Saw this today…
…and thought the best response was:
Years ago (c.2002, if I remember), I did something I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to do. I engaged in a debate with a KJV-Only advocate. Though at the time, I didn’t realize that the dude was a KJV-Only Advocate looking for an online fight. I simply thought he was asking curious questions about the manuscript history of the NT–especially as it relates to the KJV. (Also, at the time, I was unaware of the KJV-Only group as a real group).
Well, as soon as I mentioned the basic manuscript details about the KJV translation (i.e., not that rich in its history, not that well-rounded, the lateness of the manuscripts, the admission of the compilers [in the original preface] that the translation was not meant to be definitive, etc), the dude went nuts. And instead of engaging with the arguments, he went straight after me personally. When I tried to counter by suggesting he address the arguments and not reduce things to name-calling and condescension, he become more vile towards me. And so I ended the discussion and walked away. Lesson learned.
Last week (15-Apr), I did something I shouldn’t have done, but I did it anyway. The difference this time is that I knew I shouldn’t have. But I honestly could not stop myself. And what transpired afterward proved I should have tried harder to stop myself and just walk away. So what heinous misdeed did I commit this time? I critiqued (rather briefly) a claim–or rather a rebuttal–of a Shroud of Turin advocate. Here’s the context.
It began with a post on LinkedIn from a chap called, Philip Dayvault. The post was nothing more than a self-promotion his new(ish) book on the (ostensible) authenticity of the Shroud of Turin.¹ This was then questioned by a gentleman who referred to John 19.40 and 20.5-7 as evidence that posses problems for the Shroud theory. In fact, he flatly said, because of these passages, “the Shroud is a hoax.” To which, Mr Dayvault responded:
Sorry, ______, but you really need to do some basic homework on the Shroud before erroneously declaring it a hoax. Also, you may want to read different versions of Scripture to get a better picture of what the Apostles actually saw. There are many good sources for Shroud study available for your edification, including the one listed above.
As you can see, the number of problems with this response (and the lines of “argument” used to make it) are astounding. But this wasn’t the end of it. If only it were. The gentleman replied with, “I stand by the Scripture. Take care”, which then brought on the following retort from Mr Dayvault:
And so do I…Scripture fully supports the Shroud! Please, do some additional research and I will be more than glad to discuss this further. Until then, though, take care and best wishes for a great Easter.
It was this point that I could not help myself. So I fired off this (knowing I shouldn’t have):
Phil: instead of making vague references or even dismissive criticisms to denounce clear-cut readings of the biblical text, please answer three basic questions: (1) what Scriptures are you referring to when you say, “Scripture fully supports the Shroud”, (2) what is your rationale for ignoring the normal, lexical/semantic range of the rare term οθονιον, and (3) why do you think “additional research” will suddenly correct (=overturn) passages such as John 19.40 and 20.5-7, let alone (known and practiced) Jewish burial customs of the time? Unless and until you are able to engage with those questions candidly, you are showing no real desire to “discuss [things] further.”
Mr Dayvault, after promising to respond after Easter weekend, then offered this:
Carl: My “candid” answers to your questions were prepared over the weekend; however, they exceeded the limit for this message board. Therefore, I have uploaded them in a file to my website where you may view or save it…. This response reflects my stance on this topic and should fully answer your questions.
The file in question is this one. What initially struck me as a bit funny (not to mention unfair) was that he posted this in an acontextual manner–i.e., readers of the PDF will have no idea what I said or what prompted his response. Well, after reading his “response” and shaking my head in near-disbelief at its contents, and even toying with the thought of responding to his response, I lobbed one final pass:
Thanks for your reply, Phil. While it does not address my questions (nor fully answer them), it does provide better insight into your thinking and methods. And by that I mean the presumption (opening paragraph), condescension (opening paragraph and few other places), ambiguity (throughout), dismissiveness (never answering my three basic questions, [and] even reframing them into something I did not intend), “scholarly” proof-texting (only Shroud people are appealed to), circularity (throughout and also in Fulbright’s article), and a bit of self-promotion thrown in for good measure.
I foolishly hoped this would inspire him to attempt another go at my questions, but it didn’t. Instead, he sent me this:
Carl: Glad to see you enjoyed it! Perhaps, a read of my book would help clarify some of your issues. Have a great day!
“Enjoyed it”, “clarify some of your issues”. Ha! Got to love the hubris and audacity. Oh well. Lesson relearned. Never engage with a Shroud advocate–especially those who see themselves as self-made experts on the subject.
¹ The book–which I have no interest to buy–claims to have discovered “new” evidence that “strongly corroborates the authenticity of the Shroud”. The evidence in question? A very small piece of a mosaic that apparently reflects the same image of the face on the Shroud. However, as Andrea Nicolotti points out: not only is Dayvault’s “theory” similar to one proposed by Ian Wilson, but his arguments are “well below the minimum standard of scientific acceptability” (From the Mandylion of Edessa to the Shroud of Turin , 128 n.20).
or: why I don’t and will not celebrate Ash Wednesday.
It’s become a thing. Well, okay, fine: it’s been a thing for a long time. So maybe I should say it’s becoming a hip thing to adopt and do. Or the way round: since we live in a culture where we’re all about hip trends, it’s being done because it’s hip. And by “it” I mean the church’s growing interest–at least in a more open and publicized fashion–with keeping and/or following liturgical practices or calendars. This used to be a defining characteristic of the Catholic Church and few non-Catholic denominations–i.e., those of a strong hierarchical flavor. But now, as is often pointed out, a number of Protestant churches are adopting such practices or calendars and have begun to structure their ecclesial operations around them.
Why this has happened, what started it, who broke the mold, etc, are questions that simply do not concern me. Frankly, I don’t really care. What I do care about is the (often) unspoken and uncritically considered assumption that keeping and/or following liturgical practices or calendars are beneficial or even essential for the church–not least for the individual believer. In fact, someone recently asked me: “Don’t you think following the calendar is necessary?” (And the question was less curiosity and more, “Why aren’t you doing this?”) To which my response, was: ” ‘Necessary’? No. Faith in God’s redeeming and saving work in Christ is what’s necessary. Being transformed into the image of Christ by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit is necessary. Living a life that announces God’s kingdom is necessary. Keeping a calendar is not. Not even close.”
One of the places where this liturgical fascination plays out, especially now in many Protestant churches, is with the celebration of “Ash Wednesday.” Historically (dating to near the end of the 7th century CE¹ under Pope Gregory the Great) and traditionally, Ash Wednesday is a Catholic ceremony that initiates what’s known as the Lenten Season—or the Lenten Fast (to be precise). This Season, or Fast, begins 46 days² before Easter and ends on Easter Sunday. After a process of ritualistic preparation and a blessing spoken over the elements, ashes taken from the burned palm leaves of the previous Palm Sunday would be used to mark crosses on the foreheads of those attending the special Ash Wednesday mass (or ceremony). The symbolism and the act itself were designed to remind believers of their mortality (hence the typical reference to Gen 3.19 in the ceremony), thus leading them to a spirit of repentance, resulting in a desire to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness for the duration of the Lenten Fast.
I cannot begin to think of how many times I’ve heard or how many websites I’ve read that lionize Ash Wednesday because of its ceremonial symbolism–or because of how it makes people feel about themselves (or maybe others). And many of these are coming from the mouths and hands of Protestants. And one has gone so (ridiculously) far as to claim that, “if you want a faith worth celebrating, it has to start [with Ash Wednesday]”. (Wow, that was subtle). To which I would reply: Sorry, but the idea of a faith worth celebrating is not only nearly a biblical contradiction, but also–if we accept the premise–a faith worth celebrating is one that must start with Jesus Christ, not some ritualistic tradition created by man³…. And that’s a decent segue into why I do not and will not celebrate Ash Wednesday. Here are my basic reasons, in somewhat random order, and not always smoothed out for reception.
One final word before closing out this protracted post. Please know that I am no way saying that Ash Wednesday (by itself) is sinful or evil. All that I am saying is that I do not see a need for Ash Wednesday, and I am not compelled to take part in its celebration. I say that because it is not a necessary (or even biblical) ceremony for the either the church or the individual believer to keep. It’s a calendar item from a much later and distinct tradition, and something that is rooted in or prompted by a much larger theological presupposition–one that has its own set of problems. And it is certainly not a divine command nor a ceremony that is necessary for one’s salvation. However, the moment things like Ash Wednesday become proffered as necessary or essential or determinative for one’s faith, or that it should become a normative Christian practice or ritual because of its (assumed) spiritual benefits for the individual–which can only be obtained in that particular ceremony; that is the moment when it flirts with becoming sinful and evil.
¹ Some will say it needs to be pushed to the 10th century CE. Which is right? I don’t really care.
² Most traditions count it as 40 days, instead of 46—the difference being that the six (6) Sundays that fall between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday are not included as fasting days.
³ As I’ve mentioned before, though I cannot remember when, I use “man” primarily in the old sense, meaning: human being. But I also use it, particularly in this context, as a contrast to God–i.e., God is divine, we (human beings) are not.
I’m still not exactly sure when it happened, but at some point during my later College years I became an avid reader. And it was around the same time that I wanted to start my own personal library. My collection at the time boasted of the handful of theology and history textbooks that I decided to keep. Things grew from there at a slow pace, and they were growing alongside my interest in reading.
Fast forward a bit: during my doctoral program (and just before, if I remember correctly), my library began also went digital. I started gathering books that were open to the public (via InternetArchive and GoogleBooks) as well as journal articles–many of which had to be obtained via Seminary/University access. The digital book collection, to date, stands at just over 2000; the digital article collection, to date, stands at just over 5500.¹ All of that to say, I’ve got some reading to do and I’m slowly working through it. And that also means I’m a little behind in my reading, but oh well.
This morning I decided to tackle some of the articles, and one them was by Mark D. Chapman called, “The Shortest Book in the Bible” (ExpT 118.11 : 546-58). While the article itself was interesting, I could not get past the title. “Why not?” Because it’s simply wrong. “Why is wrong?” Simple: the article dealt with Paul’s letter to Philemon. “Why is that wrong?” A few reasons.
First, the text that Chapman uses for his article is a letter, not a book. Sure, many of us are accustomed (unfortunately) to calling the texts of the Bible “books” regardless of their specific genres. But this custom or tradition–like all customs or traditions held without good cause–needs to be taken out back and buried. A bit harsh, sure. But there it is. So, that being the case, the title of the article should have said, “The Shortest Letter in the Bible.” But even that leads us to the next problem.
Second, Chapman’s focus text (i.e., Philemon) is not the shortest letter. Yes, it is certainly the shortest of Paul’s letters–coming in at 25 verses, 334 words. But just because its the shortest of Paul’s letters, that does not make the shortest. Because, and as much as I love Paul’s writings, there are other writers in the NT; so at best, we could say Philemon is one of the shortest letters. The honor of the shortest letter/text goes to…well, it depends. If we go by verse numbers, then the prize goes to 2 John, which weighs in at 13 verses, with 3 John coming in second place at 15 verses. Or if we go by word count, then the honor goes to 3 John, which finishes at 219 words, with 2 John coming in second at 245 words. Either way, Philemon is only the third shortest letter.
Third, someone might come back at me and say, “Well, Prof Chapman does qualify himself by saying it’s a short letter written to a person.” Okay, fine: that might rule out 2 John, which is ostensibly written to an entire congregation of believers (despite it having a specific addressee [Ὁ πρεσβύτερος ἐκλεκτῇ κυρίᾳ καὶ τοῖς τέκνοις αὐτῆς, οὓς ἐγὼ ἀγαπῶ ἐν ἀληθείᾳ]), but that does not rule out 3 John, which is addressed to an elder named, Gaius (Ὁ πρεσβύτερος Γαΐῳ τῷ ἀγαπητῷ, ὃν ἐγὼ ἀγαπῶ ἐν ἀληθείᾳ). So, no dice. Philemon is still not a contender for the title of the shortest.
Fourth and finally, the title asserts a focus on the “shortest book in the Bible”, but the article never once focuses on the specific text that might fit that precise criteria. Because when one says, “Bible” that brings to mind at the very least the usual 66 texts of the Old and New Testaments–73 if we use the Catholic edition. Chapman’s focus was ultimately a NT text. Moreover, when one says, “book” that brings to mind a (more or less) specific kind of genre. As we’ve seen, Philemon does not fit that genre. And when one says, “shortest” that, as we’ve also seen, allows for a touch of ambiguity–i.e., it could be based on number of verses or words. But even with that ambiguity, there is only one text that better fits the description of “the shortest book in the Bible”, and that is the OT text of Obadiah: one chapter, 21 verses, 440 words.
So again, while Prof Chapman’s article was an interesting read, the title is an unfortunate gaffe.
¹ The real numbers are 2148 books and 5746 articles, but I’m rounding down because of the possibility of duplicates. Hey, I’ve been collecting them since c.2006 (for the books) and c.2004 (for the articles), and I’m still trying to name/label them properly, so it’s possible that I’ve forgotten which one’s I’ve already downloaded and thus have copies.
I recently began reading a book by Alistair Donaldson on the problems with Dispensationalism (see pic). I’m about half-way through and it’s been a fair treatment of the subject so far; I’ll have to wait and see if these things hold true till the end. Two things have been encouraging about the book: (1) much of what Donaldson argues is in line with a number of conclusions that I’ve reached on my own on this topic; thus, it’s good to know that I’m in good company in my thinking. And (2) Donaldson clarifies a vital need when talking about Dispensationalism, and that is: most discussions tend to say, “Dispensationalism has come so far from its origins, and a number of scholars–even Dispensational ones–are showing how the classical form is no longer viable or even biblical. So there’s no real need to debate or look at the older forms of Dispensationalism.”
But the problem is, as Donaldson points out, that recognition is almost exclusively a scholarly perspective. In other words: scholars are the ones who have accepted the advances made; the classical (and even modified) form of Dispensationalism still exists and is taught in many churches, and thus still finds is way into popular Christianity. Therefore, while we are safe to exclude treatments of the older version when talking about it at the scholarly level, there is still a need to include them at the popular level. Here is a case in point:
Over at Beliefnet.com (a site that I only know about in a passing way, which is to say: I try to avoid it as much as possible), Lesli White composed an article entitled, “5 Important Facts About Jesus’ Second Coming”. Sounds intriguing, to be sure. The tagline is (an attempt to be) equally captivating: “While we don’t know every detail, The Word promises these five things will happen when Jesus returns again.” Sounds promising. Except for one thing. Some of what she lists is not what “The Word promises…will happen when Jesus returns again”, rather it’s what Dispensationalism (because of its idiosyncratic and flawed hermeneutic) promises will happen. To be sure, the general points in her list do parallel the teaching of the NT–e.g., Jesus’ coming from heaven, our complete ignorance about the timing, the return will be obvious, and the second will be different from the first. But the parallels stop there. On the surface. Once we start to dig into the specifics of her individual points, we encounter not only a Dispensationally marinated theology but also some basic problems/flaws/inconsistencies.
For example: White’s second point proceeds–without justification, mind you (but that’s the old Dispy’s MO)–with the assumption that “While the two are often confused, the second coming is not the rapture”, and then goes on to explain why the two are meant to be kept separate. Hence, White is advocating a two-stage Second Coming of Christ–one where he sort of comes back, but not really; and a second (/third), where he means it this time. Not only that, but White proceeds on the (equally unproven) assumption that “the church” is a completely separate entity in God’s salvation plan–and by that it is meant, “the church” is neither the Jews nor the Gentiles (i.e., the unbelieving world). By implication from the rest of what she says in this point, this means: at the so-called “rapture”, the church alone is rescued while everyone else is screwed and has to endure 7 years of “wrath” and “great tribulation.” Sorry, but neither of these two teachings is not found in the NT; they are especially not found in (or even supported by) texts like 1 Thess 4.13-18 or (I’m assuming she meant to write) 1 Cor 15.50-54. These ideas, however, are two of the essential pillars for Dispensationalism, so one can easily find them there. And only there.
White’s third point also has some concerns. Two are worth mentioning. First, she is very cautious in how she chooses to word her claims. When talking about the unexpectedness of the event, White focuses her attention on “the return” of Christ. While (seemingly) benign to most everyone else in the church, this phrasing is necessary for the Dispensationalist system of interpretation, which in turn formulates the Dispensationalist’s theology. By focusing on “the return” as an unknown event, White is emphasizing the so-called “rapture” and not Jesus’ (final-and-I-really-mean-it-this-time) Second Coming. Thus, for the Dispy, at the word level: “return” = “rapture”. And she has to follow this notion, partly because, of the two events (wrongly) assumed to be a part of Christ’s two-stage coming, the so-called “rapture” is the only one that is described as unknown, unannounced, without warning, blah, blah, blah. And the other part is because, if this event (supposedly) precedes Jesus’ (final-and-I-really-mean-it-this-time) Second Coming, all one needs is simple math to work out when the Second Coming will take place–i.e., 7 years after the so-called rapture–thus making it a known event. That’s the first cocnern in her point. The second one is easier stated: the passage she ropes in to support her case (Matt 24.36) not only says nothing about a so-called rapture–either before it or after it–but also is, as Dispys typically argue, focused on the Second Coming.
And that brings me to the final¹ concern in White’s case. In her fourth point, White is correct in describing the return of Christ as “visible and audible”. This is a breath of fresh air from the otherwise dank claims of older Dispensationalism which tends to advocate a “secret rapture” (cf. this). But the relief stops there, for White immediately launches into a treatment that leaves one rather puzzled. I say that because, in speaking of Christ’s “return” we are left with the impression that White is still referring to the so-called “rapture”–an impression that is encouraged by references to texts like 1 Thess 4.16, a passage that some have rightly defined as “one of the noisiest” in the NT.² But right alongside this are references that Dispys typically use to speak about not the so-called “rapture” but Christ’s final Coming–i.e., Matt 24.26-27, 31, and (from the previous point) 36. This would suggest, at the very least, that White–in her exuberance to make a point–accidentally conflated the two ideas into one. Or it would at least suggest that the (wrongly) assumed two-stage Coming of Christ is not as important or necessary or clear-cut as White so adamantly claimed in an earlier point. Or, at best, it would begin to expose the fact that Dispys have no biblical case for a two-stage Coming of Christ, but that they have to make such a case in order to sustain an idiosyncratic and flawed hermeneutic–one that created a rather idiosyncratic and flawed theological perspective³–and in making such a case, they simply get things wrong. And they get things wrong, because they’re missing the point: the final Coming of Christ is not about the rapture. Not even close. It’s about so much more.
¹ Well, the “final” one to be noted here.
² S. Wohlberg, End Time Delusions (2004), 22.
³ My problem with Dispensationalism, especially the Classical and Modified/Revised forms of it, is twofold: it surreptitiously (1) questions the NT writers as inspired advocates of God’s truth, and ultimately (2) downplays the full scope of Christ’s salvific, redemptive, atoning, and fulfilling work.
In keeping with last year’s format, this year’s list includes those books, articles, and essays read for pleasure, academic, and/or church-related purposes–hence, “books” with an *. One difference from last year (and the years before) is that I’ve simplified the categories to two: “Books” and “Articles, essays, etc.” Here’s this year’s list (in order of reading, according to category):
Articles, essays, etc:
‡ This refers to those items where I willingly subjected myself to mental torture.
° Since I was not sure if I would be able to finish it before the end of the year, this one was left off when I originally posted this list. However, I was able to complete it this morning; hence the update.
Well, it’s been over a year (I think) since I agreed to perform a review of a commentary in a new(ish) series. The commentary is from Mark A. Howell* entitled, Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and the series is called: Christ-Centered Exposition (NT), from B&H Publishing. The really, really long review is available here (…it’s 35 pages). The reason for the length? The honest answer is: the commentary is saturated with problems–e.g., typographical, logical, exegetical, theological, etc–and it took some time to work through them. (In fact, I had to make a decision to stop writing the review). And by “work through them” I mean, point them out and explain why they are problematic. If you want the short version about the commentary: it’s not one that I would recommend. If you want to know why I say that, you’ll have to read the review.
* Right before posting this, I discovered an error in the review: Howell is no longer the Pastor at First Baptist (Daytona, FL); in July of this year, he became the Pastor at Hunters Glen Baptist (Plano, TX). However, I have decided to keep the details as I have them in the review, primarily because they reflect things as they were at the time of writing it.