I gave these talks at the Mt Colah Church Camp, 10-12 May 2013. (more…)
Charlestown ecclesial anniversary weekend
22-24 March 2013
In this series, I explore how the context in which Paul lived is helpful for interpreting his actions and life accurately. Particular focus is on Paul’s early life as a Pharisee, dealing with the Judaisers, his subsequent suffering and depression, and his time in prison.
In the last couple of days I’ve answered several emails about this blog. I thought it might be helpful to post excerpts from my emails here.
I don’t think you should be afraid of discussion about our beliefs. If they are true, they will stand up to scrutiny. If they are not, they deserve to be reconsidered. And if they are so unclear in scripture that people might get confused, then they can hardly be called first principles.
The truth is dynamic and we should keep learning and growing. I’m afraid much of the Christadelphian world is stagnant and decaying, fixated with 19th century views and unwilling to change despite the evidence.
The view seems to be that it is ok for me to have different ideas provided I don’t admit to them publicly. But that leads to deception and hypocrisy and I do not wish to contribute to a culture of duplicity. (more…)
Nearly one year ago, I posted a draft chapter on “Biblical monotheism today” that I had written for a book that was in preparation. Finally, the book has been finished and is available to purchase.
One God, the Father is a compendium of 16 essays by various authors about Biblical Monotheism. It explores the continuity of monotheism from the Old Testament presentation of God through to the Synoptic Gospels, the writings of Paul and John. It traces the development of Christian ideas about God from the original, biblical, monotheism to the emergence of the doctrine of the triune God, a doctrine that has dominated Christian thought ever since. It describes thinkers and communities, both historical and contemporary, who have held to Biblical Monotheism, often in the face of significant opposition. It also explores the implications of Biblical Monotheism for Christian doctrine and practice.
It presents a definition of ‘monotheism’ from the Jewish Scriptures and contrasts this with the trinitarian definition of God. It explores how the Old Testament presents Yahweh as ‘one God’. It details how the Synoptics, the writings of John and Paul present the relationship of Israel’s God to Jesus. It traces the development of church ideas about God showing how they then deviated from the Bible. It describes how thinkers and communities have preserved the truth of Biblical Monothesism down the ages. It concludes with essays discussing the atonement, and the issue of worship and prayer in relation to Jesus.
- Jonah is a prophet of God, yet when God tells him to go east, Jonah heads west.
- Jonah is sound asleep while the ship is tossing so violently that it is threatening to break up. Was he on drugs, or is something else going on?
- He is swallowed by a great fish, yet somehow survives. Don’t be fooled by myths of people surviving after being swallowed by a whale. There is no air in there.
- Nineveh is described as “an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth.” In reality, Nineveh was nowhere near that size. Archaeological evidence suggests it was about 10-13 km in circumference, with a population of about 120,000 people. Jonah could have walked around it before lunch on the first day. I live in Melbourne which is home to about 4.1 million people and stretches for 60 kilometres from one side to the other. It is possible to walk from one side of Melbourne to the other in one day, or at most two.
- Jonah delivers a message of just five Hebrew words (“At the end of forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!”), and the entire city is converted.
- The king of Nineveh decrees that all animals as well humans are to fast and wear sackcloth. Really? Cows wearing hessian?
- When Jonah sees that his message has been successful, he spits the dummy and has a sulk saying that it would be better if he now died (rather than the Ninevites).
- God provides a plant to shelter Jonah that apparently grows to full height in less than day. It then dies and shrivels on the following day.
Jonah is larger than life, and full of parody, irony and satire. If the Bible came with pictures, Jonah would be a cartoon, rather than a series of photographs. I do not think it was intended to be taken literally, or even seriously. The message is transmitted through a comic story, much as Jesus told parables to make his points. (more…)
It is natural to thank God when we survive a natural disaster, or even when we avoid the effects of man-made tragedies. When the great tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 wiped out huge areas of Thailand, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka, many survivors thanked God for protecting them. Others wondered what God was doing while 230,000 people died.
When the Black Saturday bushfires in February 2009 killed 173 people, many survivors thanked God for protecting them. But if God protected the survivors, what does that say about those who died? What had they done to not deserve the same protection?
When we arrive safely after a long journey, we often thank God for protecting us on the way. But what about the people who don’t make it? Does God cause (or allow) some car accidents, but prevent others? (more…)
Matthew’s gospel is something of an enigma for a 21st century reader. It is full of events and quotations that seem forced and unlikely.
Matthew often misappropriates Old Testament quotations. For example, he says that Jesus’ escape to Egypt to avoid Herod fulfilled Hosea’s “prophecy” I have called my son out of Egypt (Matthew 2:14-15; Hos 11:1). Yet the verse in Hosea is not about Jesus, or even a prophecy. It refers to Israel’s exodus from Egypt. At best, Matthew is drawing a historical parallel. Then Matthew claims that the murder of the children of Bethelem fulfilled a prophecy of Jeremiah (Matthew 2:16-18; Jeremiah 31:15). But any reasonable reading of Jeremiah involves mourning over the exile, not predicting a future mass murder.
Then there are some odd events in Matthew’s gospel, that don’t appear in the other gospels. For example, he is the only one to mention “many holy people” rising from the dead during an earthquake at the time of Jesus’ death, but not appearing in public until after Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 27:51-53). This seems highly unlikely in the absence of any other historical or textual record.
Some of these odd features of Matthew can be explained once we realise what he is attempting to do. Matthew wants to present Jesus as the prophet like Moses:
The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you — from your fellow Israelites; you must listen to him. (Deuteronomy 18:15) (more…)
Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16)
… for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:21)
So the scriptures (at least the Old Testament) are described as “inspired” and were written as “men [were] carried along by the Holy Spirit”. But nowhere are we told exactly how that happened, or what it means. (more…)
Many churches, including the one I belong to, practice closed fellowship. That is, only members of that church, or others deemed to be “in fellowship”, may participate in the bread and wine to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is often a barrier to visitors who would like to share fully in the worship, but are barred from doing so.
One of the most interesting early Christian documents is the Didache (also known as the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) probably dating from the late first century. It was discovered by Philotheos Byrennios in 1873, and an English translation of the text can be read online. Because it is so early in the history of Christianity, and it describes in some detail the activities of the early church, it is useful for understanding the beliefs and practices of early Christians.
It is not long, and worth reading in full. Here I will just highlight some possibly surprising features. It is not clear whether the Didache represents common practice in the late first century churches, or describes a minority perspective. So we cannot draw any definite conclusions about what it contains, other than to say that it probably represents the views and practices of some first century believers. (more…)