Saturday, February 13, 2021

Apocalyptic? #19: Does Absolute Truth Exist? (Rev. 3:14)

 

These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:(Rev. 3:14 NKJV)


Here, in one-half of a single sentence, John records Jesus’ self-introduction with THREE words that carry the meaning of “truth”:  Amen, Faithful, and True.  But, does absolute truth exist?  Not according to Postmodernism.    On pages 2-3 of my book ArguMentor, I observe:


[I]n the Postmodern world in which we live, philosophers are skeptical of the notion that it is even possible to find “absolute” truth.  These Postmodern philosophers might even make the claim that there is NO TRUTH!  Kenneth Burke, himself a Postmodernist, counters that we cannot make a reasonable claim that there is no truth, because the only way our claim would make sense is if we believed that the claim were true.  Yet, if there is NO TRUTH, that claim could NOT BE TRUE!  Burke helps us out of this conundrum by suggesting neither that there is ABSOLUTE TRUTH, nor that there is NO TRUTH.  Rather, he suggests that there is PROBABLE TRUTH.  This probable truth is what Aristotle points to as the goal of testing and maintaining an argument in rhetoric.  Rhetoric was not originally considered for use in the field of science (as . . . dialectic [was]). Rhetoric supplies arguments that point to probable truth, not absolute truth. 

 


True

So, why does Jesus claim the mantle of “truth”?  In John 14:6, (NKJV), Jesus states: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.”  In John 8:31-32 (NKJV), he encourages: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  Jesus tells Pilate in John 18:37 (NKJV): “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”  To which, Pilate responds: “What is truth?”  In all of these passages from the Gospel of John, the Greek noun John uses for “truth” is ALĒTHIA, a word that is not found in Revelation, but John’s Gospel uses it twenty-six times (more than any other New Testament book). Incidentally, this is an example of why I do not think the writer of the Gospel of John and the writer of Revelation are one and the same.  They do not share the same vocabulary.  The Gospel of John also uses the adjective ALĒTHĒS (“true”) fifteen times (more than any other New Testament book) and the adverb ALĒTHŌS seven times (more than any other New Testament book).  Revelation uses neither term, but speaks often of truth.

In the 3:14 passage, cited at the first of this post, Revelation has Jesus introducing himself to the Laodiceans with the Greek adjective ALĒTHINOS, meaning “true.”  Jesus, likewise, introduces himself to the Church at Philadelphia (3:7) as the “true” one (ALĒTHINOS).  John in Revelation uses this Greek adjective more than does any other New Testament book—13 times (always describing either Jesus or God or their words or judgments), although the Gospel of John is second, using the term 10 times (again, almost always describing either Jesus or God).  The answer to the question posed by the title of this post (Does Absolute Truth Exist?) is a resounding ABSOLUTELY, for John.  And the location of that “truth” is to be found in God and Jesus. 


Amen

As I stated in my earlier post (Apocalyptic? #9):

Although John writes in Greek, he thinks in Hebrew.  His language shows that dual-language mind, throughout the book.  Therefore, correspondence between Greek and Hebrew terms often points to and resolves important issues. 

 

I further stated in my earlier post (Apocalyptic? #10):

 

This John writes in Greek, but thinks in Hebrew.  Not so for the writer of the fourth Gospel, who writes in very clear Greek, or any of the three letters attributed to John.

 

The Hebrew word ‘AMĒN and its cognates have definite “truth” implications.  Therefore, John in Revelation does not appear to be satisfied with a Greek translation.  It is for this reason that John in Revelation uses the Hebrew term ‘AMĒN more than does any other New Testament writer (other than in the “verily [AMĒN], I say to you” phrase that Jesus constantly used to introduce his teachings).  The synoptic gospels quote Jesus saying “verily [AMĒN], I say to you” more than fifty times.  In the Gospel of John, the phrase is changed to “verily, verily [AMĒN, AMĒN], I say to you,” thus repeating the AMĒN, each time.  John’s Gospel uses the term in that fashion (doubling the AMĒN) twenty-four times.  In Revelation, AMĒN is never used with either of the two variations of “verily [AMĒN], I say to you” constructions, but the Hebrew term AMĒN is still used ten times in Revelation. 

 


It is extremely helpful to me that my brother, Dennis Lindsay, wrote his doctoral thesis at the University of Tuebingen on the subject of the Hebrew word ‘AMĒN and, subsequently, published a book on the subject of how the Septuagint and other later Jewish writings translated ‘AMĒN and its cognates from the Old Testament Hebrew into the Greek word PISTIS (usually, translated by the English word “faith”) and its cognates, one of which (PISTOS) appears in the text cited at the first of this blog (translated, here, as “faithful” 3:14).  Dennis was kind enough to send me a free copy of his text (actually, his own original copy!), Josephus and Faith: Pistis and Pisteuein As Faith Terminology in the Writings of Flavius Josephus and in the New Testament (Arbeiten Zur Geschichte).  The book currently sells on Amazon for $437.35, so getting a free copy was fantastic!  He has written an (easier-read) book, Believing in Jesus:  Studies in the Gospel of John, that is available on Amazon in paperback for $19.95 or Kindle for $9.95, but I found the $400 text extremely interesting for those who can handle German, Greek, and Hebrew.

                                                                                                                                                                             


Jesus, in Revelation, introduces himself, in 3:14, as “The AMĒN.”  Dennis alerted me to the connection between the concept of “holding fast,” discussed in my last blog post, and the Hebrew term ‘AMĒN.  According to Dennis, in an email dated January 21, 2021: 

The concept of “holding fast” is much akin to what I argue as the ground concept of a biblical theology of faith, based on the LXX (and subsequently NT) appropriation of the pistis terminology for the ‘aman vocabulary of the Hebrew text (where ‘aman, particularly in the hiphil form, routinely has the meaning of “standing firm” in the face of adversity; cf. Gen. 15:6; Ex. 14:31; et al.).

In his book (p. 18), he states:

It is obvious that the [‘AMĒN/’MN] root in the OT is not restricted to the sense of an action-motivating faith/trust in God.  The idea of truth [ALĒTHIA] is one important nuance of the Hebrew [‘AMĒN/’MN]; also the idea of “standing firm.”

On page 21, he cites Bultmann’s statistic that ALĒTHIA “is used 87 times . . . and 22 times” by the Septuagint as a Greek translation for forms of the same root as ‘AMĒN.  On page 29, he cites Weiser: “There is an ‘exclusiveness of the reciprocal relation between God and man’ which is to be found in the religious use of” the hiphil of the root of ‘AMĒN.  This indicates that humans who stand firm in trusting God as the true one have a relationship with God that is “the divinely established basis of the community of God.”  In the footnotes of page 29, Dennis notes: “It is significant here that [the hiphil of the root of ‘AMĒN] is never used for the relationship to other gods and idols.”  Hence, one might understand that relationship between the “true” God and his people is the only relationship actually based upon “truth.”  Dennis states (p. 35) that even the word PISTIS in Classical Greek “could not fully express the idea of ‘truth’ which is inherent in [cognates of ‘AMĒN] so [ALĒTHIA] had to be adopted in many instances.”  Nor did PISTIS “necessarily have the base meaning of ‘to stand firm,’ which is extremely important in” the hiphil of the root of ‘AMĒN.  When the New Testament, written in Greek, finds it necessary to translate the Hebrew concept of ‘AMĒN into Greek, it uses cognates of PISTIS. Dennis places PISTIS in the LXX and New Testament into the classification of words borrowed from another language, but with the meaning carrying over from the original language (p. 16).  This is precisely what I meant when I commented: “John writes in Greek, but thinks in Hebrew.”  If, therefore, the location of “truth” [ALĒTHIA] is to be found in God and Jesus and, as The ‘AMĒN, Jesus represents absolute truth, the proper response of humans to Jesus and God is a response of absolute trust and “faith” that causes them to “stand/hold fast” (PISTIS).  Dennis (p. 18) writes: “The idea of truth [ALĒTHIA] is one important nuance of the Hebrew [cognates of ‘AMĒN]; also the idea of ‘standing firm,’” and the Hebrew connotations of cognates of ‘AMĒN transfer over to cognates of PISTIS, in the New Testament.  Furthermore, Dennis (p. 29) citing Weiser, states that the Hiphil of ‘AMĒN is used by the Old Testament “only for the personal relation, for behind the word which one believes is the [one] whom one trusts.”  The Hiphil of ‘AMĒN is never used by the Old Testament “for the relation to other gods and idols.”  Other gods and idols, of course, would not be true or trustworthy.  On page 31, Dennis points out the absolute use of the Hiphil of ‘AMĒN in Isaiah 28:16:  It “denot[es] an attitude and manner of steadfastness, confidence and trust in the midst of a life-threatening situation.”  This sounds very much like the situation in which John’s audience in Revelation in 69 A.D. found themselves.

 

 




Faithful/PISTOS

Revelation uses the Greek noun PISTIS only four times, but in two of those instances (2:13 and 14:12), it refers to the faith/PISTIS of Christ.  There are three Greek ways of understanding this “faith of Christ” construction:  1.  Jesus is the one who has faith (subjective genitive), 2.  Jesus is the object of others’ faith, i.e., they believe Jesus (objective genitive), and  3. What Dennis (pp. 105-106), following Hultgren, calls “Christic faith,” “the faith of the believer which comes forth as Christ is proclaimed in the gospel” (genitive of quality), “an instance of Semitic [Hebrew] syntax underlying the Greek.” In the other two instances of PISTIS in Revelation, Jesus in 2:19 compliments the church at Thyatira for their faith—probably, referring to that “Christic faith” mentioned 6 verses earlier—and in 13:10, John describes that “faith of the saints”: “He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.”  It is a patient faith that surely implies the possibility of captivity and death. 

 

In the passage cited at the first of this blog post (3:14), plus 1:5 and 22:6, the adjective PISTOS is used instead of the noun PISTIS.  PISTOS, translated “faithful,” is used to describe Jesus as a “faithful witness/MARTYS.”  As we considered in my previous post, MARTYS in Revelation, generally means one who has been killed for the faith.  Jesus, certainly fits the description.  Also, Antipas (who was killed) is called Jesus’ faithful/PISTOS witness in 2:13.  Therefore, both the PISTIS connotation and the MARTYS connotation carry the concept of being killed. Indeed, Jesus tells the church at Smyrna (2:10 NKJV), “Be faithful [PISTOS] until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” In 17:14, the Christians who are “conquerors” with Christ are called faithful/PISTOS.  As we will see later, the term “conquerors” also carries the connotation in Revelation of one who has been slain.  In 19:11, Jesus is called “Faithful/PISTOS and True/ ALĒTHINOS.” Actually, the combination “Faithful/PISTOS and True/ ALĒTHINOS” occurs four times, twice (3:14 and 19:11) referring to Jesus as Faithful/PISTOS and True/ ALĒTHINOS, and twice (21:5 and 22:6) referring to the words of the Book of Revelation as Faithful/PISTOS and True/ ALĒTHINOS.

Having classified PISTIS as a word “borrowed from another language, but with the meaning carrying over from the original language,” I have been transitioning from Dennis’s area of expertise into my own.  Holding a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Purdue University and having completed all coursework for a second Ph.D. in Rhetoric from the University of Illinois, I understand well the distinction Aristotle makes between “absolute truth” and “probable truth.”  Specifically, the term faith/PISTIS is a basic term in Rhetoric, as the goal of finding “probable truth.”  But, before we get to Aristotle, we must first briefly consider the Jewish historian Josephus (a contemporary of John the Revelator, born a few years after Jesus’ resurrection), and one of Plato’s Jewish advocates Philo (a Jew who lived contemporaneously with Jesus and who, some scholars have suggested, had an impact on John’s Gospel).  As Dennis (p. 188) correctly sees, “the line of distinction should be properly seen between the biblical kind of faith and the secular Greek kind of faith.”  For all practical purposes, Aristotle, Plato, Philo, and Josephus were all using “the secular Greek kind of faith.”  On page 82, Dennis states: “Josephus often uses [PISTIS] to mean “proof, evidence.”  Dennis (p. 80) cites David M. Hay to the effect that PISTIS in Josephus “refers to that which inspires faith or trust.” This is certainly an Aristotelian use of PISTIS.  Aristotle uses the plural of PISTIS (PISTEIS), to identify those “proofs” that produce faith/PISTIS. On page 57, Dennis acknowledges that PISTIS, “as . . . proof, appears quite frequently in the plural in Philo.”  This is also an Aristotelian use of PISTIS.

 


So, what does Aristotle say about faith/PISTIS? As I explained in my post Apocalyptic? #15, “Aristotle suggests that there are three primary [artistic] means of persuasion that humans develop” in the realm of Rhetoric.  These are ethos, pathos, and logos.  Aristotle calls all three of these means of persuasion “proofs/PISTEIS.” Logic/LOGOS, trustworthiness/ETHOS, and emotion/PATHOS are all “proofs” used to “prove” that something that was otherwise “unprovable” given the limitations of human knowledge was “probably” true.  A logical reason why the New Testament, as Dennis indicates (p. 188), must make “the line of distinction . . .  between the biblical kind of faith and the secular Greek kind of faith” is that the New Testament CANNOT adopt a stance that “Christic Faith” could be only “probable” truth.  Instead, if faith/PISTIS “denot[es] an attitude and manner of steadfastness, confidence and trust in the midst of a life-threatening situation,” one’s faith must be an absolute faith.  One must believe that Jesus and God are “absolutely true.”

 


This link in the syllogistic chain (see my book The Logic of Christianity:  A Syllogistic Chain) brings us to a stunning conclusion:  If Jesus and God both know “absolute truth,” there is no room for debate between them on ANY ISSUE.  There is no need for Rhetoric between God and Jesus, because both individuals KNOW “Absolute Truth.”  The “issues” concerning which humans debate, using argumentation and rhetoric do not exist between God and Jesus.  They do not differ in perspective concerning which candidate fairly won the election.  They both know for certain.  They do not argue whether abortion is murder or not.  They both know for certain.  They do not disagree about what will happen in the future.  They both know for certain.    They do not argue whether the Chinese Communist Party intentionally released the COVID19 virus on the world.  They both know for certain.  They do not argue whether greenhouse gasses are dangerous to the Earth.  They both know for certain.  Even in areas of “science,” they both know for certain much more than the scientists know. They both know whether there is life on Mars or any other location in the universe.  They both know for certain, at any given point in time, the number of ever-decreasing hairs on my head. 

 


If, therefore, both God and Jesus know absolute truth, concerning everything, there is no point of disagreement between them concerning anything.  People do not disagree about things that are considered “fact.”  People have trouble understanding how God and Jesus can BOTH rule the universe, without any conflict.  It is because they never argue; they never disagree, they don’t have differing opinions, because they both know “absolute truth” for certain.  Therefore, as we approach two of the most interesting chapters in Revelation—Chapter 4 where God is “worth-shipped” (understand, worshipped) by all creation and Chapter 5 where the Lamb is “worth-shipped” (understand, worshipped) by all creation—we can see that there is absolutely no conflict between these two individuals.  They do not argue (Rhetoric) about anything.  They both know everything for certain.  As John 10:30 states: “I and My Father are one." Even though my wife, Linda, and I are "one flesh," we still argue at times.  Because, for humans, there is only probable truth.  There is no “probable truth” for them.  All is “absolute truth.”  So, does absolute truth exist?  Absolutely!

Friday, January 22, 2021

Apocalyptic? #18: Evangelize? Or Hold Fast? (Rev. 2:13, 25, 3:3, and 11)

 

“To the angel of the church in . . . Pergamum . . . Thyatira . . . Sardis . . . Philadelphia . . . write . . .” 

Pergamum (2:13 NKJV): 13 “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”

Thyatira (2:25 NKJV):  25 “But hold fast what you have till I come.”

Sardis (3:3 NKJV):  3 “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore, if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.”

Philadelphia (3:11 NKJV):  11 “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”

                                                   


The Command to Evangelize                                           

It is natural for “Evangelical” Christians to seek (and find) commands to “evangelize” everywhere in the New Testament.  But where is such a command in Revelation?  Jesus did give his apostles the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV):

19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And, surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 


From the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, they did this very thing.  Beginning with Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the apostles evangelized!  Our first four New Testament books are called “Gospel” (=Greek: EVANGELION).  Paul mentions the term “Gospel” (EVANGELION) many times—in every single one of his letters (except Titus).  But, in Revelation, the noun (EVANGELION) and its cognate verb (EVANGELIZOMAI) are used only three times—in Revelation 10:7 (NIV):

But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced (EVANGELIZOMAI) to his servants the prophets.

And in Revelation 14:6-8 (NIV):  

Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel (EVANGELION) to proclaim (EVANGELIZOMAI) to those who live on the earth (understand: “land”)—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

A second angel followed and said, “‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,’ which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”

Notice that in NONE of these three instances are HUMANS instructed to evangelize or preach the gospel.  In Revelation 10:7, it is GOD THE CREATOR who announced the Gospel which is about to be completed, with the blowing of the seventh trumpet, to his servants, the prophets.  In Revelation 14:6-8, it is an ANGEL flying in midair that announces to the “inhabitants of the land” the “good news” (EVANGELION) that Babylon the Great (Jerusalem) is Fallen, Fallen!  In other words, the perfection of the (mysterious) Gospel that God announced to the prophets is about to be completed, with the Fall of Jerusalem.  This is “good news” (EVANGELION) to the prophets, because Jesus has promised in the Gospels that his Parousia will follow shortly upon the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24, Luke 21, Mark 13).  Luke 21:28 (NIV) explains why this is good news: “28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” This is what John (in Revelation 3:3 & 10) calls the “hour of [God’s] judgment” (14:7).

The Command to Hold Fast

Nowhere in Revelation are Christians instructed or commanded to “evangelize.”  However, four of the seven churches are encouraged to “hold fast.”  Repentance is repeatedly recommended and the goal of being one who “overcomes” or “conquers” is of paramount importance, but what does it mean that the churches were to “hold fast”?  It appears to mean that the time for evangelizing the world has neared a completion, that those who had become Christians should brace themselves for testing,


Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV) advises: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”  We might, now, add the line: “A time to evangelize, a time to hold fast.”  John’s Apocalypse was written during such a time—a time to “hold fast.”  (Are we living in such a time, today?)  The church in 64 A.D. faced persecution throughout the empire, as Nero blamed the Christians for the Great Roman Fire.  In 66 A.D., the Jewish State declared independence from Rome, setting off the 7 year Jewish-Roman War, during which Jews (both Christian and non-Christian) faced murderous and economic retribution from the (Roman) Beast.  John, writing in 69 A.D., sees some of this happening in seven sea-port cities in Asia Minor, as Jews (both Christian and non-Christian) fled Judea to find safe harbor in Asia Minor.  Perhaps, a similar (time to hold fast) scenario is now developing in America.


One year ago, Christians in America and throughout the world entered into a time in which Churches were forbidden to assemble together in large numbers, due to the Communist China virus.  Daily, more and more freedom of speech rights and freedom of religion rights are being compromised.  Major news networks have censored news stories that Christians care about.  Social media sites have banned free expression of views the oligarch owners of the sites oppose.  Employers have removed the job security of many Christians who have spoken out.  Other Christians are black-balled in unfair hiring practices.  Retailers have refused to carry the products of openly Christian manufacturers while consumers have boycotted retail outlets that openly advocate Christian values.  Educational institutions have censored the expression of Christian values.  The court system has been leaning further and further in anti-Christian directions.  A large number of Americans wonder if even the election process has been compromised.  This may be one of those times in history, similar to 69 A.D., when Jesus’ message to the church would have less of an “Evangelize!” emphasis and more of a “Hold Fast!” emphasis.

But, Isn’t “Witnessing” Evangelism?

While cognates of “evangelism” are rare in Revelation, cognates of “witnessing” are abundant in Revelation.  This includes four uses of the verb (to testify), five uses of the noun (witness), and nine uses of the noun (testimony), which is a cognate of the verb and noun.   In Revelation 1:5 and 3:14, Jesus is called “the faithful witness.” In Revelation 2:13, Jesus calls Antipas “my faithful witness.”  In Revelation 11:3, an angel (speaking on behalf of God) refers to “my two witnesses [probably, referring to Moses and Elijah, as the personification of the Law and the Prophets].”  In Revelation 17:6, John “saw the woman [Babylon/Jerusalem], drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.  Notably, IN EVERY SINGLE USE OF THE NOUN “witness,” the witness(es) is killed.  The Greek noun translated “witness” is MARTYS.  John has made the term “witness/MARTYS” indicate what we now understand the word to mean:  “MARTYR”—one who is killed for his beliefs.


The verb (to testify) is MARTYREO, a verb used more by the Gospel of John than any other New Testament book, is used in Revelation 1:2, 22:16, 18, and 20 to indicate that John, Jesus, and an angel “testified,” but no other humans. 

The noun (testimony) is MARTYRIA, a noun used more by the Gospel of John than any other New Testament book, is used in Revelation 1:2, 9, 12:17, 19:10 referring to the ongoing “testimony of Jesus.”  Revelation 6:9 (NKJV) refers to those who “had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.”  Revelation 11:7 (NKJV) refers to the two witnesses (mentioned earlier: “When they finish their testimonythe beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.”  Revelation 12:11 (NKJV) refers to the Christians who “overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimonyand they did not love their lives to the death.  Revelation 20:4 (NKJV) refers to the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”

Clearly, as John uses the term “witness/testimony,” the strong potential for being killed is implicit in the term.  This is a pretty tough form of “evangelism,” to say the least.  How many non-believers will be induced to become a Christian, when faced with the possibility of being killed, if they do?  Surely, there are some (apostolic Christian history is evidence of that), but there won’t be many megachurches filled with new Christians volunteering to be slain or even financially disadvantaged!  This is not to say that every Christian will be slain, if s/he wishes to be a true Christian, but there is an implication that every Christian should accept the possibility that it might happen.  Even if they were not slain, the Christians in 69 A.D. in Asia Minor were faced with economic persecution not terribly unlike what Christians today are increasingly faced with.  Is there any actual martyrdom occurring today?  Yes, but not much in the United States, yet.  Nevertheless, it is happening world-wide.  According to http://www.opendoorsusa.org , between October 31, 2017 and November 1, 2018:

In the top 50 World Watch List countries alone, 245 million Christians in the world experience high levels of persecution for their choice to follow Christ.  [There have been] . . . 4,136 Christians killed for faith-related reasons in the top 50 WWL countries, 2,625 Christians detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned in the top 50 WWL countries, 1,266 churches or Christian buildings attacked in the top 50 WWL countries.  . . . In seven of the countries in the World Watch List’s top 10, the primary cause of persecution is Islamic oppression.


So, What Does John Mean: “Hold Fast”?

In Pergamum, Jesus commended the church in 2:13 (NKJV): “And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you.”  This is not saying that all Christians will necessarily be killed, but it certainly includes not denying faith in Jesus, when our fellow Christians (like Antipas and modern-day brothers around the world) are being slain.  We must not be intimidated by the persecution.

In Sardis, there is an indication that even Christians who have slipped are given a second chance, to repent.  The Church at Sardis was declared by Jesus to be nearly dead.  Nevertheless, in Revelation 3:3 (NKJV), Jesus states:hold fast and repent.”  Perhaps, instead of concentrating on new evangelism, the “hold fast” command suggests that we should concentrate on shoring up the weak among us, those whose faith is on the brink of dying.  We should encourage them to repent and renew their commitment to Christ.

In Thyatira, Jesus offers the alternative to dying for him—remaining unintimidated and uncompromised until he returns.  Revelation 2:25 (NKJV) states: But hold fast what you have till I come.”  How long will that be?  He answers in his letter to the church at Philadelphia. In Revelation 3:11 (NKJV), he states: Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”

If John is conveying Jesus’ message to Philadelphia in 69 A.D., the command to hold fast “till I come” may have only lasted a few years.  For our generation, I believe that the final coming of Christ to rescue us from Gog and Magog (to be explained later) could be signaled by an increasing encircling of “the camp of the saints”—if that is indeed what we are currently experiencing.  This is not a prediction that the assault of Gog and Magog is near at hand, but it is prudent to consider, at least, the possibility.  Jesus encouraged us to watch for the signs of the times in Luke 12:54-56 (NKJV):

Then He also said to the multitudes, “Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming’; and so it is. 55And when you see the south wind blow, you say, ‘There will be hot weather’; and there is. 56Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?

Let not your heart be troubled.  We Christians win this thing in the end.  But, if you, as do many others, sense that we are living in apocalyptic times, the recommendation of Jesus for right now is:  Hold on tightly!  Hold fast!

Friday, January 15, 2021

Apocalyptic? #17: Harlotry in the Churches (Rev. 2:12 to 3:6)

 

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus . . . Smyrna . . . Pergamum . . . Thyatira . . . Sardis . . . Philadelphia . . . Laodicea write . . .” 

(The full text of the Letters to Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis is printed in the RSV at the conclusion of this blogpost.)

 

Middle Layer of the Apathy Sandwich:  The PORNEIA Churches:  Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis                                                        


Would you CARE if your church had leaders or even significant factions within it who promoted a government that allowed and even funded the killing of babies and other innocents—both in your own country and throughout the world?  (The Roman soldiers slaughtered children, adults, and the elderly with impunity—even crucifying them outside the city walls and catapulting them against the walls of Jerusalem!  Even so, the High Priestly party in Jerusalem was trying to secretly turn the city back over to the Romans.  John calls this “harlotry” or PORNEIA—committing adultery with the godless government.) 

1.      If you WOULD NOT CARE, you have APATHY, just like the church in Laodicea.   

2.      If you WOULD CARE DEEPLY and WOULD expunge such factions from your local congregation, despite the fact that you would be SLANDERED by the Synagogue of Satan (the members of the church who chose to backstab their fellow Christians in order to claim a religio licita status as Jews), you would be identified by Christ as a GOOD church, such as Smyrna and Philadelphia.   

3.      If you WOULD CARE, but you would TOLERATE such a faction in your church, you land in the MIDDLE of the Apathy-Porneia sandwich, as do the churches at Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis.   


There are certain terms in Jesus letters to the churches of Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis that all fit in the same bin.  They all refer to the same problem:  PORNEIA, Nicolaitans, Balaam, Jezebel, and defiled.  We have already mentioned the fact that both Jesus and the Ephesians hated the works of the Nicolaitans.  Now, we see that Jesus condemns the Nicolaitans in the church of Pergamum in the same breath as he condemns the teachings of Balaam: “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice PORNEIA.  So you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicola′itans.”  In other words, those who followed the teaching of Balaam and the Nicolaitans were practicing PORNEIA—i.e., they were “eat[ing] food sacrificed to idols.”  Likewise, the church at Thyatira was condemned because they tolerated “the woman Jezebel, who call[ed] herself a prophetess and [taught and beguiled Jesus’] servants to practice PORNEIA and to eat food sacrificed to idols.”  John equates the Nicolaitans and the Balaamites linguistically by a Hebrew-Greek translation play-on-words.  Balaam (Hebrew) may be translated as Nikolaos (Greek).  They both mean: “he has consumed the people.”  My book Revelation:  The Human Drama (pp. 82-83) explains:


According to Charles:

Balaam = bala am = "he hath consumed the people" . . . while Nikolaos = nikai laon.  Such a play on the etymology of words is thoroughly Semitic.  There is, it is true, no exact equivalent to nikan in Hebrew.  Hence the above can stand.  Furthermore, a comparison . . . which shows that the Balaamites and the followers of Jezebel were guilty of exactly the same vices, makes it highly probable that the latter were a branch of the Nicolaitans.

The “PORNEIA” and “defiled” connection is explained in my book Revelation:  The Human Drama (pp. 82-83):

John's polemic against fornication/porneia both in the church (Jezebel, Balaam, and the Nicolaitans) and in Judaism (Babylon) is probably a polemic against syncretism. Technically, the harlot situation which is confronted in Revelation is one in which there is a fusion of the heroine with the villain.  The "harlot" [PORNĒ] is a "woman" who commits adultery with the "horns" of the "beast."  She is a "woman" who is "seated on" the "beast."  . . . She has, in a Hebrew sense become one flesh with the serpent (through the serpent's synecdochic representative, the beast).


Syncretistic tendencies have been identified by Revelation scholars as the porneia (fornication) of which John accuses Jezebel and Babylon.  Perhaps syncretistic tendencies are an important rationale in John's choosing "Babylon" as the name of the harlot.  John appears to be greatly influenced by the book of Daniel.  The heroes of Daniel are the young men who resist syncretism, once they have been carried away into "Babylon."  They refuse to eat Babylonian food (Dan. 1:8) on the grounds that they would be defiled (summolunô in LXX) by (the syncretistic? act of) eating the king's food.  This is possibly the verse that John had in mind when he spoke in 14:4 of the "virgins" who were not defiled.  John uses the cognate molunô (defiled).


The Babylonians attempt to assimilate the young men into their religion by renaming the young men with Babylonian names, often associated with Babylonian deities. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are renamed respectively Shadrach, Meshach, and Aved Nego (Abednego).  Daniel is renamed Belteshazzar.  Daniel is determined to resist the law outlawing prayer to his God, even if it means incarceration with lions.  The other three young heroes are determined to resist pagan worship, even if it means death in a fiery furnace.  These heroes are models of anti-syncretism.  Even John's literary style in many ways imitates this thoroughly anti-syncretistic book.



"Why," John's favorite Psalm (the 2nd) asks, "do the heathen [Gentiles/goiim] rage?"  "They have plotted together against the Lord and His Messiah," it answers.  All other nationalities are expected to oppose the Lord and His Messiah.  Therefore, syncretism does not matter for the heathen.  They are all united against the Lord and His Messiah, anyway.  Any alliance with these heathen is porneia, for John.  The dragon is not in the important sense syncretistic, because the union of heathen gods, religions, and cultures is not porneia.  Only when Jews or Christians are united with heathen elements is there the type of syncretism which is equivalent to porneia.  The Old Testament harlot, Israel/Zion, is guilty of harlotry only to the extent she seduces and enters into alliances with her heathen neighbors.  The specific identity of the neighbor is insignificant--so long as it is heathen.  Therefore, John, in guarding against porneia, is interested only in this type of syncretism--Jewish (and Christian) alliances with heathen.

I have written more on syncretism in my posts:  Apocalyptic? #7, #10, and #11.  The church at Sardis is referred to by Jesus as a “dead” church, but some hope is still held out for some members of the church:


Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”

Not being “defiled” means that, while most in the church are dead/defiled, some have not succumbed to the pressure to engage in syncretism.  Although Jesus connects PORNEIA/defilement with “eati[ng] meat sacrificed to idols,” he is doing so synecdochically (see Apocalyptic? #14).  “Eati[ng] meat sacrificed to idols” is only one “part” that represents the “whole” of caving-in to a perverse, anti-Jewish, anti-Christian government or culture.  The Apostle Paul, you will remember, saw no problem with eating “meat sacrificed to idols,” so long as one understands that God is the one who created the meat, and not some idol, and so long as one does not cause his brother to stumble (i.e., by misinterpret one’s eating or drinking something from the marketplace as an indication that one is “worshipping” a false god to whom it has been dedicated).”


I Corinthians 8:4-13 (NIV) states:

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.


Jesus is concerned, here, not so much with “eating meat” as he is with making alliances with pagan Rome.  The high priestly party in Jerusalem is called the “harlot/
PORNĒ Babylon” not because she “ate meat” sacrificed to idols (she did not), but because she made an alliance with Rome, to secretly work to turn the Jewish state that had rebelled against Rome in 64 A.D. back over to Roman authority.  She had conspired with pagan governmental authorities (Pilate and Herod) to crucify Jesus.  She had committed adultery/PORNEIA with the Beast/Rome!

Likewise, certain parties (Jezebel, the Balaamites, and the Nicolaitans in the churches) and, perhaps, also in the churches, those who said they were Jews but were what Jesus called “the synagogue of Satan” were more intent on serving the Beast/Rome than they were on serving God and Jesus or even helping their fellow-Christians.  J. A. T. Robinson (pp. 207-208) reports, regarding the Neronian persecution of Christians following the Roman Fire of 64 A.D.:


exceptional and dangerous circumstances, involving the betrayal of fellow-Christians . . . [in] the Neronian persecution in Rome.  Describing it, Tacitus . . . spoke of the “information” given by those who confessed which led to the conviction of their fellow-believers.  Clement, reflecting on the same sad story from the Christian side, speaks of “a vast multitude of the elect, who through many indignities and tortures, being the victims of jealousy, set a brave example among [the Christians].  . . . [The Shepherd of] Hermas . . . pictures vividly the various sections under pressure: “As many . . . as were tortured and denied not, when brought before the magistracy, but suffered readily, these are the more glorious in the sight of the Lord; their faith is that which surpasseth.  But as many as became cowards and were lost in uncertainty, and considered in their hearts whether they should deny or confess, and yet suffered, because this design entered into their heart; for this design is evil, that a servant should deny his own lord.”


Even in Asia Minor, where being a Christian might not have cost someone their life in the Neronian persecution, it certainly might have cost one financially.  So, in a move to protect their businesses and business interests, many “Christians” chose to put distance between themselves and the Church.  Perhaps, as a show of good faith to Rome, these “Jewish Christians” even participated in pagan festivals.  It was just good business.  Robinson (pp. 211-212) comments: 

If we ask why now [the Jewish Christians] were . . . “staying away” from assembling with their fellow Christians ([Hebrews] 10:24f.), we may recall that in his description of the [Neronian] persecutions, [the Shepherd of] Hermas speaks of those who “were mixed up in business and cleaved not to the saints”; they “stood aloof . . . by reason of their business affairs . . . from desire of gain they played the hypocrite . . . .  Some of them . . . are wealthy and others are entangled in many business affairs”; and the wealthy “unwillingly cleave to the servants of God, fearing lest they may be asked for something by them.  . . . [T]he Jewish community in Rome had a strong business sense, which was reflected in its Christian members.  Their temptation was to allow racial and economic connections to outweigh the commitment of their Christian faith.  . . . [T]hey sought to shelter under the “protective colouring” of the religio licita [=legal religious status] of Judaism.”


In John’s and Jesus’ terminology, the synagogue of Satan, Jezebel, the Nicolaitans, and the Balaamites sold out their fellow Christians.  Since the Jews were exempt from Nero’s persecution of the Christians—because Judaism was considered an “acceptable religion” (religio licita), many Jewish Christians became—like the high priesthood in Jerusalem—"harlots” who committed PORNEIA with Roman authorities.  Their garments were “defiled” because they chose to be in league with the Beast. 


Before we quickly condemn those “Christians” who chose political expediency over loyalty to Christ in the churches of Asia Minor, it would be wise for us to consider those “Christians” today who (for political expediency) tolerate, vote for, support financially, and generally promote those who want taxpayers to fund the murder of babies, who support rampant sexual deviancy, who shout obscenities at law enforcement officers—all for the sake of physical and/or financial security.  (The issue of “financial security” for those who speak out as Christians in America is exploding in the year 2021.  Many Christians are tempted to stay quiet and allow pagan influences to infiltrate the church.  This is the circumstance of the three PORNEIA churches.)  Would Jesus say to such Christians, today: “Repent, or I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place or I will come to you soon and war against [you] with the sword of my mouth or I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you?”  Or, will Jesus say to Christians today, as he did to the two churches—Smyrna and Philadelphia—at the second level of the sandwich: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life; I will make [you] a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall [you] go out of it, and I will write on [you] the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

The Text (Revelation 2:12-3:6)

The Message to Pergamum

12 “And to the angel of the church in Per′gamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.

13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; you hold fast my name and you did not deny my faith even in the days of An′tipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality. 15 So you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicola′itans. 16 Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.’

The Message to Thyatira

18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyati′ra write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

19 “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jez′ebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her on a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her doings; 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches shall know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyati′ra, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay upon you any other burden; 25 only hold fast what you have, until I come. 26 He who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him power over the nations, 27 and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received power from my Father; 28 and I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

The Message to Sardis

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“‘I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead. Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; keep that, and repent. If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’