Epistles of Thomas

October 4, 2017

Wm Paul Young and Latin this Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thomas @ 22:07

I continue to read Young’s book, Lies We Believe About God, and today came across an attempt to use the Latin etymology of the word ‘religion’ to make a point. The chapter is concerned with the lie “God created my religion.” Here is his statement:

The word religion derives from two Latin words, the prefix re- meaning “back” or “again” and –ligio, referring to “something that binds one thing to another.” Religion is my attempt to bind myself back to God—a noble gesture, but one doomed from the start and quite impossible. What began as a relationship with a living Jesus often devolves into a religion, defined by what we do: external activities, posing, right words, clothes, holy gestures, hushed tones.

This is the fourth time Young has delved into ancient languages and the first time he has used Latin to try and make his point. We have several problems here that immediately spring to mind. First, as we’ve discussed before, a word’s etymology has no bearing on its current usage, nor does a word’s current usage prove anything about what a word meant in the past. Secondly, the word ‘religion’ refers to all religions and not just those who believe that there is a God to whom they can rebind themselves. Third, the word religion probably doesn’t actually derive from “re” and “-ligio” but rather from “re -lego,” which is to “read again.” Wikipedia is actually helpful in providing a detailed discussion of the debate. Or for those of you who prefer scholarly sources there is this 1912 article, “The Etymology of Religion” in the Journal of the American Oriental Society.

Finally, the Christian usage of religion = re-bind can be traced back to Lactantius (c. 250 – c. 325). Here is what he had to say in Divinae institutiones, IV, 28:

What, then, is it? Truly religion is the cultivation of the truth, but superstition of that which is false. And it makes the entire difference what you worship, not how you worship, or what prayer you offer. But because the worshippers of the gods imagine themselves to be religious, though they are superstitious, they are neither able to distinguish religion from superstition, nor to express the meaning of the names. We have said that the name of religion is derived from the bond of piety, because God has tied man to Himself, and bound him by piety; for we must serve Him as a master, and be obedient to Him as a father.

Lactantius, “The Divine Institutes,” in Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily, and Liturgies, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. William Fletcher, vol. 7, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 131.

Young makes the same point as Lactantius about it not mattering how you worship or what prayer you offer. However, given what Young has written about the nature of God I don’t think he would be comfortable with Lactantius’ language of serving God as our master and being obedient to him as a father.



September 29, 2017

Categorical accusers?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thomas @ 9:40

I was reading Wm. Paul Young’s latest book, Lies We Believe About God, yesterday and came across an interesting point that he makes using the Greek word κατήγορος. Here is the full quote:

The New Testament was originally written in common Greek—Koine Greek (most of it). Guess what the Greek word for accuse is, as in “the Satan is an accuser”? (see Revelation 12:10). It is kategoro, from which we get the English word categorize. It means to put something or someone into a group to categorize them. We do this all the time, not always improperly, either. But when such categorizations carry an implicit judgment of value and worth, we are joining the adversary of our humanity, the Satan. Entering into divisive accusation reduces if not disintegrates the unity of our common humanity, and we become butchers of the Body of Christ.

They say that a little Greek is a dangerous thing and I think in this case it is. I’m not sure that Young’s tangent was at all helpful in making his point in this chapter. There are several problems with his conjecture, not the least is running afoul of the semantic anachronism fallacy that Carson warned us of in my post of two days ago.

I looked up Revelation 12:10 of course and then did a search on κατήγορος. I see that it is a hapax legomenon, meaning that this noun appears only once in the New Testament. The verb which appears in the same verse is used 23 times in the NT. We immediately run into a problem in that this word is seldom used and below is the complete entry from LSJ where you’ll see that it never means category:

κατήγορος, ὁ, accuser, Hdt.3.71, S.Tr.814, And.4.16, Lys.7.11, Pl.Ap.18a (pl.), Apoc.12.10, etc.; δημόσιος κ. public prosecutor, PFlor.6.6 (iii A.D.); betrayer, φρονημάτων ἡ γλῶσσʼ ἀληθὴς γίγνεται κ. A.Th.439; ἀμέλειά ἐστι σαφὴς ψυχῆς κ. κακῆς X.Oec.20.15; πνεῦμα ὧν κατήγορον, .. δρόμοις [ἡ φύσις] ἐκβιᾶται κατηγορέειν what the respiration reveals, Hp.de Arte12. Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 927.

The word from which we get our English word “category” is actually a word with similar spelling: κατηγορία. This word is used 3x in the NT (Jn 18:29; 1 Tim 5:19; Tit 1:6). and is translated as “charges, accusation, charge.” Our English word “category” comes from its use in Logic. Again LSJ is helpful:

κατηγορία, Ion. -ίη, ἡ, accusation, Hdt.6.50, etc.; opp. αἰτία (expostulaton), Th.1.69; opp. ἔπαινος, ib.84; opp. ἀπολογία, Arist.Rh.1358b11; τὴν κ. ποιεῖσθαι Antipho 6.10, And.1.6; ὡς ὑβοίζοντος κ. ἐποιοῦντο X.An.5.8.1; κ. ἐγένοντο πολλαὶ τῶν Ἀθηναίων charges were made against .., Id.HG2.1.31; κατηγορίαι κατά τινος γεγόνασιν Isoc.5.147; εἰ .. ἐπὶ τοῖς πεπραγμένοις κατηγορίας ἔχω I am liable to accusation, D.18.240.
II. in Logic, predication, Arist.Metaph.1007a35, etc.: pl., Id.APo.84a1; esp. affirmative predicaton, opp. στέρησις, Id.APr.52a15; ἄπορον ἐν κ. Stoic.2.93.
2. predicate, Arist.Metaph.1004a29, 1028a28, al., Epicur.Ep.1p.23 U., etc.
3. more freq., category, head of predicables, Arist.Top.103b20 (ten), APo.83b16, Ph.225b5 (eight), Metaph.1068a8 (seven), cf. EN1096a29. Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 927.

You can see that II.3 explains how we got the English word category from this Greek word but it really doesn’t help Young make his point because this wasn’t the word used in Revelation 12:10 and John surely didn’t intend to make a connection to categorising people in an inappropriate way.

I hesitate to criticise Young for this inappropriate use of Greek but I think he needs to rethink his use of this verse especially given the gravity of his purpose. The lie that he wants to dispel in this chapter is “God is a Christian” and given the wow factor of his assertion that this is a lie he needs to be rock solid in his argumentation.

September 28, 2017

Semantic range of the word Dynamite

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thomas @ 8:43

Yesterday I provided Carson’s quote re. the word dynamite and the Greek word dunamis which is used 119 times in the New Testament and is translated variously as “miracle,” “power,” “ability,” etc. However, in Carson’ objection to preachers’ use of the comparison of God’s power to dynamite he neglects to mention the semantic range of both dunamis and dynamite.

Obviously dynamite means the chemical compound that blows things up but it also means anything powerful, exciting, dangerous, etc. Obviously no preacher is using dunamis/dynamite comparing the explosive properties of dynamite to God’s power of the gospel that brings salvation to everyone that believes. By restricting the semantic range of the English word dynamite Carson makes his point clear but at the expense of the ordinary linguistic use of the word.

September 27, 2017

New Testament Dynamite? Hilarious.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thomas @ 18:29

I just reread D.A. Carson’s take on dynamite in the New Testament and did a search of my Logos Bible Software library for dynamite NEAR dunamis and came up with quite a haul. Here’s Carson’s full comment:

Semantic anachronism Pages 33–34
But the problem has a second face when we also add a change of language. Our word dynamite is etymologically derived from δύναμις (dynamis, power, or even miracle). I do not know how many times I have heard preachers offer some p 34 such rendering of Romans 1:16 as this: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the dynamite of God unto salvation for everyone who believes”—often with a knowing tilt of the head, as if something profound or even esoteric has been uttered. This is not just the old root fallacy revisited. It is worse: it is an appeal to a kind of reverse etymology, the root fallacy compounded by anachronism. Did Paul think of dynamite when he penned this word? And in any case, even to mention dynamite as a kind of analogy is singularly inappropriate. Dynamite blows things up, tears things down, rips out rock, gouges holes, destroys things. The power of God concerning which Paul speaks he often identifies with the power that raised Jesus from the dead (e.g., Eph. 1:18–20); and as it operates in us, its goal is εἰς σωτηρίαν (eis som tērian,“unto salvation,” Rom. 1:16, KJV), aiming for the wholeness and perfection implicit in the consummation of our salvation. Quite apart from the semantic anachronism, therefore, dynamite appears inadequate as a means of raising Jesus from the dead or as a means of conforming us to the likeness of Christ. Of course, what preachers are trying to do when they talk about dynamite is give some indication of the greatness of the power involved. Even so, Paul’s measure is not dynamite, but the empty tomb. In exactly the same way, it is sheer semantic anachronism to note that in the text “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7) the Greek word behind “cheerful” is ἱλαρόν (hilaron) and conclude that what God really loves is a hilarious giver. Perhaps we should play a laugh–track record while the offering plate is being circulated.

D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (Carlisle, U.K.; Grand Rapids, MI: Paternoster; Baker Books, 1996), 33–34.

In Logos I got 126 results in 60 articles in 53 resources which is a fair number but as Carson says “I don’t know how many times I have offer it in connection with Romans 1:16. Some of those hits are making the same point as Carson but many are committing the semantic anachronism he is warning us about.

Here’s my favourite of the ones I saw in my library: “worship can be dynamite, which is exactly what God has promised us. Dynamite comes from the Greek word dunamis, which is the word used in Acts 1:8 when Jesus promises, ‘You will receive power (dunamis) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.'” Bruce Larson and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Luke, vol. 26, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1983), 116.

What’s in your library? Is it dynamite?

March 1, 2017

Lent – Are you giving something up or adding something to spend more time with God?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thomas @ 21:05
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March 1 is Ash Wednesday this year which marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Evangelicals have something on an ambivalent relationship with Lent, rightly rejecting its association with penance but also not taking the opportunity to seek a closer relationship with God. There are two basic themes to Lent. You can either give up something that you enjoy or you can add something such as engaging in a spiritual discipline: reading the Bible more each day, praying more, etc.

Back in 1999 I gave up watching TV for Lent and it changed my life. To this day I don’t watch TV or movies on a regular basis and there aren’t any TV shows that I feel the need to watch. This has given me a lot of free time to do other things like read, spend time with others and most importantly with God. I think it also means I am often out of the loop culturally (which I believe can be a good thing). These days you might decide to give up Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. You can use all that extra time to pray or read the Bible and devotional material. I would recommend you read the gospels and I’m currently reading A.W. Tozer as my devotional material. He wrote quite a while ago but most of his material is still spot on.

Blessings on You this Lenten season. May you seek and find a closer relationship with God in Christ Jesus through Holy Spirit.

January 14, 2015

Time as History by George Grant

Grant, George. Time as History. Edited by William Christian. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995.grant
This can also be listened to online in its original Massey lecture format on the CBC.

This book is comprised of five lectures given in 1969 for CBC radio and is presented here with a long introduction by William Christian. He also rearranged the text quite a bit so if you are listening along with the lectures you will need to flip around to find the right place. It also includes a short dialogue at the end with Charles Malik. This is, quite frankly, the highlight of the book. The lectures focuses on Nietzsche and Grant’s agreement and challenge to the same.

Time as History is the theme and it is important to know what he means by this. For that reason the book actually begins with what did not appear until about the 20 minute mark of the original lecture. It would have been very difficult to follow Grant on the radio. With regard to history he says: “However these two sides of the modern project may be put together [history and the study of history], my purpose is to write about the word history as it is used about existence in time, not as it is used to describe a particular academic study….I am concerned with what it means to conceive the world as an historical process, to conceive time as history and man as an historical being” (13). For Grant there is no more purpose to history than the passage of time and our acting within it. This follows from Nietzsche although he does put some of his own spin on it.

History is future oriented in that we have a goal towards which we are focussed and the study of the past is what allows us to formulate and accomplish that goal. We speak of the present with a view to the future; “we are trying to gather the intricacies of the present so that we can calculate what we must be resolute in doing to bring about the future we desire” (16). To unpack the concept of time as history we need to “think our orientation to the future together with the will to mastery” (17). The ability and will to change things combines our future orientation with action, something that is unique to our civilization at this time. Along with future orientation is this idea of the willing. We are Creators: “It is our destiny to bring about something novel; to conquer an indifferent nature and make it good for us” (24) “Time is a developing history of meaning that we make” (24). History has makers – those who strive to bring forth something of their own creation. This reflects our future orientation. “…meaning is not found in what is actually now present for us, but in that which we can yet bring to be” (27).

He spends much time on Nietzsche’s rejection of the idea that there is purpose to be found within history. God is dead is the famous affirmation and now there are no absolutes to give shape and purpose to our world. Those who have left religion behind still find purpose in the very “unfolding of rationality among the species, man” (38). Nietzsche rejects this as well, seeing it as a vestige left over from Christian days. ‘Horizon’ is used to delineate the context within which everything appears within its limits. The historical sense shows us that these horizons are our own creation. “They are man-made perspectives by which the charismatic impose their will to power.” The horizons are not the nature of things out there, but rather “they express the values which our tortured instincts will to create” (40). Horizons are analogous to narratives in the meta-narrative – narrative distinction. Of course if we create them they have no meaning beyond ourselves.

Nietzsche found his only solace in the doctrine of amor fati (love of fate). By embracing an undecided fate one could find peace and “begin to will novelty in joy” (56). Grant seeks to move beyond this by speaking of remembrance and from that loving and thinking. Love of fate is not fatalism – the acceptance of whatever might be, but rather it requires action. “Nietzsche’s love of fate is not passive, but a call to dynamic political doing” (59) Those who have moved beyond the previous view of history are beyond the vices of that age. They are now free to practice dynamic willing without revenge. There are three facets to history: past, present, future which correspond to remembering, loving and thinking.
Remembering – the handing over of tradition is surrendering. To live within a remembered reverence. He gives the example of his dying Christian friend who rejected the thought of Nietzsche. That friend lived within the tradition handed down to him, Christianity, and was quite content with the meaning he found there.
Loving and Thinking are the means by which we appropriate from tradition and form the future.
The question is not who deserves to serve as masters of the earth but of mastery itself. Those who cannot live with the simple fact of time as history are called to utilize loving and thinking to create a better world. This is the task of great thinkers and saints. In the face of Nietzsche’s two options: last men and nihilists Grant seeks to articulate a third possibility in which we find meaning by looking to the past and appropriating meaning for ourselves. There can be nothing universal about this meaning but we can find solace in it. In other words we may unashamedly live within the tradition handed down to us (e.g. Christianity) while not claiming any kind of universal truth for it.

As a Christian, I obviously must be challenged by this concept as it seeks to undermine my understanding of history and my place in it. Specifically, Grant says that humans seek permanence rather than face the reality that all is in continuous change: “The desire to assert some permanence is particularly pressing among those who have begun to be aware of the abysmal void of its absence, and who wish to turn away from such a cause of fright” (37). As a Christian I find this unacceptable because I believe that there is permanence in many things, especially regarding the metaphysical, such as the soul. It would seem that one can only see the absence and face the fright if one has already rejected one’s solid Christian belief. If that is the case is he suggesting that we return to our belief in order to escape this newly found knowledge? What of those who have grown up with it and who have never stepped outside it? What of those who grew up without it and have converted to a world defined by the mind of God rather than their own creating. Surely not everyone, down to the ‘semi-literate,’ can be the relativists he believes us to be, given the high degree of religion in our society of one kind or another.

I was just reading an article about Islamic State and the aftermath of the Paris attacks. It claimed that IS is feeling the brunt of western air attacks and it is certainly only a matter of time until they are eliminated. Perhaps this is what Grant meant when he talked about our civilization destroying so many others. Nevertheless, it is not ideological superiority that seeks to defeat IS but modernity’s technological superiority. The grandchildren of the superior fire power that tried to bomb North Vietnam into oblivion. I would dare to suggest that there are far more Christians in Vietnam today that read the Bible daily than there are people who have ever read Grant or Nietzsche. The belief that our civilization is superior to all others was what led us to Vietnam and it failed. Where that failed the Church has been victorious. Dare I suggest that it will not be western humanistic, liberal, postmodern, time as history process that wins over the people of the Middle East but rather the love of Jesus Christ. A love so great that it expressed itself in death for an enemy.

I think this idea that time is merely history has had an impact on our world. There are many today in leadership, government and otherwise, who seek to remold the world according to their image, with no regard for the Great Ideas of God or Ideal or righteousness. Today in Canada, society seeks to redefine marriage with no regard to our past understanding. However, I do believe that those change-agents still believe that they have a greater purpose on their side. They will say things like those who disagree with us “are on the wrong side of history” as though historical progress will vindicate their position. This may be true in the short term but I do not see it happening in the long run. Those who seek to create our story through time are merely workmen for Ozymandias. History will pass and they will pass away forgotten while only the name of their king will be remembered in dusty history books.

In conclusion, I cannot agree with his premise because it does not fit our context. It no doubt fit his 1960s context but today around the world people are not pessimistic about the possibility of a better future because of an understanding of time as history, nor are they attempting to create a future by appropriating the past through love and thinking. Instead, from Africa to Asia to the Middle East billions believe that we live within His Story and that we are agents working on his behalf to bring about his will on earth as it is in heaven.

January 10, 2015

God and the Problem of Evil, edited by William L. Rowe

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thomas @ 12:18

rowe This semester I’m have a class on Suffering and Belief in God. We are reading the essays in this book so I will be also posting them on this blog for your edification. I hope to have them up regularly so stay tuned!

No bias on the CBC website rofl

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thomas @ 12:13
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CBC had an article on Jan 8 about the Montreal Gazette publishing Charlie Hebdo cartoons and their unwillingness to do likewise. Here’s what they had to say about that:

“This is not a ban, and it isn’t censorship,” David Studer, CBC’s director of Journalistic Standards and Practices, said in an email on Wednesday, reminding news staff of CBC’s long-established policy.

“We are being consistent with our historic journalistic practices around this story, not because of fear, but out of respect for the beliefs and sensibilities of the mass of Muslim believers about images of the Prophet​. Similarly, we wouldn’t publish cartoons likely to dismay or outrage mainstream followers of other religions​.”

Apparently the definition “mainstream followers” must be pretty broad because I did a quick search of cbc.ca for pictures that Christians might find offensive and came across three within seconds.

Piss Christ is the worst but another article on Chocolate Jesus specifically mentions that Roman Catholics protested that it was sacrilegious: “The Catholics objected to the nudity, to the casting of the statue in chocolate and to the display of the work during Holy Week, the week before Easter.” I don’t think that portraying Steve Jobs as Jesus quite passes the test either if you use the same criteria.

What’s the true issue here? Mainstream Christians are not truly offended or Christians don’t threaten journalists and carry through on those threats with this kind of violence? Surely anyone can see that there is a double standard when it comes to not offending religious sensibilities. However, as Christians, we leave it to God to judge. Specifically, we believe that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. I certainly choose not to mock him because I love him as he first loved me and died for me. We have a responsibility to warn others that God will judge them for their actions but only insofar as they understand them. Clearly someone willing to mock God already lacks a relationship with him and that condemns them already (John 3:18). The wise man also remembers Proverbs 26:4 “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him” and the Streisand effect :).

2014 in Reading

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thomas @ 11:58
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This year’s post is again once and once again dedicated to Aunt Joan who already asked about it 🙂 .

It’s hard to believe that I haven’t posted in a whole year. I guess it just shows that 2014 was an ever more superer duper busy year for us. Even busier than 2013, which I remember as being busier than 2012, 2011 and so on. Can you sense that the trend is well established? 2014 was the first year since 2007 that I didn’t meet my goal of reading 100 books a year. 2015 is shaping up to be even busier as I’ve started another MA program.

Total books finished: 67
Total pages read 13,290
Average length of a book: 198 pages
Best month: February (17 books)
Slowest months: November (0 books! ouch)

I compared my reading to the New York Times bestseller list again this year. In 2014 I advanced one book, and have read 163 of 10,618 New York Times bestsellers. You can check out the list on LibraryThing. The total number of 10,618 hasn’t increased so I’m not sure what’s going on with that but anyway.

December 31, 2013

2013 in Reading

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thomas @ 22:20
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This year’s post is again once and once again dedicated to Aunt Joan who cares about such things 🙂 .

2013 was an ever superer duper busy year for us. Even busier than 2012, which I remember as being busier than 2011 and so on. Can you sense that a trend has been established? I still managed to meet my goal of reading 100 books a year but just.

Total books finished: 104
Total pages read 19,267
Average length of a book: 185 pages
Best month: December (14 books)
Slowest months: Jan-Feb (5 books each)

I compared my reading to the New York Times bestseller list again this year. In 2013 I advanced two books, and have read 162 of 10,618 New York Times bestsellers. You can check out the list on LibraryThing.

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