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  • Archive for May, 2012

    The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 1 John 3:14-15

    Wednesday, May 16th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Week 30: May 13, 2012

    John continues building on the ideal that we are children of God, contrasting sin with abiding in him.

    Study

    14 – We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love one another. The person who does not love[1] remains spiritually[2] dead.

    - As is his pattern, John, having given the negative teaching that hating your brother is from the evil one, now gives the positive side: Loving your brother is from God, the one who gives life. We were once dead, but because of Jesus, we have passed from death to life. The indication of this transition is a love for our brother. Without it, we remain spiritually dead.

    15 – Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life present in him.

    - As he so often does, John now sums up this teaching in very stark terms. While Cain was a murderer, John points out that his is not limited just to murders. His use of Hate (μισῶν) here raises some issues. It seems to be based on Jesus’ teaching in Matt 5:21-22.

    You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, ‘You must not murder,’ and ‘Whoever murders will be subject to punishment. ‘But I say to you, anyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be subject to punishment. And whoever says to his brother ‘Raka!’ will be subject to the Council. And whoever says ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hell fire.

    That John speaks of hate instead of anger is easy to understand. Hate it fits context better and what would be true of anger would be true of hate. It also fits John practice of stark contrasts. In the context here, hate is contrasted with loving your brother. Again for John there is no middle ground. He has also just talked about how the world hates Christians (v 13). As such his comments here are aimed more at the world than us. For the world hates us without cause.

    - At first the equation of hate with murder may seem like an exaggeration, but it is not such a leap as it may at first seem. We, after all want to get rid of that which we hate. It is also very difficult to treat people that we hate as people. Instead they become labels, and we have in effect murdered there humanity. (See discussion below)

    - Murder is the ultimate rebellion against God. Jesus is the Life (John 14:6) and as such, to take life without just cause (i.e., the difference between murder and killing), is the ultimate rebellion against God. It is to ally oneself with the destroyer of life, i.e., Satan.

    Questions and Discussion

    Verse 15 and its comments on hate generated a lot of discussion, not so much over the prohibition, but rather the related question, of is it ever right to hate? Contrary to a lot of people who quickly answer no, I think this is a very complex question. For many, 1 John 4:8’s statement that, “God is Love” precludes any possibility of hate. But the Bible says differently. In Exodus 18:21 Moses is told to pick “men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain.” So here hating is a good thing. On the other hand we are also told in Leviticus 19:17 “Do not hate your brother in your heart.” This shows up in the common phase hate the sin, not the sinner. This is very true, but also very difficult.

    Then there is the issue of people whose very existence seems to be defined by evil. People such as Osama Bin Laden, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and far too many others. Is it permissible to hate them? Again I do not think this is so clear cut, while in theory one could separate out the person from their evil, in these extreme cases this is very difficult if not impossible. The evil is an integral part of who they are. At this point it is important to note that many texts Jesus’ statement in Matthew have the qualifier, “without cause.” Even if “without cause” was not original, it is implied in the style which used hyperbole and stark black and white differences as a way of making a point. After all, no one would take Jesus’ statement that “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away” just a few verses later (Mt 5:29) to be to be a literal injunction to Christians. Then again Jesus says Mat 5:22 that “And whoever says ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hell fire.” In Matt 23:17 he says to the Pharisees, “You blind fools” again showing that Matthew 5 cannot be taken as an absolute prohibition which no exceptions.

    Likewise Jesus was at time angry. In Mark 3:5 Jesus in a dispute over healing on the Sabbath “looked around at them in anger, deeply hurt because of their hard hearts.” Then there was the cleansing of the temple. This division between a good anger (anger with a just cause) and bad anger used to be common place. In fact the good anger was called righteous indication.

    Finally it is also important to consider that he did not reach out to everyone. While he reached out to many, especially those shunned by the culture, such as the Samaritan woman at the well, when he was taken before Herod, “Jesus gave him no answer at all.” (Luke 23:9) No reaching out, no pleas to repent, just silence.

    A large part of this turns on what is meant by hate. If what we mean by hate is an emotion that will control us, then the answer is no. Such hatred in the heart will eat at a person and corrupt their sole. However, if we mean an intellectual attitude, that will depend on the circumstances. Luckily very few will ever have to deal with a person the likes of Herod or Hitler. The far more likely question for us is: Do we really hate evil. Do we have room in our theology for righteous indication? Or are we so busy loving the sinner, that we just ignore the sin?

    If you have question or comments about the class, feel free to send me an email at elgin@hushbeck.com and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

    See here for references and more background on the class.

    Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission. www.isv.org

    Note: Some places I have modify the text from the ISV version. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.


    Footnotes:

    [1] 3:14 Other mss. read doesn’t love his brother
    [2] 3:14 The Gk. lacks spiritually

    The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 1 John 3:8-13

    Wednesday, May 9th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Week 29: May 6, 2012

    As he sums up this section, John, having warned his reader not to be deceived, says who can be trusted, (i.e., those who practice righteousness). He draws a distinguishing between the children of God and those who belong to the devil.

    Study

    h. Don’t be Deceived (3:7 – 3:10)

    ii Distinguishing between Righteous and Unrighteous (3:7b-3:10)

    8 – The person who practices sin belongs to the evil one, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason that the Son of God was revealed was to destroy what the devil has been doing.

    - In contrast to those who practice righteousness are those trying to deceive us. These practice sin and belong to the evil one. When John says, that “the devil has been sinning from the beginning” it is not clear if from the beginning refers to the beginning of human sin, i.e., the serpent in the garden, or since the becoming the devil, but it really does not affect the meaning for us. Those who follow God will be marked by righteousness. Those who lives are marked by sin, belong to Satan.

    The reason that the Son of God was revealed

    - Jesus came into the world to defeat sin. This is not just a throwaway line, but a key part of John’s argument. How can a true follow of Jesus be practicing what he came to destroy?

    9a – No one who has been born from God practices sin, because God’s[1] seed abides in him.

    - John continues the reasoning of verse 8 with a stark statement that is reminiscent of v6. No one who remains in union with him keeps on sinning. How could they? How can a true follower of Christ work against what he came to do? (See discussion below) After all, we have God’s seed. Some see God’s seed as the Holy Spirit, others as the word of God. It is probably a bit of both.

    9b – Indeed, he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born from God.

    - John is reaching a conclusion that started with his initial statement that began this section and his statement in 1 John 1:5 God is light, and in him there is no darkness—none at all! If God has no darkness, and God is in us, we can have no darkness. As for what John means by “cannot go on sinning” see discussion on v 6 and discussion below. Also it is important to see this in light of the seed metaphor that precedes it. When you plant a seed, it grows and develops. When a person is born-again, they are not fully grown spiritually but begin to grow. This is the real mark of a Christian, not sinlessness, but spiritual growth and development.

    10 – This is how God’s children and the devil’s children are distinguished.[2] No person who fails to practice righteousness and to love his brother is from God.

    - John ends this section with statement that sums up the main points about his opponents. A major reason for this section was to distinguish those who left from those who stayed. Our primary way of doing this is to look people’s walk and to see how they “Love their brother.”

    Part III : Love One Another (3:11-5:14)

    a. The Message – Love One Another (3:11-17)

    i. Starting Premise

    11 – This is the message that you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.

    - This is the message

    - This phrase occurs only here and 1:5, This is the message that we have heard from him and declare to you. 1:5 started the first section that focused on those who left (2:19) and how to tell who was telling the truth, who you should trust, and who you should follow. John uses the same phrase to begin this section. This section will focus more on how we should live. Again there is little consensus over the outline of John. One advantage of this approach is that it draws on literary feature within the letter itself.

    - We should love one another.

    - While this section will build on the themes developed in the previous section, the overriding message of this section will be to love another.

    ii. A Negative example – Cain

    12 – Do not be like Cain,[3] who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because what he was doing was evil and his brother’s actions[4] were righteous.

    - Not too surprisingly John begins with a contrast and, as he so often does, he puts his message into very stark terms. Cain not only did not love his brother, he murdered him.

    Because what he was doing was evil and his brother’s actions were righteous

    - At first this does not seem to make sense. But it is something born out in practice. Righteousness holds up a mirror to evil. It reminds the unrighteous of God’s Law, and their disobedience. It ultimately robs them of their excuses. So Cain had two choices, acknowledge his disobedience or get rid of the evidence, i.e., get rid of Abel.

    13 – So do not be surprised, brothers, if the world hates you.

    - As Cain hated Abel, so will the world hate us and we should expect this. This raises three issues: First, if we do not face opposition from the world, what does that say about our walk? Second, it is important to keep in mind that just because we are facing opposition, that does not mean we are where God wants us to be. If we do not act in love, we should not be surprised if we get a negative reaction. So this is not a blank check to be obnoxious. Finally, we may not see “hatred” today, because in the current world the main problem it apathy. People, may simply not care.

    Questions and Discussion

    Verse 9 sparked a lot of discussion. Some theologians try to soften this verse by saying that this refers to continual or habitual sin. There is some truth to this, but I do not believe that it is really faithful to what John is arguing. Hebrew culture tended to express things in terms of stark contrast in a way that we in the 21st century are uncomfortable with.

    We live in a world governed by a view of precision that would be completely foreign to those in the first century. The easiest place to see this is with time. We commonly think of time in terms of hours, minutes, and seconds, and at times even smaller increments. We will worry if we are even a few minutes late. Yet in the first century, for the most part, even hours were too fine a division. Normally people were content with parts of a day.

    Thus when we read statements of John such as “No one who has been born from God practices sin” our innate sense of accuracy and precision causes us trouble. If that is literally accurate then no one could be a Christian. Yet we know that John could not mean that, for he has already said that anyone who claims to be without sin is a liar. (1 John 1:8). This conflict is what explains the attempts to soften the verse.

    But John was not governed by our modern sense of precision, particularly when drawing contrast such as he is doing here. This does not mean the statement is inaccurate, but rather we must seek to understand it has he wrote it; where this is true, but not yet fully realized; where we are Children of god, but what we will be had not yet been revealed. (3:2)

    This is, again, while I do not believe that statements about cleansing us of our sins are to be seen as mere restatements of forgiveness. There can be no darkness in God, and for us to be in fellowship with him requires that we not only be forgiven, but cleansed.

    To see this as habitual sin, etc., is to not only soften but to undermine John’s argument. God does not want us to be mostly free from sin or to just be free from habitual sin; he wants us completely free from sin. Sin is fundamentally a rebellion against God and we cannot be in fellowship with him, and rebelling against him at the same time. So while the discussion of habitual or continual sin is probably a valid way of understanding how this verse applies to our daily life, it is important to realize that this was not the argument that John was making.

    If you have question or comments about the class, feel free to send me an email at elgin@hushbeck.com and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

    See here for references and more background on the class.

    Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission. www.isv.org

    Note: Some places I have modify the text from the ISV version. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.


    Footnotes:
    [1] 3:9 Lit. his
    [2] 3:10 Lit. are revealed
    [3] 3:12 Lit. Not like Cain
    [4] 3:12 The Gk. lacks actions

    The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 1 John 3:7

    Thursday, May 3rd, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Week 28: Apr 29, 2012

    John closes this first major section with a final warning and instruction.

    Study

    h. Don’t be Deceived (3:7 – 3:10)

    i. Premise: Don’t be Deceived (3:7a)

    7 – Little children, don’t let anyone deceive you.

    - John closes out this first major section by returning to his original message with a final warning: Don’t be deceived. John’s opponents were spreading false doctrine. A major purpose of the first section has been to point out the errors of the group who left, so it is very fitting that John finishes this section with a final warning and a summation of his points.

    - John does this by dividing the world into two camps: those that follow Jesus, and by implication the ones we can believe, and those who follow the devil and by implication are trying to deceive us.

    ii Distinguishing between Righteous and Unrighteous (3:7b-3:10)

    7b – The person who practices righteousness is righteous, just as the Messiah[1] isrighteous.

    - When looking at whom to believe (i.e., not be deceived) we must look to their actions. A follower of the Jesus must be righteous, because Jesus was. This is more than just moral purity it also includes a proper relationship with God.

    Questions and Discussion

    As can be seen by the shortness of the study, this week had a lot of discussion. The initial jumping off point concerned the question of how Mormons, who often are so smart, can believe the claims of Mormonism. After all, the evidence against Mormonism is very strong. Before we had proceed down that path very far someone pointed out that secularists often make the same charge against Christians; how can seemingly smart people believe in Christianity?

    First off, while the questions may at first seem similar, the answers are vastly different. This is because the levels and nature of the evidence for Mormonism and for Christianity are worlds apart. We know there was a Israel, a Judea, a Rome, an Assyria, and Egypt ruled by Pharaohs. We know that many of the cities mentioned such as Babylon, Jerusalem and Bethlehem existed. We know that people such as King David lived. We know that many of the events described occurred. In short we know that a large number of the things mentioned in the Bible are accurate.

    On the other hand, not a single person, place, or event, mention in the Book of Mormon about the New World can be confirmed to have existed or occurred, and many of the things we know about the New World, do not seem to match the descriptions in the Book of Mormon. In short, when it comes to Mormonism vs. Christianity as it has been understood and practiced for 2000 years, the evidence is strongly on the side of historic Christianity.

    How about the secularist? 50 years ago you could make a better case for the secularism, but not today. For example, 50 year ago all the classical arguments for the existent of God were seen as having been refuted and only of historical interest, to be studied only for what light they could shed on the thinking of earlier philosophers, but not to be taken serious today. Why? This was largely because of the philosophy of Kant. In extremely abbreviated form, Kant believed that our knowledge was limited by our ability to perceive, and that since we cannot perceive God, we cannot know anything about God. As a result the classical arguments can really tell us nothing.

    This all seemed well and good in a world governed by Newtonian physics. But as Quantum Mechanics came to be understood, Kant’s theories broke down. Again in very brief fashion, if Kant was correct, then the uncertainly principle should likewise have been a barrier to our understanding. But it wasn’t. Before long scientist developed and tested theories, that if Kant was correct, they should not have been able to do. As a result in the later part of the 20th century all the classical theories were revived and are once again under serious discussion. This is just one of many developments that have cast doubt on naturalism.

    In fact today it is the scientific naturalist, i.e., those that limit reality to the natural world, rejecting any possibility of a reality beyond the natural that has problems with the evidence. For example both major scientific theories for the origin of the universe require a beginning. Thus we have only two possibilities, either the universe, the natural world as we know it, came from nothing, or it came from something.

    Something from nothing is a logical impossibility and if anything a definition of magic. To accept it would either be special pleading if restricted only to the origin of the universe, or would completely undermine the concept of science if taken as a general principle. Either view would undermine scientific naturalism. That leaves that it came from something. But this would demonstrate an existence of something beyond the natural and would likewise undermine scientific naturalism. Thus the current state of the scientific evidence argues strongly against scientific naturalism.

    Nor does the evidence stop there. While miracles were difficult to account for in a world governed by Newtonian physics, they are not hard at all to account for in Quantum mechanics where everything is governed by probability. This is particularly true with the views of Quantum mechanics that claim that nothing actually happens until there is a mind that forces a resolution from an indeterminate state. In such a universe, why couldn’t the mind of God cause the quantum states in the dead body of Jesus, to resolved themselves into a state of life.

    Given the state of the evidence today, the better question is not how a can a smart person be a Christian, but why isn’t everyone a Christian? The answer lies in the fact that in the end, this is not a question of evidence. The evidence is on the side of the Christian. The real problem is not evidence, but sin. It is not a matter of logical arguments but spiritual rebellion.

    If you have question or comments about the class, feel free to send me an email at elgin@hushbeck.com and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

    See here for references and more background on the class.

    Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission. www.isv.org

    Note: Some places I have modify the text from the ISV version. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.


    Footnotes:

    [1] 3:7 Lit. as he