The Omniscient Biblical Narrator

I was recently looking over some of what Meir Sternberg wrote about the omniscient narrator in the Bible. Today I read the account of Ahab and Naboth in I Kings 21 and it brought Sternberg to mind again. The narrator of the account has access to Ahab’s conversation with Naboth, Jezebel’s conversation with Ahab, Jezebel’s letters to the elders and nobles of the city, and Elijah’s condemnation of Ahab. How can this be? We are never told of course.

The omniscient viewpoint is often used by the writers of the Bible and we often think nothing of it as we read. Perhaps later writers had access to sources around Ahab, or perhaps God simply revealed all of it to Elijah or a scribe of Elijah’s. Who knows? The Bible is very quiet about its method of composition and we can’t really peer behind the scenes with any confidence.

Wikileaks and Espionage

The Wikileaks story dominates our news today. Some people have wondered how an enlisted soldier was able to simply burn all of this information onto discs and then pass it along? Well, it doesn’t surprise me much and I expect much worse ahead.

Back in the mid 90’s I was in Intelligence and was stationed at the headquarters of a certain large agency. I carried a backpack every day and this agency had a spot-check policy for backpacks and purses. I was never once spot-checked. Theoretically, I could have carried documents and such out of the building every day if I wanted to risk being caught.

Jump ahead to today. In the old days, spies had to sneak photocopies of microfilm or something like that out to their handlers. Now, you could use memory sticks or a cell phone. I can’t imagine the damage that an iPhone could do – video, pictures, etc. My guess is that it will only be a matter of time until we hear of huge losses of sensitive data to somebody who just took pictures on his phone all day at work. How can the government stop this? Can they ban all phones at work? Can they enforce such a ban? I think not.

Perhaps the security in critical places like nuclear labs and top-level analysis centers is better and it would be harder to take information out of them, but I have no confidence in that. Perhaps the larger question is how the nation-state can lock down information in the  digital age. I don’t have much faith in the ability of a big, lumbering organization like the modern State to keep information secret. All it takes is one person with hostile intentions to wreak havoc with national secrets.

What Happened to the Gold Plates?

I knew that Mormon accounts of the plates used to translate the Book of Mormon say that the angel Moroni took the plates back at some point, but I had a hard time finding the source texts for how or when this might have happened. So far, I have three sources:

[1] Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors for Many Generations by Lucy Smith, Lamoni, Iowa, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, p. 167-168. Lucy Smith writes:

In a few days we were followed by Joseph, Oliver and the Whitmers, who came to make us a visit, and make some arrangements about getting the book printed. Soon after they came, all the male part of the company, with my husband, Samuel, and Hyrum, retired to a place where the family were in the habit of offering up their secret devotions to God. They went to this place, because it had been revealed to Joseph that the plates would be carried thither by one of the ancient Nephites….(here follows the testimony of the eight witnesses)
After these witnesses returned to the house, the angel again made his appearance to Joseph, at which time Joseph delivered up the plates into the angel’s hands.

I find it strange that the Nephite carried the plates. Did Smith not have them and was he not able to carry them?

[2] Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 1.60 – Smith writes:

But by the wisdom of God, they remained safe in my hands, until I had accomplished by them what was required at my hand. When, according to arrangements, the messenger called for them, I delivered them up to him; and he has them in his charge until this day, being the second day of May, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight.

[3] Journal of Discourses, Vol.19, p.40, Brigham Young, June 17,  1877. Young’s relates an account from Oliver Cowdery that seems incredibly fantastic and unbelievable.

I lived right in the country where the plates were found from which  the Book of Mormon was translated, and I know a great many things  pertaining to that country.  I believe I will take the liberty to tell  you of another circumstance that will be as marvelous as anything can  be.  This is an incident in the life of Oliver Cowdery, but he did not  take the liberty of telling such things in meeting as I take.  I tell  these things to you, and I have a motive for doing so.  I want to  carry them to the ears of my brethren and sisters, and to the children  also, that they may grow to an understanding of some things that seem  to be entirely hidden from the human family.  Oliver Cowdery went with  the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates.  Joseph did not translate all of the plates; there was a portion of them sealed, which  you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. When Joseph  got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the  hill Cumorah, which he did.  Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver  went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which  there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the  time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but  that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it  was a large table that stood in the room.  Under this table there was  a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether  in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were  piled up in the corners and along the walls.  The first time they went  there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again  it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates;  it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words:  “This sword  will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become  the kingdom of our God and his Christ.”

If you are aware of other accounts of this event, please let me know.

Book Binding: Text Block

I was able to learn a little bit more of book binding a couple weeks ago. I folded many sheets of paper into sections. We had previously marked off where we wanted the holes to be punched in the sections. Using a guide, I then punched holes in the sections with an awl. After that , I prepared tapes and attached them to the paper. Then I sewed using a couple different methods through all of the sections. This was not easy and I required help every step of the way. I was getting better at sewing as I went along, but I could use a lot of practice. Here are some pictures of the completed text block:

You can get a good idea of where the holes are and how the sewing works from the next picture. All of this is done to strengthen the final product.

Here is a close-up of some of the sewing and the tapes.

I Have to Believe it’s Getting Better

David Field provides some heartening evidence in this paper about how the world is improving for the Church:

Evangelical defeatism is a failure of historical perspective. After all, the statistics are out there. It took 1400 years for 1% of the world’s population to become Christians and then another 360 years for that to double to 2%. Another 170 years saw that grow from 2% to 4% and then, between 1960 and 1990 the proportion of the world’s population made up of Bible-believing Christians rose from 4% to 8%. Now, in 2007, one third of the world’s population confesses that Jesus is Lord and 11% of the world’s population are “evangelical” Christians. The evangelical church is growing twice as fast as Islam and three times as fast as the world’s population. South America is turning Protestant faster than Continental Europe did in the sixteenth century. South Koreans reckon that they can evangelize the whole of North Korea within five years once that country opens up. And then there’s the Chinese church consisting of tens of millions of Christians who have learned to pray, who have confidence in Scripture, who know about spiritual warfare, have been schooled in suffering and are qualified to rule. One day in the next century that Church – tens of millions of Christians trained to die – will be released into global mission and our prayers for the fall of Islam will be answered.

Amen! It is good to see evidence of postmillenial optimism. We walk by faith, not by sight.

 

More on Antinomianism

Andrew Sandlin wrote a good post this week on the same subject that I keep seeing – Christians who use grace as a cover for antinomianism. Sandlin says:

We ourselves are required to rebuke evil and have no company with it (Eph. 5:11–13).

What many of today’s grace-talking non-judgmentalists actually want is a grandfatherly God who overlooks their rebellion and favors them despite their gross, unrepentant sin.  They want to fornicate, despise God’s church and its ordinances, observe pornography, abuse prescription (and illegal) drugs, profane God’s name, revel in lewdness, spurn the godly counsel of parents and pastors and teachers, eschew hard work, and otherwise lust to be accepted by an apostate, pagan culture — all while assuming the pious protection of God’s grace.

 

The Use of the Law in the Anglican Church

The historical Anglican Church is not antinomian. In line with the Reformed tradition it teaches that we are saved by grace and live out our new lives in obedience to God’s will as expressed in the law. For example, in the baptismal liturgy the candidate is asked:

“Will you keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in them all the days of your life?”

This will is expressly stated to be found in the decalogue, as stated in this passage of the catechism:

You stated earlier that your Godfathers and Godmothers promised on your behalf that you would keep God’s Commandments. Tell me, how many are there?Answer. There are ten and they are recorded in the twentieth chapter of the book, Exodus.

 

 

Foundational Thinkers

In the theological circles that I identify with there are many streams of thought which converge in the current conversation. I would like to briefly identify some of the great thinkers, past and present, who define that conversation.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

Eugen Rosentstock Huessy (ERH) was a German Christian thinker. Peter Leithart discusses him in this article, which I will quote here.

The scope of his life’s work is impressively unclassifiable. He disdained the disciplinary confinements of the modern university, and the disdain shows. He wrote on language, religion and the Bible, calendars, time, and grammar. He published a massive history of the Western revolution and a three-volume Soziologie, as well as a monograph on his academic specialty, medieval German legal history. When he came to America, he took a chair in German language and culture at Harvard, but he could have taught sociology, law, philosophy, comparative religion, or any of a half dozen other disciplines. Harvard didn’t know what to do with him. Since he talked a lot about God, they sent him to the divinity school.

Openly orthodox, Rosenstock-Huessy was also a remarkably progressive thinker, embodying what Chesterton, one of Rosenstock-Huessy’s favorite authors, described as the adventure of orthodoxy. This is evident particularly in his meditations on time, and the fundamental temporal orientation of his work. He observed that institutions, ideas, and systems have their day—and then something new is needed: “Philosophies have their time. It is a misunderstanding to attribute a perennial character to any particular philosophy. Philosophy is the expression of a zeitgeist. Philosophies must be buried at the right time. The Jesuits know that Thomism is dead.” He spoke of the world entering a “Johannine” age of history, an age of the Spirit that would move quite differently from the earlier ages of the Church: “each generation has to act differently precisely in order to represent the same thing. Only so can each become a full partner in the process of Making Man.”

I have not read ERH myself, but need to and hope to find the time to in the future.

René Girard

Rene Girard is a French philosopher famed for his theory of “mimetic rivalry” and his discussion of the scapegoat mechanism in society. Perhaps a portion of this interview will serve to summarize his views:

NPQ: Is Christianity superior to other religions?

Girard: Yes. All of my work has been an effort to show that Christianity is superior and not just another mythology. In mythology, a furious mob mobilizes against scapegoats held responsible for some huge crisis. The sacrifice of the guilty victim through collective violence ends the crisis and founds a new order ordained by the divine. Violence and scapegoating are always present in the mythological definition of the divine itself.

It is true that the structure of the Gospels is similar to that of mythology in which a crisis is resolved through a single victim who unites everybody against him, thus reconciling the community. As the Greeks thought, the shock of death of the victim brings about a catharsis that reconciles. It extinguishes the appetite for violence. For the Greeks, the tragic death of the hero enabled ordinary people to go back to their peaceful lives.

However, in this case, the victim is innocent and the victimizers are guilty. Collective violence against the scapegoat as a sacred, founding act is revealed as a lie. Christ redeems the victimizers through enduring his suffering, imploring God to “forgive them for they know not what they do.” He refuses to plead to God to avenge his victimhood with reciprocal violence. Rather, he turns the other cheek.

The victory of the Cross is a victory of love against the scapegoating cycle of violence. It punctures the idea that hatred is a sacred duty.

I have his book “Violence and the Sacred” but have not read it yet.

Cornelius Van Til

Finally, there is the great Cornelius Van Til. Van Til is well-known for being a pioneer of presuppositional apologetics and the transcendental argument for the existence of God. He stressed the antithesis between the believer and the non-believer. Van Til said this of his own method:

My understanding of the relationship between Christian and non-Christian, philosophically speaking.
1. Both have presuppositions about the nature of reality:
a. The Christian presupposes the triune God and his redemptive plan for the universe as set forth once for all in Scripture.
b. The non-Christian presupposes a dialectic between “chance” and “regularity,” the former accounting for the origin of matter and life, the latter accounting for the current success of the scientific enterprise.
2. Neither can, as finite beings, by means of logic as such, say what reality must be or cannot be.
a. The Christian, therefore, attempts to understand his world through the observation and logical ordering of facts in self-conscious subjection to the plan of the self attesting Christ of Scripture.
b. The non-Christian, while attempting an enterprise similar to the Christian’s, attempts nevertheless to use “logic” to destroy the Christian position. On the one hand, appealing to the non- rationality of “matter,” he says that the chance- character of “facts” is conclusive evidence against the Christian position. Then, on the other hand, he maintains like Parmenides that the Christian story cannot possibly be true. Man must be autonomous, “logic” must be legislative as to the field of “possibility” and possibility must be above God.