The Talmud in Calvinism

Writing in Christian Hebraists and Dutch Rabbis, Aaron Katchen discusses the Dutch Calvinist appropriation of the Talmud in Biblical exegesis. He quotes the the famous Dutch theologian Johannes Coccejus, as saying:
…it is a new thing I am attempting, namely, to show that a knowledge of the Talmud and of the talmudic writers is of extraordinary help in the elucidation of the New Testament.
Before that, though, quoting Grotious’s view from the De jure that:
the Hebrew writers can contribute not a little to our understanding of the meaning of the books belonging to the old covenant,
Coch continues by saying that the Talmud, the “Doctrinalis,” or the “authorized teaching” of the Jews, as he refers to it at this point, has its usefulness for the understanding of the law in all its facets: ceremonial, natural, and that fixed by convention (“positivus”).
Where, but the Jewish Talmud, can the learned traditions handed down by our forefathers be sought? Indeed, these are relevant, whether for a fuller understanding of Mosaic law, ritual as well as judicial and moral; or for an illustration of exotic (?) laws; or for shedding light on accounts of the Jewish commonwealths [e.g, Josephus(?)]; or, what is most important, for confirmation of the account in the Gospels, where there is abundant mention of Jewish customs, law and traditions.
Katchen, 68-69

A Theology of Space Travel 1.7

There is an article out today on the number of possible “Earths” in the Milky Way. The number may be low or high, depending on your point of view.

One idea that has occurred to me from a theological standpoint is that our propensity to idolatry and the worship of everything from bugs to the Sun make it highly unlikely that there is other human-type life in the Universe. I wouldn’t extrapolate to plant and animal life, but it seems to me that if we encountered another sentient species in our present state of maturity, we would probably fall to worshiping them at some point. Just a thought.

Exciting Each Other to Idolatry

Commenting on Isaiah 41:7-8, Calvin says:

for the Prophet means that workmen, by beating “in their turn,” mutually excite each other, because by being earnestly employed in the same work, they grow warm, and each of them urges and arouses the other, to perform in the shortest time what they have undertaken. In short, he describes the rebellion and madness of idolaters, by which they excite each other to oppose God.

Carlos Eire summarizes his views by saying, “The inclination to commit false worship inherent in every individual is aggravated by society through mutual support and social conditioning.” Calvin continues:

From this passage and from all histories it is manifest that this vice was not peculiar to a single age, and at the present day we know it by experience more than is desirable. We see how men, by mutual persuasion, urge one another to defend superstition and the worship of idols; and the more brightly the truth of God is manifested, the more obstinately do they follow an opposite course, as if they avowedly intended to carry on war with God. Since religion was restored to greater purity, idols have been multiplied and set up in hostility to it in many places; pilgrimages, masses, unlawful vows, and, in some cases, anniversaries, have been more numerously attended than before. During that ancient ignorance there was some kind of moderation; but now idolaters, as if they had been seized by madness, run about, and are driven by blind impulse. There is nothing which they do not attempt in order to prop up a trifling superstition and tottering idols. In a word, they join hands, and render mutual aid, in order to resist God. And if any person wish to throw back the blame on his brother, he will gain nothing; for it adheres to every one in such a manner that it cannot in any way be removed. All are devoted to falsehood, and almost avowedly devise methods of imposture, and, trusting to their great numbers, each of them places himself and others above God. They excite each other to the worship of idols, and burn with such madness of desire that nearly the whole world is kindled by it.

Calvin’s Education

In our day seminary costs a lot of money. I sometimes wonder how Calvin and the other Reformers did it? How did they get their education, how did they preach and write so much? Well, in some cases, if not most, they were coming from somewhat wealthy families. Carlos Eire writes of Calvin:

He had, after all, grown up Catholic and funded his entire education with income from ecclesiastical benefices.

A benefice was revenue from church property granted to an individual. This biography says:

Having distinguished himself at an early age, Calvin was deemed worthy of receiving the support of a benefice, a church-granted stipend, at the age of 12, so as to support him in his studies. Although normally benefices were granted as payment for work for the church, either present or in the future, there is no record that Calvin ever performed any duties for this position. Later on he held two more benefices, for which he also did no work. Thus supported by the Church, at age 14, Calvin was enrolled at the College de la Marche in the University of Paris, though he quickly transferred to the College de Montaigu.

So Calvin benefited from a church-funded education, he did not work his way through school like many of his modern followers are forced to do.

An Honest Look at Dying, Death and Life

Professor William Stuntz died of cancer last week at age 52. He knew he was going to die for a long time. This interview is a remarkable look inside an honest Christian, his regrets over life and his impending death. The following question and answer are a poignant example:

Your life is ending sooner than you must have expected.  Are you pleased with the life you lived?

No.

I’m not displeased in the sense that I never got to see that or do this or enjoy something else.  I have almost none of those feelings.  I am utterly satisfied with my life in those terms.  I have gotten many more good things than I could deserve in any conceivable way.  I have been incredibly more blessed, along multiple dimensions, than I would have imagined when I was young.  In that sense, I am perfectly pleased with my life.

What I am displeased with is my own living of life.  I feel an acute sense that I ought to have done better with the circumstances I was given.  This is one of the reasons why it cut me so deeply when people suggested that suffering is God’s discipline — because I find it so very, very easy to believe in a God who is profoundly disappointed in me.

It seems utterly natural to believe in the Disappointed God, because I myself am disappointed.  He must be even more disappointed, I think, because his standards are so much higher than mine.  How could he not be disappointed?  That makes complete sense to me.

It’s the other God, the God who does not experience that kind of disappointment, the God who sees me the way that Prodigal Son’s father saw him — that is the harder God for me to believe in.  It takes work for me to believe in that God.

The Vancian Prose of John Donne

John Donne sounds like a character in a Jack Vance book in this passage from his Essays in Divinity:

Picus, Earl of Mirandula, being a man of incontinent wit, and subject to the concupiscence of inaccessible knowledges and transcendencies, pursuing the rules of Cabal, out of the word Bresit, which is the title of this first book, by vexing and transposing and anagrammatizing the letters, hath expressed and wrung out this sum of Christian religion.

The End this Isn’t

Events like last week’s tsunami often spur on premillenial believers who think that things have never been this bad before and that the end is in sight. This is not new. James Moorhead mentions an encounter that Robert Willett had back in World War I:

…he encountered an energetic man who explained that Kaiser Wilhelm was the beast described in the thirteenth chapter of Revelation and that Jesus would appear within months to “rapture” the saints.

As George Marsden points out in Fundamentalism and American Culture, World War I touched off a frenzy of speculation about Germany and “the Huns” being a possible candidate for the Antichrist and his Empire. One can imagine how a world war would lead people to speculate on such matters. And I am sure that this speculation reached another level when Hitler was around. And yet, the end did not come.

This did not stop speculation. The emphasis shifted from shattered Germany to the Red Menace and the Soviet Union which would surely invade Israel and fulfill Ezekiel 38. The bad interpretation of premillenialism said that “this generation” applied to 1948 and Israel (we are now 63 years later, when does a generation end?). Chuck Smith said the end was probably going to be in 1981…or maybe 1986.

After the Cold War ended with no Russian invasion in sight, there was a bit of a lull as some looked to China as the new possible beast from the East. Then we had 9/11 and the premillenial world went crazy over Islam. Surely Islam would usher in the end by invading Israel.

In some ways, premillenialism cannot ever be proven wrong. You can show people all of these past wrong predictions and they will blow it off as men’s opinions. Dates change, the Antichrist changes, new events are constantly discovered within the same old passages, and the end still does not come. But people love to think that our generation is the most important one, and that things like this have never occurred before. Well, they have. Many of the Biblical texts point to AD 70 and the destruction of the old world. No more Temple, no more Law, no more Jews (their religion was ended at the Cross and there is no more Temple worship that wouldn’t be an insult to God). Read this book and learn a thing or two. God’s kingdom will continue to spread from the River to the ends of the earth, like a mustard seed that grows into a great tree.

Information Overload

Nicholas Carr has an excellent insight into the information tsunami problem that we are in the middle of in this post:

When we complain about information overload, what we’re usually complaining about is ambient overload. This is an altogether different beast. Ambient overload doesn’t involve needles in haystacks. It involves haystack-sized piles of needles. We experience ambient overload when we’re surrounded by so much informationthat is of immediate interest to us that we feel overwhelmed by the neverending pressure of trying to keep up with it all. We keep clicking links, keep hitting the refresh key, keep opening new tabs, keep checking email in-boxes and RSS feeds, keep scanning Amazon and Netflix recommendations – and yet the pile of interesting information never shrinks.

The cause of situational overload is too much noise. The cause of ambient overload is too much signal.

A commenter to the post writes:

Eventually, you just have to recognize limits. You have to get rid of a lot of good stuff. It’s hard.

Another says:

Worse, however, is ‘conversation overload.’ I can walk away from information but walking away from conversations is far more difficult and our technologies make conversation/communication so much easier and that produces more of it.

I think these are apropos sentiments with the thoughts I have had recently about eliminating news (“the junk food of the mind”) from my reading diet. I would also like to weed some more blogs and things like that out of my consumption. Replacing all of that with more solid reading sounds like a good plan.

Starving Leviathan

I wonder:

* How many colleges and universities could survive as currently configured without Federal loans, grants and aid?

* How many foreign governments and militaries could survive without aid from the United States?

* How many hospitals or other medical practices could survive without Medicare, Medicaid and other payments from the central government?

* How many state governments could survive as currently configured without Federal money?

* How many businesses in the DC metro area would collapse if defense and other Federal spending were drastically reduced?

* How could the housing market survive in its current form without government assistance?

I could go on. The tentacles are everywhere.