Thursday, 14 January 2016

Being "Born Again" and becoming a "New Creation"

Yeshua or the writers of the Apostolic Scriptures did not invent the term “born again”. Rather it was a rabbinic term for a Gentile who underwent a formal conversion to Judaism. Part of the conversion ritual involved a full body immersion into a mikvah, i.e. baptism. [See Torah Club Val pages 28-29; and Volume 4 “Noah’s Mikvah] Through the process of conversion and immersion, the Gentile proselyte was regarded as being re-created into an Israelite. In the Talmud, this concept is expressed in tractate Yevamot.
When he comes up after his immersion he is deemed to be an Israelite in all respects. Yevamot 47b.
Rabbi Yose said,” One who has become a proselyte is like a child newly born.” Yevamot 48b.
In his book the Waters of Eden, the late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, drawing on traditional Jewish thought and sources about the mikvah immersion ritual comments on the born again imagery of the mikvah. Consider the following passages from his book on the subject.

      Emerging from the Mikvah is very much like a process of rebirth: Seen in this light, we see that the Mikvah represents the womb. When an individual enters the Mikvah he is re-entering the womb, and when he emerges, he is as if born anew. Thus he attains a completely new status…. When he emerges, he is like one reborn… We therefore see that immersion in the Mikvah represents renewal and rebirth. [Kaplan, 1995, pages 320-323]

“Like one reborn” is a general Talmudic way of speaking about proselytes. The rebirth of Gentiles who passed through the Mikvah was taken literally by the sages. Gentiles born again as Jews were regarded as having no kin. In a legal sense, they were regarded as completely new creatures.  Old family ties and relations were considered defunct, as if the convert had actually died and then come back to life as a different person.

Traditional readings of John 3 have always assumed that Yeshua coined the phrase “born again” in His conversion with Nicodemus We have generally taught that Nicodemus was confused because he interpreted the phrase literally. Nicodemus puzzled, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (John 3:4) According to our traditional understanding of the passage Nicodemus was baffled by Yeshua’s use of figurative language as if he has never encountered the use of metaphor before.

However, in the rabbinic context, the phrase “born again” was already in use. A born again person was a Gentile who had converted to Judaism under the auspices of the rabbinic ritual. It referred to the symbolic death and rebirth the convert underwent as he passed through the waters of baptism. The immersion into the Mikvah is regarded like re-entering the womb from which the proselyte is reborn as a Jew. “When an individual enters the mikvah, he is re-entering the womb, and when he emerges, he is as if born anew,” Rabbi Kaplan wrote.

When Nicodemus objects and says, “How can a man be born when he is old?” It is not because the figurative language has left him baffled. Rather, he is employing the same metaphorical terminology that Yeshua was using. According to the imagery, Nicodemus was objecting to Yeshua by saying, “I am already Jewish. How can I convert to Judaism?” It is actually a sound objection.

Yeshua goes on to explain, “Amen! Amen! A man must be born of water and spirit!” In other words, Yeshua tells Nicodemus that it is not enough to simply be Jewish. To be ethnically Jewish, or even to be a convert to Judaism via the rabbinic ritual is not adequate for entrance to the kingdom of heaven. A spiritual conversion of the heart is the conversion experience that is really necessary. In essence, Yeshua is warning Nicodemus not to rely on his ethnicity (that is his Jewishness) for salvation. “You need to have a converted heart,” Yeshua tells him.

“Flesh gives birth to flesh,” he says, which is to say, “A Jew gives birth to a Jew, but spirit gives birth to spirit.” It is not adequate to be merely a physical descendant of Abraham, one must also be born of the spirit of God, and that is a spiritual transaction.

This spiritual rebirth is implied by the ambiguity of the word anathon which the New International Version translated as “again” in the phrase term “born again.” The Greek word anathon can also mean “from above.” The one “born again” is born from above. The convert’s rebirth from above, in pharisaic symbolism, was a type of resurrection from the dead. [Daube (1956) “A baptism catechism.” Pages 106-139] Thus, the rebirth imagery was tied closely to the belief in resurrection. To be born again, or born from above, then would mean to be raised from the dead. The novel idea of resurrection from the dead before death is a motif that Yeshua will explore later in John’s Gospel.

Hebrew word play is at work in the master’s saying, “wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” The Hebrew word for “wind”, ruach is the same word used for “spirit.” [1]

The above material, from Torah Club Vol 1, suggests a further thought, if the idea of being "born again" was so widely understood in the context of the "proselytization" ritual in the first century, could it be that Paul's use of the ideas of becoming a new creation in 2 Cor 5:17 and Gal 2:20 might also be understood as part of proselytization? 

[1]  Torah Club Vol 4, FFOZ Publications.

Friday, 6 November 2015

How to cope with Logos and its immensity

Over on the Logos Forum, there was a thread about how big Logos was compared to its competing software programs.

Bible study programs used to be just electronic bibles and you could purchase multiple translations and then compare them to gain better insight into how much latitude the original languages gave translators as they parsed the text into English. Then they might present the various translations in parallel to make comparisons more convenient.

Keyword searching made finding the reference of a particular passage really convenience, and looking up references effortless.  Adding original language dictionaries then made the old concordance look ups just so easy.

These days these programs have evolved into publishing platforms with rich interconnections between Bibles, commentaries, dictionaries and encyclopedias. Each platform strives with one another to capture the material from the various publishing houses. The more reputable the author, the more useful will be the platform to users.

After nearly 30 years, Logos is the clear leader in this race. In becoming the gold standard, it is also the priciest. Now there are tens of thousands of books that have been published through the logos platform. If a Bible verse or Scripture reference appears in any extra biblical writing, that reference is hyperlinked back to your Bible choice.

Equally users can go the other way, and command the program to provide every reference to a particular Bible reference in every extra biblical resource that the user has purchased. Often tens of thousands of references can be retrieved with one query like that.

Understandably, this means that this is an incredibly powerful tool in which a user could be lost within it for days on end. You can also end up being tempted to purchase hundreds of books that you might never need. Often logos markets the resources in large packages or sets often priced at several hundred dollars each. They argue that the average price per book is much lower but unfortunately in any given set, you might only use less than 10% of it.

For Logos users who are encountering these problems here are a few tips and thoughts that I have gleaned over several years of using Logos:

I only read the home page on the weekend, like reading the weekend newspaper.

Logos is an enthusiastic promoter of the resources that have been published on this platform to users. A lot of it is like spam, there is a constant, relentless drive to promote another resource for users to purchase.

Like any ad, on occasion I do see something of interest and purchase that, but it can be tiresome.

The packages have a lot of stuff that often isn't that relevant to me and sometimes I fret that it's taking up real estate on my hard drive.

In a similar vein the frequent updates used to be annoying because they slowed my PC down until it was unusable until indexing had been completed.

These days, with broadband internet connections, and faster machines, I don't notice it so much.

So I've learnt to use Logos purposefully.  I go into it with a task in mind and stop myself from being distracted by other things.  It's a skill that has to be learnt with the Internet anyway.  Endless hours can be spent surfing with no productive end.

I've found Logos to be really powerful.  For example, I was reading a rabbinical polemic against Christians the other day and the Rabbi said that the writer of Hebrews had misquoted the Torah.

A quick look up of the Biblica Stuttengartsia showed on the face of it, he was right.  How did the error come to be?  I had a look at the Septuagint and the "error" was there.  Whether the mistranslation resulted in a misinterpretation is another story.

I couldn't have done that with my old software, Wordsearch; but I don't know whether it can these days, as I moved to Logos years ago.

It doesn't take long before you can have a mountain of resources which can result in Logos taking a long time to complete a search.  Logos allows resources to be omitted from searches by restricting the search to a particular collection which you need to set up beforehand.

If I only want to search commentaries then I create a collection of commentaries first.  This is a one time task and the collection can be used over and over again.  Depending on the criteria for inclusion, any new commentaries you purchase will automatically be included in the collection.

Never used resources can be discarded from any search so that your computer can avoid wasting effort on them.

I'm sure there are people who buy resources for all the "wrong" reasons but then I'm a great believer in the idea that God motivates people in many strange ways and often we do things for the "wrong" reasons yet they end up being a blessing later (Rom 8:28?).

Anyway, this is my approach to purchasing resources now:

  1. Start with a basic collection with the tools you really, really need and then grow your collection from there as the need arises.  For example, my church is doing a study of Ephesians, so I went looking at reviews to find the top three resources on Ephesians and purchased the ones I wanted that are available through Logos. Don't worry so much about the "sales", especially the bundles, you end up buying stuff you never use.  Been there, done that.
  2. Look for recommended reading lists from authors and authorities that you trust. 
  3. Not all resources are available on Logos' store.  So for the Ephesians study, I purchased them elsewhere and made them into Personal Books. It's worth learning to make Personal Books, because there are lots of resources out there that are very useful, but haven't made it into the Logos product list for one reason or another.  Sometimes publishers won't play ball.  Other times, it doesn't meet Logos' criteria.  Personal books bring the power of Logos to those resources.  I've done a number of these, especially the FFOZ Torah Club.  Lots of work involved in converting that set but so, so useful to see parts of those materials come up in Logos searches.  I know some people will be concerned about copyright but if I'm only using them for myself, and I'm not distributing them to others, then it falls under the "Fair Use" doctrine of copyright law. 

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

SSD Really Speeds Up Logos 6

I just recently upgraded my X60 Tablet by replacing its hard drive (HDD) with a solid state drive (SSD).  The difference is a drive based on a rotating storage platter and a drive based on memory chips with no moving parts. 

The Kingston v300 SSDNow drive came with a USB drive enclosure, so the SSD could be plugged into the tablet via a USB port.  I used a freeware program called Macrium to clone the HDD to the SSD.  It took a while but it was otherwise uneventful. 

Then it was just a matter of removing the HDD, detaching the rubber cushions and caddy, and fitting the cushions and caddy to the SSD.  After slipping it back into its railed slot, the tablet booted up without missing a beat.  The difference in speed was immediate.  The Tablet ran at a much lower temperature too.

The improvement in responsiveness for Logos 6 was dramatic.  Well worth the effort.  For all those using Logos 6 on older hardware and finding the sluggish experience quite frustrating, I recommend the upgrade.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Parasha Reading Plan for 5776

I put together this reading plan (Lectionary) for Logos 6 for 5776 which covers the Hebrew Year from 2015-16 in the Gregorian Calendar.

The Parasha reading system is observed by many orthodox Jews across the world and takes readers through the Pentateuch in one year.  Christians have adapted the system to include the NT.  These adaptations are also included in this lectionary. 

Logos 6 imports .docx files as personal books.  The Lectionary is in this format.  Import the document as type "Lectionary" rather than the default type "Monograph." 

Once the lectionary has been built, it can be added to the Logos Start Page (see above). 

You can download it here.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Ephesians 2:15: Is the law abolished?

We are currently doing a bible study on Ephesians through our church.

Ephesians 2:14–16 (ESV) says:
14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility

15by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,

16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Nearly every commentary I reviewed, followed the view that the law had been abolished.  Really?  How does this reconcile with Jesus' position in Matthew 5:17 (ESV):
17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Or that Jesus calls those that do not know him as "lawless" in Matthew 7:23 (ESV):
23And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Or that James the Righteous says to Paul that there is a vicious rumour that Paul is teaching all to forsake the law.  In order to dispel this myth, James has hatched a plan for Paul to go up to the temple and to pay for the sacrifices on behalf of two Nazirites. 

Paul accepts the plan but is recognized along the way.  A riot ensues and he never gets there.  Ultimately he is arrested, appeals to Caesar and ends up in Rome, where he writes this Epistle.

Thomas Lancaster says that most translations are flawed. He offers the following alternate translation:
 "for He Himself in our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity..."
The KJV places a similar emphasis on enmity rather than on the law itself.

Lancaster writes: 
How does the Torah cause enmity between Jew and Gentile?  We have already seen how the Oral Law, the rabbinic interpretation of Torah, excluded Gentiles.  The Greek word for "regulations" speaks specifically to those man-made contrivances, not to the actual Torah.  According to those Oral commandments and regulations, one needed to make a formal conversion to Judaism before participating in Israel.  The dividing wall of the Temple is itself an architectural innovation based on rabbinic interpretations.  in first century Jerusalem, the dividing wall of hostility was more than just a metaphor. 

But the written Torah actually sets up parameters for participation in Israel, such as circumcision, Sabbath observance, and abstaining from adultery.  Those are all commandments and ordinances found in Torah. 

Observance of the commandments and ordinances is compulsory for Israelites because the Torah is Israel’s covenant with God.  The Gentiles, however, as strangers to the covenants of promise, are oblivious of these laws.  The result is a sharp distinction between Jew and Gentile.  Add to that the first century theological supposition that Torah was only for Jews, and it created a very distinct and clear line of separation between Jew and Gentile. 

There is enmity engendered by the Torah between Israelite and Gentile, and the enmity is this:  Israel is God’s chosen and redeemed people, and the Gentiles are not.  Israel is in covenant with the Father and the Gentiles are not.  Every command and ordinance given to Israel marked out the parameters of who Israel was and who Israel was not.  The Torah determined who was in and who was out. 

The enmity that Messiah abolished is this separation between Jew and Gentile.  It is abolished in the sense that Messiah has brought Gentile believers into Israel.  He seats them at the table with Israel and invites them to be partakers in the New Covenant with Israel.  As Gentiles brought into covenant through Messiah begin to engage in the commandments and ordinances along with Israel, theline of distinction, the dividing wall of hostility vanishes.  The enmity between Jewish and Gentile believers caused by commandments and ordinances, is abolished in Messiah’s flesh.  How so?  Because Messiah brings the Gentiles into the fold of Israel. 

The prophet Isaiah provides a vivid illustration of this principle.  He declares tha the stranger who keeps the Sabbath and holds fast to God’s covenant will be received in the innermost courts of the temple.  His sacrifices will be received on the altar and the temple will be a house of prayer for Gentiles from every nation (Isaiah 56:7).  It was probably this very passage that Paul had in mind as he wrote of Messiah abolishing the dividing wall.  For the dividing wall, which would forbid the Gentile from entering the temple to offer sacrifice, is completely absent in Isaiah’s messianic age prophecy:  Isaiah 56:6-7.

Therefore the Ephesians passage (2:11-15), is not a contradiction of the Master’s words in Matthew 5:17 (“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Torah…), nor is it a textual justification to sin and sin boldly.  Instead, it shows us how Gentiles are able to retain their Gentile identity while at the same time being regarded as part of Israel, living out the law of Israel.
Because the enmity has been abolished, Gentiles need not find a genetic justification for keeping the laws and ordinances of Torah nor must they make a formal conversion to Judaism.  The enmity of distinction has been removed; the laws and ordinances of Torah are open to Gentiles.  The dividing wall has been removed.  Gentiles are free to move from the metaphoric Court of the Gentiles into the metaphoric Court of Israel.  They are given free access to the Torah life that identifies Israel:  they are given access to the House of God.

Thomas Lancaster, "The Mystery of the Gospel", pp 181-183.
 Perhaps his comments throws light on Paul's "Israel of God" from his epistle to the Galatians.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Robert Fisk: The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East

After nearly a year and a half, I've finally finished reading this 1,286 page tome (not counting endnotes, a bibliography and index. It is an interesting and must read for those interested in Middle Eastern affairs. Fisk writes from decades of experience as a foreign correspondent for the British newspaper, The Independent. Written in 2005, this book is a retrospective on his work and tries to makes sense of the many conflicts that he has witnessed. His frustration and disgust regarding the many injustices he perceives is palpable. Depending on one's perspective, his judgements can seem understandable or harsh. After reading the last page, and reflecting on the whole book, it seems to me that Fisk's anger stems from a naivety born from a set of flawed beliefs: 1 A western view that all the responsibilities one bears in life are individual in nature that the "sins" of a nation or the leaders of a nation, should not be carried on the shoulders of its citizens. Thus he does little to hold despots such as the Ottomans, Saddam Hussein, the Taleban and Arafat responsible for the suffering of their peoples. 2 The international competition for the world's resources is in some way distasteful and should be avoided. Thus foreign investment in Middle Eastern lands is an illegal capture of an indigenous people's resources. He pays no attention to the fact that that they might have willingly sold those rights to foreigners in return for benefits they would not otherwise have enjoyed. Often these benefits were siphoned off into personal bank accounts rather than distributed for the good of their societies. He does not sufficiently lay the blame for indigenous poverty on indigenous corruption and graft. 3 In war, "civilians" should never die. Any death of a civilian is an injustice. This is a corollary of Belief 1. The belief ignores the reality of war. To Fisk, the fact that Western manufactured arms should result in the deaths of civilians is a grave injustice. He urges that Western arms manufacturers should somehow prevent their clients from using them in a way that results in civilian deaths. His focus is on the West and only the West in this regard. He doesn't try to lobby Chinese, Eastern European, North Korean or Russian manufacturers. 4 In peace, justice should be perfect. Therefore ideas such as modus vivendi have no place in Fisk's world. For him, the creation of Israel itself is an injustice. He cannot see the linkage between the method being, albeit flawed, continuation of the more successful Greek-Turkish and Muslim-Hindu conflicts. In the latter two cases, significant displacement of peoples was accepted as a necessary step toward a lasting peace. He accepts these instances of peace making without question, even though generations of familial history must be broken in order to bring it to pass. The creation of Israel is an attempt to create a safe homeland for an ethnic group that had suffered from considerable prejudice that spanned many nations. Its creation meant the displacement of people so that millions more could live. The current Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a direct result of a flawed nation state creation process that resulted in the creation of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. For Fisk, the fact that Israel's security fence has clearly curtailed the suicide bomber campaign of the early 2000's matters not. He just sees a tool for entrenching Israel's encroachment on Arab lands. 5 World Peace would be achieved if the West would stop interfering in the Middle East and somehow let them get on with their own lives: a form of Apartheid. At a religious level: The Muslim doctrine of Dawah means they will never leave the West alone. Furthermore, the West's liberal lifestyle, means that Muslim adherents will always see the West as a source of moral decay which must be expunged as an affront to Allah. The Christian doctrine of Mission carries the same mandate to actively promulgate the Gospel in Middle Eastern societies. To me: 1. The injustices of the Middle East should be laid at the feet of Arab and Persian leadership. It is their corruption and thirst for power that has led to their own enrichment, the emergence of an elite and the impoverishment and subjugation of their own peoples. Fisk's criticism is heavily biased against the West. 2. The West's desire to trade and to purchase resources for economic development is fair. It is only unjust when the West steps outside the normal bounds of international law. Examples of unjust behaviour should include using armed force to secure resources or to bend the will of an indigenous people to trade or obtain advantageous trading terms. 3. The roots of the Iraqi War of 2003 stem from Hussein's use of biological and chemical weapons on his own people, and his attempts to establish a viable nuclear weapons program. Hussein underestimated the amount of hysteria this could generate in the West. It may be that the Shia and Sunni portions of Iraqi society might be required in order to create a sustainable peace. There is no doubt that there are many tragedies that have resulted from the geo-political games that have been played in the Middle East. Fisk has seen many tragic events first hand. In this, I totally agree with Fisk that these tragic events are due to many injustices. However we differ on our analysis of what these injustices are and the events and motives that led to these events.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Gordon Fee argues against Torah Observance

"...the ultimate contrast in Galatians is not between "works" and "faith", but between life under Torah and life by the Spirit. Life under Torah means to come under the very curse from which Christ has set us free; moreover life under Torah does not lead to righteousness, either in terms of relationship with God or in terms of godly behaviour. Only the Spirit, who appropriates the righteousness secured through Christ's death and resurrection, can bring life and effect righteousness of the real kind. So having begun by the Spirit, the Galatians are urged to finish by the Spirit. And this, not only because here alone is the way of life in Christ, but also because here alone is God's own antidote to the life of the flesh. Christ's death provided both freedom from Torah observance and crucifixion with regard to the former way of life; the Spirit appropriates this freedom in such a way that the believer neither lives under the slavery of the law nor makes provision for the indulgence of the flesh. But to "finish" by the Spirit means to walk by the Spirit; it means, in the final words of the argument, to sow to the Spirit by doing (lit. "working"!) what is good to all people, especially those of one's own family in Christ."

-- Fee, Gordon (2007). Pentecostal Commentary on Galatians. Pages 242-243.