Archive for the ‘Judgment and Mercy’ Tag

“For He Must Reign.”   Leave a comment

Above:  The Last Judgment

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XIV

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Revelation 20:1-15

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TEXTUAL ANALYSIS

In Revelation, 1000 symbolizes a large, uncountable quantity.

Interpretations of the millennium vary.

  1. Premillennialism flourishes during unsettled, difficult times, such as 1914f.
  2. Postmillennialism is more popular during good, relatively peaceful times.  My great-grandfather, George Washington Barrett (1873-1956), was a minister in the old Methodist Episcopal Church, South (extant 1845-1939), then Methodist Church (extant 1939-1968).  He came of age during La Belle Epoque, which World War I terminated.  My great-grandfather was a Postmillennialist.
  3. Amillennialism interprets the millennium allegorically, understanding “1000” to be symbolic in Revelation 20.
  4. John Nelson Darby’s Dispensationalism, one of the pillars of C. I. Scofield’s study Bible, the “manual of fundamentalism,” is rank heresy, as is fundamentalism.  The rapture is absent from historic Christianity.  The rapture also entails two Second Comings of Jesus.  Would not the second Second Coming be the Third Coming?

I am an Amillennialist.  The only number in Revelation I take literally in Revelation occurs in the first three chapters; I count messages to seven (more than six and fewer than eight) congregations.  After chapter 3, all numbers are symbolic, and seven indicates perfection.   Anyhow, Amillennialism holds that the present time is the “Millennium.”  One may notice that the “Millennium” has been in progress for longer than 1000 years.

In Revelation 20, God, having temporarily subdued evil, finally vanquishes it.  In the meantime, the martyrs reign.

Revelation 20 refers to the resurrection of the dead, a doctrine unambiguously present in Judaism since at least the first century B.C.E. (Daniel 12).  This doctrine, imported from Zoroastrianism, exists in other ancient Jewish and Christian texts, both canonical and otherwise.  Examples include:

  1. 1 Corinthians 15:50;
  2. 2 Baruch 49-51;
  3. 1 Enoch 5:1; 61:5; 62:15-16; and
  4. 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 7:32.

Revelation 20 is both similar to and different from certain Pseudepigraphal texts.  The Messiah, sitting on the throne, judges in 1 Enoch 45:3; 69:27-29; and 2 Baruch 72:2-6.  Yet God sits on the throne and judges in Revelation 20:13.

SPIRITUAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY

I have always been religiously calm.  The fires of revivalism have never appealed to me.  No, I have immersed myself in scripture, ecclesiastical tradition, proper liturgy, and intellectualism.  The Presbyterian motto,

decently and in order,

is “my song,” so to speak.  (Yet I have defined “order” to include The Book of Common Prayer.)  My dominant spiritual path has been that of intellectual discipleship–Thomism.  I have always been “cool,” not “hot,” in particular connotations of these words.  I have frequently been an outlier, relative to religious subcultures around me.

I am a product of my personality and milieu.  My experiences shape me, but do does a path that fits me naturally.  I hope you, O reader, interpret what follows in the manner in which I intend it:

I know too much to hold certain beliefs.  Also, certain experiences turn me off from some doctrines.

Regarding details of divine judgment and mercy, as well as the divine conquest of evil (the sooner the better, I say), I assert that these reside entirely within the purview of God.  I am content to leave them there.

I stand within Western Christianity.  I also critique my tradition.  One of the characteristics of Western Christianity that frustrates me is the tendency to explain too much.  I prefer the Eastern Christian practice of leaving mysteries mysterious.  God is in charge.  I can relax about many matters, given this.  God knows x, y, and z; that much suffices.  God has done a, b, and c.  So be it.  Why should I want to explain how God did it?

As I age, this intellectual is turning into something of a mystic.  Life is replete with surprises.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 19, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF NORTH AMERICA, 1642-1649

THE FEAST OF CLAUDIA FRANCES IBOTSON HERNAMAN, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JERZY POPIELUSZKO, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1984

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAUL OF THE CROSS, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF DISCALED CLERKS OF THE MOST HOLY CROSS AND PASSION

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The Woman, the Red Dragon, and the Two Beasts   Leave a comment

Above:  The Death of the Dragon, by Evelyn de Morgan

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XII

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Revelation 12:1-15:8

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THE SHADOW OF KING ANTIOCHUS IV EPIPHANES

Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164/163 B.C.E.) was notorious.  He persecuted Jews and became the chief boogeyman of First, Second, and Fourth Maccabees.  The Daniel apocalypse (chapters 7-12), composed in the first century B.C.E., referred to him.  Revelation added more references to le roi terrible.  For example, the three and a half years (forty-two months) before the fall of “Babylon” (Rome) called back to the time King Antiochus IV Epiphanes desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem and persecuted Jews.

Revelation 12 and 13 unfold during those symbolic forty-two months.  The vivid accounts, replete with symbolism drawn from regional mythology, the Hebrew Bible, 2 Esdras/4 Ezra, 1 and 2 Enoch, and 2 Baruch, among other sources.  For example, the following sources are germane to Revelation 12-15:

  1. 1 Enoch 40:7; 54:6
  2. 2 Enoch 7; 18; 29:5
  3. The Ascension of Isaiah 7:9; 10:29
  4. 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 6:49-42; 12:22-25
  5. The Sybilline Oracles 4:119-127, 137-139; and
  6. 2 Baruch 29:4.

THE EVOLVING THEOLOGY OF SATAN IN JUDAISM

Revelation 12:7-9 reflects a relatively late development in the theology of Satan.  Careful study of the evolution of Jewish and Christian theology reveals that, until the Persian period, “the Satan”–“the Adversary”–worked for God, usually as a loyalty tester.  Satan as a free agent is an idea imported from Zoroastrianism, in which Ahriman is the chief evil force, and the opposite number of Ahura-Mazda.  One may conclude that Jewish and Christian theology finally arrived at the correct theology of Satan.  Regardless of what one decides regarding this theological matter, the historical record remains objectively accurate and not subject to dispute.

HIGH TREASON

If the Roman censors had understood Revelation, they would have correctly identified chapters 12-15 as treasonous.  The woman (12:1-6), resembling the goddess Isis, is the Church.  The great, red dragon, with dominion in the known world, is Satan.  The dragon pursues the woman, but she survives.  The Archangel Michael defeats the dragon in Heaven and casts him down to the Earth.  That is bad news for the Earth.  Horns represented power.  Ten horns represented complete power.  So, in Revelation 13, the beast rising out of the sea had complete power.  The horns were Emperors of Rome.

Can you say “treason,” O reader?

One emperor–Nero (d. 68)–received special attention in 13:3.  He had supposedly not died–not really.  He would supposedly return to life and lead an army out of Parthia and ravage the Roman Empire.  Nero was the original figure of the Antichrist.

Revelation 13 labels the Roman Empire a force of evil.  When civil authority becomes an expression of evil, the only proper Christian response, in Revelation, is to disobey it and to obey God.

666

The number “666” is symbolic.  Seven is the number of perfection.  Six, therefore, is less than perfect; it represents evil.  “666” represents ultimate evil.  “666” is, as Donald Richardson said:

godless political power allied with godless religion.

–Quoted in Ernest Lee Stoffel, The Dragon Bound:  The Revelation Speaks to Our Time (1981), 75

Stoffel offered:

There is also a warning here for Christians and for any who would speak in the name of God.  Any church or religion that allows itself to overlook injustice may have the number of the beast.  This speaks to me as an individual Christian.  In order to prosper I might be tempted to condone or overlook injustice, and so be wearing the “number” myself.

–76

We read in Revelation 14 that all who followed God in Christ will find redemption and that all who worshiped the Roman Empire and its value system will find damnation.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.  Those damnable values include exploitation and militarism.  These have no place in the Kingdom of God.

Revelation 15 includes praise of God.  The chapter concludes by setting up the next few chapters with seven bowls of judgment.

What are our contemporary Roman Empires?  To what extend to we buy into their erroneous value systems?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 17, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 24:  THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF CHARLES GOUNOD, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF BIRGITTE KATERINE BOYE, DANISH LUTHERAN POET, PLAYWRIGHT, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN BOWRING, ENGLISH UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND PHILANTHROPIST

THE FEAST OF RICHARD MCSORLEY, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, PROFESSOR, AND PEACE ACTIVIST

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The Opening of the Seven Seals   Leave a comment

Above:  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART X

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Revelation 6:1-7:17

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Without getting lost in the tall weeds of symbolism and numerology, one can consult books that explain the historical background and theological significance of Revelation 6:1-7:17.

THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE

We begin with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  They are, in order:

  1. Jesus, who rides alone, in opposition to the other three;
  2. War,
  3. Famine, and
  4. Death.

The progression of famine and death makes sense.  War is, after all, one of the leading causes of famine.

Emperor Domitian issued an unpopular edict in 92 C.E.  He forbade the laying of new vineyards in Asia Minor and ordered the conversion of half of the vineyards into agricultural land.  The backlash forced Domitian to rescind this edict.  This incident inspired 6:6:

But do not harm the oil and the wine!

In context, the wage in 6:6 was a starvation wage–the price of wheat was sixteen times what it should have been, and the cost of barley was exorbitant, too.  The level of inflation was consistent with wartime scarcity.  Greed frustrated that artificial scarcity and accompanying famine.

Sadly, war, famine, and death have remained ubiquitous since antiquity.  Human nature has not changed.

THE MARTYRS IN HEAVEN

The question of the martyrs in Heaven (6:9-11) is understandable.  Even in Heaven, they are impatient and not entirely happy.  These are the ones whose bodies became sacrifices on the Earth and whose souls became sacrifices in Heaven.  This scene is similar to some scenes in Pseudepigraphal literature.  The prayers of the persecuted righteous, seeking revenge and justice, ascend to Heaven in 1 Enoch 47:1-2; 99:3; and 104:3.  God will answer these prayers in the affirmative, we read there.

What do you intend to do, you sinners,

whither will you flee on that day of judgment,

when you hear the sound of the prayer of the righteous ones?

–1 Enoch 97:3, translated by E. Isaac

2 Baruch 21:19-25 echoes that theme.  That passage begins:

How long will corruption remain, and until when will the time of mortals be happy, and until when will those who pass away be polluted by the great wickedness in this world?

–21:19, translated by A. F. J. Klijn

That is a fair question.

That passage concludes:

And now, show your glory soon and do not postpone that which was promised by you.

–2:25

Revelation 6:9-11 inspired part of a great hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” by Samuel John Stone (1839-1900):

…yet saints their watch are keeping,

their cry goes up, “How long?”

and soon the night of weeping 

shall be the morn of song.

In the meantime, Revelation 6:11 tells us, the martyrdoms will continue.

DIVINE JUDGMENT AND MERCY

Revelation 6:12-17, drawing on images from Hebrew prophets and the Assumption/Testament of Moses 10:4-6, presents a vivid depiction of divine wrath.  Divine deliverance of the oppressed may be catastrophic for the oppressors.  How can it be otherwise?

Part of the good news, in the Assumption/Testament of Moses, is:

Then his kingdom will appear throughout his whole creation.

Then the devil will have an end.

Yea, sorrow will be led away with him.

–10:1, translated by J. Priest

I am getting ahead of the story, though.

THE SEALING OF THE SERVANTS OF GOD

Revelation 7:1-8 borrows from Babylonian cosmology, in which the planet was a square, with an angelic watcher of one of the four winds stationed in a corner.  Daniel 7:2-3 also uses this cosmology and describes the winds as destructive agents of God.  This understanding also informs the Syriac Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Pseudo-John (chapter 5), and the Questions of Bartholomew (4:31-34).

The sealing (for the preservation) of the servants of God (Revelation 7:3) is similar to a scene in 2 Baruch 6:4-8:1.  The sealed do not receive protection from earthly harm and martyrdom.  They do go to God after they die, though.  The number 144,000 is a fine example of numerology.  One may recall that there were 12 tribes of Israel and that 1000 indicated a large, uncountable quantity.  In context, the meaning is that a vast, uncountable throng of Christians from every people and nation must join the ranks of martyrs before the condition of Revelation 6:11 is fulfilled.

That is not encouraging news, is it?  Yet the news that these martyrs are in Heaven does encourage.

Forces of evil have the power to kill bodies.  Then they have corpses.  These forces can do nothing more to harm these martyrs.

The Gospel of John 16:33b depicts Jesus as telling his apostles:

In the world you will have trouble,

but be brave:

I have conquered the world.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Those words occur in the context of the night Jesus was about to become a prisoner.

Let that sink in, O reader.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA OF AVILA, SPANISH ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN, MYSTIC, AND REFORMER

THE FEAST OF GABRIEL RICHARD, FRENCH-AMERICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST IN DETROIT, MICHIGAN

THE FEAST OF OBADIAH HOLMES, ENGLISH BAPTIST MNISTER AND CHAMPION OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN NEW ENGLAND

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The Throne, the Sealed Book, and the Lamb   Leave a comment

Above:  The Adoration of the Lamb

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART IX

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Revelation 4:1-5:14

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One of the advantages of apocalyptic literature, politically subversive and treasonous in the context of the days of the Roman Empire, was that Roman imperial censors could not understand it.  How would a censor have interpreted the beginning of Revelation 4, for example?  He may have given up quickly, in frustration.

Without getting lost in the symbolism and numerology, one can grasp that this is a scene of divine judgment.  All created things, as well as all people of faith in the Old and New Testaments, are near yet separated from the throne of God.  Mercy tempers divine judgment.  The audience praises God.

Holy, holy, holy is God the sovereign Lord of all, who was, and is, and is to come!

–Revelation 4:8b, The Revised English Bible (1989)

God was worthy to receive glory, honor, and power in 4:11.  Jesus–the lamb–was worthy to receive the scroll and break its seals in 5:9-10.

Presbyterian minister Ernest Lee Stoffel offered this analysis:

What is this really saying?  I believe it is saying that the suffering love of God is the key that will help us live with our suffering and with ourselves.  There is something in the universe that has not been defeated by pain and evil and sin.  That something is the crucified love of the Creator….

Revelation is saying that faith does have some place to go.  And God knows we need some place to go–some live option of faith….

And I think it must also be said that even those Christians of the first century did not see the heavens opened.  But they accepted this option of faith and died with it.  They believed that the love of God, not Rome, would have the victory.  The other option is to live without meaning or purpose, it seems to me.  In the meantime, it means that I may not be delivered from it, but I can be delivered through, by the suffering of him who died, but is “alive for evermore” (1:18).  

The Dragon Bound:  The Revelation Speaks to Our Time (1981), 43-45

One may lose oneself in sacred music (such as Worthy is the Lamb) based on parts of these chapters.  One should do so.  Doing so may prove easier than really believing that the love of God, not (insert the name of an oppressive earthly power here) will have the victory.  I consider myself fairly devout, and I harbor doubts sometimes.  How could I not?

Nevertheless, in the words of Soorp Soorp, from the liturgy of the Armenian Apostolic Church:

Holy, Lord of hosts.

Heaven and Earth are full of Thy glory.

Blessing in the highest.

Blessed art Thou that didst come and art to come in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest.

Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CALLIXTUS I, ANTERUS, AND PONTIAN, BISHOPS OF ROME; AND SAINT HIPPOLYTUS, ANTIPOPE

THE FEAST OF JEAN-BAPTISTE LAMY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROMAN LYSKO, UKRAINIAN GREEK CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1949

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL ISAAC JOSEPH SCHERESCHEWSKY, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF SHANGHAI, AND BIBLICAL TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF THOMAS HANSEN KINGO, DANISH LUTHERAN BISHOP, HYMN WRITER, AND “POET OF EASTERTIDE”

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Introduction to the Apocalypse of John   Leave a comment

Above:  Revelation Title (French)

Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor from a copy of the Louis Segond revised translation (1910) of the Bible

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READING REVELATION, PART I

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Revelation 1:1-20

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Rev[elation] is widely popular for the wrong reasons, for a great number of people read it as a guide to how the world will end, assuming that the author was given by Christ detailed knowledge of the future he communicated in coded symbols.

Father Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997), 773

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…Revelation does not speak about our time, it does speak to it.

–M. Eugene Boring, Revelation (1989), 62

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THE APOCALYPTIC GENRE

Reading a book within its genre matters.

Consider the apocalypse in Daniel 7-12, for example, O reader.  The author wrote in the first century B.C.E.  He mostly wrote history as prophecy.  But when the author started writing about the future (relative to him), he got details wrong.  This was par for the course, given the genre.

Apocalyptic literature, written in images and symbols, is politically subversive of tyranny.  The genre offers hope during difficult times, encourages the faithful to remain faithful, and contrasts the world order with the divine order.  Apocalyptic literature uses the future as away to address the present.

I lay my theological cards on the table at the beginning of this project, O reader.

  1. I am a left-of-center Episcopalian.
  2. I am a student of history.
  3. I am an intellectual.
  4. I know the historical record of failed predictions of Christ’s Second Coming and failed identifications of the Antichrist.
  5. I tell you, O reader, that the rapture is a fiction from the mind of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882).
  6. I know that Darby’s Dispensationalism, popularized further in C. I. Scofield‘s study Bible, the “manual of fundamentalism,” remains a widespread interpretive system.
  7. I affirm that Christ will eventually return, but only once.  The rapture requires two Second Comings.
  8. I have no interest in prophecy conferences, but care deeply about loving like Jesus daily.

Apocalyptic literature has much to say about our present.  This content remains politically subversive.  That is fine.  I approve of subverting injustice, tyranny, slavery, economic exploitation, and needless violence.  They are antithetical to the Kingdom of God.

Apocalyptic literature is also optimistic.  In the darkness, the genre proclaims hope that God and good will triumph in the end.  Apocalyptic literature, therefore, stiffens the spines of discouraged, faithful people.  Good news of the deliverance of oppressed people doubles as judgment of the oppressors.  The genre invites us to ask ourselves:

Whose side am I on?

In summary, apocalyptic literature immediately moves past preaching and gets to meddling.

THE APOCALYPSE OF JOHN AND RESISTANCE TO TYRANNY

Certain passages of the Old and New Testaments, in their contexts, support submission to earthly authority.  The Apocalypse of John has none of that.  Revelation tells us that the Roman Empire was evil, antithetical to the Kingdom of God.  This is the message that made the text treasonous long ago and still inspires many people to resist tyranny.  One may read, for example, of Christian opponents of Apartheid (in South Africa) drawing inspiration from the Apocalypse of John, even as the national government prosecuted and persecuted them.  Today, in dictatorships, certain Christians are reading Revelation as they emerge in their struggles for justice.

REVELATION IN THE BIBLE AND LECTIONARIES

Revelation is a liturgical hot potato.  The major lectionaries include little of it.  The Eastern Orthodox lectionary excludes the Apocalypse of John.  The Orthodox Study Bible (2008) explains:

While seen as canonical and inspired by God, the Revelation is the only New Testament book not publicly read in the services of the Orthodox Church.  This is partly because the book was only gradually accepted as canonical in many parts of Christendom.  In addition, in the second and third centuries Revelation was widely twisted and sensationally misinterpreted, and the erroneous teachings brought troublesome confusion to Christians–a trend that continues to this day.

Genesis and Revelation constitute fitting bookends of the Christian Bible.  Genesis opens with mythology–the creation of an earthly paradise, followed by the end of that paradise–to be precise (Genesis 1-3).  Revelation concludes with a vision of God, having finally defeated evil once and for all, restoring that earthly paradise and establishing the fully-realized Kingdom of God (Revelation 21-22).

THE ORIGIN OF THE APOCALYPSE OF JOHN

Revelation came from 92 to 96 C.E., at the end of the reign of the Emperor Domitian.  Emperor-worship and the worship of the goddess Roma (Rome personified) were parts of conventional Roman patriotism and civic life.  The Christian refusal to participate in these cults made Christians seem unpatriotic at best and treasonous at worst.  Persecution was generally sporadic and regional at the time, but it was a constant threat.  “John of Patmos” (whoever he was) wrote to seven churches in commercial cities in western Asia Minor.

The elaborate symbolism–including numerology–in apocalyptic literature prevented the uninitiated–in this case, Roman censors–from understanding the texts.

SYMBOLISM AND MEANING IN REVELATION 1

The only instance in which to interpret any number in the Apocalypse of John literally pertains to the seven churches in western Asia Minor.

Revelation 1 plunges us into the symbolic aspect of apocalyptic literature immediately.  Stars (at the end of the chapter) represent angels and lamp-stands represent churches.  Earlier in the chapter, Jesus has white hair, indicating holiness.  His eyes, like a burning flame, pierce to the heart of all things.  Christ’s “feet like burnished bronze” are stable and steadfast.  His voice, “like the sound of the ocean,” is the convergence of the truth of God in the Hebrew Bible.  Jesus holds the Church–then a vulnerable group of house congregations–in his hand.  From Christ’s mouth emerges a two-edged sword (speech).  His face shines like the sun.  Christ is victorious, resurrected, ascended, and priestly.

The Roman Empire may have seemed to have had all the power and glory.  It did not.  The Roman Empire had executed Jesus.  Yet he had risen; his tomb was empty.  The power of the Roman Empire was nothing compared to the power of God in Christ.

That was treasonous, for, according to Roman coinage, the emperor was the “Son of God.”

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 6, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE EDWARD LYNCH COTTON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF CALCUTTA

THE FEAST OF HEINRICH ALBERT, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND POET

THE FEAST OF HERBERT G. MAY, U.S. BIBLICAL SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN ERNEST BODE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM TYNDALE, ENGLISH REFORMER, BIBLE TRANSLATOR, AND MARTYR, 1536; AND MILES COVERDALE, ENGLISH REFORMER, BIBLE TRANSLATOR, AND BISHOP OF EXETER

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False Teachers, Part III   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART XII

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Jude

2 Peter 2:1-22

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The second chapter of Second Peter expands on the Epistle of Jude.  Almost all of the points in Jude exist in 2 Peter 2.

One may recognize the thematic relationship of 2 Peter 1 to Jude and 2 Peter 2.  False teachers, evil desires, and spiritually undisciplined lives provide the connective tissue.

We also read another repetition of the Biblical motif that divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  In other words, we will reap what we have sown.  Grace is free, not cheap; it mandates a faithful response.  Yes, God imposes mandates.  Freedom is a gift to use properly, not to abuse and misuse.

References to the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha abound in Jude and 2 Peter 2.  I choose to explain the references:

  1. Jude 5 refers to Numbers 14 and 26:64-65.  Apostasy is possible, and carries with it the loss of salvation.
  2. Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4 refer to Genesis 6:1-4.  An elaborate version of the story of the “watchers” exists in 1 Enoch 6-19 (especially chapter 10).
  3. Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6-7 refer to Genesis 19:1-25, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The “unnatural vice” is rape, whether heterosexual or homosexual, and of a person or an angel.  Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6-7 present the scenario opposite of Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4, in which angels lusted after human women.
  4. The combination of the preceding two points indicates the grave consequences of violating God’s intended order for creation.
  5. Jude 9, drawing on Exodus 2:11-12, indicates familiarity with the Assumption/Testament of Moses, a text from the first century C.E.  Between one-third and one-half of that text is missing.  The lost portion includes the section depicting St. Michael the Archangel disputing with Satan over the body of Moses and quoting Zechariah 3:2:  “May the Lord rebuke you!”  Even angels do not rebuke Satan in Zechariah 3:2, Jude 9, and the Assumption/Testament of Moses.  The lesson in Jude 9 is that, if we mere mortals revile angels, we sin.
  6. Jude 11 refers to Cain (Genesis 4:8-16), Balaam (Numbers 16:1-25), and Korah (Numbers 31:16).  2 Peter 2:15-16 refers to Balaam and his talking donkey (Numbers 22:28-33).  Rebellion against God leads to punishment and reproof.
  7. 2 Peter 2:5 refers to Genesis 6:17.
  8. Jude 14-15 refers to 1 Enoch 1:9.

These false teachers did more than teach falsehoods; they behaved scandalously at agape meals (Jude 12, 2 Peter 2:13-14).  These false teachers doomed themselves and disrupted faith community.

I approach Jude and 2 Peter 2 from a particular background.  I grew up feeling like the resident heretic.  My heresies were asking “too many” questions, being an intellectual, accepting science and history, harboring Roman Catholic tendencies, and not being a Biblical literalist.  Some in my family regard me as a Hell-bound heretic.  I embrace the label “heretic.”  I even own a t-shirt that reads,

HERETIC.

I approach the label “false teacher” cautiously.  One ought to make accusations with great caution, and based on evidence.  False teachers abound.  I am not shy about naming them and their heresies.  These include the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, Prosperity Theology, and the excesses of Evangelicalism.  The list is long.  The standards of orthodoxy and orthopraxy are as simple and difficult as the Incarnation, crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus; the Atonement; and the Golden Rule.  Proper love–in mutuality–builds up.  It does not tear people down.  Proper orthodoxy maintains divine standards and is generous, not stingy.  It is loving, not hateful.  And it leads to humility before God and human beings.

I affirm that I am doctrinally correct about some matters and wrong regarding others.  I also affirm that I do not know when I am wrong and when I am right.  The life of Christian discipleship is about trust in God, not about certainty.  The quest for certainty, when faith–trust–in God is called for is an idolatrous and psychologically comforting effort.  Proper Christian confidence–grounded in Christ alone–says:

I may be wrong, but I act as if I am right.  I can neither prove nor disprove this article of faith, but I act as if I am right.

May you, O reader, and I trust in the faithfulness of God.  May we walk humbly with God and live with our fellow human beings in loving, respectful mutuality.  We can do all of the above only via grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 30, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HONORIUS, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF JOANNA P. MOORE, U.S. BAPTIST MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF MARY RAMABAI, PROPHETIC WITNESS AND EVANGELIST IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF RICHARD CHALLONER, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC SCHOLAR, RELIGIOUS WRITER, TRANSLATOR, CONTROVERSIALIST, PRIEST, AND TITULAR BISHOP OF DOBERUS

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The Descent into Hell   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Harrowing of Hades

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART IX

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1 Peter 3:18-4:6

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Some time ago, I attempted to engage a fundamentalist Presbyterian in serious discussion.  I should have known better; she quashed my hopes quickly.  The conversation broke down over the allegorical interpretation of scripture, extant in the works of many Church Fathers, as well as in the Pauline Epistles, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and 1 Peter 3:18-4:6.

By the way, I have a mixed attitude toward the allegorical interpretation of the Bible.  Certain examples provide me with spiritual benefits.  However, some other examples go so far as to cross the line into the ridiculous.  Nevertheless, I acknowledge the objective presence of allegorical interpretation of scripture within scripture.

My discussion partner barely wanted to acknowledge that much.  Her tone was…not calm.  I have learned the lesson I should have learned before this incident; I have resolved that the short list of topics of conversation with her includes the weather, the cuteness of baby furry animals, and little else.  Theology and the Bible are off-limits.

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In 1 Peter 3:18-4:6, the allegory of the Great Flood and Noah’s Ark serves to encourage Christians to remain within the Ark of Christ, to live properly, and to endure persecution.  That part of the passage is unambiguous.

Ambiguity and disagreement in interpretation have surrounded 3:18-19 and 4:6 for nearly 2000 years.  (I have already written a post about that topic.)  Did Jesus descend to the dead, Limbo, Hell, or Hades?  Different denominations have dealt with this story and its implications in their own ways, especially regarding wording of the Apostles’ Creed.

That point does not interest me at the moment.  No, I choose to focus on why 1 Peter 3:18-19 and 4:6 make so many Christians uncomfortable.  Assuming that 3:18-19 and 4:6 refer to the same event (I do.), these verses, read in the context of 3:18-4:6, raise at least two potentially unsetting possibilities:

  1. Damnation is potentially reversible, and
  2. Salvation is reversible, if one commits apostasy.

I have written thousands of posts in more than a decade of blogging.  I have, therefore, developed some motifs, repeated seemingly endlessly.  Some of these are:

  1. Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance,
  2. God sends nobody to Hell,
  3. People condemn themselves, and
  4. Jesus erases many of our lines and categories.

The Descent of Christ after the crucifixion and prior to the Resurrection threatens certain cherished assumptions, especially regarding divine justice.  You, O reader, may be an exception, but many people derive satisfaction from desiring that their enemies and adversaries suffer the terrible fate that apparently should befall them.  But let us be honest.  How many of us want to suffer the terrible fate that certain others may think we deserve?

Grace upsets many assumptions.  What is justice without “those people” getting theirs?

Without being a universalist, I embrace grace.  I welcome the reversal of damnation.  1 Peter 3:18-19 and 4:6 make me feel comfortable, not uncomfortable.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 27, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS DE SALES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF GENEVA; SAINT VINCENT DE PAUL, “THE APOSTLE OF CHARITY;” SAINT LOUISE DE MARILLAC, CO-FOUNDER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF CHARITY OF SAINT VINCENT DE PAUL; AND CHARLES FUGE LOWDER, FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF THE HOLY CROSS

THE FEAST OF ELIZA SCUDDER, U.S. UNITARIAN THEN EPISCOPALIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH A. SITTLER, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF MELANESIA, 1864-2003

THE FEAST OF THOMAS TRAHERNE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, POET, AND SPIRITUAL WRITER

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Waiting Together for God   2 comments

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART VI

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James 5:1-20

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The apocalyptic element held the theological imaginations and the psyches of many in the early Church.

That element continues to grasp many psyches and theological imaginations.  I confess, however, that the apocalyptic element grasps neither my psyche nor my theological imagination.  I am a detail-oriented student of the Bible and religious history.  I know too much to believe some doctrines.  I know that the end of the world, according to some canonical Hebrew prophets, was supposed to end centuries prior to the advent of Jesus.  I know that the Second Coming of Jesus, according to certain books of the New Testament, was supposed to happen nearly 2000 years ago.  I know that, according to many people over nearly 2000 years, until the recent past, the Second Coming of Christ was supposed to have have happened already.  The list of alleged Antichrists, the vast majority of them deceased by now, is long.  I leave all details of eschatology to God and place no stock in any human predictions thereof.

Nevertheless, the author of the Epistle of James believed that he lived during the End Times.  How long were the End Times supposed to last?

The function of the apocalyptic element that is of moral usefulness is the confrontation of evil and other forms of injustice.  In so doing, one confronts that which one should confront and tells the enablers there that they fell short of God’s standard.  That is part of what we read in James 5.  Divine judgment of the oppressors is inseparable from divine deliverance of the oppressed.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

In the meantime (however long that will be), members of Christian faith community must model mutuality.  The swearing mentioned in 5:12, in the context of oppression, expressed bitterness and impatience.  Yet, in the meantime, patience is essential.  People ought to pray for themselves and each other.  And members of Christian faith community ought to bring each other to repentance and restoration.

The necessity of writing this advice in James 5 indicates spiritual failings in some early congregations.

A perhaps-apocryphal story fits this post thematically.

St. John the Evangelist, elderly and frail, visited a house church.  The members, excited, gathered.  Men carried the apostle in on a chair and set him down in front of the congregation.  St. John said:

My children, love one another.

Then the apostle motioned to his helpers, who carried him out.  One member of the congregation chased after St. John and asked the equivalent of

That’s it?

St. John replied:

When you have done that, I will tell you more.

If more members of the original audience of the Epistle of James had loved one another, that text would be much shorter or would not exist.

Sadly, loving one another remains challenging for many Christians.

In 2000 or so, Dr. Donald S. Armentrout (1939-2013), a Lutheran minister, spoke at a Lay Ministries Conference in the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.  I was present.  Armentrout, at one point, said that if the Epistle of James was one’s favorite book of the Bible, one was

easily pleased.

Contrary to that typically-Lutheran evaluation, I count James as one of my favorite books of the Bible.  This epistle lives where the spiritual rubber meets the road.  Due to the failings of human nature, the Epistle of James remains relevant.  Circumstances change, but timeless principles remain fixed.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the Epistle of James.  I invite you to remain by my side as I set my course for the First Epistle of Peter.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ANNA ELLISON BUTLER ALEXANDER, AFRICAN-AMERICAN DEACONESS IN GEORGIA, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF HENRY HART MILMAN, ANGLICAN DEAN, TRANSLATOR, HISTORIAN, THEOLOGIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUVENAL OF ALASKA, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MARTYR IN ALASKA, AND FIRST ORTHODOX MARTYR IN THE AMERICAS, 1796

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER THE ALEUT, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MARTYR IN SAN FRANCISCO, 1815

THE FEAST OF SAINT SILOUAN OF MOUNT ATHOS, EASTERN ORTHODOX MONK AND POET

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The Righteous Triumphant   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Malachi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MALACHI, PART III

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Malachi 3:13-24 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Malachi 3:13-4:6 (Anglican and Protestant)

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Malachi 3:19-24 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox) = Malachi 4:1-6 (Anglican and Protestant).

The final section of the Book of Malachi speaks of the beginning of a new era–the long-anticipated, fully-realized Kingdom of God.  In this context, divine judgment and mercy remain balanced (3:18f).  Apocalyptic writings in the Bible balance divine judgment and mercy–judgment on the wicked and mercy on the faithful.

In Christian Bibles, the Book of Malachi concludes on a threat of partial destruction.  Divine action–grace–prevents the threat from being of complete destruction.  Jewish Bibles, however, reprint the penultimate verse (3:23) after 3:24.  Hence, in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985), the Book of Malachi concludes with:

Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the LORD.

In Jewish Bibles, therefore, the Book of Malachi ends on a positive note.

Christian tradition, of course, associates St. John the Baptist with Elijah.

Another point I would be remiss not to mention is that 3:22/4:4 (depending on versification) asserts the superiority of the Torah to the Hebrew prophetic tradition.

The Book of Malachi–and this project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order, with some exceptions–concludes on a note of grace, mixed with judgment.  Divine self-restraint in matters of judgment is an example of grace.  YHWH, according to the Book of Malachi, is far removed from being God of hellfire-and-damnation theology.  YHWH provides laws, practices patience, calls on people and peoples to repent, and exercises self-restraint in judgment.  YHWH condemns nobody; people and peoples condemn themselves.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the Hebrew prophetic books as long as you have done so.  I wish you shalom as I consider what my next project should be.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOME DE LAS CASAS, “APOSTLE TO THE INDIANS”

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR PENRHYN STANLEY, ANGLICAN DEAN OF WESTMINSTER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD WILLIAM LEINBACH, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, FIRST DEACONESS IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF JESSAMYN WEST, U.S. QUAKER WRITER

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Israel Forgiven and Restored   Leave a comment

Above:  Joel, the Prophet, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JOEL, PART III

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Joel 2:18-4:21 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Joel 2:18-3:21 (Anglican and Protestant)

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The divine forgiveness and restoration of Judah in the rest of the Book of Joel relies on the assumption that God has been punishing them with a swarm of locusts.  As glorious as the predicted restoration is and as much as I welcome divine mercy, I reject the underlying assumption.

The unidentified invading force in 3:1-21/4:1-21 (depending on versification) will be the recipient of divine wrath, we read.  Again, divine deliverance of the oppressed is catastrophic for the oppressors. We also read that named enemies of Judah–those perennial foes Egypt and Edom–will suffer terrible fates for “shedding the blood of the innocent” in Judah.

But Judah shall be inhabited forever,

And Jerusalem throughout the ages.

Then I will treat as innocent their blood

Which I have not treated as innocent;

And the LORD shall dwell in Zion.

–Joel 4:20-21, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Joel 3:6/4:6 (depending on versification) helps somewhat to date the book.  The verse refers to Philistines selling the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Ionians.  This is a reference to the slave trade.

The Book of Joel ends on a note of divine vengeance against foes of Judah, juxtaposed with a glorious future for Judah.  In this regard, Joel ends like Third Isaiah.

I have mixed feelings about the Book of Joel.  I do not blame or credit God for natural disasters.  Logic teaches a simple principle:

If x, then y.

Given that I reject x, I harbor questions about y.  I embrace calls to repentance, of course.  Populations and individuals always need to confess their sins and repent.  But what if x (the swarm of locusts, in this case) is not God’s army of destruction?  I also enjoy certain passages of Joel, read on Ash Wednesday and Pentecost, especially.  Yet I do not like the book, as a whole.

Thank you for joining me, O reader, for this journey through the Book of Joel.  My next (and penultimate) destination will be Second Zechariah (Zechariah 9-14).  Stay beside me, so to speak, if you choose.  You are certainly welcome.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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Posted July 16, 2021 by neatnik2009 in Joel 2, Joel 3, Joel 4

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