Category Archives: bible

Is Epiphany – the visit of the Three Kings – plausible?

We three kings or orient are

One in a scooter, one in a car.

So runs the schoolchild skit on the Carol.

Well they were not 3, they were not kings and had no names.

This blog by Ian Paul discusses these oriental gentlemen and comes to a conclusion similar to mine

 

 

Source: Is Epiphany plausible?

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Southgate on The Groaning of Creation

In his blog Anthony Smith discusses Christopher Southgate’s book The Groaning of Creation and raises several questions.

http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2018/01/04/the-groaning-of-creation-god-evolution-and-the-problem-of-evil/

Southgate like many Green Christians today puts much weight on Romans 8 vs19-22

The Groaning of Creation

Smith comments

 

The great turning point of history, for Southgate, between the evolutionary ‘groaning’ of creation and its eschatological hope, is the Cross of Christ. The Cross is ‘the moment of God’s taking ultimate responsibility for the pain of creation’ and, with the Resurrection, the Cross also serves ‘to inaugurate the transformation of creation’ (p. 16).

What, then, is the role of humanity? We are now able to participate with God, to a small extent, in the ‘healing of the evolutionary process’ (p. 16). God subjected the creation to the frustration of the evolutionary process, in hope that the creation’s groaning might bring humanity into existence, so that humanity, redeemed by Christ, might share with Christ in bringing about the liberation of the whole creation (see Romans 8:19-22). Considering the evolutionary process to have served its purpose, Southgate writes, ‘I regard this as the eschatological phase of history, in which humans should be looking to their own liberation and to the relief of creation’s groaning’ (p. 126).

What does this mean in practice? The example Southgate gives is the role humanity should seek to play in protecting species from extinction, whether that extinction would be through human actions, or by ‘natural’ causes. In this ‘penultimate’ phase of history, such actions would serve as a sign of the future hope for the whole creation.

This argument for the groaning of creation and its redemption in Romans 8 is commonly held today by Christians and may almost be the Green Orthodoxy.

Its validity turns on the translation from the Greek of Romans 8 vs 20 τῇ γὰρ ματαιότητι ἡ κτίσις ὑπετάγη, οὐχ ἑκοῦσα ἀλλὰ διὰ τὸν ὑποτάξαντα, ἐφ’ ἑλπίδι

and especially the first clause

τῇ γὰρ ματαιότητι ἡ κτίσις ὑπετάγη,

This is normally translated “For the creation was subject to vanity/futility”

Here lies the problem. The word for creation here is ktisis which can mean either the whole of the natural world or simply humanity.  The word translated vanity/futility is mataiotes, which, with cognates occurs 14 times in the New Testament and in every other instance refers to the flaws of humanity, with echoes back to the “vanity of vanities” of Ecclesiastes

now for Rom 8 vs22  οἴδαμεν γὰρ ὅτι πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις συστενάζει καὶ συνωδίνει ἄχρι τοῦ νῦν , which is in the NRSV “We know that the whole creation has bean groaning with labour pains until now” Now sustenazw means to groan together and sunwdinw normally means the suffering of childbirth. Again, the question is whether ktisis is humanity or the whole universe.

Almost all commentators today argue, or usually simply affirm without argument, that ktisis is the universe, but many scholars in the past argued that it was humanity, notably Lightfoot in the 1650s and William Buckland in 1838

Ulitmately translation of these verses turns on the meanings of ktisis, mataiotes and phthora (decay).

Southgates’s argument and possibly the whole book turns on ktisis being creation as universe. If this is not the case then his thesis fails. At best it is one of two possible translation, but it cannot be seen as THE ONLY translation. Thus we cannot say with him;

God subjected the creation to the frustration of the evolutionary process, in hope that the creation’s groaning might bring humanity into existence, so that humanity, redeemed by Christ, might share with Christ in bringing about the liberation of the whole creation (see Romans 8:19-22).

However much this reading of Romans 8 may chime in with environmental ideas today, it cannot be seen as an adequate dealing of the text and does not recognise the variety of ways in which key words in this passage are used.

Hence his book cannot be seen as an answer or solution to God, evolution and the problem of evil.

Here is my earlier blog which is being revised

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/mis-reading-romans-chapter-8/

 

 

The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil | Anthony Smith

This is a blog by an ordinand at Cranmer Hall Durham, which exposes the issues of suffering , evolution and the Bible by considering Romans 8vs 19-22. This understanding is common among green Christians, but I have my reservations as in this older blog

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/mis-reading-romans-chapter-8/

 

 

I’m going to be engaging this term with Christopher Southgate’s wide-ranging book, The Groaning of Creation. Here I attempt to summarise the book.

Source: The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil | Anthony Smith

God’s Creation and the Environment

Why Belief in Creation is important

Not many decades ago the doctrine of creation was almost ignored within the churches , but today things have changed and creation is to the fore.
The first chapter of Genesis speaks of creation in six days. Some get bogged down and think that is what Christians actually believe.

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But 1600 years ago St Augustine had got it right!

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Then in the Nicene Creed we say, “We believe in one God, …,maker of heaven and earth”. After four hundred years of modern science we need to accept the vast age of the earth and evolution.

Anything else is “alternative fact”.

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Our Christian faith does not tell us what our science should be, but rather how we should see the natural world, how to use it and recognise its originator.
So how should we treat the natural world? There has often been careless exploitation, resulting in gross pollution. At the other extreme some want hug every tree and view nature so mystically that they can scarcely use it. (But they do!)
Let’s put it under three heads;

1.Worship God as Creator.

We must always see that God is creator and that his Glory is seen in nature. Now we see it in frosts and bursting snowdrops. We need to develop this so we see the Creator both in the smallest things, like dew on a spider’s web, and in the awesome like mountains in snow. It is something we can do daily.

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These photos show some of the beauty of the British countryside and the ones below are from my garden and a churchyard

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There is always something to find, if you look

O all ye green things of the earth, bless ye the Lord

2 Use creation, i.e. the earth’s resources, wisely.

To live, we need food, materials whether grown or extracted, and, unless we wish to return to poverty, we use a lot. Our energy is from fossil fuels and will be for decades despite some claims. The metals we use are dug out of the ground, smelted and cause pollution. Farming takes over tracts of land thus reducing wilderness. Without these we would either starve or die young. This is something some Greens do not want to grasp.

However human activity does cause environmental dame as with this opencast coal mine and drainage of peat in the Pennines for grouse shooting which allows 10ft of peat to blow away and be a factor in floods. This old trig pillar was on a level with the peat 100 yrs ago but erosion meant it was 10 ft in the air. It was knocked over for safety

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I could discuss this at length, but we need to find a way of enabling all people to live comfortably, control pollution and environmental damage and , above all, find ways of restoring areas damaged by mining, industry or land usage. Today we can see the effects with loss of wildlife and biodiversity, increased flooding (in the river Wyre basin where I live, it may well be due to peat damage and tree loss rather than climate change), pollution from all sources and climate change.
The solution is global, governmental and personal. Personal actions are vital whether turning lights off, growing plants to attract wildlife and many other things.

3. Think of others.

We may live in a comfortable environment with greenspaces, wildlife and creature comforts, but many in our world do not. Parts of our cities lack green spaces and suffer from air pollution. Many parts of the world have dirty water, limited food and energy and are grossly polluted. The pollution of the Ganges is our concern as well. Do we care? and why should we care?

Part of this we see in the mandate of Genesis 1 vs 28, but this does not take environmental issues into consideration as that was not an issue in 1000BC. It is often interpreted so we should EXPLOIT, rather than CARE, for the earth. It is only in the last 30 years that churches have shown concern for the environment. Before that a minority of individuals did.

We need to start from the Creator and his Creation, and think of the first great commandment “You shall love the Lord your God…” Simplistically that means if we love God we will love what he has made, i.e. the whole of his creation.

And the Second is like”You shall love your neighbour as yourself” and that means we will want others to have their share of creation and not wreck it. Thus environmental concerns also stem from the second commandment.

Taking the two commandments together, we are obliged to love and care for the creation
To sum up, if we love God our Creator and love our neighbour we will also love God’s creation.

The third great commandment should be
“Thou shalt love God’s creation, because…….

 

I have deliberately left out dealing with particular green issues as my focus is on a Christian understanding of the creation and thus the environment. As soon as we get to specifics there is controversy. Part of that can be selective or biased information, a practice carried out both by environmentalists and others, epitomised by the tobacco lobby.

This is a very simple Christian case for environmentalism and will not please sophisticats, but I suggest it is better for most as a starting point.

Finally, no environmental understanding can be had without taking all scientific issues into consideration and so St Augustine’s strictures from 400AD still apply to us as we want to clean up and nurture our planet.

 

Cursed Christmas Carols; Mohler’s moanings

 

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One of my favourite Christmas Carols or hymns is Joy to the World, with words by Isaac Watts and a tune by the heavyweight composer G F Handel.
In fact it is hardly a Christmas Carol and is based on Psalm 98

O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
2 The Lord has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.
7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.
8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy
9 at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

When you compare the hymn with the psalm, it is clear that Watts dealt with the words very freely, but has made the psalm into a superb creation hymn with an implicit, but no more than implicit, reference to Jesus Christ. I wonder whether it is more suitable for the Creation Season than Christmas, but I will still use it for Christmas!!

Verse 1
Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.
Verse 2
Joy to the earth! The Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

Verse 4
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Recently I read an interesting blog by Albert Mohler on the hymn. Mohler is a Southern Baptist who has shoved the Southern Baptists in a more reactionary direction in the last decade. I am no fan of his, but follow him as he is significant in the USA. He is also a young earther, which does not draw me to him. His recent blog on 8/12/17 caught my attention as he discusses the much-omitted third verse of this hymn. Here it is;

Verse 3
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

I winced as I read this, with its way of reading Genesis 3 with a CURSE afflicting the whole of Creation. I’ve written on this before and especially the influence of John Milton from Paradise Lost; https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2016/02/19/why-the-apple-didnt-kill-adam-and-eve/

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Mohler is very much in the tradition of Milton! His blog is found here and included at the end https://albertmohler.com/2017/12/08/far-curse-found/?mc_cid=2244bcb749&mc_eid=9710ba7c22
Mohler takes the typical 6-day creationist view of the Fall as historical, with Adam’s fruit-eating resulting in god cursing the whole of creation, causing thistles and predation! He then stresses that Jesus’s death on the cross not only gives redemption to humans but also reverses the effects of the curse. (not that I can see that when the local cats eat our birds or I struggle with thistles.) Many YECs use their belief in a CURSE as why they must reject all science which demonstrates an ancient earth and evolution. After all, there can be no curse if T Rex munched other dinosaurs.


There are many problems with the so-called CURSE. Why would a loving god inflict all this “suffering” on animals who had never met humans, like Smilodon or even canivorous dinosaurs and trilobites?

Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis would totally agree over the CURSE

Of course, Mohler would collapse 4,560,000, 000 years into Ussher’s 2021 years, with creation in a mere 144 hours. More than that, however “literally” we read Genesis 3 it does not actually teach a CURSE as the language of Genesis 3 vs 14-18 is to elusive and poetical to conclude such a firm and harsh conclusion. I also reckon that it is a totally unsuitable reading for the first lesson of the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols. I would replace it with Ecclesiastes 4 vs 1-6.
Mohler then writes,

“Where is the curse found? Everywhere we look, we see the curse and its malignant effects. How far does it extend? To every atom and molecule of creation — from coast to coast, shore to shore, sky to sky, and to every square inch of the planet. That’s how far the curse is found.”

I am trying to visualise how all chemical reactions are CURSED and wonder how the CURSE afflicts the outermost reaches of the universe.
All in all, by emphasising a CURSE Mohler makes everything about Jesus Christ more incredible and rather bizarre, where Jesus seems to have been born in Bethlehem to correct the naughtiness of a pair of prehistoric scrumpers, rather than sorting out the folly and moral stupidity of the human race giving both a new and living hope and a guide for life, far better than any other way. Thus we think of Jesus Christ when we sing;

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

But I couldn’t possibly sing verse 3.

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https://albertmohler.com/2017/12/08/far-curse-found/?mc_cid=2244bcb749&mc_eid=9710ba7c22
Think with me about verse three of the hymn, in which we read,
“No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found.”
The reversal of the curse is promised in the coming of the Messiah and the fulfillment of his atoning work. Implicit in this third verse is the promise of the new creation. We live in light of that promise, even as we look back to Bethlehem and as we celebrate Christmas.
But look carefully at the reference to the curse. Christ’s victory over sin is declared to extend “far as the curse is found.” What curse? How far does it extend? Where is it found?
We find the curse in Genesis, chapter 3. After Eve has eaten of the forbidden tree, and then Adam also ate, and after they found themselves facing God in the reality of their sin, God first cursed the serpent:
The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Then, God cursed the woman:
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”
Then came to curse to Adam, and through Adam to all humanity:
And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
By Adam, our federal head, the curse of sin came upon all humanity. We are dust, who must return to the dust, for the wages of sin is death. All creation is under the effects of the curse. “Cursed is the ground because of you,” Adam is told.
The curse is God’s righteous judgment of sin, and the effect of the curse is death. The curse has fallen upon all human beings, first because of Adam’s sin and then because of our own. In Adam, we all sinned. In Adam, we all died.
Where is the curse found? Everywhere we look, we see the curse and its malignant effects. How far does it extend? To every atom and molecule of creation — from coast to coast, shore to shore, sky to sky, and to every square inch of the planet. That’s how far the curse is found.
Most importantly, every single human being is found under this curse. “For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
So, how can we sing about joy to the world?
Look with me to Galatians 3:10-14:
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Here is the gospel of Christ, the good news. But first, the bad news. All who rely on works of the law are under a curse. All humanity is born under this curse, and under the law. The congregation that originally received Paul’s letter would have understood immediately where Paul grounded his argument, in Deuteronomy 27 and 28. At the end of the series of curses God delivered from Mount Nebo, we find the most comprehensive of all: “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” [Paul in Galatians 3:10, citing Deuteronomy 27:26]
We are born under the curse, we are cursed by the curse, and the law offers no escape. We cannot work our way from under the curse.
So where is the good news? Where is joy to the world? Look at verses 13 and 14.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. What we sinners could not and cannot do for ourselves, Christ has done for us. He removes the curse and the power of the law to condemn us.
How? He redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for us. The sinless Son of God became incarnate as the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. That sinless Son of God became sin for us, in order that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). He became a curse for us, by hanging on a tree, in fulfillment of Scripture.

Sausage Rolls and Christmas

Sausage Rolls and Christmas

During the summer I went on a pleasant cycle ride to Silverdale and back.

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I had decided to buy some sandwiches in booths as I came through Carnforth but as I peddled up fro the Brief Encounter station I saw Greggs and decided to buy some sausage rolls. I then found a seat on the canal and started to eat them. I realisede there was no sausage meat but only ork slime – yuk. but I was hungry and needed for for my last 20 miles.

The high street chain, Greggs, thought they had a wonderful advert for Christmas; they took a crib scene and put a sausage roll in the crib. More sensitive Christians were offended, but others replied in a spirit of jest and mockery. Apart from the fact that their sausage rolls are filled with pork slime, they have attracted much ridicule. My favourite is that “Lord Jesus” spelt backwards becomes “susejd rol”

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. If nothing else it is a great illustration of the silly commercialisation of Christmas.
Commercialisation of Christmas is nothing new and goes back centuries at least as far back as the Victorians, who were always looking for new ways of making money – and writing Christmas Carols! The Victorians mixed religious sentimentalism and profit and that may make one cynical.
To remain cynical is futile and we need to see Christmas, despite all its shortcomings, is an opportunity to remind the world about Jesus. What’s the point of always complaining about early Christmas shopping deals and the rest. That reflects what many want, whether we like it or not.
One thing stays the same and that is the challenge of Jesus. Why should we celebrate the birth of some Gallilean builder’s son 2000 odd years after he was born? When we get beyond the tinsel, donkeys and Santas, Jesus has had a tremendous influence for 2000 years. Most faiths give him some recognition including Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. Usually they accept some of his moral teaching and reject the importance of his death and resurrection.
Jesus’ moral teaching is widely respected, particularly his emphasis on love. Thus the principles of the Beatitudes and several of his parables (especially the Good Samaritan) are widely acknowledged. However Jesus’ teaching was more than moral and also has a strong religious element which is often played down. This is his whole kingdom teaching which comes out in parables like the Sower, the Ten Virgins, The talents and the Sheep and the Goats. These are meaningless if you make Jesus only a moral teacher.To follow those one must move on the aspect of Jesus as the Messiah or Christ and consider the importance of his death and resurrection. However that is the emphasis of Good Friday and Easter.
But for the next month we focus on the birth of an enigmatic person, who, despite his humble beginnings, still influences the world today and it is difficult for any to deny his existence or the value of his teaching. We can moan at all the Christmas tat, but we should rejoice that Jesus is brought to the public mind in so many ways. It also reminds us that Britain is not as secular and godless as some claim. Perhaps Christians should spend less time moaning and more sharing their faith in Jesus.
Most of all we should see that there is something more than just Christmas and continually ask the question why Jesus is continues to hold our imaginations.