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Month: January 2007

The Real Cost of Health Care

The Real Cost of Health Care

Hmm! I don’t really know what that is! But Robert J. Samuelson has an excellent column on Newsweek (via MSNBC) that discusses the issue. He makes a number of excellent points, including pointing out that we’ve hidden the actual cost of health care, though I suspect not nearly so successfully in this country as in some others.

One thing he points out is this:

Our health-care system will inevitably combine government regulation and private enterprise. But what should the mix be? Which patients, providers and technologies should be subsidized and why? How important is health care compared with other public and private goals? Will an expanding health-care sector spur the economy

Genesis 9: A New World

Genesis 9: A New World

Genesis 9 looks at the beginnings of life and society after the flood. It can be of interest in a number of ways, because along with parts of chapter 8 it supports the Noahide laws, and is the foundation for blood being forbidden to eat blood (Acts 15:20, which does not quote this, but must be based on it). The question of how much the world has changed following the destruction of everyone not in the ark must have been a serious worry for Noah and his family, and thus our narrator proceeds to correct that problem.

For those interested in theodicy, this is an indication that the view represented in the Pentateuch is that the world was definitely harmed by the advent of sin, though it shows a progression of destruction rather than an instant fall. Following the flood, animals are said to fear humans. Whether this is something completely new, the story does not say, but it is at least a new level of fear, doubtless connected with the fact that animals are now offered for food. Note that there is no clean/unclean distinction provided for the world in general. That was specifically part of the covenant of Israel. It is important to note that in the debates in the early church, certain elements of the Christian faith were trying to force rules on gentile Christians that Jews would not require of them (See Acts 15 and Galatians, especially).

As I have done in my previous entries on Genesis I will identify the sources as generally understood in source theory. In this chapter we have only P (priestly) and J (Yahwist) material, and there is a small disagreement on what is what. Verses 1-7 are identified as P by Speiser, but as J by von Rad. Noth also identifies 9:1-17 as a block by P. All agree that 18-27 is J, while 28-29 is again P. I will use blue text for P, red text for J and leave the disputed section in black. That will allow you to read a connected narrative in any source as much as possible.

Again, the translation is as fresh as this afternoon, and should be considered a draft. Hopefully I’ll get back to checking it more thoroughly some day.

(1)Then God blessed Noah and his sons, and told them, “Be fruitful, and multiple, and fill the earth. (2) The animals, birds, and everything that moves on the ground, along with the fish will be in awe of you and afraid of you. I have placed them under your authority. (3) Every living creature that moves will be your food. Like the plants and herbs I have given you all of them. (4) Yet you shall not eat the flesh with its life, that is, its blood. (5) Their blood and their lives I will demand from your hand, from every living thing I’ll demand it. And from humans I will also demand from each one the life of another human. (6) The blood of one sheds human blood shall be shed by human beings, because human beings were made in God’s image. (7) As for you, be fruitful and multiply, and move out across the land and multiply in it.”

This is a very interesting text for several reasons.

  1. Animals are held responsible for killing
  2. People are not allowed the lifeblood, even of animals, something that would later be held to require expiation (Leviticus 17:11)
  3. While God forbids the killing, he requires humanity to enforce it–by killing
  4. Humanity’s blessing and sovereignty survive unimpaired, as does God’s image, given as the reason for forbidding murder.

I would note that the strong connection to later Levitical law tends to support holding 1-7 as priestly (P) in origin.

(8) God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, (9) “Look, I myself am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, (10) and with every living creature that is with you, with the birds, and the animals, and with all the living creatures of the earth with you, from all those who went out of the ark, all the living creatures of the earth. (11) and I will establish my covenant with you, and all flesh will never again be cut off by the waters of the flood. There will never again be another flood to destroy the earth.

The possibility of a rerun could be expected to be the greatest concern to everyone, so God makes a covenant that he will not destroy all living things again by a flood. All the living creatures are included in this covenant.

(12) And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I am placing between me and you, and between all living creatures with you for eternal generations. (13) I place my bow in the cloud, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. (14) And when I bring clouds over the earth, then you will see the bow in the cloud. (15) And I will remember my covenant that is between me and you, and with all the living creatures, and with all flesh, and the waters of the flood will not come again to destroy the earth. (16) When my bow is in the cloud, I will see it, and I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature, with all flesh that is on the earth. (17) And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

The question of reminder comes up. I would simply note that God is always portrayed in the Bible as much more involved with human activity and in the course of human history than many theologians are comfortable with. In theologies, God is generally much more respectable than he is in scripture. Here he allows one to believe that he requires a reminder, though the text doesn’t say he does. The text simply tells us that he will remember when he sees the rainbow, and makes no comment on what he does otherwise. I’m regularly impressed with how much less concerned with God’s reputation the Bible writers are than are modern theologians.

(18) Now these are the sons of Noah who went out of the ark: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And Ham was the father of Canaan. (19) These three were the sons of Noah, and from them people spread over all the earth.

(20) Noah became a tiller of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. (21) He drank some of its wine, and he became drunk, and he was naked in the middle of his tent. (22) And Ham, father of Canaan saw his father naked, and he reported it to his two brothers outside. (23) And Shem and Japheth took a robe, and they placed it on their two backs, and they went backwords, and they covered their father’s nakedness, but their faces were to the rear, and they didn’t see their father’s nakedness.(24) Noah woke up from his wine, and he knew what his younger son had done to him. (25) And he said, “Canaan is cursed. He will be a slave of slaves to his brothers.” (26) And he said, “Blessed is YHWH God of Shem, and Canaan will be his slave. (26) God will make Japheth’s territory spacious, and he will live in Shem’s tents, and Canaan will be his slave.”

This is a difficult passage. One solution is textual. Some have suggested omitting “Ham, the father of” so that the whole episode would relate to Canaan, rather than Ham, but that would also cause some havoc with the logic of the rest of the story. The key (see Kidner, Genesis, p. 103-104) may be in seeing that major sin as an unfilial, disrespectful act on Canaan’s part. Since he sinned in terms of his family responsibilities, it is his family, via his youngest son, that is cursed. This sounds quite unfair to modern ears, but multi-generational curses were not unknown in the Bible.

(28) And after the flood Noah lived 350 years. (29) And Noah’s full life was 950 years, and he died.

The priestly (P) source is, as always, concerned with numbers and genealogies. Noah, however, was the last of the very long lived patriarchs. From here they begin to deteriorate as well.

Iran and the Iraq War

Iran and the Iraq War

And now the third in a series of short posts–an unprecedented attack of brevity for me!

I’ve been saying “Iran” over and over again as the war in Iraq was first contemplated and then executed. An article today in the Washington Post talks about the influence of Iran and the fears, entirely justified in my view, of various regimes in the area on this matter. I think this article is quite enlightening.

Codex on Mesopotamian Creation Stories

Codex on Mesopotamian Creation Stories

Tyler Williams is beginning a series on this topic. After reading just the first entry I strongly recommend that any of my readers interested in the creation stories take a look at this material.

For those who have not been following my material you can look at the Genesis category on my Participatory Bible Study Blog, and particularly the first entry, which includes links to my other material on the web. The material in the Codex series will clearly deal in much more detail and depth with things I only mentioned in passing.

Hat tip: Abnormal Interests.

The Difficulty of Scientific Conspiracies

The Difficulty of Scientific Conspiracies

. . . is illustrated here, in a nice post by Carl Zimmer. I’m extremely interested in the debate about these fossils, so I read what I can find, but I lack the scientific expertise to have a relevant comment on the science.

What I would like to point out is the way in which the controversy is conducted by the scientists. These are not people who take well to orthodoxies. They tear at each other’s theories with great vigor, and they keep on studying and researching to find out more. Contrary to claims of critics, if there is a scientific problem with any aspect of evolutionary theory, there will be plenty of scientists there to point out the difficulties and debate them.

When scientific errors have been debunked it has been by scientists using scientific methodology and not by detractors arguing on religious or philosophical grounds.

N.T. Wright on Just War

N.T. Wright on Just War

Support for the Iraq war has been largely characterized as a liberal-conservative debate, with lots of negative adjectives attached to each political stream. Supporters are supposedly patriots who support using our military to defend our innocent citizens while opponents are portrayed as weak folks whose only desire is to surrender. There are, however, quite a number of other approaches that have been drowned out in the rhetoric used on both sides.

I believe the war to be a strategic mistake. Even if the war were justified in a vacuum, in the context of the middle east as it really exists, as opposed to the way it’s perceived by some folks in Washington, the war cannot come to a favorable, long-term conclusion.

N. T. Wright is an evangelical theologian, one who believes in the concept of a “just war,” yet he does not believe this war was justified. He gives it less favorable reviews than I do, and I think adds some excellent reasons. I suggest reading his post at World Needs A Strong United Nations, a column on the Washington Post site.

Hat tip: Catching Meddlers.

Decisive Verse, Decisive Choice

Decisive Verse, Decisive Choice

I was having a conversation with a friend who is a United Methodist pastor a few years back. He was a well educated man with a doctoral degree and Arminian to the core. We got onto the subject of predestination vs free will, and he quoted the following to me (though not in my own translation, which I present here):

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often have I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you did not want to! — Matthew 23:37

“It’s really very simple,” he said to me. “When Jesus said that he would have, but didn’t because they wouldn’t, he was either lying, or he was telling the truth. If he was telling the truth, they had free will, they had a choice. I choose to believe that Jesus was telling the truth!”

Good for him!

On another occasion, I was talking to a convinced Calvinist who was a Hebrew student. I had commented that I didn’t really find the doctrine of predestination very attractive. Of course, that isn’t necessarily a good argument against it. He said that he didn’t find it very attractive either, but he thought it was scriptural, so he believed it. He too had a text to quote:

28 We know that all things work together for goodu for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. — Romans 8:28-30 (NRSV)

“That’s what the Bible says,” he told me, “And I believe it!” Good for him too!

Now I’m aware of the many arguments that can swirl around these texts, and of many ways of reconciling the various positions, but I simply want to comment briefly on each person’s approach. Each of these men was a pastor. Each was determined to follow the teachings of scripture as fully as possible, each of them would have agreed on the broad outlines and most of the details of how to interpret the Bible, and yet they held essentially opposite views on this point.

Arminians, of course, claim to believe in predestination–they just interpret it differently. To a Calvinist, it appears that they don’t really believe in it at all. Calvininsts claim to believe in freewill, and even have an article on it in the Westminster Confessions (it’s Article IX). But Arminians read that article and find that it isn’t adequate to the texts that teach human responsibility and free will.

At another time I was organizing a youth event in which we would have pastors and teachers from several churches and denominations get together to teach high school age young people to defend their faith. There were enormous differences in many areas of theology, from creation and evolution, to church standards. Our staff included United Methodists, Presbyterian Church in America, and Assemblies of God along with a couple of independents. But one issue was brought up to me as one that required guidance on how to answer–Calvinism vs. Arminianism. And indeed students did ask.

My guidance at the time was simply to say that there are texts in the Bible that appear to teach predestination and other texts that appear to teach freewill, and all our disagreements result from the way we combine those texts. The various teachers were quite willing to go with that.

And I think that’s a very good answer. There are substantial investments both of personality and theology in each of these positions. What we hear with each of these texts is impacted heavily by what we bring to it. I believe that the scriptures do not settle this issue, but rather simply assert both divine sovereignty and human choice and responsibility. But that’s very hard for us to live with, so we each feel the need to explain how they work together, and I’m no different from the rest on this point. I’m such a convinced Arminian that I’m no more than a step or so from being Pelagian. Of course, a “proper” Arminian might object to the idea that I could be a convinced Arminian and nonetheless stray into Pelagianism, but I’ll have to leave that for another discussion. Perhaps I’m not as Arminian as I suppose.

But still when I look at it practically, I see a great deal of similarity in how Calvinists and Arminians view the Christian life, even if our theological structure is so different. In exploring with my Calvinist Hebrew student, whom I taught one-on-one for a year, I found that when we went to apply things to real life, we reached very similar conclusions. Discipleship, evangelism, preaching of salvation, even social action were areas on which we could very often agree. We did have some differences on social action that were not the result of the Calvinist Arminian divide, but that is also another topic. Our underlying doctrinal structure had less impact on how we lived and how we did ministry than anyone could expect.

I recall attending a lecture by John Blanchard, a Presbyterian evangelist. Now many Arminians have told me that they are shocked that there are such things as Presbyterian evangelists, though Blanchard is hardly alone. Someone asked him a question during the question and answer time. “How can you believe in predestination and also be an evangelist?” I suspect the questioner was a mischiveous Presbyterian rather than a Methodist interloper such as myself. He said this: “Predestination is a doctrine, and I believe it. Evangelism is a command and I obey it.” (Quoted from memory.) In practical terms, how can I argue with that?

I have two points right now. First, how we develop our doctrinal structure on this and many other points depends on what text(s) we make the key to our theological structure. Each side can find proof-texts, and each can find whole proof chapters. One of my favorites is Jeremiah 18, and it’s also a favorite of many of my Calvinist brethren. We just look at different parts of the chapter! Second, our theological framework is not necessarily the most decisive factor in our diligence and effectiveness as disciples. If we can overlook some theological disagreements, we can often find common ground in obeying the commands of Jesus. I would suggest that a great deal of Christian division could be quieted by emphasizing those two points.

Conservative Political Deception

Conservative Political Deception

Ben Witherington has a good post today about political deception with a brief intro on parthenogenesis. On the latter, I would simply note that I see no particular benefit to Christianity in proving that a virgin birth is possible. The value of the doctrine stems at least in part from the fact that it is not possible, and thus, if it happened, it was a miracle.

The other portion is certainly worth reading. His comments on his interview on the O’Reilly Factor are quite interesting. The only thing I have to add is that liberals are equally capable of such shenanigans, and that we should decry them wherever and by whomever they are perpetrated.

Value of the Historical-Critical Method

Value of the Historical-Critical Method

I’ve written a number of posts on the historical-critical method previously on this blog (category, listing 28 posts). It is one of the areas on which I can properly be described as unabashedly liberal. I fully embraced the critical approach to Bible study as the starting point, and as the best approach to ascertaining the historical meaning of the text. This doesn’t prevent me, of course, from looking at other means when dealing with application or other community or personal meanings. In fact, the historical-critical method is solely aimed at getting at historical meanings, and quite properly so.

There are a number of imbalances that are possible. Specialists in particular methodologies will often overemphasize one approach over another, such as when form critics find oral elements all over the place, even in places where an oral stage most likely never existed. Another imbalance occurs when one assumes that having studied the history of a text, one understands the meaning of the text itself. Some critical commentaries leave this impression; having sorted out the background, the foreground gets little attention. Enter canonical criticism, which places its focus squarely on the canonical form of the text, and even further on the way in which that text fits into the current canon of scripture. It is important to realize that this is also a historical stage of the text, complete with a sitz im leben (I abuse the term slightly) of its own and a reason for its existence.

Brevard Childs was a great advocate of canonical criticism. I’m currently using his commentary on Isaiah in my own devotional reading of Isaiah, and I have found him quite enlightening. I’ve written considerable on Isaiah here and also on my Participatory Bible Study Blog.

In his introduction to chapters 28-35 he makes a couple of comments on the historical study that are worth underlining:

As I have indicated before, I find this method of simply juxtaposing three reconstructed layers from different ages inadequate as an interpretive solution because it does not address the effect of this shaping on the text as a whole. One is left only with fragments arranged in historical sequence. [emphasis mine] p. 199-200

And again:

While I do not question the legitimacy of attempting to recover the history of the growth of the Isaianic corpus as a whole, much of the recent research remains futile, in my judgment, when it assigns the key to the interpretation to various theoretical reconstructions. The crucial exegetical question remains, regardless of how deeply one probes behind the present text, whether one can in the end discern any element of coherence in the rendering of the chapters in their final form. [emphasis mine] p. 200

I think these paragraphs make a key point: One has to be skeptical of one’s own reconstructions, and one needs to discover what it may have been that resulted in the text we have. It made sense to someone somewhere. For example, by identifying two sources in Genesis 1 & 2, have we resolved anything? It may explain some apparently contradictory elements, but then we have to ask just why it was that anyone thought the two went together.

I must emphasize that I reject the approach as well of those who believe that skepticism of the critical work results necessarily in a return to the traditional default. If I am skeptical of some of the divisions of sources in the pentateuch, that doesn’t mean that I automatically accept unity of authorship. There are good reasons to be skeptical of that as well.

In fact, I can summarize this by saying that there are good reasons to be skeptical, especially of one’s own work!