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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Friday, April 05, 2013

Thank God it's Friday - Really!

T.G.I.F. everybody! Today is Friday and you're likely to see those four letters popping up on coworkers' lips and Facebook status posts throughout the day.  We've heard the expression so often it requires no translation anymore. Thank God it's Friday! I get the sentiment.  The pressures of the workplace and our obligations to an employer (or to the customer if you are the employer) are suspended and our time is now our own.  Usually, this means we have leisure time, time for fun.

Courtesy Jatayou
Because we are so accustomed to the modern construct of a five day work week, it's easy to forget that humanity hasn't enjoyed such luxury for most of its history. Even the concept of dividing time into seven days is a unique concept.  It doesn't really fit neatly into the 30/31 day month nor the 365 day year.

The real origin of the seven day week along with the cycle of work and rest is found in the Bible. In Exodus, God uses the six days of creation and seventh day of rest as a model for the Jews to follow. Because the Jewish Sabbath occurred every seven days, it became natural for the Jews to mark their calendars in this fashion. Eviatar Zerubave  dubbed it "a distinctively Jewish contribution to civilization."1 While the 24 hour day, the month, and the year all have their beginnings in astrological markings of time, the seven day week doesn't seem to fit.  It is roughly equivalent to the lunar cycle, (the moon will become full every 29-1/2 days or so), but its origins lie outside of astrological observance. Zerubave writes, "One of the most distinctive features of the week is the fact that it is entirely disassociated from the lunar cycle. It is defined as a precise multiple of the day, quite independently of the lunar month." 2

This concept of scheduling a regular time of rest during the week was unique in the ancient world. Most other societies thought it strange that the Jews required a day of no work. The Romans even said the Jews were simply being lazy. Augustine notes that the Roman philosopher Seneca would complain that the Jews "lose through idleness about the seventh part of their life, and also many things which demand immediate attention are damaged."3 It seems that the 21st century always-on-call mentality isn't as new as we may think!

Because the pattern of a day of rest was set by the Jews, it became customary for the Christians to gather on Sunday in remembrance of the Lord's resurrection, the day after their Sabbath observances. Sunday became the primary day of rest after Constantine issued a proclamation in 321 AD that solidified it as such for the Christian and pagan alike. Because Constantine was a politician, he avoided tying the rest day to the celebration of the resurrection. His motive to have a regular weekly day of rest and the choice of Sunday for that day were no doubt a result of his Christian conversion.4
In his article on the origin and meaning of the weekend, Witold Rybczynski writes that the word "weekend" first appeared in an 1879 issue of the English magazine Notes and Queries. Quoting the Oxford English Dictionary,  he writes, "'In Staffordshire, if a person leaves home at the end of his week's work on the Saturday afternoon to spend the evening of Saturday and the following Sunday with friends at a distance,' the magazine citation goes, 'he is said to be spending his week-end at So-and-so.' This is obviously a definition, which suggests that the word had only recently come into use."5

Rybczynski goes on to report that in the U.S. "the first factory to adopt a five-day week was a New England spinning mill, in 1908, expressly to accommodate its Jewish workers. The six-day week had always made it hard for Jews to observe the Sabbath, for if they took Saturday off and worked on Sunday, they risked offending the Christian majority. Moreover, as work patterns became increasingly formalized through union agreements, many Jews did not even have a choice, a state of affairs that threatened the Sabbath tradition. The five-day week—in which both Sunday and Saturday were holidays—offered a convenient way out, and it came to be supported by Jewish workers, rabbis, and community leaders, and some Jewish employers."6 While few industries followed this lead initially, it was ultimately adopted throughout the country when the Great Depression hit, simply as a way of reducing the number of work hours (and thus reducing the amount of pay) for a company's employees.7

So our two glorious days free from work to fill with our leisure time. Or perhaps we should also take a moment and use that time to thank God for the model of work and rest that He gave us. Maybe we should really thank God it's Friday, because without the Biblical tradition, the weekend would look a whole lot less appealing.

References

1. Zerubave, Eviatar. The Seven Day Circle: The History and Meaning of the Week.
(Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1985.) 9.
2. Zerubave,Ibid.
3. Augustine of Hippo. City of God. Book 6, chapter 11. Accessed online at <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120106.htm>
4. See Philip Schaff's explanation in History of the Christian Church, Vol II: From Constantine the Great to Gregory the Great, A.D. 311-600. (New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 1867). 379-380.   

5. Rybczynski, Witold. "Waiting for the Weekend". The Atlantic Monthly. August 1991. Accessed online at <http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/91aug/rybczynski-p1.htm> 4/5/2013.
6. Rybczynski, Ibid.
7. Rybczynski, Ibid.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Eastertide is High Tide for Apologetics!

People have often commented on the incredibly fast pace of our current culture.  We live in a "get it then forget it" society where we're always looking towards the next thing, but we don't take the time to ponder what we have already. Even in our celebrations, we are sometimes too quick to move on. Take Easter for example. We think of it as a single day. We make some preparations, mark it with a day at church and maybe a family dinner, and then it's over.  Put the decorations away; what next on the calendar? But this approach doesn't do justice to the incredible change that the events of the first Easter Sunday brought. If you only focus on Easter as one day, you will miss out on a joyful and powerful time to reinvigorate yourself as a member of the body of Christ.  You will miss out on the historic Christian tradition of celebrating Eastertide.


What is Eastertide?  It is simply another name for the Easter season, those fifty days between Christ's resurrection and Pentecost.  Most people have heard of the season of Lent, leading up to Easter, but the celebration of Eastertide has somehow fallen out of popular favor, especially with Protestants. While Lent is a solemn time marked with abstinence and quietness, Eastertide can be a time of re-invigoration and joy.

It is during these fifty days that Jesus showed Himself to His disciples on multiple occasions. It is here that Jesus reveals Himself to Thomas and recommissions Peter.  It is here that Jesus explains Himself to the two walking to Emmaus. It is here appears before five hundred brethren and promises the disciples that the Holy Spirit will come upon them in power not many days from now. It is here that Jesus ascends to the Father to intercede on our behalf forever.

Because of all this, Jesus' followers were engaged and excited.  Look at how the two Emmaus disciples reacted after they realized they had been with Jesus in Luke 24:31-35. They felt their hearts burn within them as they gained clarity about Jesus and His mission. They couldn't wait to tell the other disciples that they had new insight into the Lord, immediately turning around and travelling back to Jerusalem, even after they had planned on retiring for the evening. The knowledge that the ultimate consequence of death no longer had any power over Jesus gave them confidence and conviction. They would draw on these in the days, weeks, and years to come as they faced a hostile world with the message of the saving Christ. Yes, the days between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday are to be embraced and celebrated.

I think Jesus' actions during this time show us how we can celebrate Eastertide.  Jesus was always specific in his actions. Prior to the crucifixion, Luke 9:51 tells us that Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. After the Resurrection, He focuses all His attention on preparing the disciples for the task that is now set before them, to "be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." This is a good model for us to follow.

I think that the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost are the perfect time for Christians to prepare themselves for engaging an increasingly hostile world. Apologetics provides the perfect platform to do just that. 1 Peter 3:15 reminds us to "always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within you" and that's exactly with apologetics does. So during Eastertide, perhaps you can subscribe to an apologetics podcast, like one of these top podcasts that Brian Auten has put together.  Maybe you could begin an apologetics study at your church. You may wish to simply read a book defending the Christian position on an issue you feel strongly about, or you can plan on attending an upcoming apologetics event in your area. What you choose doesn't matter as much as simply engaging in new ideas that can prepare you for the future.

We all need reminders to do those things that are important but often neglected in our lives. Just as we use the changing of the clocks at spring time to remind us to change the batteries in our smoke alarms, the season of Eastertide can serve as a good way to remind ourselves we need to recharge our intellectual reservoirs. Easter declares that He is risen. Eastertide allows us to celebrate why that matters. Let's steel ourselves for the task set before us.  Pentecost is coming; will you be ready to go when the Spirit moves?

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Who Resurrected Jesus from the Dead?

During Easter, there tends to be more focus on the claims of Christianity than at other times of the year, and many groups seek to take advantage of that focus. I had noticed an increased amount of activity in our neighborhood by Jehovah's Witnesses, handing out their recent Watchtower magazine. A Frequently Asked Questions feature from the magazine makes the argument that the Resurrection proves that Jesus was not God. But does this make sense?


Quoting from the magazine, they ask "If Jesus is God, as some churches teach, who resurrected Jesus?" And they provide the following answer:
"Jesus is not God—whose name is Jehovah—but he is the Son of God. Jehovah resurrected Jesus from the dead" (Romans 10:9). One Bible scholar comments: 'It is unthinkable that anyone—even Christ—could raise himself.'"
The Watchtower's answer is a bit sparse. It references only Romans 10:9, which reads, "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Does this verse show that Jesus couldn't resurrect Himself?  No, it doesn't, and it's disingenuous to posture that a single verse is the end of the question.  So who is responsible for the resurrection of Jesus?

First, we can't ignore the testimony of Romans 10:9. However, that simply states that God raised Jesus from the dead. Even the Jehovah's Witnesses own New World Translation reads the verse as "For if you publicly declare that 'word in your own mouth,' that Jesus is Lord, and exercise faith in your heart that God raised him up from the dead, you will be saved." So, God did it.  This is consistent with other teachings that God alone has power over life and death.  Genesis 2:7 shows God is the one who breathes the breath of life into Adam. Jobs says God alone granted him life (Job 10:12), and gave him the breath of life (Job 33:4). Ecclesiastes 12:7 also confirms that on death, "the spirit returns to God who gave it." We thus conclude that only God has the power over the giving of life. Christians and Witnesses can agree on this point.

We now need to refocus on the first part of the question, is Jesus God? It seems to me that if Jesus had the power to resurrect people, it would clearly follow that Jesus is God. I can build an argument this way:
  1.  Only God can to give life to a body.
  2. Jesus gave life to His own body.
  3. Therefore Jesus is God.
There are a couple of key verses where Jesus explicitly claims that He has the power over His own life. In John chapter 2, Jesus drives out the merchants and the moneychangers from the Temple and the Jewish religious leaders were incensed. They demanded to know what proof Jesus could offer to justify His judgment of spiritual propriety. Jesus responded "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." John then clarifies Jesus' statement and writes, "But He was speaking of the temple of His body."  Jesus reiterated His power over His own life and death in John 10:17-18 when He says, "My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father."

It is clear that Jesus claimed to have the power to resurrect Himself. The Bible also claims that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, (see Acts 5:30, Galatians 1:1 among others) and that God's Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11, 1 Peter, 3:18). So we have all three persons of the Trinity involved in Jesus' resurrection. Given the crucial aspect of the Resurrection to God's plan, that is no surprise.

Of course the Watchtower doesn't mention any of this. Instead, they follow up their claim with a quote from some unnamed "Bible scholar" who says, "It is unthinkable that anyone—even Christ—could raise himself." But why doesn't the Watchtower say who this supposed scholar is? Why don't they cite the source of the quote? If death is the separation of the soul from the body as Ecclesiastes 12:7 states, then Jesus doesn't cease to be upon death but His spirit is active and capable of exerting power.  This isn't an unfathomable thing. The Watchtower doesn't like this conclusion, though, because it contradicts two main points of their skewed theology, that Jesus is God and that the soul survives death. Rather that undermining the Trinity, the fact that Jesus raised Himself from the dead strengthens His claim to deity. Any other answer simply falls short.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Same-Sex Governments vs. Same-Sex Marriage

One of the things I like to do in the morning is read the Opinion section of the Los Angeles Times. It gives me a bit of insight into how people on both sides of an issue are thinking. But I can also see how reactionary or inconsistent certain points of view can be.

In yesterday's paper, LA Times columnist Jim Newton authored a piece where he voiced his concern about the upcoming Los Angeles City elections. Entitled "An all-male City Council?" , it decries the absence of women in the civic races, stating it is quite possible that all 18 positions could be filled by men.  He writes, "at least 13 of 15 council seats will be filled by men after July 1. The city attorney will be a man, as will Greuel's successor as controller." He then asks "Does it matter?"

Newton receives his answer from Laura Chick, a previously elected city official. Chick responds "Absolutely it makes a difference. Our brains are different. We have different perspectives…. There's something terribly wrong with this." The term for someone serving on the Los Angeles City Council is four years, so it. Newton calls such a scenario "a startling setback".

I agree with Chick on her assessment of women and men.  Women do provide a different perspective and they are wired to think differently. However, today, the Los Angeles Times editors provided their endorsement for same-sex marriage dismissing the argument that such configurations would be harmful to children.  The editorial proclaims, "The notion that same-sex couples cannot be loving and competent parents is not supported by research, and in any event children already are being raised by same-sex parents even where same-sex marriage is not legal."

Leaving aside the false way the editors framed Justice Kennedy's concern, I think it's clear how inconsistent the Los Angeles Times is showing itself to be.  To have only single sex representation on the City Council "absolutely matters." It would be a "startling setback" for the city whose council members only serve for four years and still have access to the thoughts and understanding of both male and female constituencies.  This is because men and women have different brains and different perspectives.  However, to have a same-sex couple rear children for eighteen years is not a problem at all, because it's happening. But how is it possible that both can be true?

Men and women are different, and they act differently as a result. The idea that they have different brains means the sexes are not interchangeable; biology matters. If an absence of a sexual perspective matters for a four year term, it most definitely matters when it's missing from the home life of a developing child for all of his or her formative years.  The primary way children learn to understand how to be a man or a woman and how to interact with those of the opposite sex is through the modeling of their parents. The child of a homosexual couples are denied this.

So, which is it?  Does it matter if a city council or a family is confined to a single sex or do both sexes offer something unique to the process? If they do, then why don't the Times' editors at least admit as much?

Monday, April 01, 2013

Exorcising God from Martin Luther King

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times ran an Op-Ed piece entitled "King's Easter epistle" by David B. Oppenheimer for Easter Sunday. The article wasn't really a nod to Easter observances. Rather, it marked the 50th anniversary of King writing his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." Oppenheimer discusses the events surrounding King's imprisonment and how he answered the charge of how one could violate the law in arguing  for following the rule of law. He also reproduces a portion of King's letter, ending with what Oppenheimer feels to be the key idea: "One may well ask: 'How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?' The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."

Photo credit: Adam Jones, Ph.D.
While all of this is well and fine, I find it interesting that Oppenheimer stops his quote short. He takes a 540 word paragraph and lops off 15 words that make up the last sentence. The closing of the King passage reads, "I would agree with St. Augustine that 'an unjust law is no law at all.'"

Why would Oppenheimer choose to exorcise that sentence? Perhaps the reason is that in both the article and in the excerpt, Oppenheimer avoids the question of "What is it that makes a law just or unjust?" But this is King's goal in writing his letter! He is not simply telling his interlocutors why he chooses to protest, but providing the moral basis for so doing. King holds that the moral grounding for discerning between just and unjust laws is found in God Almighty.

The fact that King rooted his morality in a biblical belief is clear from the letter itself. In the very next paragraph of King's letter, he writes:
 "Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law."
So, King quotes from Augustine and Aquinas in grounding his judgment between just and unjust laws in the moral law.  Both Augustine and Aquinas argue that the moral law is rooted in God's law, a point which King agrees when he follows up the phrase "moral law" with its clarification "the law of God." This makes sense as King begins the paragraph quoted in the article with the sentence "We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights." Notice King states that his rights are given by God. That makes them irrevocable by local ordinance.

I think it's telling how Oppenheimer chooses to amputate a sentence from the key area of his excerpt on King. He feels that discussing the examples of prejudice King cites will move his audience and those examples alone are enough to buoy King's argument.  But King didn't feel this way. He used the examples as a way of setting the stage for his real argument: men have rights endowed to them by God and it is the responsibility of anyone who follows that God to also act out against the injustice of those laws. Later in the letter, King writes:
"Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

"We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was 'legal' and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was 'illegal.' It was 'illegal' to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws."
I do agree with Oppenheimer that "Anyone who hasn't read King's response lately (and most of us who have) would benefit from spending a few minutes reading it this Easter weekend." But Oppenheimer needs to take off his selective glasses and receive the letter as a whole.  As King noted above, just doing what is legal or illegal because the state has declared it such doesn't make it just or right. We need to ground our concept of justice in "a higher moral law."  Only then can we see clearly and advocate justly.
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