Ancient Hebrew Cosmology

Context is EverythingHuman beings often presume our own worldview when trying to make sense of a message or a text. As anyone who has had an argument based upon a misunderstanding knows (think of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine), assuming that other people mean exactly what you think they mean, without making sure that’s what they say they mean, often becomes an exercise in frustration.

The same is true with written texts. Many times modern Christians come to a text such as the Bible and assume that the worldview they hold is precisely that of the specific Bible passage they are reading. While this may (rarely) be the case, more often than not readers of the Bible bring their own presuppositions without even knowing that they differ from those of the Biblical authors (and, by extension for those of us who believe in the inspiration of scripture, different presuppositions than God). This means that reading and interpreting the Bible without seeking to understand the context of the Bible leads to a distorted interpretation of the Bible. And since I would hazard to guess that few people desire to purposefully misinterpret the Bible, it seems important to seek a contextualized reading of any Biblical text. Continue reading

After Death

Last week, Conciliar Post ran a Round Table discussion what happens to human beings after physical death. Below are my reflections for your consideration.

HellfireJust a couple of weeks ago, someone posed this very question—what happens to people after death?—while I was teaching a Sunday school class on the Apocalypse of John (the book of Revelation). We were reading and talking through Revelation 20:12-13, which reads: Continue reading

Book Review: The Reason for My Hope (Graham)

The Reason for My Hope (Graham)Few people have shaped contemporary Christianity more than Billy Graham. Though not as active, popular, or visible as he once was, Graham’s decades of evangelism, writing, and preaching continue to influence Christians around the world. Even in retirement, Graham continues to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. It was thus with eagerness that this reviewer engaged one of his latest books, The Reason for My Hope: Salvation (Thomas Nelson: 2013). Continue reading

Ephrem’s “Hymns on Paradise”

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Ephrem the Syrian and early Syrian Christianity. Given the length of Ephrem’s Hymns on Paradise and the number of reflection-worthy aspects of his thought demonstrated in these hymns, this essay offers several general reflections on Ephrem’s concepts of Paradise (historic and cosmic), the limiting of investigation, proper interpretation, and order.

Garden of EdenEphrem’s Hymns on Paradise are a truly beautiful collection of the Syrian poet’s reflections upon the Genesis 2-3 narrative and reality of Paradise. More than any other collection of hymns we have considered to this point, the Hymns on Paradise develop Ephrem’s thought on a single (albeit lengthy) passage of Scripture, namely the account of Adam and Eve in Paradise. This is not to say that Ephrem does not incorporate other Scriptural passages and motifs, for he certainly does—the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus and story of King Uzziah being perhaps the most notable. Yet by-and-large these hymns focus on Genesis, and it will be interesting in the weeks to come to compare his poetic recasting of this narrative with his prosaic Commentary on Genesis. Continue reading

What About People Who Died Before the Incarnation?

Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

A while back, a friend wrote me and asked, “How do you justify [and explain] the people who died before Christ came [i.e., Abraham, Moses, David]?” This struck me as an important and insightful question. In our rush to talk about and theologize heaven and hell, we often pay little attention to people who would have lived and died before the time of Christ. So how do we think about those people? One place to being thinking about this topic is the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16, which has been used to reflect on questions of salvation and Paradise since at least the time of Ephrem the Syrian (4th century). Continue reading

Milton and the Divine Plan, Part I

Today’s post is the first in a two-post series examining John Milton’s conception of the Divine Plan. The second post in this series runs tomorrow.
John Milton

John Milton

Few people who have ever learned something about English poet John Milton (1608-74 CE) doubt his incredible talent. Not only was Milton a world class poet (I won’t delve into speculation about “the best ever”), but he was also a talented writer, a Cambridge trained scholar, an apologist for the English Commonwealth, a defender of the right to divorce and freedom of the press, and an astute theologian. Of all of these qualities Milton’s personal center seemed to involve his theological musings, as one cannot help but notice the Biblical allusions and theological connections present everywhere within his work. A fascinating issue surrounding Milton involves his apparent Arianism, that is, the rejection of Jesus as being eternally divine. Alas, this is another topic that is best saved for another post. Today, we post a different question to Milton’s theology: How did Milton seek to understand the divine plan of God? To try an answer this query, we turn to  several of Milton’s poems. Continue reading

Book Review: Heaven and Hell Are They For Real? (Hudson)

Heaven and Hell - Are They For RealIn Heaven and Hell: Are They For Real? Christopher D. Hudson seeks to provide answers to some of the most common questions regarding the afterlife. Books engaging heaven and hell have been fairly common since Rob Bell’s Love Wins, and Hudson offers another work from the broadly evangelical camp by drawing upon scripture, personal experience, and the perspectives of popular scholars.

Heaven and Hell is divided into (unsurprisingly) two major sections: the first addressing questions on heaven and the second concerning itself with hell. In the heaven section, questions are considered dealing with the moments after death, what life in heaven looks like, what heaven looks like, who is in heaven, and the like. The section on hell deals with questions such as how real hell is, if going to hell is a choice, what hell looks like, the final judgment, and contemporary challenges to the belief of hell. Continue reading

Ancient Hebrew Cosmology

Human beings often presume our own worldview when trying to make sense of a message or a text. As anyone who has had an argument based upon a misunderstanding knows (think of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine), assuming that other people mean exactly what you think they mean, without making sure that’s what they say they mean, often becomes an exercise in frustration.

The same is true with written texts. Many times modern Christians come to a text such as the Bible and assume that the worldview they hold is precisely that of the specific Bible passage they are reading. While this may (rarely) be the case, more often than not readers of the Bible bring their own presuppositions without even knowing that they differ from those of the Biblical authors (and, by extension for those of us who believe in the inspiration of scripture, different presuppositions than God). This means that reading and interpreting the Bible without seeking to understand the context of the Bible leads to a distorted interpretation of the Bible. And since I would hazard to guess that few people desire to purposefully misinterpret the Bible, it seems important to seek a contextualized reading of any Biblical text.

One important difference between our worldview and that of the Biblical authors is that of cosmology. Cosmology is the branch of philosophy dealing with the origins and structure of the universe. Essentially, cosmology involves how you think about what the world and universe look like and function. Obviously, modern science has influenced modern thinking about the universe. For example, when I think about the world, I conceive of a spherical planet revolving around a star that is within a galaxy of billions (and trillions?) of other starts, that is in an expanding universe full of galaxies and wonderfully beautiful images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Continue reading