Friday, October 31, 2014

“New Poll Finds Evangelicals’ Favorite Heresies”

“Survey finds many American evangelicals hold unorthodox views on the Trinity, salvation, and other doctrines.”

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Most American evangelicals hold views condemned as heretical by some of the most important councils of the early church.

A survey released today [October 28, 2014] by LifeWay Research for Ligonier Ministries “reveals a significant level of theological confusion,” said Stephen Nichols, Ligonier’s chief academic officer. Many evangelicals do not have orthodox views about either God or humans, especially on questions of salvation and the Holy Spirit, he said.

Evangelicals did score high on several points. Nearly all believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead (96%), and that salvation is found through Jesus alone (92%). Strong majorities said that God is sovereign over all people (89%) and that the Bible is the Word of God (88%).

And in some cases the problem seems to be uncertainty rather than heresy. For example, only 6 percent of evangelicals think the Book of Mormon is a revelation from God, but an additional 18 percent aren’t sure and think it might be.

Almost all evangelicals say they believe in the Trinity (96%) and that Jesus is fully human and fully divine (88%).

But nearly a quarter (22%) said God the Father is more divine than Jesus, and 9 percent weren’t sure. Further, 16 percent say Jesus was the first creature created by God, while 11 percent were unsure.
But if evangelicals sometime misunderstand doctrines about Jesus, the third member of the Trinity has it much worse. More than half (51%) said the Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being. Seven percent weren’t sure, while only 42 percent affirmed that the Spirit is a person.

And 9 percent said the Holy Spirit is less divine than God the Father and Jesus. The same percentage answered “not sure.”
Human nature and salvation were other areas of confusion for respondents. Two out of three (68%) said that a person obtains peace with God by seeking God first, and then God responds with grace. A similar percentage (67%) said people have the ability to turn to God on the own initiative. Yet half (54%) also think salvation begins with God acting first. So which is it?
Ligonier’s Nichols said that while the survey results are disappointing, they’re not unique to our time or culture, or irreversible. “The church in every age has faced theological confusion and heresy. In this survey we see a wake-up call to the church. We cannot assume the next generation—or even this present one—will catch an orthodox theology merely by being in the church,” he said.

John Stackhouse, professor of theology and culture at Regent College in Vancouver, agrees. “We continue to hold adult Christian education in low regard,” he said. “A sermon on Sunday morning and a conversational Bible study during the week won’t get the job done of informing and transforming people’s minds along the lines of orthodox Christian belief.”
End quote

  1. If most of them believe in the Trinity, then how can half of them deny the Trinitarian deity of the Holy Spirit?
  2. If most of them believe in the Trinity, then how can almost a quarter of them believe that their Second Person, Jesus Christ, was created by the Father?
I personally am familiar with Trinitarians denying, willfully even, the Hypostatic Union and the duality of Christ. While some of the ones questioned lacked proper Trinitarian training, some doubtlessly have these “unorthodox” positions due to their own thinking abilities.

Additionally, while Trinitarians can bemoan their dismal deficit of “adult Christian education,” they have been forced to admit that, on the contrary, Jehovah’s Witnesses “pose a significant challenge” because “they have been trained better than any Christian [Trinitarian] denomination,” as American Christian fundamentalist Ron Rhodes said. The late Evangelical minister Walter Martin candidly agreed. He lamented that “Jehovah’s Witnesses can make a doctrinal pretzel out of the average Christian [Trinitarian] in 20 seconds.”[1] Lastly, another Trinitarian leader complained that “Christians [Trinitarians] tend to be inept at responding to antitrinitarian thought and argumentation of Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Mormons.”[2]

Thus, it seems unlikely that this “significant level of theological confusion” will ever reverse. Frankly, Trinitarianism is not something that Jesus Christ believed in, as it clearly is not a Bible teaching. Indeed, Jesus would doubtlessly be offended by it. Therefore it only makes sense that they are having such a terrible time teaching their flocks and maintaining their orthodoxy.

[1] Witnesses keeping the faith

[2] Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists and Other Objectors, page 205. By Paul Copan and William Lane Craig.

Related blog entries:
See also:

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Jesus’ Kind Counsel

Unkind, burning words of offence.
James 3:6

In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus provided much valuable counsel on practical living. This blog post though will focus on verse 22 and will point out some unique textual challenges contained in it:

Matthew 5:22 in the NET Bible:

But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults [27] a brother will be brought before the council, [29] and whoever says ‘Fool’ [30] will be sent to fiery hell. [32]
[27] tn Grk “whoever says to his brother ‘Raca,’” an Aramaic word of contempt or abuse meaning “fool” or “empty head.”
More primitive translations like the KJV retain the calque Raca in the text untranslated, leaving the English reader high and dry as to its meaning.
[29] tn Grk “the Sanhedrin.”
[30] tn The meaning of the term μωρός (mwros) is somewhat disputed. Most take it to mean, following the Syriac versions, “you fool,” although some have argued that it represents a transliteration into Greek of the Hebrew term מוֹרֵה (moreh) “rebel” (Deut 21:18, 20; cf. BDAG 663 s.v. μωρός c).
BDAG refers to sources that say “it has been held to be a transliteration of מוֹרֵה rebel (Dt 21:18, 20)”.

So perhaps we have two transliterated legal terms in this verse, Raca and Moreh, the latter being Hellenized to moros. However Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Matthew has “fool.”
[32] tn Grk “the Gehenna of fire.”
sn The word translated hell is “Gehenna” (γέεννα, geenna), a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew words ge hinnom (“Valley of Hinnom”). This was the valley along the south side of Jerusalem. In OT times it was used for human sacrifices to the pagan god Molech (cf. Jer 7:31; 19:5-6; 32:35), and it came to be used as a place where human excrement and rubbish were disposed of and burned. In the intertestamental period, it came to be used symbolically as the place of divine punishment (cf. 1 En. 27:2, 90:26; 4 Ezra 7:36).
(1 En. is 1 Enoch or the Book of Enoch, an important literary work of Second Temple Judaism. 4 Ezra however is a post-Temple production.)

Note how the NET Bible here admits that Gehenna, which was translated as “hell,” is symbolic of “the place of divine punishment” as Second Temple Jews understood. Since the translation of “hell” though conjures up a literal place of torment, it can be seen as a contradictory, cognitively dissonant (mis)translation. Additionally, this footnote on Gehenna is repeated for James 3:6 where Gehenna is found, but where the NET Bible has it translated again as “hell.” Again, Jesus’ Second Temple Jewish audience would not have thought of “Hellfire” but would have thought symbolically of the place of divine punishment of annihilation. Fire burns rubbish up, it does not sustain it.

Matthew 5:22 in the RNWT with Reference Bible footnotes:

However, I say to you that everyone who continues wrathful with his brother will be accountable to the court of justice; and whoever addresses his brother with an unspeakable word of contempt [1] will be accountable to the Supreme Court; [2] whereas whoever says, ‘You despicable fool!’ will be liable to the fiery Gehenna. [3]
[1] “An unspeakable word of contempt.” Gr., Rha·ka′; J17 [Christian Greek Scriptures, Heb., by Franz Delitzsch, London, 1981 ed], Re·qaʼ′, an Aram. word of contempt.
[2] Or, “the Sanhedrin.”
[3] … (Heb.), גיהנם (geh·hin·nom′, “valley of Hinnom”). The place for burning refuse outside of Jerusalem.
Additionally, compare these notes with the RNWT Study Bible notes:
continues wrathful: Jesus associates such a wrong attitude with hatred that can lead to actual murder. (1Jo 3:15) Ultimately, God may judge the person as being a murderer.

an unspeakable word of contempt: This expression renders the Greek word rha·kaʹ (possibly derived from Hebrew or Aramaic), meaning “empty” or “empty-headed.” Someone addressing a fellow worshipper with such a derogatory term would not only be nurturing hatred in his heart but also be giving vent to it by contemptible speech.

the Supreme Court: The full Sanhedrin—the judicial body in Jerusalem made up of the high priest and 70 elders and scribes. The Jews considered its rulings to be final.—See Glossary, “Sanhedrin.” [The Jewish high court in Jerusalem. In Jesus’ day, it was made up of 71 members, including the high priest and others who had held the office of high priest, members of the high priestly families, elders, tribal and family heads, and scribes.—Mr 15:1; Ac 5:34; 23:1, 6.]

You despicable fool: The Greek word for this expression sounded like a Hebrew term meaning “rebellious” or “mutinous.” It designates a person as morally worthless and an apostate. To address a fellow man in this way was tantamount to saying that he should receive a punishment fit for a rebel against God, that is, everlasting destruction.

Gehenna: This term comes from the Hebrew words geh hin·nomʹ, meaning “valley of Hinnom,” which lay to the W and S of ancient Jerusalem. By Jesus’ day, the valley had become a place for burning refuse, so the word “Gehenna” was a fitting symbol of complete destruction.
Thus we can see how these notes compare and harmonize with the NET Bible notes.

Matthew 5:22 in The Hebraic-Roots Version Scriptures:

But I tell you, that whoever shall be enraged against his brother, he will be condemned to the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, You are nothing: [387] he will be condemned to the council of the synagogue. And whoever says to him, You impious one: he will be condemned to the fire of Gey Hinnom.
[387] Following the Hebrew of Munster and the Aramaic (Old Syriac and Peshitta), which have RQA “nothing”. The Greek translator simply transliterated the word RQA “raka” into the Greek. The DuTillet Hebrew reads: RAyH “evil one.”
So in this translation Raca is translated as “nothing.” This certainly is an unkind, contemptuous and incendiary rebuke! Lastly, this translation, like the RNWT, left גיהנם untranslated.

In conclusion, we see that Raca should be consigned to footnotes and not stand in the main text lacking an explanation. However, a Mormon passage in the Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 12:22, reads very similar to Matthew 5:22 in the 1611 KJV, which both use “Raca.” This clearly constitutes yet another bullet hole through the Book of Mormon and the LDS Church. For instead of enlightening its readers, it used the anachronistic Aramaic legal term that the characters in the Book of Mormon story would be unfamiliar with.[1] Therefore the Book of Mormon cannot be a product of modern divine revelation. A similar bullet hole through the LDS Church is its use of “Lucifer” for Satan in its extrabiblical scriptures.[2]

Lastly, Matthew 5:22 is not talking about eternal torture in Hellfire, but is symbolic for eternal destruction. Indeed, we can be thankful that God is not so unkind and unjust to torture someone forever over such an offence clearly not meriting a punishment of eternal torture. Instead, Jesus’ counsel was kind and driven by righteous indignation over unjust evil.

Soothing kindness
Proverbs 15:23

[1] The characters in 3 Nephi are supposed to be descendants of Hebrew-speaking Jews who escaped the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem. They would not be familiar with the Aramaic legal term of Jesus’ time. The same reasoning holds true with other characters in the Book of Mormon story.

[2] See: Is Satan Lucifer?

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Remarkable Prediction in a 1922 Golden Age Magazine

As pointed out in the first hour of the 2014 Annual Meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the April 26, 1922 issue of The Golden Age magazine had a remarkable prediction of the future that has proven to be “spot on.” Read it for yourself here:

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This is the second page of the article “The Gift of Speech” by H. E. Coffey, which appeared on pages 462-3. Today we would immediately identify this prediction with the smartphone, where we can indeed receive news from various parts of the earth and communicate at will with private individuals wherever they may be. I don’t know how much coffee Mr. Coffey drank before writing this, assuming he did drink that caffeinated beverage, but it is absolutely amazing how his technological prediction was so farsighted and accurate. May his closing statement about the future also find the same realization!

What’s especially amazing is how specific the prediction was, down to the actual name of the first popular smartphone!

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(Please appreciate that this is just a humorous coincidence.)

In case you were wondering, here is page 462 of “The Gift of Speech.” The entire magazine is free on the Internet in PDF.

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  • Introductory graphic from the website Research Applications:
  • The Golden Age was published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and is now called Awake!.


Nikola Tesla and his predictions
Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) was a brilliant physicist best known for his contributions to electrical engineering together with Thomas Edison. But he is also known for making some fascinating predictions, one of them seeing fulfillment in today’s smart phone. His first prediction appeared in the October 1909 edition of Popular Mechanics, under his article as quoted from the New York Times: Wireless of the Future. This article can be seen here in Google Books. There he said that a future telephone will be an “inexpensive instrument not bigger that a watch.” While his prediction of it being “inexpensive” is certainly debatable currently, he made a similar prediction seventeen years later in 1926, or four years after the Golden Age issue. There, in the January 30 issue of Colliers magazine (seen here), he said:
We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do his will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket. (underscore added)
Considering the similarities between the April 26, 1922 issue of the Golden Age and Tesla’s 1909 prediction, later repeated in 1926, I imagine it is possible that H. E. Coffey was familiar with Tesla’s 1909 prediction, and perhaps Tesla was familiar with the 1922 Golden Age article—especially seen in his reference to “vest pocket” used earlier by Coffey. (8/8/2015; 5/4/16)

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