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.