Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Logic of Christianity 12: In God’s Own Handwriting

According to the Bible, God, PERSONALLY, only wrote two messages to mankind, one message in ARAMAIC and one message in HEBREW. The message in Aramaic was the “Handwriting on the Wall” incident recorded in the book Daniel (5:25): “MN’ MN’ TKL PRS PRS.” So far as we know, the handwriting of God, in this instance, was preserved only long enough for Daniel to decipher it and interpret its meaning for the Babylonian king Belshazzar. It had to do with God’s warning of the impending break-up of the Babylonian Empire. (God has had an inclination toward breaking up mighty human institutions of power, over the millennia: the Tower of Babel; the Greek and Roman Empires; perhaps even, the Catholic Church in the Reformation? Nazi Germany? the Soviet Union? Are the American political parties next? But, I digress.) This blog post is not primarily concerned with the Daniel handwriting.
Instead, this blog post focuses on the PREMIER HANDWRITTEN MESSAGE FROM GOD: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. We begin the discussion of the defensibility of the presumption that the Bible is true and divine until proven false with the single piece of divine communication that was so revered that it was carried before the people of Israel for centuries in its own protective container, the Ark of the Covenant, which was itself most highly revered:
"And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee." Exodus 25:16 "So I made the ark out of acacia wood and chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I went up to the mountain with the two tablets in my hands. The Lord wrote on these tablets what He had written before, the Ten Commandments He had proclaimed to you on the mountain, out of the fire, on the day of the assembly. And The Lord gave them to me. Then I came back down the mountain and put the tablets in the ark I had made, as The Lord commanded me, and they are there now." Deuteronomy 10:3-5 (NIV) "...which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant." Hebrews 9:4 (NIV)
Jewish scribes, from the time of the New Testament and before, prioritized the importance of the messages they had received from God. They distinguished, even in their Bible, which they called the TaNaCH ( an alliteration), between the T (for TORAH—translated “Law”—the first five books), the N (for NEVI’IM—translated “Prophets”), and the CH (for CHETUVIM—translated “Writings” or “Hagiographa”—which included Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and First and Second Chronicles). The CHETUVIM were not considered as authoritative as the Law and the Prophets. According to the statistics found in Nestle-Aland’s Greek New Testament, even the New Testament fails to cite any text or make literary allusion whatsoever pointing to such Old Testament books as Ruth, Ezra, Song of Solomon, or Ecclesiastes. Other CHETUVIM, such as First and Second Chronicles, Nehemiah, Esther, and Lamentations each receive only one slight (and fairly unimportant) literary allusion apiece in the New Testament. On the other hand, there are numerous citations and allusions in the New Testament to Psalms, Proverbs, Job, and Daniel, among the Chetuvim, as well as numerous citations and allusions to ALL OF THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS. Therefore, other than the Chetuvim books—Psalms, Proverbs, Job, and Daniel—some Christians might not spend a great deal of effort defending the inspiration and infallibility of the Chetuvim. I would not personally excommunicate someone who believes s/he may have found a problem in one of these books (for example, a narrative account in Chronicles that differs with one in Samuel or Kings). It is not absolutely necessary that such a specific problem should negatively impact that person’s faith in the Bible as the inspired Word of God. There is no incontrovertible argument to be made that Paul had in mind these Chetuvim texts that are barely alluded to—if even alluded to, at all—in the New Testament, when he stated that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Samaritans, Sadducees, Pharisees, and the New Testament all appear to give these Chetuvim texts less priority.
Although the New Testament cites and alludes to Psalms, Proverbs, Job, and Daniel (among the Chetuvim) as well as to all of the Law and the Prophets, it should be pointed out that the Samaritans believed that only the Torah/Law/Pentateuch was inspired (See John 4). If the Sadducees believed that there was any inspiration in the Prophets, they held that the inspiration was inferior to the inspiration of the Torah/Law/Pentateuch (See Acts 23:5-7). The Pharisees, as well as Jesus and the Christians, believed that both the Law and the Prophets were inspired. Furthermore, the Pharisees expanded the “Law” to include the “Oral Law.” They claimed that Moses had handed down more laws than were written in the first five books, and that these laws were passed on by oral tradition from rabbi to rabbi (until finally written down in the Talmud). The New Testament rejected this “oral law” tradition (See Matthew 15, Mark 7, and Galatians 1). The Pharisees, however, believed the Law (or legal sections of the Law) to be superior, and even in the Law, they made the distinction between halakhah (the sections of actual laws) and aggadah (everything else).
So, to begin at the very beginning of inspired scripture, we start with the actual HALAKHAH from the hand of God: The Ten Commandments, or Decalogue. How could any message of God be attributed a higher priority! Moses first received the Decalogue on Mount Sinai, as God carved out two stone tablets and wrote the Commandments on them with his own hand (Exodus 31:18). But when Moses came down the mountain with the first two tablets, he found the Israelites worshipping idols. In his wrath, Moses smashed the two tablets to the ground (Exodus 32:19). After purging the evil from Israel, God told Moses to cut out two more tablets, like the first two, and God again wrote in his own handwriting on the tablets, in Hebrew, the Decalogue (Exodus 34:1-4). The words of the Decalogue are found in Exodus 20:2-17: “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. 7Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. 8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. 12Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. 13Thou shalt not kill. 14Thou shalt not commit adultery. 15Thou shalt not steal. 16Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. 17Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.” The first three commandments (verses 2 through 7) pertain to the argument that God/YHWH is the one true god. I have already argued this truth in my earlier blog posts—The Logic of Christianity 5: The God of Logic vs. Jeffrey Dahmer, and The Logic of Christianity 6: WHODUNNIT? Responding in the proper manner to the one true God is our FIRST PRIORITY. Commandment Five reminds us that our SECOND PRIORITY is to respond to our source—our father and mother—in the proper manner. Commandments Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, and Ten seem to PRIORITIZE THE MORAL LAWS we must live by: First, don’t murder. Second, don’t have sex with someone who is not your spouse. Third, don’t steal someone else’s property. Fourth, don’t falsely testify against another human. And, Fifth, avoid even the practice of actually desiring something that belongs to another human.
Stuck in between our responsibilities to God and our parents and our responsibilities to our fellow human beings is a curious commandment that pertains to our responsibilities to ourselves: Remember the Sabbath Day. Jesus tells us that the Sabbath Day was made for US, not vice versa. Rest (one definition of Sabbath) is something we are required to do for ourselves. Isn’t it great that God gave us a law that we must obey for our own good! We need a day of rest, at least once per week. But, one thing that might be easily overlooked in this Sabbath commandment is the interesting basis upon which God gave us the Sabbath—THE FACT THAT HE “CREATED” THE WORLD IN JUST SIX DAYS, AND THEN RESTED ON THE SEVENTH.
There it is! Right there, in God’s own handwriting! God CREATED the world! This is not aggadah! This is halakhah! This is the one passage to which everyone gives priority—the Ten Commandments! The handwriting of God! Creation is not a myth. It is not folklore. It is LAW. In my next post, I’ll explore some of the attacks that have been made on the Creation Account, keeping in mind our presumption: True until proven False!