Friday, December 29, 2023

The land of Egypt is before thee (Isaiah 19)

Isaiah chapter 19 turns to Egypt, first with some terrible judgments, but at the end with some hope. There's a lot of talk in the footnotes about failed prophecy (although I don't see the prophecy icon here) a lot of which I think I can address, but we'll see.

In the opening verse, God rides into Egypt on a "swift cloud", which is strange imagery, but perhaps the intended idea is that the beginning of this judgment is going to be a powerful storm? In any case, somehow the Egyptians are set against each other, and once again, I don't think that "they shall fight every one against his brother" means that people will be actually fighting their own family, but rather Egyptians fighting their fellow countrymen, perhaps some sort of civil war? In the end, Egypt will have a cruel leader, and the Nile will dry up. I don't know if all of this is something that happened in the past or if we're talking about a future judgment (although the mention of "Pharaoh" in verse 11 is suggestive of the past since they don't have rulers with such a title anymore); it can be hard to tell with prophecy, which usually doesn't come with a time frame. Verse 14 does sound rather nasty, but the fact that God sends a "perverse spirit" may be another case of God reinforcing something that already exists to hasten the natural consequences. Yes, I suppose the imagery of a drunk falling over in his vomit is gross, but does being gross imply nasty language? I may not fully understand the meaning of the "Language" label in the SAB. Yes, I'll readily admit that the language of verse 16 is rather misogynistic, but once again, this is probably an outdated cultural view of women; not that it makes it right, but rather the intended audience would understand the imagery.

Now we get to a bunch of parts of the prophecy that the SAB takes issue with the validity thereof.
[v. 17] Judah never invaded Egypt and was never a military threat to Egypt.
One thing I want to say about this is that I don't see anything in verse 17 that points to it being a military threat specifically; it could have been something else. It's also possible that this prophecy has yet to be fulfilled, but the fact that it says "Judah" rather than "Israel" suggests fulfillment in a time when there was such a nation, although it's within the realm of possibility that it refers to the southern part of Israel.
[v. 18] There shall be five cities in Egypt that speak the Canaanite language. But that language was never spoken in Egypt, and it is extinct now.
I take issue with this, because in reality, there is actually no single "Canaanite language" (which could be something to take issue with Isaiah itself) but rather several Semitic languages spoken in that region. It's worth noting that Egyptian was not a Semitic language, but most Egyptians today speak Arabic, which is a Semitic language, and it seems to me that this may be the fulfillment of this particular aspect of the prophecy.
[v. 19-21] These verses predict that the Egyptians will worship the Lord (Yahweh) with sacrifices and offerings. But Judaism has never been an important religion in Egypt.
True enough, but there are a couple things to say about this. First of all, and perhaps a less likely candidate for fulfillment of this prophecy, when I was trying to look up what "Canaanite language" meant, I found mention of the fact that during the time of the Maccabees, some Jews including the high priest fled to Egypt where they built a Temple. What I find more interesting and suggestive personally is the fact that the old Egyptian religion has been completely supplanted by Islam, which is an Abrahamic religion, meaning that Egyptians believe they are worshipping the God of Israel, and many Jews do not dispute that notion. (Historically, Jews and Muslims have gotten along fairly well, actually. I personally believe that all the Abrahamic religions are at least intending to worship the God of Israel; whether or not that means there is validity thereof is a separate question that I don't think is fit for this discussion.)
[v. 24] There has never been an alliance between these three countries, and it's unlikely that it ever will since Assyria no longer exists.
To address the latter part first, the fact that Assyria no longer exists is of no consequence; if the prophecy refers to a future time, the nation of Syria plays the part of Assyria. Anyway, this is not necessarily a political alliance, but could possibly be another case of a sort of spiritual alliance, as all three of these nations in more modern times have been Abrahamic in their religions; the only problem with this idea would be why these three specifically, when the entire Middle East practices Abrahamic religion. Certainly at current there is no love between Egypt, Israel, and Syria, quite the opposite, actually! However, if you're a follower of end times prophecy, you know there are some strange changes that are coming to the world, supposedly.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God (Isaiah 18)

Isaiah chapter 18 once again has very few notes, and it's a strange and rather opaque passage in meaning. I ended up doing some research, and found that some consider this to be one of the most difficult to understand passages in the Bible. One commentary I read summed up the chapter as essentially that Ethiopia was offering an alliance with Judah against Assyria, but God said he had no desire for an alliance, and this chapter was just a "No thanks" from God.

Something I find interesting about this as a side note that I'm going to babble a bit here about to fill out the post is the questionable nature of some of the translation here, particularly "Ethiopia". The Hebrew word here is "Cush" which the KJV sometimes renders directly, particularly in Genesis chapter ten, where Cush is one of the sons of Ham and the father of Nimrod. I seem to recall vaguely that there is some controversy about what land exactly Cush refers to, many early scholars thinking it's just the Hebrew word for Ethiopia; however some archeological evidence has turned up evidencing that Cush was a kingdom in its own right, mainly existing in modern-day northern Sudan, and at times even ruling over the Nile region. Supposedly, in the time that Isaiah was written, Cush was one of the main powers in the region, a rival to Assyria in the south. Verse one, which in the KJV mentions "the land shadowing with wings", might be better translated "the land buzzing with insect wings", and other translations do something along those lines; the Nile region was known for having a lot of insect life.

I suppose I should comment on verse six, which the SAB calls cruel. It indeed sounds like a sad fate for the Ethiopians/Cushites, but there's no indication that this is a punishment from God, but rather it's just a prophecy of their eventual fate.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Damascus has become feeble (Isaiah 17)

Isaiah chapter 17 is another short chapter with few notes. Really, the only thing of substance noted there is the supposed failed prophecy of verse one, but I think the SAB is overstating what the prophecy is really saying. It doesn't say Damascus will be destroyed, and it doesn't say it will no longer be inhabited, it just says it will be left in ruins. I think it's likely that when the Babylonians defeated the Assyrians, Damascus was seriously damaged, but clearly it was rebuilt, and there's nothing against the prophecy in that fact. The prophecy also talks about a fortress in Ephraim being destroyed, but I don't know if that's an Israelite fortress or an Assyrian one; probably the latter. The rest of the chapter talks about people forsaking idols and turning to worship the God of Israel, and I assume this is talking about Israelites, but it's possible even Assyrians are turned from their gods.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Refresh my bowels in the Lord (Isaiah 16)

I probably should have combined Isaiah chapter 16 with the last chapter, because this is all stuff about Moab with not a lot to say about it. At first, it seems like Isaiah is talking about the end of the destruction from the last chapter, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows, because as the chapter goes on, it sounds like famine still remains, and people continue in mourning. In the end, there will be survivors, but very few.

I should say a word about the noted absurdity in verse eleven, because yes, it definitely does sound absurd. This is a cultural thing among ancient Jews (I think Paul somewhere says something similar in a couple of his letters) that they thought of the emotional center of the body was in the guts, perhaps even literally the bowels. It's perhaps a little less absurd sounding if you replace "bowels" with "heart", as some translations do in order to get across the cultural meaning instead of a literal translation of "bowels" or sometimes "inmost parts". This Hebrew word is actually sometimes used for "uterus" in women, actually (well, at least in Ruth 1:11 in the Bible) so it's meaning may not be fully clear.

Friday, December 22, 2023

And Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel (Isaiah 15)

There's not a lot to say about Isaiah chapter 15. This is a prophecy about Moab, saying that bad times are coming for them, although it doesn't specify why. This bit about being bald and beardless sounds to me like it's some aspect of the Moabites' mourning over their misfortune, but it's not clear. Most of the chapter seems to be lists of places in Moab where bad things happen, and there's a lot. In the end, people that escape the famine will be attacked by lions. It all seems very sad, but I'm once again assuming there's a reason for it; Moab had historically done a few evil things to Israel, like trying to curse them in the wilderness.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city (Isaiah 14)

Isaiah chapter 14 continues talk about Babylon's destruction. Early in the chapter, it talks about Israel returning to the land, and taking people from the nations that conquered them as slaves. I know slavery is not looked on positively in modern times, but this is again retribution for the time they were in captivity; there's no indication of how long this lasts, so it may have been a temporary state of affairs.

The prophecy turns specifically to talk about the king of Babylon, and how he and his family will be brought low. Verse 12 addresses "Lucifer", in which I believe the SAB is correct in interpreting that this is the king of Babylon, and not Satan. This is the only verse in the whole Bible with this name (in the Hebrew as well), and it supposedly means "morning star". Yes, Jesus is called the morning star towards the end of Revelation, but I don't think there's any connection. The SAB takes verses 21 and 22 to mean all Babylonians will be killed (which, if that were the case, would be a failed prophecy), but I think it's referring to the royal family in particular, coming right after the talk about the fall of the king. I answered whether people are punished for the sins of others in Genesis chapter nine and other places, and it's complicated.

Lastly, Isaiah turns to Assyria, which also gets its comeuppance. It sounds like any Assyrians who are found living in Israel after it's restored are going to be killed. Then Palestine (previously in another place than Israel, despite the fact that Israel comes to be known as Palestine around the 5th century B.C., because the Philistines were invaders) gets a share of the woes that Israel and Judah got, including cockatrices (whatever the Hebrew originally meant by this; see my commentary in chapter eleven) and famine, although somehow the poor have enough.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Behold even to the moon, and it shineth not (Isaiah 13)

There's a lot going on here in Isaiah chapter 13, much of which is marked cruel, unjust, and intolerant by the SAB. Once again, this chapter is about evil people seeing the results of their evilness, so it's questionable. So Isaiah talks about Babylon, which as I said in an earlier chapter is the empire that eventually pretty much completely destroys Judah. It's apparently rather violent, and Isaiah says they're going to destroy the land, whether that "land" is the land of Judah as a nation, or somehow destruction of the soil itself is not completely clear, but I think it's the former.

It says in verse seven that "every man's heart shall melt," which I notice the SAB doesn't mark for "Science" since hearts don't really melt; I'm never real clear on what gets marked with this tag and what gets recognized as poetic language. You have to wonder when the fact that Isaiah mentions moonlight ceasing triggers a "Science" tag, despite the fact that probably every culture--including modern scientifically grounded ones like ours--talks about moonlight and doesn't insist on calling it "light reflected off the moon from the sun." I think it's also pretty clear that, when Isaiah talks about God saying, "Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place," we're just talking about a powerful earthquake. I guess science and language are a funny thing sometimes.

So anyway, the war fought by Babylon is going to be brutal, not only will they kill everyone they see, including children, they will rape the women. Then for whatever reason, the Medes get in on the general killing action, this time attacking Babylon. Then, Isaiah prophesies that Babylon in turn will be destroyed, and the destruction will be so thorough that nobody will inhabit Babylon again. As the SAB points out, this is a prophecy that never was fulfilled; the Medes and the Persians defeated Babylon, but they didn't destroy it, but rather took it over. It's possible that this is a prophecy that is still to be fulfilled around the time of Christ's return, as the book of Revelation talks about the destruction of Babylon, but yes, this didn't happen any time in the past, and Babylon has pretty much always been inhabited up to the current day (it's in Iraq). Interestingly, Isaiah says that while there will be no humans, there will be satyrs and dragons! See my comments about this sort of thing in Isaiah chapter eleven.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

But by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them (Isaiah 12)

So, Isaiah chapter twelve, huh? There's not much in this short chapter, so I'm going to talk about the name "Jehovah". There's a word in the Hebrew that is considered to be the name of God, but that name is considered so holy by observant Jews that they never actually say the name. Instead, they usually say "Lord" (Hebrew "Adonay") or, when being informal, simply "the Name" (Hebrew "Hashem"). Accordingly, most Bibles translate this name as "Lord", or sometimes "LORD" to clarify that it's this specific name. The KJV translates it "LORD" 6,510 times, but "JEHOVAH" four times, including here.

Okay, this is vague memories from Hebrew school 40 years ago, so it may not be 100% accurate; I wish I had an observant Jew who was a reader who could chime in. Hebrew in the Torah in particular is written entirely in consonants, the vowels being left out. The Hebrew alphabet is actually entirely consonants, with vowels being indicated (when used) by small marks generally above or below the letters. The name of God, as written in the Torah, is the four letters "יהוה", equivalent more or less to the Latin "YHVH". Usually vowels aren't used, because the name is not meant to be pronounced. However, in some Hebrew texts, it's written as "יְהֹוָה"; those vowels aren't meant to be taken as part of the name, but rather--if I'm recalling correctly--it's the vowels for "Adonay" to remind you that you're supposed to say "Adonay". So here's the thing: if you do decide to pronounce "יְהֹוָה" as if it's an actual name, it's "Y'HOVAH", which has been sometimes rendered in Latin as "IEHOVAH", which eventually led to the English "JEHOVAH". So "Jehovah" is not the name of God; it's an Anglicized version of a Latinized version of a mispronounced Hebrew word! So that's my Hebrew soapbox for this chapter, anyway. I hope it was more enlightening than confusing.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Out of the serpent's root shall come forth a cockatrice (Isaiah 11)

Isaiah chapter eleven for a turn is positive prophecy, seemingly about the Messiah and the end times. It opens talking about "a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots" which, as the SAB admits dubiously, is why Christians believe this is a prophecy about Jesus, who is a descendant of David son of Jesse. Will the Messiah be a descendant of David? I don't know why I didn't answer this in Mark chapter twelve, as that's where the key verse is that triggers this supposed contradiction. I mean, the answer is yes, but why does it seem like Jesus is arguing against it? I would suggest that the point Jesus is making is that the Messiah is not merely the son of David, but one who is greater than David, being also the son of God. Jesus is quoting Psalm 110, which I don't know whether Jews saw it as a Psalm about the Messiah, but it describes someone who David calls "my Lord" and "a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" (remember Melchizedek from Genesis chapter 14 was unique in the Bible for being both a king and a priest) so it's definitely someone important, and Jesus is implying it's the Messiah. Note also that Jesus implies David had the Holy Ghost, so perhaps that's another entry for the "When was the Holy Ghost given?" page?

Anyway, Isaiah talks about the righteousness of the coming Messiah, and how he will judge not just by looking and hearing. He will "smite the earth...and...slay the wicked" which prompts the SAB to ask, "Is this passage describing Jesus, the Prince of Peace?" Yes, sometimes in order to have peace, you need to get rid of wickedness; does that really not make sense? It seems almost obvious to me. The SAB also comments on the absurdity of him doing this "with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips", but this is just poetic, symbolic language that I believe is meant to imply the absolute authority of his words. In verse five, the SAB claims as an aside that the word translated "reins" actually means "kidneys", although I can't find any evidence of that myself; rather this word "חֲלָצָיו" seems to literally be another word for "loins". Isaiah then talks for a bit about predator and prey animals living in peace; apparently they will all become herbivores as "the lion shall eat straw like the ox." The SAB asks, "I wonder what will become of the spiders. Will they be friendlier toward flies? And will the parasitic wasps find another way to feed their larvae? Or will they continue to feed off the living bodies of caterpillars?" It's an interesting set of questions, and I assume the answer is yes, even insects and the like will also stop being predatory, and in some fashion parasites will also change or perhaps cease to exist; I think that's the general idea here.

While verse eight goes along with the general narrative of the previous verses, I feel I should give it special attention just because of the mention of the "cockatrice". Yes, the SAB gives the correct definition of this animal, and it's something peculiar to the KJV (although not entirely unique) that there are various mentions of mythical beasts throughout the text, this being (I think) the first time it's come up in a passage I'm blogging. The KJV mentions cockatrices four times, satyrs twice, unicorns nine times, and dragons 35 times; there may be other mythical beasts that I'm not aware of (not to mention beasts particular to Hebrew culture such as the Leviathan and Behemoth). I think particularly in the case of the Hebrew, it's a bad guess at what the original word meant; I don't know if the translation team believed these creatures to be real. (And really, translation of an ancient language can be tough; a lot of modern translations chose "viper" here, but Isaiah later (59:5) talks about "cockatrice's eggs", but vipers are viviparous animals apparently, so...?) In any case, I think the thing that needs to be said is that it's not always clear what animal the Hebrew is talking about, and even if it might be referring to a mythical beast, there is such a thing as poetic license and symbolism (I think most of the mentions of dragons in the book of Revelation are properly translated, and the picture of a dragon is symbolic) that allows for it. Here in Isaiah, however, I think we're just looking at a poor translation choice; cockatrices certainly do not exist, nor have they ever, and I doubt that Isaiah had ever heard of such a creature. (Although who knows? The Wikipedia article on the cockatrice mentions that there was a folk belief in Egypt that Ibis eggs could possibly produce a venomous snake-bird hybrid. If it's old enough, the Israelites might have heard of it?) Anyway, the Hebrew word here is also found in Proverbs 23:32, where the KJV chooses the word "adder" instead, so make of that what you will.

Speaking of mythology, verse twelve talks about returning the people of Judah "from the four corners of the earth." This seems to be a pretty literal translation from the Hebrew and not an English phrase, so does Isaiah think the earth is flat? It's possible, but I find it really unlikely, given the fact that evidence of the earth's curvature is pretty readily available to people of any tume and culture, such as seeing ships disappear over the horizon, or seeing the shadow of the round earth pass over the moon during an eclipse. Of course people even in the present day believe in a flat earth, so anything is possible. I just don't think this particular phrase proves anything.

Verse 14 talks about Judah subduing the Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites. The SAB assumes this is talking about war, but Isaiah never says that there's any violence in so many words, so I'm not 100% sure that's right. It's certainly not an unreasonable assumption under normal circumstances, but this verse seems to be talking about the end times, and there's a lot of supernatural stuff going on in those days. Nonetheless, I think the book of Revelation does say that there are battles at certain times in the last days, so it's certainly possible that's what's going on here, and yes, the Messiah would lead the army. Yes, verse 15 is talking about the Red Sea and the Euphrates River, and some translations of this verse go ahead and spell it out for the reader. It seems from verse 16 that God's attack on these bodies of water serve the purpose of the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus: to facilitate bringing the Israelites home from exile.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice (Isaiah 10)

Isaiah chapter ten has almost no notes, and really, there's not a lot going on here, but I've got some comments and then I'll babble a bit to fill out the post. The one thing the SAB notes besides calling most of the chapter boring is to call the first two verses good stuff. Isaiah calls out leaders who make unrighteous laws, and people who deny help to the poor, widows, and orphans. The thing that needs to be said about the book of Isaiah as a whole is that this sort of stuff, along with other evils, is why Judah is being punished, so it's a little hard to understand why the SAB says that, "Woe unto [people who do all this evil stuff]," is good, but actually having these people suffer is bad (that's what "woe" really means, after all).

The other thing I find notable about this chapter is that starting in verse 12, God deals with the king of Assyria. God does this sort of thing elsewhere, but this is the first time I've seen it where God specifically says outright that once he has used Assyria as his instrument for justice, he's going to turn and deal with Assyria. He emphasizes that Assyria is just a tool in his hands ("Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith?") and if the king tries to take personal pride in his military accomplishments rather than giving God the glory, the same sort of bad things that came upon Israel and Judah will come upon Assyria.

Now for my general rant that I figured I'd put here although it's entirely likely nobody will ever read this post. I find it interesting that (at least it feels like it) most of the prophets in the Bible were rather akin to Cassandra of Troy, who was given the gift of prophecy along with the curse of never having her prophecies believed. A lot of the prophecy in the Bible seems to be saying, "Here's a bunch of terrible things that will happen to you unless you repent; however I also predict that you're not going to repent, in fact, you're going to completely ignore this prophecy until after all the bad stuff happens. Sucks to be you." In any case, that seems to definitely be the sort of stuff that Isaiah is dishing out here. Prophecy is a strange thing, in that prophecy that predicts the future almost always only means something to people after that future has become the past.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh (Isaiah 9)

Isaiah chapter nine is another very bleak chapter, for the most, although the beginning bit is positive. There is a prophecy that seems to be of the Messiah, although the SAB disputes this because (I guess?) in the New Testament, Jesus is never known by any of the names in verse six. I wonder who else it could be, though, as there are parts that seem they couldn't fit anyone else. A child born who is known as "The mighty God"? (I checked the Hebrew, and there's no ambiguity.) And he sits "upon the throne of David...henceforth even for ever"? That's Jesus. I assume these names (which modern-day Christians use for Jesus) are going to be used in later times, perhaps particularly the "end times". I addressed what Jesus's name is in John chapter one.

Now on to the bleak part. Isaiah speaks once again of a day when Judah will be attacked, and bad times will follow. God won't even show mercy to the most vulnerable of society, because apparently everyone is evil. "[N]o man shall spare his brother" probably doesn't mean literally people are attacking their near family, but rather Jews are attacking Jews. On the other hand "they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm" may actually be a euphemism for people eating their own children, which is arguably worse. Much of this is marked by the SAB with cruelty, injustice, and intolerance, and it's arguably so, but once again, this is a nation that turned its back on God and did evil things, and this is just the consequences.

Monday, December 11, 2023

I know that ye will not yet fear the LORD God (Isaiah 8)

In Isaiah chapter eight, God commands Isaiah to write about his son Mahershalalhashbaz (literally "Swift is booty, speedy is prey" because prophets need to give their kids weird names). I assume the "prophetess" is Isaiah's wife, although I don't know if she's called this because she's a female prophet, or if they give such a title to prophets' wives (my guides say the latter, but if so, this is the only instance of it being used that way, which I find suspect; I'm going to believe she also had the gift of prophecy). God gives the child his name, saying that it's because before the child is old enough to speak, Judah's riches will be plundered by the king of Assyria, which God proceeds to compare to a flooding river. In verse nine, God tells the people that they will be "broken in pieces", which the SAB calls unjust, and it's a matter of opinion, but the SAB misunderstands the meaning of the verse, I think; God is not saying he will break the people of Judah for doing these things, he is saying that even if they try and form an army ("associate yourselves") or take up weapons ("gird yourselves"), the Assyrians will defeat them. (Or it possibly could be a warning to other people who want to defeat Judah that they will lose, since verse ten says "God is with us"? Actually, I'm leaning towards this, mostly because of "...give ear, all ye of far countries..." In either case, it's not a punishment for associating and girding.) Isaiah says that God told him not to be like the other people (unfaithful Judahites, or foreigners? Still not 100% sure about this.) and not to listen to conspiracy theories, but rather fear the Lord. I addressed the question of whether one should fear God at length in Joshua chapter four, where the answer was yes, but the key takeaway was why one should fear God and what it looks like. Isaiah says God is a sanctuary to those who are faithful, but in Israel and Judah, God will be a stumbling block and a snare for the unfaithful. There is prophesied a time coming when instead of seeking God, people will seek witches and wizards and communication with the dead. They should consult God's word, but they won't, so they will curse God and be cast into darkness.

They shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (Isaiah 7)

Isaiah chapter seven should be interesting, as it has a prophecy supposedly about Jesus, although there is some controversy, which the SAB brings up, and we'll discuss when we get there.

So, in the time of king Ahaz of Judah, Israel (the northern kingdom, separate from Judah, often called "Ephraim") tries to attack Judah with the help of Assyria. Ahaz finds out that Israel is getting help from Assyria, and is troubled. God tells Isaiah to go and talk to Ahaz and reassure him that they won't prevail. The SAB notes that in 2Chronicles 28, Ahaz is actually taken captive by Israel and Assyria, so is this failed prophecy? Well, I'd want to look into whether these nations defeated Judah as a whole, which they did not in the end, although that surely was no consolation for Ahaz; the whole of 2Chronicles 28 goes into detail about the sins of Ahaz, and how he turned to the gods of Assyria for help instead of the God of Israel. But back to our current story... Isaiah tells Ahaz that in 65 years, Israel/Ephraim will be destroyed.

God challenges Ahaz to suggest a sign, pretty much saying "The sky's the limit!" but Ahaz declines to choose. So God tells Ahaz that the sign will be that a "virgin" will conceive and give birth to a son named Immanuel. This prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 is quoted in Matthew 1:23 as a prophecy of Jesus's birth. Now the SAB has some notes about this prophecy that are worth reviewing. First of all, there is some dispute about the word translated "virgin" here; despite what the SAB says, "עַלְמָה" is an ambiguous Hebrew word that can mean either "virgin" or "young woman". So how do we know which was meant? Well, long before Jesus's time (nearly 300 years), Jewish scholars translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek, and translated this ambiguous Hebrew word "עַלְמָה" into "παρθένος", which definitely means "virgin", so it's actually not the fault of the KJV translation team (it's also "virgo" in the Latin Vulgate, which was likely one of the sources used). There are very few Bible translations that render this word "young woman" although many have a footnote saying it's a possible meaning. As the SAB itself points out, a prophecy of a "young woman" conceiving isn't much of a prophecy, as that happens every single day. But let's talk about the second point, which is that Jesus was born hundreds of years after Ahaz, so it's not much of a sign anyway. I'm pretty sure I have mentioned that sometimes prophecy has multiple times it's fulfilled, and this prophecy is apparently one with that quality. There must have been a woman who was a virgin who conceived and had a child named Immanuel in Ahaz's time. This may have not been miraculous; perhaps she was a virgin at the time of the prophecy, but conceived in the normal fashion, thus giving a time frame for the sign: about nine months. Yes, as the SAB points out, there's no mention in the book of Isaiah of this birth actually happening, but that doesn't personally bother me; it was a private sign for Ahaz, so perhaps Isaiah himself never saw it. Third point on this prophecy is one that many people point out; Jesus was never called Immanuel other than in Matthew 1:23 where the prophecy is quoted. However, it is quoted there with a note in the Greek; it says, "...they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." No, Jesus is never called by the name Immanuel/Emmanuel, but being God in human form, he definitely was known as "God with us." The rest of the prophecy talks about the boy eating "butter and honey" which prompts the SAB to ask about dietary restrictions, which I addressed in Genesis chapter nine, but I don't think this verse really is an issue with the topic, nor do I think Jesus was a vegetarian, because it probably would have been mentioned somewhere in the gospels.

At the end of the chapter, it says essentially that God will send insects from Assyria and Egypt (bees and flies respectively) which somehow seems to add to the desolation. It also says the people will shaved by the king of Assyria on their beards and feet; feet don't have a lot of hair, but the SAB suggests "feet" is a euphemism for genitals, which is entirely likely. It sounds like finally, there is some restoration of the keeping of livestock, but not agriculture, and people will largely live on butter and honey.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

And all the angels stood round about the throne (Isaiah 6)

Isaiah chapter six is a well-known chapter for this interesting vision that Isaiah has of God in Heaven (or is it the Temple in Jerusalem? I'm not sure...). I answered whether God can be seen in Genesis chapter twelve, and probably expanded on it elsewhere; the answer is no, but sometimes sort of. Isaiah is having a vision, and it may be not literally what God would look like, but how God allowed Isaiah to imagine him.

There is a lot of stuff that the SAB marks as absurd in this chapter, which is probably par for the course when it comes to supernatural visions. There's usually going to be strange things, and things not meant to be taken literally. While it's stated several times in the Bible that God has a throne in Heaven, since God doesn't have a physical body, it's not really clear what it means to see him sitting on it. Likewise, he doesn't likely have a robe with an enormous train as described here; it's probably simply symbolic of God's majesticness. Meanwhile, there are seraphim present ("seraphim" is already plural, so I sort of question "seraphims") which are a kind of angel, the Hebrew word meaning literally "fiery ones"; it's actually the same word translated as "fiery serpent" in Numbers 21:8! The seraphim have six wings, which, as stated, absurd or not, they only use one pair to fly with, while another pair covers their faces and the third covers their feet. This is an indication of how holy God is, as even angels hesitate to look directly at him. Also of course, as I mentioned a couple chapters back, they describe God as "Holy, holy, holy," the only instance of a word being repeated three times in the Bible other than the similar verse in Revelation. The seraphim are apparently shouting this so loudly the doorposts are shaking.

Isaiah is overwhelmed by all this glory and holiness, and expresses his unworthiness as "a man of unclean lips". This leads to an interesting moment where one of the seraphim brings a live coal and places it in Isaiah's mouth to cleanse him, and tells him his sin is gone (probably one of the oddest ways in the Bible of dealing with sin; does the SAB have a page on that?). Then God asks who he should send, which once again (although the SAB doesn't mark it here) doesn't mean God isn't omniscient, he already knows the answer, but is giving Isaiah a chance to volunteer, which he does. God tells Isaiah to tell the people of Judah that they hear but don't understand and see but don't perceive, and therefore God is going to shut their ears and eyes, and make their hearts not understand. The SAB marks this as unjust, but the idea here is that the people of Judah have been refusing to hear God for so long that he's going to let them continue to not hear to the point of destruction; this is a result of their own choices. Isaiah asks how long this will be, and God says it will be until Judah is desolate, but he will leave a tenth (I assume a tenth of the people, but it's not completely clear), which will also be somewhat desolate, but like a tree that loses its leaves, there will still be life there.

Thursday, December 07, 2023

There was a landowner who planted a vineyard (Isaiah 5)

Isaiah chapter five is very poetic, and it opens with a parable of a vineyard. There is a vineyard that is explained to be Israel, but despite the owner of the vineyard doing everything to help it thrive, it only brought forth "wild grapes", which I don't know anything about grapes, but I assume are highly inferior. The idea here is definitely that in establishing the nation of Israel (and later Judah), God expected it to create a spiritually healthy people, but in the end, they kept turning to sin. So the owner of the vineyard tears down the wall, i.e. God removes his protection from Israel and Judah. Furthermore, Isaiah prophesies that the land of Judah is going to be agriculturally poor. (This may once again be natural consequences, as God told the Jews to plant for six years and let the land lie fallow for one, which is actually good agricultural practice, as land gets sort of used up, and needs to rest. The Israelites never did this.)

The question of whether it's okay to drink alcohol I answered most fully in Luke chapter one, but I think it's clear here that verse 11 is talking about someone who clearly drinks to excess. In verse 14, I question the KJV's translation of "hell" here; I don't think there's much indication that Jews before Jesus's time had a real concept of Hell, and the Hebrew word here is "sheol", which is more commonly translated as "the grave". I think once again Isaiah is reiterating that there is going to be a lot of people dying. As for sheol being a woman, Hebrew is a gendered language and sheol is a feminine noun, so the use of "she" follows. Verse 20 is a fairly well-known verse, reading, "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil," which the SAB notes as "Good stuff" quite rightly; I suppose one of the biggest beefs the SAB has with the Bible is that it feels the Bible does this in many places. Isaiah follows this with a couple other woes, leading him to imply that evil people will be like chaff that is burned up, and their carcasses will lie in the street, which the SAB marks as cruel and intolerant. However, this is God being "intolerant" of evil, so it's hard to say they didn't deserve punishment. God lifts up foreign nations against Judah, making them mighty. Isaiah says that in doing this, God "will hiss unto them from the end of the earth." The SAB marks this phrase as absurd, and I'll agree that it's weird imagery.

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts (Isaiah 4)

Isaiah chapter four is short, but there's some meaty stuff in these six verses. The very first verse says that the women of Judah will be so desperate that seven women will grab one man and beg him to marry them, just so they can say they are married. I assume this means a few things, such as that so many men will have been killed that the population will be seven adult women for each adult man, and there is something shameful for these women to be unmarried. I don't know if the latter is just cultural shame of not being married, or if it has something to do with whatever shamed them in chapter three (which of course would probably also be cultural). Of course in that patriarchal society, it would be largely uncommon for a woman to support herself her whole life, and would be expected to have a son who would grow up and support her.

Isaiah once again switches quickly from bad times to good times and speaks of a day when food will be plentiful and God's presence will be in the Temple as it was in the Tabernacle in Moses's day. (The imagery of a cloud of smoke by day and fire by night calls back to Exodus, when the Israelites followed such a cloud in the desert.) God will have purified Jerusalem and Mount Zion and made everyone there holy. Is only God holy? In Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8, God is not just described as holy, but, "Holy, holy, holy"! These two verses are, to my understanding, the only places in the Bible where a word or phrase is repeated three times. While there is a contradiction on the face of what Revelation 15:4 says against the numerous verses listed on this contradiction page, I believe the idea behind this verse is to say that the level of "holy" that God is is essentially incomparable to anything else.

Yet hear the word of the LORD, O ye women (Isaiah 3)

Isaiah chapter three has some very interesting stuff in it. There are some things presented as though they are terrible curses that really don't seem that bad, but we'll get to that. First off, Judah is told they're going to be without food and water, which is definitely a bad thing. Is this a punishment from God or just the natural consequence of their sin? Sometimes it's hard to tell what precisely is going on, and I suppose it's precisely this sort of thing Wells wants me to deal with as he suggested in the comments on chapter one. I think there are different degrees of cruelty, and they're related to injustice. God could do something cruel just for the sake of cruelty; I don't believe you'll find an instance of that in the Bible, although the book of Job probably comes closest. God could do something cruel because he has been personally slighted; I think there's an element of that here, but I've explained that before, and it's related to the next level. God can remove his protection and allow people to suffer as a result of their actions; this happens sometimes when people have turned to other gods, and God is essentially saying, "Okay, then let those gods save you!" I think it also happens when people themselves are cruel, and God allows them to experience the cruelty that they inflicted on others. The lowest level of cruelty is simply God allowing people to experience the consequences of their bad decisions; this is just God not stopping someone from getting burned when they insist on playing with fire. In any case, I suppose this loss of food and water is a combination of the lower ones; Judah was steeped in sin, as outlined in detail in chapter one, and this would be the result.

The next thing that befalls Judah is that the people of influence in the nation would lose their power, and find themselves ruled by their children. I don't know that this is necessarily so bad, but it's an upset of the usual order of things, and perhaps a bit shameful for these people. (I'm not sure why this is marked for intolerance by the SAB, unless perhaps they're grouping it in with the stuff in verse five, which is perhaps xenophobic?) It says they will be oppressed by their neighbors, which could mean neighbors in the usual sense, but probably means that the nations that border them will oppress them. As I said earlier, Judah was defeated by the Babylonians. There's some interesting stuff in verses six and seven, where it says things will be so bad that people will look to their neighbors and say, hey, you're slightly less impoverished than me, why don't you take over and be a ruler? But nobody will stand up in that way. The nation of Judah will be conquered because they went against God's word, and Jerusalem is eventually turned to rubble by Nebuchadnezzar. Judah is once again compared to Sodom (the sin of Sodom I explained in chapter one, and if I have to explain every time the name "Sodom" is mentioned, it's going to be very tiresome...) and God explains here that the righteous people of Judah are not going to suffer quite like the wicked, as everyone gets what they deserve. (I talked about whether there was ever a righteous person in Genesis chapter 15.)

In verse twelve, it's reiterated that children will rule over them, and adds that women will rule over men. I don't know that this is so bad myself; call me a raging feminist, but but an Israel ruled by women sounds better than the alternative. I suppose Jewish culture being somewhat chauvinistic (there's actually a standard prayer for Jews in which men thank God for not making them a woman) it once again shakes up what is perceived as the natural order. The next few verses once again clarify that they are being punished for their cruelty to the poor. In verse 16, God talks about the women of Judah apparently acting in an inappropriate manner (it's not real clear to me, but since they are being punished for it, there must have been something wrong, it sounds perhaps like they were inciting men to lust, or even being promiscuous) and God gives them scabs on their heads and "will discover their secret parts" which definitely has a sexual connotation; perhaps they contract venereal disease of some sort? Anyway, for several verses, it outlines how God will take away all their fancy jewelry and clothes. I discussed whether perfume was okay in John chapter twelve, although it's not fully clear to me that this passage is talking about perfume. It's further stressed that the women will be made rather unattractive in their poverty, and their men will die in war.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

That I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days (Isaiah 2)

Not nearly as many notes on Isaiah chapter two as the last chapter, but there's definitely stuff to discuss here. One of the first things that comes up is this idea that there will be a day coming when "the mountain of the Lord" will be the highest mountain. I believe generally this phrase refers to Mt. Zion, which is the hill that Jerusalem sits on, and it's really just a hill, not that impressive, which may be why the SAB marks verse two as absurd. I think the idea here is that "in the last days," which is a reference to the end of history, God is certainly at least going to exalt Zion, and may actually physically lift it up. There's also the idea that all the nations of the earth will recognize the God of Israel, and go to Zion to worship and learn at the Temple. This will also bring world peace, with everyone abandoning their weapons in favor of tools for peacetime (verse four, marked as "Good stuff").

Verse six seems to be talking about improper religious practices, and goes on to talk about all the idolatry going on in Judah in verse eight. God tells idolaters to hide themselves, because he is coming for judgment on all people. In verse 18, he says he will abolish the idols, which the SAB marks as intolerant, but idolatry was always forbidden among the Israelites. It says that men will cast away their idols (apparently throwing them into caves) and hide among rocks from the Lord, who will cause earthquakes.

Monday, November 27, 2023

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him (Isaiah 1)

So, after some consideration and brief discussion with Steve Wells, I've decided to try the book of Isaiah. It should be an interesting change for a few reasons. As a prophetic book, most if not all of it won't be in the straightforward narrative style that most of what I've already done has been. Also as prophecy, there's probably going to be a lot more abstract symbolism rather than straightforward telling of information. Furthermore, in case I haven't said so before, I haven't read the entire Bible, and Isaiah is one of the few books I haven't read, so it should be interesting to read it for the first time (mostly, I've read parts of it) while blogging through the SAB's notes. We'll see how this goes.

So the first note the SAB has is the idea that Isaiah is actually a compilation of two or three different writings; I've heard this before, and while there are certainly scholars who prefer this view, most Christians do not (I don't know the Jewish view on the subject). It's largely a matter of the fact that Isaiah contains prophecies of the future that actually came true, and since some people don't like to see that, they postdated the parts with those prophecies (at least, that is my understanding, I'm probably way off on this, but I've seen such things elsewhere in the Bible). I'm going to treat Isaiah as one singular work by a single author, Isaiah the son of Amoz.

There are a lot of tags here, so we'll see if we can sort it all out. The chapter here opens with Isaiah giving a time frame for his writing, and talking about how Israel has largely turned from good to evil. Verse four is marked for "injustice" apparently for the phrase "seed of evildoers" as that's what's highlighted. I'm not sure what is unjust about this; it's just an observation that people in Israel have become more evil over time, and people who do evil tend to raise up evil children, at least that's how I read it. "Injustice" is also marked for verse nine, which says God knows there are still good people in Israel, for which reason he hasn't destroyed Israel yet. It mentions Sodom and Gomorrah, which is a good parallel, because in the chapter before their destruction in Genesis, Abraham discusses with God how many good people would be worth sparing the city for. This is certainly not justice, it's mercy, which is God not giving the punishment that is justly deserved. "Injustice" is also marked for verses 19-20, where it contrasts what happens to people who obey or disobey God; but why should God protect people who don't obey him? I guess it's a matter of opinion. "Intolerance" is also marked on some of those, as well as later verses such as 24 and 28. While I can certainly see verse 24, I think like I commented on 19-20, verse 28 is simply a case of God ceasing protection of those who aren't faithful to him. "Cruelty & Violence" is also marked for these verses, to which I offer the same responses.

What was Sodom's sin? is the first contradiction given here, briefly touching on the topic of homosexuality. I addressed it a bit in Genesis chapter 19, although surprisingly not in depth, as that would have been an appropriate place for a full explanation. I always prefer Ezekiel 16:49-50 as the definitive answer to this question, as I feel it covers it all:
Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.
Was the "abomination" mentioned there homosexuality? It doesn't specify, but in my opinion, it's gang rape, which has nothing to do with gender of the victim(s). While there are things mentioned on the contradiction page that are outside of the scope of what Ezekiel lists, I think it's just the case that Sodom and Gomorrah are frequently lifted up in conversation in the Bible as examples of sinfulness. I answered whether one should keep the sabbath in Exodus chapter 16. I answered whether God helps in times of need in 1Samuel chapter eight, but really didn't do a thorough job responding to the "No" section there. While generally God does help in times of need, God does have a tendency to refuse to help those who have turned their backs to him for long enough. It's sort of a, "If you're going to insist you don't need me, then don't come crying when things go wrong!" So it's conditional.

The SAB call verses 16-17 (and the opening of 18) "Good stuff", and it really is; this stuff is a major theme throughout the Bible, just sort of "love thy neighbor" type of things. It's interesting that when Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is in the Bible, he says to love God, and the second is to love people; but elsewhere he clarifies that you show your love for God by loving people. The SAB also has a couple of "Absurdity" points: in verse 20, it mentions the "mouth of God" which I'm guessing is absurd because God doesn't have a physical body? I think it can be said that the mouths of God's prophets are the "mouth of God" since he speaks through them. As for verse 29, I think this is symbolic language as well, not literally implying that gardens are bad, but rather it's another way of saying, "You reap what you sow." The last thing the SAB has issues with is the use of the word "harlot" in verse 21, which it labels with "Women" and "Language". I'm not sure why the former, but I suppose the latter is warranted. A lot of the prophets compare unfaithful Israel to an unfaithful wife, or even a prostitute (check out the book of Hosea, where God commands Hosea to marry a prostitute who cheats on him to essentially live out prophecy; he reconciles with his wife in the end, showing that there is always hope), and yeah, the language is usually harsh, but it's conveying a seriously strong point.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

That if a serpent had bitten any man (Acts 28)

Acts chapter 28 has something interesting in it: the "science" tag used in the opposite manner than I usually see it. Most of the time, it's on a miraculous occurrence saying, "Science says this can't happen!" However, this time it seems to be saying, "Science says this isn't a miracle!" Cool. (The other usual kind is there, too.)

So, soon after being shipwrecked, they find out that the island they're on is Malta. The people there are referred to as "barbarous" but kind, as they help out the Romans in many ways, including making a fire for them. When Paul gathers some firewood, a snake comes out of the wood and bites him. He shakes it off into the fire, and has no longterm effects of the bite. The snake is referred to as "venomous", however the SAB points out that there are no venomous snakes on Malta! (I assume Wells did his research, and take him at his word.) Nonetheless, the Maltese people apparently expect Paul to die from the bite, and when he doesn't, they think he is a god. There's no mention of Paul reacting to this as he did the last time this happened in Acts chapter 14 for some reason. Paul heals some people while they stay on Malta (the other instance of the "science" tag used in the usual manner).

Eventually, after some number of months, they manage to find a ship to take them to Rome. Along the way, they stop in a few ports, some of which have Christians which they meet with. Finally however, they arrive in Rome, where the prisoners are handed over, and Paul is jailed alone with a guard watching him. He calls to the leaders of the Jews in Rome and gives them a short speech. They say they haven't heard about Paul, but they do know about Christians, and how a lot of Jews speak against them, but they come back the next day with all the Jews of Rome to hear more. Paul speaks to the Jews pretty much all day, quoting scripture to support Christianity, and as is often the case, some believe, but many do not. Paul tells them he will preach to the Gentiles. Paul remains under house arrest for two years, and we're left hanging there, not knowing what his fate is.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

The way of a ship in the midst of the sea (Acts 27)

Acts chapter 27 is a bit of a change in that the SAB doesn't have much to say, but it's not marked as "boring stuff", but that's because this is one of the more action-packed chapters of Acts. Finally, Paul is shipped off to Rome, but it's not at all an easy journey.

So Paul and some other prisoners are handed over to a centurion named Julius to sail to Italy. They enter into a ship to sail up the coast of Asia Minor. After the first day, they dock at Sidon, where Paul is allowed to go ashore and visit with friends. (It seems that throughout Paul's imprisonment they keep him in chains as a matter of course, but don't really consider him a flight risk, because he's always given plenty of liberty.) They switch ships eventually, and they keep running into difficult weather. When they are in port at Lasea, Paul informs Julius that if they set out again, bad things are going to happen to the ship, but the captain of the ship says they can handle the weather, and Julius of course believes the sailor over the prisoner. They plan to simply sail to another harbor of Crete that's more suitable to wait out the winter in.

Once they are out on the sea, however, a strong wind whips up so much that they have to simply let the ship be driven by it. They try to lighten the ship, even by the third day of storm getting so desperate that they throw the ship's tackle into the sea. They go for days without seeing a clear sky, and then finally one day Paul stands up and tells them that in the night he had a vision of an angel who told him that everyone on the ship will survive the storm, but will be shipwrecked on an island. (The SAB calls this vision absurd, although it's pretty standard fare for the New Testament.) After fourteen days, they find themselves coming into shallow water, and some of the men attempt to leave on a lifeboat, but Paul tells Julius that they will only be saved if everyone stays on board, so the soldiers cut away the lifeboat. Paul tells everyone to eat something, as their time at sea is nearly over, so everyone eats and then apparently they throw the leftover food off the ship to lighten it further. The next day, they see land which they don't recognize, but they pull up the anchors and hoist the sail to run the ship aground. The front part of the ship sticks to the shore, but the rear part is destroyed by the storm. The soldiers, worried about the prisoners escaping, suggest that they kill them all, but Julius talks them out of it. Everyone finds their way to land.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked (Acts 26)

Acts chapter 26 is pretty much all another speech by Paul, and in it, we're going to hear about his conversion on the road to Damascus for the third time. Sometimes I wonder if the SAB should have a tag for "repetitive stuff" because the Bible definitely has a tendency towards repetition. Jews actually say that if something is repeated in the Law, that means it's extra important. I don't know if anyone says that about the New Testament, and I don't know why Paul's conversion would be considered particularly important, but here it is anyway.

Paul expresses that he's glad to give testimony before Agrippa, because he knows Agrippa is familiar with Jewish custom, and (as he says in verse 26 towards the end of his speech) he knows something about Jesus and the following he created. Paul talks about his background as a Pharisee and how he came to be one of the chief persecutors of the Christians, until the day he went to Damascus, where he had his run-in with Jesus. (I answered all supposed contradictions in that story in Acts chapter nine where it happened.) He tells that ever since then, he has been traveling around spreading the gospel, and it's for that reason that the Jews in Jerusalem are accusing him, even though he has preached nothing but what is talked about in the Hebrew Scriptures. (I answered whether death is final in Joshua chapter 23 where the answer was complicated. I answered whether Jesus was first to rise from the dead in 1Samuel chapter 28, which was also complicated, but much less so.)

Festus shouts out that Paul has gone crazy, which always seems to happen when Paul gets to the part about rising from the dead (not specifically Festus, but throughout Acts, people listening to Paul always seem to lose it at that point). Paul says he's not crazy, but speaking the truth, and he expects Agrippa knows enough to know that there is something to what he's saying. He asks Agrippa if he believes in the prophets, and Agrippa replies that he's actually almost persuaded to convert. Paul says that he wishes that everyone who hears him talk would convert. Agrippa and Festus turn aside to talk, and say that they don't believe Paul has done anything wrong, but since he has appealed to Caesar, he must go to Rome in chains.

If he had not appealed unto Caesar (Acts 25)

Acts chapter 25 is yet another chapter marked only with the "boring stuff" icon, and yes, like a lot of the end of Acts, it's largely people talking about stuff we've heard before. Festus comes to Jerusalem and the Sanhedrin asks Paul be brought there for judgment, but Festus insists that Paul stays at Caesarea and anyone who wants to accuse him should come there. Eventually, Festus returns to Caesarea and some of the Jews come there to accuse Paul again. Once again, they have a lot of accusations, but no proof. Paul claims that he has done nothing against either Jewish or Roman law, and says that he appeals to Caesar. Now, as a Roman citizen, he has the right to do this, and it guarantees that he will be sent to Rome, as Jesus told him would happen. King Herod Agrippa II and his wife/sister Bernice come to Caesarea eventually to visit Festus, and he tells them about Paul. Agrippa expresses interest in Paul, so Festus says he'll give him a chance to hear from him. He brings him the next day, expressing to Agrippa that maybe he can help write a letter to Caesar Augustus explaining why Paul is being sent, because he's not really clear on the matter.

Monday, November 06, 2023

There arose no small stir about that way (Acts 24)

Acts chapter 24 is admittedly pretty dull, essentially consisting of a bunch of speeches telling the reader a bunch of stuff they probably already know. The Sanhedrin shows up at Felix's court with a professional orator named Tertullus, who presents their argument. They thank Felix for being a good governor and point out how peaceful things generally are in Palestine, then accuse Paul of being a troublemaker, a leader of a seditious movement they call "the sect of the Nazarenes" and suggest that Paul was attempting to profane the Temple. They say they would have dealt with him themselves if the captain (who we are now informed is named Lysias) hadn't intervened and troubled Felix with the matter.

Getting his turn to speak, Paul says it's just been twelve days since he first went to the Temple, and in that time he has done nothing wrong, nor has he ever done any of the things the Sanhedrin is accusing him of. He admits to being a member of a sect of Judaism that some people don't like, but insists that it is all according to the Hebrew Scriptures. (I answered whether there has ever been a just person in Matthew chapter 13.) Paul insists that he had just come to the Temple to give an offering, as any good Jew would do, when some Jews from Asia decided to slander him; and after all, why aren't his original accusers present at this trial? If his present accusers can prove any of their claims, then let them give evidence, but Paul once again says he is on trial simply because he has indicated his belief in the resurrection of the dead.

Felix, having heard both sides and possessed of some knowledge of the nature of Christianity (not yet called "Christianity" but rather "the way") decides to wait to hear from Lysias, and meanwhile leaves Paul under arrest, but allowing visitors. We never hear Lysias's testimony, but are told that Felix and his Jewish wife talk to Paul about "the way" from time to time over two years, after which Porcius Festus replaces Felix as governor, leaving Paul in jail.

Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended (Acts 23)

I should have made a joint post with Acts chapter 23 and the previous, as there's not much material in either one. Oh, well; I can do a quick recap here and comment on the SAB's comments. I notice right off the top that the SAB says Paul "claims to be a Pharisee". It's not just a claim, he was one before becoming a Christian, and arguably still is. I think there's a place in the gospels where the difference between the Pharisees and Saducees is enumerated, but we have it right here in verse eight: the Saducees don't believe in all the spiritual aspects of the Jewish religion, seeing it essentially as just a moral law, while the Pharisees believe in souls, angels, Heaven and an afterlife. A lot of people miss that the issue Jesus had with the Pharisees wasn't their theology, but their rigid legalism; theologically, they were entirely on the same page with the exception of believing that Jesus was the Son of God. So that's why I say Paul is arguably still a Pharisee, because they're on the same theological standing.

So anyway, after having some back and forth with the high priest, (and saying he's lived in good conscience his entire life, which is not the same thing as saying he's never done anything wrong, because Jews believe in being resolved of their sin through sacrifice) Paul realizes that he's talking to a mixed group of Pharisees and Saducees, so he points out that he is a Pharisee, and he's being put on trial because of his belief in the resurrection of the dead. This causes a fight to break out, as suddenly the Pharisees turn to defend Paul. The captain of the guard has to run in and rescue Paul again. That night Paul has a vision of Christ standing over him and telling him he is going to spread the gospel in Rome.

Forty of the Jews decide to make a vow that they will not eat until Paul is dead, and hatch a plan to kill him that day. (The SAB makes note of this as "The first hunger strike?" apparently forgetting that King Saul made his soldiers make a similar vow in 1Samuel 14:24.) They tell the Sanhedrin about their plan, and somehow Paul's nephew hears about it and alerts Paul, who has him go tell the captain. The captain takes this very seriously, and assembles a large company of soldiers to accompany Paul to Governor Felix in Caesarea. He sends a letter to Felix explaining the situation. When Paul gets there, Felix puts him in Herod's care.

Sunday, November 05, 2023

An Hebrew of the Hebrews (Acts 22)

Acts chapter 22 opens with Paul's speech to the angry crowd from the last chapter. As mentioned there, he gives this speech in Hebrew (oddly, many other translations say "Aramaic" even though the Greek reads "Έβραΐδι" which would be pronounced "hebraidi" so what else could it be?), which causes the crowd to quiet down and listen. Paul tells of his Hebrew background, and quickly progresses to retelling the story from Acts chapter nine of his conversion on the road to Damascus with some slightly different details. I answered whether the men with Paul heard the voice in Acts chapter nine. When he finally mentions God sending him to the Gentiles, the crowd loses it again, pretty much going nuts and demanding that Paul be killed. (I answered whether the gospel should be preached everywhere in Acts chapter one.)

The captain, who doesn't speak Hebrew, takes Paul away and orders that he be scourged to find out what he said to rile up the crowd. Just as they're preparing to scourge him, Paul mentions that he's a Roman citizen, and all the Romans get flustered because, as I mentioned a few chapters back, there are rules about how you treat citizens, and they aren't following them. So they take off his chains and arrange for a meeting with the Sanhedrin.

Saturday, November 04, 2023

If the Lord takes me back to Jerusalem (Acts 21)

The first part of Acts chapter 21 is just more of Paul's travels. The SAB notes that when Paul stops for a week in Tyre, it's an indication of failed prophecy by Ezekiel. I don't know about that personally, and will deflect to some more learned than me for a response. Eventually, Paul and his company come to Caesarea, where they stay with Philip and his daughters. A prophet comes to visit and gives a strange prophecy essentially saying Paul is going to be captured and bound in Jerusalem. Paul's friends try to convince Paul not to go to Jerusalem any more, but Paul is determined to go, even if it means death.

Paul arrives in Jerusalem, and tells the believers there about all the missionary work he's done since they last saw him. They are happy with the news, but they warn him that some Jews have been spreading rumors about him, and he may not be safe. They suggest a plan: there are four men which are preparing to take a Nazarite vow; Paul can go shave his head with them and give an offering at the Temple and pay for the other men's expenses, and people will see that Paul is a good, observant Jew. Paul agrees with the plan and goes to the Temple, at first everything seemingly going according to plan. After about a week, however, some Jews from Asia recognize Paul, and grab him. They cry out to the other Jews a bunch of false accusations against Paul (although they may have thought they were true), and the people drag Paul outside, presumably to stone him to death for blasphemy. A leader of the Roman guard breaks up the crowd and carries Paul away in chains. Paul asks the leader for a chance to speak, and he is surprised Paul speaks Greek, having thought he was an Egyptian revolutionary. Paul explains that he is a Jew from Tarsus and asks the leader for a chance to address the crowd. The leader allows it, and the chapter ends mid-sentence.

Thursday, November 02, 2023

To the saints which are at Ephesus (Acts 20)

Acts chapter 20 is mostly marked with the "boring" icon, so there's probably not much here, but let's see... Actually, this is the chapter that's so boring, someone falls asleep in the middle of it while Paul is giving a message, and he falls out a window. It's mostly a lot of Paul traveling, but in the middle of the chapter, he kills this boy with a far too long speech, as the boy falls out of a third-story window. Paul heals him, or maybe brings him back to life, it's not entirely clear.

In his travels, Paul decides not to go to Ephesus, where he had taught for three years, but landing his ship nearby, he calls for the leaders of the Ephesian church to meet with him. He gives them a big speech, telling them that he is sure there's trouble ahead for both the church and himself, and he expects never to see them again. He leaves them with some encouragement, including some words he says Jesus spoke (but are not recorded elsewhere), then he prays with them and continues to Jerusalem.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The baptism of John, whence was it? (Acts 19)

Acts chapter 19 opens with a few more people in Ephesus who are only familiar with the work of John the Baptist. Paul meets these men and asks them if they've received the Holy Ghost, and they essentially respond with, "Holy Ghost? Never heard of it!" Paul tells them about Jesus, and baptizes them again. It's an interesting doctrinal point here that Paul makes, saying the baptism of John was a baptism of repentance, which might make one wonder what the baptism of Jesus is about, because it sounds like Paul is contrasting here. The men receive the Holy Ghost and speak in tongues, prophesying. (Here's another instance of the Holy Ghost being given for the SAB.) After speaking in the synagogue for three months, the non-believing Jews start slandering Paul, so he leaves the synagogue and relocates to "the school of one Tyrannus" which the SAB notes as the only school in the entire Bible; while this may be technically true (that is, it's the only mention of "school") I think the idea of education is present throughout the Bible, and on the flipside, it's not really clear what kind of "school" this is. Anyway, Paul is in Ephesus for two years, and apparently his teaching of the gospel spreads throughout Asia (note that "Asia" in the Bible is referring to what we would call "Asia Minor" today).

There is mentioned some actually rather strange miracles here. It seems that Paul was working in Ephesus, and people would take his sweat rags and aprons and touch sick people with them, causing them to be cured. The Bible doesn't explain why this is effective, and yeah, I can see the "Absurdity" tag here. In a related story, some professional exorcists who are non-Christian Jews try to cast out a demon by saying, "We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth." The demon apparently finds this amusing saying he knows Jesus and Paul (with a different Greek word for "know" in each case, the NIV rendering the response, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?") but doesn't know who the exorcists are, and he beats them up and strips them naked. Once again, the absurdity of this story is pretty obvious, although to those contemporary to it happening, it was apparently scary, and a bunch of people are essentially spooked into the kingdom of heaven.

Then there is noted a book burning. The SAB should really include this passage on their Is magic OK? page, because it's implied here that these are something like spellbooks. Paul is apparently thinking about traveling back to Jerusalem and then to Rome, but for now he sends Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia. In Ephesus, a silversmith named Demetrius gathers together craftsmen in the city who make money crafting (I assume) idols of the goddess Diana, and points out that the idol making craft is losing money from all these people turning to Christianity. They stir up a sort of rally for Diana, which turns into a would-be lynch mob for some Christians. The town clerk gets them to calm down and implores them to not do anything rash and illegal that they will regret, and the crowd disperses.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus (Acts 18)

Acts chapter 18 is short and doesn't have many notes, so this should be a short entry. Paul comes to Corinth, where he meets a Jewish couple named Aquila and Priscilla who apparently have been recently kicked out of Rome along with other Jews. We hear about them several times in the New Testament, and often, Priscilla's name is mentioned first, which, as the SAB notes, implies that she is rather important, certainly not just as a wife. In 1Corinthians 16:19, Priscilla and Aquila are said to be leaders of a church together, and later in this chapter they teach a Jew named Apollos (who becomes a prominent leader in the Corinthian church) about the gospel. Silas and Timothy arrive from Macedonia just as more troubleis being stirred up by some Jews opposing Paul. This time, Paul is provoked to some pretty angry words as he declares he's leaving to go preach to the Gentiles, although he leaves to the house of a man named Justus who, having a house connected to the synagogue, is probably a Jew, and Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, is said to be a Christian.

Rather than leaving town this time, Paul has a vision in which Jesus encourages him and tells him no harm will come to him in Corinth, so Paul stays for a year and a half. Some Jews decide to bring him to the ruler of Corinth, but the man says that the matter sounds like a religious thing, and he isn't getting involved. Paul takes Priscilla and Aquila to Syria, shaving his head as part of a vow to the Lord. The SAB says this is backwards, as Numbers chapter six says you shave your head after completing the vow, but it's always been my understanding that a person making a vow shaves their head at the beginning of the vow as well (note that in verse nine, if he is accidentally defiled, he shaves his head and starts over again). Anyway, they come to Ephesus and apparently make some converts there, and after a little while, Paul leaves to travel back to Jerusalem for a feast (probably Passover) by way of several churches along the way. After he leaves, Apollos shows up, one of the first of a handful of Jews in the book of Acts that are disciples of John the Baptist who somehow haven't heard of Jesus. Priscilla and Aquila get him caught up, and he goes on to become prominent in the church.

Friday, October 27, 2023

The God of Heaven and the God of the earth (Acts 17)

Acts chapter 17 doesn't seem to have any new contradictions, but there's probably something worth commenting on. Paul and Silas continue their travels, eventually coming to Thessalonica, where they go to the synagogue and talk about Jesus for three weeks, resulting in many converts. As is often the case, there are some Jews who don't like this, and stir up trouble, going to the house of someone named Jason who probably was someone who was intimately involved with them. They try to get Jason arrested, but eventually let him go after he posts bail. Paul and Silas move on to Berea, where the people there are said to be more noble because they listen and check the scriptures that Paul refers to, making sure that he's saying truth. The Thessalonican Jews hear Paul is there and follow him, stirring up more trouble. Paul leaves by sea, with Silas and Timothy staying behind.

Paul comes to Athens, where he makes a very interesting speech on Mars Hill. After his usual talking in the synagogue there, some Greek philosophers invite him to talk in public about his doctrine, which they suppose is about "strange gods". In the KJV, Paul calls the Athenians "too superstitious", although it's worth noting that virtually every other translation renders this single Greek word as "very religious", which sounds more charitable. Paul notes that he came across an altar inscribed with "TO THE UNKNOWN GOD" (The source of this inscription is an interesting story which I happen to know and will share in the comments.) and Paul declares that it is this unknown God that he has come to preach. This is really quite fascinating, and I think supports the "very religious" translation, because Paul is here choosing not to belittle their religion, but meet them where he perceives them to be spiritually. A lot of people who try and share the gospel should take notes here. Paul talks about the God of Israel, the God who made the entire universe and is too vast to be contained in a temple. (I answered who is the Lord of this world interestingly enough in Ruth chapter four, which doesn't address this issue, but it came up in my response there. I answered whether God dwells in temples in Acts chapter seven.) Paul says that God is the God of all people, and anyone can follow him and be reconciled to him. (I answered whether we are all God's children in Matthew chapter six. I answered whether Jesus is God in Matthew chapter nine. I answered whether Jesus judges people in John chapter five.) When Paul talks about Jesus raising from the dead, the group breaks up, some mocking him, others expressing interest in hearing more, and a few leaving with Paul to become believers.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Timothy our brother (Acts 16)

Acts chapter 16 opens with a vingette that seems to contradict the previous chapter, and the SAB takes it that way. Is circumcision required? This was really answered in chapter 15, which oddly enough isn't linked to on this page, but I suppose there's no specific verse to link to there. The answer is no for Christians, yes for Jews. (If the question is required for salvation, it's a straight across the board "no".) The Old Testament passages are all for Jews (as well as the Luke passage, because Jesus was Jewish), and most of the New Testament passages are addressed to Gentile Christians. Timothy, whose mother was a Jew and father was a Greek, is a believer, and wants to go with Paul, but for some reason, Paul decides Timothy needs to be circumcised. It's not made particularly clear why Paul decides this, especially so soon after the Jerusalem council; it may be because what with Timothy's mother being Jewish Paul felt a need for Timothy to have some Jewish cred, so to speak. (Paul notes in Galatians that he didn't compel Titus to be circumcised because he was Greek.)

I already responded to whether the Gospel should be preached to everyone in Acts chapter one, where I pointed out, as I will again, that Phrygia and Galatia are in Asia, so it's not even very clear what verse six is trying to say! Paul has a dream about a man in Macedonia asking for help, so Paul goes there. The SAB, always with an attention to detail, notes that the narrative switches to first-person, and wonders why. The standard Christian explanation is that Luke (the author of Acts) must have joined Paul around this time. Anyway, shortly after they get to Macedonia, they meet Lydia, and convert her. The SAB's suggestion that Lydia might be a lesbian because she sold purple (I assume purple clothes rather than the actual dye) seems a bit of a stretch, as purple is more likely associated with nobility; it is interesting that she does appear to be an independent woman, which may have been more common in Europe. (Note I'm not saying Lydia definitely wasn't a lesbian, I just don't think the evidence is compelling enough.)

Paul's encounter with the demon possessed woman is actually pretty absurd, I have to agree. She's demon possessed, but follows Paul around hyping him up. Apparently there's something annoying or otherwise distracting about it, and she is demon possessed, so Paul casts the demon out of her. Her owners are pissed off, because they were making money off of her, so they bring Paul and Silas to the rulers of the town where they are beaten and thrown into prison. That night, while they're sitting in prison in chains, they are singing praise songs, and a miraculous earthquake happens, that opens the doors of the prison and loosens everyone's chains. The warden wakes up, and seeing the doors open, makes to commit suicide, as apparently he's going to be in trouble. Paul calls out to him, letting him know they are still there, and not to kill himself. He comes in to Paul and Silas and asks how he can be saved. Paul gives him a curious answer, saying if he believes in Jesus, he and his whole family will be saved! There are actually Christians who believe that if the husband is saved, that covers the whole household. I actually used to know a witch online who said she had a husband who was a pastor, and as far as he was concerned, she was saved because he was. So the SAB has to ask, Is salvation by faith alone? I'm sure I've answered this question elsewhere at least in part, but as the page doesn't have a link, I'll address it here in full. The answer is yes, but it's complicated. There are a few things that need to be said that may address the "no" verses. First of all, despite the fact that a person is "saved" doesn't mean they won't be judged; there seems to be both a judgment concerning salvation and a judgment concerning rewards and punishment that is separate. Also, many of the Old Testament passages are talking about judgment here on earth, the idea that God rewards good people and punishes bad people. Also, there is another important teaching that is especially accentuated in the book of James: that faith, if it is genuine, should result in good works, and if the good works are not present in a person's life, you should question their faith. Oh, and said works also include one's words that one speaks. So, for those passages not covered by these issues... The Matthew five verse I explained in Matthew five, basically saying that Jesus is using hyperbole to say that you can't get in to Heaven on righteousness. Matthew 19 in the broader context is illustrating that most rich people are violating the first Commandment by having money as their god. The Romans two passage is, I think, being taken wrong, as the broader context of the entire book is salvation by faith; perhaps Paul is saying, as Jesus sometimes did, that nobody is capable of keeping the whole of the law, because in the end, we are all sinners. The Philippians two verse is not at all clear in and of itself, and certainly could be saying to keep the faith. Revelation 22 is a tricky one, but I think it can certainly be said that Jesus had Commandments (the SAB has them all tracked, in fact), which were mainly about faith. If a husband believes, is his wife saved also? I think it's arguable that the point of all of these verses is that the faith of one spouse has a great influence on the other, although as I said above, some people believe the answer is a simple "yes".

So, the warden puts his faith in Jesus, and is baptized, along with his family. Just because it doesn't say what the rest of his family thought about all of this doesn't automatically imply that they were baptized against their will; it's entirely possible that the whole family made confessions of faith as well. Lack of information doesn't imply that something didn't happen, but it's certainly true that it leaves us wondering. In the morning, the order is given to let Paul and Silas go. Paul is apparently offended that they arrested them publicly, but want to release him privately. The people in charge hear about this, and the fact that Paul and Silas are Roman citizens, which is serious business, since there are special rules about how you treat citizens, and they haven't been treated properly. The rulers release them and ask them to leave the city. After visiting with Lydia one more time, they depart.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

But if ye will not hearken unto us, to be circumcised (Acts 15)

Acts chapter 15 is where the Jewish Christians say, hey, isn't it time we talked about circumcision? Because, as some Jewish believers contend, how can you possibly get into Heaven without cutting off the tip of your penis? So Paul and Barnabas decide to travel to Jerusalem and get this sorted out. (I already answered whether the gospel should be preached to everyone in Acts chapter one.) When they arrive, the Christians get together and debate over circumcision and whether it's required of believers in Christ. Finally, Peter stands up and says that since God has already shown that Gentiles are welcome in the kingdom of God, why should Jewish Christians require them to follow the Mosaic Law? (I answered whether God can be tempted in Exodus chapter 17.) After Peter, Paul and Barnabas talk about all the missionary work that they have done among the Gentiles. Finally, James speaks, and quotes the prophet Amos, and suggests that they should just tell Gentiles to abstain from idols, fornication, strangled things, and blood. This is a fascinating thing that I think I mentioned before a couple times: that Christianity actually does have dietary restrictions, and here they are. I answered whether it's okay to eat blood in John chapter six. I answered whether it's okay to have sex outside of marriage in Exodus chapter 20. Is it OK to eat meat sacrificed to other gods? Finally, a new question! The answer to this one is pretty much a "depends"; note that most of these verses come not just from the same book, but from the same chapter! 1Corinthians 10 is just a place where Paul is taking time to examine this in detail, and the message is clearly not a contradiction when he has two things to say immediately following one another.
1Corinthians 10:27 If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. 28 But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof:
The guidelines Paul gives for this is that if you don't know whether the meat set before you had been a sacrifice, don't worry about it, but if you do know it was, don't eat it in that case. He's saying it's really a matter of conscience pretty clearly.

So with everyone in agreement, they write a letter to send to the churches so the Gentiles will know about this. They send Paul and Barnabas, since they know all these churches, and Judas Barsabas and Silas, since they're apparently prophets. And the Gentiles were very glad they didn't have to cut off the tips of their penises. After a while, Paul wants to go back and visit all the churches one more time, but Barnabas wants to take John Mark, who (as I mentioned a few chapters back) Paul is angry at for abandoning them on their first journey. So they split up, Barnabas taking John Mark to Cyprus, and Paul taking Silas to Syria.

Friday, October 20, 2023

The people of the land shall stone him with stones (Acts 14)

Acts chapter 14 doesn't have a lot of notes, but there is some interesting stuff here. Barnabas and Paul travel to Iconium, where they preach and do some signs to some affect, but when they hear the people there want to stone them, they move on. In Lystra, they heal a lame man, which provokes the Gentiles there to think they are gods. When they find out about this, they rend their clothes--a common expression of outrage in the Jewish culture--and explain to them that they are only humans who acted in the power of Jesus. Shortly after this, some Jews show up and incite the crowd to stone Paul to death. Now, it's not made clear whether Paul just appears dead or if he's actually dead and comes back to life. In 2Corinthians 12, Paul talks about someone going to Heaven and coming back, and some people believe that Paul is talking about himself, and possibly it was at this point in his life (or death) that it happened. In any case, Paul somehow walks away from being stoned to death, and the next day they leave for Derbe. After preaching in Derbe for a while, they head back and visit a number of cities that they had been to previously to encourage the believers there.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

They sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch (Acts 13)

Acts chapter 13 opens with a bunch of believers fasting, looking for direction from God. The Holy Ghost says Barnabas and Saul are chosen to go do missionary work, so they pray for them and send them off. So when they get where they are going, there's a government official who wants to hear their message, but a false prophet and sorcerer named Elymas tries to keep them away. Paul apparently pronounces a curse on this man, temporarily blinding him. I answered whether we are all God's children in John chapter one. I answered whether magic was okay in Acts chapter eight.

Barnabas and Paul continue on their journey, John Mark leaving them to return to Jerusalem. (This is notable because Paul later expresses the feeling that John Mark had abandoned them.) They eventually come to Antioch (a different one, there were several in Asia Minor) and visit a synagogue. When the teacher finishes his message, he asks if anyone has anything to add, and Paul jumps in. He tells the history of the Jews up until David, and segues from David to Jesus. When did Solomon's reign begin? The SAB is clever to note the math here, and while I usually side with the earlier source, Paul's numbers sound right, so I don't know why 1Kings gets it so wrong. The SAB notes that what Paul says in verse 22 is not found in the Old Testament, but perhaps Paul doesn't mean to be quoting any specific scripture? I'm sure I've answered whether Joseph was Jesus's father somewhere (it's in Matthew chapter one), but it's worth pointing out particularly that while Joseph was not Jesus's biological father, Mary was also descended from David, so Jesus is indeed the descendant of David. I answered who buried Jesus in Matthew chapter 27. I answered who raised Jesus from the dead in John chapter two. I answered when Jesus ascended into heaven in John chapter 20. I answered whether there was an unforgivable sin in Matthew chapter twelve.

Paul's message over, most of the people go home, but a few, apparently mostly Gentiles, are excited to hear the message, and ask Paul to preach again next Saturday. The next Saturday, there's a huge crowd, and some of the Jews are unhappy to see people turning out for Paul. Paul says if the Jews won't receive the gospel, they will happily preach to the Gentiles, and a lot of people come to faith.

Do humans have free will? This is a big philosophical question that goes even beyond theology. At the time I'm writing this, the contradiction page has some technical issues, so I don't know what verses in the Bible are referenced over this, but I have some general thoughts about free will and predestination. I don't believe they are mutually exclusive, which of course I will have to explain. The thing that is important to understand is that God is omniscient, and exists outside of our spacetime continuum. Allow me to illustrate with an example I use commonly. I write these posts linearly, so there is a sense in which I am constrained by time; however, you the reader are not constrained, as you see the whole of the post at one time, outside, if you will, of my time constraints. So you can play the part of God, and this six-sided die I have in my hand can play the part of free will. Look to the last sentence of this post and read it. If you did that, you now have knowledge that I did not have at the time of me writing this. The die is still free to land on any number, and at the same time, from your "omniscient" perspective, the number is already predetermined. I'm actually going to wait an hour to finish this post to leave myself in suspense, but you've already been there. Okay, I'm back! Sorry, I'm writing this at work, so I have to wait for my breaks. So, time to end the suspense for me and roll the die. The die came up a five.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Bring my soul out of prison (Acts 12)

Acts chapter twelve presents me with a moment where I need to rescind something I said a few chapters back. I said the SAB doesn't mark violence or intolerance when it's against Christians or Jews, but here, verses one through three are marked for intolerance; it's actually not entirely clear who the intolerance is against, however, because while it describes persecution of Christians, it could be that the SAB is implying verse three is antisemitic. If it is the latter, it needs to be noted that "the Jews", as in the gospels, is referring to the Sanhedrin, and not Jews in general. Nonetheless, it is true that many Jews are hostile towards Christianity. I don't know how prevalent it is, but I do know my father was very strongly against it. My Jewish father is no longer part of my life--by his choosing, not mine--and doesn't know I'm a Christian, but if he did, I'm sure he would be outraged. It's actually far from unheard of for a Jewish family to have a funeral for a family member who converts to Christianity. It's actually understandable on numerous levels, because Christianity in many ways is based on doctrine that says Jewish tradition is erroneous, Trinitarianism sounds a lot like polytheism, and the cherry on top is the extensive history of antisemitism in the Gentile church. But this is all a huge tangent from our passage that I'm happy to continue in the comments if anyone cares, but it's cluttering up the regular content. (Oh, one last side note: Verse three says it was "the days of unleavened bread" which is Passover. Verse four mentions "Easter", which was not a holiday in existence during this time. The actual Greek word here is "πάσχα", which is translated "Passover" the other 28 times it appears. I have no idea why the KJV makes this odd translation choice here.)

So... As the SAB notes, Peter is in prison, but God sends an angel for a magical prison break. Happy to be free, he heads to the house of Mary, mother of John Mark (the author of the gospel of Mark) and knocks at the gate. A woman named Rhoda hears him and, recognizing his voice, instead of letting him in, she runs and tells the others (who are praying for Peter's release) that he's at the gate. They don't believe her, and say, "It's his angel." This is all very silly, and it's not clear what is meant by this claim. Did they think Peter had a guardian angel who was at the gate instead of with Peter in prison? The word "angel" actually means "messenger", so maybe they thought Peter had sent them a message? Anyway, they finally open the gate and see Peter, which astonishes them. Peter tells them God got him out, and to tell James and the others. He takes off, probably to find a place to hide.

In the morning, Herod sends for Peter, but he can't be found. Herod has the guards put to death and goes to Caesarea. While he's there, a bunch of people praise him, saying of his speech, "It is the voice of a god, and not of a man." Herod dies, apparently for not denying this blasphemous statement.

Barnabas and Saul return to Antioch with John Mark.