Category Archives: Contemporary Issues

Are the Ten Commandments for Christians?

The Mosaic Law, including the Ten Commandments, was given to the people of Israel (Exodus 20:1-17), not Gentiles. It included both moral principles and ceremonial laws and regulations. It was intended to bring awareness of sin and guilt (Romans 3:19-20; 7:7-13; 1 Timothy 1:7-11), not to be a way of earning salvation. (Hebrews 11 explains how Abraham was saved by faith long before the law was given through Moses.)

The Jews referred to the Ten Commandments as “the ten words” (Deuteronomy 4:13). They were the basis of the entire Mosaic system, and as such they contain principles that remain the foundation of Christian ethics.

Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law (Romans 5:5; 8:1-4), so that Christians are no longer under the external Law of Moses (Galatians 3:1-14; Colossians 2:8-17). The Ten Commandments contain elements of ceremonial law. Christians aren’t required to follow these. Yet, when obedient to the Holy Spirit, Christians manifest God’s love and righteousness in harmony with the Ten Commandments’ moral principles (Romans 13:8-10).1

  1. The works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit listed by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5 demonstrate clearly how impossible it would be to live a Spirit-filled life while violating the moral principles within the Ten Commandments. Back To Article
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Were Disagreements Over Christian Doctrine the Main Cause for European “Religious Wars” of the 16th and 17th Centuries?

Many people assume the separation of church and state established in the US Constitution resulted from 16th- and 17th-century “religious violence” and “religious wars” in Europe. The wars of this period included the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) and the English Civil War (1642–1651).

These wars were foundational to the development of the political institutions of the West. They were part of a vast social/cultural/political process that ultimately replaced feudalism and the “divine right of kings” with the centralized, capital-based governments that dominate the world today.

The ferocious wars of these centuries made a deep impression on the collective memory of European people. Estimates of Central European deaths in the Thirty Years’ War run from 3 to 7 million (many of these resulting from starvation and disease among the civilian population). Deaths from war, disease, and starvation during the English Civil War have been estimated at around 800,000, or 4 percent, 6 percent, and 40 percent of England, Scotland, and Ireland’s populations respectively. Because nearly all of the participants in these wars had religious loyalties and convictions, religious feelings were often exploited by rulers. But religion was not the underlying motivation.

Two well-known examples involved the establishment of Lutheranism and Anglicanism. In the 16th century, Martin Luther’s reasons for breaking with the Catholic Church were theological, but the Reformation would have been quickly crushed if it hadn’t been supported by powerful European rulers whose motivations were primarily political and economic. King Henry VIII of England separated from Rome and formed the Anglican Church for pragmatic, nonreligious reasons—largely due to the refusal of the pope to grant an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He believed the Catholic Church was interfering with the internal affairs of his kingdom. He also wanted to nationalize the vast holdings of the Catholic Church in England to consolidate his power.

In The Myth of Religious Violence (Oxford Press), William Cavanaugh refers to recent scholarship to show that the underlying causes of the “religious wars” of the 16th and 17th centuries weren’t religious. Cavanaugh includes eight pages of examples, of which the following quotation is only the first:

If there truly were a war of all sects against all, one would expect that war would have broken out soon after Europe split into Catholic and Protestant factions. However, between the time that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door at Wittenberg in 1517 and the outbreak of the first commonly cited religious war—the Schmalkaldic War of 1546–1547—almost thirty years would pass. The Catholic prosecutor of the Schmalkaldic War, Holy Roman emperor Charles V, spent much of the decade following Luther’s excommunication in 1520 at war not against Lutherans, but against the pope. As Richard Dunn points out, “Charles V’s soldiers sacked Rome, not Wittenberg, in 1527, and when the papacy belatedly sponsored a reform program, both the Habsburgs and the Valois refused to endorse much of it, rejecting especially those Trentine decrees which encroached on their sovereign authority.” The wars of the 1540s were part of the ongoing struggle between the pope and the emperor for control over Italy and over the church in German territories (The Myth of Religious Violence, 143-44).

Cavanaugh provides massive documentation showing that rather than the state being the peace-making force that eventually solved the problem of religiously motivated violence, the process of centralizing public authority in a secular state was itself the most significant cause of violence. “There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the transfer of power to the emergent state was a cause, not the solution, to the wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries” (ibid., p. 162).

These wars replaced the religion of the church with the religion of the state.

The historical evidence renders . . . the idea that the modern state saved Europe from religious violence . . . unbelievable. State building . . . was a significant cause of the violence. An important aspect of state building was the absorption of the church by the state, which exacerbated and enforced ecclesial differences and therefore contributed to warfare between Catholics and Protestants. In the process, the state did not rein in and tame religion but became itself sacralized. The transfer of power from the church to the state was accompanied by a migration of the holy from church to state (ibid., p. 176).

(The reason many still consider religion the primary cause of war and violence is discussed in (Is Religion Evil?)

 

 

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Do recent earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters indicate the endtimes?

There have been some powerful earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and other natural disasters recently, but they aren’t unique to our time. Because population density is much higher today than in past centuries, more people tend to be killed when natural disasters occur.

People of Jesus’ day were superstitious and believed that natural events contained clues about the future. When Jesus’ disciples asked him what the signs of the end of the age would be, Jesus gave them a careful response:

And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:4-13 nkjv).

Jesus may have realized that the disciples would expect the destruction ofJerusalemand the temple to occur in close conjunction with His return and the end of the age. To make it clear to them that they shouldn’t linkJerusalem’s fall with His second coming, He told them specifically not to trust false Christs. He also warned them not to think manmade catastrophes such as wars or natural catastrophes such as famines, epidemics, or earthquakes meant the end of the age had arrived. Such catastrophic events should not be viewed as “the birth pains of the Messiah,” as the Jews sometimes viewed them, but as “the beginning of the birth pains” (v.8 niv) of events that would take place throughout history. Christians should be prepared for these things and for the severe persecution that would rise against the church from time to time.

What Jesus prophesied came true—Israelwas judged andJerusalemdestroyed in the Jewish-Roman wars. Yet, as He said, the horrors of siege and battle along with the natural disasters of that period were in fact only the “beginning of the birth pains.” Thousands of catastrophic events of all types—wars, famines, plagues, and earthquakes—have occurred in the intervening centuries, some of them apocalyptic in scale.

Earthquakes:

Antioch,Syria, ad 525, 250,000 killed;

Aleppo,Syria, 1138, 230,000 killed;

Shaanxi   Province,China, 1556, 830,000 killed.

Famines:

“Great Famine” of Europe, ad 1315–17, millions died;

Indian famine of 1896–1902, millions died;

Chinese famine under Chairman Mao, 1958–61, 20-40 million died.

Pandemics:

Antonine Plague (smallpox),Roman Empire, ad 165–180, 5 million died;

Plague of Justinian, 541–542, 25 million died;

Black Death, the Middle East andEurope, 1338–1351, 100 million died.

Wars:

Thousands of wars and armed conflicts since the time of Jesus Christ have caused millions of deaths.

People who lived during these times can be excused for suspecting that they were living in the end time. However, the wisdom of Jesus’ words of caution regarding the linkage of human or natural disasters with the arrival of the end time has endured.  His declaration that we cannot know the day or hour of His return (Matthew 24:36) is as applicable to us today as it was to the apostolic church.

(See Can we know if current events are the fulfillment of prophecy? How often have people misapplied prophecy? and How serious is false speculation about prophecy?)

 

 

 

 

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Don’t the Boundaries Promised to Abraham Imply that Modern Israel is Entitled to More Land?

The boundaries of the land God promised Abraham are given in Genesis 15:18-21:

On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates—the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites” (Gen. 15:18-21 nkjv).

These boundaries included all of the land occupied from the river of Egypt on the south to the River Euphrates on the north. As Israel made preparations to enter the land, they also captured some of the area on the east of the River Jordan, and 2 1/2 tribes were given this area (Num. 34:14-15). The area just west of the River Jordan was occupied by the tribes of Benjamin, Ephraim, Issachar, and one-half of the tribe of Manasseh.

No one can make a certain identification of the “river of Egypt.” Some identify it as the River Nile. But Israel was clearly not in the Promised Land when it was in Egypt. Others think this river is a desert stream that flows during the rainy season. This would concur with Kadesh-Barnea being the southern border. It was from Kadesh-Barnea that the spies entered the land.

At the least, the area promised by God to Abraham would be all of the area west of the River Jordan from Wadi-el-Arish on the south to the Euphrates River on the north. (The area occupied by the 2 1/2 tribes east of the Jordan River was not specifically promised by God.)

Does God’s promise to Abraham entitle modern Israel to expand its territory? We need to remember that God promised to chastise a disobedient Israel by taking away its national sovereignty, place it under foreign rulers, and exile many of its people (Deut. 28:15-68). These warnings were fulfilled first under the Assyrians and Babylonians and then under Rome (ad 70 and 135). Prophecies of the spiritual restoration of Israel in the last days have not been fulfilled.

 “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. I will call for the grain and multiply it, and bring no famine upon you. And I will multiply the fruit of your trees and the increase of your fields, so that you need never again bear the reproach of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations. Not for your sake do I do this,” says the Lord God, “let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel!” (Ezek. 36:27-32 nkjv).

How does this prophecy of Ezekiel relate to modern Israel in its current state of unbelief? It states that at some future time a spiritually repentant and renewed Israel will be given security and peace in her ancestral homeland. However, we can no more assume God’s blessing on the unbelieving state of Israel today than we could have assumed God’s blessing on Israel before its destruction by Assyria, Babylonia, and Rome. God allowed the reestablishment of Israel, but He often permits things He doesn’t approve.

It would be helpful to remember that the rabbis who survived the Jewish-Roman wars of ad 70 and 135 fervently taught that a return to the land should occur only under the leadership of the Messiah himself.

Because of all of this and other reasons the Torah forbids us to end the exile and establish a state and army until the Holy One, blessed He, in His Glory and Essence will redeem us. This is forbidden even if the state is conducted according to the law of the Torah because arising from the exile itself is forbidden, and we are required to remain under the rule of the nations of the world, as is explained in the book Vayoel Moshe. If we transgress this injunction, He will bring upon us (may we be spared) terrible punishment. (“Why Orthodox Jews Are Opposed to a Zionist State,” Neturei Karta International)

This seems wise counsel, given the warnings of Deuteronomy and the disastrous past attempts of Jewish nationalism to achieve independence in the land on its own. In contrast, the atheistic leaders of the Zionist movement1 had little patience with the heavenly ideals of the religious who advocated patience in waiting for Messiah. They employed worldly means—political intrigue, economic influence, propaganda, violence, and terror—to establish and expand the modern state of Israel.

What are we to think? Christians should have a heart of compassion for Israelis and Jews, but genuine compassion involves willingness to confront injustice. We are under no obligation to help an unbelieving and unrepentant national Israel use worldly means to acquire the land promised Abraham. We should take biblical prophecy with great seriousness, realizing we aren’t called to be mere spectators of history. We shouldn’t enable Israeli discrimination, injustice, and violence towards non-Jewish citizens and neighbors any more than we should enable that of other nations towards their citizens and neighbors.

In accordance with the words of the prophets, if the state of Israel continues to pursue a path of unbelief and injustice, it will bring judgment upon itself—and its supporters.

  1. The founders of Zionism were all atheists who denied the Torah. All the Torah sages of that time opposed them and opposed Zionism, saying that Zionism would lead only to destruction. (“Why Orthodox Jews Are Opposed to a Zionist State,” Neturei Karta International) Back To Article
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Does the Bible Show Contempt for Women When it Refers to God as Father?

The Bible presents God as Father and uses masculine pronouns to refer to Him. But God isn’t limited by the sexual distinctions of His creatures. God is eternal Spirit, and should not be perceived in an anthropomorphic way. He may be conscious, personal, and masculine in some significant way, but His consciousness, personality, and masculinity so far transcend our experience of these things that we should always be on guard against thinking of Him in merely human terms.

Many people believe that since the Bible was written in an age when women were often perceived as being of less worth than men, they automatically portray God in a way demeaning to women. However, since the New Testament teaches clearly that women and men are equal in the sight of God (Galatians 3:28), this premise is questionable.

Scriptures written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit cannot be assumed to express a bias against women. It is unlikely that when the Lord Jesus instructed us to pray, “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9), He was expressing contempt or disrespect for mothers and women in general. Jesus demonstrated high regard for women (Matthew 9:22; 28:1-10; Luke 8:1-3; 10:38-42; John 4:7-29).

Is it safe to assume that inspired Scripture has no reasons for referring to God in masculine terms? And if so, why then is the church described in feminine terms in relation to God (Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 21:2; 22:17). Does this metaphor of the church (obviously including both sexes) as “wife” and “bride” also bear unnecessary “cultural baggage”?

C.S. Lewis outlined the dangers of such a perspective in his brief article “Priestesses in the Church”:

Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. . . .  Without drawing upon religion, we know from our poetical experience that image and apprehension cleave closer together than common sense is here prepared to admit; that a child who has been taught to pray to a Mother in Heaven would have a religious life radically different from that of a Christian child. And as image and apprehension are in an organic unity, so, for a Christian, are human body and human soul.

We should not think lightly of altering the figures of speech used by the prophets, apostles, and our Lord. Judging from the metaphors of Scripture, God clearly relates to us in a masculine way (a masculinity uncontaminated with human flaws), but this doesn’t mean that femininity (including the feminine role of the church) isn’t based in and created by Him as well!

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Are Horror Movies Just Entertainment?

Today there are an astonishing number of movies in this genre. A large proportion of the DVDs for rent in an average “family” video store are horror movies. The advance of computer-generated effects and digital photography has exponentially enhanced the ability of filmmakers to produce horrific special effects. But what generates the appetite for viewing them? Why do so many people delight in seeing things simulated in film that they would never in their right minds want to see in reality?

Perhaps the appetite for horror is unconsciously generated by a culture that worships affluence, comfort, convenience, youth, and beauty and represses awareness of human and animal suffering, aging, and even the natural cycle of predation. Perhaps a family that actually had to raise, feed, and slaughter hogs, chickens, or steers (or a favorite milk cow past her prime) in order to make a living would be less likely to find simulated horror and suffering interesting. Perhaps a culture in which the sick and aged died at home, nursed by the family instead of by strangers in a high-tech intensive care ward, and where the bodies of dead loved ones were personally prepared by family members for burial would be less interested in horror. Perhaps people who have fought in hand-to-hand combat or seen loved ones die of disease and malnutrition would think simulated death and violence less entertaining.

Be that as it may, the images we absorb—whether in real life or from the theater screen—will become part of us. Willful exposure of impure hearts to gratuitous horror and violence may unleash feelings that should have remained bound. Anyone who willingly focuses on movies that obsess on evil and the occult are likely to develop feelings of fear, anxiety, desolation, and alienation from God.

A person who kills animals for “fun” is a sadist; a person who enjoys raping and murdering people is a psychopath. What happens when people habitually watch movies that contain simulations of such things? How can we take issue with the sadist or the psychopath if we get a voyeuristic thrill from observing the things they do?

A fallen world contains many horrors, and few of us are fortunate enough to pass through a lifetime without encountering some of them. It is the context and interpretative framework in which we encounter horrors of life that make them something we can endure, or something that reduces us to despair. A well-done film may contain elements of horror and be an effective tool for understanding the nature of evil and arming oneself against it. But many films exaggerate the power of evil and lack the realism to show good’s superiority in both value and power. Films like these trivialize evil, excuse it, and humanize it.

This is a clear violation of the principle expressed in Philippians 4:8.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things (nasb).

This principle doesn’t imply that books or films that bring the reality of evil into sharp focus are wrong. If that were the case, the Bible itself might be seen as illegitimate reading, as it portrays evil in stark and shocking ways (Genesis 19:4-35; Judges 19–20). Some of the greatest evils committed by humanity result from our willful repression of reality’s dark side. However, the foundation of existence is not evil but our good God. God, the Creator, is love. If evil is willfully pursued—whether in real life or in the fantasy of cinema—its shadows begin to spread before our eyes until we are blinded to the power of our good God and lose sight of His light.

Horror can be appropriate if it is the foil against which goodness is contrasted. However, if we indulge in it frivolously, it will lead to anxiety, hopelessness, and alienation from God. If we plant horrific images deep in our subconscious mind, they are likely to haunt us at the moments of our greatest fear and physical agony. Our subconscious (the part of the mind that generates dreams) doesn’t know the difference between “real” and “make believe.”

This means that the same standards need to be applied to movies and books in the “horror” genre as we would apply to other films and literature. See the ATQ article, How can our family set standards for tv viewing?

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What View Did Early Christians Have of Involvement in the Military?

At the time of Christ, Roman power had neared its peak. Roman troops controlled a vast area stretching from England to the Black Sea and from the Rhine River to the deserts of North Africa. Though it was the most powerful government in the world, the Republic had fallen and been replaced by military dictators. Rome was notorious for its decadence and corruption. In spite of Roman corruption, the apostle Paul clearly set forth the principle that secular government is God’s agent to maintain the rule of law on earth (Romans 13:1-7). Because Paul addressed this principle to the Christian community in Rome, it is clear that the fact of governmental corruption doesn’t overrule the need for governmental authority. Human nature as it is, it’s hard to imagine civilized life without the influence of governmental power through police, courts, and legislatures. In fact, it was Roman justice, as flawed as it was, that protected Paul from certain death at the hands of his fellow Jews (Acts 23).

It is interesting that in spite of Rome’s corruption, her centurions were widely respected as men of competence and integrity. Polybius wrote that centurions “were chosen by merit, and so were men remarkable not so much for their daring courage as for their deliberation, constancy, and strength of mind.” All of the centurions mentioned in the New Testament are praised as Christians, God-fearers, or men of good character (Matthew 8:5,8,13;27:54; Mark 15:39,44-45; Luke 7:2,6;23:47; Acts 10:1,22;21:32;22:25-26;23:17,23;24:23;27:1,6,11,31,43;28:16).

Although honorable men of a pagan background served as officers in the Roman army, the early church was opposed to Christians in the military. Kenneth Scott Latourette wrote:

For the first three centuries, no Christian writing which has survived to our time condoned Christian participation in war. Some Christians held that for them all bloodshed, whether as soldiers or as executioners, was unlawful. At one stage in its history the influential Church of Alexandria seems to have looked askance upon receiving soldiers into its membership and to have permitted enlistment in the legions only in exceptional circumstances (A History of Christianity, pp. 242-243).

Adolf von Harnack summarized the reasons for Christian opposition to involvement in the military:

The shedding of blood on the battlefield, the use of torture in the law-courts, the passing of death-sentences by officers and the execution of them by common soldiers, the unconditional military oath, the all-pervading worship of the Emperor, the sacrifices in which all were expected in some way to participate, the average behaviour of soldiers in peace-time, and other idolatrous and offensive customs—all these would constitute in combination an exceedingly powerful deterrent against any Christian joining the army on his own initiative.

The early church, having a realistic view of the necessity for governmental authority but no illusions about its primary loyalty to Christ, didn’t approve Christian military involvement. Only after Constantine’s conversion made Christianity the favored religion in the empire did a destructive process begin that merged the religious authority of the church with the political and judicial power of the state. Soon Christians could no longer easily distinguish between the authority of Christ and of Caesar–usually with tragic consequences

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Are Today’s Jews the Physical Descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the Israelite Tribes?

Israel is the name God gave Jacob on the night he wrestled with the angel (Genesis 32:28). As a group, his sons along with the 12 tribes that descended from them inherited the name. Although Israel always accepted proselytes,1 it was at first largely made up of people physically descended from Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. Eventually the term “Israelite” was replaced by the term “Jew” (Yehudi), derived from the kingdom of Judah (Yehuda), the southern Israelite kingdom that retained its independence for approximately 135 years after Assyria conquered the northern kingdom and took its leading citizens into captivity.

After the fall of the kingdom of Judah, Judaism (the Israelite religion) continued to be open to Gentile converts. The book of Esther mentions one such occasion.

“In every province and city, wherever the king’s command and decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a holiday. Then many of the people of the land became Jews, because fear of the Jews fell upon them” (8:17 nkjv).

Soon after the conversions described in Esther, Alexander’s conquests established a common Hellenistic culture around the Mediterranean, exposing pagans to Jewish religion and lifestyle. Judaism became a vibrant missionary faith. Many thousands of Gentiles became God-fearers and converts.2

During the third and second centuries BC, a group of Greek-speaking Hebrew scholars in Alexandria translated the Bible into Greek (the Septuagint) so that it would be available in the common language of commerce and culture. Philo and other Jewish apologists strove to explain Israel’s faith to the Gentile world. They wrote intertestamental books—including those in the Apocrypha—that described the superiority of their God.3 The proselytizing zeal of the Jews was still strong during Jesus’ ministry.4 Most Gentiles who converted to Judaism did so because Israel’s God offered both a superior way of life and the hope of resurrection. Some, like the Edomites and Itureans, were forcibly converted by Jewish rulers.5 There were about six million Jews throughout the Roman Empire when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, of whom a large proportion were converts or descendants of converts. Regardless of their pedigree, all Jews identified with the symbols and story of Israel and hoped that Messiah would come to initiate the longed-for days of blessing and restoration. But when He appeared, many didn’t accept Him (John 1:11).

Two thousand years have brought significant religious and demographic changes to non-Christian people who identify with the Hebrew tradition. A majority of the Jews in the Roman Empire probably converted to Christianity during the first five centuries ad6 following the official Jewish expulsion of Christians from synagogue worship.7 It is a common misunderstanding that following the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in the Jewish-Roman wars of ad 70 and 135, the Jews of Palestine were driven from the land as a people and that modern diaspora Jews are their descendents. Actually, there never was a great “dispersion” or “mass exile” of Jews following the Jewish-Roman wars of ad 70 and 135. Most of the Jews were “people of the land” (Am Ha’aretz), peasant farmers generally indifferent to politics but devoted to their homeland. Keeping a low profile, they remained in Palestine, many becoming Christians and Muslims under Byzantine and Arab rule. As mentioned earlier, Jews of the Diaspora, including the ancestors of today’s northern European, Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim, continued to be largely the descendents of proselytes.  Today, dark-eyed, brown-skinned Palestinians are more likely to be Abraham’s physical descendents than the light-skinned northern European Ashkenazim displacing them. This has been acknowledged by Jewish historians, including two of the founders of the modern state of Israel, David Ben-Gurion and Itzhak Ben-Zvi:

To argue that after the conquest of Jerusalem by Titus and the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt Jews altogether ceased to cultivate the land of Eretz Israel is to demonstrate complete ignorance in the history and the contemporary literature of Israel . . . The Jewish farmer, like any other farmer, was not easily torn from his soil, which had been watered with his sweat and the sweat of his forebears . . . Despite the repression and suffering, the rural population remained unchanged” (Eretz Israel in the Past and in the Present, Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi, 1979; in Hebrew, translated by Sand, p.198).

The fellahin [Arabic-speaking Palestinian peasants] are not descendants of the Arab conquerors, who captured EretzIsrael and Syria in the seventh century CE. The Arab victors did not destroy the agricultural population they found in the country. They expelled only the alien Byzantine rulers, and did not touch the local population. Nor did the Arabs go in for settlement. Even in their former habitations, the Arabians did not engage in farming . . . They did not seek new lands on which to settle their peasantry, which hardly existed. Their whole interest in the new countries was political, religious and material: to rule, to propagate Islam and to collect taxes (Ibid., p.196).

If Jewishness were determined by the preponderance of patriarchal genes alone, the people we know today as Jews would be a significantly different group. The myth that the dominant group of modern Jews—the Ashkenazim—are uniquely the descendents of Abraham creates a tribal idolatry. Even among Christians, it encourages new manifestations of the Judaizing spirit that the apostles battled in the first century.  

Although today’s Jews still identify with the Israel of the Old Testament, they are not uniquely the descendants of the patriarchs, and their rejection of Jesus has locked their focus on the tribal aspects of the Old Testament tradition while distancing them from the universal message of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus said, “The last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). Israel was formally the primary witness for God in the world, but the members of this judicially blinded group remain the most opposed to His universal plan. When Israel repents its corporate rebellion, it will be “life from the dead.” The elect Jews will be freed from their judicial blindness, and their desperate faith in a tribal God will be transformed into passion for the salvation of the entire human race.

Even though they are not unique “people” in a genetic sense, and have no “rights” they can demand from the Lord (including the “right” to return the ancient Hebrew homeland, displace or drive out its current inhabitants, and establish a Jewish state), both the Old and New Testament testify of God’s love for the Jews and His desire to restore them when they humbly submit to Him and the Messiah He has sent.

  1. Some examples: Joseph married Asenath, an Egyptian priest’s daughter (Genesis 41:45,50; 46:20). She bore him sons Manasseh and Ephraim. Moses married Zipporah, the daughter of a Midianite (Exodus 2:21). She may have been partially of African descent (Numbers 12:1). She bore Moses two sons: Gershon and Eliezer (Exodus 18:3-4). During the period of the judges, the Israelites intermarried extensively with the surrounding nations (Judges 3:5). Jesse’s wife, the mother of Israel’s great King David, was probably a Moabite. King David himself took the daughter of the king of Geshur as one of his wives. King Solomon was notorious for the number and variety of his wives: Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites (1 Kings 11:1-3). Other kings and commoners married foreigners, including the notorious daughter of a Phoenician king, Jezebel, wife of Ahab. Back To Article
  2. It would not be an exaggeration to say that but for the symbiosis between Judaism and Hellenism, which, more than anything, turned the former into a dynamic, propagative religion for more than 300 years, the number of Jews in today’s world would be roughly the same as the number of Samaritans. Hellenism altered and invigorated the high culture of the kingdom of Judea. This historical development enabled the Jewish religion to mount the Greek eagle and traverse the Mediterranean world.The conversions carried out by the Hasmonean kingdom were only a small part of a far more significant phenomenon that began in the early second century BCE. The pagan world was already beginning to rethink its beliefs and values when Judaism launched its campaign of proselytization and became one of the factors that prepared the ground for the great Christian revolution. Judaism did not yet produce professional missionaries, as its younger sibling would do before long, but its encounter with the philosophies of the Stoic and Epicurean schools gave birth to a new literature that demonstrated a strong desire to win souls (Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People, p.161). Back To Article
  3. See Ibid., pp.162-164. Back To Article
  4. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15 nkjv, see also Acts 2:10). Back To Article
  5. “In 125 BCE Yohanan Hyrcanus conquered Edom, the country that spread south of Beth-zur and Ein Gedi as far a Beersheba, and Judaized its inhabitants by force. Josephus described it in Antiquities of the Jews:Hyrcanus took also Dora and Marissa, cities of Idumea, and subdued all the Idumeans; and permitted them to stay in that country, if they would circumcise their genitals, and make use of the laws of the Jews; and they were so desirous of living in the country of their forefathers, that they submitted to the use of circumcision, and of the rest of the Jewish ways of living, at which time therefore this befell them, that they were hereafter no other than Jews.Thus did the ruling Hasmonean high priest annex an entire people not only to his kingdom but also to his Jewish religion. Henceforth, the Edomite people would be seen as an integral part of the Jewish people” (Sand, TIOTJP, pp.157-158).“In 104-103 BCE Judas Aristobulus [son of Yohanan Hyrcanus] annexed the Galilee to Judeaand forced its Iturean inhabitants, who populated the northern region, to convert to Judaism. According to Josephus, ‘He was called a lover of the Grecians; and had conferred many benefits on his own country, and made war against Ituraea, and added a great part of it to Judea, and compelled the inhabitants, if they would continue in that country, to be circumcised, and to live according to the Jewish laws’” (TIOTJP, Sand, 159). Back To Article
  6. The systematic expulsion of Christian Jews from Judaism occurred prior to the Bar Kochba revolt. See below.“In the oldest Palestinian version of the 12th benediction of the Prayer of Eighteen Benedictions, now known to us through the findings in the Cairo Geniza, Nazarines and minim are mentioned together: ‘May the Nazarenes (Christians) and heretics perish in a moment, be blotted out of the book of life, and not be written with the just.’ The introduction of this benediction into the Shemone Esre and therewith into the liturgy by R. Gamaliel II c. ad 90 carried with it a definitive breach between the Chr. Church and Judaism. From then on cursing the Nazarenes became an integral part of synagogue worship and the daily prayer of every Jew. Precisely in this benediction very great care was taken to see that the cursing of the minim was done correctly and without abbreviation. Attending the synagogue and taking part in its worship thus became impossible for Christians. Complete separation resulted. In future confession of Jesus Christ meant excommunication and expulsion from Judaism. The Johannine statements belong to this period” (Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 7, p. 850). Back To Article
  7. Scholars generally agree that in the first century there were approximately six million Jews in the Roman Empire. That was about one tenth of the entire population. About one million were in Palestine, including today’s State of Israel, while those in the Diaspora were very much part of the establishment in cities such as Alexandria and Constantinople. At one point Klinghoffer acknowledges that, during the life of Jesus, only a minuscule minority of Jews either accepted or rejected Jesus, for the simple reason that most Jews had not heard of him. Some scholars have noted that, by the fourth or fifth century, there were only a few hundred thousand, at most a million, people who identified themselves as Jews. What happened to the millions of others? The most likely answer, it is suggested, is that they became Christians. What if the great majority of Jews did not reject Jesus? That throws into question both the title of the book and Klinghoffer’s central thesis. The question can be avoided only by the definitional legerdemain of counting as Jews only those who rejected Jesus and continued to ally themselves with rabbinical Judaism’s account of the history of Israel (Richard John Neuhaus, “Why the Jews Did or Did Not Reject Jesus,” First Things).To begin with, a few definitions: Who is a Jew? A Jew is anyone who has a Jewish mother or who converted to Judaism in conformity with Halacha, Jewish religious law. This definition alone excludes racism. Judaism does not seek converts, but those who do convert are accepted on a basis of equality. Let us see how far this goes. Some of the most eminent and respected rabbis were converts to Judaism. Jewish parents throughout the world bless their children every Sabbath and holiday eve, and they have done it in the same way for millennia. If the children are girls, the blessing is, “May G-d let you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.” Not one of these matriarchs was born a Jewess; they were all converts to Judaism. If the children are boys, the blessing is, “May G-d let you be like Ephraim and Menashe.” The mother of these two was an Egyptian woman who became Jewish and had married Joseph. Moses himself, the greatest Jew who ever lived, married a Midianite woman who became Jewish.Finally, the Tenach, the holy writings of the Jew, contains the book of Ruth. This woman was not only not Jewish by birth, but she came from the Moabites, traditional enemies of the Jewish people. This book describes Ruth’s conversion to Judaism and is read annually on the holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah, the “Law,” i.e., the Pentateuch. At its very end, the book of Ruth traces the ancestry of King David, the greatest king the Jews ever had, to Ruth, his great-grandmother.Apart from the Zionists, the only ones who consistently considered the Jews a race were the Nazis. And they only served to prove the stupidity and irrationality of racism. There was no way to prove racially whether a Mrs. Muller or a Mr. Meyer were Jews or Aryans (the Nazi term for non-Jewish Germans). The only way to decide whether a person was Jewish was to trace the religious affiliation of the parents or grandparents. So much for this racial nonsense. Racial pride has been the downfall of those Jews in the past who were blinded by their own narrow-minded chauvinism.

    This brings us to a second definition. Is there a Jewish people? If so, what is its mission? Let us make this completely clear: The Jewish nation was not born or reconstituted a generation ago by some Zionist politicians. The Jewish nation was born on Mount Sinai when the Jews by their response, “let us do and let us hear,” adopted the Torah given to them by G-d for all future generations. “This day you become a people,” though valid still today, was spoken thousands of years ago. (Quotation from Neturei Karta, “The Difference Between Judaism and Zionism”). Back To Article

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Is Religion Evil?

From the time of the Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries), many have viewed religion with indifference or hostility, but there has never been such widespread hatred of religion as can be seen today in popular culture. One manifestation of hatred towards religion is the popularity of so-called “new atheism.” Here are some typical “new atheist” quotations:

That religion may have served some necessary function for us in the past does not preclude the possibility that it is now the greatest impediment to our building a global civilization. —Sam Harris

We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid. —Christopher Hitchens

One of the things that is wrong with religion is that it teaches us to be satisfied with answers which are really not answers at all. —Richard Dawkins

Nothing is wrong with peace and love. It is all the more regrettable that so many of Christ’s followers seem to disagree. —Richard Dawkins

Most conscientious people know why the “new atheists” feel the way they do. Religion is often misused to rationalize violence, misuse of authority, hatred, and war. But many good things can be used for evil purposes, including family and ethnic loyalty, philosophy, patriotism, and political/economic theory. In fact, although “new atheists” look to science as the basis of rationality and human dignity, science is no more immune to misuse. Principled opponents of eugenics programs have been called “antiscientific,” and the Darwinist principle of the “survival of the fittest” has been used to rationalize slavery and ethnic cleansing. Marxist dogma claimed a “scientific” basis for exterminating entire classes of people it labeled “parasites” or “enemies of the working class.”

Although reason and science have proven their power, they are useless as moral guides without the guidance of religious principles. During World War II science made it possible to incinerate Dresden, Tokyo, Nagasaki, and Hiroshima, but contributed nothing to the discussion of whether doing so was justifiable.

Most people recognize that knowing whether a potential action is “good” or “bad” is more important than merely knowing how to do it. Determining whether an action is moral or immoral is a judgment of value and faith, not of mere reason. Values and faith are intrinsically linked to religion. Even the most basic assumption of science that “knowledge is good” is a judgment of value—a religious act. (See What is religion?)

Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and other “new atheists” aren’t the only people who recognize how destructive misused religion can be. One need not be educated in Oxford or Harvard to recognize religious fanaticism. People from every historical period and every culture know the dangers of religion gone amok. A short list of those who warned against religious dogma and religious excesses would include Confucius, Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), Isaiah, Zarathustra, Socrates, and Jesus Messiah. Despising religion instead of seeking its renewal isn’t a step towards enlightenment but a step towards nihilism and despair.

Religion—in the sense of a faith system that establishes parameters for good and evil—is just as necessary as science. Rather than being the enemy of science, true religion humanizes and civilizes it and keeps it from creating monsters.

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Do the Sabbath Requirements of Old Testament Law Carry Over to Sunday?

The Christian church came into existence during a time when the Gentile world did not recognize a day of rest or worship. Pagans observed holidays and times of religious celebration, but they had no weekly day of rest or worship. Consequently, Christians in the Roman Empire had to carry on with their normal occupations even while taking time to worship and fellowship on Sunday. Most people couldn’t set Sunday aside as a “day of rest” or substitute Sabbath. These circumstances continued until Constantine, the first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity, made Sunday a special day of rest and worship (early fourth century).

Some people, both in the present and the past, have mistakenly transferred some Old Testament Sabbath restrictions to the first day of the week. The New Testament offers no clear support for this. It simply declares that Sunday was the day on which believers met to commemorate Christ’s resurrection. In this age of grace, the New Testament actually requires no special day for worship or rest (Romans 14:1-6; Colossians 2:16). The Sabbath was given to Israel as a symbol of their special relationship with God (Exodus 31:13-17), but was not given to the church or to Gentiles.

Even though some Sabbath restrictions were transferred to Sunday for the wrong reasons, a strong case could be made that setting Sunday aside in the West as a day for worship and rest was a blessing for most people. The “Sabbath rest” principle may transcend even Old Testament Law (Genesis 2:2-3). In The Lost World of Genesis One, Old Testament Professor John H. Walton shows how after 6 days of setting creation in order and establishing its functions, God took up residence in His cosmic temple on the 7th day. God is now “resting,” enthroned in His rightful place (Psalm 132:7-8,13-14) as the active Lord and governor of the universe.

When we “rest” on the Sabbath, we recognize [God] as the author of order and the one who brings rest [stability] to our lives and world. We take our hands off the controls of our lives and acknowledge him as the one who is in control. Most importantly this calls on us to step back from our workaday world—those means by which we try to provide for ourselves and gain control of our circumstances. Sabbath is for recognizing that it is God who provides for us and who is the master of our lives and our world. We are not imitating him in Sabbath observance, we are acknowledging him in tangible ways (p. 146).

A day of worship and rest shouldn’t be coerced by “blue laws” or the kinds of Mosaic or puritanical rules that limit spontaneity and Christian liberty.1 But setting aside the day that the apostles gathered for worship as a special day will make it a time of unique joy and spiritual refreshment.

  1. If we have to be reminded or coerced to observe it, it ceases to serve its function. Sabbath isn’t the sort of thing that should have to be regulated by rules. It is the way that we acknowledge that God is on the throne, that this world is his world, that our time is his gift to us. It is “big picture” time. And the big picture is not me, my family, my country, my world, or even the history of my world. The big picture is God. If the Sabbath has its total focus in recognition of God, it would detract considerably if he had to tell us what to do. Be creative! Do whatever will reflect your love, appreciation, respect and awe of the God of all the cosmos. (This is the thrust of Isaiah 58:13-14.) (The Lost World of Genesis One, p. 146). Back To Article
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