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.


A Mediation: Should the Pulpit Be Used For Topics of the Day?

Economics must be fascinating to study. Like pure mathematics, theories about economics are often completed in a thought experiment rather than the physical world. Like health sciences, how your society applies their collected theories really matters to all the people in that society. Among the many channels I follow on my YouTube and podcast subscriptions, two are economists by trade. You could easily contrast this against the dozens that I follow that are theology based.

So when people ask my opinion about the deep things of economics, I am not able to speak with nearly the level of intelligence, precision, or depth as I do in theological matters.

This doesn’t mean I’m unwilling to give an opinion on economics. I’m a big fan of moderately progressive economic ideals, and a few very progressive economic ideals. There are also some very conservative concepts that I think it’s important not to lose track of. In any case, when I’m talking to someone who has a better background and understanding in economics than I do, I’m more apt to ask questions than start spouting what I know on that subject. Sometimes I’ve been surprised to discover that the questions I thought would be hard were in fact very easily handled.

I’ve sat through a few sermons based around economic ideals. Often from pastors who have spheres of knowledge much more in tune with my own than with Milton Friedman or Julian Simon. There are many pastors and theologians who are very slow to speak on economics, but it only makes the voices of those who do speak on the subject seem that much louder to those who are more apt to follow theology than economics or politics. (In the same way that so many biologists being slow to speak about religion makes Richard Dawkins seem so loud among circles that are apt to follow biology lecturers.) Some pastors even go so far as to give their preferred economic system God’s stamp of approval, citing this or that verse.

People tend to think that we live in a time that is uniquely charged politically. I read too much history to actually believe that, but we do certainly live in a unique time politically. (Which can be said for almost every time, politically.) In this age of MeToo and TimesUp, border wall talks, and unemployment extensions, there are pastors who feel the need to speak into that din. Some have a legitimate opinion on the subject, and others just hope that by speaking to the issue of the day they will be heard. Some are trying to bring the Gospel to the movement, and others are trying to bring the movement to the Gospel. People are complex, and there are many who won’t fall into any of the positions I’ve given.

For my part, there are things I like about these movements, and there are things I find troubling. I’m a big fan of any movement which seeks to make it easier for those who have been wronged to seek justice. In that, these movements have a lot to offer. They do seem to be fighting a lot of straw-men, though, and I find this troubling. I was once listening to two friends debate the issue of how best to deal with alleged consent violations. After twenty minutes they pointed out my silence and asked my opinion. I said, “I think the problem is that we have too few cases being investigated, not too many.” This was the last that either one of them would discuss the issue with me. The one advocating for stronger consent enforcement wanted fewer cases to be investigated because they wanted more claims simply believed without investigation. The one who was convinced that consent enforcement was out of hand wanted fewer cases investigated because they believed that investigation could rarely lead to anything productive. I wanted every claim truly investigated, and dealt with according to the evidence. In all my waiting and watching, I still have not seen either side of any product of these debates say, “What I want is for everyone to be treated fairly. I want justice for everyone.” For my part, what I want is for everyone to be treated fairly. I want justice for everyone. If you’ve been attacked, I want justice for you. If you’ve been wrongly accused, I want justice for you.

Should a pastor with a strong position on one side or the other of the subject preach on it from the pulpit? This is a more difficult question. On the one hand, Paul would be all things to all people. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) He would know nothing except Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:2) And yet, when Jerusalem faced famine, Paul was quick to preach to the needs. (2 Corinthians 8) Jesus didn’t shy away from discussing divorce and taxes. (Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 22:15-22) James’s opinions on the rich are not hidden. (James 5:1-6)

So should a pastor use the pulpit speak to political issues of the day? In today’s world, some of this is governed by the tax-exempt status that many churches are keen to keep. Not paying taxes is a great help to many churches’ ministry efforts, letting them do greater work in the name of Christ. For many churches, keeping out of the political issues is a way to make sure they keep on the right side of the 501(c) tax line. I really don’t judge those who make this judgment on this term. Money is a power in this world, and if the good you do with the money you save is more important than the issue you would address, than I’m a believer that actions are more powerful than words. (Says the blogger in his blog while he’s blogging.)

But should the pulpit be used to voice a strong opinion on the issues of the day? What we say matters, and how we say it is important. Sometimes, saying nothing is just as strong a statement as saying something. This is especially true when a position is taken to say nothing on some issues, and then speak up when another issue is brought up. A pastor who said nothing when Eric Garner died in the street because it was an issue of the day, and then preached extensively when Jack Phillips refused to bake a cake for a gay couple has made a very clear statement that issues regarding homosexuality are more important to that preacher than black lives. It doesn’t matter if the pastor’s sermon centers on the fact that Jack Phillips should not be considered a slave simply because he hangs out a shingle, or if they center on the idea that a business owner should not discriminate against his clientele. The issue that matters to that pastor has been declared by their choice of when to speak up.

Then how should a pastor treat the pulpit in terms of the current hot issues? Sometimes the issues of the day will come back to haunt the church latter. Certainly questions at the founding of our nation about how government and church were to relate to each other was a hot topic, and certainly pulpits were pounded on the issue. The abolition of slaves was a hot topic for religious leaders twice in the history of the English speaking world: once in England, and then in America. There were preachers preaching on the issue in both places in both times. We are glad, even proud, of the contributions of Christians who preached on abolition in both venues. These heroes aren’t just known for their contributions to the issue of their own day, though. Every time we sing Amazing Grace, we sing an anthem written by an abolitionist theologian. John Newton wasn’t just an abolitionist, though. He was a priest and supported the spiritual needs of his people in many ways.

I think the most important role of a pastor is to preach all of Christ. No matter what the social issue of the day is, a more complete following of Christ is the answer. This has to be something that is easy to lose sight of when writing sermons. Preaching the whole gospel is sometimes going to necessitate taking a passionate thinker away from their passions. One of the things that keeps me from pursuing becoming a pastor is knowing that someday, out of the necessity to preach all of Christ, I would have to preach on the subject I’ve been avoiding for years. I’d rather not. Lucky for me, I’m just a blogger, and I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to.

No matter what the issue of the day is, the issue of the day is not going to last for eternity. Some of the issues the congregation faces daily will. Slavery is behind us in America. Democracy is here to stay. Women have the vote. All of these issues, hot topics in generations before us, are settled. Through it all, people still face death, gossip, and adultery. But has to be remembered that many of these issues were settled because the religious authorities took a hard stand, not despite the religious authorities taking a hard stand. The debates within the religious communities were often heated, but when those committed to doing right by all committed themselves to investigate the issue, it helped heat the fire and clear away the slag. Even when the slag was found in the church, it was burned in the light of what is right. It made us stronger. It made us better. Many of these issues were taken to the pulpit, energizing the people to work in strength and numbers to fight for the right of the issue. It may be that the most important way these issues can be addressed is from the pulpit. If your pastor is speaking on issues and you disagree, it’s perfectly appropriate to disagree, to speak in opposition to it, and to rally your congregation to replace your pastor if the whole congregation disagrees. If your pastor is speaking on issues and you agree, it’s perfectly appropriate to share their thoughts on your social media and at coffee with friends. Equal with this, if your pastor has been going on and on about a social issue, it is important to ask them when they are returning to the Gospel. Suggesting a sermon series on The Sermon on the Mount or Mark’s Gospel might be a good way to help them remember that Christ is the center of their ministry, and not the social issue of the day.

I think that those who get lost in the social issue can forget that there are many who are dealing with something else. Even when slavery was being brought down, it was important for people to be reminded both not to gossip, and not to let gossip destroy them. If the people suffering under the power of gossip could not get relief from a pastor who was caught up in the hot topic of the day, the result might not just be that they fell victim to gossip. They might also find relief from someone who told them the hot topic of the day was unimportant. With that, a warrior for the cause could be lost.

There are also many people who are not serviced by the social issue of the day. That doesn’t mean that they are without the need of pastoral care from the pulpit. During the days of abolition, it was still necessary to remind the people that death was not the end. Slavery was not the only issue. People were being born and people were dying. People were gossiping and people were silently suffering. It wasn’t only necessary for pastors eager to end slavery to preach on ending slavery. It was also important for them to preach on how God was caring for their souls in eternity, how God was providing for their young being born, and how God wanted them to communicate with their brothers and sisters in the pews next to them. Preaching on the issues of the day is important. Preaching on the issues of eternity is also important. These two may be closer than you think.

What Evidence Counts?

Me: “Are you okay?”

Coworker: “Actually, I’m not feeling so great today. Thanks for asking.”

Me: “You should go home. It’s not nice to bring your illness to work.”

Coworker: “I’m not sick. It’s my allergies.”

Me: “I don’t believe in allergies. Allergies are something people make up so that no one will complain when they come to work sick.”

Coworker: “How can you not believe in allergies? So many people have them!”

Me: “I’ve never experienced allergies. Therefore, they must not be true.”

Coworker: “But my nose is running and I’m sneezing all day!”

Me: “You mean exactly as if you were sick? Because you’re sick.”

Coworker: “But it happens the same time every year!”

Me: “Most people get the flu the same time every year. Go home. Don’t share your germs.”

Coworker: “But so many people have allergies!”

Me: “You mean so many people get sick so often.”

Coworker: “My doctor diagnosed my allergies!”

Me: “How?”

Coworker: “I told him my symptoms, and he said that’s allergies.”

Me: “That’s not a very scientific test.”

Coworker: “I’m glad I know you well enough to know you are just being belligerent. Otherwise, I would be very upset. You can be very convincing, even when you know you are wrong.”

There’s a difference between evidence and proof. Both can be used to build a case. Both are important in understanding what’s really going on in the world. Both use simple ideas to build more complex thoughts. In all these ways and more, they are very similar. They are different, though. A proof uses agreed presuppositions to establish something which must be true. Evidence builds the case that a certain detail or event is likely to be true. A good way to know the difference is that if it’s a proof, and then later it is established that what you prove is false, then that means one of your presuppositions is false. If it’s evidence, then your presuppositions can remain true, you’ve just added more evidence that took the probabilities in another direction.

Whenever we talk about history, we are always dealing with evidence, not proof. That said, people do tend to throw those two words around as though they’re synonyms, or as though proof is just really convincing evidence. I’m not here to correct that trend. In other articles, I may even make that kind of hyperbolic analogy myself. It’s harmless most of the time, and usually those of us who think deeply know what is intended whenever the words are used indiscriminately. Here, though, it’s important that I draw that distinction because I’ve already talked about the most convincing proof of God, but now I’m going to talk about the most convincing evidence of God. They’re different, and I’m treating them differently. In my proof, I presume that there is good, that good comes from judgment, and that good is both absolute and relative because it comes from personal judgment. I talk about what kind of God that implies. If one could somehow demonstrate that this God doesn’t exist, it would mean that one or more of my presumptions is wrong.

I also offer some evidence for my presuppositions there. I talk about how wolves and ants obey the same sort of sense of right and wrong, but with less thought and therefore less perfectly than the best of us humans. They draw the benefits of following right and wrong as far as they do, therefore right and wrong, prosocial and antisocial, love and hate, all are real independent of our belief about them.

There are other reasons to believe in God, though. There is evidence of God in history and present understanding. Some people actually find the evidence more convincing than the proof. You see, we don’t believe in the God of Love only, we also believe he’s a God of Miracles. Really, there’s a reason to hope he’s a God of Miracles: if he’s not, then we’re basically guessing at what he wants. Right and wrong become utilitarian: when we do good, coordinate our society, and act with love, it increases the chance that good will happen. Doing good becomes like getting a flu vaccine. Even someone who has been vaccinated can still get the flu, but it’s less likely than someone who hasn’t been vaccinated. As the percentage of people in the population who have been vaccinated goes up, the chances of an epidemic ravaging the population goes down, and the chances of even those who have an ineffective vaccine are protected by the herd immunity. In the same way, as there is more good going on, it doesn’t completely eliminate the possibility of something bad happening to you. It only reduces the chances drastically, and those who do fall victim to natural misfortunes are protected by a righteous and loving society. This is the goal of utilitarianism in a nutshell. It’s why utilitarianism seems to work so well. Where utilitarianism fails is when it treats right and wrong as a mechanical process and not a product of personal choice and determination guided by the God of Love. Since I believe the God of Love determines what is truly right and wrong, there is a value in getting messages from this God that can be verified. This is why we hope that the God of Love is also the God of Miracles.

There is a problem with the God of Miracles, though. It’s subtle, but it’s real. You see, the God of Love is something that we can demonstrate philosophically, but there’s no philosophical reason proving that this God will communicate with us through miracles. There’s reason to hope he will. There’s reason to suspect he will. There’s even reason to trust that this God has spoken and will speak to us through miracles. But you can’t prove he has or will speak through miracles. What’s more, there’s no proof of exactly what miracles he will choose to work through, or who he will provide these miracles to. This means that anything we can’t otherwise explain could either be a miracle, or could just be something we haven’t yet learned how to explain. The God of Miracles and the God of the Gaps can have a lot of overlap.

The God of the Gaps has never been compelling to me. The gaps keep getting smaller, and God keeps breaking out of them. The idea that “anything we can’t explain means God did it” has let many people down. Eventually the things they thought were attributed to God or the gods turned out to be completely ordinary natural phenomena. This problem is made worse by the false belief that a miracle can only be a miracle if there’s no natural explanation. Most of the most important miracles in my life are not notable for their explanation or lack thereof, but their timing. It’s not that God did something that couldn’t be explained, but that he did a perfectly natural thing right after I asked for it or just when I really needed it.

Maybe a real life example could be helpful. In the spring of 2011, I decided to take my son to a playground. When I stepped out onto my front porch, there was a six foot wooden garden stake. This was strange. I hadn’t been doing any gardening. My wife hadn’t been doing any gardening. I picked up the stake, confused, when out of the blue a large English boxer jumped into my front yard and started growling at me and my son. I raised the stake and caused the dog to back off long enough to get back into the house safely with my son and call animal control. Then I went back into my front yard and kept an eye on the dog until animal control arrived. The dog was very aggressive and lunged at me and attacked the animal control officers when they arrived.

Now, I don’t know exactly how that garden stake ended up in my front porch, but I have a theory. I think someone was walking by, using the garden stake as a walking stick. They were tired, and rested a moment at my porch. When they continued their walk, they forgot the stake. I could be wrong, but this theory fits all the available data. Granted, there’s not much data to contradict, but among the available solutions, it seems to be the most likely. The miracle isn’t that God caused a stick to materialize on my porch in a flash of light, descending from heaven in a beam of light as slowly as a feather. It’s that when I needed a stick, that was the very day that a stick appeared. I don’t need to know the name of the one that left the stick to see that, somehow, God guided them to bring the stick to me. They probably got home and wondered what happened to their walking stick. To further this theory, I put the stake back in the front yard once the situation was resolved, and some time over the next few days it disappeared. I think the original owner traced their steps and found their walking stick and took it home.

This is not the only example in my life of this sort of miracle. It’s the one that makes the best version of the point I’m trying to make. I’ve also had several of the type of miracle that defies natural explanation. I still remember when we finally got the diagnosis for my son’s genetic condition. He was five. The geneticist and his aid were there to give us the prognosis. Probably never learn to eat, speak, or walk. My son toddled over to the toys, taking a handful of yogurt bites, and started to play. We asked the aid if she was sure she had the right information. “This is based on his genetic array.”

My son raised his hands and shouted, “Hooray!” because he misheard the word “array.” My son’s abilities continue to evade explanation: while at thirteen he has drastically limited cognitive and physical abilities, his abilities are far and away beyond what his genetic tests indicate. He’s a miracle child, even though you have to understand the whole situation to understand the miracle. We found out that my daughter was on the way after I had my vasectomy. I had my vasectomy as a result of being told that my chances of having a child with healthy genetics were relatively slim. Annie defies the odds and shows no signs of chromosomal abnormalities. She is my second miracle child.

When I first started thinking about translating the Bible, I was digging into the details of textual criticism, and in desperation I prayed to God for guidance. The next week at my favorite bookstore, I found George Howard’s book, but it was on the wrong shelf in the wrong section. God has been very active in my life as I’ve pursued the deepest understanding of his word.

Even in the Bible, not every miracle is a big budget production. Joseph interprets dreams. (Genesis 40-41) Gideon put down a fleece. (Judges 6:36-40) Samson is strong. (Judges 14-16) God was seen in the still, small voice, not the fire and the earthquake. (1 Kings 19:11-12)

One of my favorite historical figures, Joan of Arc, was led to her sword by means of miraculous visions. Her voices told her that a sword was buried behind the altar at Saint Catherine’s Church of Fierbois. She sent instructions to the church, and when they looked they found it. It was rusty, but the rust was easily removed and became a beautiful sword when presented to her.

I also want to be clear that the big budget, burning bush, fire from heaven, voice in the night, etc sort of miracle is totally something I believe in. When my first son was born, he was in the NICU for a few weeks. My wife and I would sleep at home and then spend all day in the NICU with him. One morning, I woke up from an intense dream about Carson getting something pulled out of his mouth and a small celebration of the fact he was breathing. It was strange. My wife woke up crying. She had a dream that Carson was choking. I comforted her, and told her I got the other half of the message and he was fine. I sent her to get a shower while I called the NICU. The nurse answered, and I said, “How is Carson doing?”

“He’s fine. We’ve got him,” she said.

“Okay, ten minutes ago he was choking. What happened? And how is he doing?”

She paused. “How did you know that?”

“I’m his father. Now what happened? And how is he now?”

“But how did you know about that?”

“I told you, I’m his father.”

She took a breath, and then gave me the whole story. A breathing hose had come loose while he was feeding, but they were able to reattach it within moments.

“Thank you. I would appreciate being kept in the loop on these things going forward,” I said.

I’ve had a dozen or so such dreams in my life. Enough to recognize them when they happen. Enough to hope they don’t happen any more often than necessary.

This is where the accusation of being unscientific often rears its ugly head. Science, the claim goes, is about what’s provable and repeatable. This isn’t really the case, though. Think about all those dinosaur books that we all read as children. At one time, they thought that apatosaurus (identified as brontosaurus at the time) was a slow moving, solitary, swamp dwelling, semi-amphibious giant lizard with green scaly skin eating mostly moss. Now they think that apatosaurus was an agile, desert dwelling heard animal closer related to birds than lizards with brown or grey, lumpy skin and structures somewhere between a quill and a feather on its head. The reason for these changes in ideas are accumulation of evidence. Not proof: evidence. We haven’t proven anything about apatosaurus. We have made many statements about our findings related to apatosaurus fossils, but we don’t really have any way to test any of them. Even if we were to clone them Jurassic Park style, it still wouldn’t prove what environment they were in originally, especially if the clones lived well in several environments.

Then consider the so-called “Oh My God” particle. We have only rarely seen the same thing happen in decades, and there remains no good explanation where they come from when they do happen. We can’t make particles with that much energy. It’s not repeatable. We don’t know what caused it. It defies our expectations of particle physics in some ways. Yet we still believe it happened.

Miracles, when they happen, are the actions of God. He’s in charge of deciding which miracles he will and won’t answer. God doesn’t owe us anything. Anyone who is a parent and has tried to get their toddler to demonstrate a newly acquired ability or say a word they just learned knows this frustration.

Some people have even lost faith when their prayers weren’t answered the way or time that they wanted. I don’t understand this. If God answered every prayer, then God wouldn’t really be all that powerful. We would be the all-powerful ones. Then we wouldn’t call him our God, we would call him our slave. People then try to moderate this, saying, “Then why can’t he just answer all good prayers?” or something similar, but that’s just the same problem. We still wouldn’t call him God, then. We would still call him our slave. We would just call him our good slave.

I do understand being disappointed when your prayers aren’t answered the way you want. It’s the same kind if disappointment I feel when I flip a light switch and it turns out the light bulb is burned out. The intensity is different, but it’s the same sense of disappointment. I don’t stop believing in electricity just because the light stops working, though. I recognize the evidence for electricity that has been around for decades, and then start checking to see what’s wrong. In the same way, I don’t expect the thought that some prayers must go unanswered in order for God to truly be God to be comforting to those in desperate situations. No one ever said the truth would always be comforting.

When miracles happen, they are when God is most in control. It’s almost by definition not going to be because we are making demands of God or deals with God. I don’t dare limit God by saying he can’t work when we start making demands and deals, but when he does it’s because he decided to, not because our demands or deals were especially convincing.

There are some high profile miracles. There are books written that record and document miracles. (Miracles, Tim Stafford; The Case for Miracles, Lee Strobel; A Book of Miracles, Dr. Bernie Siegel; Miracles We Have Seen, Dr Harley Rotbard) Atheists are quick to dismiss these miracles as being God of the Gaps explanations. They have already decided that miracles don’t happen, so these can’t be miracles. That’s not a very scientific view of the situation. The Oh My God Particle only happened once. For decades Spinosaurus was known from only one specimen. Masiakasaurus had only incomplete specimens for years. When someone is determined that there are no miracles, the anti-God of the gaps is all they need. Regardless of what happens, they’ve already decided that it can’t be a miracle. If it only happens once, they decided it didn’t happen. (Unless it’s “science.”) As a saying attributed to Thomas Aquinas goes, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

I will admit that some people go overboard the other way. There are miracle hypochondriacs, calling every moment in their life a miracle, praising God for finding a lost pencil or making it to the gas station with a half a tank of gas. I think that for the sake of their own souls, they’re doing themselves a great service. For those of us trying to play apologetics, though, it can make things difficult. Like psychologists through the twentieth century that were eager to accept any data they could squeeze into their theories ultimately brought every conclusion of the science to question, these miracle hypochondriacs make it hard for us apologetic sorts, because when I try to talk about miracles, my interroculator has in mind finding a really good parking spot, where I’m thinking of curing a back deformity caused by typhus. A skeptic is perfectly happy to stand on a stage and declare that every miracle they have investigated has a perfectly natural explanation, because they found a cooling vent or tubes or whatever explains the situation. An honest examination that seeks to explain miracles needs to explain these one time events as well as the prestigious miracles. There’s enough of these that they can’t all by psychosomatic.

For my part, my faith in the anti-God of the gaps is not all that strong. With all the miracles reported and recorded, trusting in the anti-God of those gaps, trusting that there’s always an explanation that doesn’t rely on the supernatural, takes every bit as much faith as belief in God.

Why Was Constantinople Needed?

Constantinople was a city that Constantine the Great founded, naming it after himself. Constantine had called Nicaea I in an attempt to settle the discussions of Christ’s divinity. Nicaea declared the Nicene Creed and several canons that defined Christian doctrine and administration of the church. That didn’t settle the discussions, though. Arius made friends with the imperial family. The followers of the Arian Heresy increased. It turns out that simply pounding a gavel didn’t actually change minds or hearts.

By 381 AD, things were just starting to turn against the Arians. Arius himself had died in 336, and the definitions of Nicaea had given trinitarians the language and structure they needed to confront Arianism. Some had even started to deny the humanity of Christ in an effort to preserve the truth of his divinity. The council of Nicaea had not clearly defined the role of the Holy Spirit, so questions about how he related to the Father and the Son started to come up. Modalism had become popular.

Eventually there was a stir in Constantinople over the succession of bishops. There was a dispute over which bishop was properly ordained for the capital city: Maximus or Gregory. Maximus had been ordained in secret while Gregory was ill, then installed in the place of Bishop of Constantinople against the will of emperor Theodosius. Theodosius had intended Gregory to take over the church at Constantinople. Maximus ended up running away from the scene due to Gregory’s popularity. Ultimately the council would find in favor of Gregory.

Constantinople is among the more controversial of the ecumenical councils. I don’t mean that the authority of it is most in question. Both East and West recognize it as having equal authority with Nicaea. Churches far in the east that recognize only two ecumenical councils recognize only Nicaea and Constantinople. In Protestant churches, the Creed of Constantinople is included in hymnals and recited at the beginning of church services. The authority of the council is unquestioned by everyone willing to give any authority to anything beyond the Bible.

There are controversies in even the undeniable, though. The council did the unthinkable: it rewrote the Creed given at Nicaea to deal with those who were beginning to question the divinity of the Holy Spirit. This move was so controversial that at the Third Ecumenical Council, Ephesus, they would return to the exact form given at Nicaea just to avoid the same controversy.

Constantinople did something else that’s still controversial to this day: it made the city of Constantinople second only to Rome in authority. The wording is even sufficiently vague that Constantinople would claim equal standing with Rome. The Greek Orthodox Church claims that as the Roman Empire moved its seat if authority from Rome to Constantinople, it was only logical to move the seat of religious power as well. The Roman Bishop always claimed that the source of authority for the Pope was lineage from Peter and Paul, who consecrated the earliest bishops of Rome and then both died in Rome. The seat of political authority was considered a coincidence.

A third point of controversy comes from the fact that the last three canons assigned to this council weren’t authorized at the council. They were authorized later at a local council in Constantinople, then either through confusion or collaboration attached to documents related to the ecumenical council.

It’s clear that, at the time of Constantinople, there was no feeling of the Ecumenical Councils becoming what they are today. Certainly Nicaea I was always intended to be exactly what it is: a decision guiding the whole church for all time. Constantinople, on the other hand, saw itself only confirming what Nicaea had already said and cleaning up a moment of confusion at the local church. They considered the changes they made to the Creed to be mere clarification of what they thought Nicaea I clearly intended to be understood about the Holy Spirit.

Today, if your church recites the Nicene Creed, they most likely recite the version created at Constantinople. Since the two creeds are so close, it rarely becomes an issue. If you cite the Nicene Creed for some reason, it’s only rarely that becomes relevant to indicate which creed you mean to invoke.

Adding additional clauses about the Holy Spirit clarified trinitarian philosophy. The Arians taught that the Holy Spirit was an impersonal force of some sort, created with Christ in the first instant before anything else. Arians were careful to avoid language that described Christ as coming into being within time, but were also careful to distinguish between God and Christ. Even with that, they still used the trinitarian formula in their baptism, exactly as it’s listed in Matthew 28:19. I think this makes it clear why it was so difficult to accept the Holy Spirit as God. Yet they could not deny the many times that the Spirit occurs tightly connected to God in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Trinitarians used this prove that Christ and the Spirit were Divine. Arians needed to accept that the Divine Will was worked by the Spirit, so they took the tactic of rejecting the personhood of the Spirit. This way they could preserve belief that the Spirit was something other than God without simultaneously denying that the Spirit worked wherever God worked. The additional clauses about the Spirit cut this tactic off before it could gain serious momentum. A side effect was removing the anathemas for Arians that declared that Christ had a beginning and was separate from God.

Keeping with my goal of transcribing all seven ecumenical councils, I have now completed the transcription of Constantinople. Like Nicaea I, I release this transcription to the public domain. You can find the transcription here: https://shaunckennedy.wordpress.com/constantinople/

If you would rather get it printed, you can get that here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/shaun-kennedy/constantinople-greek-and-english/paperback/product-23927376.html

On Kosher Foods

Every theological system I’ve ever studied has problems. Calvinism, Catholicism, Lutheranism, Futurism, Preterism, Melinianism, Monogism, Synergism, they all have problems. They all become weak somewhere. My problem is that the adherents to each system are so often such strong believers in their systems that they have to build the most complicated, intricate, and silly explanations of why some text that clearly contradicts their view in fact supports it. Listen to a strict Calvinist talk on Joshua 24:15 some time. They will twist the word “choose” around so far that you won’t even recognize it. What does “Grace” even mean to a Catholic? How can futurists really see 2,000 years as “soon” in Revelation? How can preterists say everything in Revelation happens in one year since it mentions there being a thousand years?

I’ve always been afraid of becoming this kind of believer: so convinced of a theory that I have to twist every verse that doesn’t fit so that it does. I have a theory of God that I feel builds the most reliable definition of God and salvation: God is Love, and the degree to which we are subject to love determines our connection to God and to salvation. Simple enough. Reading the Bible with this thought in mind makes sense of so much that other systems conflate. When combined with statements like “What you bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven” (Matthew 18:18) it turns me into a sort of contractarian of sorts. When I first realized this, I was living in a world of believers who emphasized faith, not love. I ended up reading the New Testament cover to cover again with a specific emphasis on looking for cases of faith and love. There was a lot that I noticed, but there was one point that I feel drives home the facts in one short stroke: 1 Corinthians 13:13 explicitly declares that love is greater than faith.

This explains Christ’s declaration that he is fulfilling the law instead of cancelling it, even though he is obviously changing from the culture around him and their focus on obeying commands towards focusing on others and building community between believers and God.

A lot of the Old Testament commandments make sense, too. Especially when you consider how both Justice and Mercy actually spring from Love. An eye for an eye may be best overall strategy when compromise is otherwise impossible. It’s possible to look at almost all of the laws of the Torah through this lense and get a very clear sense of what the law is getting at. The Law of Love really does seem to be the base of the Law of Moses.

Except the whole diet thing. I mean, this isn’t the only clear example of what I’m getting at, but it’s a really good example. There are so many foods that Moses forbids the people of Israel to eat: pork, shellfish, cheeseburgers, camels, rabbits, all forbidden.

Reasons have been given for these food laws that allow us to eat them this side of the cross. In the Epistle of Barnabas, it is suggested that the meats actually signify types of people to avoid. Others have suggested that the sole purpose of the food laws was to keep the Israelites as a distinct people, possibly forbidding them to sacrifice what were common sacrifices in neighboring cultures. It’s also been suggested that the laws were intended to identify foods that were unhealthy.

As I looked into each of these theories, each one fell apart. There’s no good reason to presume the food laws are allegories, all of Israel’s neighbors sacrificed sheep and bulls just as Israel did, and the foods forbidden by Moses weren’t altogether all that less healthy than foods he permitted. Applying my own theories of love as the preeminent virtue, there’s no way to see that eating pigs or camels does anything to break society with other people or with God.

There’s always the answer I end up falling back on: there’s probably something we’re missing here, and I don’t know what it is. It might be historical context or something else entirely. That’s not a very satisfying answer. What’s more, if I’m wrong, and there’s not something that we’re missing, then that goes against my theory of biblical interpretation. Even if there is something we’re missing, since we’re missing it, it might also go against my theory. Until we find the archeological dig or cultural artifact that sheds light on Moses’s reasoning, we just don’t know.

Something we do know, from Christ’s own lips, is that this issue is not as simple as “God said it and that settles it.” When discussing eating with unclean hands, Jesus said, “There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.” (Mark 7:15)

Now, I could be rightly accused of click-bait if I titled a post, “On Kosher Food” on a religious based blog and then didn’t offer an opinion as to why God gave Kosher laws to Israel. I think I’m stepping out on a speculation when I do this, and I don’t think my theory is any better than the other three I gave above, but it’s mine. I don’t think it’s original to me, but I don’t remember where I picked it up.

Leviticus 11 is where Moses gives the Kosher dietary laws for the first time. Leviticus 11 is between Leviticus 10 and Leviticus 12. (This should not be news.) Leviticus 10 is the story of two of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu dying for offering a sacrifice with strange fire. It is a bizarre story with the details oddly out of place. Aaron and his family are not permitted to mourn properly, but it’s not entirely clear what killed the brothers or why.

Leviticus 12 describes the ritual procedure for purifying a woman after childbirth. From modern sensibilities, this is just as out of place as the Kosher Dietary Laws of Leviticus 11. Both 11 and 12 are requirements for everyday citizens rather than the priesthood. Most families had children in those days, so most families would need to practice the rituals of Leviticus 12, and since everyone eats, everyone uses the distinctions in Leviticus 11.

Over the next several chapters, more rules are laid out for skin spots and other matters of ritual defilement, and then in chapter 16 it picks up right after Aaron’s two sons had died. So it would seem that everything between Leviticus 11 and Leviticus 15 is the result of Aaron’s sons’ faults. Because of that error, the Israelites needed to observe Kosher Dietary Laws, purify their children, recognize skin diseases, treat those with skin diseases through ritual, etc. I think that keeping these rituals are set as a protection. Nadab and Abihu had failed to recognize the importance of keeping things separated. They tried to use what was meant to be for common use for holy purposes: ordinary fire for ordinary meat and ordinary incense on the holy altar. True love doesn’t seek to build a community by destroying distinctions. Specialization within the community helps everyone. Even ants take advantage of the value of specialization. Setting aside the fire that is holy to accomplish holy things has an intrinsic value.

I still think there’s something important hovering right under the text of Leviticus 10 that we don’t see because of our cultural distance. Whatever happened, it was important to designate ritual purity and cleansing laws for the people of Israel because of it. Part of that included reminding the people to think about everything they eat. It’s part of the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, even though it wasn’t a sacrifice per se.

In the New Testament, our sacrifice is the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, or Eucharist, or whatever name your congregation calls it by. (1 Corinthians 10:16-18) It connects is to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and makes us one body in Christ. Sacrifices allow the one making them to enter into a sacred space. It sort of reminds me of advice I was given about applying for a loan: if you’re going to ask for money, look like you don’t need it from the moment you step into the bank. When you’re coming to God, look like you don’t need his power. Look like you wield life and death and all authority. Of course, in both cases it’s pretense. You wouldn’t be asking for a loan if you didn’t need it, and if you really don’t have God on your side then you cannot succeed. So just as the sacrifice of the Old Testament was clinging to the power of an animal’s life, the Lord’s Supper of the New Testament is clinging to the power of Christ’s life.

But since we no longer do the sacrifices of the Old Testament, we are no longer bound to those rules of purification and cleansing. In their place, we should do what Nadab and Abihu failed to do: we should recognize what space and items are set aside as special for God, and respect and honor that distinction. We should recognize the power and honor within the Lord’s Supper. We should not approach it as simply food and drink. Give to God that which is God’s.

Hebrew Questions

The first seven years of my adult working life was spent doing phone based computer technical support. Over the course of the years, I supported high speed internet, graphics software, printers, and even a calculator. In almost every contract, one of the most common complaints I would get from customers was, “That’s impossible! I didn’t make that change!” I learned early to reply with, “Regardless of whether or not it’s possible, it’s true. Let’s fix that.”

Jewish and Christian relations have been pretty rough, right from the beginning. This makes it all the more amazing to me when I consider that the source God led me to for Matthew was a Hebrew edition maintained by Jewish scribes.

Not everyone who has ever investigated this manuscript had been impressed by it. One of the marks against this manuscript is that there was a page affixed to it with “questions” challenging the Christian religion. Could Christ’s word be preserved by the self-declared enemies of Christ?

Obviously, I think it was. If it was, “can it” is a meaningless question. Whether it’s possible or not, it was. Still, the concern is understandable.

I don’t read Latin, but I’ve been assured by those that do that DuTillet (the one who took the manuscript back to Paris from Rome) felt the questions were silly and easily answered by even schoolchildren raised in a Christian home. I think that’s sad. Some of the questions, certainly, are a matter of dispute between the was Jews and Christians approach the Bible, and a few are attacks on the person of Christ. Some of them, however, are quite insightful, especially considering the state of relations between Christians and Jews at the time. After translating the questions, I couldn’t help but thinking that if these objections had been considered in good faith in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, then the twentieth century might not have been able to produce a Hitler.

If you look closely at these questions, it’s clear that whoever wrote the questions was much better versed in the Old Testament than the text of Matthew. The quotes from the Old Testament are very close to the original, but almost every quote from Matthew is a paraphrase. This has me wondering if the questions might have been written by someone different than the text of Matthew in the pages before. I don’t have the skills to make such an assertion. Either way, I’ve decided to provide the text of the questions both in the original Hebrew and a quick and dirty translation to English. I suggest reading them, and using them as a jumping point to grow your compassion.

שאל היאך אתם אומרים שישו בא לטר בני האדם מן הפשעים וכדי להוציאם מן הגיהנם והנה הוא בהריגתו הוסיף החטא על היהודים שתלאוהו שלא נמצא חטא׃ גדול מתלית האלוה ׃

Question: How do you say that Jesus came to the rest of the sons of Adam from sin and in order to take them from Hell, and behold! His murder added sin to the Jews which you are tired which we do not find great sin from the crucified God?

שאל כתוב בספר מתי לא באתי לחסור וכי וכתוב בתורת משה וביום השמיני ימול בשר ערלתו וכתוב כל המצוה אשר אנכי מצוך היום תשמרון לעטות לא תוסיף עליו ולא תגרע ממנו אם כן נמצא טחוא הפר תורת משה ׃

Question: It is written in the book of Matthew, “I have not come to take away…” and it is written in the Law of Moses, “And on the eighth day you will circumcise the flesh of the foreskin.” And it is written, “All the commandments which I command you today you will keep and do. You will not add to it, and you will not take away from it.” If this is what we find, he is covering a break in the Law of Moses.

שאל אם אלהים הוא למה קרא עצמו בן אדם והלא מציגו בכמה מקומות שמוהיר לנו התורה שלא לדמותו לבן האדם כמו שכתוב לא איש אל ויכזב ובן אדם ויתנחם ועוד אמר דוד אל תבטחו בנדיבים בבן אדם ובו יעוד כתוב ארור הגבר אשר יבטח באדם וכל אילו הדברים היו בישו שנקרא בן אדם ׃

Question: If he is God why does he call himself the Son of Man, and does he not say in so many places that he is showing us the Torah, which does not allow for the Son of Man the same, as it is written, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should repent,” and moreover David said, “Don’t put your trust in princes, each a son of man,” and by him more is written, “Cursed is the man that trusts in man…” and all of which words were in Jesus called Son of Man.

שאל כתוב בישעיה אוכלי בשר החזיר השקץ והעכבר יחדיו יסופו נאום (ײַֿ) משמע שבשר החזיר אינה מותרת לעולם ׃

Question: It is written in Isaiah, “Eating pig’s meat, abominable things, and the mouse, they shall come to an end together, says Yahweh.” Hearing that pig’s meat isn’t ever allowed.

שאל למה מתענין ביום ששי שבו נתלה לפי דבריכם שתלייתו וביסורין שלו אתם נצלתם מגהינם היה לכם לעשות באותו היום חג ומשתה ושמתה ׃

Question: Why are you interested in the sixth day, in which he was crucified according to your words? He was crucified and he suffered. You were saved from Hell in the same day which you celebrate as a holiday. And you drink and you die.

שאל מה עשה ישו יותר מכל שאר האנשים הקדושים שהרי חנוך ואליה עלו למרום ומשה הפך את המים לדם המתיק מי המרים הוליך ישראל להוך הים אלישע עשה מכד שמו אחר כמה כלים מלאים אסף נעמו מצרעתו והחיה שני מתים ועם כל זה אין אנו מאמינים שהם אלוהות אלא אנשים צדיקים ׃

Question: What did Jesus do more than the other holy men? Enoch and Elijah were taken up, Moses turned water into blood, sweetened the bitter, led Israel through the sea. Elisha made a few tools from his palm. Asaph was cured of his leprosy. And two live who were dead. And all those people we don’t believe were gods, but righteous men.

שאל לדבריכם שאתם אומרים שהוא היה בן אלהים הרי מצינו בכמה מקומים שנאמר בנים אתם ל(ײַֿ) את כן אינו לומר שהוא אלוה שאם כל ישראל יהיו אלוהות ׃

Question: You say that he is the son of God. Indeed, we found in how many places that are said, “You are sons of Yahweh.” You thus are not saying that he is God unless all Israel is God.

שאל אם הוא אלוה למה כסה את עצמו בבשר ומפני מה לא בא בפרהסיא להדש תורתו בגלוי כדי שלא יטעו אנשי אוהו הדור גדולה האבידה שאבד בכסוי זה יותר מן הפדיון שהרי באותו כסוי נחלקו עליו מהאמין בו ׃

Question: If he is God, why did he cover himself in flesh? And why didn’t he come in public to renew his Torah publicly in order that his people weren’t mistaken. The generation was great. The certain loss covering this is more than the redemption. They disagree about the covering.

שאל כתוב כמו שהיה יונה במעי הדג שלושה ימים ושלשה לילות זה אינו אמת שהרי הוא לא היה לדבריכם בארץ אלא שלשה ימים ושני לילות ׃

Question: It is written, like Jonah in the belly of the fish, that he was dead three days and three nights. This is not true, for it was not according to your words in the ground but three days and two nights.

שאל כתיב כי לא יראני האדם וחי והיאך אם ישו היה אלוה למה ראו אותו כל בני העולם ולא מת אפילו אחר מכל אותם שראוהו ׃

Question: It is written thus: “Man will not see me, and live.” If Jesus was God, why did all the people of the world see him and not die? Especially of all those who saw Him?

שאל כתיב שכל מי שמאמין בישו אפילו בגרעין של הרדל יוכל בדבורו להמיש הר ממקומו ואנו רואים אפילו היותר קדושים שהיו בהם לא יכלו לעשות דבר אחר קל כל שכן כל שאר העמים אם כן לא היה בידם שולטנות ויכולת לעשות שום דבר אף אם בו יאמינו ׃

Question: It is written that all who believe in Jesus, even as the mustard seed, is able to speak to the mountain from its place, and we see even many saints that are in them are not able to speak one word easily. None of the rest of the people have this authority in their hand, and the ability to put words even in his faith.

שאל אם משיחכם אלהים למה רכב על הבהמה טמאה והלא כתוב בתורה גם הצאן והבקר אל ירעו אל שכן בהמה טמאה וכאן הוא רבם בעצמו על הבהמה טמאה ׃

Question: If your Christ is God, why does he ride on the unclean animal? And is it not written in the Torah also not to allow the goat and the cow to graze next to an unclean animal, and in this case he himself is on the unclean animal.

שאל למה נרעם ישו אם תאמר למען הבשר והלא ראינו במטה עליו השלום שהיה גם הוא בשר ודם וצם ארבעים יום וארבעים לילה כשקרב עצמו אל חשכינא ולא נרעב וזה שהיה הוא עצמו אלוה למה נרעב בשרו ׃

Question: Why was Jesus angry if you say he addressed the flesh? And can’t you see that he is flesh and blood? And he fasted forty days and forty nights when he, and wasn’t he starved? And does this mean that is he himself is God? Why did he starve his flesh?

שאל אם שה של פסח דמו על ישו אם כן משמע שישוים הרבה עתידים להולד ולתלות מאחר שלא ציוה לבני ישראל לקחת שה אחר אלא הרבה פסחים לקחו ׃

Question: If the Passover lamb was like Jesus, it means that many destinies are equal to be born and to rely on that he has not commanded the sons of Israel to take another lamb but many Passovers have been taken.

שאל כתיב קחו זה הלחם הוא נופי וזה היין הוא דמי בעדות החרשה איך היה זה חתך חתיכת בשרו ונתן להם או גופו היה מלחם ויין ומן השיורים נתן לחם וזהו הגוף שאכלו ושתו ׃

Question: It is written, “Take this is the bread that is my body. And this wine is my blood in the New Covenant.” How? Has he cut a piece of his flesh and given them? Or is his body from bread and wine and from the pieces he gave bread and this is the body that he ate and drank?

שאל למה היתה עציבת נפשו על המות אם תאמר שהוא מפחיד והלא הוא אומר עציבת נפשי ולא עציבת בשרי וגם כל העולם יודעים שהבשר אינו מדבר ואיני יודע כלום אלא היא כאבן כי אם מכה הרוח ׃

Question: Why is his soul sad about death if you say that he is afraid? And didn’t he say, “My soul is afraid,” and not, “My flesh is afraid?” And also the whole world knows that the flesh does not speak. And I don’t know anything except it is like a stone, but the spirit strikes.

שאל אם הוא בן האלוה והאב והבן גלם אחד מן החיוב שיהיה גם הרצון אחד והוא כשהיה מתפלל לפני אביו אמר אבי אם אפטר שלא אשתה זה הכוס עטה ואם לאו עשה כטוב בעיניך אם כו לא יהיה כרצוני אלא כרצונך אם כן לא היו הרצונות שוות ׃

Question: If he is the Son of God, and the Father and the Son embody one substance that is also one mind and when he is is praying in front of his father saying, “My father, if I don’t want to drink this drink, the cup of rebuke. And if it is not good in your eyes, if so, it is not as I will but as you will.” So they are not the same desires.

שאל אם הוא היה אלוה למה כשהתפלל אמר לאביו שיעשה רצונו נראה מכאן שלא היה בידו בה לעשות כלום אלא ברצון אביו ואם כלום עשה ברצון אביו עשה ולא מיכולתו ׃

Question: If he is God, why when he prays he says to his father that he will do his will. It is seen therefore that he is not able to do anything but in the will of his Father. And if he did anything willingly, his father did it, and he did not do it with his own ability.

שאל למה אמר נתונה היא לי כל ממשלת שמים וארץ ומי נתן לו אם הוא בן אלהים ואלוה כמו שאתם אומרים אין צריך מתנה והלא כל העולם כולו שלו הוא ׃

Quotation: Why did he say that all authority in heaven and Earth was given, and who gave it to him if he is the son of God and equal with God as you say, “He doesn’t need a gift, the whole world is his.”

שאל כשם שהבשר והנשמה יחד הם אדם כך כדבריכם אלהות ואדם כאחד הם המשיח אם כן כשנהרג האדם נהרג האלהות ישו היה לפי דבריכם אלוה ואדם ונהרג אם כן נהרג אלהותו אם נהרג אלהותו הוא לא היה אלוה כי האלוה לא יהרג ׃

Question: Just as the flesh and the soul are joined to make Adam, just the same you say God and Adam are one in Christ. If so, when Adam was killed, God was killed. Jesus is God and Adam according to your words. And he died, but his God died. If his God died, he is not God, for God cannot die.

שאל אם הוא בא בארץ למסור עצמו ליסורים ולמיתה בעדכם למה אמר שיהודה אסקריוטי מסרו הרי לכך בא להיות נשפט ונדון ׃

Question: If he came to earth to give himself to suffering and death for you, why does he say that Judas Iscariot gave him over, when he came to be judged and killed?

שאל לאותם שאומרים שבעין הדיגת ישו אנו בגלות זה אינו אמת הלא קודם מיתתו אנו בגלות ואף אם יהיה כן כבר כתב שבשעת מיתתו בקש מאביו ואמר אבי מחול למה מה שהם עושים כי אינם יודעים מה שעושים ואם האב והבן דבר אחד ורצון אחד העין יהיה אותו העין יען שהוא בעצמו מחל ׃

Question: To those who say that, in the eye of the fishermen of Jesus, we are in exile, this is not true. Before his death, we were in exile. And even if it were already, it is written at the time of his death, he asked his Father and said, “Father forgive them for what they are doing, for they don’t know what that are doing.” And if the Father and the Son have one word and one will, the eye is the same eye. Because of that, he is forgiving them himself.

What was Nicaea I

The first quarter of the fourth century was a turbulent time of expanding power for Christianity. Constantine had come to the head of the Roman Empire in 306. As a part of his reforms, he made religion a matter of personal conviction rather than legislated loyalty. Instead of Christianity being an illegal and underground sect, it became a dominant and powerful force in the Roman Empire.

One subject I hate to debate is Constantine’s religious conviction. It’s clear that those close to him taught that his Christianity was genuine. If that’s true, it’s strange to find coins dated late in his reign calling him the High Priest of the Sun. I don’t know how “Christian” Constantine was. At the very least, he was one of the forces behind calling the First Council of Nicaea. (Nicaea I)

Nicaea I wasn’t the first council to decide matters of doctrine for the Christian religion. It was actually a pretty common practice, going all the way back to the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. Christian leaders would periodically meet whenever there was a question that threatened the unity of a local Church body. However, before 306 an underground, secret sect, having public councils with decrees powerful enough to span the empire was impractical at best.

Nicaea I became a new standard. Nicaea I called church leaders from the furthest reaches of the empire to discuss an issue that was crawling through Egypt. The bishop of Alexandria, named Alexander, was dealing with an upstart presbyter named Arius. Arius was teaching that Christ was not Divine, but a creature like us. According to Arius, Jesus didn’t exist before he was conceived in the virgin’s womb. He was fully human, and divine only by imputation, not nature.

I usually prefer to work by analogy rather than technical definition. I’m not a big fan of technical language, but there are times when it’s necessary. You can’t build a computer without identifying the difference between a CPU and a DIMM. You can’t build a car without identifying the difference between a carburetor and a filter. You can’t describe geometry without a means of defining a circle and a line. You can’t describe most religions without defining the difference between God and man. If taken too far our definitions can get in the way of clear communication. There comes a point when defining the difference between two items too narrowly can lead to problems. Some CPUs are being built now with gigabytes of RAM cache onboard. A CPU with RAM on board may be the next step. Some belts in some cars control multiple systems. Calling these belts by one name or the other would be incomplete. I once had a ruler with rollers on it that could double as a compass. I did a lot of my highschool geometry with this tool. Christ is for us always God and always man.

Before Nicaea I, language like this was thrown around often by those teaching out of the New Testament, but there were clearly other teachers within the church who held convictions which considered it ridiculous that Divinity could touch Humanity. Arius collected, collated, and confirmed the arguments that Divinity and Humanity were mutually exclusive. Nicaea I gathered bishops from around the world to discuss the two sides.

Constantine was present at the meeting, but his involvement is not exactly clear. It’s also well known that after the council, Constantine kept up relations with the losers of the debate. Great emperors don’t build empires by making friends with those they’ve helped to excommunicate from the religion of choice. I’m not sure what Constantine hoped to accomplish through the work of Nicaea I. I’m not sure what he hoped to accomplish by keeping close ties to Aruis and Eusebius after the synod.

Whatever Constantine’s goal from Nicaea I, the result was a single, unifying Creed for the entire Christian Church. The standard at the beginning of the Christian Church was for each convert to write their own creed or statement of belief about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit at the time of their baptism. Some that have been recorded are as simple as, “I believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” As time went on, the statements were expanded by those with a spirit of oration who felt the need to clarify which Jesus they were confessing. Clarification would be added or removed by the convert according to their personal convictions, but usually they followed closely to the standards they saw before them. The result over centuries was the Apostle’s Creed. Rufinus wrote a commentary on the Apostles Creed describing some of the ways it had evolved in different parts of the Empire.

Something else happened at Nicaea I, though. The Creed was specifically written to exclude Arius and his followers. There were those who wanted to write a creed which Arius could and would sign. This idea was strengthened by the fact that any creed built entirely on quotes and allusions to scripture were readily accepted by Arius and his followers. Others detected a dangerous error in Arius’s faith. They wanted to clarify that the Christian Church believes that Christ is eternally Divine connecting the deeper theology of the New Testament even if it meant clarifying the New Testament in a way that wasn’t laid out tightly in the text itself. This is where the term “ομοουσιον” (of one substance) came from: it’s not used in the New Testament to describe the relationship between the Father and Son, but many leaders felt the idea was implicitly taught by the text. Of the few leaders who would not sign the creed, some of them refused because they felt it didn’t teach what Scripture taught, and others felt that the question of the creed’s validity was compromised by using extra-biblical language.

There were other things that impacted the unity of the Christian religion. Easter was being celebrated at different times by different churches. Deacons in some local congregations were assuming the role of priests or bishops. In others, they were far inferior. Some priests and bishops were living with women that they hadn’t married. The list goes on. Nicaea I commented on all of this.

The impact of Nicaea I was not immediate. I’ve already said that Constantine kept friendly terms with those who had dissented in the debate. Some churches continued to celebrate Easter at times not prescribed by Nicaea I. Even today we have pastors using their power and authority to appeal to women without the sanctity and stability of matrimony. Nicaea was recognized universally as at least being the best meeting of Christian minds on religious matters in living memory before the Second Ecumenical Council (Constantinople) was called in 381. Eventually, it was recognized that a unified creed like that of Nicaea I was just what was needed. (Even though the creed most churches use under the title ‘The Nicene Creed’ is actually the creed that was written at Constantinople.) Nicaea I set the stage to form what would become known as the Seven Ecumenical Councils. These eight synods unified the church in difficult times. (Yes, they’re called the Seven, but there are eight of them. It’s complicated.) By the end of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II, divisions between East and West were beginning to fracture the church. In the twenty-first century it would be nearly impossible to have a truly ecumenical council. Today, such a thing would need to include (at the very least) leaders from the Anglican Church, the Eastern Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox, and the Roman Catholic congregations dismantling their differences. Even so, the authority and learning in these meetings should serve as an example to all generations. It’s no wonder that these words have been echoed across the world at the beginning of so many Christian meetings for so many centuries.

As a person with a great deal of respect for the Ecumenical Councils, it has bothered me to no end that the original Greek text of these great proceedings have been locked behind paywalls and copyrights on the Internet. If anything outside the Bible were to be considered the Word of God, it would be these seven (or eight) synods. Anything that has defined the Church this closely belongs to the whole Church, not to an individual publisher or congregation. So I decided to fix it. I put in the work, finding printed public domain sources for the decrees of Nicaea I, then transcribing them into a digital source. I have created the text of the decrees of Nicaea I in Greek: the Creed, the Canons, and the Letter of Explanation to the Egyptian Churches. I release this work to the public domain. Read it, fix it, print it, use it. Do with it what you will. At the same time, I’m publishing a book with this text alongside a public domain English translation of the text. Depending on my time and resources, I would eventually like to do this for all Seven Ecumenical Councils.

Democracy 3.0

I saw a Ted talk once where the speaker pointed out the disconnect of democracy. We all think that democracy is the best way to choose our leaders, but we also all feel like our leaders are disconnected from us and working towards interests that are not our own. We’re all under the impression that there are many in our country that need and deserve help and are not getting it, as well as those who are being lazy and living on that which they have not earned. We all want a government that can enforce some sort of moral code of conduct, but we can only agree on the most basic terms of what that moral code should be or how it should be enforced.

There’s a lot of activity on my Facebook feed regarding President Trump. I have friends on both sides of the aisle, so to speak, and have seen defenses and criticism of his actions. It’s exactly the same as when President Obama was in the White House, it’s just the people who are rushing to defend the ridiculous and those who condemn the mundane are reversed. As a country, we don’t elect people, we elect parties. We are more likely to vote for people based on political beliefs than religious beliefs. This ends up meaning that, if you want any real position in politics, you have to subscribe to a binary position. Funny how the American culture has moved to say that we aren’t held to a binary view of gender, ethics, race, or religion, but politics (the one thing universally agreed to be man-made and individually chosen without exception) we absolutely must be binary: conservative or progressive, Republican or Democrat.

I perplex many of my friends. A friend once asked my opinion on a court nominee. I said, “I don’t follow any of that. I wait until it’s time to vote, put a few weeks into research, then vote, then move on. It’s just a bunch of stress that I don’t have the energy to deal with any other time.”

“But the latest scandal that’s all over the news doesn’t concern you?” she asked. “Surely as a Christian that bothers you.”

“I don’t know. I don’t follow the news, because I prefer to get a balanced perspective, and that’s not usually available when it’s news.”

So often, the things that make the news are intended to sell newspapers, not inform us. Politicians of every stripe make divisions where the divisions are actually paper thin. It’s generally agreed that violence for violence sake is wrong and should be prevented. There are disagreements about how to go about that. Now, whatever your personal solution to this problem, I want you to take a moment and think about something: what if your opposition is right and you are wrong? Don’t justify yourself. Don’t run to your favorite news outlet to stand your ground. Just consider the possibility that they are right and you are wrong. Their solution will work and yours won’t. If this is the case, which solution do you want to be enacted?

I would rather be fair than to be either Republican or Democrat. I would rather see right decisions reign rather than my political party win. There’s an easy example to give: war. We all agree that it would be a superior moral position to fight a war rather than allow an enemy enslave and murder us at will. We also all agree that it would be wrong to wage war just to bring free people under our own banner. The morally right position is somewhere between these two extremes. War is right and justified sometimes, wrong and evil others. There’s a lot of distance between these two extremes, but somehow there are only two places where the line has been drawn: the Democratic position on war spending and preparation and the Republican position on war spending and preparation. It’s entirely possible that neither position is correct. Wherever you or I draw that line, we might be wrong. For me, personally, if the place where I’ve drawn that line is wrong, I would rather have someone in power who has that line correctly set than someone who will agree with me. I don’t just want someone who agrees with me making that decision, I want someone who will make the right decision making that decision.

One interesting thing to note is that democracy didn’t start with America. It started in Athens. Athenian democracy was quite a bit different than American democracy, though. People weren’t elected. They were selected at random from the people. Instead of electing people to office, votes could be held to exile people that were a public nuisance. The advantage was that political parties had less influence. There were still political parties, but they had less power and it played out in different ways. The disadvantage was that elected officials didn’t answer to the people in any sort of direct way. If you pass a law that people with brown hair and blue eyes don’t pay taxes, only your fellow randomly selected legislators can stop you.

We’re on the second version of democracy: one where the elected official is supposed to answer to the people. In reality, the answer to the parties. I think we’re ready for Democracy 3.0, an improvement on the Democracy 2.0 that is practiced in America today.

In the new and improved version of democracy, the legislative and executive functions would be combined. There would be three legislative houses: a top, a middle, and a bottom. The top house would have three members. The remaining representatives would be divided equally among the other two houses. When new representatives are chosen, they are selected by random chance. Every eligible and interested citizen has an equal chance of being selected. Newly selected representatives are in the bottom house.

When a proposal is offered to be decided, it is first considered by the top house. If the three members of the top house agree unanimously, the motion passes. If it is not unanimous or if any one of the top three representatives decide to let the proposal pass to the second house, then voting is opened for members of both the top and the middle houses. If the two houses cannot get a two-thirds majority, then the vote is opened to all three houses and a simple majority decides the issue.

Then the non-legislative people vote on the quality of decisions, not on people. Every citizen is given a chance to vote on every proposal that has passed from two years ago back until eight years ago. Citizens vote on if they think the proposal was a good idea, not on people. For every representative, every vote that they made that corresponds to a citizen vote, that counts as a vote that representative. For every vote that goes against the representative, it removes a vote for that representative.

I think an example will help clarify. If a tax is proposed to pay for new schools, and it passes the top house unanimously, that proposal becomes available to the citizens two years later. Two years later, the citizens decide it was a bad idea. The schools didn’t use the money wisely. 16,455 people vote that it was a bad idea and only 1,580 vote for it. At the same time, the first house passed a proposal to fix some roads, and this was very popular. 18,855 people agree and only 265 were against it. This comes out to this comes out to 3,715 votes for the members of the first house. Since both of these bills passed unanimously, these votes do not count either in favor or against the members of the other houses, but the process is the same for every member of every house for every issue that they voted on.

People are then sorted into houses every year according to the number of votes they get. The three with the most votes go to the top house. Then the half of the remaining representatives with the larger number of votes go to the middle house. The remaining representatives go to the bottom house. Then the half of the bottom house with the lowest vote count (that have been there more than four years) are dismissed. Members of the third house who have been there less than four years are exempt from being dismissed. This way they have a chance to build up experience and reputation.

Since any citizen can become a representative, the mix of representatives will tend to represent the people. Representatives interested in keeping their career will vote with a long-term view, trying to guess what people will think was right in hindsight instead of what sounds good right now. Political parties will still be a vital part of this process. There are bound to be thousands of bills every year, not to mention court appointments and other administrative actions. That’s way more than most of us citizens can keep track of. It will be up to the political parties to keep track of these and their results. But it will be much easier for individuals to maintain a very nuanced position of issues independent of their parties. You may be generally Republican, but in favor of a limited form of gun registration. You get the pamphlet from your Republican leaders, and you know to go to the section on gun control and find which issues you disagree with them on and then vote accordingly.

Note: this means that the members of the top house will be those who have a track record of agreeing with the will of the people, and the ones losing their jobs are the ones who have a track record of not matching the will of the people. This also means that those who are intent on keeping their job or progressing through the ranks will be most focused on how people will feel about their decisions in the future rather than how to sell their philosophy and system here and now. Under the current system, the most convincing person is elected, no matter if they are convincing because they are telling the truth or because they are the most convincing liar. Under my proposed system, if a person is right but not convincing, and they vote their conscience, then even though their idea won’t win in the moment, when the next round of public votes come around people will recognize that it would have been the right move and this person will be promoted. If they are convincing and wrong, then hindsight will demonstrate that they need to be demoted or let go.

The second and third houses would have a chance to publicly agree or disagree on issues passed by houses above them. These votes wouldn’t make the law, but at election time their agreement or disagreement would be counted. Any legislator can abstain as well, and then rejoin when the topic is opened to a wider floor.

One huge advantage this would have is mobility of government. If the three wisest legislators agree that a course of action is best, then it can be done in a moment. In a moment of crisis, a decision must be made, and they are the ones to make it. If there’s a disaster, and it’s unclear if it’s a man-made or natural disaster, there’s no need to wait for a subcommittee on appropriations to decide what funding is available. The three sign their names and the deed gets done. If it turns out that the wrong decision was made, they will be held responsible for it.

Then in issues that are not so clear-cut, the process slows down. If a vocal minority are calling for a change to a sacred and beloved tradition, then the top three can open the subject to the main floor. If it turns out later that the reason for wanting a change was more immediate, there may be consequences to that.

It also allows citizens to vote in a very nuanced way. You aren’t voting for people, your deciding if they made good decisions. At every job I’ve ever had, my annual review and therefore the decision to give me a raise or fire me is based on the things I’ve done, not on the things I’m promising to do. I’m responsible in that review for my own activity, not the activity of my committee. If I descent from a decision that’s popular at the time and that turns out to have been the right decision, that comes up in my annual review. If I descended and the majority was right, that comes up too. The past is the most reliable indicator of the future we have ever had. Yet all of this is the exact opposite of our current elections process, where the promises and party loyalty are what are judged.

I put the two-year gap into the system on purpose as well. There are two reasons. The first is that some decisions, at the time of the decision, will need to be classified. The obvious examples are war plans or criminal sting operations. If something needs to be a secret two years later, though, then it’s more likely to be because it’s a bad idea. There might be room to allow something to remain classified for four years if to the entire legislature and Supreme Court agreed, but the longer something needs to be classified the less convinced I am that the good of the people is what’s at stake. Some other types of classified information, such as locations of secure testing sites, can be handled by layers of bureaucracy and appointments. For example, the legislature can appoint a general to know and maintain secret testing sites, agreeing to be blindfolded when traveling to visit or inspect the sites.

The other reason for a two-year gap is that some policies take two years for the full effect to be felt. Imagine there was a solution to your favorite hot-button topic, but it didn’t fit in with either your plan or the plan of your political rivals. The wisest among us see this unorthodox solution and enact it. In the moment, both sides of the political binary hate the idea. In a general election, running with that idea in the front would lose. Then two years later, the results are in. It was clearly the right idea. Giving ideas a chance to mature helps us make sure we’re making the decisions on hindsight, not momentary politics.

I think that this system leads to true prophets leading our country. First, because the initial selection is taken out of the hands of people, it makes room for God to make that choice. What we have now is a selection of Saul. What I’m proposing is a selection of David. Then if anyone knows the end of a decision by divine revelation and it works out the way they predict, then that will be reflected in future election cycles. In short, when God speaks in this system, no one will have the power to deny it.

Politicians will hate this proposal. They can’t win on charm and charisma in a system like this. The makeup of the legislature in this system will be regular people with average incomes doing regular jobs instead of lawyers and billionaires. They will be judged on their actions instead of their promises. Instead of human, political ideology reigning, it will be divine wisdom in charge. I think this is an improvement, though. What do you think?