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Ask a Theologian II

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, May 9, 2008.

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  1. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

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    Wouldn't the obvious answer be that the prohibition against incest is a Jewish-only law; much like the pork consumption? Additionally, there's the idea that a Jew should only have one wife (I think?), but this would make half the tribes of Israel bastards, due to Jacob's two wives.
     
  2. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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  3. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    Is "one of those converts" code for "a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee, who even after strongly arguing that gentiles should not be made to follow the Law of Moses continued to follow the law very strictly in his personal life, as attested by other apostles in their denunciations of those Jewish Christians who were misusing his writings to excuse their lawlessness?"



    It may also be worth noting that Orthodox Judaism (today at least, there have been many disagreements in the past) agrees with Paul that gentiles who come to worship the one true God should not try to follow the Law of Moses and that Judaizers should be condemned. While conversion to Judaism is acceptable, it must be complete. A convert who accepts the Law of Moses must live under the strictest interpretation thereof. Breaking one law is seen as breaking them all, and is much worse than not accepting the Law of Moses to begin with. It is also seen as sinful for a Jew to advocate that Gentiles must follow the Law of Moses, instead of just the Seven Noahide Laws (no false gods, no blasphemy, no sexual immorality, no theft, no murder, no eating the blood/meat from a still living animal/an animal that was killed in a cruel manner, and the requirement to made just and equitable laws with a means to enforce them). A gentile who keeps the Seven Noahide Laws out of the belief that God wants him to keep those commandments is a righteous gentile, a moral equivalent to the high priest of Israel with the right to pray to God directly without need for a mortal priest to act as a go-between and no need for ritual sacrifices in order to be forgiven for what sins he might unwillfully commit.





    Most Jews today reject polygamy, but generally out of practical concerns and respect for local laws rather than based on the Law of Moses. The Jewish Torah bans taking another wife when if it would diminish one's ability to sexual satisfy or materially support previous wives (so polygamy was only ever legal for the very wealthy), makes it illegal to marry 2 sisters (if this law had already been in effect it would have been just as bad for Jacob as a ban on polygamy as his two full-wives (the Hebrew term for concubine is literally half-wife) were sisters), and also demands that rules not use their power to gain extra wives for themselves (I think pretty much every king of Israel and Judah ignored that), but it does not ban polygamy altogether.

    Note that I said the Jewish Torah; in the verse where the Jewish Torah only bans marrying sisters, the Samaritan Torah bans having more than one wife at a time. Many scholars believe the Samaritan Torah to be a more accurate text, as in many places where they differ the Jewish version does not seem as internally consistent. It was once believed that the Septuagint was based at least partially on the Samaritan Torah as it often agreed with it instead of the Masoretic text in about 2000 of the 6000 places where they differed, but it was later found that the Dead Sea Scrolls (older Jewish Torahs) agreed with the Samaritan Torah in those instances too. It may also be noteworthy that the Samaritan Torah uses what is essentially the same Paleo-Hebrew script in which the book was originally written, while the Jewish Torah switched to using the Assyrian (stylized Aramaic) script. It is possible that changing alphabets introduced some errors in the Jewish version.
     
  4. ParkCungHee

    ParkCungHee Chieftain

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    Here's a debate I got into at the Cardinal Newman Center, but unfortunately I didn't have a Brother around to settle the matter:

    Do most Christian Churches (and specifically the Catholic Church) consider Sin to be synonymous with Evil?
     
  5. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Because I don't know: I mentioned it as an example of a Christian doctrine not accepted by Judaism.

    Yes, you've mentioned this repeatedly. So why say it again? (And I note that while accusing me of repeating myself, you seem to to the same.)

    I seem to remember a gospel quote saying not to go unto the gentiles (and Jesus never did). Now since the disciples were closer to Jesus than Paul, it stands to reason they would obey such a saying of Jesus. Yet somehow converts were being made among gentiles; now how can this be? As you so elaborately explained, Paul - who never met Jesus when alive - had an entirely different view of Christianity.

    No: I said he was a convert.

    It is not a caricature, but a quote from a theologian, actually. Ofcourse Paul would describe it as 'a collection for the poor'; it would be demeaning to one who considered himself 'not below' the original disciples to have to pay for continuing his work as he saw fit.

    "It represented the unity and solidarity of the church." Really? How do you know that? You seem adamant to show that there were no quarrels or disagreements among the earliest of Christians; but there have been plenty, as you have also elaborated upon. And Starbucks? Talk about caricature...

    I would agree: converts tend to be more - or just as - zealous as the orthodox. Although in this case it would be hard to decide what was orthodox.

    I don't agree. (And I notice that while first declaring my subdivison of early Christianity - obviously used for argument's sake - a simplification, you now appear to do the same.) To show gentiles outnumbered Jews one should look at the outcome, not the start - as you seem to want to have me do, but which seems to me an impossibility beyond the circle of the earliest converts. And since Christianity developed soem virulent anti-Jewish stances afterwards, I think it is fair 'gentile' Christianity itself considered it a triumph. and I wouldn't know how else to describe winning out then as a triumph. (I find it typical, by the way, that victorious Christianity often displays quite un-Christian behaviour.)

    I do not. As mentioned, early Christianity was quite indistinct from Judaism - both to themselves and to the outside world.

    I can only refer back to my previous post.

    You now seem to question your elaboration above on Paul's view of 'true' Christianity - which obviously differed from the Jersalem-based community, otherwise he need not even have argued the case. I have not referred to 19th century theologians anywhere. (That's the second time you've mentioned this, but I have no idea why.) And as you very well know - based upon your adamant defense of typology over allegory - nuance can make the world of difference in theology. (I would personally disagree that Paul's view on 'true' Christianity only differs 'in nuance' with the views held by the original community, but that is beside the case.)

    I am sorry. Would you rather see a claim that 'John' did not now any of the gospel texts? The fact that Paul's letters were unknown to any of the gospel writers is quite irrelevant - I don't know why you even bring it up - as a) Paul hadn't even known Jesus, and b) his letters serve an entirely different purpose - as I'm sure you are quite aware. So again: flawed reasoning...

    I made no such claims: I said they knew the texts. (And as you should now, knowing is depending.) At any rate, given that the original Christian community can't have been exceptionally large - they still didn't appear in any records beyond their own - why should these authors not have known older example texts? And if you call such claims unusual or controversila, so be it.

    Let's then agree to disagree.
     
  6. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I think so. It's hard to see what else they could consider it to be, at least while remaining orthodox.

    I think that the main options when it comes to evil are:

    (1) It doesn't exist.
    (2) It is something other than actions.
    (3) It is God's actions.
    (4) It is creatures' actions.

    (1) is the view of Mary Baker Eddy, but it is neither plausible nor orthodox. If nothing else, the Christian belief in the devil is, at some level, a reflection of a belief in the objective reality of evil. Now the Neoplatonic view is also that evil does not really exist, and this was shared by Augustine and became an important idea in Christianity, but that was not exactly a denial of the existence of evil - rather, it was a denial that it is a thing or stuff - that is, a denial of (2). The Neoplatonists and Augustine believed that evil is a deprivation. To the extent that a thing exists and participates in perfection, it is good; to the extent that it doesn't, it is bad.

    (2) is the view of Manichaeism, according to which evil is a substance or something substantial. That also seems implausible and can't be orthodox, because if evil is a thing or stuff, then it must either have been created by God (which is impossible, because God is all-good) or exist independently of God (which is also impossible, because God is the creator of everything).

    (3) would seem to deny the perfect goodness of God as well.

    (4) is the standard Christian view, holding that evil is a matter of the misuse of creaturely will. I think that Origen was the first person to argue this at length and it's really been mainstream ever since. The usual Christian view is that sin lies not in the act but in the intent - this was Augustine's major point on the matter - so it is really a matter of the will rather than of what actually happens (e.g. if I intend to kill someone but am prevented from doing so, I have still sinned).

    In philosophy of religion, when discussing the problem of evil, it is usual to distinguish between "natural evil" (things like earthquakes) and "moral evil" (things like wars). Theists often argue that these two categories of evils can be reconciled with God's power and goodness in different ways. I don't know how old this distinction is, but it was certainly standard by at least the seventeenth century. However, despite the terminology, I don't think it would be orthodox to call things like earthquakes "evil" per se. It is more of a verbal shorthand for "suffering" or "things that cause suffering". Although of course some Christians have thought that these things are brought about by creaturely sinfulness, because they are a result of humanity's sin, or of the sinful actions of demons.

    [JELEEN] Forgive me if I'm quite quick here. There's a lot to do to prepare the new thread and I think we've gone over most of this stuff before.

    You repeated the error, so I repeated the correction.

    So "it stands to reason" - in other words you can't be sure. Now Acts portrays the disciples as preaching first to Jews and then to gentiles before Paul ever came along. We have already discussed this - see here.

    I can't help also noticing that you cite a saying of Jesus as if it is definite and certain that he said it (so definite and certain that he said it, that we can be certain that his disciples believed the same thing!) despite your claim that the Gospels aren't historical sources and are full of fiction and later "corrections".

    I explained nothing of the kind, elaborately or not. I made it quite clear that on this matter I see no difference between Paul and Jesus' immediate disciples. I explained Paul's disagreement with the "Judaisers" - but I also made it clear that there is no reason to identify those "Judaisers" with Jesus' immediate disciples, and there are good reasons for thinking that they might not have been Jewish at all.

    I said:

    You said:

    That looks like you're saying he was a gentile convert. If you were saying only that he was a convert, I don't see the significance of that. All Christians of the first generation were converts.

    Then how do you know? This is conspiracy theory thinking: evidence E is consistent with theory T - therefore evidence E supports theory T. The fact that evidence E is also consistent with the denial of theory T is ignored. In this case, perhaps Paul's saying that the collection was not a fee is consistent with the claim that it was. Unfortunately, it's even more obviously consistent with the claim that it was not. If you think that it was a fee you must provide evidence.

    Because I've read 2 Corinthians 8-9, where Paul says this at considerable length. It's quite certain that this is what it represented as far as he was concerned at the very least.

    I haven't said there were no quarrels or disagreements at all. Just because I think the disagreement you believe in didn't happen doesn't mean I don't think any happened at all. As I said, I have already explained the disagreement between Paul and the "Judaisers" at some length.

    I don't know what simplification you're accusing me of here. It is true that Paul was a Jew and also that he was one of those who thought that Christians did not have to be circumcised. That's not a simplification. And that proves that you can't assume that the people who thought that Christians had to be circumcised were all Jewish. Rather than simply saying "I don't agree", why don't you show what is wrong with that reasoning?

    That is baffling. You're saying that if we want to understand the early church, we shouldn't look at the early church - we should look at the later church and extrapolate back. That seems to me one of the most obviously daft approaches to history I've seen here - I don't know what else I could say against it.

    "Afterwards"? When? What are you talking about? Are you talking about, say, the views of Martin Luther? Of Peter the Venerable? Of John Chrysostom? Or what? How could the views of any of these people have the slightest bearing upon the ethnic or social make-up of the church of the first century?

    It is true that "gentile" Christianity "won out", as you put it. I did not deny that. The question is when. Did it do so in the first generation or two of Christians, as you insist? Or did it take much longer than that? I have already told you that Christianity remained a small, minority religion within the Roman empire until the fourth century, when, under imperial patronage, it swelled rapidly and attained a completely new position in society. The "virulent anti-Jewish stances" to which you refer mostly date from after this time. Why, then, could it not be the case that Christianity remained basically Jewish until the fourth century - being passed on by word of mouth mainly among people who already knew each other, because they were already co-religionists (and remember that we know of very few missionaries from the second and third centuries) - and this is why it remained a minority religion? After the conversion of Constantine, large numbers of non-Jews began to join the religion for the first time.

    I am not saying that that is what happened. I am saying that that may be what happened, and there are scholars who think that it is what happened. What I am saying is that we simply don't know. We certainly don't know that Christianity became majority gentile within a generation or two, let alone that this was all down to Paul.

    I cannot find any part of that post, or any other, where you explain how you know what views were possible within the context of first-century Judaism and what views were not. I can only find sections where you assert that this view or that view was possible or impossible.

    Again, you're misreading what I said: I described Paul's argument with the "Judaisers", not with the Jerusalem-based community. He did have an argument with the Jerusalem disciples - or some of them at least - but this wasn't over whether to preach to gentiles. It was over whether to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. If you'd ever read Galatians you would know this.

    You didn't refer to them, but the ideas you are repeating come from them. It was Ferdinand Baur who argued that Paul and his faction on the one hand, and Peter and James and their faction on the other, were at complete loggerheads with each other; that Paul's faction "won"; and that much of the New Testament was subsequently written with the aim of concealing these early fundamental differences. Scholars today have largely abandoned this view as far too extreme and going beyond the evidence. I think they typically think that there was more disagreement than the New Testament initially seems to suggest, but not to the extent that Baur thought. You seem to be just repeating Baur's views. As is so often the case, these ideas from nineteenth-century scholarship have filtered into the popular sphere, and we find people repeating them as if they are established fact; but the ideas from more recent and moderate scholarship has yet to filter through.

    As I said repeatedly, the difference between typology and allegory is not one of "nuance" - they are completely different theories.

    I just want to see claims backed up by evidence. If you don't have good evidence that John knew the earlier Gospels, then just say so. If you do have good evidence, say what it is. I don't know why you're so reticent on this.

    (a) None of the Gospel writers knew Jesus either. So that is not a difference between Paul's letters and the Gospels.

    (b) Paul's letters were written to strengthen the faith of his congregations, remind them of the Christian message, and correct what he thought were their faults. The Gospels were probably written for much the same purpose. So again, I don't see any significant difference between Paul's letters and the Gospels on this score either.

    So the example is perfectly relevant. Paul's letters were an important body of Christian literature, written before the Gospels. But the authors of the Gospels seem not to have read them. That proves that it was possible to be writing a Gospel and to be unaware of earlier Christian writings. And that shows that it is perfectly possible that the author of John's Gospel had not read any of the earlier ones.

    If you disagree with any part of that argument, please specify the part and why the reasoning is wrong, rather than just rejecting the whole thing out of hand.

    To say that an ancient author "knows" another ancient author is to say that there is some evidence in his writing that he did so. Otherwise it's just guesswork.

    For exactly the reason I gave above with Paul's letters, which prove that Christian texts did not necessarily circulate widely at that stage, even among other Christians.

    Besides, responsible historians don't say things like "Why shouldn't this have happened?" - they ask whether it did happen and try to find evidence. If they cannot find evidence, they are honest about the fact that the claim in question is just speculation, no matter how plausible it may be. Asserting that "X is the case" when X is based only upon speculation and no firm evidence is intellectual dishonesty.

    Right, but if you assert something that is controversial, expect people to ask you why you think it's true.
     
  7. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Anyway, this thread is now over-long, so I'll close it and open a new one.

    You can find the new thread here. In the new thread I've re-organised and extended the directory of questions that have already been asked, so be sure to have a look there. Thanks!

    Moderator Action: Thread closed.
     
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