Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Fact-Checking Assurances

The 2011 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses revealed that a greater concerted effort at fact-checking had recently been implemented, resulting in some unreliable information being eliminated, with two examples being given: Gandhi’s statement to Lord Irwin and Newton’s model of the solar system.[1] This situation was showcased in the November 2017 JW Monthly Broadcast where David Splane of the Governing Body said that “we have to keep up. We have to check, check, check.” He added: “And when credible research reveals that we have to adjust or tweak a statement that we made in the past, we do so without hesitation.”[2] Thus, some information prior to this era of rejuvenated fact-checking may be suspect and in fact be unreliable, or less reliable than what we would prefer.

In this broadcast he also assured us: “We would never deliberately distort a quotation.”[3] That is, craft a quote as saying something that its author never intended.

Additionally, he stated after that their goal of keeping up with the latest research on a topic:
Now, it’s important to keep up with the very latest research. Something that was stated years ago as a fact may have been disproved. And the reason why is obvious. Someone may spend his entire life researching a very limited point in history—a very small point in history—and, of course, if he spends so much time researching, he’s going to uncover things. And so it’s not surprising that from time to time we have to adjust our view of some historical points. We have to check, check, check.[4]
Following this admission, Brother Splane provided an encouraging anecdote:
Now, someone might ask, ‘Why is it necessary to be so picky, to be so fussy, about accuracy?’ And in answer, I’d like to give an experience that I heard about a few years ago. In Northern Europe, there was a man who accepted a Bible study from Jehovah’s Witnesses. And when he was asked what motivated him to want to study, he said: “I read an article in your Awake! magazine on trees. Now, I happen to be a bit of an expert on trees. And after I read the article, I said to myself: ‘That article was so well-documented. It was so precise. Any organization that is that careful when writing about trees is going to be just as careful when teaching me the Bible.’” And on that basis, he accepted a Bible study.[5]
I applaud this effort at rejuvenated fact-checking, and I hope it produces beneficial results in pruning away past points that lacked sufficient fact-checking. Personally, I think we can see this at work in the new commentary on Ezekiel released this month at the Annual Meeting.

Lastly, this assurance of more conscientious fact-checking may remind one of this statement announced as recently as February, 2017, where a Watchtower commenced a paragraph confessing: “The Governing Body is neither inspired nor infallible. Therefore, it can err in doctrinal matters or in organizational direction.”[6] While such humility is great to see, may our rejuvenated fact-checking apparatus also add to our credibility across the board!

[1] Tracing All Things With Accuracy,’ pages 9-13.
[3] Ibid. From minute mark 4:20-25.
[4] Ibid. From minute mark 4:33-5:03.
[5] Ibid. From minute mark 5:10-6:00.
[6] w17.02 4:12, page 26. (italics added) Or, as the Simplified Edition put it: “The Governing Body is neither inspired nor perfect. It can make mistakes when explaining the Bible or directing the organization.”—page 24. (italics added) Simplified:


Sunday, September 23, 2018

“Who Is on Jehovah’s Side?”

The title comes from Exodus 32:26, where Moses is the speaker. Immediately after asking this pleading question, he declares: “Come to me!” (Revised 2013 NWT) I found this interesting since the previous NWT I grew up on had Moses simply saying: “To me!” Comparing other translations, Byington has: “Whoever is for Jehovah, come here to me!” Additionally, the NET Bible has: “Whoever is for [Jehovah], come to me.” It explains in a footnote: “‘come’ is not in the text, but has been supplied.” It adds: “S. R. Driver suggests that the command was tersely put: ‘Who is for Yahweh? To me!’ (Exodus, 354).”

Thus, the earlier NWT had the terse style of translation of “To me!”, whereas the RNWT has updated this to be smoother, now like other Bibles reading as “Come to me!” I like this much better, for it is so much clearer to me!

The application is also clearer: we must gather to God’s appointed agent(s) for direction, judgment, and salvation.

Image from:

See also:
Moses’ Example


Saturday, September 08, 2018

Serpentine connection?

Asclepius was the Greek god of healing, and his Rod was a staff with a serpent wound around it. While visually similar to the account in Numbers 21:8, 9, it is only coincidental to it as this was an isolated event. If there would be any scriptural origin for the Rod of Asclepius, it would be the account of the “original serpent” who said: “You certainly will not die” while likely mounted on a tree branch; thus the serpentine Rod of life would be a legend harking back to this event Eden with the claim of not dying. (Genesis 3:4; Revelation 12:9) However, it is only coincidental to this too.

In fact, its actual origin is likely more down-to-earth and less-savory. Regarding the asclepian Rod, a medical doctor reported: “The single serpent staff also appears on a Sumerian vase of c. 2000 B.C. representing the healing god Ningishita [sic: Ningishzida], the prototype of the Greek Asklepios. However, there is a more practical origin postulated which makes sense.” He adds:
In ancient times infection by parasitic worms was common. The filarial worm Dracunculus medinensis aka “the fiery serpent”, aka “the dragon of Medina” aka “the guinea worm” crawled around the victim’s body, just under the skin. Physicians treated this infection by cutting a slit in the patient’s skin, just in front of the worm’s path. As the worm crawled out the cut, the physician carefully wound the pest around a stick until the entire animal had been removed. It is believed that because this type of infection was so common, physicians advertised their services by displaying a sign with the worm on a stick.[1]
This Rod is also similar to the caduceus, a rod carried by the Greco-Roman god Hermes/Mercury that sported wings at the top and two serpents intertwined around it, which is also associated with the medical practice. However, this too has a more profane origin, as the Encyclopedia Britannica notes:
Originally the caduceus was a rod or olive branch ending in two shoots and decorated with garlands or ribbons. Later the garlands were interpreted as two snakes entwined in opposite directions with their heads facing; and a pair of wings, in token of Hermes’ speed, was attached to the staff above the snakes. Its similarity to the staff of Asclepius the healer (a staff branched at the top and entwined by a single serpent) resulted in modern times in the adoption of the caduceus as a symbol of the physician and as the emblem of the U.S. Army Medical Corps.[2]
Thus we are dealing with sets of coincidences. There is nothing here with a Biblical origin; instead, they have mundane and practical origins. This highlights that we must be careful before associating something serpentine with a Bible account.

[1] Blayney, Kieth. The Caduceus vs the Staff of Asclepius (Asklepian)

  • Introductory picture from Instagram user jw_united_in_truth
  • Picture of Moses and the copper serpent on a pole is specifically from My Book of Bible Stories, Story 41: The Copper Serpent, available at


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Mining Gems in Jonah

The book of Jonah is jammed with gemstones of extraordinary value. Jesus himself mined such gems regarding what he would have to experience being the Messiah, being in the grave for three days, calling it the “Sign of Jonah.”[1] However, to be like Jesus and mine gemstones from Jonah, we need to apply his hermeneutical principle of ‘reading with discernment.’ (Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14) This involves reading the text with our eyes being like pickaxes, digging into it, always being curious about the meaning of the Hebrew words involved, including how they are used; and using our mind like a headlamp to picture the scenes as if they were unfolding before our very eyes, even placing ourselves among them. If you do that, you will be rewarded with great spiritual wealth, even as Jesus was.

One way to read the text with mining tools is to use annotated Bibles offering insight into the text. Facilitating this effort is the NET Bible, which can be read here:

Jonah 1:3 in the NET Bible:
Instead, Jonah immediately headed off to Tarshish to escape from the commission of the LORD. He traveled to Joppa and found a merchant ship heading to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went aboard it to go with them to Tarshish far away from the LORD.
Its note on commission of the LORD explains:
Three times in chap. 1 (in vv. 3 and 10) Jonah’s voyage is described as an attempt to escape away from the LORD – from the LORD’s presence (and therefore his active awareness; compare v. 2). On one level, Jonah was attempting to avoid a disagreeable task, but the narrator’s description personalizes Jonah’s rejection of the task. Jonah’s issue is with the LORD himself, not just his commission. The narrator’s description is also highly ironic, as the rest of the book shows. Jonah tries to sail to Tarshish, in the opposite direction from Nineveh, as if by doing that he could escape from the LORD, when the LORD is the one who knows all about Nineveh’s wickedness and is involved in all that happens to Jonah throughout the book. Compare Jonah’s explanation when talking with the LORD (see 4:2).
It also seems like Jonah should have reflected on the Psalm penned by David, Psalm 139:7-12 on the utter futility of trying to run and hide from the Almighty God. This theme though is emphasized in his choice of Joppa to flee from:
Joppa was a small harbor town on the Palestinian coast known as Yepu in the Amarna Letters (14 century b.c.) and Yapu in Neo-Assyrian inscriptions (9th-8th centuries B.C.). It was a port through which imported goods could flow into the Levant (Josh 19:46; 2 Chr 2:15 [16]; Ezra 3:7). It was never annexed by Israel until the Maccabean period (ca. 148 b.c.; 1 Macc 10:76). Jonah chose a port where the people he would meet and the ships he could take were not likely to be Israelite. Once in Joppa he was already partly “away from the LORD” as he conceived it.
Rabbi Professor and Jewish theologian Jonathan Magonet comments regarding his flight:
To flee from God, he reproduces the experience of the patriarchs, of ancient Israel and of the Jewish people, of going into exile, but this time against the will of God. Yet the author hints that his flight is more than just an attempt to escape the immediate task. Three times the Hebrew verb for ‘going down’ (yarad) occurs in the first chapter—as Jonah goes down to Jaffa [Joppa], and into the boat (v. 3), then down into the innermost part of the boat to sleep (v. 5)—and then a fourth time, because of a pun in the Hebrew text, when he goes into a deep sleep (vayeiradam). There is a direction in his journey—into unconsciousness as he sleeps though the storm, and ultimately into oblivion, as he asks to be thrown overboard. Jonah in flight is on a journey away from God, on a journey towards death.[2]
Jonah explained his disastrous decision in Jonah 4:2 in the NET Bible, which says with “LORD” being replaced with “Jehovah”:
He prayed to [Jehovah] and said, “Oh, [Jehovah], this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish! – because I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment.
The footnote for Tarshish explains:
The narrator skillfully withheld Jonah’s motivations from the reader up to this point for rhetorical effect – to build suspense and to create a shocking, surprising effect. Now, for the first time, the narrator reveals why Jonah fled from the commission of God in 1:3 – he had not wanted to give God the opportunity to relent from judging Nineveh! Jonah knew that if he preached in Nineveh, the people might repent and as a result, God might more than likely relent from sending judgment. Hoping to seal their fate, Jonah had originally refused to preach so that the Ninevites would not have an opportunity to repent. Apparently Jonah hoped that God would have therefore judged them without advance warning. Or perhaps he was afraid he would betray his nationalistic self-interests by functioning as the instrument through which the LORD would spare Israel’s main enemy. Jonah probably wanted God to destroy Nineveh for three reasons:
  1. as a loyal nationalist, he despised non-Israelites (cf. 1:9);
  2. he believed that idolaters had forfeited any opportunity to be shown mercy (cf. 2:9-10); and
  3. the prophets Amos and Hosea had recently announced that God would sovereignly use the Assyrians to judge unrepentant Israel (Hos 9:3; 11:5) and take them into exile (Amos 5:27). If God destroyed Nineveh, the Assyrians would not be able to destroy Israel. The better solution would have been for Jonah to work for the repentance of Nineveh and Israel.
Thus, Jonah fleeing his commission was not necessarily out of panicked fear, but from his own confession, it was due to selfishly wanting to spare the Israelites by having the capital of the Assyrians destroyed, thus hopefully removing that potentially ominous threat from the horizon. (However, Jonah’s mention at 2 Kings 14:23-25 seems to place him prior to the ministries of Amos and Hosea, during the idolatrous reign of Jeroboam II,[3] imbuing point 3 with irony as the Ninevites returned to their wicked ways, seemingly justifying Jonah’s concern!)

In Jonah 1:5 where “The sailors were so afraid that each cried out to his own god,” the NET Bible notes:
Or “gods” (CEV, NLT). The plural noun אֱלֹהִים (ʾelohim) might be functioning either as a plural of number (“gods”) or a plural of majesty (“god”) – the form would allow for either. As members of a polytheistic culture, each sailor might appeal to several gods. However, individuals could also look to a particular god for help in trouble. Tg. Jonah 1:5 interpretively renders the line, “Each man prayed to his idols, but they saw that they were useless.”
This shows a usage where ʾelohim may function as “plural of majesty.”

In the next verse, Jonah 1:6, we read:
The ship’s captain approached him and said, “What are you doing asleep? Get up! Cry out to your god! Perhaps your god might take notice of us so that we might not die!”
Regarding Get up! Cry out, it notes:
The imperatives “arise!” and “cry out!” are repeated from v. 2 [“Go immediately … and announce] for ironic effect. The captain’s words would have rung in Jonah’s ears as a stinging reminder that the LORD had uttered them once before. Jonah was hearing them again because he had disobeyed them before.
This tangible irony was also noted by Magonet, when he wrote:
Certainly for Jonah other messages were continually coming through. In one of the most subtle ploys of the author, the words of the captain to Jonah when he asks him to rise up and call on his God (1.6) are identical with the words of God’s call. For the captain they merely mean: ‘Wake up and pray!’ For Jonah the words of God echo in the air waiting for him to respond. Thus the captain becomes the unconscious messenger of God’s word, and indeed the wind, the storm, as later on the fish, the gourd, the worm, all of nature, become agents of God, bringing the divine word to the recalcitrant prophet.[4]
Thus, mining this account also reveals the gem of agency.

Continuing to Jonah 1:14, we read:
So they cried out to the LORD, “Oh, please, LORD, don’t let us die on account of this man! Don’t hold us guilty of shedding innocent blood. …”
The NET Bible notes:
“Do not put against us innocent blood,” that is, “Do not assign innocent blood to our account.” It seems that the sailors were afraid that they would die if they kept Jonah in the ship and also that they might be punished with death if they threw him overboard.
As far as they knew, Jonah had died, sacrificing his life to save them. In this sense, he ironically acted as a Christ-like character. However, Jonah in his viewpoint may have anticipated dying in the stormy waves as a relief from his divinely-instigated torment.

This later point is manifested in Jonah 2:6, where the NET Bible offers an enlightening translation:
I went down to the very bottoms of the mountains; the gates of the netherworld barred me in forever; but you brought me up from the Pit, O LORD, my God.
Regarding the gates, the NET Bible interestingly notes:
“As for the earth, its bars…” … The word translated “bars” appears elsewhere to speak of bars used in constructing the sides of the tabernacle and often of crossbars (made of wood or metal) associated with the gates of fortified cities (cf. Exod 36:31-34; Judg 16:3; 1 Kgs 4:13; Neh 3:3; Pss 107:16; 147:13; Isa 45:1-2).
Regarding the translation of netherworld, it notes:
“the earth.” The noun אֶרֶץ (ʾerets) usually refers to the “earth” but here refers to the “netherworld” (e.g., Job 10:21, 22; Ps 139:15; Isa 26:19; 44:23; BDB 76 s.v. אֶרֶץ2.g). This is parallel to the related Akkadian term irsitu used in the phrase “the land of no return,” that is, the netherworld. This refers to the place of the dead (along with “belly of Sheol,” v. 2, and “the grave,” v. 6), which is sometimes described as having “gates” (Job 38:17; Ps 107:18).
Similarly, it notes regarding the Pit:
Jonah pictures himself as being at the very gates of the netherworld (v. 6b) and now within the Pit itself (v. 6c). He is speaking rhetorically, for he had not actually died. His point is that he was as good as dead if God did not intervene immediately. See Pss 7:15; 30:3; 103:4; Ezek 19:3-4, 8.
Magonet comments further: “For Jonah in flight, even death seems to be the better option than living with the God who haunts him. But even the luxury of death is not permitted him—waiting in the wings is the fish.”[5]

Regarding this “fish,” and the language of agency noted above, we should compare how both it and the worm are described. In Jonah 1:17, God “sent a huge fish,” and in Jonah 4:7 “God sent a worm.” All of His creatures regardless of their size or mass immediately respond to His bidding without any dissension, unlike Jonah of God’s crowning creation created in His image. (Genesis 1:26-27) Additionally, the NET Bible notes that the same word sent is used for both the fish and worm.

Regarding the fish:
Or “appointed” (NASB); NLT “had arranged for.” The Piel verb מִנָּה (minnah) means “to send, to appoint” (Ps 61:8; Jonah 2:1; 4:6-8; Dan 1:5, 10-11; HALOT 599 s.v. מנה 2; BDB 584 s.v. מָנָה). Joyce Baldwin notes, “Here, with YHWH as the subject, the verb stresses God’s sovereign rule over events for the accomplishment of his purpose (as in 4:6-8, where the verb recurs in each verse). The ‘great fish’ is in exactly the right place at the right time by God’s command, in order to swallow Jonah and enclose him safely” (Joyce Baldwin, “Jonah,” The Minor Prophets, 2:566).
Regarding the worm:
Or “appointed.” The verb מָנָה (manah) in the Piel stem means “to send, to appoint” (Ps 61:8; Jonah 2:1; 4:6-8; Dan 1:5, 10-11; HALOT 599 s.v. מנה 2; BDB 584 s.v. מָנָה).
Thus these were miraculous appointments, and they both responded without any deliberation.

All in all, my favorite gems mined from an analytical reading of Jonah are of agency and realizing that Jonah may not have run in the opposite direction out of fear of the brutal, bloodthirsty Ninevites. Instead, as he himself confessed, he may have selfishly wanted that potential threat to Israel’s existence eliminated. In other words, warn them and they will repent and live; do not warn them, and the potential dreadful threat is removed!

Jonah is featured in an epic dramatization in the 2018 Regional Convention: The Story of Jonah—A Lesson in Courage and Mercy.

[1] This phrase is explained here, along with other spiritual gems:
[2] Bible Lives. London: SCM Press Ltd. 1992. 138
[3] Bible Book Number 32​—Jonah. “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial” p. 153 Additionally, the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible in its introduction to Jonah states that the reference to Jonah in 2 Kings 14:25 “places the setting for the book…in the generation just before Amos and Hosea,” during the reign of Jeroboam II.
[4] Supra note 2. 140
[5] Ibid.

Additional reading:

All underscoring is added, and all italics are original.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A startling admission on Trinitarianism

A leading Trinitarian philosopher and analytic theologian, Dr. Richard Swinburne, made a fascinating yet startling admission about Trinitarian theology, that it ‘cannot be derived from the New Testament’:

It seems to me, although I shall not argue it here, that even if you regard the New Testament as an infallible source of doctrine, you cannot derive from it a doctrine of the Trinity. Although there are many passages in the New Testament which speak of Christ as divine, and passages which speak of the Spirit of God, or of Christ and of the Comforter, there are non-Trinitarian ways of interpreting these later passages, which are just as possible as interpreting them as expressing the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is a divine person, and so entailing a doctrine of the Trinity. I shall not argue this here, that this is not in the New Testament, but it seems to me that it isn’t.

So unless Christians today either recognize some good a priori argument for a doctrine of the Trinity, or unless they consider that the facts that the subsequent church taught a doctrine of the Trinity, is a significant reason for interpreting the passages in a Trinitarian way—unless they’ve either got an a priori argument or they believe the church’s authority, it seems to me that most Christians today would not be justified in believing that doctrine. Those who do recognize the church’s authority to teach normally regard the Nicene Creed, promulgated by the First Council at Constantinople, as the first binding authoritative statement from which a doctrine of the Trinity can be derived.[1]
[End quote]

He issued these statements, that Trinitarianism is not in the New Testament per se but is first derived from the Ecumenical Councils centuries after the New Testament Canon was closed, in Professor Dale Tuggy’s Podcast 231 – Swinburne’s Social Theory of the Trinity, which I heartily recommend:

But how can the highly esteemed Theologian get away with saying that? Dale explains how in a cleverly facetious manner in his next podcast #232 – Trinity Club Orientation He can get away with saying that because he’s a card-carrying Trinitarian, that’s how.

Lastly, Dale reported on another Trinitarian theologian who made other similar and related comments on his Trinitarian theology, that it is not in the scriptures, which I have presented here:
A theology in crisis?

Additionally, Dr. Craig has also gone on record as saying that the Trinity is “beyond the Bible.” See: Does Dr. Craig Have an Orthodox Christology?

[1] Transcribed by Mark Cain as seen here:

See also:


Monday, June 25, 2018

Not all is well in Russia

Can a corrupt throne be your ally, a throne that makes evil laws? They band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.

Psalm 94:20-21, Christian Standard Bible

I can only offer my full spiritual and emotional support to my dear friends, my brothers and sisters in Russia.

Information on the tragic condition in Russia, on the corruption of its police force, transforming it into a criminal gang of thieves and thugs against its own law-abiding citizens, is repeatedly reported on in the news media around the world, and is seen here in official reports:

In the Russian language:

The introductory picture is found here:
Campaign of Terror Begins for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia

The entire judicial system in Russia has descended into the anarchy of a kangaroo court, where trumped-up charges trump justice.

Regarding crooked judges, the Easy-to-Read Version presents the above Psalm as saying:
They use the law to make life hard for the people. They attack those who do right. They say innocent people are guilty and put them to death.
Lastly, the New Living Translation present it as saying:
Can unjust leaders claim that God is on their side—leaders whose decrees permit injustice? They gang up against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.
Russia is committing horrible and libelous crimes against its own tax-paying citizens, ganging-up on a minority Christian congregation to steal valuable property and personal electronics. While this unjustified persecution is criminal, it has not resulted in executions as that Psalm states, and I certainly hope it never does! However, being imprisoned and robbed of valuables can seem like death!

Please see this video: How Did Jehovah’s Witnesses Come to Be Labelled as ‘Extremists’ in Russia?

Additionally, I want to remind my Russian friends of the divine decree in Zechariah 2:8, which I have cast into this graphic:


Monday, June 18, 2018

Moses’ Example

There are a number of times in the Scriptures where Moses is presented as being a good example to imitate.

One is in 2 Corinthians 3:15-16, which reads: “In fact, to this day whenever Moses [the Pentateuch] is read [in the Synagogue], a veil lies upon their hearts. 16 But when one turns to Jehovah, the veil is taken away.”

The NET Bible offers two enlightening footnotes here for verse 16. For “one,” it states:
Or perhaps “when(ever) he turns,” referring to Moses.
At the end of the verse, its footnote says:
An allusion to Exod 34:34. The entire verse may refer to Moses, viewing him as a type portraying the Jewish convert to Christianity in Paul’s day.
This makes a lot of sense, for Exodus 34:34 says: “But when Moses would go in before Jehovah to speak with him, he would take off the veil until he went out.” The application being that, the convert to Christianity can now act like Moses and remove the veil by studying the scriptures and seeing their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, seeing God’s glory as reflected by him.

Moses also provided an example of pleading before God at Numbers 12:13, in this case to heal Miriam from being stricken with leprosy. It says: “And Moses began to cry out to Jehovah, saying: ‘O God, please heal her! Please!’” (RNWT) This is quite a bit different than how the NET Bible presents it: “Heal her now, O God.” This is more like a dry, sterilized command to God to do his bidding. However, one scholar explains that:
In translation, it sounds straightforward. But in the original Hebrew what Moses actually said was, El Na Refah Na La -אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ.

This five-word phrase has perfect symmetry. The central word Refah means “heal”. It is surrounded on both sides with the word Na, meaning “please”. The two outermost words are El (“God”) and La (her”), both containing the sound “L”. This short phrase has poetic symmetry, where the repetition of the word “please” strengthens Moses’ prayer.[1] (underline added)
So I’m afraid the New Word Translation enjoys superiority over the NET Bible, and any other translation similar to it here. Moses at Numbers 12:13 presents a good example to emulate in prayer, not forgetting to season your petitions with politeness and proper etiquette even if feeling desperate.

[1] Moses’ holiest prayer.
Also the source for the opening graphic.


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Ironic Ignorance

As the saying goes, “ignorance is bliss.” As seen here though, ignorance is ironic.

John 7 reveals some remarkable ignorance of the Scriptures among Jesus’ skeptics and enemies. Case in point: at John 7:41 “some were saying: ‘The Christ is not coming out of Galilee, is he?’” Here, the skeptics were ignorant of Isaiah 9:1-2 which specifically mentions Galilee in connection with a “great light.” Certainly it takes no great imagination to see that this could pass for the Messiah.[1] Then, at John 7:52 the Pharisees sneered: “You are not also out of Galilee, are you? Search and see that no prophet is to be raised up out of Galilee.” In saying this, they expressed ignorance that the prophet Jonah[2] hailed from Galilee as expressed in Jeremiah’s book 2 Kings 14:25. They also revealed ignorance of the messianic import of Isaiah 9:1-2.

In this, the NET Bible concurs in a footnote:
This claim by the leaders presents some difficulty, because Jonah had been from Gath Hepher, in Galilee (2 Kgs 14:25). Also the Babylonian Talmud later stated, “There was not a tribe in Israel from which there did not come prophets” (b. Sukkah 27b). Two explanations are possible: (1) In the heat of anger the members of the Sanhedrin overlooked the facts (this is perhaps the easiest explanation). (2) This anarthrous noun is to be understood as a reference to the prophet of Deut 18:15 (note the reading of P66 which is articular), by this time an eschatological figure in popular belief. This would produce in the text of John’s Gospel a high sense of irony indeed, since the religious authorities by their insistence that “the Prophet” could not come from Galilee displayed their true ignorance of where Jesus came from on two levels at once (Bethlehem, his birthplace, the fulfillment of Mic 5:2, but also heaven, from which he was sent by the Father). The author does not even bother to refute the false attestation of Jesus’ place of birth as Galilee (presumably Christians knew all too well where Jesus came from). [emphasis original]
This multilayered ignorance reveals just how unprepared Jesus’ contemporaries were. This is especially ironic considering that not all Jews were this unaware of their own scriptures, and this insight derives from a surprising source, the apocryphal book of Tobit. In it, Tobit is presented as being from the northern tribe of Naphtali in Galilee, the same place mentioned in the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-2. (Tobit 1:1) In this fable, the Archangel Raphael (meaning “God Heals”) became the man Azariah (“Jehovah Has Helped”) who claimed to be one of Tobit’s relatives from Hananiah (Tobit 5:12-13), therefore also from Naphtali and Galilee. As one scholar reported: “Presumably, Hananiah is a member of Tobit’s tribe of Naphtali, from Upper Galilee. Raphael has therefore taken on the guise of a Galilean Israelite with a verifiable history.”[3] In this story, Azariah is responsible for two healings, that of blindness (Tobit 11:12-14) and of demon-possession (Tobit 8:3), miracles that are associated with God’s blessing, especially the former. (Isaiah 35:5-6; 61:1-2) Thus it seems pretty clear that even though Tobit is unhistorical, that it does preserve a Jewish expectation that the Messiah would also hail from Galilee. Indeed: “Raphael, the savior of Tobit, should be understood as a theological template for Jesus’ followers when they identified him as a heavenly savior in human form.”[4] So the only ones who recognized the messianic expectations of Galilee were the Jewish composers of Tobit. Thus the characters in Tobit “acknowledged that the angel of the Lord had appeared to them” as a Galilean savior. (Tobit 12:22) To repeat, the fictional characters of Tobit were more enlightened than Jesus’ real-life opposers. Has irony ever been so great as this?

In conclusion, may we not be caught off-guard as Jesus’ ignorant or forgetful skeptics and opposers were, with their lack of meditation and study of the Scriptures.

See also my discussion of a similar case here: A case for Christ’s pre-human existence: Additional explanation This reveals another case of the Pharisees being caught off-guard, in this instance with Christ’s exegesis of Psalm 110:1.

[1] Regarding Isaiah 9:1-2 and the messianic connotation of the “great light,” The Complete Jewish Study Bible says:
[Isaiah] returns to the theme of future blessing. The Land that was to experience the Assyrian captivity would someday experience God’s blessing, mediated though the birth of a child who would rule on the throne of David. (vv. 6-7). The Targum uses the descriptions of these verses as titles for the Messiah.
Additionally, The Jewish Study Bible notes:
The ideal Davidic king. Isaiah describes the liberation from some form of adversity (perhaps the Assyrian conquests of Israelite territory… Most later readers (both Jewish and Christian) understood the passage to describe an ideal future ruler, i.e., the Messiah.
Thus the people in darkness seeing a great light are identified as living in the territory identified in verse 1, and that seeing a “great light” was indeed identified as being messianic.

[2] The Complete Jewish Study Bible in its introduction to Jonah says:
Though Yonah’s [Jonah’s] mission was to Ashur’s [Assyria’s] capital, the book is directed at Israel. … Israel is guilty not only of departing from God, but also of failing to carry out its great commission to the Gentiles.
So Jonah is recognized as a legitimate prophet and was grouped with the 12 Prophets in the Jewish Canon. Ironically, the Prophet Daniel was relegated to the Writings, showing that Jonah could have been too if he fell out of favor.

[3] Muñoa, Phillip. Raphael, Azariah and Jesus of Nazareth: Tobit’s Significance for Early Christology. Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha. (2012). 13

[4] Ibid. 15

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Opening graphic from

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Quickly Refuting the Flat-Earth Folly

The position mentioned in the title argues that the earth is a flat disk and for geocentrism, and that this is the Biblical position.

This is a great folly, and is quickly refuted by one point:

Antipodal volcanism.

This is best seen in the Chicxulub crater and the Deccan Traps, lava flows which occurred nearly half-way around the earth following the Chicxulub impact.

See: Antipodal Volcanism and the K-T Extinction Event

This is a problem for the Flat Earth position as it does not believe in impact craters as they are incompatible with its geological model; instead, voices within that Flat Earth community call them sink holes due to childishly not understanding that the impactor disintegrated upon impact. See the following infographic:
It’s pure madness as described in 1 Timothy 6:4.

This problem has been humorously depicted in this graphic spread around the Internet that uses the Chicxulub impact as an example:

As should be self-explanatory, only a globe could withstand an impact of that nature, whereas a disk would be thrown-off balance or possibly even shattered.

But here are two potential replies and my responses:

Potential flat-earther reply 1: “Where’s the asteroid that reportedly made the Chicxulub crater?”
Me: Disintegrated. The only reason why impactors are rejected is due to being incompatible with Flat-Earth geology, which is circular reasoning.

Potential flat-earther reply 2: “Why couldn’t the Chicxulub crater and Deccan Traps have occurred independently of each other as they were only recently connected in time?”
Me: They could have occurred independently of each other, but that would leave the Deccan Traps without a clear cause, so it’s far more compelling that it was caused by the shockwaves of the Chicxulub impact. This is only compatible with the globe model, not the Flat-Earth model.

Impact craters and their associated antipodal volcanism are a gift that informs us of the earth’s spherical character. To deny this is to deny God’s Word in nature.—Romans 1:20.

It’s thus hard to imagine a position that’s more unreasonable than this. Unreasonableness of this type is a “work of the flesh” listed together with depraved sexual sins that Christians are admonished to avoid like the plague. (Galatians 5:19-21) As James said: “This is not the wisdom that comes down from above; it is earthly, animalistic, demonic.” (James 3:15) The NET Bible footnote explains that this “describes life apart from God, characteristic of earthly human life as opposed to what is spiritual. Cf. 1 Cor 2:14; 15:44-46; Jude 1:19.” It is totally depraved in its fallaciousness.

  1. Hugh Ross Explains
  2. Flat Earth falls flat on the South Pole
Hugh Ross Explains
Recently, Astronomer Hugh Ross commented on the Flat-Earth folly on Facebook:

Question of the Week: What are the best scientific evidences for a spherical Earth that is best understood by laypeople?

My Answer: The three that I have found to be most effective are 1) to point out that airlines have their planes fly to faraway cities along curved paths rather than straight paths, 2) when on Earth you look at a faraway tall mountain the top of the mountain is visible but not the bottom, and 3) when you take a flight from Athens to Johannesburg on a clear night you can watch the constellation Orion gradually turn upside down.

Question of the Week: How can one refute the claim made by atheists, skeptics, and even some Christians that the Bible a flat-earth book?

My Answer: First of all, the idea that the Bible promotes a flat-earth doctrine presupposes that people living 2–3 thousand years ago lacked the capacity to determine the true shape of Earth. That presupposition is incorrect. The fact that at different locations on Earth different stellar constellations are seen and they are seen at different orientations was sufficient to persuade ancient peoples that they were living on a spherical body. Aristotle wrting in the 4th century BC cited this evidence as proof that Earth is spherical. However, documented mentions of a spherical Earth by Greek philosophers date back to the 6th century BC. Erastosthenes in the 3rd century BC used the sunlight lines at summer solistice in wells at different latitudes to determine the diameter of Earth to 1 percent precision.
Both ancient Greek and Egyptian astronomers pointed to the semi-circular shadow of Earth on the Moon during lunar eclipses as evidence for the sphericity of Earth.

The biblical texts most often cited in the claim that the Bible teaches a flat Earth are Job 38:5, 12-14, Isaiah 11:12, 40:22, and Revelation 7:1, 20:7. Of these passages, the most cited is Isaiah 40:22. The relevant part of Isaiah 40:22, referring to God, states, “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.” Whether the “circle of the earth” refers to a human on Earth or God looking down on Earth from above, in both cases the phrase would be consistent with a spherically shaped Earth. It is worth noting that only a sphere always looks like a circle when seen from above.

The Isaiah 11:12 and Revelation 7:1, 20:7 all refer to the “four corners of the earth.” However, even today, astronomers, physicists, and educated people around the world recognize and use the “four corners of the earth” as phenomenalogical language referring to the most distant parts of Earth from the standpoint of an observer at a specific location of Earth. It is clear from an examination of the context for all three of these passages that the most distant parts of Earth is the intent implied by the use of the idiom, the four corners of the earth. As the Theolological Wordbook of the Old Testament points out, the Hebrew word for “corners” used in Isaiah 11:12, kanap, in most of its appearances in the Old Testament is used figuratively.

The passage in Job 38:5 referring to Earth states, “Who fixed its dimensions? Certainly you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?” The inference made by those claiming that the Bible is a flat-earth book is that the “measuring line” is a straight line which would be suitable for measuring a flat disk but not a sphere. This is an overinterpretation. Lines can be straight or curved. Also, it is customary to measure the diameter of a sphere with a straight-edge ruler.

Job 38:12-14 refers to the dawn seizing “the edges [or ends] of the earth” and earth taking “shape like clay under a seal.” What is interesting here is that for a spherical earth the arrival of dawn first shows up at the most distant horizon, end, or edge of the point of view of a human at a fixed point upon Earth’s surface. The taking shape like clay under a seal would apply to either a disk or a sphere and may be saying more about Earth’s rotation or its manufacture than its actual shape.

The irony of choosing Job 38:5, 12-14, Isaiah 11:12, 40:22, and Revelation 7:1, 20:7 to sustain the claim that the Bible is a flat Earth book is that these biblical texts better fit a spherical Earth than they do a flat Earth. While it would be an overinterpretation to conclude that these texts explicitly teach that Earth is a sphere, no where in the Bible do we find any text saying that Earth is flat. The Bible remains the only holy book for which we can say that it contains no provable errors or contradictions.

Flat Earth falls flat on the South Pole
An official outlet for the Flat Earth Society reveals a division of opinion on Antarctica, the continent where the south pole is: it is either an ice wall boundary or a continent. This division in that geological model is a fatal flaw making its folly extremely obvious. This division is expressed in these terms:

There are two main theories concerning the nature and extent of Antarctica. The first and most widely accepted theory says that Antarctica is a portion of ice surrounding earth, and that in its end there is a huge wall of ice (with different sizes depending on the subtheory) which is the edge of the earth. The second theory says that the center of the earth's surface is the point where the Equator and the Prime Meridian meet, and therefore Antarctica is a distinct continent located at the South.

With this significant division of opinion over the south pole, with the later theory divorcing Antarctica from the south pole, the Flat Earth falls flat. As absurdity refutes itself, so the Flat Earth Society has explained the Flat Earth into oblivion.

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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Easter Ishtar?

“You like potato and I like potahto,
You like tomato and I like tomahto,
Potato, potahto, Tomato, tomahto.
Let’s call the whole thing off!”

This is the most popular comparison of differing pronunciations in the famous musical Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.

There’s a similar contrast that many make today that is not as funny though: claiming that since Easter sounds like Ishtar, that they must be the same. Yes, both are pagan goddesses, the name Easter being Germanic and Ishtar being Babylonian. I know memes have been made making this connection, and are spread around the Internet, that the name Easter actually derives from the name of the Babylonian fertility goddess Ishtar. Both the function and the name of that goddess sound so compatible to Easter that many consider it to be more than merely coincidental. But we must be careful, for appearances can be deceiving. Denying this would be naive and sensational, traits Christians should avoid in order to reach out to maturity. Thus, claiming that they must be the same as they both sound similar and may share some similar traits would be immature. Rather, any such connection should be solidified by rigorous scholarship instead. Anything less would be amateurish and would ultimately be a disservice to ourselves and others.

With that said, I will share some notes that demonstrate that we must err on the side of caution here. First, for the sake of my Jehovah’s Witness audience, notice what some Awake! and Watchtower articles have said:

Awake! 1992 4/8 What Does Easter Mean to God?, box on page 6: What Is the Origin of the Word “Easter”?
  • “The name, which is in use only among the English- and German-speaking peoples, is derived, in all probability, from that of a goddess of the heathen Saxons, Ostara, Osterr, or Eastre. She was the personification of the East, of the morning, of the spring.”—Curiosities of Popular Customs, by William S. Walsh.
  • “We are told by an ancient English chronicler, the Venerable Bede, that the word ‘Easter’ was originally the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn, known as Eostre or Ostara, whose principal festival was kept at the vernal equinox. We only have Bede’s word for it, for no record of such a goddess is to be found elsewhere, but it is unlikely that Bede, as a devout Christian, would have gone out of his way to invent a pagan origin for Easter. But whether or not there was ever such a goddess, it seems most likely that some historical connection must exist between the words ‘Easter’ and ‘East’, where the sun rises.”—Easter—Its Story and Meaning, by Alan W. Watts.
  • “The origin of the term for the feast of Christ’s Resurrection has been popularly considered to be from the Anglo-Saxon Eastre, a goddess of spring. However, recent studies by Knobloch . . . present another explanation.”—New Catholic Encyclopedia.
  • “The English name Easter, like the German Ostern, probably derives from Eostur, the Norse word for the spring season, and not from Eostre, the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess.”—The Encyclopedia of Religion. [This source derives Easter from a word and not a goddess.]
Watchtower 1996 4/1 pp. 3-4 Easter or the Memorial—Which Should You Observe?
The name Easter, used in many lands, is not found in the Bible. The book Medieval Holidays and Festivals tells us that “the holiday is named after the pagan Goddess of the Dawn and of Spring, Eostre.” And who was this goddess? “Eostre it was who, according to the legend, opened the portals of Valhalla to receive Baldur, called the White God, because of his purity and also the Sun God, because his brow supplied light to mankind,” answers The American Book of Days. It adds: “There is no doubt that the Church in its early days adopted the old pagan customs and gave a Christian meaning to them. As the festival of Eostre was in celebration of the renewal of life in the spring it was easy to make it a celebration of the resurrection from the dead of Jesus, whose gospel they preached.”

[End quotes]

So the connection is not made with Ishtar, but with the Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn “Eostre” or “Eastre” (if it is to be derived from a goddess at all). But does Eastre find her origin in Ishtar, or something else? One source states that:
There are a growing number of Christians that think that the [name] “Easter” is rooted in pagan Babylonian tradition. One of the basic assumptions is that the name “Easter” is but a Christian remake of “Ishtar”, a Babylonian goddess. Even though the words sound similar, they probably have no etymological connection. The English word “Easter” likely comes from the Proto-Germanic “austron”, which means “sunrise” – arguably a fitting name for the “rising from the dead.” (Is Easter a Pagan Holiday? by Dr. Faydra Shapiro and Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg.
Please focus on this quotation only, and do not be distracted by anything else on that webpage article, and shift focus to something you may dislike and then ignore what was quoted here for the purpose of dismissing it, as that would be dishonest and thus manifest an immature, shameful, and unchristian demeanor. So if you are mature enough to focus on what I quoted, then you see that Eastre would derive from the Proto-Germanic “austron,” or “sunrise,” not Ishtar. This is good to remember, and does not affect the true statement that Easter has been infused with pagan symbolism.

So while Ishtar is related to her equivalents of Astarte and Ashtoreth, it would be a mistake to apply this to the Germanic goddess Eastre. Lastly, one article on “What Does the Bible Say About Easter?” says:
Name: The Encyclopædia Britannica says: “The English name Easter is of uncertain origin; the Anglo-Saxon priest Venerable Bede in the 8th century derived it from the Anglo-Saxon spring goddess Eostre.” Others link it to Astarte, the Phoenician fertility goddess who had the Babylonian counterpart Ishtar. (
While it admitted that “others link it to Astarte, the Phoenician fertility goddess who had the Babylonian counterpart Ishtar,” this is not to be adopted dogmatically. I think including this line leans towards being a disservice for having the potential to produce ill-informed fanatics. But that was not their intention.

As we are reminded in Philippians 4:5: “Let your reasonableness become known to all men.” Thus, we should be “cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) and only present information that has been proven to be reasonably true, not basing it on shoddy research that only results in confirmation bias. Scholarly, reasonable, and mature Christians then take the origin of the name Easter to its Germanic roots and leave it at that. Taking it any further would be sensational. To that I say:

Let’s call the whole thing off!


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