Sunday, August 22, 2010

351: Titus/Philemon

Titus 1-3
"Even one of their own prophets has said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith" - Titus 1:12-13

This book is a letter to Titus from Paul, telling him some commands to give to the Cretans. Unfortunately Paul doesn't have a single new thing to say.

The first chapter starts with Paul repeating the qualities of a good leader. Namely: having one wife (implying that other people don't have to have only one wife), having obedient children, not quick-tempered, etc.

The most interesting part of this book is what Paul has to say about some of the Cretans. This group of Cretans still says that their members have to be circumcised. Paul, to refute this, says that one of their own (Cretan) prophets says "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons". So a Cretan prophet says that "Cretans are always liars". Which must mean this prophet is lying. Therefore all Cretans tell the truth? This is commonly called the "Epimenides paradox".

Chapter 2 is more of Paul's theory about whom should be subservient to whom. As he's said before, women should be subservient to men, and slaves should be subservient to their masters.

The last chapter is about being good servants to the rulers. Paul also tells us to "slander no one" and to be "peaceable and considerate". Paul seems to have forgotten he just got finished slandering the Cretans, calling them lazy gluttons. Finally, Paul says that we should warn someone who is divisive (someone who argues about Old Testament laws and genealogies) three times to stop being divisive. But after the third time we should have nothing more to do with them. I guess after three times, Jesus is ok with letting the person suffer eternal hellfire.

Philemon 1
"Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love." - Philemon 1:8-9

The book of Philemon (all one chapter of it) is a letter from Paul, asking that Philemon welcome his slave (Onesimus) back to him. The first thing he says is that he could have commanded Philemon, in the name of Jesus, to take the slave back. But he's decided not to.

This slave had apparently run away and ended up with Paul. Paul then befriended and converted him. He now asks Philemon to accept Onesimus as a "brother" and not, say, kill him. The question I have is, why does Paul think it's necessary to send the slave back at all?

Now that he is sending the slave back, why wouldn't he (as he said he was able to) "command" Philemon to peaceably take the slave back? Does Paul care at all for the safety of his "very heart" (how he refers to the Onesimus). Who's to say that Philemon won't just say "no", and either put Onesimus into hard labor, or kill him. Paul says that he will pay back whatever debts Onesimus owes to his owner, hopefully that will be enough.

We never end up hearing the fate of Onesimus.

A Yale professor has decided that we should all study the bible:
Yale professor David Gelernter tells Big Think that America should acknowledge its identity as a Judeo-Christian society and mandate teaching of the Bible in our public schools.

America is a pluralistic society, but the “humane and liberating power of the American idea” which allows for such diversity is a direct result of the Judeo-Christian tradition upon which our nation was founded, says Gelernter. “Judeo-Christian thinking and teaching has been the most progressive, spiritually-liberating and humane phenomenon in human history.” Plus the Bible is the most influential book in history, he says. “How can we afford to let our children grow up ignorant of it?”
Of course, Judeo-Christian principles can be used to squash diversity as well. Indeed if we followed Christian principles there would be no women in the workforce, and we would still own slaves. Not to even mention diversity in sexual orientation.

My big question here is what does David Gelernter think is so important here? At least the public school I went to had no mention of the bible. I don't feel as if I've missed much, or that learning about this particular superstition has made me a more productive member of society. I don't think it's the responsibility of public schools to make people feel "spiritually liberated".
Americans, in particular, should understand the Bible’s unique role in the founding of our nation, which Gelernter calls “the most important political advance in human history.” Not only did America reintroduce the modern world to democracy (guaranteeing freedom of speech, press, and religion)—it also introduced the idea of a national government with no national church. Paradoxically, this freedom of religion and absence of a national church were made possible because of our founders’ progressive Judeo-Christian beliefs, "especially the 'Hebraid Christianity' of the Puritans and of many 17th and 18th-century Anglicans or Episcopalians," he says.
I seem to have missed the great revelation of Representative Democracy in the bible. If anything the bible seems to condone theocracy. In fact, Paul seems to think that rulers are "appointed by God" in Romans. How can a ruler be appointed by God if they are elected by the people? Unless God influences people's votes, which seems like a free will issue.
America is and always has been a ”biblical republic,” says Gelernter. He concedes that America and Christianity have failed at times to live up to their high ideals.
A biblical republic? I'm not even sure what that means. The Treaty of Tripoli (ratified by Congress and signed by John Adams a mere 8 years after the founding of the United States), clears up any arguments about the founding of the United States for me:
[Article 11] As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
The United States is not a Christian nation. And I see no overall redeeming value that would tell me mandated bible study is necessary in public schools.

(via Big Think)


  1. Titus is the last of the 3 Pastoral letters written in the 2nd c. by someone other than Paul. In fact, most scholars feel that all 3 Pastorals were written by the same person. (And some have even argued that Luke wrote them.)

  2. Bryan,
    The negation of "Cretans are always liars" is not "All Cretans tell the truth," but rather, "Some Cretans do not lie at least some of the time."



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