Finding it hard to believe

(Marshall Janzen) #21

Hah! I thank my prof for that, since he suggested the format. Yes, I’ve enjoyed discussing this a bit on JC too, most recently when Scot was reviewing Boyd’s tome.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #22

I was going to ask you about that, but didn’t want to derail the thread too much. Interesting! Glad he suggested it! Otherwise it would have been a pretty gutsy move!

Those TWU profs… so unconventional… [side-eye at @DennisVenema] :slight_smile:

(Phil) #23

Enjoyed your paper! good job!

(RiderOnTheClouds) #24

Probably the biggest issue for me is the problem of the Old Testament law, and it’s general oppressiveness. I see no reason why I am not obliged to follow it

(Mervin Bitikofer) #25

Then by doing so, and especially if you teach others to do so, you would be on the receiving end of Paul’s wrathful letter to the Galatians – nearly the entire letter! Or Acts 15. Now we follow a new and higher law: Christ and his law of love. That means the necessary old testament bits (e.g. including the ten commandments and such) are not ignored, but we follow them out of a response of love toward Christ who already saved us on other ground (himself), not because the law can save us: it can’t. So any part of that which is an oppression or a stumbling stone that would come between new believers and Christ is now to be considered as rubble to be left behind. Anything oppressive (such as insisting on circumcision) is not to be insisted upon. The early apostles struggled about stuff like this and did not leave it behind easily. But leave it behind, they clearly did in the end!

(RiderOnTheClouds) #26

After much thinking, I’ve finally decided to follow Christ, as someone who can set aside the laws of the Old Testament and bring a new universal morality to mankind. I may need some time before I accept the resurrection, but that doesn’t mean that I cannot see him as a great moral teacher in the gospels. (I’m presently gospel only)

(Mervin Bitikofer) #27

May you (and all of us) continue to grow in Christ!

(George Brooks) #28


Paul’s text is brilliantly rhetorical… but awful theology.

He attempts to argue that there is never a reason to want to emulate, for personal, social or familial reasons some of the Old Testament cultural elements.

Messianic Jews, for example, would be doomed.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #29

Doomed? …Or finally set free? I don’t see Paul telling anyone (even in Galatia!) that “thou shalt not be circumcised!”. What he’s teaching instead (and vehemently so) is that “thou shalt not make circumcision a requirement!” And yes – he may have at some points even said “don’t get circumcised”, but he is saying this to new gentile believers who are feeling the pressure from some Jewish quarters to take on board all their Jewish law. “Don’t let them do that to you!” is what I hear Paul saying. “You don’t need to go there – that isn’t what saves you or makes you belong to Christ.”

This is different than declaring circumcision wrong in and of itself. Paul isn’t calling it wrong. He’s saying that demanding that practice of others is wrong. See the difference?

(George Brooks) #30


I agree that in other parts of the Bible, Paul is against making circumcision a requirement.

But in Galatians? I have to think Paul has become even more extreme in his position:

Gal 5:3-5
"Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.
For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law."

This is not the statement of omnisicience… not the statement by a man who is trying to describe nuances of Jewish practices, and how his words will be interpreted generations into the future.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #31

Yeah – well, how many of us write letters thinking that a couple thousand years from now people will be reading such words as gospel? Not that Paul is writing casually here or doesn’t mean what he says – far from it. He definitely and passionately means what he says. But there is room for hyperbole when authors feel a point needs to be hammered home with a sledge hammer (as Paul apparently felt about the Galatians). It would be wrong to lift that verse of Paul’s out and say (as it might be literally understood --and without allowance for hyperbole) that all those who are circumcised cannot now be reached by Christ. You have to understand this in the context of the rest of Scriptures, and even of what Paul himself writes elsewhere. He isn’t saying “circumcision will prevent you from being saved” (which would be ridiculous – Paul himself was presumably circumcised.) He is saying: “If you think the law is going to save you – you would have to follow all of it – and follow it perfectly.”

Or in other words: “don’t look to the law for salvation. You won’t be making the cut (so to speak :hushed:).”

(George Brooks) #32

I have to disagree that you think Paul was thinking in subtleties by the time he wrote Galatians. The “Circumciser Party” (this could well have been the Sicarii faction of Judaism) had caused him great anxiety, and I believe he felt the best way to protect future congregations from Circumciser death squads was, ironically, not to promote circumcision, but to prohibit it.

The Circumcisers predated on “God-Fearers” aka: non-Jews who attended synagogue, but had not yet become circumcised.

Presumably, by introducing a psychological prohibition, it would be less likely for his pagan flock of Christians to associate with Synagogues, and the attendant risks.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #33

Well … okay. I think this is what I’ve heard rabbinically referred to as “building fences” around points of law. When you err on the side of safety by just saying “don’t even go in that direction at all” because you know of dangers that lie that way. It isn’t that you’re condemning all who may have gone “that way” before, or even still do now – you are just trying to spare people trouble with some practical generalized advice. So I think my point still stands. Yes, I do concede that Paul uses stronger than usual language in Galatians, if that’s what you want to hear. But I don’t think it’s in any significant tension with what we learn from him elsewhere.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #34

I have been having a discussion on the Bible and Western Morality on this Reddit thread:

Some of the discussion concerning Biblical morality worries me, like this:

Well monogamy isn’t. It was literally valued by every other society except the ancient Jews that wrote the Bible - the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans (see Scheidel 2009)! Same thing with women’s rights. Democracy is also not biblical (the earliest clear example of democracy comes from Greece in the 5th century BC). Religious tolerance is not biblical. Animal welfare isn’t biblical. Also the rule of secular law and governance is not biblical. Those are some key values I can think of that are in no way Biblical. There are even more if we focus just on the OT or just on the NT, I would definitely say most core western values are secular in nature.

Women had significantly greater rights in ancient Egyptian and Graeco-Roman culture. In ancient Judaism they were not permitted to get divorces, they could not own property without the consent of their husbands, they were not allowed to testify in court. In Egypt and Graeco-Roman law they could do all of those things. Any way you look at it, women had a significantly lower status prescribed to them compared to comparable ancient cultures.

Also the notion of mankind being in the image of God apparently has it’s origins in Egypt.

(Randy) #35

Good questions! Briefly, doubt it matters as we are all experiencing progressive revelation in terms of moral learning aren’t we? However Roger Scruton points out that the NT prescription to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s was the bedrock of secular separation of church and state. Enns also says that the image of God was a representative of administration in rural areas. Do we not see through a glass darkly? Is not the real point to grow to love God first, our neighbors as ourselves, and sacrifice like Christ did? I am learning. Thanks.

(George Brooks) #36


If you were an angel come visiting a land where they thought diseases were caused by evil spirits… and knew nothing of germ theory … would you shrug your shoulders and not explain hand washing after touching the sick?

Or would you say … “no, they are just not ready for hand-washing”?

(George Brooks) #37


Yes, I see the difference. But I believe Paul goes over the line in his explanations.

You excuse him … and you say he’s just doing it for affect. But I take him at his word.

He is trying to drive a wedge between the toxic elements of messianic Judaism … and his “mystery school” audiences. He has good reasons to do so; but the reasons are psychological and sociological. I don’t think he has good theological reasons to do so. And that is my complaint.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #38

His theological reasons for doing so (trying to prevent the new fledgling Christianity from being reduced to nothing more than “law 2.0” right out of the starting gate) seem like excellent reasons to me! I don’t know why you would want to defend the “law-mongers”. I can’t see any good reason for that.

(George Brooks) #39


I’m not quite sure why you think I’m defending the Law-Mongers. My complaint is that in Galatians, Paul, perhaps in a moment of zealous enthusiasm, over-states the the logic for rejecting circumcision.

But his over-statement is most persuasive! This is why I make a distinction between Paul being brilliant in rhetoric, but not necessarily perfect in theology.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #40

It feels as though my faith is at an edge, not only are the Bible’s values completely contrary to our views, but the OT view on the afterlife is completely contradictory.