Sons and Daughters of Noah and the Insanity of Racism

Creation, Culture, The Gospel

skincolor(By: Nick Kennicott)

On the way home from watching Is Genesis History? last night, my oldest daughter and I had a wonderful conversation about all the people of the earth coming from Noah (and, of course, Adam before Noah). The discussion began as we talked about how the different kinds of cats in the world (e.g. lions, tigers, cheetahs, etc.) could come from only two felines from Noah’s Ark since a housecat and a lion is so different. Very quickly we began talking about the same issue with humans and how people have different features (e.g. skin color, facial features, bone structures, etc.), not because we are inherently different as human beings, but because God created us in such a way that small changes would take place over time for our bodies to adapt to our environment in a way that it is best suited to withstand our regularly recurring conditions. A person’s skin is darker when they descend from ancestors who, for many generations, have been in environmental conditions that are harsher in terms of heat and light, as opposed to those with much lighter complexions whose descendants are from colder and darker climates. Likewise, people who, for generations, have come from climates with a lot of snow will likely have eyes that are more narrow because they need protection from light glare off the white surface, whereas dark and dreary climates might mean larger, rounder eyes.

We then discussed how we live in a time where many of these differences are coming together in ways they haven’t in the past because of the ease of travel and communication around the world. Until the modern era, it wasn’t likely that someone from Mongolia was going to have much interaction with someone from Mexico, however, it is very possible that today a Mongolian man might meet a Mexican woman and the two marry and have children. We are seeing new ethnic make-ups that we’ve never seen before, and it’s exciting! What will the great-grandchildren of those children look like over the next 100 or 500 years? Only God knows, but it’s wonderful to consider how He is glorified by displaying his creative power and diversity through the many differences that exist amongst the people of the world and how those differences coming together makes for all new possibilities.

I was reminded in our discussion of the insanity of racism. In fact, I don’t prefer the term racism at all because it implies that there is more than one race–We are all humans. More accurately, what we understand to be racism is ethnocentrism or cultural bias, because the differences that are highlighted in bias only pertain to one’s physical make-up or cultural nuance, not the condition or make-up of the soul. Every human being, be they a Mongloid-Mexican or an Australian-Filipino, bleed real blood, have real physical needs, and most importantly, are dead in trespasses and sins apart from Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1). Ethnocentric bias is insane because it’s based on genetic differences that developed over time through environmental adaptation. If we trace our lineages back far enough, all of our ancestors looked alike. My heart was glad to hear my (very) white daughter say, “If I marry a man with dark skin like our friends from Nigeria, our babies aren’t going to look like they would if I marry a man from China or a man who is white like me… that’s really cool!” Indeed, that is really cool.

I have been reminded once again of the beauty of the gospel to make right what sinful man has gotten so wrong. I praise God that one day all of His people will be intimately aware of the insanity of man’s sinful projections on others when we see the multitudes gathered in worship. “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” (Revelation 7:9-10).

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Ancient Near Eastern Literature (Ninth Post)

Books, Christ in the Old Testament, Christian Education, Church History, Culture, Scripture, Theology, Worship

My last two posts are increasingly so vast in scope that it is in some ways pointless to even attempt what I’m going to do here. Nevertheless, I want to try.

For as long as biblical studies have been done (dating back to at least Philo in the first century), Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature has been used to illumine the Bible. Indeed, it is beyond question that the OT authors themselves read and employed ANE literature for their own polemical purposes (usually to prove that Yahweh, rather than some usurping deity, is God). For example, Daniel 7 has so many parallels with the Baal Cycle that it is impossible that it is coincidental. What Daniel is doing is simultaneously mocking Baal while glorifying the True God and his only begotten son (see chart). Understanding this backdrop adds multiple rich layers to our understanding of the passage, layers that profoundly enrich our knowledge of Jesus Christ (in the chart, note how the “son of man” parallels “Baal” in the polemic), who is the focus and point of all the Scripture.

Daniel 7 and Baal

Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

In modern times, the 19th and 20th centuries saw several amazing discoveries of ANE literature that brought to the table texts not available to the Fathers, the Medievals, or the Reformers (we have already seen the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi library). Two other incredible discoveries of the last 200 years must be included in this post. The first discovery was made late in 1849 in ancient Nineveh in the Royal Palace of king Sennacherib (705–681 BC), with whom Hezekiah had dealings (cf. Isa 36:1ff). Three years later, a vast collection–thousands of clay tablets and fragments—were unearthed just a few yards away. This became known as the now famous Library of Ashurbanipal (he is called “the great and honorable Osnappar” or “Asenappar” in Ezra 4:10). The find contained myriads of texts and genres collected by the great king in the 7th century B.C., but telling about history for more than a thousand years before that. The find included the Babylonian creation story the Enuma Elish and their Flood story the Epic of Gilgamesh, both of which share much in common with the biblical stories (as well as much that is not in common).

Mt Aqraa (ancient Mt. Saphon) towering over the ruins of Ugarit.

Mt Aqraa (ancient Mt. Saphon) towering over the ruins of Ugarit.

The other discovery took place in 1929 in a dig in the beautiful Syrian port city on the Mediterranean call Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit), some 26 miles south of the astounding Mt. Zaphon (Isa 14:13 NRS), which rises over a mile straight out of the Great Sea. Zaphon was Baal’s mountain, and the tablets at Ugarit provided for the first time in over 3,000 years ancient stories of Baal, El, and other religious deities that are so intimately tied to the OT. In fact, the Scripture calls God “El” many times. As cited in the first post of this series, Dr. Michael Heiser has written an excellent article showing why Ugarit is so important to biblical studies.

ANE Literature is basically divided into five geographical categories:

Ugarit (see above).

Hittite. The Hittites empire was established in Anatolia around 1600 BC. It reached its height during the mid-14th century B.C., when it included most of Asia Minor as well as parts of the northern Levant (today’s western Syria, Jordan, and Israel). These people are mentioned often in the early parts of the Old Testament.

Akkadian (see above). The Akkadian Empire reached father east and much longer back in time than the Hittites, reaching its peak in the 24th and 22nd centuries B.C.

Sumerian. Sumer is one of the most ancient civilizations known, reaching much of modern-day southern Iraq, as far as 3,500, 4,000, perhaps even 5,000 B.C. The Dynastic period begins c. 2900 B.C. and includes such legendary figures as Gilgamesh—who is supposed to have reigned shortly before the historic record opens c. 2700 BCE.

Egyptian. Egypt is well known to most people. Its empire is world famous, especially because of its colossus pyramids and sphinx that still stand to this day.

The kinds of literature we have from these places include Canonical Texts (including myths, prayers, rituals, incantations, epics, historiography, biography, oracles, proverbs, wisdom, and instructions), Monumental Inscriptions (royal inscriptions, mortuary inscriptions, building and dedication inscriptions, temple hymns), and Archival Documents (letters, contracts, accounts, court cases, wills). As you can see from this list, the literature is vast. There is much here to learn for the eager person that is interested.

Again, because there is a certain hostility that conservative Christians have towards ANE literature, a final word should be said. If the reader keeps in mind that Scripture is God’s word, then it is quite easy to read the other writings of the ANE without feeling like you are compromising something essential. Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and even Moses didn’t feel like they were. So why should I? Rather, they understood that the nations’ beliefs about anything from the gods to morality were rooted in truth, but had become badly distorted to the point of spiritual darkness and enslavment. Holy Scripture sometimes uses their own material against the nations, subverting their narratives, and replacing them with truth that reveals the glory and goodness of the God of gods and his only begotten Son.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Apocrypha (Third Post)

Books, Christian Education, Christian Living, Church History, Culture, Discipleship, Scripture

Say the word “Apocrypha” to a Protestant and you may find a hand reaching down instinctively to find the six-shooter attached to their hip. “Them’s fightin’ words! That’s what those Roman Catholics think is the Bible. That’s where those non-biblical doctrines of purgatory and prayers for the dead come from. To even consider readingYosemite-Sam-warner-brothers-animation-30976315-800-766 those books would be akin to blasphemy. If some Roman Priest reads it, you can count me out.” Of course, that would also have to include books like Genesis or Revelation, since they read those too.

The London Baptist Confession talks about the Apocrypha (the only group of books outside of the Bible that it does talk about). “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon or rule of the Scripture, and, therefore, are of no authority to the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings” (LBC 1.3). True, we do not consider them Scripture, nor is what I just said in any way meant to give the impression that purgatory and prayers for the dead are true or good. But don’t move too quickly in what the Confession just said. Think about the end, “… or made use of than other human writings.” “What, you mean like the writings of Anton LeVey, Nostradamus, or Edward Casey?” Sure. But also the writings of those like John Owen or John Calvin or R. C. Sproul. “Other human writings” include all of these. (Remember from the Introduction that a key here is to think the best, not the worst, of these books. One can do that without thinking they are Holy Scripture).

Though written by Jews (not Roman Catholics) prior to the NT, and translated by Hellenistic (Greek-ized) Israelites who included them in their Greek OT Septuagint (LXX), the Protestant Reformers were pretty much in agreement that the Apocryphal books should not be regarded as Holy Scripture, as they are not included in the Hebrew canon. Nevertheless, they still had fairly high regard for many of these books. In 1530, the Swiss reformer Oecolampadius stated, “We do not despise Judith, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, the last two books of Esdras, the three books of Maccabees, the Additions to Daniel; but we do not allow them divine authority with the others.[1] In his introduction to the Apocrypha which he translated into German in his 1534 Bible (he put them as a kind of appendix, but would not include as part of the Bible, a tradition that would be followed in most every Protestant Bible until the late 1800s), Martin Luther wrote, “Apocrypha: these books are not held equal to the Scriptures but are useful and good to read.[2]

Luther’s popularity seems to have brought the term “apocrypha” to the common tongue. So what is the Apocrypha? From a word meaning “hidden” (referring either to their authorship or their not being approved for public religious reading), the Apocrypha refers to a collection of a dozen or so books written in the intertestamental period, between Malachi and Matthew—the so-called “silent years” that were really anything but silent. Rome and Orthodoxy refer to them as “deuterocanonical” (literally “second canon”) as opposed to protocanonical (“first canon”). As their term implies, both consider them Holy Scripture. Protestants do not believe there are levels of authoritative books, so “apocrypha” is a less confusing and better term in this regard.

These books vary in genres. There are wisdom books akin to Proverbs such as Ecclesiasticus (also called Sirach) or the Wisdom of Solomon; historical fiction such as Tobit or Judith; history books like the Maccabees (there are 4 books of Maccabees, but at least one is usually included as a pseudepigrapha, see next post); expansions on Scripture such as additions to Esther, Jeremiah, and Daniel (including the Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Jews, Suzanna, and the funny and fascinating Bel and the Dragon); prophetic and apocalyptic books like Baruch (Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe in the Bible) or 2 Esdras (Ezra); and songs such as The Prayer of Manasseh.

So why would you want to read the Apocrypha? Here are a few reasons. The first is put in the Preface to the Apocrypha of the 1560 Geneva Bible (which retained the books as an appendix, as did almost every Protestant Bible until the 1800s), the favorite Bible of the Puritans, “… but as books proceeding from godly men were received to be read for the advancement and furtherance of the knowledge of the history and for the instruction of godly manners, etc.” So just like you might go to George Washington’s Rules of Civility, so also you might go to Sirach to learn wisdom (remembering that the President was an Anglican and the author of Sirach was quite possibly a believing Jew prior to the coming of Jesus Christ). Or, just as you might read Anne Frank talk about the Holocaust, so also you might read about the fascinating wars of the Maccabees.

Second, any time you can read other material written near the time of the Bible, it helps shed light on the customs, philosophies, and culture of the biblical authors. This in turn helps you to understand and interpret them more accurately. In this case, this is especially true of the NT authors, who were not far removed at all from the world we read about in Apocryphal books.

Third, believe it or not, you might just find the reading of these books both fascinating and even inspiring (do not read “inspired”), just as you would reading any good Christian book worth its salt today. Fact is, the Apocrypha has stood the test of time in terms of great literature. For that reason alone, but for so many more, they are worth diving into.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

Apocrypha

Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

[1] Cited in The New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha: Augmented Third Edition, ed. Michael D. Coogan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 6. This book is a helpful compilation of the Apocrypha along with brief introductions to each book.

[2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35: Word and Sacrament I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999).

Ants Marching

Christian Living, Culture

anttrailThere’s a lady at the local Waffle House location here in Rincon, Georgia who has been employed by the Waffle House since 1974. If you’re like me and need someone to do the math for you, that’s 41 years at the same job. And if you’re short on knowledge when it comes to job statistics, let’s just say 41 years with a single employer is as rare as a Christmas Island Frigatebird. On average, workers in the United States will have 11 jobs in their lifetime, which means a new job around every 4 years. That’s a lot of transition!

As I was enjoying my near-weekly All-Star Special (bacon, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, plain waffle, and wheat toast) with a black coffee (no cream, no sugar… a man’s drink) at the Waffle House this morning, I got to thinking about work and being on the same job over four decades. What is it like to step up to the same taskwafflehouseoutside every week for 41 years? Few will ever know. Most people think of their work in the way described in the Dave Matthews Band song Ants Marching:

He wakes up in the morning
Does his teeth bite to eat and he’s rolling
Never changes a thing
The week ends the week begins

Lights down, you up and die

When all the little ants are marching
Red and black antennas waving
we all do it the same
we all do it the same way

Unfortunately, the mundane plodding of life seems to be the very thing most people are seeking to escape as quickly as possible in this life. We often see no value in a life lived wherein we wake up, work, and go to bed most days of the week. Is that all there is? Surely the weekends and vacations should be the norm instead! But the Bible’s description of work is far different than the perception of most people. Mankind is created in the image of God, thus man is created as a worker and has the responsibility to harness and utilize the earth’s resources for service and enjoyment.

The work that God calls each person to is not a post-fall reality that we have to suffer through, but a pre-fall gift that God made us for. The first job recorded in the Bible was given to Adam by God in the garden of Eden: cultivate the ground and take dominion over all the earth. It seems like such a mundane job… gardening. But it’s a dignified and holy job because God provided it and called it good. Indeed, all legitimate work done to the glory of God is dignified and good. The post-fall reality of work is that it will be difficult and full of trials, but it’s still good and worthy of our time and effort.

I have a good friend who has a part-time job reading through essays that accompany applications to a well known university in the northeast. Apart from the lack of future writers in the stack, the other glaring reality my friend and I regularly discuss is that the average college applicant has one thing in mind: Graduate college to get a high paying job. What do they want to do with their life and what will it count for? They usually can’t say. So why do they assume a college degree means they’re worth a big paycheck and a position in the company of their choice? I believe it’s because we’ve lost sight of the value of all kinds of legitimate work and have exchanged it with a high view of self. While the developed/developing world seeks to funnel every 18-20 year old into a college, the reality is that most jobs in a standard economy don’t need a four-year college education, and are just as noble and necessary as the jobs that take 8-12 years of college. Where would we be without sanitation workers, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, roofers, and farmers? Trust me…. you don’t want me working on your car or building your house!

I hope Christians can change the conversation. Instead of marching like an ant to the workplace each day, can we instead think of our work as a noble, God-glorifying pursuit? Christians should be the best employees, wherever they work, because we work not ultimately for man, but onto the Lord (Colossians 3:23). It’s not inherently wrong to change jobs and start a new career, but it can also be an indication that we struggle to be content.

When the gospel changes a person, their entire outlook on life changes. For the workaholic, they no longer seek their identity in their job, because they know their identity is in Christ. For the sluggard, they no longer see work as a drudgery and a curse, they understand it as a gift, albeit filled with difficulties. The Christian will live life in such a way as to not bring reproach to the name of Christ, but will instead execute their duties in life in such a way that Christ is honored and exalted.

So what about you? Is a bad day of doing your hobby better than the best day of work, or is your work a gift from God that you are thankful for, that you do to the best of your ability, and that you utilize as a means to bring glory to God and good to those you work with and for?

(By: Nick Kennicott)

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Introduction Part II–Objections and Suggestions (Second Post)

Books, Christian Education, Christian Living, Church History, Culture, Discipleship, Scripture, Uncategorized

Objections

In the first post in this series, we introduced the topic of extra-biblical literature and focused in on what makes the Bible unique. But I realize people have objections to objectioneven reading this kind of material. In this post we will look at some objections and I will offer some suggestions that I hope you will find helpful for giving one or more of these areas of study a try.

Here are a couple of things I can imagine some people saying (actually, I don’t have to imagine it at all. I’ve said them myself and had others say them to me). “Some of the books you mentioned are written by Christians, while others are written by non-Christians. We shouldn’t read books by non-Christians.” Keep that thought in mind the next time you pick up a Tom Clancy thriller or Spider-man comic or a grocery store tabloid or the editorial section in the Wall Street Journal.

But some of those books are dangerous because they teach us about false gods. We shouldn’t open ourselves up to demonic worldviews or influences.” Remember that the next time you walk through a mall or watch the Oscars or talk to most college students at your local university. It isn’t reading books like these that we should be concerned about; it is having in our minds that somehow, because they are old, or because they are religious, that they are in competition with the Bible.

Suggestions

Do not be afraid of exposing yourself to old ideas, because Christianity is perfectly capable of holding its own against the best and worst, the most subtle, and the most diabolical ideas the world’s religions have ever offered. If you struggle with this during or after reading a particular work, then I would suggest perhaps reading some apologetic material to go along with it. We really can give good answers for any high or lofty idea that sets itself up against the knowledge of God (2 Cor 10:4-5), especially if they are supernatural (as in fallen supernatural beings) in origin, as many of the religions of the world undoubtedly are.[1]

Also, consider this. Ancient books are the stories the biblical authors had access to (or those writing after the completion of the NT). These were their “Best Sellers.” They knew about them. They quoted them (see the table at the end of this post). And most of all, they used these stories to the advantage of the people of God. Paul cited Greek poets as an inroad to preaching the gospel (Acts 17:28). Jude used Jewish literature to warn about the last days. This, of course, means they had to have read this stuff.[2] Historical books and letters regularly cite non-canonical books that they used to compile their histories (see the table at the end of this post). The prophets often used the stories of Canaan to mock with their own language and images the gods of the nations, all while glorifying the God who alone created all things.[3]

The Christian Hollywood screen writer Brian Godawa calls this “subversion,” and Hollywood uses it all the time. Good examples are the recent remakes of Noah and Moses, remakes that tell the world what a bunch of monsters and lunatics the “heroes” of the Bible and their God really were. They use our own stories against us! It is a powerful way to indoctrinate someone, because it works on the psyche of a person without them even knowing it. They think they are merely being entertained! Once you are aware of the what the Bible is doing, it can only give a greater appreciation for its God and provide a more faithful original context into which you can understand redemptive history.[4] That’s why the prophets did it.

To conclude, allow me to summarize my suggestions for how to read these books:

1. PRESUPPOSE THAT WHAT YOU ARE READING IS NOT SCRIPTURE. Because it isn’t! In 98% of what you will read, this is not difficult, since no Jew or Christian has ever regarded them as such. Remember that they are writings of humans, not God. Understand that they all have their own context, their own genre, their own purpose for existence, as any other book does.

2. TREAT THESE BOOKS LIKE COMMENTARIES, be they commentaries on the Bible or commentaries on a particular culture. In some ways, that is what any book is. In particular, read books closely related to the Bible as you would read Calvin and Augustine (insert your own favorite author here). In other words, be fair. You will find many things in these books that you agree with as you would if reading a good author today. You will find other things that you do not agree with as you would if reading someone with whom you do not agree. The Jews of old were just like people today.  Their views are diverse rather than monolithic. You will be exposed to all sorts of ideas here.

3. DO NOT LET “CHAPTER AND VERSE” BOTHER YOU. For some people, this creates a kind of cognitive dissonance, confusing their minds because it reminds them of the Bible. For convenience, most ancient literature (including Greek poets, Babylon-ian cuneiform tablets, the Church Fathers, etc.) has been numerically itemized for the sake of easy notation and reference. The Bible wasn’t written with chapter and verse; this was added later. So reading a book with chapter and verse marked in it does not mean you are reading God’s word.

4. TAKE NOTE OF SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES with the Biblical texts. Keep in mind that biblical authors often allude and sometimes even quote these sources.  (The same is also true in reverse, if fact much more so). A citation does not make it “inspired” anymore than Paul citing Greek poets makes them “inspired.”  It does mean that you can learn from these books. When you discover a conflict between a particular book and the Scripture, do what all Christians have done since the beginning of time—let the Scripture have the final say.

5. DON’T FEEL LIKE YOU ARE BEING UNFAITHFUL TO GOD by reading them. You aren’t. Remember we have Biblical precedent for reading other ancient Jewish material outside of the Bible. For example, the Chronicler references nearly 20 such books from which he was drawing his sources and which he expected his original readers would be able to read themselves. The NT quotes, refers to, or allude to many of these books. I have compiled a Table below with the most well known direct quotations or citations of non-biblical works (I have not put any allusions or echoes in the Table).

In these next few posts I’ll try to take you on a whirlwind tour of the ancient literary world, a world that has tremendous impact on our understanding, appreciation, and faith in the Bible: God Holy Scripture.

Chart Compiled by Douglas Van Dorn

Chart Compiled by Douglas Van Dorn

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

[1] Over the past half dozen years or so, my own mind has been opened up to the supernatural world around us, the world that the Bible explicitly and consistently tells us to be on guard against. “If an angel from heaven should preach another gospel,” Paul tells the Galatians, implies (especially in the context of the rest of the letter) that they actually do! Mormonism and Islam do not get their power purely from the minds of human beings.

[2] There are tons of allusions in the Bible to Jewish texts not found in the canon of Holy Scripture. Two fairly extensive lists of these allusions and quotations can be found in Craig A. Evans, Noncanonical Writings and New Testament Interpretation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Pub, 1992), pp. 190-219, and Steve Delamarter, A Scripture Index to Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002).

[3] Dr. Michael Heiser has a great article introducing this idea using the writings of the Canaanites and their idea of the “cloud rider,” an idea which they applied to Baal, but which Scripture emphatically applies to Yahweh. See Michael S. Heiser, “What’s Ugaritic Got to Do with Anything?“, last accessed 3-10-2015.

[4]  Consider the London Baptist Confession’s words that “in a due use of ordinary means,” anyone “may attain to a sufficient understanding of [the Scripture]” (LBC 1.7). Part of these ordinary means would include knowing the literature of the day that was being thought about, borrowed, alluded to, polemicized, and quoted throughout the Scripture.