Friday, May 17, 2024

Excessive Righteousness 4: Cardiac Commitment (Quid Pro No!)


 “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.”

(Matthew 22:34-38 NKJV)


 Jesus’s first and great commandment exhorts: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The “love” language here may be contrasted with the “love” language of the second commandment: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:34-38 NKJV). The “love” language as to how one should love in the second commandment corresponds to the Golden Rule: “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12 NKJV) and “Just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise” (Luke 6:31 NKJV). It is a proactive principle of reciprocity. For example, if you would like someone to give you a nice Christmas present, you should give them a nice Christmas present first. Quid pro quo expectation is involved: I wouldn’t treat you in a way that I would not like to be treated myself. Even if unrequited love occurs, the second commandment still recommends the Golden Rule as the high moral ground.

The “love” language as to how one should love God, however, is of a different variety. We should not love the Lord our God with quid pro quo expectations. According to classicists John Kirby and Eduard Norden, when the ancient Greeks prayed to their gods, quid pro quo was frequently involved: “Either, because of past benefices which I have performed for you, you owe me; or, I will do this . . . for you, if you will do this . . . for me (conditional promise).” Modern-day Christians and non-Christians alike are prone to pray to God, having similar quid pro quo expectations. “God, if you will heal my disease, I will go to church,” for example. There are, however, no quid pro quo implications in the commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” When people pray with constant “requests” in mind, they miss the point of this commandment. The term “all” is repeated three times: all your heart, all your soul, all your mind.


All Your Heart


Having dealt with “all your mind” in the previous post, we turn to “all your heart.” The greatest commandment has nothing to do with a literal, biological heart (cardia in the Greek); the term “heart/cardia” used by Jesus and Moses is a metaphor. Though the English metaphor “heart” refers to emotions (perhaps, because when you are frightened, excited, angry, or attracted to the opposite sex, your literal “heart/cardia” tends to beat faster and stronger), that is not what the metaphor “heart” typically means in Hebrew or Aramaic (the languages of Jesus and the Old Testament commandments). Perhaps, the Christian worshippers who like to wave their hands in the air, put quivers in their voices, and well up with tears in their eyes while worshipping think that this commandment means that they need to display emotional love toward God. I have difficulty picturing Jesus and John the disciple whom Jesus loved waving their hands in the air at each other and welling up with tears. Jesus certainly did express emotions, at times. He wept when He arrived at the tomb of His friend Lazarus, but there is no metaphorical mention of his “heart” in that account (John 11:17-44). Instead of using the term “heart” for emotions, the Hebrews typically used the term “bowels” (the belly) as a metaphor for the emotions (perhaps, because when you are frightened, excited, angry, or attracted to the opposite sex, your stomach feels like it is tied up in knots). The bowels are the seat of emotion/compassion in Hebrew and Aramaic, as in Genesis 43:30 (see KJV).

Jesus, however, uses the term “heart” in His beatitudes: Blessed are the pure in heart (Matthew 5:8). It is difficult to imagine what pure emotion would look like, but a purely-based decision is clearer. Most likely, Jesus uses the term “heart” to signify the center of our decision-making processes. In Genesis 6:5, God saw that the “intent (yetzer)” of man’s “heart (levav)” was “evil (ra‘)” all of the time. Jews teach that the center of a human being’s decision-making processes (i.e., his “heart [levav]”) has a “good inclination (yetzer ha-tov)” and an “evil inclination (yetzer ha- ra‘).” These two inclinations at conflict in our hearts” sprang, perhaps, from when Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of “Good (ha-tov)” and “Evil (ha- ra‘). A Jewish psychoanalyst named Sigmund Freud borrowed this Jewish doctrine for his psychanalytic theory. The “good inclination (yetzer ha-tov)” became his “superego” and the “evil inclination (yetzer ha- ra‘)” became his “id.” These two factors were combined in his decision-making center (i.e., his “heart [levav]”), which Freud called his “ego.” New World Encyclopedia confirms: “The opposition of the id and the superego may be a reflection of a traditional Jewish psychology of fallen human beings, that within each person there is unending conflict between the "evil inclination" (yetzer ha-ra) and the "good inclination" (yetzer ha-tov)” (Ego, superego, and id - New World Encyclopedia). Jews center these two inclinations in the “heart.” Therefore, when Exodus 4:21 reports that God hardened Pharaoh’s “heart (levav),” Pharaoh’s free-will “decision” not to let the Israelites go was “hardened”; his initial “decision” was set in concrete, so to speak. God did not make Pharaoh’s decision for him, but He assisted Pharaoh in turning his decision into a psychosis. Pharaoh could not be talked out (or plagued out) of his psychosis by Moses.

Applying all of this to Jesus’s beatitude “Blessed are the pure in ‘heart,’” Jesus is praising those whose “decisions” are pure—following only their “good inclination (yetzer ha-tov),” with no input from their “evil inclination (yetzer ha- ra‘).” Likewise, in loving the LORD our God with “all” of our “heart,” we must be certain to follow only our “good inclination (yetzer ha-tov),” with no input from our “evil inclination (yetzer ha- ra‘)” with regard to our decisions. We must be the exact opposite of those, in Genesis 6:5, whose “intent (yetzer)” of their “heart (levav)” was “evil (ra‘)” all of the time. When it comes to our love of God, the “intent (yetzer)” of our “heart (levav)” must be “good (tov)” all of the time. A comparative example of “heart” in decision-making is Jesus’s observation that “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 NKJV). I understand this to mean that “lust” as Jesus uses the term is that inward decision to commit adultery with a woman, if and when the opportunity arises. Jimmy Carter, in his 1972 Playboy magazine interview, stated: “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.” If by that statement, Carter meant that he experienced sexual temptation, he would have experienced the same emotion millions and millions of other men (and women) have experienced; but if by that statement, Carter meant that he had made an inward decision to commit adultery with a woman, if and when the opportunity arose, that is quite another matter. Likewise, if Christians and Jews experience temptations to relinquish their faith in and love toward God, as when their faith is threatened by non-Christian arguments (yet, agonizing over their problem), that is one thing; but if Christians and Jews consciously decide to readily relinquish their faith in and love toward God for personal gain, such as advancement in the academic world, if it becomes necessary, they do not love THE LORD with all of their heart. Loving God must involve total inward (cardiac) commitment to staying true to God despite all the “fiery darts of the wicked.” Paul recommends “taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench” those darts (Ephesians 6:16 NKJV).

Monday, April 22, 2024

Excessive Righteousness 3: The Greatest Sin


Pharisees … asked Him a question … “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said … “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.”

(Matthew 22:34-38 NKJV)

Pharisees … said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub,

the ruler of the demons.” “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy

will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men

either in this age or in the age to come.”

(Matthew 12:24-32 NKJV)


It seems logical that the greatest sin it is possible to commit would relate to the greatest commandment. Monotheism is the basis of the greatest commandment (see previous post), so polytheism would be considered suspect as the basis of the greatest sin.




Why would Pharisees, who are so protective of monotheism that they accuse Jesus of being blasphemous in claiming to be the Son of God (John 10:33-36), be so willing to attribute the works of Jesus to a Canaanite “god”? That’s who Beelzebub is! The only reference to Beelzebub in the Old Testament is in 2 Kings 1:2-17 (NKJV):

Ahaziah [the northern, Israelite king] fell through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria, and was injured; so he sent messengers and said to them, “Go, inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this injury.” But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?’ Now therefore, thus says the Lord: ‘You … shall surely die.’” So Elijah … arose and went down with him to the king … he said to him, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron … you shall surely die.’” So Ahaziah died.

Sometimes spelled Beelzebul and (as in 2 Kings) Baal-Zebub, Beelzebub (the putative “god”) is possibly best translated “Lord of the Flies.” There were multiple Baals (the Hebrew plural is Baalim), Baal-Zebub being only one of these Baalim. Bible students are aware of the Canaanite god(s) called Baal, a word (in Ugaritic and Canaanitic) meaning “Lord.” The Old Testament speaks elsewhere of the god/s Baal (Numbers 25:3, Joshua 11:17, Judges 3:3, 7, and 8:33, 1 Kings 18:18, 20-40, 1 Chronicles 5:5, 8:30, 9:36, Jeremiah 7:9, 19:5) who served in Canaan as rival/s of the God of Israel. Zebub probably means “flies,” perhaps indicating the insect pests that were prone to constantly land on feces and then land on humans and were, therefore, suspected of transferring diseases from these feces to humans. Baal-Zebub was a Canaanite god of health. In both the 2 Kings account and Matthew 12:24-32, Baal-Zebub/Beelzebub is credited with healing powers. Ahaziah thought Baal-Zebub could heal him from the injuries of his fall; the Pharisees thought Beelzebub could heal the demon-possessed, so they attributed to Beelzebub the healings that Jesus had performed.

If “blasphemy” consists of believing in the existence and power of another god in addition to the God of Israel, as the Pharisees in John 10:33-36 asserted (accusing Jesus of claiming to be one), then they themselves are guilty of “blasphemy” when they attribute the healing power of Jesus to the Canaanite god Beelzebub. Jesus clearly healed, so they implicitly concluded that there was an actual god Beelzebub who had given Him power to heal. That was the unforgiveable sin for a teacher of the Law, steeped in the monotheism of the Ten Commandments and the Shema, who certainly should have known better.


Loving God with All Your Mind


Your mind is the center of your thought processes. Your mind allows you to conceive of who you are, how the world came to be, life after death, and, most importantly, who God is! The greatest sin is not murder or stealing or adultery. Those are sins of the body. King David committed all of these, but God forgave him when he repented. The greatest sin is a sin of the mind—holding polytheistic views when you should know better. Polytheistic views are the product of one’s mind (as are atheistic views).

The New Testament Christians’ righteousness exceeded the righteousness of the Pharisees, by holding to a clear monotheism, while the Pharisees embraced polytheism—the belief in Beelzebub, the god of Ekron, a rival to THE LORD. Imagine! They reject Jesus’s claim to be the Son of God (even though all that He taught and the works He did were accomplished by power of His Father), yet they embrace and attribute healing power to the pagan god of the Canaanites: Beelzebub! Jesus called this the blasphemy against the Spirit and said it would never be forgiven meneither in this age or in the age to come! Jews since the time of the New Testament have overwhelmingly repented of that Pharisaic position on Beelzebub (although, they have more repenting yet to do in their assessment of Jesus as not being God’s Son). As an example of rival-god-repentance, Jewish scholar Bernard Bamberger states: “The astounding thing is that, after some centuries of experimentation with this idea [of divine forces/angels rebelling against God] the authoritative teachers of Judaism dropped it altogether.  … The main line of Jewish thought returned to an uncompromising monotheism in which there was no room for satanic rebels.” To my Jewish friends: Remember, Jesus was never a “satanic rebel.” He tells the Pharisees He has no connection with Satan (Matthew 12:26). It was His blood that cast Satan out of Heaven (Revelation 12:11).


Christians and Beelzebub


            Meanwhile, however, Christians since the time of the New Testament have picked up the Beelzebub-error baton and have run with it! They seem to believe that Beelzebub actually exists and that he is a powerful rival to God. Modern day Catholic and Evangelical notions of fallen angels are largely responsible, as they hearken back to Persian dualistic religious influence occurring between the Old Testament and New Testament periods. In my book, Revelation:  The Human Drama (page 73), I comment:


Some interpreters of Revelation [wrongly] consider the informing anecdote of the book to be the conflict between God and Satan. This perceived conflict is a vestige of Judaism's contact with Persian religion. Martin Hengel discounts such … [Persian Dualism] in accounting for the scene which, for example, produced the “fallen angel” stories in the centuries preceding the New Testament period. In perusing John's Revelation, examples of a direct rivalry between God and Satan cannot be found. While allusions are made to “fallen angels” in Revelation, it is not clear that they are typical of the Fallen Angel Stories of the centuries preceding the Christian Era.


In my book, Angels and Demons: The Personification of Communication (pages 19-20), I explain further:


“Persian religion developed the concept of an Evil God who was constantly at war with a Good God.” There is no picture in the Old Testament of a Satan who could [or would] rival God. The Hebrew word “SATAN” … means “adversary” or “prosecuting attorney.” That is all Satan was in the Book of Job [an adversary of humans, not of God]. He certainly had not “fallen” from Heaven by then. Job 1:6 has Satan joining the angels (sons of God) in presenting themselves before God. He petitions God for permission to “test” Job. He certainly does not demand anything of God. This “testing” role is also the one he assumes in the New Testament as he “tests” Jesus in the desert, following his baptism. At the end of Jesus’ life (Luke 22:31), Jesus informs Simon Peter that Satan has asked permission to sift him like wheat. This sounds to me like the same Satan who was in the courts of Heaven in Job.


Frankly, this point (that the Old and New Testaments do not depict fallen angels who “sin”) is a primary reason I wrote my Indiana University M.A. in Hebrew thesis—“Anamartetous [= Sinless] Fallen Angels”—and my subsequent book, Angels and Demons. I do not find anywhere in the Old or New Testaments Satan or any other angel rebelling against God. Satan (aka, the Devil) is called an “adversary,” but not an adversary of God. In 1 Peter 5:8. He is “your [human’s] adversary, the Devil!” (just as he was the adversary of [the humans] Adam and Eve). This is exactly the view of Satan embraced by Judaism in the past two millennia. In that respect, I think it highly likely that, after the New Testament period, the righteousness of Jews has exceeded the righteousness of Christians on the Beelzebub issue.

The issue of demons as adversaries of God is also problematic, despite what the movies suggest. In gospel texts, “demon-possessed” individuals confess that Jesus is the Son of God (Matthew 28:29, Luke 4:41). James 2:19 (NKJV) states: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” In John 4:6 God’s Spirit is contrasted with the Spirit of Error. A “spirit of error” fairly well describes a demon (in the New Testament). The Old Testament does not include a single case of demon-possession (nor do John’s Gospel, Revelation, or Paul’s writings; Matthew only includes one—an incident that concludes, according to Mark 5:15, with the man finally being “in his right mind”). Demon is a Greek (not Jewish) concept. The Apostle Paul suggests that “idols” and “demons” are the same thing (1 Corinthians 10:18).  He also states (rhetorically) that “idols” are “not anything.”  In 1 Corinthians 8:4, he states, “We know that no idol really exists; that there is no God but one.” Revelation 9:20 agrees that demons (like idols) are nothing.  He writes of unrepentant men who worshiped the “works of their hands”—“demons and golden idols, and silver, and bronze, and wooden, which are not able to see, nor hear, nor walk.” Those who believed they had demons were actually in error. The physical malady they thought the demon caused existed only in their minds (= psychogenic). The list of illnesses and bodily malfunctions cured by Jesus (which I provide on pages 203-4 of Angels and Demons) does not contain any type of mental illness. Similar to psycho-somatic illness, the demon-possessed (or, as they are also identified: those with “unclean spirits” or “evil spirits,” meaning “spirit of something ‘bad’—not ‘evil’ in a moral sense) just believed the lie and that belief in a lie produced the physical malady. There are no supernatural, divine, or semi-divine beings that are adversaries or rivals of the One True God. This is the heart of monotheism.

When I say that Christians since the time of the New Testament have picked up the Beelzebub-error baton and run with it, believing that Beelzebub actually exists and that he is a powerful rival to God (and that modern day Catholic and Evangelical notions are largely responsible for that doctrine), I include Catholic and Evangelical doctrines of rebel fallen angels (including the view that Satan is a rebel fallen angel) and of demons that war against God. One had better be careful when asserting that such rebels against God exist in the supernatural realm. Why? Because such an assertion is close to (if not precisely) the unforgiveable sin! True: there was a war mentioned in Revelation 12:7-12.  John sees Satan being cast out of Heaven (by Michael, not by God) when Jesus died on the cross.  Satan was thrown out because his job as “accuser” (of men) was no longer needed. Jesus’ blood had secured forgiveness for men.  No longer is an accuser necessary in Heaven.

If you know (with all your mind) that THE LORD our God is one, you cannot allow your mind to believe that He has any rival (including Beelzebub, Satan, fallen angels, or demons). He is the only and absolute king of the world! Love THE LORD your God with all your mind!

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Excessive Righteousness 2: Monotheism


Pharisees … asked Him a question … “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said … “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.”

(Matthew 22:34-38)


Matthew 5:20 (NKJV) records Jesus’ warning:
“Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” If one would have righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees (and righteousness can be defined as “fulfilling the commandments”), it is prudent to begin with what both Jesus and the Pharisees agree is the greatest commandment. Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27 all record the saying of Jesus cited at the first of this post. While the saying of Jesus in Matthew and Luke is truncated from the full command from Deuteronomy, Mark and the Jews emphasize the full text of what they call the Shema. The term Shema is translated “Hear!” and the entire Shema is as follows: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 NKJV). Jews believe that their righteousness with regard to this command exceeds the righteousness of Christians because of the emphasis of the Shema on monotheism: The LORD our God … is one. They suggest that Christian teachings of the Trinity set up three Gods, rather than just the one. Before we consider how to fulfill the greatest commandment, we need to, first, tackle the question of who God is.


The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit


Henry Fischel, my (Jewish) major professor of Hebrew at Indiana University pointed out to me that the word “Trinity” appears in neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament. Nevertheless, the words “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” do appear together in the baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19 (NKJV): “
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” On the day of Pentecost, Peter, however, used a somewhat different baptismal formula: “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:38 NKJV). Paul was told by Ananias in Acts 22:16 (NKJV) “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” And, Paul simply mentions baptism into “Christ Jesus” in Romans 6:3-4 (NKJV): Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death.” It seems to me that any of these baptismal formulas is acceptable—so long as it is Jesus into whom one is baptized. Acts 19:1-5 recounts Paul’s rebaptism of twelve individuals in Ephesus who were baptized only with John the Baptist’s baptism—a baptism of repentance, with no reference to Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Paul baptized them “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Then Paul (an apostle) laid hands on them and they received gifts of the Holy Spirit—tongues and prophecy. Spiritual gifts were conferred only by the laying on of the hands of apostles (Google: “Stan.Point Logic of Christianity 17”). Yet, all Christians who are baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ … receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 NKJV). What exactly that “gift of the Holy Spirit” is will be considered momentarily.

Another passage that uses the words meaning Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together is actually not in the earliest texts; it is a later textual addition—1 John 5:7 (NKJV): For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.” Although Christians often cite this passage as evidence of a doctrine of Trinity, the words “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit” are not in the earliest texts of 1 John. The vast majority of recent translations recognize this fact by excluding the terminology from this passage--Holman Christian Standard Bible, English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, New International Version, New Living Translation, New Revised Standard, American Standard Version, Common English Bible, The Complete Jewish Bible, The Darby Translation, Good News Translation, GOD'S WORD Translation, Lexham English Bible, New Century Version, New International Reader's Version, Revised Standard Version, World English Bible, and Weymouth New Testament. The SBL Greek New Testament and even The Latin Vulgate have also eliminated the language.

As cited above, the New King James Version retains the language, as it seeks to remain close to the old King James Version, published in 1611 (before modern textual criticism demonstrated that the words were a late addition). Other old translations--Wycliffe published from 1382 to 1395, Tyndale published c. 1522–1535, the Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible published 1582, and the Webster Bible published 1833—have the Trinitarian language, along with lesser known recent translations--Jubilee Bible 2000, Third Millennium Bible, and Young's Literal Translation. One should not base one’s Trinitarian doctrine on the 1 John 5:7 passage. It was not in the original text.


The Holy Spirit


It is not blasphemous to suggest to a Jew that the Holy Spirit exists. There are more than sixty passages in the Hebrew Old Testament explicitly mentioning the Holy Spirit (aka the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the LORD, Your [i.e., God’s] Spirit, the Spirit, My [i.e., God’s] Spirit, Your [i.e., God’s] good Spirit, a new Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord). These passages mentioning the Holy Spirit begin in Genesis 1:2 with the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters at the beginning of Creation. Furthermore, Jews understand that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of prophecy. That means the Holy Spirit is that which God placed in His prophets to deliver His messages to humans. The Pharisees believed that the operation of God’s Holy Spirit to inspire prophecy ceased with Malachi—which they assumed to be the last inspired book of the Bible. For this reason, they could not accept John the Baptist as a prophet, let alone accept the early Christian prophets. Nevertheless, they still believed that God could speak to humans through the occasional words of children and the mentally handicapped (indelicately called “fools” by the Jews). This was still the Holy Spirit operating. Jesus alluded to this phenomenon on Palm Sunday in Matthew 21:15-16 (NKJV): “
But when the chief priests and scribes saw … the children crying out in the temple and saying, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they were indignant and said to Him, ‘Do You hear what these are saying?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes. Have you never read, “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise” [Psalm 8:2]?”

Pharisees also believed that God’s spirit continued to speak to humans through what they called a Bat Qol (or Bat Kol: a mysterious voice from Heaven). According to “Bat Kol: A Divine Voice | My Jewish Learning”:


[B]at kol, literally “daughter of a voice,” refers to a heavenly voice that proclaims God’s will or a divine judgment in a matter of legal dispute. The term itself doesn’t appear anywhere in the Hebrew Bible, though God’s voice is heard frequently in the Bible. Later sources indicate that there were bat kols in biblical times that were not recorded in the text, as in the Talmud’s declaration that a bat kol announced the death of Moses. The clearest statement of the nature of the bat kol is the Talmud’s declaration that the bat kol served as a means of communication between God and humankind after the end of the prophetic era. Though this teaching clearly connects a bat kol to the prophecies of the Bible, instances of the latter indicate explicitly in the text that it is God speaking, while the language of “daughter of a voice” concerning a bat kol suggests it is some sense a lesser (yet still divinely originating) voice. The Tosafot, commenting on a passage concerning a bat kol in Tractate Sanhedrin, distinguishes it from a voice that descends directly from heaven (which might refer to traditional prophecy), comparing it instead to an echo, a voice that emerges from within another voice. 

The term appears only twice in the Mishnah, but it is found frequently in the Talmud.


Bottom Line:  Pharisees also believed that God’s Spirit was/is active in the Bat Qol. Christians will note: a Bat Qol occurs at Jesus’s baptism and another at his transfiguration. Furthermore, a Bat Qol of Jesus’s voice speaks to Saul of Tarsus at his conversion. The fact that Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is still active (though, like the Jews, believing that the age of prophecy is now ceased) does not suggest that Christian doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit is blasphemous or even inferior to the views of the Pharisees. The Jews have no problem believing that the existence of the Spirit of God does not compromise their doctrine of monotheism. Why should they contend that Christian belief in the Holy Spirit would compromise a doctrine of monotheism?

The “Talmud’s declaration that the bat kol served as a means of communication between God and humankind” (emphasis mine) is a fair description of all activity of the Holy Spirit (not just the Bat Qol). The Holy Spirit spoke through prophets, children, the Bat Qol, angels, the written word, and directly (from God to humans). Jewish scholar G. F. Moore links three terms together in his chapter entitled, "The Word of God:  The Spirit," Moore states, "God's will is made known or effectuated in the world not only through personal agents (ANGELS), but directly by his WORD or by his SPIRIT" (emphases mine). The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 6:17 (NKJV), is in agreement with Moore’s observation: “And take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Although the English is confusing, the word “which” in this passage cannot be referring back to the term “sword,” since, in the Greek, “sword” is a feminine noun and “which” is a neuter pronoun. The only neuter noun “which” could refer back to is the neuter noun “Spirit.” The Spirit is the word of God, just as Moore demonstrates. (Incidentally, the Greek word for “word,” here, is not logos, but rhēma, from the same root as “rhetoric.” This might indicate that in the armor of God, His Spirit of persuasion is the sword we wield; whereas, God’s Word/Logos in John’s Gospel might refer more to His powerful spoken fiats of creation. (Since my Ph.D. is in Communication, I pay close attention to such distinctions.)

Since Jesus emphasizes that God is spirit (John 4:24) and the facts that the “Spirit of God” is hovering over the face of the waters and God is speaking “words” are all found in Genesis 1:1-3, the possibility of the Word/Logos of John chapter 1 being identified as the Spirit of God is a distinct possibility.  God and His Word are one and the same. There is no threat to the doctrine of monotheism when God and His Spirit are mentioned as existing together any more than there would be the implication that my words when uttered are somehow different from me as a single human being. Later in the first chapter of John, the Logos-becomes-flesh (as Jesus) and dwells among us.

The fact that God (His Spirit) speaks to the darkness (creating light), to the waters (creating a firmament and, later, creating sea creatures, birds, beasts, cattle, and creeping things), to the land (creating vegetation), etc., does not preclude God from communicating with humans, as well, through His Holy Spirit. 2 Corinthians 13:13 (NKJV) states: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” While Jesus purchased “grace” for us, and God so “loved” the world that He gave Jesus to us, the Holy Spirit offers us “communion with Him.” The word translated “communion” is the Greek word koinōnia (frequently, translated “fellowship”). It means, sharing or having things in common. The English words “common,” “communion,” and “communication” have the same root. As a professor of “communication,” I can assure you that you will have great difficulty in “communicating” with another human, unless you have things in common with that individual (especially, a common language). Japanese-speaking and English-speaking individuals have great difficulty communicating until they learn each other’s language. In John 14:16-18 (NKJV), Jesus promises: “I will pray the Father and He will give you another Helper [paraclete, literally: one whom you call alongside you, such as a friend or companion], that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth … you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” This is what Peter meant on the day of Pentecost, when he promised that those who are baptized will receive the “gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 NKJV). God doesn’t need to give you miraculous gifts of prophecy, healing, miracles, tongues, etc. for you to simply enjoy His company and communicate with Him. Everything you would hope to find when communicating with your best friend—liberty, righteousness, peace, and joy—you will find in God’s companionship through His Holy Spirit. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17 NKJV). Romans 14:17 (NKJV) states that there is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Galatians 5:22-23 (NKJV) even adds to the benefits of being the companion of the Holy Spirit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindnessgoodnessfaithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” The words of the genie in the Disney movie “Aladdin” should more accurately be applied to the Holy Spirit: “You ain’t never had a friend like me!” Not only is He our friend, He is our teacher, the One who reminds us of things God has commanded us. “He will teach [us] all things, and bring to [our] remembrance all things that [Jesus] said to [us].” (John 14:26 NKJV). He will guide us “into all truth” (John 16:12). That’s true communication. That’s communion. That’s the Holy Spirit.


The Father and the Son

The Pharisees would have no problem believing in God the Father. Several Old Testament passages—Deuteronomy 32:6, Isaiah 64:8, Jeremiah 3:19, Psalm 68:5, Jeremiah 31:9, Isaiah 63:16, and Malachi 2:10—all refer to God as Father. Several other passages refer to (especially Israel as) His son/s. To say that Christians believe in God the Father is not problematic, although, most frequently, the father-son relationship of God in the Old Testament is with Israel as His son. Perhaps, the reason some Jews might shy away from the “Father” language—except to say that Abraham is their father—is that Christians use the terminology in connection with His relationship to Jesus. This is the stumbling block over which two millennia of Jews have tripped. When the New Testament refers to Jesus as the Son of God, Jews consider that to be polytheistic rather than monotheistic. This Pharisaic thought process is encapsulated in John 10:33-36 (NKJV):

The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’? If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?”


Jesus is, here, defending Himself for claiming to be the “Son of God.” To defend Himself, Jesus cites Psalm 82 (NKJV):


God stands in the congregation of the [gods, re: LXX];
He judges among the gods.

 How long will you judge unjustly,
And show partiality to the wicked? 

I said, “You are gods,
And all of you are [sons] of the Most High.

But you shall die like men.


Michael S. Heiser (2008, page 3) states: “many scholars consider Psalm 82 to be either a vestige of polytheism overlooked by monotheistic redactors or perhaps a deliberate rhetorical use of Israel’s polytheistic past to declare the new outlook of monotheism. After the exile, so it is put forth, the gods of the nations are relegated to the status of angels.” Jesus and John, apparently, did not get that memo. Even “angels” is not an appropriate translation for “gods” in this passage for Jesus, John, and, implicitly, their Jewish audience. I discuss both the John 10 and Psalm 82 passages in my book Angels and Demons (page 82):


Jesus is quoted in John 10:33-36 as clearly implying that the term “sons of the Most High” (from Psalm 82:6 …) refers to “human judges.” Human judges are even called “gods/ELOHIM” in both Psalm 82:6 and Exodus 22 ... Jesus was making the point that it was not blasphemous for him to be called “god” or “son of God,” if even humans (judges) could be called “gods” and “sons of the Most High.”


Those whom God has called “gods” and “sons of the Most High” in Psalm 82 will “die like men.” There are no accounts in the Bible of gods or angels dying.” Isaiah 14:15 does say that Lucifer will die, but Lucifer is not an angel or any kind of divine being. In Angels and Demons (page 96), I observe: “Granted, if we begin reading in the middle of [Isaiah chapter 14], at verse 12, Lucifer can appear to be a powerful angel who has fallen because of his attempt to rebel against ‘the Most High.’ That is, until we reach verse 16 (where it is clear that Lucifer is a man): ‘They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, [and] consider thee, [saying, Is] this the MAN that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms?’  Verses 18-20 (KJV), furthermore, point out that Lucifer is a ‘king.’”

On page 108 of his book, Bauckham states: “Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions … always accepted the existence of … [other] supernatural beings: angels … demons.” Without further belaboring this point, I will direct any interested readers to my book Angels and Demons, where I dispute the unambiguous existence of fallen angels in the Bible and point out that the Gospel representations of demons are misunderstood. Fallen angels and demons exist in non-canonical writings between the Old and New Testament and (later) in the patristic writings, however. Jewish scholar Bernard Bamberger admits that point, but concludes in his book Fallen Angels (page 55): “The astounding thing is that, after some centuries of experimentation with this idea, [by the first century AD] the authoritative teachers of Judaism dropped it altogether.  … The main line of Jewish thought returned to an uncompromising monotheism in which there was no room for satanic rebels.”

Certainly, according to Jesus and John, the 82nd Psalm is not to be taken to suggest that there are other “gods”—the various gods of the nations who meet from time-to-time in congregation with God Almighty. Such an interpretation is polytheistic; it also would make absolutely no sense for Jesus to use such a passage (with such a doctrine) to defend himself against a charge of blasphemy. From Jesus’s statement in the John 10 passage, alone, one might even infer that Jesus saw Himself as a mere human (judge?) and not as a divine being at all. However, John who records the event, sees something quite beyond a mere human judge in Jesus. John chapter 1 will be discussed momentarily.

Another tack one might make concerning a Christology of Jesus is found in Revelation 4-5. While Jesus identifies Himself as the “Son of God” to the church at Thyatira in Revelation 2:18, typically Revelation refers to Him as the Lamb. (Note that Revelation 14:1 refers to the Lamb and His Father.) Just looking at Revelation 4-5, however, Jesus is presented as newly worthy of praise along with the Father—a new development in Heaven. I point out on pages 116-118 of my book Apocalyptic Apologetic:


No Jew would object [to Revelation chapter 4] … All are agreed that all creation should “worship” the Lord God Almighty because of his creation of all things. The Baruch Atah prayer of the Jews from the time of the Mishnah (Ber. 6:1) unto the present time attests to that. The Shema of Israel attests that the Lord our God is One.

Then comes Jesus, in chapter 5 … the great stumbling block for many Jews. Chapter 5 has the audacity to explain how Jesus, like the Lord God Almighty, is now also “worthy” of praise and worship and blessing. … “every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea” [Revelation 5:13] … say: “Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb forever and ever” (KJV).

What made him worthy? He “was slain and … redeemed us to God by [his] blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation” (verse 9). Therefore, … angels, living creatures, and elders … proclaimed: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing” (verse 12).

Jesus and God are, thus, now both worthy of worship. This is what Jews stumble over. Christians worship both God and Christ.


Even so, perhaps, these two chapters could be taken to suggest that God Almighty is the only God. In my book Revelation: The Human Drama (page 127), I point out: “Jesus is never referred to as pantokratôr (the Almighty)” in Revelation. Perhaps, it could be argued that Jesus (as a man) is worthy of worship because He “was slain and … redeemed us to God by [His] blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). God is worshiped as Creator. Jesus is worshiped as our supreme sacrifice who redeemed us.

On the other hand, Jesus is explicitly identified as the “beginning (archē) of the creation of God” in Revelation 3:14. Some translators interpret this passage to suggest that Jesus was the first being whom God created. Possibly, sensing that viewing Jesus as the “beginning” of the creation of God, in Revelation 3:14, presents problems for Christology, G. K. Beale (p. 298), elaborately takes archē in the verse as the equivalent of prōtotokos [first-born] of all creation in Col 1:15 and prōtotokos [first-born] from the dead in Col 1:18). Beale admits that “most commentators think … the titles in 3:14 … link Jesus to the original creation.” Nevertheless, Beale argues, that the beginning of God’s creation in Rev 3:14, instead, designates “Christ as the sovereign inaugurator of the new creation … not over the original creation.”  However, the terms archē/beginning and telos/end, are used by Revelation to refer to both God and Jesus (21:6, 22:13). In 21:6, the archē and the telos is a title for God. In 22:13, the archē and the telos is a title for Jesus. Since Revelation would never suggest that God had a “beginning/efficient cause” or an “end/final cause,” John is probably referring in these archē and telos formulas, instead, to a process that has a beginning/efficient cause [archē], namely, God’s creation (3:14).

Jesus is not just a man—He is the archē of creation, for John. What does that mean? Craig Koester tries a translation taking archē to mean “ruler” (of creation), but that does not work, because John’s word for “ruler” is archōn (see Revelation 1:5), not archē. Furthermore, since John employs the polar opposites archē and telos in 21:6 and 22:13 in parallel with the polar opposites alpha and the omega, plus in parallel with the polar opposites first and last in 22:13, John’s use of archē as “ruler” does not make sense. What would be the polar opposite of ruler? Servant, perhaps, but not telos/end.

Some New Testament passages suggest that Jesus was the creator of the universe. Related to 1 Corinthians 8:6, Richard Bauckham (Jesus and the God of Israel, p. 29) sees something entelechial in his discussion of Rom 11:36a, wherein “from him, and through him, and to him [are] all things”  “refers to God.” Yet, “in 1 Corinthians 8:6, Paul has divided it between God and Christ, applying to God two of the prepositions that describe God’s relationship as Creator (“from” and “for” or “to”) and the third of these prepositions (“through”) to Christ. …That God is not only the agent or efficient cause [understand: archē]  of creation (“from him are all things”) and the final cause or goal [understand: telos] of all things (“to him are all things”), but also the instrumental cause [which also figures in entelechy] (“through him are all things”) well expresses the typical Jewish monotheistic concern that God used no one else to carry out his work of creation, but accomplished it alone, solely by means of his own Word … Paul’s reformulation in I Corinthians 8:6 includes Christ in this exclusively divine work of creation by giving to him the role of instrumental cause.” Similar language is also used in Colossians 1:16-17, with the agent or efficient cause (understand: archē), the instrumental cause, and the final cause (understand: telos) all being applied to Christ.

Furthermore, that most important Logos Hymn of John states that all things were made by the Logos. As discussed earlier in this blogpost and quite frequently in several of my previous posts, I am inclined to understand Logos as the Holy Spirit or Word of God. But God’s Holy Spirit also took on flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus (John 1:14). How is it possible that Jesus took on flesh somewhere around 4-6 BC and yet was present en archē to create the universe? Through the principle of entelechy:


1.      Consider the way that one-celled amoeba/protozoa reproduce by simply dividing themselves. There is no way of knowing which of the two “daughter cells” thus produced is the parent and which is the child, and yet both of them were active in the actions of the original amoeba/protozoa. If God and Jesus were active together “as one” en archē, they both participated in creation, even if Jesus took on flesh at a later date.

2.      Consider the various passages that suggest that children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and beyond are active in the loins of their fathers (John 3:3-4, Hebrews 7:1-10, Romans 5:12-21, and 1 Corinthians 15:22). If all of Adam’s offspring preexist in the loins of Adam and are somehow held accountable for the actions of their father Adam, because they participated in his sin, then God and Jesus were active together “as one” en archē, as they both participated in creation even if Jesus took on flesh at a later date.

3.      Consider that, mystically, when they become husband and wife, two individuals—man and woman—become one flesh. In like fashion, when Jesus’s life in the flesh is completed, He returns to God and becomes “one” with Him again (John 10:30, 14:10-11, 20).


Since entelechy observes that all endings (telos) are implicit in their beginnings (en archē), and since the Father and Son are both called archē by John in Revelation, and the Logos is present en archē  in John 1, verses such as the following are much easier to understand from the perspective of entelechy: 


      Eph 1:4: “He chose us ἐν [en] Him before the foundation of the world.”

      John 17:24: “You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”

      1 Pet 1:20: “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times.”

      Matt 25:34: “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

      Matt 13:35: “I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.”

      2 Tim 1:9: “grace which was given to us ἐν [en] Christ Jesus before time began.”

      Heb 9:26: “He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”

      Acts 15:18:  "Known to God from eternity are all His works.”


Not only are all of God’s works known to Him from eternity, but they are also known to Logos and Logos-become-flesh. If, therefore, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit know absolute truth, concerning everything, there is no point of disagreement between them concerning anything.  People do not disagree about things that are considered “known facts.”  (The only room for rhetoric—the art of persuading someone that something is “probably or possibly” true, as opposed to simply stating that something is “definitely” true—is if there are questions that have at least two possible-but-unknown answers.) If people have trouble understanding how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can rule the universe, without any conflict among them, it is because they never argue; they never disagree, they don’t have differing opinions, because they know “absolute truth” for certain. The great theological danger of polytheism is not the idea that God has a Son and a Spirit (explainable by entelechy). It is that he had a divine rival, an opponent, a Lucifer, a Beelzebub. This is where one’s theology begins to approach committing the “unforgiveable sin” (Matthew 12:24-32, Mark 3:22-30, Luke 11:15-20).  This is a very important area in which one’s righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. More on that in my next post: “How to Love God.”