Snow Angels, Fairies and the Supernatural

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The other day a person in my church re-posted on FB an interesting photograph of large snowflakes from a storm in Kansas. On the mid-right side of the picture there is an unusual combination of snowflakes that form a snow angel. I traced the source backwards to another FB page that was open to the public. I do not know the person but did note there were a number of other pictures that suggested an interest in the supernatural, although the person did not suggest that the picture posted was anything other than an unusual combination of snow flakes.

Snow Angel in Kansas

Snow Angel in Kansas

There was something familiar to me as I looked at the picture. It reminded me of the fairy craze in Great Britain that followed WW1. Perhaps the most famous were the Cottingley Fairies.

The Cottingley Fairies have been decisively debunked since the late seventies and  early eighties. One of the perpetrators of what is now known as The Cottingley Fairies Hoax was one of the young girls involved. She admitted to the hoax in 1981 although most people found the claims of real fairies absurd from the start.

Still, many others did not, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle had a deep and abiding interest in spiritualism as did many people in Britain and America.

Spiritualism is the belief that the human spirit survives after death and continues, self-aware, to communicate with us via séances and mediums.  Spiritualism differs with spiritism in that the latter affirms reincarnation where the former does not. (CARM)

The connection between spiritualism and fairies is simply an interest in the supernatural that runs contrary to what is revealed in the Bible about the supernatural.

In my opinion people interested in such things, apart from idle curiosity and research purposes, are searching for knowledge of the supernatural apart from what God has chosen to reveal in the Scriptures. That so many believed in the Cottingley Fairies even though they appeared to be paper cut-outs from the start should tell us something about human nature.

First, although some might think the Cottingley Fairies Hoax was cute and the gullible deserved to be taken in,  the fact it was a hoax says something about the deceitfulness of the human heart.

Some may argue that the whole affair was harmless, but it’s important to note that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a person of considerable influence and he defended the photos vehemently thus leading many of the naive astray in their belief system. The perpetrators are equally guilty no doubt benefiting financially from the hoax.

One of the young women with a fairy.

One of the young women with a fairy.

Second and most importantly an interest in the supernatural apart from Scripture is dangerous. The most remarkable supernatural event in Scripture is the resurrection of Christ, an event that Christians worldwide will celebrate March 31st. This event was attested to by more than 500 people, yet many are skeptical while others deny it all together (even professing Christians) while still others would lump the resurrection in the same category as believing in fairies.

The apostle Paul wrote in the First Letter to Corinthians:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
(1 Corinthians 15:12-19 ESV)

Paul recognized that without the resurrection of Christ there is no valid Christianity. The event is either true or it is not and if not, then our faith is in vain (pointless) and we are still in our sins.

Some perhaps many, find their hope in spiritualism (an aspect of New Age today) or even a belief in fairies to give them hope. Paul points out that our only hope is found in Christ and if their hope is in something or someone else then they are still in their sins. To be still in one’s sins is the greatest risk of all for to die without trust in Christ alone and his work on the cross has eternal, supernatural consequences.

Believe it or not?

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Dr. Ben Carson, Fair Tax System

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Cynicism is an attitude or state of mind characterized by a general distrust of others’ apparent motives or ambitions, or a general lack of faith or hope in the human race or in individuals with desires, hopes, opinions, or personal tastes that a cynic perceives as unrealistic or inappropriate, therefore deserving of ridicule or admonishment. It is a form of jaded negativity, and other times, realistic criticism or skepticism. The term originally derives from the ancient Greek philosophers called the Cynics who rejected all conventions, whether of religion, manners, housing, dress, or decency, advocating the pursuit of virtue in accordance with a simple and unmaterialistic way of life. By the 19th century, emphasis on the negative aspects of Cynic philosophy led to the modern understanding of cynicism to mean a disposition of disbelief in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions.

Statue of an unknown Cynic philosopher from the Capitoline Museum in Rome. This statue is a Roman-era copy of an earlier Greek statue from the 3rd century BCE.[1] The scroll in his right hand is an 18th century restoration.

Statue of an unknown Cynic philosopher from the Capitoline Museum in Rome. This statue is a Roman-era copy of an earlier Greek statue from the 3rd century BCE.[1] The scroll in his right hand is an 18th century restoration.

Modern cynicism, as a product of mass society, is a distrust toward professed ethical and social values, especially when there are high expectations concerning society, institutions, and authorities that are unfulfilled. It can manifest itself as a result of frustration, disillusionment, and distrust perceived as owing to organizations, authorities, and other aspects of society.

I confess to being rather cynical when it comes to politics especially in the sense of disbelief in the sincerity or goodness of human [political] motives and actions. My cynicism is not equally applied to both political parties but it’s getting there.

Much of my cynicism revolves around the idea of what is a public servant? It seems the concept is simple enough. A public servant is one who serves the public or taken a step further, serves the public good in his or her role as a public servant..

The Bible says something about what that means.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1-4 ESV)

The passage is rich in meaning and application but the part I wish to comment on is “he [rulers] is God’s servant for your good.” The “your” in your good are Roman Christians in the various Christian churches in the City of Rome.

Where did these Roman Christians stand in the pecking order of the empire? In other words how did the Roman government relate to their good?

The head of state of the empire was the emperor. When Paul wrote the Letter to the Romans the emperor was Nero, the same Nero who would persecute the Christians following the great fire in Rome. Nero’s power was nearly absolute. Theoretically held in check by the Senate Nero would eventually be assassinated by his own Praetorian Guard.

Next in status was the Roman Senate.

The Senate consisted of Rome’s wealthy “old families” and when Paul wrote the letter they probably numbered between 100-200 active senators. Their power and influence was in the decline but they still were important and as noted, very wealthy.

Underneath the Senate class was the Equestrian class. The Equestrians usually had some means and money. They often held public office and could be governors of provinces. Porcius Festus and his predecessor Marcus Felix who factor into the Book of Acts probably came from the Equestrian class.

Below the equestrians were those with Roman citizenship. At the time of Paul’s writing being a citizen carried with it certain privileges. One did not have to be a Roman or Italian to be a citizen. The Roman’s awarded citizenship to allied cities in the provinces as a reward for their loyalty and this was the case with Paul’s home city of Tarsus. Paul was a Roman citizen which is why Paul could appeal to Nero Caesar via Festus. Paul would be in prison while making that appeal.

After citizens were the free non-citizens that lived mostly, but not exclusively in the provinces. The apostles would fall into this category. Citizens and free non-citizens would provide the bulk of the tax base for the empire, a fact attested to in the New Testament. Matthew was a tax collector that worked for the Romans and thus was not popular and the census surrounding Jesus’ birth was for tax purposes.

Below free non-citizens was the slave class and it was quite numerous. Slaves were property and had virtually no rights and so were not taxed for the simple reason that most did not own anything to tax. Onesimus in Paul’s Letter to Philemon was of the slave class.

So when Paul wrote the Letter to the Romans and said the government was God’s servant for their good it meant Christians drawn from all strata of Roman society although the bulk of Christians came from the lower classes. Philippians 1:13 illustrates that members of Caesar’s household or Roman soldiers of the Praetorian Guard had become Christians illustrating that at an early date the gospel was spreading to all classes of Roman society including at least some in the wealthier equestrian class.

The context of the passage (Romans 13:1-4) makes the point that “your good” means the government serves the public good in the suppression of evil doing. Whether or not the government fulfilled its responsibilities fairly is another matter. Paul is simply saying that public safety is one of the reasons God ordains government. If we were to read on in the passage we’d read this:

Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:5-7 ESV)

The flow of verses 5-7 shows that Paul had the expectation that the Romans pay their taxes. He says nothing about “fairness” and certainly knew that there was much unfairness in the Roman tax system. Paul does not condone unfairness nor does he condemn it. He simply realizes that a pagan government is going to be “unfair” but that Christians should realize that God’s intent for all governments is they exist for the public good and in a best case scenario are fair to all the people they govern, not just some. I believe this concept is reflected in our political system by the idea that the rulers govern via the consent of the governed who assume that one class does not stand above another class in regards to the law.

Our system of government is radically different from that of ancient Rome. We (the USA) are a representative republic that is sustained by a simple means of checks and balances. But like ancient Rome the government is to serve the public good meaning all the various classes within our society, not just some.

So in our society the question is not whether we pay taxes or not. We do, if we want to obey the Word.

The question becomes a question of whether or not the government truly is serving the public good with the progressive tax system we have. In other words, what is truly fair to all classes, not just some.

The issue was raised by Dr. Benjamin Carson last week at the National Prayer Breakfast.  Carson is a neurosurgeon and the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Dr. Ben Carson

Dr. Ben Carson

Dr. Carson has been criticized by the usual gang of suspects who felt he disrespected President Obama and because he brought God into his speech. As usual, the progressive left says nothing about the substance of a speech and instead attacks the individual making the remarks.

What did Dr. Carson say that so irritated the collectivist, progressive tax system and it’s supporters?

Carson said the current tax system was not fair to all classes including the so-called 1% who currently pay most federal taxes.

Carson asked a very important question. He asked why anyone should be punished in a tax system? This was a direct challenge to the President although it most certainly was not disrespectful. It has been the President himself who promotes class warfare and demonizes the rich and Carson was simply asking why should any class be punished in a tax system? Good question!

Carson did not stop there. He pointed out a problem and like a good leader proposed a fair solution. He did so by citing the tithe system of ancient Israel but only used the familiar 10% tithe to make his point. In fact, the tithe system for ancient Israel was higher than 10% but that’s beside the point Carson was making. In fact Carson said the number of 10% was not the issue, but the fairness of a tithe/tax was. He asked if we could do better than God’s idea and thus was criticized by those who can’t fathom that maybe Carson is right.

Carson was arguing for a fair tax system built around the principle of a flat tax that applies proportionally to all classes.

For example, if a person earns $60,000 and we use the 10% number their tax is $6,000. If they earn $600,000 their tax is $60,000 and so forth and so on. In this way, all wage earners have proportional “skin in the game” and thus have a stake in what constitutes federal spending. At present the upper income classes bear a disproportionate share of taxes (with consequences to the economy) while other citizens pay virtually nothing toward federal taxes. Thus, the collectivist progressives punish the wealthy and the lower wage earners reward them with their votes thus perpetuating an unfair tax system.

The irony is President Obama and his allies insist this is fair and that the upper income earners are not paying their fair share thus fueling divisiveness. Carson was simply showing that there is a system of fairness that is proportional and for that he is criticized?

It’s because politicians in general, but collectivists like Obama in particular are not really interested in solving a problem for the good of all the people. Both sides are beholding to special interests that favor one sub-group and deny other sub-groups. Carson’s solution is fair to everyone because it’s proportional.

Sadly, in our system side that can appeal to the higher number of sub-groups is usually the side that gets control. And that’s why I’m am so cynical when it comes to politics. Governments that are supposed to exist for the good of all the people do not come up with solutions that are usually win-win for the majority of the people. In our system someone must lose and this kind of divisiveness and class baiting weakens our country.

Do I think the President will consider Dr. Carson’s common sense flat tax advice? Nope, I’m way too cynical for that.

And that’s the way I see it.

 

Churches to Mosques in Europe

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The land that gave birth to Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation “has lost its faith” according to two German friends of mine. This article in Der Spiegel seems to bear this out as Protestants and Catholics sell off their buildings, some of which date back hundreds of years.

Europe in general has seen a steep decline in Christianity. While many people are born into a state church few participate and as a result the buildings are empty much of the time.

In some places the church buildings are being taken over by Islam as Islam grows across Europe (and here to for that matter).

This church in Duisberg, Germany is now Moslem and it’s in addition to a large Mosque already in the area.

St. Peter and Paul Church, Duisberg, Germany, future Mosque

St. Peter and Paul Church, Duisberg, Germany, future Mosque

Here’s a link to the general church-mosque conversion in Europe in general.

Where the gospel is not preached then something other than the gospel will fill the void.

No Longer Following The Following

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What do Charles Manson, Jim Jones and Adolf Hitler have in common?

On the most basic level they [had] the ability to gather a following willing to do whatever was commanded. And evil is what was commanded.

And so it is with Fox’s new show, The Following starring a couple of fine actors, Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy.

James Purefoy and Kevin Bacon

James Purefoy and Kevin Bacon

Kevin Bacon is the “good guy” as Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent, currently disabled with a heart pace maker, called back into service to hunt down a second time, James Purefoy , “the bad guy” as Joe Carroll. Carroll is a serial killer, college professor, who while in prison manages to create a social network of fellow killers via the prison library’s computer. His followers are known as The Following.

Got all that?

There is more, perhaps a lot more as the writer’s have created a series like 24 in its ability to deliver a tense cliffhanger. Bacon and Purefoy are excellent in their respective roles.

The show’s main premise is that the Purefoy character seems to exist for the sole purpose of tormenting Bacon with his following because Bacon is the one guy who figured him out. It is on that level a psychological thriller as the two play mind games with one another. Purefoy, has the advantage because no one knows exactly how many are following him and therefore Bacon and the FBI are learning no one can be trusted. The show is frequently tense and I’m guessing will be a hit.

The series started with Purefoy escaping from prison as one of his followers, a prison guard, brutally murders 1/2 dozen other prison guards. Bacon is called out of retirement to track him down. Purefoy spends his escape by hunting down one of his previous victims who got away from him the first time due to Bacon’s timely intervention. The shocker is that Purefoy succeeds as Bacon fails to rescue the young woman.

The incident seems to set the pace as more potential victims are discovered. At times the FBI hero arrives in the nick of time but other times not thus creating the tension of who will survive and who will be killed by The Following next.

Revenge on Kevin Bacon is Purefoy’s motive. After Purefoy’s incarceration Bacon has an affair with Purefoy’s ex-wife thus creating further tension between the characters. Part of The Following kidnap Purefoy’s son to hurt the ex-wife and Bacon. The trio behind the plot is a weird menage-a-trios of two homosexual men and one woman who proves that both are not exclusively homosexual.

I should point out that much of each episode consists of flashbacks via Ryan Hardy’s point of view.

The show has something in common with 24 other than the weekly cliffhanger. The Bacon character, Ryan Hardy is not unlike Jack Bauer who bears the burden of trying to save people. He takes it personally when he cannot. In one scene he breaks the fingers of Purefoy just as Jack Bauer would have in his quest for justice or information that would save lives.

Ryan is as troubled as Jack Bauer too. He fears re-establishing his relationship with Carroll’s ex-wife although he loves her and her him. Hardy is also a bit like Bauer in that he is willing to disobey his superiors and go off the grid to pursue leads. The FBI, for their part, with one exception, look at Hardy as a bit of a head case with a pace maker just as CTU started to see Jack Bauer as a loose cannon (that they needed).

What The Following does not have in common with 24 is the gruesome violence.

The Following has the earmarks of a weird religious cult. Joe Carroll was the Professor of English Literature who has a fascination with Poe and “death as art.” Carroll’s followers are taken in by his “charm” and intelligence and eager to reproduce the killings that Carroll performed on his 14 victims. The  Following’s victims are sadistically murdered as the following seek to imitate their master. The scenes are terrifying and gruesome though not always ritualistic. The Following or most so far seem devoid of any semblance of conscience, thus mirroring the likes of any current mass murderer.

The Following often goes further than 24 in the blood and gore department. In that sense, it has more in common with a slasher movie than a purely psychological thriller. The scenes are scary and intentionally so, thus proving Stephen King’s axiom that people like to be scared (as long as they know they are not personally in danger).

The Following main cast. Good guys are on the right, bad guys on the left.

The Following main cast. Good guys are on the right, bad guys on the left.

In this way death becomes a spectator sport and at least for my wife and I unsettling. Last week she said to me, “how many nuts will copy this?”

So, why did we decide not to follow The Following despite the fine acting and cliffhanger aspects of the show?

If you asked my wife she’s probably say it’s too intense, too graphic and too unsettling and that would be reason enough. I would not disagree. I seriously question the pushing of the violence envelope in order to shock. We’ve come a long way from Hitchcock’s psychological thrillers.

On a deeper level in a series with spiritual over tones the series is superficial. Depending on who is doing the viewing each of the main characters is a savior of sorts. For The Following Carroll represents something more than their mundane and ordinary lives can provide. Carroll is the cult-like figure with superior intelligence that is also charming and mesmerizing,

The Following have a chance to be “someone” and claim 15 minutes of fame by doing Carroll’s bidding. An often repeated line is “pleasing Joe.” The Following do what they do to “please Joe” even if pleasing Joe means committing suicide. In other words, the Carroll character gives The Following purpose and hope. The theme is demonic without overtly saying so.

The Ryan Hardy character is a savior figure too. His goal is save others from The Following. Often times he fails and evil triumphs. While Hardy is the good guy he really does not provide any hope beyond surviving the next attack.

And that is what is the most unsettling to me. The show does not provoke any deeper thinking in my opinion, such as the where does evil come from and how are people taken in by charismatic figures? Even the Walking Dead another show that can be a gore fest does provoke some thinking with the various moral dilemmas survivors of a zombie apocalypse face. In fact, one advertising blurb for the Walking Dead is, Fight the Dead, Fear the Living thus making a great point about mankind.

I am hard pressed to find anything redeeming about The Following other than just “stopping the bad guy and his following.” Man’s depravity is on full display as well as relative good and malevolent evil without much of a context. I realize the series is not supposed to be a theological treatise and that its main purpose is to entertain. I get that.

I just simply do want to invest my “entertainment” time in a series that is so dark, so malevolent that it seems to lack any redeeming purpose at all.

And that’s the way I see it or in this case see it no longer.

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Excellent insights in this blog as to how a culture celebrates suicide bombers. We Americans can be so incredibly naive.

Rabbi Pruzansky's Blog

With President Obama set to visit Israel in the next few months, the pressure on Israel to make further tangible concessions for the sake of a “peace of paper” will be intense. He has been marketing this visit as if it a major sacrifice on his part that demands some reciprocity from Israel. Whatever the composition of the new Israeli coalition, Obama is likely to find a PM Netanyahu also eager for some show of flexibility that will win him temporary plaudits from the international community and permanent antipathy from the Israelis who will pay the price for any new concessionary folly. Both should look at a single news item from last week and abstain from any “peace-making.”
On January 28 (last week), Fatah – the ruling junta in the chaos known as the Palestinian Authority – fêted the deceased Wafa Idris, who 11 years ago became the first Arab…

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Buy a sword, said Jesus_Part Two

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In my blog post of the other day titled “Buy a sword, said Jesus” I said that the sword was a literal sword and that by implication it meant Jesus’ approval of self-defense. At least one person took exception to that and while I do not like how they took exception I do want to address the essence of their disagreement. The essence seems to be is the sword a literal sword and does Jesus mean to approve of the use of a sword for self-defense (Luke 22:36-38).

To have a sword or not have a sword is not the major point of the passage. I believe that Jesus is teaching the disciples something about self-reliance and the sword, money bag and knapsack, whether literal or figurative, illustrates by example what he means.

The passage appears in the larger context of the Last Supper and Jesus’ betrayal by Judas that would lead to his crucifixion. Jesus knows what the disciple’s have not fully grasped and that is he will be leaving them physically and they will not be able to rely on him in ways they had in the past.

The “sword ” passage is preceded by Simon Peter’s bravado as Simon Peter seeks to prove to Jesus that he will not be the one to betray Jesus. Peter boldly proclaims that he is ready to go to prison and even to death with Jesus. Jesus replies that Peter too will betray him although not exactly in the same manner as Judas. In fact Peter will act quite cowardly by denying he ever knew Jesus.

Jesus predicts Peter’s fall and continues his instruction by making a comparison. He asks the disciples how he had previously sent them out, that is, without money bag, knapsack, or even sandals. He asks if they lacked anything and they reply, nothing.

“But now” things will be different. Why?

Answer, the Scripture must be fulfilled. He will be betrayed and he will be crucified. Therefore, (but now) you must be prepared to not rely on me like you previously did. Now you will need a degree a self-reliance (or mutual reliance) and must prepare to carry on missionary activity. You can do this by providing for yourselves a money bag and knapsack.

The comparison is not exact because Jesus drops the sandals and yet adds a sword which he tells them to purchase.

The question then becomes did Jesus literally mean for them to buy a sword (if they did not already have one)?

Clearly, the disciples took Jesus literally because they reply that they have two swords among them. Jesus replies “it is enough” thus raising the question what did he mean by “it is enough”?

Did he mean two swords would be enough or did he mean “enough talk”?

I think the flow of the conversation indicates that he meant that particular conversation was over and it was time to move on to fulfill the Scriptures. However, it could equally mean that two swords among the eleven is literally enough since it was Jesus himself who brought up the issue of purchasing a sword in the first place.

If the main point of Jesus’s teaching in the passage was to emphasize a degree of self-reliance when he was gone then whether or not the disciples had one sword, two swords or eleven swords seems irrelevant. It is clear they had two.

Jesus’ message seems to be prepared, not be armed to the teeth. Certainly, Jesus’ response ended the conversion about swords as well.

All that to say I can find little reason to make the sword reference to mean anything other than a literal sword.

But as I said, some take exception to that interpretation so let’s wade through the popular interpretations of sword. Is it literal or a metaphor?

There are three major interpretations regarding the sword by evangelical scholars.

The first is that the sword was literal as I’ve noted. Critics of this interpretation point to the fact that Jesus rebukes Peter for his use of the sword when he lops off the servant’s ear. Whatever else we might say about Peter what he did with his sword was not cowardly seeing as the group coming to take Jesus was armed to the teeth (swords and clubs according to the text). Presumably, Peter’s sword was one of the two the eleven had in their possession on that fateful night.

William Hendriksen, an evangelical scholar whom I greatly respect takes the view that since Jesus rebukes the use of the sword when Peter lops off the ear that this must mean the previous sword must not be literal.

I’ll be the first one to admit that I am not a scholar nor a trained exegete. Nevertheless, I find what the majority opinion may be to be quite the reach. I fail to see how a real sword used to lop off an ear makes the previous references to swords to be metaphors unless off course Peter lops off a metaphorical ear as well.

It would not have been unusual for people in a first century Palestine culture to run around armed. Brigands and robbers and murderers were as common then as they are now. Having some means of self-defense would not be thought of as unusual. When the disciples tell Jesus they have two swords among them he does not seem all that surprised, nor does he rebuke them for concealed carry. He simply says “no more of this” meaning I’m not going to resist, the Scripture must be fulfilled and that’s the priority. He then heals the lopped off ear. Why that did not make more of an impression on the armed group I am not sure other than to say that the Scriptures would be fulfilled so maybe the armed mob is not impressed.

Also, consider this from the Jewish Encyclopedia:

SICARII (Greek, σικάριοι = “assassins,” “daggermen”):

Sicae

Sicae

Term applied, in the decades immediately preceding the destruction of Jerusalem, to the Jewish Zealots who attempted to expel the Romans and their partizans from the country, even resorting to murder to attain their object. Under their cloaks they concealed “sicæ,” or small daggers, whence they received their name; and at popular assemblies, especially during the pilgrimage to the Temple mount, they stabbed their enemies, or, in other words, those who were friendly to the Romans, lamenting ostentatiously after the deed, and thus escaping detection (Josephus, “Ant.” xx. 8, § 10;idem, “B. J.” ii. 13, § 3). Although Felix had cleared the country of the so-called “robbers,” their place was taken by the Sicarii, who were not so easily to be suppressed. The high priest Jonathan was assassinated by them at the instigation of Felix, who did not hesitate to make use of the Sicarii in this way. During the procuratorship, of Cumanus they killed an imperial servant on the open highway near Beth-horon, an act which resulted in lamentable consequences.

Some evangelical scholars speculate that Judas Iscariot was an early zealot and a daggerman. As noted above the “sicae” (Latin) was a small dagger, easily concealed. The zealots used them to dispatch Romans and Roman collaborators. The point is, it was a violent time and the word “sword” in our text could feasibly mean “small dagger” and that leads me to the next possible interpretation.

Some would turn the “sword” into a smaller weapon or utility knife. Pastor John MacArthur makes the observation in his study bible notes that the two swords the disciples produced were probably of the smaller variety of sword. I think that is very possible.

When we think of a sword most of us think of the long-bladed, knightly variety used in the middle-ages. In first century Palestine a long sword of that type would have been extremely rare and then would have been of northern barbarian origin.

Roman Gladius

Roman Gladius

Roman soldiers carried a gladius, a short sword used for thrusting rather than slashing which is how northern barbarians used their longer swords. The gladius was less than 24″ long. Roman soldiers also carried a back-up weapon and/or utility knife called a pugio. The length of a pugio was between 7″ and 11.”

Hendriksen says that if “sword” means “small-sword” it must mean “knife” as in a utility knife of some sort possibly of the variety of a butcher knife. He dismisses this interpretation on the basis that Jesus said those who live by the sword will die by the sword and substituting the word “knife” just does not cut it. No pun intended. Personally, I think Hendriksen has simple misunderstanding of what first century Palestine people would call a sword.

So, in my opinion, the word sword could mean any sword-like weapon that measured between 7″ and 24″ although it would be extremely unlikely that the disciples would be carrying anything like a Roman gladius and their sword would be more like the Roman pugio being between 7″ and 11″ in length.

Hendriksen then concludes by saying: “The term sword must be interpreted figuratively. The meaning is that in the circumstances that are about to arise The Eleven will need all the courage they can muster.”

I would not disagree that the eleven would need all the courage they could muster but I would take issue when Hendriksen says “the term sword MUST be interpreted figuratively (or metaphorically). One paragraph later Hendriksen walks back the term “must” when he says his favored interpretation is probable (meaning, he really cannot say so definitively).

I am a soteriological Calvinist myself and so have a great deal of respect for Reformed theologians. I have noticed however, that at times, some will prefer a figurative interpretation when the text does not demand a figurative interpretation. And in my opinion, a figurative interpretation is not required when a plain reading of the text can certainly accommodate a literal sword of some sort and length.

And I am not alone in that view. Wayne Grudem, another well-known evangelical, Calvinistic theologian and scholar says in his Politics , According to the Bible that some people who take a pacifistic approach to the sword issue do so because of a misinterpretation of Matthew 5:38-39. In that passage Jesus tells the disciples to turn the other cheek if someone slaps you on one cheek. The pacifist leaning individual would take the passage to mean that Jesus was prohibiting all self-defense in any circumstance.

Grudem responds by saying Jesus is prohibiting the taking of personal vengeance when insulted (slapped) and not forbidding any and all forms of self-defense.

Grudem further notes and I think accurately it is not wise to take several of Jesus’ words as absolute commands but rather as examples of how Christ like conduct would look especially in regards to personal relationships.

As a point aside pacifistic groups as a whole misinterpret the Sermon on the Mount which is why they do not serve in the military and have historically been classified as conscientious objectors. Their argument descends from the greater to the lesser. If they believe it is wrong for them to serve in the military and defend their country then it’s obviously wrong to defend oneself when personally attacked.

Grudem will go on to argue that swords means swords in Luke 22:36-38. Minority view or not, I think he is right.

To interpret swords metaphorically does damage to the text since money bag and knapsack and sandals are all literal so why assume otherwise for sword?

I would further argue that the main point of the exchange between the disciples and Jesus is that Jesus is preparing them for his departure and that they will need a bit of self-reliance along with the necessary courage to speak the gospel. I do not think the self-reliance is apart from reliance on Jesus in an absolute sense since Jesus did tell them he would send the Holy Spirit to be their helper.

Given this line of reasoning it is not too much to imply that Jesus would approve of self-defense depending upon the circumstances.

One friend of mine noted that the passage has gun-control connotations and I believe he is right. If the Bible authorizes a sword (a weapon) for self-defense then it certainly morally acceptable to have a gun for the same purpose.

Below is Luke 22:31-53 to give the reader the flow of events and dialogue.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no money bag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a money bag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22:31-34; Luke 22:35-53 ESV)

Interesting comments on Judas Iscariot and his possible connection to the zealot daggermen.

Works consulted

Link to Amazon William Hendriksen, Commentary on Luke

Link to Amazon Wayne Grudem, Politics, According to the Bible

Link to Amazon, John MacArthur, Study Bible, ESV

“Buy a Sword” said Jesus

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In Rick Atkinson’s excellent work on the American Army titled An Army at Dawn-The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 he recounts how the newly arrived American soldiers had trouble hating their German and Italian enemies and thus shooting at them.

The American Army's baptism of fire in the North African Campaign began in February, 1943 when Rommel attacked at Kasserine Pass. The inexperienced Americans were routed but soon found out how to fight back. Here American soldiers inspect a knocked out German Pz. III tank.

The American Army’s baptism of fire in the North African Campaign began in February, 1943 when Rommel attacked at Kasserine Pass. The inexperienced Americans were routed but soon found out how to fight back. Here American soldiers inspect a knocked out German Pz. III tank.

The American soldiers collective attitude seemed to be one of “what did those guys ever do to me” along with the aversion to taking a life in general. Since the vast bulk of our soldiers came from a Christianized background they also would have been exposed to the commandment “thou shalt not kill” thus wondering how killing in a war could be reconciled with the apparent absoluteness of the commandment.

After the Americans began to take fire and suffer casualties their aversion to killing began to disappear as war became suddenly very personal and “kill or be killed” became the new normal.

Theologically speaking, men, all men, are natural-born sinners, but that does not mean all men are natural-born killers. Most of us have to have an obvious reason to kill. Self-defense and self-preservation quickly rise to the top of pretty good reasons.

I was reminded of the tension some soldiers might feel this morning as I read a column by Dennis Prager of Townhall.com.

In the column Prager makes reference to an opinion piece in the Washington Post by a former Marine Captain who titled the opinion piece “I killed people in Afghanistan. Was I right or wrong.”

Prager notes that the Marine Captain, now a student at New York University is morally confused having difficulty reconciling the notion that “killing is always wrong” but the exception seems to be “this is war, so it’s okay.” The Marine Captain concludes that he was wrong to kill in the Afghan War.

As a pastoral counselor I am keenly aware of the variety of factors that can influence a person’s thinking and contribute to their belief system.

For example, one of the best known examples is the idea that a child that who has a poor example of a father generally has a hard time relating to God the Father. The influence of what Scripture has to say about God the Father can change that but the transition can be difficult because the child carries baggage from his or her experiences with an earthly father.

The Marine Captain now firmly ensconced in the leftist university system is being influenced by a leftist, pacifistic mindset and agenda that is quite good at guilt manipulation just as it is fundamentally anti-military. One has to only think back to the sixties and seventies when it was quite common for our military to be branded as baby killers and murderers as they returned from the Vietnam War. The same people who hurled epithets like that then now control the bulk of our universities.

Prager points out, rightly in my opinion, that the Marine Captain’s thinking is counter-intuitive. Like our soldiers in WW2 who really did not want to kill they quickly learned there was a righteous self-defense aspect to fighting the Germans and Italians in North Africa as well as understanding that fascism had to be stopped and people would die to stop it.

Most children and their parents intuitively understand this and have to work hard to dismiss the notion that when you are attacked you must defend yourself (or die, or get beat up, or robbed.) Most also intuitively understand or understood there is a way of life worth defending and sometimes that means taking on modern-day Islamic-Fascists who blow themselves and others in suicide bombings up, maim women and children and in general behave in the most barbarous ways imaginable.

For the Christian we have to be more concerned with what the Scripture says about these things rather than what the leftist universities say. For example, I believe that Jesus supports the idea of self-defense in the following passage:

He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:36-38 ESV)

There is a spiritualized interpretation of the passage that turns the sword into a metaphorical sword to emphasize the spiritual warfare the disciples will be engaged in. Those that hold to this view cite the fact that when Jesus was arrested he told Peter to sheath his sword (after he loped off the ear of a guy named Malchus, John 18:10).

Others, including myself argue that the sword is as literal as the moneybag and knapsack and that when Jesus told Peter to put up his sword it was because the Scripture needed to be fulfilled and not because Jesus did not believe in self-defense. I mean really, if Jesus was against swords then why he didn’t tell the disciples to not even have one strapped on”

I am not certain if the Marine Captain was or is even aware of the passage or its correct interpretation. Prager though does believe that Marine Captain was aware of the above mentioned commandment (Ex. 20:13), “Thou shalt not kill.”

What the Marine Captain certainly does not know is that “thou shalt not kill” should have been rendered “thou shalt not commit murder.” Prager notes that in Hebrew there are two primary words for homicide, kill and murder. The translators of the King James Bible simply chose kill over murder. More modern translations such as English Standard Version render the verse like this:

“You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13 ESV)

The former Marine Captain, now a student and product of the leftist American University system may very well be typical of many soldiers. When a person goes to war against a monstrous enemy such as the Taliban it does require a certain recalibration of one’s moral values and if one does not have something solid like a sound theology to recalibrate upon one is at the mercy of other agenda driven influences.

Prager concludes that Marine Corps should explain to Marines (especially Marine officers) that the Bible does not prohibit the killing of Taliban monsters and that in fact it is a moral good to do so.

I have no idea what Marine Corps training consists of but can tell you that way back in 1971 during my brief stay in the Army I never once heard any reference to the Bible and the moral justification for war or self-defense. Back then it was probably assumed that like in WW2 American soldiers had something of a background that would suggest it is necessary to defend oneself and defeat the enemies of one’s country who were trying to kill you.

That the Marine Corps would have a need to state what was once so obvious is another indication of our far we have slid into moral confusion as a nation.

Now Secretary of Defense John Kerry in a picture with Jane Fonda. Kerry was and is among those who would characterize the American military as baby killers. Ironic given the left;s abortion at any time advocacy.

Now Secretary of Defense John Kerry in a picture with Jane Fonda. Kerry was and is among those who would characterize the American military as baby killers. Ironic given the left’s abortion at any time advocacy.

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