Filed under: Uncategorized
A friend at college emailed me this link. Forgive me if this is the 100th time you have seen this on a blog. These things tend to do the rounds! This is Chris Moyles, Radio 1 DJ talking about church. I think we need to be careful about using people’s words in ways they didn’t intend (i.e. for posting on Christian blogs) but I post it, not to advertise church going through him, but because I think it is an interesting insight into how someone who wouldn’t call themselves a Christian perceives church. I hope that’s a fair use of this clip. Quick question: does this clip say anything about seeker sensitive services? It strikes me that this service was pretty much like business as usual for this church and what he saw he found powerful.
Filed under: Uncategorized
Just finished this book for an essay I’m writing on the pastoral implications of Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. It is Luther as Spiritual Advisor by Dennis Ngien. In it Dennis Ngien gives as excellent summary from Luther of how to respond when tempted and facing any kind of mental anguish. I thought they were very comforting and worth sharing…
1.‘The person who is being tempted should consider only God’s word offered to him in God’s name, and not be affected by their inner feelings.’
2. The person who is being tempted should recognise that they are not alone in their trials, but are surrounded by the entire body of Christ.
3. The believer should not wish for a swift deliverance from temptations, but cheerfully and willingly submit to God’s fatherly will in the same way that Christ did: ‘If I am to drink this cup, dear Father, may your will, not mine, be done’.
4. The believer should look up to God, in the firm belief that there is ‘no stronger medicine’ than praising the God hidden by the suffering of the believer. This is borne out of David’s sweey words, ‘I will call upon the Lord and praise him, and so shall I be saved from all that assails me’ (Ps 18:3) Praising God dispels the evil Spirit of gloom and makes the heart leap for joy.
5. The believer should count these trials a privilege, of which many have been deprived….for God’s blessings are given to those he deems worthy of such assaults. Here Luther returned to the principle of the theology of the cross, in which God hides his blessings under the appearance of what appears as contrary to those blessings.
6. Finally, the believer should lay hold of the constancy and reliability of God’s triune character. Luther cited Mt 21:22, Mark 11:24. It is divine to give us gifts extravagantly, as a good Father does to his beloved children.
My experience is that these pieces of advice hit the nail on the head, though no trial is pleasant at the time. What do people think? Any other useful tips to share? It may not be appropriate to share the points directly, but could we help people in many pastoral situations, just by keeping these simple points in mind?
Point 1 resonates particularly strongly for me and Luther has a great deal to say on resisting looking inwards on ourselves and instead looking to Christ. Maybe a post for another day!
Filed under: Evangelism
What would make for a really ineffective ministry? Not being a very good strategy maker, lively speaker, or …. I want to suggest that one of the creeping dangers in our ministry is that although we believe preachand teach the necessity of conversion, we don’t apply this doctrine in personal work.
By the necessity of conversion, I mean, the need to be born again as we read in Scripture. I’m used to talking about the benefits of a relationship with Jesus to people- but I’m sure there needs to be more personal challenge, like: ‘Are you saved? Have you been rescued by Jesus?’ Jesus and the disciples ask some very direct questions in the gospels and when they do, people ask questions like ‘what must I do to be saved?’ This past week I have asked this question twice and am persuaded I should keep doing so.
I’m aware I spoke about Baxter in the last post, but in the Reformed Pastor, his outstanding handbook for pastors, we see that Baxter took every effort to establish people’s spiritual state.
Questions: why do we stop applying the necessity of conversion one-to-one? How can we get better to the bottom of people’s spiritual state? Wisdom/ encouragements/ alternative opinions welcomed
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It has been wonderful to flick through a couple of books recently. First up is a biography of James Hudson Taylor who took Christianity to China. Taylor saw several of his family die as he strove to reach people with the good news about Jesus. Yet he never feared death and understood implicitly, as his son reports in his biography, that to be close to death was to stand in the ‘borderlands’- waiting to cross over into the promised land and be with Jesus.
Richard Baxter’s ‘Dying thoughts’ is another book I’ve been enjoying. A minister from Kidderminster in the seventeenth century, he is famous for his house to house calls, which utterly reformed the community where he ministered for Christ. When he arrived he reported people lying in the street drunk and widespread disinterest in Christ. When he left, it was reported the sound of swearing was replaced with families singing hymns and the converted were so many, he had long since ceased in keeping count. Baxter did not neglect the truth of the gospel in his own life and was known to refer to death as his ‘neighbour’.
This has really challenged me. How do I talk about death? Particularly as someone who will lead funerals and give pastoral care. Do I give into using the world’s language and fearing the things unbelievers fear, or am I regularly in the habit- not of talking about it arrogantly- but speaking of the Christian hope boldly? Do I speak naturally about death with Christians as a friend and neighbour. Or do I spend all my time treating death little differently from the way the world does- using euphemisms and the like that have their root in secular insecurity more than anything else? How often do I sit down with a Christian friend and say ‘let’s talk about how awesome it will be when we die to walk and talk with the Saviour. I can’t wait!’
Have I absorbed into my being the truth that because I trust Christ, one day Jesus will say ‘faithful servant come out’ as he beckoned Lazarus in the gospel from his tomb? Death is nothing more than our servant, taking us to the one we love. Welcoming us into his house to be with him and enjoy him forever. Let’s speak often and boldly of these great things.
Jesus said to her: ‘I am the resurection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.’ John 11:25
Filed under: Genesis
How are Israel’s creation accounts similar to and distinctive from other Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts?
[ok- so this is a bit different from my normal posts. But it was interesting to have to look into this stuff for my studies. I’m not making any great claims about the quality of this essay [!] but it is here because it should encourage us regarding the Biblical account. The tide seems to be turning among some scholars at last, as they recognise that it is not simply Hebrew mythology borrowed from the Babylonians. At last!]
Hebrews 11:3 states that it is, ‘By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command’. In this essay I will attempt to show the similarities and differences that seem to exist between Genesis and ANE creation accounts and how both should strengthen our confidence in the Biblical account.
Comparative Studies in this field found great impetus with the work of H. Gunkel, who in conjunction with the Assyriologist H. Zimmerman compared Babylonian creation accounts and a fragment known as the Gilgamesh flood story to Genesis in the 1890’s, arguing that Genesis 1-11 displayed ‘extensive dependence on the mythological tradition of Babylonia.’ As Walton makes the point, we should be careful in labelling ANE documents used in this respect as ‘creation accounts’ because ‘ancient thinkers did not typically think of creation as an end in itself and ‘these reports are often embedded in other types of literature.’ What is plain is that the theme of creation is involved in some quite extensive ways within such literature and there are some very intriguing parallels as we will hope to see.
The first parallel that we will consider is the comparative treatment of the relationship between creation and beginning. The Genesis account begins with some of the most famous words in the whole Bible ‘In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…’ (Gen 1:1). Walton writes that ‘Ancient conditions do not typically begin with nothing. Instead they start with a condition devoid of order, function or purpose.’ Walton says that Genesis is similar in this respect because he believes that Genesis is not concerned with the physical making of things and therefore the question cannot be approached through the text. He writes: ‘The author’s concern was much like those in the ancient Near East. There the greatest exercise of the power of the gods was not demonstrated in the manufacture of matter, but in the fixing of destinies.’ The issue of naming and ordering is therefore far more important for Walton as we see in Enuma Elish (EE from this point forward) which includes at the start of it’s account the words, ‘When yet no gods were manifest or names pronounced…’
Whilst ANE accounts may operate in this way, the Bible does seem to be different. Wenham takes the view that that the word for beginning in Genesis 1 ‘refers to the beginning of time itself, not to a particular period within eternity (cf Is 40:21; 41:4)’ That God did not create the world out of nothing is something that he says cannot be argued conclusively from Genesis 1, though is a possible interpretation that is strengthened by other Old Testament passages which speak of him creating everything by his word and his existence before the world (Ps 148:5; Prov 8:22-27). This certainly seems to be the case. Wayne Grudem in his systematic theology states that it is essential that we believe God created ex nihilo, explaining that ‘to deny creation out of nothing, we would have to say that some matter has always existed and that it is eternal like God.’ J.P. Holding contrasts EE and other Babylonian texts which begin with words such as ‘on that day’ or ‘when’ and notes that the Hebrew word for beginning ‘finds no parallel’ in the cosmogonies of Babylon. In light of this, though it is certainly contested, it seems there is a strong case that the Genesis account is distinctive in its claim that the creation act is at the beginning of time and that the creation was from nothing.
There is a remarkable similarity however in that many ANE texts share a similar reference to primal conditions: ‘Ancient sources are unanimous that the primal chaotic condition included two characteristics: water and darkness.’ This is something that we see in Genesis where we are told that ‘darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.’(Gen 1:2). Tsumura explains that since Gunkel’s famous book SchÖpfung und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit (1895), scholars have taken it for granted that the Hebrew tĕhÔm for ‘the deep’ in Gen1:2 is related to the ancient Babylonian goddess Tiamut of EE, in which the storm-god Marduk fights with the sea dragon Tiamut, establishing the cosmos. EE states: ‘he caused a wave and it roiled Tiamut, Tiamut was roiled churning day and night…’ Westermann says, however, that ‘The evidence does not allow for the demythologising of a mythical idea…’
One of the key differences is that in EE there is not only disorder, but also a threatening and aggressive situation: ‘The gods of that generation would meet together and disturb Tiamut, and their clamour reverberated. They stirred up Tiamut’s belly, they were annoying her…’This is very different to the creation account, where God is not presented as morally ambiguous or aggressive in any way. The water is also not the source from which the creation emerges in Genesis.
In Genesis, wind sweeps over the surface of the deep. In EE there is also reference to wind as the God Anu creates the four winds that stir up Tiamut. Some have argued that, in Genesis, the wind is simply expressive of the power of God and others that Rûah corresponds to the winds which Marduk sends against Tiâmat. However, DeRoche holds that rûah ’ĕlōhîm is not a ‘wind sent by God,’ that is to say, a creature, but ‘a hypostasis for ’ĕlōhîm.’ Therefore, where as in EE the potentiality is somehow within the water, in Genesis the potentiality is within God.
On the first day, God commands ‘Let there be light’ and we are told that there was light (Gen 1:3). Walton explains that this is similar to the Sumerian Praise of Pickaxe where the separation of heaven and earth is followed by making light shine in the cosmos. Tsumura comments on how this differs from Genesis however, saying, ‘Not only is creation by divine fiat in Genesis unique in the ancient Near East, the creation of the light as the first creating act appears only in Genesis.’
Separation occurs in verse 4 when God separates the light from the darkness and in verse 7 when he separates the waters. ANE accounts have also been shown to exhibit this feature of separation, for example with Marduk splitting Tiamut in EE: ‘The Lord rested, and inspected her corpse. He divided the monstrous shape and created marvels (from it). He sliced her in half like a fish for drying: half of her he put up to roof the sky…’ Lambert comments that while this parallel exists there is no proof of a cosmic battle as a prelude to the dividing of the waters in Genesis. In other words the circumstances are very different compared to EE. In addition, Genesis does not involve the dividing of a god or the death of that god. Time and again, the perception that arises from studying the Genesis text is that unlike the gods of the ANE texts, the Genesis God is not disorderly or morally ambiguous in the way he acts. The creation is not the result of a battle between gods or chaotic.
Tsumura writes of the phrase ‘without form and void’, which has led some to conceive of a chaotic state that, ‘the phrase tōhû wābōhû has nothing to do with primeval chaos; it simply means ‘emptiness’ and refers to the earth in a “bare” state…’ Some have suggested that other creation accounts in the Bible display a struggle between good and evil (for example, Is 40:25-26, 28, 42:5, 45:18, Jer 10:12-16, Psalm 33:6,9, Job 38:4). However, far from portraying a dualistic struggle between good and evil, the argument is usually designed to be corrective, with the Lord reminding mankind that he is the creator God and there are none beside him: ‘’To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift your eyes to the heavens: who created all these?’ (Is 40:25-26). Such statements are not designed to be read as empty boasts, but rather statements of reality proven by His work in creation.
The creation of animals is not something that is recorded in ANE accounts. This is with the exception of sea creatures, as in EE: ‘Mother Hubur, who can form anything, added countless invincible weapons, gave birth to monster serpents, pointed of fang…Fierce dragons she clad with glories, causing them to bear auras like gods…’ In Ugaritic the name for sea monster in the Hebrew (tannîn) is the name of the primeval dragon who helped Yam against Baal. There are of course references to a dragon in several Old Testament passages (Job 7:12, Ps 74:13, Is 27:1, Is 51:9). Here, however, they are created by God and therefore not rivals to be defeated in the same sense. With respect to the sea monster in Genesis, it is worth noting that there is no suggestion of combat or aggression that would, as Walton puts it, ‘associate the Genesis account with its mythological cousins.’ Perhaps one of the most significant observations we want to make from Genesis, is that in contrast to the chaotic descriptions we have in other texts, the creation is repeatedly described by God as being ‘good’. In fact on that day that God creates man, we are told that he pronounces that his creation was ‘very good.’
The creation of man in Genesis is presented as being the pinnacle of God’s creative work. The Antrahasis Epic also contains a creation story of man being made where man is described as being formed from clay mixed with the blood of a dead God. The account states: ‘Nintu mixed clay with his flesh and blood…The womb-godesses were assembled. He trod the clay in her presence…when she had finished her incantation, she pinched off fourteen pieces (of clay)’. This formation of man from the dust of the ground is perhaps one of the most significant parallels of any ANE text with the Bible. However, the profound difference in Genesis is that man is created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). Whereas in ANE accounts we have descriptions of gods creating other gods in their image, as when Anu begets his own image Nudimmud, or of kings being in the image of the gods, as in the 9th century inscription from Syria describing king Haddu-yisi, here we are told that all of humanity is made in the image of the creator God. As J.P Holding puts it, in ANE texts ‘man’s purpose is to serve the gods, build their temples, and make sacrifices to them. Men are the gods’ boot-polishers.’ Genesis paints quite a different picture.
The account of Adam in Genesis has been perceived by many to have a number of similarities with the Adapha Epic. For instance, both Adam and Adapha underwent a test before the deity that involved the eating of food. Unlike Adam, Adapha was actually meant to consume the food concerned, but he chose not to, causing the god Anu to punish him. The story states: ‘They fetched him the bread of (eternal) life but he would not eat.’ A further similarity suggested by some scholars is that the names Adam and Adapha can be equated linguistically. Despite this, the stories are clearly different in some important ways. For instance, while both Adam and Adapha are sentenced to death, it is clear that the message of Adam’s story is quite different. We are told for instance that Anu laughs at Adapha when he fails the test, while in Genesis the circumstances are presented as both solemn and profoundly serious. The conclusion the reader reaches is also that Adapha has been tricked or let down by Ea, the earth god. In this way, the circumstances and message of the Adapha Epic, are actually quite different to the Genesis story although there are obvious similarities that should not be overlooked. The creation of woman is also very significant, with no other ANE account referring to such an event.
As we conclude, we might therefore say that reading Genesis in comparison to other ANE texts, might lead us to very different conclusions about both the creator they portray and the world in which we live. As Paul Blackham summarises:
‘Ancient myths speak of the universe being formed by a war between the gods and modern myths of order randomly arising out of chaos…The Bible explains that everything was created without any conflict or compromise.’
Again we are reminded of the fact that the creation in the Bible portrays the Living God and is therefore monotheistic and polemical, inherently contradicting the polytheism of ANE texts. Genesis also seeks in this way to convey that the one God it portrays is not morally dubious, but that both He and His creation are good. Our understanding of this and our confidence in the Biblical text, should not be undermined by the difference that we observe in ANE texts. Nor should we assume that the Genesis account is simply a refined version of the stories they depict. Millard makes a case for the flood stories, that while they both describe the same event, ‘the Babylonians could only conceive of the event in their own polytheistic language’. He writes also:
‘All who suspect or suggest large scale borrowing by the Hebrews are compelled to admit large-scale revision, alteration, and reinterpretation in a fashion which cannot be substantiated from the Ancient Near East or in any other Hebrew writing…’
This is the view also taken by Tsumura who cites the work of Lambert to propose that there is ‘no evidence of Hebrew borrowing from Babylon’.Could it be, therefore, that the similarities are testimony to the common origin of ideas that were transmitted orally and written down at different times? The differences that exist, we can perhaps conclude, are the result of one people recording their account according to the wisdom of God and the other groups according to their own polytheistic language and the wisdom of primeval man.
Blackham, P. (2003) Book by Book: A Study Guide to the Book of Genesis (Authentic Lifestyle)
Dalley, S. (1991) Myths from Mesopotamia (OUP)
Desmond Alexander, T., Baker, D. (eds) Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch (IVP, 2003)
Grudem, W. (1994) Systematic Theology (IVP)
Hess, R.S. ‘One Hundred Fifty Years of Comparative Studies on Genesis 1- 11: An Overview’ in Hess, R.S., D.T. Tsumura (eds), I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood (Eisenbrauns, 1994)
Hallo, W.H. (1997) Context of Scripture, Vol 1 (Brill)
Lambert, W.G. ‘A New Look at the Babylonian Background of Genesis’ in Hess, R.S., D.T. Tsumura (eds), I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood (Eisenbrauns, 1994)
Millard, A.R. ‘A New Babylonian “Genesis” Story’ in Hess, R.S., D.T. Tsumura (eds), I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood (Eisenbrauns, 1994)
Tsumura, D.T. ‘Genesis and ANE Stories of Creation and Flood’ in Hess, R.S., D.T. Tsumura (eds), I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood (Eisenbrauns, 1994)
Walton, J.H. (2006) Ancient near Eastern thought and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids)
Wenham, G.J. (1987) Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 1-15 (Word Books)
Westermann, C. (1984) Genesis 1-11 (Augsburg)
 Hess in Hess and Tsumura (1994:7)
 Walton in Desmond Alexander and Baker ( 2003:156)
 Walton in Desmond Alexander and Baker (2003:156)
 Walton (2006:183)
 Enuma Elish (Tablet 1: 7-8) in Hallo (1997)
 Wenham (1987:14)
 Grudem (1994:264)
 Walton in Desmond Alexander and Baker (2003:157)
 Tsumura in Hess and Tsumura (1994:31)
 Enuma Elish (Tablet 1 Line 105) in Hallo (1997)
 Enuma Elish in Dalley (1991:133)
 Tsumura in Hess and Tsumura (1994:34)
 Walton in Alexander Desmond and Baker (2003:158)
 Tsumura in Hess and Tsumura (1994:31)
 Enuma Elish in Dalley (1991:254)
 Tsumura in Hess and Tsumura (1994:33)
 Enuma Elish (Tablet 1:133-138) in Hallo (1997)
 Walton in Alexander Desmond and Baker (2003:160)
 Enuma Elish in Dalley (1991:16)
 In Dalley (187:36)
 Blackham (2003:2)
 Millard in Hess and Tsumura (1994:128)
 Millard in Hess and Tsumura (1994:128)
 Tsumara in Hess and Tsumura (1994:32)
Just a brief observation on Ruth that came out of a study day shared with some good guys the other day…
- V1- Naomi’s husband’s name is Elimelech meaning ‘God is king’. He has 2 children who are called Mahlon and Kilion, which mean famine and destruction.
- Bethlehem means ‘house of bread’, but verse 1 tells us there is ironically no bread. There is famine in the land. So the family leave.
- Eventually v6 Naomi hears that the Lord has provided food for his people back in Bethlehem, Judah.
- Her daughter in law Ruth is shown favour though she is a foreigner by the kinsman redeemer 2:10. He offers her bread and wine 2:14. As we know in the story he becomes her kinsman redeemer.
- So in the time of famine the one who proclaims God is King leads away destuction and famine and hearing of the Lord’s loving kindness, Ruth is sustained by the redeemer despite her poverty.
John 6:35 ‘Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.’
John 14:22-24: While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many”
There is so much in Ruth. Anyone got any ideas about the significance of events taking place during Barley Harvest? Suggestions have been made about Passover associations. How awesome it is that these are the scriptures that testify about Christ…
I’ve been given some books recently by a pastor who has been in the ministry for twenty or so years. He wanted to pass on some gems I can only assume. Among them were books written by spiritual greats. Take one title ‘Christ in all the scriptures’ by a bloke called Hodgkin. It nearly blew my mind. But I wanted to share an awesome quote from a Banner of Truth journal article from the 70’s on revival.
‘Many of us have come to see the revivals of which our fathers spoke, and which they were experienced were not something they promoted but were essentially [so we believe] times when God made his people accutely aware of the reality of the Christian gospel. And it has become part of the accepted wisdom among us that if the same truths are preached now as were preached at the Reformation [one of the greatest revivals] or during the great awakening then revival must come, and come pretty quickly.’
So often we just ‘know’ about the gospel, but we don’t give it any power in our lives. Imagine a world where churches were springing up everywhere . Where people were actually aware of the gospel and its reality. Where they ordered their whole lives by gospel priorities so that Jesus looked their greatest treasure. Where Christianity wasn’t just about going to church on Sunday, or being a professional Christian (like some of us run the risk of becoming) but where Christianity was about living for Jesus. Where we didn’t need to have the debate about whether Christian mission was actually just about recycling and social action, because large numbers in churches were accutely aware of the desperate need of perishing people and of their own need. They were convicted of the gospel’s reality as much as they were of the need to inhale air.
I can only assume that is revival. I know how often I can be hard hearted and luke warm, but we must pray for this! We need to pray for this power of God for the salvation of all who believe (Rm 1:16) to actually take ahold of us by the Spirit of Christ. And we need confidence in the same truths of revival days.
Not because we’re ‘Bible believing’ Christians and ‘that’s just what we do’. That’s not the reality of the gospel- that’s religion. But because the truths of the Bible mean something. The Bible is reality to us because it is the word of Christ who is reality itself and when the minister proclaims the Word of God, his voice is heard. Spiritually dead men and women, get up and walk. How can we believe that revival would not come quickly if this were the case?