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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Faith and Works

This summer I have been translating the Book of James as my Pastor preaches through it. Not only is it good practice [I didn't KILL myself for 2 years to allow that knowledge to atrophy!], but it also brings another layer of understanding to his preaching. Translating the last verses of James 2 has resulted in a better grasp of an epistle that has often proved confusing in light of the epistles of Paul. It is much clearer in the Greek, as often proves true. I thought I'd offer YOU the "BMT" English translation of James 2:21-22. [No publishing house has been knocking on my door begging for my English translation, nor are they likely too. ;) But maybe a literal translation will add a bit to your understanding, too.]

James 2:21 "Was not Abraham our father rendered righteous/justified by [means of] works, by [means of] having offered his son Isaac upon the altar?"

Wait a minute, you say, doesn't this fly in the face of Paul in Romans 4:1-5? It would if they were talking about exactly the same thing, but they are not - context, context, context. Paul is talking about Abraham having faith BEFORE he was circumcised. (Rom.4:10) Paul points out it is not circumcision that saves a person. Circumcision is a SIGN of an ALREADY existing faith.

James, on the other hand, is using Abraham's willingness to offer up Isaac on the altar as a confirming EVIDENCE of the faith he already had [a PROVEN faith, Jms.1:12 "tried", "approved", "tested"; a faith evidenced by obedience to God (Heb.11:19 "...concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead...")].

Paul and James use the same words, but are talking about different acts. Paul discusses Abraham's faith, not his circumcision, as the basis for his justification. James, in context, points to Abraham's offering of Isaac as a proof/evidence of his ALREADY existing faith. Circumcision (for an OT Hebrew) and obedience to God's commands are the natural outcomes of saving faith. [It's also helpful to remember that James and Paul agreed with each other at the Jerusalem Council in 49 AD. (Acts 15; Gal.2).]

James 2:22 "You (singular) are seeing that faith was working together [in association with] his works, and faith by [means of] works was perfected/made complete."

You can't understand v.21 without reading v.22! Abraham's "works" (actions, deeds) were the natural outcome of his faith. They worked together with his faith to form a "completed", "perfected" faith...which is true of saving faith. Faith is not just an intellectual exercise [Jms.2:19 "...Even the demons believe and tremble." - BUT they DON'T respond to God in obedience...the sign of true, saving faith].

Monday, August 14, 2006

"No Evidence" - Really?

If you haven't done much reading in the field of archaeology, you may not be aware of the raging controversies. There is no such thing as "Archaeologists believe...", because they are NOT a unified group. The Biblical evidence concerning events in Genesis 37 to Exodus 14 has been spurned by those with reductionist tendencies, because they believe them to be "ideologically and theologically shaped". [Now many of these same "reductionists" become quite "maximalist" when evaluating NON-biblical sources. There's a real lack of consistency in examining ancient literature, with the Bible seldom accorded the same respect as other ancient works, even though Biblical integrity is far above that of other documents from the same time periods. This doesn't come as a great surprise, but it does seem smack of intellectual dishonesty.]

The "official" reason usually given for discounting the Biblical record is that no historical or archaeological evidence has been found to back it up. I guess that would depend how fine a definition you use...and how patient you are for archaeologists to officially write up the results of their findings. There IS evidence there were Semites in Ancient Egypt's Eastern Delta from the end of the Old Kingdom (ca.2160 BC) to the height of the 108 year reign of the Hyksos (ca.1648-1540 BC) and the entire Second Intermediate Period (ca.1786-1550BC) , and even into the New Kingdom (ca.1550-1069 BC). To an ancient Egyptian, "Semites" would include Syrians, Arab Bedouins and Hebrews. To try to break it down any further would be pretty tough, though I believe there ARE some distinctive Hebrew artifacts, such as pottery. But it's not likely they will ever find a diary entitled "Joseph, the Hebrew, and Me". ;) [Btw, I believe Joseph entered Egypt during Dynasty 12 and the Exodus was ca. 1446 BC, maybe during the reign of Amenhotop III, Dynasty 18.]

Existing epigraphic evidence includes such works as "The Instruction for Merikare" [Dynasty 10, ca.2106-2010 BC - the time of Abraham. Remember he went to Egypt due to a famine in Canaan? Apparently he was not the ONLY one to do so.]. Egyptians referred to the residents of Syro-Palestine as "Asiatics" and "bowman" (meaning foreigner), a synonym. The cited document states "The east (Delta) abounds with foreigners" and complains that "these foreigners...the miserable Asiatic" had infiltrated the eastern Delta region.

"The Prophecy of Neferti", likely written during Dynasty 12, the time of Joseph, discusses conditions during the First Intermediate Period. "Asiatics" are referred to metaphorically: "A strange bird will reproduce in the marsh of the Delta, having made its nest by the people" and "those feeders, Asiatics who are throughout the land" and "Asiatics have come down to Egypt". There's also a document from Thebes called the "Papyrus Brooklyn 35.1446" from the late 12th/early 13th Dynasty containing a ledger of servants on just ONE Egyptian estate. Over 40 are labeled as "Asiatics" and have Syro-Palestinian names! [Joseph was a servant on an Egyptian estate, remember?]

In the next post I'll get into some of the archaeological evidence for Semites residing in Ancient Egypt.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Ring and A Curse

In the Summer issue of Britain's "National Trust Magazine" there was an interesting article about two "finds" in Britain that might have ended up having particular significance. In the late 18th Century a farmer found an engraved gold ring from the 4th-5th Century at the remains of the Roman town of Silchester. The ring has a chunky bezel with an engraving of Venus and engraved letters surround the band, which is in the shape of a ten-sided hoop. By amazing coincidence, a few decades later a Roman lead tablet bearing an inscription concerning this ring was found at a Roman temple site at Lydney in Gloucestershire. The tablet was engraved with a curse imprecating woe upon the person who had stolen this very ring! [Written curses left at temples must have been quite common. I remember seeing many examples uncovered at the temple connected to the Roman baths at Bath. Interestingly, people they wanted to curse were often mentioned by name, along with the wrong they had committed! (No "forgive and forget" in THOSE days!) At Bath they were usually written upon ostraca, broken pieces of pottery.]

Then in 1928 Sir Mortimer Wheeler, a prominent archaeologist, was told of the ring and the "curse tablet" while he was excavating at Lydney. Wheeler had an advisor on his Lydney dig who was an expert in early English - an Oxford don, named Tolkein! Was it inspiration, do you think?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Top Five Missionary Biographies

I've decided to separate "Missionary Biographies" from "Missions books" because I see the latter as a larger category. My Top Five would be as follows:

To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson, Courtney Anderson - If you were on my Christmas gift list last year, then this should come as no surprise. I LOVED this book and suspect it will make my REread list. Judson's attitude towards missions, the history of the early 19th Century American church concerning foreign missions, the cost of  serving on a foreign mission field, the difficulty of serving in Burma (modern Myanmar) ... all these make for fascinating reading AND it's an encouragement to the 21st Century believer.

Jonathan Edwards: A Life, George Marsden - Don't be intimidated by the size of this book. Marsden is a wonderful writer and you'll find yourself making quick progress. New Englanders in particular will enjoy the local history - the year Edwards was born the Deerfield (MA) Massacre occurred (involving members of his family!). Marsden also does an excellent job of presenting Edwards' ideas. (Iain Murray also wrote an excellent biography on Edwards.)

Zvi, Elwood McQuaid - You know the man who writes the column on the back page of "Israel My Glory" magazine? This is the story of his life as an orphaned Jewish child trying to hide out and escape from the Nazis in WWII, his subsequent faith in the Messiah and emigration to Israel. This autobiography will stay with you the rest of your life!

The Autobiography of George Muller - This little book is a gem and is sure to encourage you in your prayer life. I also read the Benge's children's book on Muller with my SS kids. Muller became a believer while in college and the transformation in his life was just breathtaking. I'm still looking for a more complete adult biography of him. Any suggestions?

Through Gates of Splendor, Elisabeth Elliot - No need to explain THIS one!

5 Classic Biographies on my "To Read" pile:

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Roland Bainton
William Tyndale, David Daniell
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, John Bunyan (autobiography)
Hero for Humanity: William Wilberforce, Kevin Belmonte
A Passion for Souls: D.L. Moody, Lyle Dorsett

What are YOUR Top Five?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Top Five REreads

I have been meandering through a book called "Every Book Its Reader" (Nicholas Basbanes). He got me thinking about a better way to make "Favorites" lists. Rather than using impossible categories, such as Top 100 Books (for what? based on what? for what audience?), it makes more sense to make more specific lists. So I'm instituting a new series based on Favorite Books - By Category.

We'll start with our top 3-5 "REreads". What books do you find yourself coming back to? I've discovered there are some that have held my interest over the years, while others that were favorites in the past are now not so interesting to me. That's a good reason to never have an all-time favorites do you know it's still a favorite if you haven't read it recently? We change...and so do our tastes.

My Top Five REreads:
Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Tolkein (they count as ONE, right?): I think I've read them seven times now, starting back in my college days. They continue to hold my complete attention.

Wuthering Heights, Bronte: I'm convinced ONE of these times Heathcliff won't end up so angry and Cathy won't be such an immature idiot.

A Room with a View, E.M. Forster: This guy could write! England AND can you go wrong?

Ray Bradbury Reader: It's hard to understand how I can STILL enjoy his stories when I already know how they all end...but I do!

Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman: Nonfiction "issue" books can quickly become dated, but this one is even MORE applicable than when it was written!!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Name of My Own

My computer crashed recently and while rebuilding everything I decided to have my own blog. I have enjoyed writing on T's blog, but have been concerned that I was perhaps "taking it over" at times. He hadn't written a disclaimer yet - disavowing any personal responsibility for what I had written, but I'm sure there were times he was tempted. This way I can post about LOST on his blog and my ramblings on this one. So welcome!