Friday, April 30, 2010

Does the soul sleep at death?

Recently someone was trying to convince me that when we die we don’t go immediately to heaven, but that our soul dies along with our body. Is that true?

This position is often referred to as the doctrine of “soul sleep.” It is a position which is held by Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a few otherwise orthodox theologians. The view is that soul has no conscious existence apart from the body, so that when the body dies, the soul dies too, and both body and soul remain dead until the time of the resurrection, at the second coming.

Those who advocate the position base their argument on the fact that Scripture often speaks of the dead as sleeping (e.g., Mk. 5:39; Jn. 11:11; 1 Cor. 15:20; etc.). But this hardly proves the point because this kind of figurative language is consistent with both their doctrine and the traditional view, that the soul survives the death of the body. And if it’s consistent with both, it is proof of neither.

Those who advocate of the doctrine of soul sleep often say that the soul or spirit of man is nothing more than his breath that gives life to the body. They make much of the fact that the underlying Hebrew and Greek words which are sometimes translated as spirit or soul can also be translated as wind or breath.

But this is hardly an adequate analysis of the original words. It is true that the basic root meaning of the Hebrew word for spirit (ruach), as well as its Greek counterpart (pneuma), is wind or breath, but translating the words consistently in this way yields some pretty bizarre results. For instance, John 4:24, “God is a spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”, becomes “God is a wind, and those who worship him must worship in wind and truth”! Hebrews 12:23, “You have come to…God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect”, becomes “You have come to…God the judge of all, and to the winds/breaths of the righteous made perfect.”

And if we were to follow this through, we should refer to the three persons of the Holy Trinity as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Wind!

We frequently find that personal acts, feelings, and desires, are ascribed to the soul (nephesh/psyche), which demonstrates that something more is meant than simply wind or breath. Consider, for instance, Isaiah 26:8-9.
Your name and remembrance
     are the desire of our soul.
My soul yearns for you in the night;
     my spirit within me earnestly seeks you.
We cannot understand this of man’s breath. It doesn’t make sense.

The fact of the matter is that the meaning of words is determined less by their root meaning than by their actual usage. One must always look to the context. And these original words are found numerous times in contexts that require us to understand them of something more than simply breath or wind. Sometimes underlying words mean breath or wind, but sometimes they mean “soul.” The context determines the meaning.

Luke 23:43 is pretty convincing evidence of the traditional understanding of the intermediate state (between death and resurrection). Jesus spoke to the dying thief and said, “Truly, I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise.”

In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul says, “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” (v. 6). What part of our being is it that is away from the body and present with the Lord if not the soul? A little later in the same passage he says, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (v. 8).

Paul speaks of the same things in Philippians when he says that his “desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil. 1:23). The context shows that “to depart” means to die. Paul’s expectation was to be “with Christ” when he died. He clearly wasn’t thinking in terms of soul sleep.

Jesus teaches the continuation of the conscious existence of the soul in Luke 16:19-31, where he speaks of the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus died “and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side” (v. 22). The rich man also died and was buried, but his soul lived on in Hades (v. 23). The two men were both conscious and aware of their surroundings. One was in torment; the other was blessed with Abraham and all the righteous men who had preceded him in death. This is the place that Jesus referred to as Paradise when he spoke to the dying thief on the cross. It is pretty difficult to reconcile the passage with the doctrine of soul sleep.

Mozart like you have never heard him before

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Bible and Slavery

Why does Paul in his letters urge Christian slave-owners to treat their slaves well, rather than urge them to free their slaves? Isn’t slavery sinful?

Like so many other things in life…it depends. It depends upon (among other things) how the person came to be a slave. The Bible in no uncertain terms condemns the practice of kidnapping for the purpose of turning free men into slaves. In Exodus we read,

Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him [the stolen man], shall be put to death (Ex. 21:16).
And Paul, in 1 Timothy 1:8-10, also condemns “man-stealing” or “kidnapping” for the purpose of making slaves.

But is being kidnapped the only way someone might be made a slave? The answer is no. The Bible recognizes several forms of lawful slavery. The first is as a means of paying back a debt. Let’s say a man has borrowed a sum of money and is unable to repay what he owes. Should he be allowed to default on the loan? No, because that would be a form of theft. He’s stealing from the lender if he doesn’t pay back what he owes. Should a third party be forced to pay what the borrower owes? No, because that also is a form of theft, unless the third party has consented to cosign the loan. The responsibility should lie upon the borrower.

But what if he simply doesn’t have the means to repay? If it is a large sum of money, the borrower might become a slave to the lender and work for him until his debt is paid off. The lender has a rightful (or a legal) claim upon the fruit of the borrower’s labor until his debt is paid. One way this is accomplished in the modern world is by the creditor getting a court order to garnish the wages of the debtor. If it is a smaller sum he owes, instead of working directly for the lender, the borrower might be sold to a third party, with the purchase price going to the lender. Then the borrower works as a slave for the third party until his purchase price is worked off. The same is true in the case of a thief who is caught, but is unable to repay what he has stolen. In such a case, he might be compelled to work off his debt. Likewise with other forms of criminal conduct that result in financial loss to the victim. The wrongdoer has a legal liability to make up for the loss he caused.

Another form of lawful involuntary servitude involves captives taken in a just war. What should be done with captives taken in war, or with the fighting men of a defeated enemy? There are three options: (1) They could all be released. But then they might simply bide their time until they think they’re strong enough to renew their hostilities and then you find yourself at war with them all over again. (2) They could all be slaughtered. This was a common practice in the ancient world and has been known to happen in modern times, as well; give the enemy no quarter; they all die. (3) They could be enslaved. This not only reduces the chance of renewed hostilities, but also contributes to recovering the costs of the war.

This is one of the dilemmas that we face with the prisoners held at Guantanomo Bay. The rationale for keeping them locked up is to prevent them from continuing their fight against us, either in terrorist acts or on the battlefield. In fact, a good number of these prisoners who have been released (1 in 7) have reentered the fight against us.

So what do you do? It’s not as easy as some people make it sound. Sometimes what sounds good in theory doesn’t work out so well in the real world.

So the Scriptures permit involuntary servitude under certain circumstances in order to make the best out of the harsh realities of life in a fallen world. But the practice of slavery is moderated. There are certain rights possessed by slaves. They are to be treated justly and with consideration. And, at least with those who are slaves because of their debts or crimes, they are to be helped along to gain the moral responsibility and financial idependence necessary to live as free men, because there is a length limit to their term of service.

And we should observe also that Biblically sanctioned slavery does not regard the person but the labor of the slave as the property of the owner. The slave owner has a lawful claim on the labor of the slave. He doesn’t own the person; he owns his labor.

This is an important distinction. A slave-owner was not permitted to do whatever he wanted with his slave as he might do with a piece of property. If an owner mistreated a slave so that permanent bodily damage resulted, the slave was to be set free (Ex. 21:26-27). If he murdered his slave he would be punished (Ex. 21:20-21).

I must stress that I'm talking about Biblically sanctioned slavery. It’s slavery regulated by God’s law, which was far different from how slavery might be practiced—and has been practiced—in other cultures, like Greece and Rome and Egypt and Babylon and Persia.

In the U.S. it's difficult to think today about slavery without thinking in terms of skin color. The Bible, of course, gives no warrant to slavery which is based on race.

I should make the point also that many people are under the mistaken impression that slavery was outlawed in the United States by the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. But this is simply not true. The amendment reads as follows.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
This is essentially the position of the Bible. Enslaving law-abiding free men, as we have seen, was punishable by death under Biblical law. But those who defaulted on loans or were guilty of crimes for which they were unable to make restitution might be forced to work off their debt. Is that really so unreasonable?

Let me add one more thing. Are those in prison today there voluntarily or involuntarily? Except for a few, who perhaps are willing to trade their liberty for the security of knowing they’ve got three free meals a day and a free roof over their head, most are there involuntarily. The modern prison system is in fact a form of involuntary servitude, in that people are held there against their will—except that prisoners are usually not made to work. We have nearly 2 million sentenced prisoners in the United States being held in various federal or state prisons. Most of them are idle. They are not productive, but instead are burden to society as billions of tax dollars are being spent to guard, feed, and house them. We really need a whole-scale reform of our judicial system, especially in sentencing. In broad strokes, instead of putting everyone, regardless of the nature of their crimes, into one large holding tank (prison), those whose crimes have resulted in financial loss ought to be made to work to pay restitution to their victims.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Koran's Distortion of the Bible

The Koran alludes to or retells (with varying degrees of accuracy) many of the stories of the Old Testament. It also presumes to give additional details to many of the stories. In one of them, for instance, Allah enables Solomon to understand the speech of birds and ants (Sura 27:16ff.).

There are allusions to the New Testament also. Jesus is mentioned numerous times. He is said to be a virgin-born prophet and a worker of miracles, but he is emphatically not the Son of God.

It is doubtful that Muhammad ever had the opportunity to know orthodox Christians or to read from the New Testament itself. Many of the stories about Jesus that appear in the Koran are derived from the writings of heretical Christian groups. For instance, the Koran has the boy Jesus fashion birds of clay and breathe into them the breath of life so that they become living creatures. This is taken from the second-century apocryphal Gospel of Thomas.

Spencer gives numerous other examples in chapter 3.

The Conquest of Canaan

Why did the Israelites exterminate the Canaanites, killing all the women and children, along with the fighting men, as we read in Joshua? That doesn’t seem right.

The short answer is that God commanded them to do so.

When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than yourselves, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. (Deut 7:1-2)
So the Israelites did what they did to the Canaanites at God’s command. I should be quick to point out, however, that this was not to be Israel’s usual policy in war—the wholesale slaughter of every man, woman, and child.

In Deuteronomy 20 we read that whenever there was a just occasion to go to war and to lay siege to an enemy city outside the land of promise, Israel was to give the city terms of peace. And if the city accepted the terms—all well and good. But if not—if the city made war against them, then Israel was to wage war in turn. And when they defeated them, Israel was commanded to “put all their males to the sword, but the women and the little ones” were to be spared (Deut. 20:13-14).

This was how things were to be handled outside of the land of Canaan. As for cities within Canaan, however, no terms of peace were to be offered. The Canaanites must either flee or perish…every last one of them—men, women, and children.

We should remember that God himself also on occasion wiped out entire cities, women and children along with the men. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, the four cities of the plain that God destroyed with a rain of fire and brimstone in Genesis 19. The entire population of these cities was destroyed, including the women and children. Not only this, but God also once destroyed the entire world by means of a flood. He wiped out every man, woman, and child on the face of the earth, except for Noah and his family.

God has the right (because he is God) to exact vengeance on evildoers in whatever way he sees fit. And we can be sure that all of God’s ways are just and holy and true.

The wickedness of the Canaanites is hinted at in God’s original promise to Abraham concerning the land. God told Abraham that he was going to give him and his descendants the land of Canaan, but not just yet, because “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Gen. 15:16). In other words, the sin of the Canaanite tribes was ripening for judgment. The magnitude of their sin is evident from a number of passages in the Bible, as well as from other historical sources. The Canaanites were guilty of all kinds of abominable practices, things like human sacrifice (even the sacrifice of their own children) and other forms of violence. They were guilty of all manner of sexual perversions, as well, things for which the Lord says, “the land vomited out hits inhabitants” (Lev. 18:25).

Now someone might ask, “But couldn’t the Lord have commanded the Israelites to have put the Canaanite men to death, and to spare the women and children?” Certainly, he could have. But apparently he deemed the women to have been worthy of death, as well as the men.

“But what about the children?” We can look upon the slaughter of the children as a punishment of the parents. God has at times threatened to punish evildoers by killing their children. This is what is meant in the second commandment when God says he will visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate him (Ex. 20:5).

Another thing to consider is the fact that allowing the Canaanites to live would only serve to tempt Israel to imitate their ways (Ex. 23:23-33; 34:11-16; Deut. 7:1-2; 20:10-18).

Finally I should mention that the conquest of the land of the Canaan, with the command to exterminate the Canaanites, was a unique situation in the history of the world. There is no justification to use this as a basis for the concept of total warfare—that is, making war against an entire population. When a Christian is called upon to wage war, he should make every effort avoid civilian casualties.

Guam to capsize?

Because I knew you wouldn't believe me unless you saw it for yourself, I've embedded the video below. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) fears that if the U.S. increases the number of troops on the island of Guam, the island might tip over and capsize. Pacific Fleet Commander, Admiral Robert Willard, should be given a medal for not laughing! (Thanks to James for bringing this to my attention.)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Paul who?

There's no doubting that God used Saul of Tarsus - better known by his alias: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus - in a very remarkable way to establish his church among the Gentiles. He is a fascinating figure for many reasons, and a man we would do well to know at more than just a superficial level. Michael F. Bird has helped us in this task with his book Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message.

He concludes his first chapter, "What is Paul", by saying:
Paul was regarded by many Jewish Christians as a meddlesome nonconformist, by Jews as a blasphemous apostate, and by Roman authorities as a mischievous nuisance... The chief legacy of Paul is his claim that Gentiles can be part of the Israel of God without becoming proselytes to Judaism. He also claims that there is another "Lord, one who rivals Caesar and who will establish an everlasting kingdom that will overthrow all despots and self-divinized pretenders (Phil. 2:10-11; Acts 17:7).
Paul is not given the thirty-nine lashes by his fellow Jews because he asks them to "try" Jesus in the same way one might try a kebab (2 Cor. 11:24). He is not executed for suggesting that Roman citizens may wish to invite Jesus into their hearts. No, Paul has the courage and conviction to proclaim that the one who is to come again, the Messiah, is Jesus, who has fulfilled Israel's hopes by being cursed on a cross and raised from the dead. Jesus is the deliverer Israel has hoped for and desperately needed (2 Cor. 1:20; Acts 13:32-34; Rom. 11:26).
Paul dares to defy an empire by claiming that the seat of judgment is occupied by Jesus Christ and not by Caesar (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10).

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Koran: A perfect book?

Spencer explains what Muslims believe concerning the origin of the Koran:
Muslims believe the Koran is not only perfect, but that it's uncreated. What's that mean? The Koran says that Allah has in his possession the "Mother of the Book" (13:39). And Allah made the Koran "in Arabic, that ye may be able to understand" (43:3) and tells Muhammad that "it is in the Mother of the Book, in Our Presence" (43:4). The "Mother of the Book" is, according to Islamic tradition, the Preserved Tablet, the copy of the Koran that has existed for all eternity with Allah (85:21-22). (pp. 25-26)
One wonders, then, how it is that changes could have been introduced in the text.
Muhammad received Koranic revelations from Gabriel piecemeal-or, as the Koran itself says, "in slow, well-arranged stages, gradually" (25:32) - for twenty-three years. But Muhammad himself was "unlettered" 97:157), and did not write down his revelations. Before he died rather suddenly in 632, he had a premonition of his death - a premonition that was connected to the text of the Koran:  "Every year," he told his daughter Fatima, "Gabriel used to revise the Qu'ran with me once only, but this year he has done so twice. I think this portends my death."
Nevertheless, Muhammad didn't make any provisions to pass on the complete Koranic text to his followers. Some of the Koran had been written down; other portions were preserved only in the memories of various Muslims. Accordingly, some revelations were forgotten, as the Koran itself acknowledges:  "None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar" (2:106) (pp. 28-29)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Conservatism that doesn't conserve

R. L. Dabney was a Southern Presbyterian theologian who had remarkable insights into the consequences of ideas. In an article entitled "Women's Rights Women" he chastened Northern conservatism as being wholly ineffective at conserving anything.
This is a party [Northern conservatism] which never conserves anything. It history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is to-day one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting [pretending] to resist the next innovation, which will to-morrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution, to to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt hath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle.
Although he was writing more than a hundred years ago, I couldn't help but wonder if the same will prove true if Tea Partiers are successful in leading the way to elect conservative candidates in November and a conservative president in 2012. Will today's conservative movement be one of expediency or of sturdy principle? Only time will tell.

Friday, April 2, 2010

More on the Koran

Quite some time ago I posted my first installment of a review of Robert Spencer's The Complete Infidel's Guide to the Koran in the PIG series (Politically Incorrect Guides), published by Regnery. At the time I said there were more posts to come. (You thought I forgot, didn't you?) Here's the second in the series.

Chapter 2 is entitled "What is this Book anyway, and What's in It?" Spencer does a good job of giving an overview of its contents and a history of its transmission.
The word Koran means "recitation" in Arabic - a title that refers to Muhammad's reciting of the eternal divine words that were delivered to him by the angel Gabriel beginning in 610 AD. The first divine command that Gabriel delivered to Muhammad was to "recite" (sura 96).
This is why there is an emphasis on the oral recitation of the Koran. Many Muslim males in fact have large portions, if not the whole of the Koran memorized. It is too bad that Muslims show more zeal for their false religion than Christians do for the true one by committing the words of their holy book to memory.

Many are under the impression that in time the violent nature of Islam can be reformed. This is a mistake, however, because the words of the Koran are believed to come directly from Allah.
There is only one speaker throughout: Allah himself (although there are few exceptions that bedevil Koranic commentators to this day). Because it is without doubt, and because it is entirely Allah's word, without any human element whatsoever, and because he guarantees its preservation, it cannot be questioned. Historically this has made the words of the Koran - on wife-beating, the treatment of non-Muslims, and much more - a virtually insurmountable obstacle to refrom within Islam. Reformers are immediately branded as heretics or apostates, and are frequently subject to persecution from authorities anxious to safeguard Islamic orthodoxy.

What about civil disobedience

The Bible says that we are to obey those who are in authority over us. Does this hold true in every situation?

This is a very good question. You are right in saying the Bible teaches that we are to obey those who are in authority over us. Children are to obey their parents. Wives are to be submissive to their husbands, church members to the officers of the church, employees to their employers, and citizens to civil magistrates.

It should be pointed out, however, that the only one who has an absolute claim to anyone’s obedience is God. It is never permissible, under any circumstances, ever to disobey God. Under certain circumstances, however, it is permissible to disobey human authorities. In fact, I would go even further. In some circumstances one has not only the right, but the duty to disobey authority.

Now, let me be very clear about this. The general posture of the Christian ought to be one of joyful submission to authority. This ought to be one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Christian. We live in a very unlawful, revolutionary age, in which authority is despised. The disrespect that is shown, especially by young people, to parents and teachers and officers of the law and others in authority, is appalling. As Christians we should distinguish ourselves by giving all due honor to those who are in authority over us, and obey them without grumbling and complaining.

But having said this, I must also add that whenever someone in authority over us either commands what God forbids or forbids what God commands, we must disobey that authority.

For instance, a child is commanded by God to obey his parents. But suppose a parent is at the park with his child and sees a brand new bicycle left unattended and tells his child to take it, to steal it. Should the child do it? The child is commanded by God to obey his parents. Should the child obey in this instance? No, because what the parent is commanding is something that God forbids.

Suppose a man tells his pregnant wife to go get an abortion. Should she obey? Paul says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph. 5:22-23). But is this an absolute requirement, admitting of no qualification? No. She is to submit to her husband in all lawful things. But abortion is unlawful. Her husband is commanding something God forbids.

Or suppose a man tells his wife not to go to church. Should she obey him? No, because he’s forbidding something God commands.

Suppose an employer tells an employee to do something unethical. Say he tells the firm’s accountant to cook the books, to juggle the numbers a bit, in order to make it appear the company is doing better than it really is so as to encourage investors to buy stock. The accountant should refuse, even if it should cost him his job.

Suppose a church leader should use his authority in the church to pressure a pretty young woman to have an illicit relationship with him. I recently heard of church leader who was exposed for doing just this. He told a woman he was counseling that by sleeping with him he could help her heal emotionally from past sexual abuse. For a time she resisted, thinking (quite properly) that it would be wrong for her to do so. But she also kept thinking, “Well, he is in authority over me as a minister.” Finally, she relented. But a minister of the gospel cannot require what God forbids, or forbid what God requires.

Suppose that it should suddenly be declared illegal to give public testimony to Jesus Christ? What if legislation should be passed by Congress and signed into by the president outlawing all public expressions of the faith? Must we obey the law because the Bible says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities”?

Or let’s say you lived in Nazi occupied Europe in 1944 and the order came for all the residents of your city to report the whereabouts of the Jews living there. You know what the order is all about. You know the Jews are going to be hauled off to a death camp. You also know where several Jewish families are hiding. Should you obey the order? Of course not! There are limits to the obedience we are to render to human authorities. Those limits are prescribed by God in his word. Whenever an authority commands what God forbids, or forbids what God commands, we are justified in disobeying the authority in question.

We have many, many examples of this from Scripture: Shipphrah and Puah, the two Hebrew midwives (Ex. 1:15-22); Rahab, who hid the two Hebrew spies as they were scoping out Jericho (Josh. 2); Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who defied the unlawful orders of kings (Dan. 3; 6); and the apostles, who when they were told to stop preaching Christ, said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). And this must always be our position also. Only God has an absolute claim to our obedience.