Wednesday, July 21, 2010

319: The Old Testament, Again

Acts 7-8
"Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. 'Leave your country and your people,' God said, 'and go to the land I will show you.' " - Acts 7:2-3

Stephen is taken before the Sanhedrin and they ask him if the charges against him are true. The charges were, if you'll remember from yesterday, that he blasphemed against God and Moses. Stephen decides to give the longest, and most completely irrelevant answer of all time.

Stephen gives the Sanhedrin an almost complete synopsis of the Old Testament. He starts with Abraham and goes to the story of Solomon. The only thing worth mentioning is something Stephen says toward the end of his rant:
However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men.
In fact, he does:
Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.
This is just a random example from Exodus (25:8-9), God is represented as living in the tabernacle many times in the Old Testament.

Factual errors or not, I don't see how any of this answers the question of whether he blasphemed against God or Moses. Just because he's a scholar of Old Testament history doesn't make him somehow incapable of blaspheming. The Sanhedrin seems to agree, as they immediately drag him outside and stone him. Stephen prays that they will be forgiven for their sin, and falls asleep.

On this same day, the Christian church in Jerusalem is disbanded. All but the twelve are scattered throughout the land. One of the main perpetrators of this split up is Saul. Saul, the bible says, goes from door to door dragging Christians away and tossing them in jail.

Some of the church that is scattered in Samaria comes across a man named Simon. This Simon can perform magic, and many of the Samarians say that he has divine power. I guess some people can perform magic without the assistance of God.

When Peter and John come for a visit, they start laying their hands on people, giving them the Holy Spirit. Why is this necessary? I thought the Holy Spirit was going to be given to us by God, not through any of the disciples. Simon sees this, and offers Peter money if he will give him this power. Peter says that Simon will have no part with this ministry because he tried to buy God. I thought God liked to be bought. The Old Testament is filled with people giving their earthly possessions in sacrifice to God.

The chapter ends with one of the disciples converting a eunuch. The eunuch is at the side of the road reading Isaiah, and Philip convinces him that Isaiah is full of clear prophecy about Jesus.

Speaking of shoddy biblical prophecy:
Many people have heard about a book called the Bible, some have read it, others have studied it as an old dusty history book, and others have seen the marvelous reality of its power and knowledge tell us things hundreds and thousands of years before they ever happen.
I've haven't yet seen a thoroughly convincing biblical prophecy. But maybe I just passed something up, let's see what he has to say:
Around 6,000 years ago, Genesis tells us that Eve’s seed will crush Satan’s head. This tells us that a virgin without a man’s seed will give birth to the Son of God to destroy Satan’s power.
Genesis does say that Eve's offspring will crush the head of a serpent (not explicitly said to be Satan). But it's quite a momentous leap to say that this implies that a virgin will give birth to the son of God to destroy Satan. This isn't his last momentous leap:
One of King David’s psalms is called the Lord’s passion, describing right down to the last detail of His crucifixion, what He was feeling and how He was watching the soldiers cast lots for His robe, 1,076 years before the Romans at the request of the religious Jewish leaders crucified Him. This is psalm 22 if you care to read it.
Right down to the last detail, that's quite a claim. It turns out that Psalm 22 is one of those "woe is David" Psalms. In the Psalm, David says "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and David has his clothes divided by lots. Not even David phrases this as a prophecy. Are we to take what is clearly a coincidence (at best) and turn it into a prophecy, against the writer's will? I guess if I get mugged, and write a story about it, I'm really writing a prophecy that someday one of my great great great great grandchildren will be mugged.
I have had many people try to tell me that the men who wrote the Bible just made circumstances match up with what happened and pre-dated the event. Sorry! The ancient manuscripts found in Bedouin caves are within one-thousandth of total accuracy with our present Bible, translated by King James’ People.
I don't know about any of that, but it's clear that Jesus was intentionally fulfilling prophecies. Many times the bible says that Jesus does things "that they may fulfill the prophecy". An easy example of this is Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey (and/or colt). Jesus went out of his way to grab a donkey to fulfill the prophecy. I believe the name for that is "self-fulfilling prophecy".

At this point, this writer must feel that he has his audience reeled in. Because he decides it's a good time to go to crazyland:
What really blows my mind is our July Fourth celebration, declaring our Independence from Great Britain, found in Daniel Chapter 7 verse 4. July Fourth, 7-4, Daniel 7:4, just a coincidence, or does God have a sense of humor? The Bible didn’t have any chapters or numbered scripture verses until the printing press came into existence in the middle of the 14th century, about 226 years before we were even thinking of becoming a Nation. Daniel even tells us our emblem will be an Eagle and will become a man (Uncle Sam) to represent our Nation! How accurate is that?
Oh, my mind is blown alright. Let's look at Daniel 7:4:
The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it.
To put this in context, this is one of Daniel's dreams. In this one there are four great beasts "America" is the first one). In the dream he ends up talking to one of the horns of one of the beasts.

The writer mentions that verses were not included until after the bible was written. I'm not sure if this is supposed to help his "July fourth" case or not. I guess God not only added the verses by hand, but also oversaw the universal adoption of the Gregorian calendar and made Uncle Sam an American symbol circa 1812. All for one, not very convincing, mention of America in the strange dream of someone thousands of years ago.

Let's review. The United States is in the bible. It's personified by a winged monster in the form of a lion. This lion has it's eagle wings ripped off (thus the eagle became our national symbol?), and stands up like a man (Uncle Sam?). Wait, does this mean Uncle Sam is secretly a lion?

I think people are getting crazier and crazier every day.


  1. Acts 7

    Acts 7:1. It is not clear what the charges are. That Stephen blasphemed Moses and God? That he said that Jesus had said that he would tear down "this place" (the temple) and change the law of Moses? Would the latter 2 be considered an example of the former 2? At least we know from John that Jesus did say something about tearing down the temple and building a new one in 3 days. And he is often portrayed as relaxing dietary and Sabbath restrictions, so perhaps the testimony of the "false witnesses" was valid.

    Acts 7:2-53. Stephen's long and rambling defense, however, doesn't touch directly upon any of the accusations. What he seems to be asserting is that (1) God doesn't dwell in the temple (which may have been considered blasphemous), (2) the Jews/Sanhedrin resist the Holy Spirit (which they probably wouldn't care about, since this is a Xian concept), (3) the Jews' ancestors killed prophets (which, whether it was true of not, would not matter), (4) the Jews/Sanhedrin killed Jesus, which could be considered perjury, but isn't blasphemy, (5) Jesus was the "Righteous One," which is not blasphemous if by that Stephen means the Messiah, and (6) the Jews do not obey the Law, which they would dispute, but is not against the law to claim. So while he doesn't help his case in v. 51-53, he doesn't seem to be saying anything that is blasphemous there. Claiming that God doesn't live in the temple may be what convicted him. Then again, he hasn't disputed any of the witnesses, so probably he was found guilty based on their testimony.

    But we don't actually get a pronouncement of guilt. Instead the Sanhedrin is portrayed as acting like a lynch mob, killing Stephen even before the verdict. It's ironic that even Jesus himself didn't get them riled up like this, though Jesus was charged with similar offenses.

    Acts 7:2,26. In the Greek, once again we have somebody begin a speech with "Men,...," in this case it's "Men, brothers and fathers...." Even Moses does this in verse 7:26. So far that's Peter, Stephen, Gamaliel, Moses, and the 2 angels all speaking this way. And they won't be the last ones either.

    Acts 5:55-56. This was probably originally taken from a post-resurrection appearance description or Parousia prediction. It is almost identical to what Jesus says in Mark 14:62. Note that in this context it is just a vision, showing that one could interpret Mark 14:62 in a way that would not imply that Jesus predicted that the world was going to end in the lifetime of the members of the Sanhedrin.

  2. Are we to take what is clearly a coincidence (at best) and turn it into a prophecy

    By "at best" I assume that you mean that a very good alternative answer might be that Psalm 22 was used by the writer of Mark as the template for the passion. Because that's actually something that is argued among scholars - that the passion as described in Mark isn't an eyewitness account but rather a construction built using Psalm 22 as its base.

  3. Acts 8
    Acts 8:1. Why would only the apostles have been spared persecution? If anything it would be the opposite - the leaders would be the first to be locked up. Also, as we'll see later, not all the Xians were driven out of Jerusalem, either. Some scholars have speculated that is was only Hellenists, such as Stephen, who were expelled.

    Acts 8:2. According to Jewish regulations, lamentation over an executed man is not permitted (cf. the Talmud, Sanhedrin 6.6).

    Acts 8:3. Saul overnight has gone from being a "young man" to the lead prosecutor.

    Acts 8:4-5. Is this Philip, one of the Twelve, or Philip, one of the Seven? It appears to be one of the Seven, since the apostles were not scattered, Philip (of the Seven) was a Hellenist, and as we'll see in v. 16, he cannot impart the Holy Spirit like a true apostle.

    Note that here Philip converts the Samaritans, whereas in the Gospel of John (4:39-42), Jesus himself did that.

    Acts 8:9. Luke treats the "nation" of Samaria as if it consisted only of the city with the same name.

  4. This whole July Forth argument is even less impressive if you look at the actual history of the events this guy claims the verse describes. The vote regarding American independance from Britain took place on July 1st. It did take them a few more days to clarify the wording on the declaration but technically speaking the country was independant from Britain on the 1st July, not the 4th. On top of this while the declaration was ratified on the 4th it was not signed on this day and it actually took a further month for the signatures to be put in place, probably on August 2nd.

    So maybe we should look at what Daniel (and why Daniel exactly?) 7:1 and 8:2 have to say:

    Daniel 7:1 (New International Version)

    Daniel 7
    Daniel's Dream of Four Beasts
    1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.

    Daniel 8:2 (New International Version)
    2 In my vision I saw myself in the citadel of Susa in the province of Elam; in the vision I was beside the Ulai Canal.

    Ah, well clearly that makes a lot more sense. Daniel is obviously talking about America in these verses. How anyone could think otherwise is beyond me.

  5. The vote took place on July 2nd, not the 1st.

    Dan 7:2: 'Daniel said: "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea." '

    But this demonstrates even more the hand of God at work in the creation of the US: Even though independence was declared on July 2nd, God changed everyone's hearts to regard July 4th as the Independence Day so that the prophecy would be fulfilled!

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  7. "The vote took place on July 2nd, not the 1st"

    Apparently there were two votes but you are completely correct that the important one took place on July 2nd. Thanks for the correction.

    Now if only God could make it so that Dan 7:4 actually made some sort of sense as a prophecy for the formation of America everything would be groovy.



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