Biblical figures and wealth

James Jordan presents a case for the relative prosperity of many Biblical authors and leaders

…we have to bear in mind that  the original 12 apostles were wealthy enough to leave their businesses and homes and spend a lot of time roaming around with the Rabbi. It’s obvious  that Zebedee Fisheries was a prosperous “upper-middle class” concern. But  Peter and Andrew must have been involved in something no less prosperous.

Moreover, there is nothing rude about the literary quality of  Peter’s two epistles. These are not the products of some impulsive lumbering blunderbuss, which is the usual (and imbecilic) picture of Peter. Peter writes at the same level as Paul and as any of the trained scribes who wrote the OT.
Acts 4:13 does not mean that Peter and John were ignorant and untaught, which is how it sounds to us. The first word, agrammatoi, means they were not grammatoi, scribes. It does not mean they were illiterate — after all, how many synagogue-trained Jewish men were illiterate? — but that they were not in the caste-class of professional scribes and rhetors.

Similarly, the second word, idiotai, does not mean they were idiots (!) but that they were “private men,” not members of any school or academy of associates, priestly or Pharisaical.
But were they uneducated fishermen? No. They were highly educated fishermen.

There is a prejudice against wealth and class in American evangelical thought that blinds people to one of the most obvious facts in the Bible, which is that virtually all if not absolutely all the people God called to special service were very wealthy and prominent people. Abram had 318 warriors in his sheikhdom. Jacob had enough people under him to be given the whole land of Goshen to inhabit. Moses was highly educated and from the absolute uppermost crust of society. Job was king of the land of Edom. Boaz was one of the most prominent men in the Bethlehem area, and it is clear that David came from a wealthy family. Almost all the prophets came from priestly or Levitical families. And so it goes. The same was true of the apostles. The apostles came from upper middle class situations that
afforded them the leisure to become educated and to roam around with Jesus. They came from a functionally aristocratic, leisured class, in some ways.

Believe it: Zebedee was a prominent man in his community, a leader, and his sons were in line for it. Jesus called men who already had some standing, and had the background to become leaders.
But ever since the French Revolution, evangelicals have tried to pretend that this is not the case. Well, it’s time to get real.

The Church is the Temple

James Jordan expounds on the origins of the Church:

I think a watershed in our  understanding of the Epistles is what kind of context we put them into. To  be crass about it (I intend no insult; I just want to get on with it): Either

1. The apostolic church started from scratch after the OT order  was cancelled, as a bunch of believers (new converts with no background)  sitting around in various houses and gradually coming up with new orders  that had no continuity with the OT orders; or,

2. The apostolic church was made up 99% of converted Jews and  God-fearers who were fully at home in the OT order and simply transformed  it, who used various homes as temples, who used temple worship in these homes on those occasions, and who very rapidly set up separate houses of worship when they could.

In my circles, this comes down to whether the Church “grew out of” the synagogue or the Temple.

For my money, it’s obviously the latter. The NT does not say that  the Church is the new synagogue, but the new Temple. Her worship consists  of living sacrifices and sacrifices of praise. All of the language about the Church is taken from the OT Tabernacle/Temple order. (The synagogue was never anything but a partial extension of the Temple anyway.) Unlike the synagogue, the church has two major temple elements: song with musical instruments and the breaking of bread as a covenant-renewal. ( Gasp!

Breaking bread at places other then the Jerusalem Temple! Hey, Josiah put people to death for that! So did Paul. But this only shows that these churches were TEMPLES!! If they’d just been synagogues there’d have been no scandal.)

The word kohen in the OT simply means “palace servant,” and is used occasionally of secular servants of David’s palace, but 99% of the time of the servants of the Temple (= Palace in Hebrew). Everything in the NT epistles sets a context in which there would be such special servants in the new Christian Temple. And that’s what we find.

When Paul and Peter tell these Christian Jews that they are a Temple of God offering sacrifices, he does not need to spell out to them that their meals should be supervised and initiated by Temple servants (Christian kohanim), nor that such must be men.

More, for a very long time protestants (at least) have ignored the “apocalyptic” context of the NT revelation. (I reject “apocalyptic” since the symbolism of such literature is actually “liturgical” and entirely comes from the Temple and sacrifices.) If this context were better known, however, we would know that all Jews knew that the Temple was an image of heaven, that the shoeless wing-dressed priests were angels, that the objects in the Temple stood in the place of worshippers, and that the entire liturgy took place “in the heavenlies.” Now in Rev. 2-3, the pastors of the churches are called angels. This is not some Brand New Idea, but is completely in continuity with the Temple/priestly tradition. Unlike, however, the Old order, where only such angelic priests might enter the Temple heavens and the rest of the believers were located there only symbolically in the various items of furniture, now in the fullness of time the symbolic furniture is gone and believers are able to enter the Temple heavens along with their “angelic” palace-servant special-priests.

Rev. 2-3 are not letters to churches. They are letters to the priest-pastor-angels of the churches. Jesus threatens THEM. If you want to understand this, read Numbers 18. The people will be punished for their sins, yes, but the Levites will be punished if they fail to warn them.

I submit that if the NT epistles are read in their actual Biblical and historical context, then it will be very clear that Apostolic worship looked a whole more like liturgical and even Eastern orthodox (sans icons) worship, and not in the least like Puritan, Anabaptist, or Brethren worship.

And bringing all this back to Wright, while I don’t know what on earth Wright would say to this, the fact is that he is part of a movement to recover the so-called apocalyptic and Jewish context of the NT writings. The more this context is recovered, the more it will be clear that this “Church came from the synagogue” stuff is nonsense, that this “believers sitting around in homes” stuff is nonsense, and that the epistles mean something very concrete and liturgical when they refer to the Church as temple, worship as sacrifice, leaders as men (women could be everything else in the OT, so saying men-only MEANS “priest”), etc.

Or do we continue the sad rationalism of the last few centuries, and see “temple” and “sacrifice” as mere theological ideas, and not whole-life liturgical matters? There’s about 90% of the trouble, you see. All of these “Levitical” matters are taken as nothing but snapshots of Jesus’ coming work. They are that, but they are also ritual processes that take place in time, means of worship. This is why the Church continues to “move” in a “sacrificial” manner. In Leviticus 1-3, the worshipper Ascends (ch. 1), with Tribute (ch. 2), and then sits down for Communion (ch. 3). This is what the Church also does: Enters, has Offertory, and then Communion. This is not some speculation on my part. It is what the epistles mean when they refer to offering ourselves as living sacrifices. This and nothing else is what the first hearers of these epistles would have understood.

But this is set aside. What WE hear is that these Levitical rituals were just ideas, just pictures of Jesus. And now our worship consists of sitting around and thinking and talking about it. That is NOT what the 1st century hearers and readers of the epistles would have taken from them. I promise you. Believe me. (Trust me!) They would have heard something quite different.

And this is why the Church, as soon as she was able, built Temples for worship, and instituted what to many of us is quite ritualized and liturgical forms of worship. This was no “fall.” It was simply the Church filling out in practice what the epistles teach.

This is NOT to say that anyone TODAY “has it right” or that the Reformers “had it right.” But it is to say that the epistles need to be read in context.

I’ll give one more example. When Jesus broke bread and said “Do this for My memorial,” the apostles knew exactly what that meant. It was the new form of Leviticus 2, something they were very familiar with since it happened every morning and every evening. But how many people today think of that? Precious few. Why? Because they do not put themselves into the shoes of being Jews of the 1st century listening to what Jesus said. They hear this completely out of historical context.

It would not have occurred to anyone in the 1st century that Jesus said, “Do this in memory of Me,” to remind yourselves about Me. Not after 1500 years of bread broken as memorial, as something done to call upon God, to remind God, and to ask Him to come to us! “Do this in memory of Me” is utter nonsense. “In death there is no remembrance of Thee” says the psalmist? No way. “In death there is no performance of Memorial to Thee” is what he said. Memorializing is by RITUAL LITURGICAL ACTION. Don’t believe me? Look up the relevant Greek and Hebrew words. “Cornelius, your  prayers

have come up before God as a Memorial.”

We need to stop reading the epistles as if they dropped out of  heaven onto a blank-slate, and read them in the whole-life liturgical context into which they were written. They look rather different when we do so.

More of the Reformers on Islam

Some time ago I listed the thoughts of Luther and Calvin on Islam. This post continues that summation. 

Calvin observes that although Muslims were thought to be far away, they could quickly arrive in Protestant Europe:

When we preach at the present day about the Turk, all think that it is a fable, because they think that he is still at a great distance from us. But we see how quickly he overtook those who were at a greater distance and more powerful. So great is the insensibility of men that they cannot be aroused, unless they are chastised and made to feel the blows. Let the inhabitants of Babylon, therefore, be a warning to us, to dread, before it is too late, the threatenings which the prophets utter, that the same thing may not happen to us as happens to those wicked men, who, relying on their prosperous condition, are so terrified when the hand of God attacks and strikes them, that they can no longer stand, but sink down bewildered. (on Is 13.5)

He cautions against being happy to see Muslim armies defeat other nations in Christendom:

Something of this kind happened, not long ago, to many nations who had taken great delight in seeing their enemies vanquished by the Turk: they found that such victories were destructive and mournful to themselves; for, after the defeat of those whom they wished to see destroyed, the road to themselves was likewise thrown open, and they also were defeated. (on Is 14.31)

He also blames France in his day for collaborating with the Muslim Turks and in doing so endangering the rest of Christendom:

The case was similar to that of the Turks at this day, were they to pass over to these parts and exercise their authority; for it might be asked the French kings and their counsellors, “Whose fault it is that the Turks come to us so easily? It is because ye have prepared for them the way by sea, because ye have bribed them, and your ports have been opened to them; and yet they have wilfully exercised the greatest cruelty towards your subjects. All these things have proceeded from yourselves; ye are therefore the authors of all these evils.”  (on Jer 13.21)

Calvin on Conversion

William Bouwsma writes of Calvin:

…Calvin attached little or no significance to “conversion” as a precise event in his many discussions of the Christian life and the way of salvation…Calvin always emphasized the gradualness rather than the suddenness of conversion and the difficulty of making progress in the Christian life. “We are converted,” he said, “little by little to God, and by stages.”

Public School

Rushdoony on public school:

The public school is a substitute institution for the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church of the middle ages and is a thoroughly medieval concept. A single culture is demanded, and the public school must create it … a free and pluralistic society requires the abolition of the public school and tax support of the school in favor of a pluralistic education. The competitive aspect will ensure the quality of education, and the cultural implications of various faiths, philosophies and opinions can be given freedom to develop and make their contribution.

Who in the world is Gog, part II

The somewhat dreadful D.S. Russell discusses Gog and Magog in his book The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic. He ties Ezekiel’s Gog to earlier prophecies of ‘a mysterious foe from the north’, such as Jer 1.14, Zeph 1.7, 14 ff.; 3.8. He also sees Joel’s reference to ‘the northerner’ in Joel 2.20 as possibly this same person. Here is an extended passage from Russell’s book:

     In the LXX of Ezek. 38.2 Magog becomes the name of the people who inhabit the land rathern than the name of the land itself, and this is possibly the interpretation of the text of 39.6. A similar topographical allusion is made in Sib. Or. III.319f. where ‘the land of Gog and Magog’ is set ‘in the midst of the rivers in Ethiopia’; in this passage these names may refer to the Nubians who returned from Egypt with Antiochus when he despoiled the Temple (cf. also III.512ff., 632ff.).

     Elsewhere they more clearly represent the heathen nations who will make their final assault against God’s people as a prelude to the coming of the messianic kingdom. This assault takes different forms and the heathen nations are variously described. The language of Dan. 11.40ff., for example, is reminiscent of Ezekiel’s picture of Gog’s attack on Israel (Ezek. 38.1f.) and of Isaiah’s picture of the Assyrian invasion of his own day (Isa. 8.7f.; 10.5ff.; 31.8f.). There we have a description of an invader from the north who will ‘overthrow and pass through’ with chariots and horsemen and many ships and will meet his end somewhere between the Mediterranean and Mount Zion (11.45). The passage as a whole, from verse 21 onwards, describes the career of Antiochus IV, but towards the end details of his death are given which do not correspond to the facts known about Antiochus. The writer is apparently modifying his account so as to fulfill the old prophecy that God’s great enemy will ‘fall upon the mountains of Israel’ (Ezek. 39.4, cf. Zech. 14.2; Joel 3.2, 12f.; Isa. 14.25).

     This is certainly how the writer of the War of the Sons of Light, etc., interpreted this particular passage in the Book of Daniel. In his description of the final battle between ‘the sons of light’ and ‘the sons of darkness’ he is patently adapting to his own purpose the language of Dan. 11.40ff., and his treatise has not unfittingly been called a midrash on this section of the Book of Daniel. The ‘sons of darkness’ are identified as ‘the Kittim of Assyria’, the reference being apparently to the Roman armies stationed in Syria. Of interest in this connection is the fragmentary commentary on Isa. 10.28-11.4 which interprets Isaiah’s account of an Assyrian invasion in terms of the Kittim. In the great eschatological battle before the coming of the kingdom the Kittim will be slain. The ‘scion of David’ will hold sway over the heathen nations ‘at the end of days’; among those to be vanquished by him is Magog, who is singled out in this document for special mention (Commentary on Isa. 11.1-4).

Russell fails to believe in the actual foretelling of future events as can be seen by his attitude towards scripture and the prophecies of Isaiah. Nevertheless, he summarizes the theme of Gog and Magog in the Jewish Apocrypha well. He concludes by mentioning Gog and Magog in Revelation 20 as two demon kings who are allies of Satan but are consumed by fire from heaven.

Church, a definition

In the book The Ecclesiastical Law of the Church of England, we find this definition of the Church:


The Church is a society of men instituted for the worship of God, bound together by the profession of a common faith, the practice of divinely ordained rites, and resting upon a visible external order.

Christianity is inseparable from a community, in which it imparts its truths by regular course of instruction, and endeavors to secure the observance of its precepts by a moral and religious education; and being a revelation of the will of God is necessarily independent of municipal institution, and unconfined by the limits of places or kingdoms.

Conservative Pragmatism

A vocal segment of the so-called conservative movement are setting themselves up for a fall in a few areas. The reason for this is that they are arguing based on pragmatic results rather than first principles.
For example, many of the arguments against the stimulus plan and other economic moves made by the President come down to the fact that “it won’t work.” Never in history has something like this worked, says the Hannity’s and Limbaugh’s of the world. But what if it does work? We’re not looking at complete, Marxist central planning. The US economy has depth and resilience enough that it might self-heal and we could have GDP growth of 3-4% by 2010 or 11. What then?
It would be far better to oppose such policies because they squander money, increase state power and the threat of tyranny, and bankrupt our nation. God requires ten percent of our income, can the State require whatever it wants? Is there any point at which the State can steal, just like you and I can steal? But these are not the grounds on which I hear objections. I hear that it won’t “work.” Does killing your baby in the womb increase your ability to earn income? Can it be said to then “work”? These pragmatic arguments, divorced from God’s law and sound reasoning, have a high probability of failing.