Posts Tagged ‘history’

The Wisdom of Dr. Anthony Bradley

A while ago I happened upon Dr. Anthony Bradley on Twitter and I was impressed. He speaks with clarity and wisdom on racial issues and that’s rather hard to come by these days. So often when he says something that challenges me, I shut up and listen and ponder. Relevant Magazine’s recent interview with Dr. Bradley did that to me again. He discusses the history of slavery and evangelicals in America. He pulls no punches and at the same time, calls us to remember the gospel in light of our failures.

Here are a few quotes that highlight the clarity and charity of the man. Please, read the entire interview and think about it.

iu“Part of me wonders if our resistance to telling the story is our lack of confidence in recognizing that just because Christians practice the faith incorrectly and inappropriately at times doesn’t mean Christianity is false. Perhaps we are so used to believing this narrative that Christianity is right and good and true because of what Christians did as opposed to understanding that Christianity is right and good and true because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The truth of Christianity is not dependent upon the actions of God’s people at any given moment in history…

“I would argue that evangelicals often put themselves in positions where they believe minorities should come to them and be received. But moving forward, evangelicals as far as possible given their geographic location need to move toward minorities and be in their churches and be in their schools and be in their neighborhoods to create opportunities for solidarity and reciprocity…

“I would say that white churches need to go in communities and partner with the black churches and the hispanic churches and the Asian churches that are already there. It’s hard to imagine a minority neighborhood anywhere in this country that has a high concentration of people for whom there are not already existing churches. The idea that evangelicals need to move in and set up a flag for the Gospel and start something that’s not already there tends to overlook the decades if not centuries of work of Christians in churches that have been laboring in those neighborhoods already.”

Elihu’s Better Answer


He loads the thick cloud with moisture;
the clouds scatter his lightning.
They turn around and around by his guidance,
to accomplish all that he commands them
on the face of the habitable world.
Whether for correction or for his land
or for love, he causes it to happen. – Job 37:11-13

In our Modern or even in our Post-Modern view of the world, we can suffer from chronological snobbery. “Early man was a primitive brute who didn’t understand the world with the complexity and sophistication we enlightened beings do. We pity them.

This mindset leads to the common notion that religion is an expression of fear early man had of the universe around him. Lightening was scary and the notion that it might be uncontrolled was terrifying so they invented a god or gods to wielded it. This meant there was purpose behind lightening strikes that set forests ablaze and that man could influence them by appeasing a particular god.

A lot of that is hogwash and this quote from the book of Job is a great comment on that. Elihu, the one who said the above phrase, shows that at least this ancient man, he and Job were probably contemporaries of Abraham, didn’t have an understanding of metrology that was rooted in fear or superstition. His description above is fairly accurate. Clouds are moisture and they do produce lightening. But Elihu wasn’t materialistic either. He didn’t view these things as purposeless, unguided events that were solely the product of natural causes. Elihu understood that God was sovereign over these things and that they achieved his purposes.

Don’t believe the caricature of religion that is being propagated today. Like Elihu 4,000 years ago, we aren’t afraid of or ignorant of the natural processes the universe runs on. At the same time, we don’t for a moment believe that those natural processes dismiss God by explaining him away. “Eliminate the need for a god and the god simply disappears,” so the reasoning goes. This is why materialistic atheism has such high hopes for evolution. Douglas Adams summed it up nicely in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe with the Babel fish:

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindboggingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

The argument goes something like this: “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”

“But,” says Man, “The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.”

“Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanished in a puff of logic.

“Oh, that was easy,” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

Most leading theologians claim that this argument is a load of dingo’s kidneys, but that didn’t stop Oolon Colluphid making a small fortune when he used it as the central theme of his best-selling book Well That About Wraps It Up For God.

We can and should explore the natural processes that lead to things like rain and lightening and earthquakes and solar eclipses. God made a universe that produces such things, so to understand them is to understand what God has done and what he is like. Materialism, the theory that physical matter is all that there is, is not a foregone conclusion; it is a theory about the universe that has some tremendous problems with it and a lot of explaining to do. Elihu has a better answer.

Inventory Issues


There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses put there at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of Egypt. (2 Chron 5:10)

[T]he ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. (Hebrews 9:4)

This has got to be one of the many contradictions in the Bible we hear about, right? Not really. It is a contradiction only if you read the Bible flatly. By ‘flatly’ I mean if you read it as if it were one book written at one time by one author. That is, if you expect it to be written the way humans tend to write. The reason this is not a contradiction is because there are two different authors writing at two different times, in two different languages, relating actual history from two different time periods. That describes writing that is much less flat, much more nuanced, don’t you think?

The chronicler, writing in Hebrew probably around 400BC, is telling about when Solomon built the first temple and brought the ark into it. The author of Hebrews, writing in Greek probably around 60AD, is talking about the tabernacle just after it was completed. The time difference between these two events is about 500 years and an awful lot happened in those 400 and something years. To understand the inventory problem with the ark, we need to look at its history with an emphasis on what went inside it.

IMAGE-Ten-Commandments-Tablet-Movie-Prop-Christies-2001It all starts in Exodus 25 where God tells Moses how to build the ark. In verse 16, God says, “And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.” The “testimony” here is the Ten Commandments that God wrote on tables of stone. They were placed inside the ark once it was constructed.

URNThe first thing listed in Hebrews is the urn of manna. In Exodus 16 God gave Israel manna six days a week. It was a miraculous food that formed on the ground overnight. Any manna that was kept overnight spoiled except on Friday since Saturday is the Sabbath and none was given. In verse 33 Aaron is told, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the LORD to be kept throughout your generations.” Now, at this point, the ark hasn’t been constructed yet; as a matter of fact, God hadn’t even told Moses that an ark is to be constructed. Exodus 16 is about six weeks before Mount Sinai where God verbally gives Israel the Ten Commandments and another month of so after that till he gives the instructions for the ark. At this point, the jar was kept but not in the ark.

53271_almond_tree_smThe next thing in the list from Hebrews is the rod of Aaron that budded. In Numbers 16, the sons of Korah challenged Moses’ and Aaron’s authority. God’s response was to send a fire to consume the rebels who stood before him and to open the earth under their tents. It wasn’t Moses and Aaron they were ultimately challenging, it was God and the rebellion didn’t stop once Korah’s children were gone. The next day the people complained along the same lines, “You have killed the people of the LORD.” (Num 16:41) In order to authenticate who God had chosen to lead Israel, Moses took a staff from the leader of every tribe and he put them in the tabernacle. The next morning they found that Aaron’s staff had budded and sprouted almonds. In Numbers 17:10 God directed Moses that to put “the staff of Aaron before the testimony”.

So each item that Hebrews mentioned was associated with the “testimony” in some way. Does that mean it was inside the ark? Clearly the tablets of the Ten Commandments were in there, they were called “the testimony” to begin with. Aaron’s rod was to be “before the testimony” which could mean that it sat in front of the ark but that seems a bit odd. There wasn’t a table in there to set the rod on and “the testimony” (i.e. the tablets) were inside the ark. If the rod was before the testimony it could have easily been inside the ark. Why not?

Likewise, the jar of manna was to be “before the LORD“. God’s presence was between the cherubim on top of the ark so the best place for the jar would be there. Again, there was no table to keep this stuff on so placing it inside the ark makes sense. Also, consider that they had to pack all this stuff up and move it around quite a bit before they came to the Promised Land. It would just make sense to put it in the ark.

But that leaves us with an inventory problem when we get to Second Chronicles since “there was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses put there.” We don’t know for sure what happened to the other things since the Bible doesn’t say anything about them but there are hints. If we track the history of the ark in the Bible we see some opportunities for things to get lost.

"Could someone set up Dagon the all powerful again?"

“Could someone set up Dagon the all powerful again?”

Surprisingly, there is no mention of the ark being lost in Judges. The people were so superstitious at that time that you’d figure they’d would have drug it out all the time. Nope, they were able to hold off losing it till 1 Samuel 4. When the Philistines came out against them, they pulled out the ark like it was an idol or something. The Philistines captured it in battle. However, things didn’t go so well for the Philistines. They put the ark in the temple of their god Dagon who kept falling over in front of it. Then the people broke out in boils so they decided it would be best to return the ark to Israel. When they did, some Israelites decided to take look inside (1 Sam 6:19 NIV, KJV, ASV). If Israel decided to take a peek, I’ll bet the Philistines did too. After all, for the Philistines it was the spoils of war. When the Philistines consulted their priests and diviners to try to figure out what to do with the ark, their wisemen told them, “do not send it empty, but by all means return him a guilt offering” (1 Sam 6:3). That could mean “empty” as in “without a guilt offering” or it could mean “we took stuff out and it has become obvious that we’re guilty and need to make an offering.” A golden urn? There’s some cash value. A stick that budded (assuming it was still spouting)? Sounds like magic! Keep that! Big old stone tablets with Hebrew writing on them? Yeah, leave that.

Years later David would split up the articles of the tabernacle. The tent was at a high place in Gibeon with the bronze alter but David moved the ark to Jerusalem (2 Chr 1:4-5) and he put it in a tent he’d had built for it (1 Chr 15:1). When the contents are mentioned in 2 Chronicles 5, we’re down to just the tablets. And it is interesting that the author would mention specifically that there was nothing else in there but the tablets. He might do that in order to confirm, yes, there was nothing else in there, just as it was supposed to be. On the other hand, he could also be commenting that the other stuff had gone missing and all that was left was the tablets.

Do you see how bumpy and nubbley a reading of the Bible has to be? Nothing flat about it! The Bible spans a great deal of time and so you can’t read it like a column in a magazine where all the pertinent history is gathered together for you. You have to take a lot more into consideration. God is bigger than a magazine editor and his story spans generations. Expect his writing, both in history and in the Bible to be huge.

Not the Semblance of Authority

One day in the House of Representatives, a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in its support. The Speaker was just about to put the question when Colonel David Crockett arose:

Mr. Speaker–I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him.

Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot, without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as a charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.

He took his seat. Nobody replied. The bill was put upon its passage, and, instead of passing unanimously, as was generally supposed, and as, no doubt, it would, but for that speech, it received but few votes, and, of course, was lost.

(Source: Not Yours to Give)

Not Was but Who?

There is no witness like a hostile witness. When it comes to Christianity, Bert Ehrman is pretty hostile but he is a historian and he makes a pretty good case for the historical existence of Jesus (whatever you make of Him):

I don’t agree with how Ehrman processes the evidence (obviously); there are solid reasons for differences in the gospels and other things he mentions. I had to smile at the way the interviewer pushes back because Erhman is using the same approach apologists do. As if that in itself makes the facts wrong. The interviewer tries to resort to the same old “yeahbuts” but Ehrman is honest enough to point out that that particular emperor will be ill-attired for the coming winter months. He’s naked. Which is to say, those arguments play well to the sympathetic crowd but they don’t really work.

In the end Ehrman makes the point that you can’t look at the historical facts and say Jesus didn’t exist. So you’re not left with “Was he?” but rather “Who was he?” Once the point that Jesus existed is established there is a case to be made about who he is.