Translation Principles

For those of you who are a little more familiar with the terminology of Bible translation, I’m going to start out with this: I’m trying for a formal equivalence, single source, and non-scholarly translation of the Holy Scriptures.

Formal equivalence is probably the hardest part of this to explain to the uninitiated. The two directions in terms of translation style are formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. This has to do with how you translate a given phrase from one language to another. I like to think of this in terms of a scale of one to ten, with the smaller numbers being more dynamic, the bigger numbers more formal equivalence. So if you take the Hebrew sentence, “נֹחַ בֶּן־חֲמֵשׁ מֵאֹות שָׁנָה” a 1 might translate it as “Noah was 500.” A 3 might translate as “Noah was 500 years old.” A 5 might translate as “Noah was five hundred years old.” A 7 would translate it as “Noah was a son five hundred years.” A 9 would translate it as “Noah [was] a son five hundred years.” A 10 would be an interlinear along the lines of “Noah (נֹחַ) [was] a son (בֶּן) five (חֲמֵשׁ) hundred (מֵאֹות) years (שָׁנָה).” Using this scale, I aim to be somewhere in the five or six range.

Single source is a little easier to understand. In every place where I make a translation of God’s Holy and Inspired Word from a source language into English, or an interpretation of any sort, I assume one single source to be correct and preserved in absolute and trust it above all others. However, I do not use a single source to the exclusion of other sources input. I assume one source to be correct, but other versions or translations or interpretations which agree with that source can be used to extract nuance or clarity not found in the original. In Book 18 of City of God, Augustine of Hippo discusses some of these same matters in relation to the Hebrew Scriptures compared to the Septuagint.

In selecting a source, I’m going to start by saying I try to select God’s source. To explain this, I need to start out in a way that, even to those who agree with me in believing there is a supernatural realm, might sound superstitious, but trust me, where I land I’ll be pretty concrete and down to earth.

The Holy Word of God is God’s Own Self. It is immortally immutable. It has no beginning, no end, and no alteration. It forms what we know as reality, although it is more real that anything we can experience with taste, touch, hearing, sight, or smell. This immortally immutable word both formed the world, and entered the world. It entered the world in flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. In parallel to this (because to this word, there is neither before nor after nor during) it entered this world through the tongue and hand and ear and eye and nose of those whom God would call to deliver a message. In special cases, God would enter through his word in a special way, which he would through his purpose preserve in his way through his people. In such a case, each transcriber would, in a sense, be freshly inspired to copy what he had before himself. The result is that there are copies that accurately reflect what God says. The power of each new transcription comes from the immortally immutable Word of God which is God’s Own Self, transferred from the previous copy, and so on. I think for some of it, it might be helpful to read Plato’s Ion. His rings are in one aspect a well description, with the single exception that in the case of a transcription each new transcription holds all the power of the previous.

I must be careful when I say this to say what I mean. I do not exclude the possibility of mistakes. However, I do deny the ability of these mistakes to compound over time. Mistakes will be limited in scope, and in the cases of these inspired copies, they will be of a nature akin to a typo. It is not these copies which I seek to understand and connect with. It is the immortally immutable Word of God which is God’s Own Self I hope to connect to.

Now here is where things start to get tricky, so try to follow me. This theory does not exclude the possibility that a translation might be preferred over the original. In some cases, for example, I might choose a Greek translation of an Old Testament book. If I do choose something odd or obscure, I’ll try to say why.

It does mean that the source I use will have to represent a source which has been available through men of God (as opposed to the craft of men.) The source should also represent, for the most part, what people have understood God to have said. If I have a translation that radically alters some tenant of the Christian faith, I’d be concerned about my own salvation, and check it very carefully before choose to an alternate translation, switch to another version, or some more drastic action.

As to the non-scholarly in my translation principles, I’m a layman. I didn’t go to school for this. I’m doing this for one simple reason: I intend to strengthen my own connection to God through a deeper understanding of his Holy Word. For example, I’m not capitalizing pronouns unless other grammar rules require it. (You may already have noticed this, dear reader.) It has been variously explained to me that the reason people capitalize pronouns in relation to deity is because it is what they used to do for kings and such, or because they wish to emphasize the difference between God and others. In the original text, there is no difference between “he” when referred to God and men, so I will not render it differently. I live in the USA, we don’t have a king, and I use a lowercase “he” in relation to the president, so I guess that means I should use a lowercase for God as well.

I am not trying to say I’m “better” than any other. If anything, I’m trying to inspire others to seek original language studies of the scriptures because I believe pretty much anyone can do it. God is a great guy, and the closer you get to his original words, the better off you’ll be in understanding his purpose for your life, in my opinion.

Where is John in his own prophecy

Have you ever gotten lost in a mall? In many large malls, they have maps with directories indicating all the major stores, and a little sticker or indicator that says, “you are here.” This is there so that you can quickly identify where you are and how to get to the store you’re looking for.

Chapter 10 serves a similar function in the Book of Revelation. In Chapter 10, we see the focus shift from events that are primarily past to John’s perspective to events that are primarily future to John’s perspective. It’s John saying, “I am here!” Which inspires one to ask what event I see in Revelation Chapter 10 itself. Let’s take a closer look. The chapter opens with, “And I saw a mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire:” Does any of that sound familiar? Let’s back up a little. Revelation Chapter 4 opens with “And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne, to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and voices and thunderings: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are seven Spirits of God.” Did you catch the rainbow in both? Did you catch that there are thunderings here? And how about back in Revelation Chapter 1, where John meets Christ: “And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:” Did you notice the countenance (face) like the sun? The angel in Revelation Chapter 10 represents the visions that John saw at the beginning of the prophecy. “And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth,” and so the angel can be on both land and sea, like an island. And John tells us at the beginning, “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.” Wait! Seven churches called to in a loud voice! And the next thing in Chapter 10 is “And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices. And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.” I guess that if the seven thunders had spoken the names of the seven churches, it would have been too obvious. From here, I almost feel like the explanation writes itself. “And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his right hand to heaven, And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer: But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.” Revelation, the book that the angel delivered in Chapter 10, is the last of the Jewish prophets. The mystery is finished. “And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth. And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey. And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.” John here eats the little book, which is, of course, taking God’s inspiration in so that he can write the Book of Revelation. The angel tells us a little more: this prophecy isn’t the end of John’s work for Jesus. After this, there will be more for John to prophecy. In particular, Revelation is very likely the oldest of John’s surviving longer works. John’s Gospel was to come later. The writing of Revelation signals a shift. Jewish prophecy is at an end, Christian preaching is about to take over.

This is adapted from my latest book: The Neo-Preterist Approach to Revelation, available on Amazon at the following address: https://read.amazon.com/kp/embed?asin=B08LCS15S7&preview=newtab&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_PShRFb8HR1GFE

Who is 666?

People have been reading the Book of Revelation since the day John’s messengers delivered it to the first of the seven churches. They have been examining the visions and making connections for almost two thousand years. How is it possible that I’m the first one to have noticed this?

I don’t know if I am the first to notice this. Various commentators have noticed bits and pieces of my interpretation through the centuries. Victorinus of Pettau noticed that the line of emperors matched John’s vision if he presumed John wrote under Domitian. Preterists noticed that John expected a near fulfillment of the prophecy. Futurists noticed that the visions seem very specific contrary to the vague understandings associated with the preterist position. Historicists noticed that the text flows as though it will continually unfold. All of these observations guided my understanding of Revelation. None of them are original to me.

There are a few things that are original to me. The way I combine these data is new to me. I don’t think that anyone else connects the four horsemen directly to the Year of Four Emperors. I don’t know of anyone that connects the vials of plague to Marcus Aurilius. 

And I don’t know anyone who noticed that 1332 is the gematria for Alpha and Omega, that this is twice 666, or that it connects to a name of Christ.

Revelation 13:18 reads, “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.” I’ve heard this compared to a lock that any key will open. The principle used here is called Gematria. Every letter in the Hebrew and Greek alphabets is assigned a number, and then the numbers are added together to give the value of a word or a proper name. However, it turns out that a vast number of names can be pushed into adding to six hundred sixty-six. To complicate this, a lot of people have tried to get even more creative with ways to come to the number six hundred sixty-six or to just take the digits in the Arabic numeral system of 666 to find a way to fit their favorite candidate into the system.

Even in ancient times, when the book was relatively new, people noticed this tendency. Ireneus wrote “the name Evanthas (ΕΥΑΝΘΑΣ) contains the required number, but I make no allegation regarding it. Then also Lateinos (ΛΑΤΕΙΝΟΣ) has the number six hundred and sixty-six; and it is a very probable solution, this being the name of the last kingdom of the four seen by Daniel. For the Latins are they who at present bear rule: I will not, however, make any boast over this coincidence. Teitan too, (ΤΕΙΤΑΝ, the first syllable being written with the two Greek vowels ε and ι, among all the names which are found among us, is rather worthy of credit.” (Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 30, paragraph 3) Since then, studious readers have connected names including Nero, Muhommed, and Hitler. I’m sure that someone who doesn’t like this book will find a way to make my name equal six hundred and sixty-six. (For those that try, it’s Shaun Carson Kennedy, and that’s a U, not a W, in the first name. If you’re going to make me a demonic figure, at least use the right spelling.)

To make Nero’s name work for this purpose, traditional preterists calculate Nero’s name in Hebrew. It works out, but do we have any reason to suspect that the name should be specifically in either Hebrew or Greek or some other language?

I think there might be a clue in the term “Alpha and Omega” used at Revelation 1:8, 21:6, and 22:13. In Greek, it says, “τὸ Ἄλφα καὶ τὸ Ὦ.” Notice that “Alpha” is spelled out, and “Omega” is just the letter standing by itself. I always thought that was strange, so I started running the gematria on this construction to see what would pop out.









It turns out that the gematria for the word Alpha is 532 and for the letter Omega is 800, giving a total of 1332. This is double six hundred and sixty-six. Even though I didn’t notice that right away, when I did it gave me hope that I’m on the right track. I then ran 1332 against various names for Christ, and when I did Jesus Emmanuel (Ἐμμανουήλ Ἰησοῦ) I also got 1332.


















I couldn’t find any other overlaps in either Hebrew or Greek that could fit this quite as well. With that in mind, I think that this lends a tiny bit of hope to the idea of keeping it in Greek.

For my purposes, obviously, Nero is too early and Muhommed and Hitler are both too late. In fact, I’m able to work backward to figure out who John is talking about. The emperor discussed in this section is Antoninus Pius, and the name he is honoring is Hadrian. If we consider the version of Hadrian’s name “Ποπ Αδριανος” adds up to six hundred and sixty and six, being short for Publius (Ποπ, short for Ποπλιος) Hadrian (Αδριανος) then this works.













This makes Hadrian the beast. I’m also fascinated by Irenaeus’s observation that “Latin” (ΛΑΤΕΙΝΟΣ) also adds up to the correct number in Greek. However, my overall feeling is that John gives us the number for a reason. There has to be something we’re supposed to see. I think my study has given good reason to look primarily for a Greek name to match.

This is adapted from my latest book: The Neo-Preterist Approach to Revelation, available on Amazon at the following address: https://read.amazon.com/kp/embed?asin=B08LCS15S7&preview=newtab&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_PShRFb8HR1GFE

How does Neo-Preterism correspond to history?

Extracted from:

The Neo-Preterist Approach to Revelation

Reading the Book of Revelation

as Second Century Roman History

Written Before the Fact

At one time, I thought about going through the text of the Book of Revelation in order, starting with Revelation 1:1 and ending with Revelation 22:21. I quickly realized that there was a problem with that sequence, though. While the Book of Revelation is mostly chronological in its prophecy, sometimes a chronological approach isn’t the best way to understand the text or history.

One problem is that some things in the text are very clear to me, and some things are very much less clear to me. So I’ll start the full explanation with the clearest, easiest to identify texts, and then move on to things that are less clear and harder to identify. To give the reader a quick, chronological overview of the prophecies, I’m including a timeline here so that those who are interested can get a quick overview of the way the text corresponds to history.

Chapter 5

Death of Nero – 68 A. D.


Galba’s reign – June 68 A. D. to January 69 A. D.


Otho’s reign – January 69 A. D. to April 69 A. D.


Vitellius reign – April 69 A. D. to December 69 A. D.


Coronation of Vespasian – December 69 A. D.


The peace in Jerusalem as Vespasian was coronated in Rome – 69 A. D.


Titus, Vespasian’s son, destroys Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple – 70 A. D.


Titus comes to power – 79 A. D.


Mount Vesuvius Erupted – 79 A. D.


Fires in Rome – 80 A. D.


A plague infects Rome – 81 A. D.


The Death of Emperor Titus – 81 A. D.


The Rise of Emperor Domitian – 81 A. D.


Dacians invade Northern Rome – 85 A. D.


Rome invades Dacia – 88 A. D.

Chapter 10

Writing of the Book of Revelation – 90 A. D.

Chapter 12

Trajan’s wars with the Dacians 101-106 A. D.


The reign of Hadrian 117-138 A. D.


The reign of Antoninus 138-161 A. D.


The reign of Marcus Aurilius 161-180 A. D.


The reign of Commodus 180-192 A. D. 

This is extracted from my new book The Neo-Preterist Approach to Revelation.


Neo-Preterism: What’s the big takeaway?

Extracted from:

The Neo-Preterist Approach to Revelation

Reading the Book of Revelation

as Second Century Roman History

Written Before the Fact

This interpretation of Revelation does something that no other interpretation I’ve encountered does: it makes the New Testament testable, and then verifies the New Testament through that test. One of the best ways to know if someone understands something is by their ability to make predictions. Matthew, Mark, and Luke record Christ’s prediction that the Jerusalem Temple would fall before the end of the generation that heard him. This prediction came true. But the details of New Testament authorship are vague enough that we have only our faith that these accounts were written before the events they describe.

Things are different with Revelation. I’ve shown how Revelation predicts that there will be a plague under Marcus Aurilius. No one thinks that John wrote Revelation under or after Marcus. Revelation is quoted by Irenaeus just as Marcus was coming to power, and mentioned by Justin Martyr who died before Marcus came to power. There’s not much room to doubt that John wrote Revelation before some of the events it describes. Since I can say confidently that this prophecy is true and accurately fulfilled, it removes the only reason to doubt that John wrote it at the time that fits with the prophecy and when history says John wrote it. If John can accurately predict a plague eighty years in advance, then it’s not a surprise that he can predict the rest. If he can predict the plague, then he made an accurate prophecy and is, therefore, a true prophet of The Most High God.

John Bury once wrote, “I may remind you that history is not a branch of literature. The facts of history, like the facts of geology or astronomy, can supply material for literary art; for manifest reasons they lend themselves to artistic representation far more readily than those of the natural sciences; but to clothe the story of human society in a literary dress is no more the part of a historian as a historian, than it is the part of an astronomer as an astronomer to present in an artistic shape the story of the stars.” This was in response to generations of historians that used historical documents to construct narratives that supported their political and ideological agendas. I think it’s time for us to make a similar statement about theology. It’s possible to have opinions about theology, but “I have an opinion about God” needs to be tested with the same varsity as “I have an opinion about The Second World War” or “I have an opinion about George Washington” or “I have an opinion about dinosaurs.” Simply having an opinion based on emotion is not valid theology any more than an emotional claim that George Washington was an excellent man and, therefore, could not have owned slaves. Seeing that God’s prophecy came to pass in actual, fact-based history tells us that when we speak about God, we should base our opinion on fact and history.

This is an extract from my newest book, The Neo-Preterist Approach to Revelation.


I’m giving away 20 free copies of this book, two every week from Halloween to New Years. You can enter yourself and a friend to win. The rules are on my Facebook page.

A quick overview of how I see Daniel

Extracted from:

The Neo-Preterist Approach to Revelation

Reading the Book of Revelation

as Second Century Roman History

Written Before the Fact

The Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation have a very similar feel to them. Both of them have fantastic visions of strange beasts. This has led some commenters to suspect there are parallels between these two books which will serve as a key for the Book of Revelation.

This hasn’t been my experience. I started open to that thought, but it didn’t turn out to be the case. For one thing, there are several visions in the Book of Daniel that are disconnected. There is only one vision in the Book of Revelation, and one of the things that futurists get right is that it reads like a continuous narrative. Not every interpreter has come to the conclusion that the Book of Revelation is a continuous narrative, but those which don’t all have to deal with the fact that it reads that way early in their interpretation.

In stark contrast, the Book of Daniel has a vision in Chapter 7, another in Chapter 8, another in Chapter 9, another in Chapter 10, then a final vision in Chapters 11 and 12. Besides this, there are visions included in the stories of the first six chapters.

Giving a complete overview of how I see each of Daniel’s visions is beyond the scope of a book about the Book of Revelation. A quick look at some of the clearer visions will help the curious reader understand how I see the visions of Daniel unfolding in history.

In Daniel Chapter 7, four beats come from the waters in succession. These beasts are four empires, which come in succession. I will focus on the fourth best and his tenth horn. This horn will be the tenth, and he will be a king that will subdue three other kings. The fourth best is the Roman Empire, which followed the Greek Empire, which followed the Persian Empire, which followed the Babylonian Empire. The tenth emperor of Rome (if we count Julius Caesar as an emperor) was Vespasian. Vespasian was the fourth emperor in the Year of Four Emperors. That’s what it means that he subdued three other kings. Vespasian then destroyed Jerusalem. This took three and a half years, which is what verse 25 calls “a time and times and the dividing of time.”

With this as a guide, and Google as your ship, the curious reader could navigate the sea of historical and preterist interpretations of the Book of Daniel and find satisfying answers to all of Daniel’s visions. For some people, these answers are too satisfying. The Book of Daniel is an ancient tomb, and it reads as though it were originally several independent sources stitched together independently. There’s no way to know for certain that all of these assembled texts originate at the same point. If this vision is that accurate, two possibilities present themselves: either it was divinely inspired, or it was composed or edited after the events it predicts.

I don’t believe that as forger composed Chapter 7 of the Book of Daniel in the first Century A. D. Josephus seems to have believed it was ancient when Vespasian invaded. Be that as it may, I can’t give an argument that’s compelling that the Book of Daniel was ancient when Vespasian marched on Jerusalem.

I can give very compelling reasons to believe that the Book of Revelation was old when Emperor Marcus came to power and when a plague ravished his empire. Yet the Book of Revelation predicts this every bit as clearly, according to my interpretation. Every component of how I interpret the Book of Daniel can be found elsewhere. If I felt I could definitively prove the date of composition for Daniel, this would be a book of double interpretation with footnotes directing the reader to interpretations of the Book of Daniel.

Instead, I’ve taken those same methods which produced a predictive matrix for the Book of Daniel which requires some skeptics to presume parts of it were forged in the first century and applied them to the Book of Revelation to demonstrate that predictive prophecy is, in fact, a reality.

This is an extract from my newest book, The Neo-Preterist Approach to Revelation. I’m giving away 20 free copies of this book, two every week from Halloween to New Years. You can enter yourself and a friend to win by doing the following:

1. Create a PUBLIC Facebook post that links to the Amazon page for my book, (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08LCS15S7/) tags my Facebook author page, (@ShaunCKennedyAuthor) and tag the friend that you think might be interested in winning this book with you. (Sharing this post publicly will accomplish two of these parameters, but it’s not the only way to do it.)

2. In the Facebook post, ask your friend if they would like to win this with you.

3. Your friend has to reply with a clearly affirmative response. (Yes, Yup, Sure, Why not, Let’s do it, etc.)

4. At the end of the week, I will go through the list of people that Facebook has notified me have tagged me. (That’s why it needs to be public. Facebook won’t notify me if it’s not public.) If I can verify the link and the response, I’ll add the first the name to the list I’m selecting from. I’ll select one person at random, and then I will comment on your message that you have won. From there, you will need to private message me with the address or addresses to send the books to. (Postal address for physical copies of the book, email addresses for eBooks.) Winners will have one week to reply. If there is no response after a week, a new set of winners will be selected.

Each person can only win once and will only be entered once per week for each friend you tag and get a reply from, limited to one friend per post. You can improve your chances by creating multiple posts, each that tag a different friend, or by having your friends create a reciprocal post that tags you.

The Placebo

The doctor came in. He looked very grave, flipping through his papers as he sat down. Pete waited a moment, then cleared his throat. The doctor continued to ignore him. Finally, Pete asked, “So what’s the diagnosis, Doctor?”

The doctor took a breath. “You’ve tested positive for a virus, but I’m not sure how I feel about the cure.”

“There’s a cure?” Pete asked. Months of suffering and slowly degenerating meant all he could hear was, “there’s a cure.”

The doctor shuffled uncomfortably. “No, not really.”

Pete’s heart fell a little. “But you just said you weren’t sure about giving me the cure. That means there’s a cure, you’re just not going to give it to me.”

The doctor took out a small pill. “Oh, no, I brought it with me. I’m just not sure you want to know what’s in it. And I’m giving you this pill even if I have to hold you down to do it. I’m just not sure what to tell you about it. I mean, I could absolutely cure you, without a doubt. But the way to absolutely do that breaks my personal ethical code of transparency. So I have to decide what I’m going to tell you.”

Pete was more confused than ever, but his curiosity got the better of him. “What’s in the pill, then?”

The doctor shrugged. “Let’s do this, then. It’s an M&M with the M rubbed off.”

Pete laughed. “Doctor, I’ve had a lot of M&M’s these last six months. If an M&M could cure me, I wouldn’t be here.”

“You’re right, it can’t. That is, unless you believe it can.”

Pete didn’t try to hide his confusion. The doctor set the “pill” in a cup. “Okay, here’s the story. You’re infected with a virus that is causing an immune response that will ultimately kill you. The virus has embedded itself into a particular nerve cluster in your brain. A particular electrical pulse delivered to that nerve cluster will kill the virus instantly. It will take a day or two for your immune system to get the message, but just by activating a very particular thought we can cause that nerve cluster to fire and the result will be a cure.”

Pete looked down at the medicine. “So all I have to do is think I’m cured and then I’m cured?”

The doctor shook his head. “No, in randomized trials, that only worked five percent of the time. Also, blue candies were the most effective at ninety five percent, with green lagging slightly behind at ninety percent. For some reason, yellow candies were only effective one percent of the time, so you’re better off in meditation than trying yellow candy. So there’s something in the candy that makes a difference. But the biggest difference was the belief of the one taking it. If you don’t believe it, it has a zero percent effective rate.”

Pete was back to confused. “So I have to eat it and believe that it’s fixing me, but if I just believe that I’m going to get better that’s not good enough.”

The doctor nodded. “That’s it.”

Pete held the cup with the candy in it, looking down at the candy. “I wish you hadn’t told me that. I wish you had just lied to me and told me it was a cure.”

The doctor shrugged. “Do you really want your doctor lying to you? I don’t want to be a liar. But now that you know, can you believe that it will cure you?”

Could you?

Would you tell the doctor to lie to the next patient?

What good is imagination?

I’m not sure if you’ve ever taken an algebra class and learned about imaginary and complex numbers, but I’m pretty sure if you’re reading this, you could have. There’s a reason they’re called “complex numbers,” so don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying it’s easy. But we’re humans. We do hard things. It’s kind of our thing.

Have you ever thought about how weird that is, though? I mean, if we take evolution at face value, even the ability to count to twenty is overkill for survival. Not only can our closest evolutionary cousins not do that, not only is there no evidence that the wales or corvids can do that, and not only do most animals survive just fine without even the slightest hint of this ability, but there are even tribes of humans that have not developed words for numbers beyond that because they never use them. There’s actually a reason to believe that the Latin words for “three” and “many” share a common root because an earlier version of the language didn’t distinguish numbers beyond two.

But if you took three children under three, from one of the existing tribes that do not learn numbers, mixed them into a classroom with seventeen other kids from random places around the world, and let me be in charge of their education, support, and nutrition, I guarantee that by the time they were fourteen years old at least eighteen of the kids would not only be able to count arbitrarily high, but they would also understand abstract concepts in mathematics such as i and the square root of two and be able to use them to solve real-world problems. Even though you can never count to either of these numbers, we’re humans and we can learn what these things really mean.

The question is, “Why?” In our modern world, these advanced mathematics have put people on the moon and govern our smartphones, but six thousand years ago that didn’t mean much. In fact, six thousand years ago, i hadn’t even been discovered by mathematicians yet. We built cities and harvested crops without it. How did growing the ability to imagine numbers we can’t even count to help us survive when we separated from the chimpanzees?

One thing that they say can drive evolution to radical extremes is sexual selection. This may be why giraffes have such long necks: the females prefer taller males for no other reason than that’s what they prefer. It’s why the peacock tail is so flamboyant: peahens prefer the biggest tail, so that just kept getting bigger. But think about the humans you’ve met for a minute. I think it’s a resounding minority of men or women who decide to procreate with another based to any detectable level on their intelligence. In fact, it often goes the other way, preferring a partner that is not substantially more intelligent than yourself.

So what drives it, then? Who was that first person (from whom we must all be descended) that could have learned and applied complex numbers in mathematics? We don’t know. We know that unrelated people in Africa, Europe, North America, and Oceania all have this ability. So this person must have lived before all these groups split apart from each other. What did we use this fantastic imagination for? Basically, nothing. Wolves and lions coordinate their hunts without this ability. Weaver birds learn to build huts without this ability. Even the predecessor to Latin couldn’t count past three. So for at least tens of thousands of years, we theoretically could do complex math and didn’t use that ability at all.

I think that there’s something inside us that causes us to connect with truth. I think that an analogy is helpful. I think that a small piece of the truth rattles around in our head, and it’s drawn ever so slightly to the larger truth as a magnet is drawn to another magnet. Of course, there’s more than truth within is. There’s hunger and comfort and fear and pride and all of these things are also drawn to their external counterparts. I think that the deepest Truth, the Great Love, is personal and decided to implant itself within our race, and that this is what it means to be made in the image of God. An important part of this truth is the power to imagine great things. As I’ve said many times, the greatest truths are often found in fiction.

So let’s do that. Let’s go deep and let’s find the greatest truths. As we dig deeper into these truths, let’s get closer to the God who is Truth, Justice, and Love.

On Swearing: a meditation

Friend: “I can never tell when you’re joking.”

Me: “Okay.”

Friend: “Could you just tell me when you’re joking?”

Me: “How would that help?”

Friend: “Then I’d know when you were joking.”

Me: “But what if I was joking when I said, ‘Just joking?'”

Friend: “I never thought of that.”

Me: “I mean, I could be joking with you right now, and you’d never know.”

Friend: “I… that’s… yeah…”

Me: “Dude, relax. I’m just joking.”

Who uses the word “oath” these days? No one I know. Except when discussing something from history or the Bible, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a person use the word “oath” in my lifetime. I would bet dollars to doughnuts that when you find a reference to an oath on a current blog, they’ll either be referencing something from the nineteenth century or earlier or they’ll be doing Bible study. (For example, this one.) Or there’s the third option that they’ll have read this blog post or something similar and write it simply to win that wager.

For that reason, before I can even begin to discuss the allowing or prohibiting of an oath, it’s worth investigating what exactly the word is referring to. And for that investigation, one really good place to start is Luke 1:73. There we learn that God made an oath to Abraham. Luke expands on this a little through the character of Stephen in Acts 2:30. There we learn that an oath is the noun object of the verb “swear.” God swore an oath to Abraham.

But wait, don’t both Jesus and James tell us not to swear? Matthew 5:34&37 “But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne… But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” James 5:12 “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.” These two passages parallel each other very well. We can see that James learned a lot from his brother. But how can Christ forbid the very thing that God does?

Maybe a deeper look is needed. Certainly one good place to look is Hebrews 6:16 “For men swear by one greater than themselves: and in every controversy that occurs among them, the sure termination of it is by an oath.” This tells us something about swearing oaths. Oaths, at least in principle, are intended to be upheld from outside. You swear by someone or something that will hold your feet to the fire if you don’t do what you swear to do. That gives us a principle, but is it what actually happens?

In Matthew, the Hebrew word for “swear” is נִשְׁבַע. The Greek word that James uses is ὀμνύετε. In Hebrews, the Syriac word is ܝܳܡܶܐ. As best as I’ve been able to figure, these words are used almost completely interchangeably. The same goes for the words for “oath” in the same passages: נֶדֶר, ὅρκον, and ܒ݁ܡܰܘܡܳܬ݂ܳܐ. How do we see these words play out in scripture? One thing to get to right away is that נֶדֶר usually gets translated as “a vow” in the King James Old Testament, but Numbers 30:2 makes it clear that it’s pretty much the same thing as שְׁבוּעָה, which is the noun form of נִשְׁבַע. We can also see that נָדַר, the verb form of נֶדֶר, is likewise a synonym with נִשְׁבַע. Pulling up the LXX we see similar things going on in Greek, and the noun and verb forms of these roots are obviously synonyms. So I can look into all these words for insight. It’s obvious that they are just nouns and verbs of a central idea: making a promise and claiming someone else will hold you to account of you fail to keep your promise.

In the Old Testament, we see God honoring many vows or oaths or whatever you want to call them. It’s a vow that gives us the Prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 1:11. An oath binds the spies to Rahab in Joshua 2. God himself makes an oath to Abraham, then later to Isaac.

But 1 Samuel 14 tells of a time when King Saul bound his army in an oath and it worked against him. His own son was unaware of it and broke it in his ignorance. I think Saul’s error actually gives us insight into what Christ intends us to understand. After all, both Jesus and James go on after their prohibition against swearing to say “let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay,” or words to that effect. You see, King Saul was trying to use his oath as a sort of magical spell. He was trying to force God’s hand by making a deal and assuming that God was somehow bound by the deal.

This also explains how Jesus can seem to contradict himself, saying in Matthew 23:21-22 “And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.” It explains how an angel in service of God can swear by God in Revelation 10:6. This explains how Paul can be under a vow to Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18:18. Understanding Jesus’s and James’s words as absolute prohibitions against any kind of oath or vow or promise is reading way too much into the text. It’s reading the text of the Bible as though it’s a magic spell book. It’s the kind of thinking that Saul engaged in. It’s thinking that by simply avoiding the words “I swear,” then you’ve outsmarted God and now God somehow owes you. You haven’t outsmarted God. God still doesn’t owe you anything. This is the same thinking that has some people calling their earthly father by his first name, since Jesus says in Matthew 23:9 “Call no man your father upon the earth.” And yet, how can you honor your earthly father (as commanded in Exodus 20:12 and Matthew 19:19) if you won’t even call him your father? Even further, doesn’t Paul call Abraham our father in Romans 4:16? Doesn’t Paul call himself the father of the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 4:15? I think it’s clear that the prohibition against calling people “father” is hyperbolic, which means that Christ sometimes speaks to us in hyperbole, which in turn means that we can’t just say, “Christ prohibits swearing, so be careful not to use the words, ‘I swear.'”

What does an oath do in a practical sense? This is where we come back to Hebrews. In its most basic form, an oath or a vow is a way of building in collateral when you make a promise. This can take a lot of very practical forms. When you leave your keys with the parking attendant at a parking garage, it’s a way of saying, “I swear I’ll pay for my time here, and if I don’t then you can keep my keys and my car until I do.” The same goes for a title-based loan. The mechanism gets expanded by analogy. We pinky swear so that if the other person doesn’t hold their promise we can remind them of the moment. We write contracts that detail everyone’s responsibilities. We all agree to play Monopoly by rules not printed on the official rules card.

The problem comes when we try to find ways around our promises. This is why the Torah has so much to say on oaths and vows. The majority of Numbers chapter 30 is devoted to saying which vows have to be kept and which ones need to be taken with a grain of salt. It kind of makes sense that, at least in a highly patriarchal society, a daughter is going to occasionally make a promise without knowing the details of family plans, so in that context it makes sense for a father to be able to say, “Wait! She didn’t mean that promise. She honestly thought she did, but she didn’t.” This can be abused, though. So often we are trying to find or create these loopholes just in case we ourselves can’t keep a promise, no matter how pure our original intention. For example, we leave our spare key with the parking attendant, not our real key, so he can’t stop us from leaving if we overspend and can’t pay him. We sell the car we have the title loan against, hoping to make the money back to repay the loan. We feign forgetfulness of our pinky swear when the promise becomes inconvenient. We carefully construct our contracts with loopholes that ensure we can’t actually be held accountable to our promise. We take the money when we land on Free Parking, then pull out the rules to show that’s wrong when our opponent lands there. Just because you successfully avoided the words “I swear” doesn’t let you off the hook. It’s not the words that make you innocent or guilty, it’s your integrity.

Sometimes we even need the words “I swear.” Sometimes we tell jokes, and it isn’t always clear where the joke ends and a promise begins. Taking a moment to say, “No, this is not a part of the joke, this is serious,” is important and can be summarized in just two words: “I swear.”

Jesus isn’t looking for you to follow a magic formula. He’s looking for honesty and integrity. The foundation of every commandment is Love. Your goal is to show love, regardless of if that means not making the promise you can’t keep, keeping the promise you’ve made, or forgiving the one who has obviously overextended themselves in a foolish promise.

Some people get very skeptical when you refuse to say, “I swear.” They’ve experienced people who try to hide behind Jesus’s words and say, “Since I never swear, I can’t be held accountable for anything I say.” Don’t be shady. Hold yourself to your word. If you say you’ll do it, do it. Don’t make elaborate excuses. And whatever you do, don’t think you’ve outsmarted God by using the right set of words.

On Experts of Evolution

Yesterday was my oldest son’s fifteenth birthday. These last fifteen years have been a wild ride. He was born at four pounds and nine ounces. He struggled to eat. He struggled to sit up. He struggled to talk. He struggled to walk. He struggled to learn. It wasn’t until he was five years old that we learned that he has a rare genetic condition: Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome.

Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome occurs when there is a break on the short arm of the fourth chromosome. It affects his growth, development, muscular strength, digestion, brain, heart, eyes, and skeletal features. My son is a particularly mild case. He’s walking and talking and throwing parties at fifteen. Along the way we’ve had a lot of doctor visits. Carson contracted RSV and Influenza at the same time when he was only a year old and had to be hospitalized. He started having seizures when he was four which led to more hospitalizations before finding a medication that helped control them.

Medical research is driven primarily by doctors who accept the Darwinian theory of evolution. They use the ideas underlying evolution to direct their research. The results of this exploration have led us from a world where someone like my son would be very unlikely to see his fifth birthday to one where we are happy to have celebrated his fifteenth.

However, all things in their proper place and proper time. If I’m asking a medical or biological researcher about how lifeforms on Earth came to exhibit their current forms, I’m not going to argue with their answers. How could I? I’ve taken a few college classes on biology, but that’s the extent of my knowledge on the subject. However, when I had a doctor tell me that he thought the Council of Nicea had decided which books go in the Bible, I knew that he didn’t know very much about the Bible. If you doubt that, you can read the entire list of decrees of the Council of Nicea for yourself in about twenty minutes. You’ll notice very quickly that the canon isn’t mentioned.

When evaluating something you’re told, it’s always best to try to have a sufficient understanding of the subject to intelligently accept or realest the statement on your own. However, it isn’t always prudent to develop the knowledge and experience to explain this. I encountered this when studying statistics. Statisticians have found that in order to account for the difference between variance in a sample and a population, the population statistic will be calculated with the size of the population, whereas a sample will calculate with the size of the sample minus one. When I learned that, it confused me, so I looked up the reasons. I still can’t explain them, and simply reading the explanations didn’t convince me. It feels counterintuitive to me. Seems to me that a population and a sample should use the same equation to calculate the same thing. However, I ran statistical experiments as a part of my statistics class, and if I used the wrong statistical equation at the wrong place, I got the wrong answer more often. I still don’t understand the mathematical proofs that explain why this is the way of things, but I’ve seen it in action. Obviously the experts know what they’re doing.

As someone who has studied the Bible extensively, I don’t appreciate it when people try to import modern taxonomy into biblical studies. In my opinion, this is especially problematic when it comes to understanding the dietary laws. I think that the phrase translated “chews the cud” is an expression to describe obligate herbivores. Similarly, I think the expression “crawling on all fours” does not indicate that ancient Israelites didn’t know that insects have six legs. It’s an expression. Bats are included among birds by the Israelites because the word for “bird” in Hebrew is derived from the verb for “flight.” They’re interested in animals whose forelimbs have become limbs. When people being these “defeaters” up to try to “disprove” the Bible, it’s obvious that they have not thought deeply about how to interpret the Bible.

However, I find myself wondering how many of those who have degrees in biblical studies or theology make equally silly mistakes when talking about evolution. I lack the skills and experience to say for myself, but I know from my side how silly those who are experts in those fields sound when they comment on fields I’m familiar with. It is part of the Wisdom of Socrates to recognize when you’re talking about something you have to experience with. For me, one of those subjects is evolution, so I’ll trust the experts when it comes to that.

What’s your opinion on God?

You don’t have an opinion about the existence of God. You may think God exists. You may think God doesn’t exist. Regardless, that isn’t an opinion. You’re either right or you are wrong.

It’s okay if you didn’t realize that before. The Pew Research Center surveyed Americans in 2018, and it turns out that only a little more than a third of all Americans are able to identify fact and opinion statements correctly.

Facts are those statements which are objective. Opinions are those statements which are subjective. Another way to say this is facts remain the same regardless of how you feel about it; opinions change based on your feelings.

Perhaps a practical example will be helpful for some people. Let’s talk about an apple. There’s an apple on my desk. It doesn’t matter if you feel like there’s no apple on my desk, it’s still there. If you feel that there’s no apple on my desk, you’re wrong. Now with that said, from where you are, there may be or there may not be a kiwi on my desk as well. Now, you have a feeling about that kiwi. You feel that it’s there or you feel that it’s not. (Or you don’t, some people have practiced suppressing that feeling. If you’ve practiced suppressing that feeling or otherwise don’t have that feeling, allow yourself to guess. Guessing puts you in the place of having that feeling for the purposes of this demonstration. The case where you honestly don’t have a feeling on the subject is outside the scope of this conversation.)

Your feeling may be strong. Your feeling may be slight. Regardless, you are either correct, or you are incorrect. The existence of the kiwi on my desk is not dependent on your feeling. If I gave you more information, such as there’s a fruit salad on my desk, this might strengthen your feeling or weaken your feeling. This will depend in part on how fruit salads you’ve had in the past were prepared. If every fruit salad you’ve had has had kiwis in it, then you are likely to feel more strongly that there’s at least one kiwi on my desk. If every fruit salad you’ve had has been prepared without kiwis, you’re likely to use that as an indication that I was expecting you to extrapolate that there’s no kiwi. Regardless, the actual existence or nonexistence of that kiwi has not changed.

So now I’ve exposed you to two facts: there’s an apple on my desk, and there’s a kiwi on my desk. The truth of these statements does not depend on how you feel about it. The existence is something that the object — the apple — has independent of how the subject — you — interacts with it. That’s why it’s called “objective.”

The apple on my desk is a Fuji. The reason it’s a Fuji is because I like the taste of Fuji apples. There’s an objective, factual statement there: the chemical interactions between my tongue and the juice in this apple will cause a sequence of events which will result in the release of dopamine within my brain and cause me to be happier. These are facts. It is also a fact that some other people’s tongues will interact differently with the juice in this apple and result in them being less happy. So when I am the subject, it is possible to assign this apple the quality of “tasty.” “Tasty” isn’t inherent to the apple. It has to do with how the object — the apple — interacts and affects the subject — me. That’s why it’s called “subjective.”

God’s existence, like all existence, is objective. Just like you might be wrong about the kiwi on my desk, you may be wrong about the existence of God. Just like the kiwi, the reason you are wrong may be that you have the wrong idea in your head about what I mean by “kiwi.” (After all, are kiwis fruit or birds?) It might be because you’ve wrongly interpreted the data you’ve been given. Regardless, if you’re wrong about the existence of something, that’s your deficiency, not a deficiency in the thing you doubt.

I don’t believe bigfoot is real. I’m not going into all my reasons for doubting the existence of bigfoot. It’s enough for this example to say I doubt it very much. If bigfoot is found, then I’m wrong. The deficiency is in me, not bigfoot. Bigfoot exists or doesn’t, regardless of how I feel about it.

Similarly for the chupacabra. The chupacabra either exists or doesn’t exist, regardless of how I feel about it. However, I identify two completely separate chupacabras. The idea of the chupacabra began in southwestern American folklore. Then, ranchers in the southwest started seeing animals that they identified with the folklore based on appearance and behavior. Then bodies of these animals were found. These bodies were all identified as canids. (Dogs, foxes, or coyotes.) They had mange or some other condition that caused them to lose their hair. Words have the meaning we give them, so when those farmers pointed at an objective object and said, “That’s a chupacabra,” there’s a certain sense in which they define chupacabra at that moment. So there are now two separate items identified as chupacabra: one is any canid that has a condition causing it to lose its hair and avoid normal social interactions that would normally be characteristic of canids. The other is a beast of folklore that might be informally defined as the canid version of a vampire. The first is real and we have bodies to prove it. The second is far more likely not to be real. The not-real object is defined by features that are rare in nature, such as sustaining itself almost entirely on the blood of other animals but not the flesh of those animals. ‘Rare’ doesn’t mean ‘never,’ so it’s still possible. If these other kinds of chupacabra exist, they are distinct from the mange infested canids that we are currently aware of. If they exist, their existence isn’t based on my belief of them.

We start to venture into a very murky area, though. One quality of the legendary chupacabra is that it has three toes on each foot. Another is that it has a forked tongue. (According to some versions of the legend.) If we find a canid with a version of mange that causes it to survive on blood without flesh and to fork its tongue, but the number of toes remains unchanged, have we discovered the legendary chupacabra or not? How close is close enough? We even run into this definition problem with God: not everyone defines the word “god” in the same way.

How close is close enough is a matter of opinion. It changes based on who you are. When they discovered that some mange infected canids became antisocial and aggressive and looked scaly from a distance, that was close enough for some. Not for others. It may be objectively true that there are no species of animals that meet all the conflicting legends of the chupacabra. Still, it is also objectively true that some diseased forms of known species exhibited enough distinct features to warrant a unique, colloquial designation and matched enough perceptible qualities with the legend for the name to stick.

So what if we discovered that some gorillas had escaped a zoo in the early twentieth century and were breeding and hiding in the western United States? Would that be close enough for bigfoot? Is the rhinoceros close enough to be a unicorn? Were the Kraken sightings of giant squid or sightings of wales or both or simply the product of overactive imaginations? We may never know for sure, but that doesn’t make those opinions. They are facts, they are just facts we may never know the truth value for.

So when someone says that it’s just your opinion against theirs whether God exists, they’re wrong. You don’t have an opinion about God’s existence. If you feel one way or the other on the subject, you are either right or you are wrong.