Wednesday, January 15, 2020

“The Authentic New Testament”

The Authentic New Testament is a 1958 paperback by Hugh J. Schonfield (1901-1988). This presents the New Testament books in an unusual order, commencing with Mark for instance, and with different chapter divisions—all without verses. However, it is a valuable study Bible, for it contains scholarly footnotes, maps of Jerusalem, and various illustrations, like of coins.

Of particular interest though is how it presents John 1:1, 8:58, and 20:28. The accompanying footnotes for John 1:1 and 20:28 are noteworthy as well. These will be showcased below:

John 1:1-5
Schonfield groups the first five verses, called the Prologue, together in a unique treatment as explained in his footnote:
In the beginning was the Word.
     And the Word was with God.
So the Word was divine.
     He was in the beginning with God.
By him everything had being.
     And without him nothing had being.
What had being by him was Life.
     And Life was the light of men.
And the Light shines in the Darkness
     And the Darkness could not suppress it.
Footnote: The Prologue consists of a hymn interspersed with brief remarks. The hymn is antiphonal, the alternate lines being chanted as a response. Our book was published in Asia Minor early in the second century, and this hymn could well be the one mentioned by Pliny the Younger, when as Governor of Bithynia (c. A.D. 112) he wrote about the Christians to the Emperor Trajan, that ‘they met on a certain fixed day before it was light and sang an antiphonal chant to Christ, as to a god’. See also Acts of John, 94-6.

Schonfield says it was published “early in the second century,” but this is compatible with it being written in the late first century and does not affect his reasoning. First, he uses an oft-missed historical association with a report from Pliny the Younger to Emperor Trajan that Christians (1) called Christ “a god” in (2) an antiphonal song.

In his report to Trajan, Pliny related the confessions of a group of former Christians where he stated that “They affirmed the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that [when they were Christians] they met on a stated day before it was light, and addressed a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity, binding themselves by a solemn oath.” This letter “was preserved by the Christians themselves as a clear and unsuspicious evidence of the purity of their doctrines.”[1]

Pliny wrote in Latin, and the critical words he used are: “carmenque Christo quasi deo.”

The “sang an antiphonal chant” or “addressed a form of prayer” derives from carmenque, which includes the meanings of “a song, poem, verse, oracular response, prophecy, form of incantation.”[2] The other critical word is deo or deus, meaning “a god, deity.”[3] Thus deus in this report about a Christian hymn is the Latin equivalent of the Greek theos in John 1:1. This exposes the usual Trinitarian translation of “the Word was God” as uninsightful and unscholarly, as well as Fundamentalism on par with Young-Earth Creationism.

Corroborating Schonfield’s connection to the antiphonal hymn calling Christ “a god,” he appealed to the “Acts of John, 94-6.” Classified among the “New Testament Apocrypha,” this is dated to as early as the second century. Verse 94 contains an antiphonal hymn, a relevant portion of which reads, with introduction:[4]
He bade us therefore make as it were a ring, holding one another's hands, and himself standing in the midst he said: Answer Amen unto me. He began, then, to sing a hymn and to say:
Glory be to thee, Father.
And we, going about in a ring, answered him: Amen.
Glory be to thee, Word: Glory be to thee, Grace. Amen.
Glory be to thee, Spirit: Glory be to thee, Holy One:
Glory be to thy glory. Amen.
We praise thee, O Father; we give thanks to thee, O Light, wherein darkness dwelleth not. Amen.
Thus, antiphonal praise was sung to the Father, the Johannine Word, and to God’s spirit in line with the Matthean baptismal formula in Matthew 28:19.

Therefore, this scripture that is popularized by Trinitarianism as a “proof-text” does not necessarily support the Trinitarian agenda after all, and is seen to be a very pompous and ignorant, unscholarly Fundamentalist abuse by Trinitarianism.

John 8:58
Jesus told them, ‘I tell you for a positive fact, I existed before Abraham was born.’

This is a refreshing break from the typical unscholarly, Fundamentalist, and nonsensical translation of “I AM” with the biased and deceptive aim of connecting it to Exodus 3:14. It is also refreshingly similar to scholar McKay’s translation, where he states that John 8:58 “would be most naturally translated ‘I have been in existence since before Abraham was born.’” McKay adds that it would be translated this way “if it were not for the obsession with the simple words ‘I am.’”[5] Thus, the typical and deceptive Trinitarian translation is simply an obsession and not a serious or scholarly translation.

John 20:28
Thomas answered, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Footnote: The author may have put this expression into the mouth of Thomas in response to the fact that the Emperor Domitian had insisted on having himself addressed as ‘Our Lord and God’, Suet. Domit. xiii.

The reference is to Suetonius’ book The Life of Domitian, 13: “With no less arrogance he began as follows in issuing a circular letter in the name of his procurators, ‘Our Master and our God [Dominus et deus noster] bids that this be done.’ And so the custom arose of henceforth addressing him in no other way even in writing or in conversation.”[6]

Thus, John was redirecting attention from Domitian to Jesus. He was the real “lord and god” as opposed to it being Domitian. The Emperor was only “lord and god” for the time being, not eternally like Jesus. This claim that John was modifying Thomas’ actual acclamation to suit his purposes would not sully the Gospel’s canonicity, and other scholars have noticed this parallel to Domitian too.[7] Consequently, applying “my Lord and my God” to support Trinitarianism was always anachronistic, unhistorical, and laughably inappropriate to an extreme degree. It becomes a brazen, shameful example of Trinitarian misuse and abuse of Scripture.

Conclusion
I found these translations of John along with the historical insights to be groundbreaking. How refreshing it is to see a treatment of the text that is not willfully bent towards supporting the failed and deceptive Trinitarian theology!

[3] As scholar Jason Beduhn explained: “Latin has no articles, either definite or indefinite. So the definite noun “God” and the indefinite noun “god” look precisely the same in Latin, and in John 1:1-2 one would see the three occurrences of what appeared to be the same word, rather than two distinct forms used in Greek [with or without the definite article].” Thus, it is significant that deus in Pliny’s report is translated as “a god” and “a divinity.” The Father was “the God” the Father, and Christ was “a god” subordinate to him. Thus, in the Greek, theos with the definite article is the Father, and without it is the indefinite “a god.” This is due to Biblical monolatry, Christ being a divine person subordinate to the “only true God” Father per John 17:1-5. Beduhn agreeably elaborates further: “There are different types of “god”—for example, a god of the living as opposed to a god of the dead. One can talk of someone being in the role of “a god” to someone else.” He then adds: “John 1:1c is one of the most significant examples of this explanatory effort, because it deals with the very crucial issue of how Christ can be so central to the Christian faith without violating the Christian commitment to monotheism.” (Truth in Translation, 116, 128.)
[4] Text from: gnosis.org/library/actjohn.htm
[5] K. L. McKay, ‘I am’ in John’s Gospel. The Expository Times, (T&T Clark, Edinburgh, July 9, 1996), 302.
[6] Text from penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/...
[7] See: Did Thomas Teach Trinitarianism at John 20:28? Appendix A. A Common Accolade? jimspace3000.blogspot.com/2012/11/did-thomas-teach-trinitarianism-at-john.html#App-A

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Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Psalms of Despair and Rejoicing


One feature of the Psalms that is nothing short of amazing are examples of people in the depths of spiritual despair, even feeling betrayed by God. These same people then plead with God and take steps to recover their trust in Him. Imagine that, in an era where divinely-inspired prophets walked the earth, people still felt like how we may feel sometimes. What follows are examples I have in mind, presented in parallel with the New World Translation and the NET Bible.

The first example bristles with terrified panic:

NWT
NET Bible
Psalm 74:9-11
There are no signs for us to see; There is no longer any prophet, And no one among us knows how long this will last.
How long, O God, will the adversary keep taunting? Will the enemy treat your name with disrespect forever?
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Draw it out of your bosom and put an end to them!

Psalm 77:10
Must I keep saying: “This is what distresses me: The Most High has changed his position toward us”?

Psalm 143:3, 4
… like those long dead.
My spirit is failing; My heart is numb within me.

Psalm 143:7
Do answer me quickly, O Jehovah; My strength has come to an end. Do not hide your face from me, Or I will be like those going down into the pit.
Psalm 74:9-11
We do not see any signs of God’s presence; there are no longer any prophets, and we have no one to tell us how long this will last.
How long, O God, will the adversary hurl insults? Will the enemy blaspheme your name forever?
Why do you remain inactive? Intervene and destroy him!

Psalm 77:10
Then I said, “I am sickened by the thought that the Most High might become inactive.”

Psalm 143:3, 4
… like those who have been dead for ages.
My strength leaves me; I am absolutely shocked.

Psalm 143:7
Answer me quickly, [Jehovah]. My strength is fading. Do not reject me, or I will join those descending into the grave.

(All exclamation points and italics have been added for emphasis.)

This repeated concern of being dead is made all the more pressing in Psalm 115:17: “The dead do not praise Jah; Nor do any who go down into the silence of death.” One does not actually have to be dead however—the feeling of being like dead is enough.

But these psalmists do not leave themselves in the darkness of despair.

For instance, the psalmist at Psalm 74:12 reminds himself that “God is my King from long ago, The one performing acts of salvation on the earth,” and then contemplated His saving act of the Exodus including His care of them in the Wilderness. (Psalm 74:13-15) His attention then turned to His power over creation.—Psalm 74:16-17.

In the same vein, the psalmist at Psalm 77:11-12 declared: “I will remember the works of Jah; I will remember your marvelous deeds of long ago.  And I will meditate on all your activity And ponder over your dealings.” He then contemplated the Exodus event as well in epic detail, saying “ With your power you have rescued your people … You led your people just like a flock.”—Psalm 77:14-20.

The psalmist at Psalm 143:5 then made himself contemplate God’s creative acts: “I meditate on all your activity; I eagerly ponder over the work of your hands.” He then petitions: “Teach me to do what pleases you, for you are my God. May your kind presence lead me into a level land.” (Psalm 143:12 NET Bible) The NET Bible footnote for “level land” says: “A level land (where one can walk free of obstacles) here symbolizes divine blessing and protection.”

Thus, these psalmists help us appreciate that they were real people, just as we are, susceptible to feeling discouraged and even falling into hopeless despair. But they also provide an example of spiritual recovery, of meditating on Jehovah’s saving acts and works of creation. One creative act to meditate on is seen in Genesis 2:19, where it reveals that “Jehovah God had been forming from the ground every wild animal of the field and every flying creature of the heavens, and he began bringing them to the man to see what he would call each one.” The Reference Bible NWT has a footnote for “forming” which says that “In point of time it was still the sixth creative day. The verb ‘form’ in the imperfect here denotes continued, progressive action.” So far from contradicting the order of creation in Genesis 1, it is pointing out that God was creating animals and birds with us in mind—ones that we personally would take exquisite delight in. Jehovah also created food we would take exquisite delight in, as expressed in Psalm 104:14-15: “He is making grass grow for the cattle and vegetation for mankind’s use, to grow food from the land and wine that makes man’s heart rejoice, oil that makes the face shine, and bread that sustains the heart of mortal man.” Therefore, only by concentrating on what He has done for us, in particular the ransom sacrifice of Jesus, and by focusing on his creative works for our personal benefit can we take steps to recover from any spiritual meltdown we may experience.


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