comments concerning the origin of the Book of Mormon, are virtually identical to the method now being endorsed by LDS scholars who have been working on Joseph Smith Papers project—minus the "sleep-waking state"—which elements include: that it was Joseph Smith alone, and not some other person or persons like Spalding, who produced the English 'translation'; the 'translation' method did not utilize the plates; Joseph dictated the book to his amanuensis while using a stone in a hat, into which he concealed his face.

Now, in my January 7, 2018 post (link), I asked the following question:

WHY has Kirkham's and Nibley's assessments been jettisoned by so many 21st century LDS scholars?

Though Brownson's comments seem to support the new paradigm shift promoted by a good number of 21st century LDS scholars, I still believe that my question remains valid.


Grace and peace,

David

*UPDATE (April 14, 2018): I am in the process of attempting to find any references to Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, Mormonism et al., that Orestes Augustus Brownson may have made in his extensive corpus. Just moments ago, I found the following article in Dialogue - A Journal of Mormon Thought:

"I Consdier the Proper Authority Rests Among the Mormons": Oran Brownson to Orestes Brownson on Oran's Conversion to Mormonism


The following from the article is germane to this post:

Orestes demonstrated his interest in Mormonism by addressing the subject throughout his prolific writing career. In the Spirit-Rapper, published in 1854, Brownson associated Mormonism with spiritualism and mesmerism, movements rapidly gaining adherents in America of the 1850s. Referring to Smith’s use of a divining rod, he stated that “every mesmerizer would at once have recognized him as an impressible subject.” Brownson ridiculed the Spaulding theory of the origins of the Book of Mormon; he likewise denied that Smith without assistance could have authored the book. Brownson accurately described the translation process as having occurred by the use of a seer stone placed in a hat, a description he had learned from “one of Joe’s own elders, on the authority of the person who, as Joe’s amanuensis, wrote it.” Having deemed Smith incapable of producing the Book of Mormon on his own, Brownson concluded that “there was a superhuman power employed in founding the Mormon church,” asserting that direct satanic intervention explained both the Book of Mormon and Mormon miracles. In short, “Mormonism is literally the Synagogue of Satan.” (Page 194)

And so, I can now say that I know of one "LDS scholar who has written on the subject of the translation method of the Book of Mormon [who] has mentioned this source."

Friday, March 30, 2018

Monarchy of God the Father—God the Father as the cause/source of the Son of God and the Holy Spirit: three valuable resources


It was the writings of a number of Eastern Orthodox theologians which prompted me to begin an in depth study into the important doctrine of the Monarchy of God the Father. I started with the pre-Nicene and Nicene Church Fathers, and then (of course) the pre-Augustinian CFs who defended the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.). Of late, I have focused on Augustine's elucidations on God the Father as the cause/source of the Son and Holy Spirit.

As I continue my studies into the Monarchy of God the Father, I wanted to bring to the attention of my readers three important contributions which are germane to this topic. The first is a website ran by Andrew Davis:


Andrew is a cogent contributor in the comboxes of my recent threads on Augustine. His site has a number of threads on the Monarchy of God the Father, defenses of the Nicene Creed, and exposés on 'modern' forms of modalism and 'semi-modalism'.

The second is a dissertation by James Paul Krueger:


From the opening introduction of the dissertation we read:

One of the widespread contemporary approaches to the Trinity repudiates “mere monotheism” and emphasizes the community of the Persons as three separate centers of action. Within some versions of this “social Trinitarianism,” the unique role of the God the Father as source of the godhead is marginalized or obscured. The views of Jürgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg on God the Father bring this problem into focus, as they diminish the “monarchy” of the Father as unfitting because as traditionally understood it lacks reciprocity. Instead, they envision alternative modes of explaining the unity, stressing the original threeness and describing divine unity as an eschatological achievement. After linking the Father’s diminished place in these approaches with the problem of divine unity, this study examines the theology of God the Father in Augustine and Bonaventure to clarify how the concept of the Father as unique source can provide a solution to this pressing problem in contemporary systematic theology.

And the third is a master's thesis by Elizabeth Klein:


The following is from the abstract of the thesis:

This thesis examines the concept of God as Father in the thinking of two Patristic authors: Athanasius (c. 293-373) and Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 329-390). Since God is called Father frequently in the New Testament both Athanasius and Gregory see the name as fundamental to understanding the nature of the intradivine life, as well as God’s relationship to humankind. The reliance of Patristic authors on the language of Father and Son brings relational language to the fore of Christological and trinitarian discussions of the 4th and 5th centuries. In this thesis, I endeavour to demonstrate the centrality of the fatherhood of God in the thinking of Athanasius and Gregory of Nazianzus, and to connect their thinking on this topic to larger theological questions of the period.

I recommend the above resources to those folk who share my interest in the Monarchy of God Father.

ENJOY !!!


Grace and peace,

David

Monday, March 26, 2018

Jesus and the Cross - How the cross became Christianity’s most popular symbol


Earlier today, the Biblical Archaeology Society published an article in their 'Bible History Daily' section that caught my eye:

Jesus and the Cross - How the cross became Christianity’s most popular symbol

From the second paragraph of the contribution we read:

Scholars believe that the first surviving public image of Jesus's crucifixion was on the fifth-century wooden doors of the Basilica of Santa Sabina, which is located on the Aventine Hill in Rome. Since it took approximately 400 years for Jesus’s crucifixion to become an acceptable public image, scholars have traditionally believed that this means the cross did not originally function as a symbol for Christians.


Grace and peace,

David

Friday, March 16, 2018

Shocking news concerning a son of the controversial KJV only advocate Dr. Peter S. Ruckman


Earlier today, I learned of the tragic murder-suicide event involving a son and grandsons of the controversial KJV only advocate Dr. Peter S. Ruckman, via David Cloud's, Friday Church News Notes (link).

I became aware of Dr. Ruckman (link) when I began my studies into Biblical textual criticism in the early 1980s. He was the author of dozens of books (Amazon; Bible Baptist Bookstore), many of which focused on textual criticism and the 'Kings James Only' movement (link).

Dr. Ruckman became one the most controversial figures in the textual criticism debate. Though I believe that some of his conclusions concerning textual criticism are flawed, I also maintain that a number are valid. Unfortunately, most critics of Dr. Ruckman are unable to separate his style of writing—non-academic, ostentatious—from its core content; and their critiques are often filled with ad hominem attacks.

Anyway, this post is not intended to be an in depth presentation of my views on Biblical textual criticism; but rather, it is meant inform folk of the sad event related by Dr. Cloud.


Grace and peace,

David