Thursday, April 4, 2013

What Is a Person?

The nature of personhood – or personality as we shall phrase it – is not an entirely settled topic in theology, although the scriptures are quite clear about its definition.
Psychologists speak of a personality as a composition of psychological and physical traits. This conception is perfectly sound and comports well with Scripture when Moses said, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” The person clearly consists of body and soul, but there is more in the Hebrew which Paul later acknowledges.
Paul added some additional detail when he spoke of the Word of God dividing asunder the soul and the spirit, something which most commentators and theologians dismiss as rhetorical flourish which distinguishes between two synonyms – something of an absurd flourish in our estimation.
The argument is that soul and spirit are interchangeable words for the same entity. Such people resort to other scriptures to prove that these words are used interchangeably and without loss of meaning. There may be some cases where spirit and soul could be interchanged, but we do not see how a loss of meaning is avoided.
In the first place, Paul is speaking about the precise surgical qualities of the Word of God – it is a holy scalpel. Paul is not playing word games with us. He understands that however close the nexus between soul and spirit, there is yet a distinction to recognize.
This distinction has become clearer with advances in understanding the brain and psychiatry. The soul or mind is the cerebral wiring between our brain cells. No brain has the same pattern or network of connections. This gives each person identity – a unique instantiation of a person – and all under the direction of God.
When the breath, or spirit leaves a body, its existence stops. A person can no more be a person without all 3 elements than a leopard could be a leopard without its spots. The implications are quite jarring to those who believe in the immortality of the soul. The soul cannot exist without the spirit or oxygen which animates biological and psychological life – and a person cannot exist without body, soul, and spirit. Thus death ends our existence.
The best way to think of human existence is as a program being loaded from hard disk into memory, using the metaphor of a computer. When the program is terminated, it is cleared form memory and ceases to operate. It is dead though it resides on a hard disk ready for resurrection at the invocation of a user. Such is our death.
The immortality of the soul is one of the pagan Constantine’s legacies to the Christian ekklesia. It is utterly absurd to think that we can exist without our natural components, whose model God established in the Garden with our first parents. And thus we have human ontology.

Copyright 2013 Tony Bonn

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Tithes That Bind

[7/3/2016 - Editor's note: This article has truth mixed with error, the major failure being to properly assess the Melchizedek priesthood. A future article with correct this error.]

While a large plurality, if not majority, of churches teach tithing with the concomittant demand to comply with some form of it, we concur with the late Dr Ernest Martin that it is a sin. We will go the extra step of declaring it evil for the ekklesia (we transliterate the Greek) to abide by such strictures.
Dr Martin’s book, The Sin of Tithing, is probably somewhat provocative in some circles, but we believe that it correctly makes the case against tithing. We will present a summary of it here, but develop it somewhat differently than he did.
Religious leaders make the case for tithing by appealing to Mosaic Law, Melchizedek, and the Tithing Principle, oftentimes conflating more than one of these ideas for added impact, or avoidance of the logical conclusions of their initial claims.
Those appealing to Moses point out that he ordained tithing; that the law is good; and is to be loved and cherished by honorable Christians.  The tithe was an imposition – ie a tax – to be paid to the Levites by those living in Israel to support the priestly functions for the tabernacle and then temple, the annual festivals, and alms. Tithing was part of the Mosaic code ordained for Israel.
One important feature of the tithe was its scope – it was limited to agricultural and livestock production. Other trades were not subject to tithing. In addition, it was limited to the last tenth – not the first tenth – meaning that the first nine cattle were not subject to the tithe.
God’s laws require scrupulous obedience – variation and interpretation not being part of God’s tolerance. Those who tithe without living in Israel as Jews, who are not engaged in the two agricultural pursuits noted above, and who do not give to Levites are failing to keep the ordinances as God – or more accurately the angels – gave them. They are worshipping God with strange fire; they are sinning egregiously.

The second two justifications for tithing are frequently conflated – ie the Law and Melchizedek’s example are typically combined to produce the Tithing Principle.  Abraham avenged incursions against him by marauders mentioned in Genesis by counter-attacking them and taking a substantial sum of booty of which he gave a tenth to Melchizedek. The tithers then assert the existence of an ordinance ante-dating the Mosaic Law which means that it is a universal mandate to tithe.
Unfortunately there is nothing in the account of Moses to suggest that conclusion – let alone anything which explicitly teaches it. Moses simply related that Abraham showed respect and gratitude to the murky figure Melchizedek. There is simply no basis for concluding that Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth because of any commands to do so.
In any event, the tithe which Moses required was for the increase of agricultural produce – which would have exempted war booty. As such, there is simply no basis for using the Melchizedek incident as the basis for requiring a tithe on one’s income.
For those who adhere to the Mosaic Law, there is usually no need to produce an argument for continuing the tithe into the ekklesia. Denominations teaching this sin simply invoke the dint of Law to require tithing. However, there are some denominations which nominally teach that the Law was fulfilled in Christ and that he put it away, replacing it with something else.

These people will acknowledge that the temple sacrifices have ended and that there is no temple. But they don’t really believe that the Law ended. There is a necessity to keep it today in a figurative, spiritual, or metaphorical sense. So, just because the Law no longer exists, one would not murder. As such, one is keeping the Law in principle. Likewise, we would not end tithing just because the Law is put away. Therefore, we need a tithing principle, which instead of taxing agricultural produce will tax all income of everyone living anywhere who is a member of a Church and who names the name of Christ.
This thinking is sad and warped. The Law and sin were put away by Christ. Therefore there is no need to keep the Law. Keeping the Law is indeed a sin. The Law was a teacher given to the Israelites and will be observed in the Millennial Kingdom. But the ekklesia has been given something far greater than the Mosaic Law. Thus we are freed from its shackles, having become mature in Christ, and accepting his fulfillment of the Law for us.

Just because there is no commandment to tithe does not mean that Christians are relieved of giving. Giving is an expression of love and is indeed taught in scripture. But the apostolic church worked with very modest budgets run by free will giving – not mandatory tithes on all income in complete contempt of the scriptures. But not all who come in Christ’s name are of Christ, many of them being of Mammon.
Those who wish to give to Jesus should give to the poor; for through this, admission into the Millennial Kingdom is secured. He who gives unto the least of these gives unto Jesus.

We urge those who are interested in a fuller treatment of this subject to read Dr Martin’s short work.  It may deliver many from hardship and bondage to the Law from which Jesus has set us free indeed.
The Sin of Tithing, Ernest Martin ( available at )

Friday, February 8, 2013

Was Jesus a Carpenter?

Although popular legend portrays Jesus as a carpenter, we doubt that the scriptural evidence supports such a conclusion. After considering the evidence, we agree with Ken Collins that Jesus’ métier was that of teacher.

The argument for Jesus working as a carpenter rests upon two verses and an inference.  Let us consider Mark 6:2 where the offended ones in the assembly called him a carpenter or carpenter’s son. This telling only relates what the offended parties thought and it was not necessarily accurate. They were making a snide remark about a carpenter turned rabbi. But this is an inference rather than a statement of fact which Mark relates in the telling of this episode.
However, the inference to which we object is the one making Jesus a carpenter by dint of his father’s profession. The argument states that since Jesus was part of a traditional Jewish culture and family, then the father would have transmitted his vocation to his son, generation after generation, world without end.
But who was Jesus’ father? It was certainly not Joseph as Jesus pointedly told his parents when they found him in the temple discoursing with the temple leaders. Thus it would seem quite odd that Jesus would become a carpenter – even if he did go home in subjection to his earthly parents.
Now that we know that Jesus did not follow Joseph’s career, we can discuss what the latter’s career actually was. We know plainly from the scriptures that Joseph was indeed whatever the word translated carpenter is. There are some who go down a rabbit hole over the word translated carpenter – τέκτων. This Greek word’s most fundamental meaning is builder without any qualification. Since the word does not occur with qualification there is no sound basis for inferring that Joseph was a carpenter. He may have been, but the text does not tell us.
More recently, some have taken up the notion that τέκτων means stone mason. It does not, even though a stone mason could be referred to as a τέκτων given sufficient context and qualification, both of which are missing in the Scriptures. The word could even refer to a contractor – a builder in common English usage.
One hint is later provided by Jesus when he gives the parable about the men who build a house – one upon sand, the other on bedrock. This could be Jesus displaying some basic understanding about building structures which he observed in the course of his interactions with Joseph. Although the record does not provide a certain basis for this conclusion, it is within the realm of possibility and is attractive to us.
So then, what was Jesus’ profession? As Ken Collins notes, the gospel writers document numerous occasions where Jesus is addressed as Teacher. This explanation, following Occam, seems the most accurate and reasonable explanation of Jesus occupation. It matches well the historical narrative which explicitly states, “And he went around among the villages teaching.”
The scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees would not have found Jesus a threatening or likely target if he were builder turned rabbi. They would not have invited him to dinners if he did not display the erudition of a learned or sharp witted teacher.
If Jesus had devoted his time to building, he would not have the time to master the scriptures, a mastery which he displayed on countless occasions.
If you want to say that Jesus was a builder of the ἐκκλησία then we would agree with you; otherwise we know him as teacher.
Is Jesus a Carpenter, Ken Collins

Saturday, January 26, 2013

On Predestination

Predestination is a perennial favorite among protestant theologians who, since Calvin and Arminius, have failed to definitively resolve the debate. We have a few words to say on the subject affirming predestination, but also recasting the explanation in a new light.

It seems that theologians are torn over the extent of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will – the latter an a priori supposition if ever there were one. The idea is to maintain man’s accountability, invest his response towards God with genuineness, and to preserve God’s sinlessness.
Scripture commands man to do certain things which without free will the commands are superfluous. How can a man without free will be accountable for his actions or subject to the commands in the first place? And if man is a marionette, what is the meaning of anything he does?
If man does not have free will, then how can his love or hatred for God be considered the responsible act of a consenting adult?
And finally, if God is absolutely sovereign, then how can he avoid being the author of sin, to say nothing about the fount of evil>
Tangled in the foregoing discussion is the undefined notion of free will. I consider it the unconditioned freedom to make any decision at any time without regard to any other actor or incident. That is the only way to properly consider free will for that is the sense in which God’ free will operates.
As such, man does not have free will. It is an illusion. God must direct man in specific ways to accomplish his plans; otherwise man could thwart the will of God. Of course there are those who argue that man can do just that, but God clearly asserts that he controls all events.
Regarding God’s authorship of sin, we can deny that, but he states emphatically that he is the source of evil. We must be careful not to equate evil with sin per se, but God declares that he sends evil to man.
If God sends evil, then how can he be a good God who loves mankind? At this point we must exercise a bit of scholasticism to rescue the apparent contradiction. If God sends evil, and he is a good God, then his acts must be interpreted as instructive. And this is precisely what we find him saying in Hebrews when Paul states that God chastens for a season all whom he calls sons.
There is also the matter of foreknowledge. Does God’s foreknowledge stem from his clairvoyance or his sovereignty? Most theologians attribute it to his clairvoyance or cleverness. The universe is so mechanical, they say, that God can compute all actions and reactions to predict what will happen at any given moment.
The middle way theologians – those who deny both predestination and Arminianism – introduce the deus ex machina of eternity from which God can handily manage all time based events with ease in the timelessness of eternity. This is all speculation and fails to address the scriptural statements declaring God’s control of human events to be without recourse to any other power or actor. Deferring his decision making to a vacuum does not excuse God from his sovereign decrees.
If we step back from the trees to see the forest, scripture teaches that God is a story teller. The Old Testament is replete with stories. These stories require an author just as any novel or movie does. It is from this insight that we can make two sweeping statements.
First, God is the author of human history and is telling his story which in turn requires full directorial control. While there are indeed statements, even by Jesus, that had some event occurred, certain men would believe the Gospel – something which was not intended to occur. This leaves open the idea that each event has multiple outcomes, but also forecloses that eventuality because God intervenes to realize a specific one. That requires full control of events and denial of human free if even such an artifact is real.
The other statement follows from the foregoing – namely that life is like a movie – albeit an exceedingly complex one which may have taken God eons to figure out. This movie requires many actors and production staff – some visible; others invisible. Each of us is given a role to play and we may not deviate from the script. Perhaps we have latitude to play the role with certain passion or conviction or lack thereof, but we will say our lines and say them on cue.
But this reduces man to a robot – a cipher. Yes it does, and that is the divine goal. God really doesn’t care what we wish to do at this point in our human career. He is trying to teach us things. One cannot fully know God without feeling. Unless you feel something, you really don’t know it. I shudder to think what this means to the learning of differential equations, but the principle is valid.
Thus God doesn’t need your free will in order for you to know him. Your soul can feel him without such volition. And that is why we are commanded to stand still and wait on the Lord. Our purpose in this life is learn and feel God.
Perhaps in the eschaton God wil grant us our elusive free will but if he doesn’t it does not matter. If God is a good God, then we must entrust our psychological development and state to him. We are in no way diminished by the lack of free will in this present Age. Things may well be different in the Age to come after we have learned the lessons of this age.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Continental Divide at Nicaea

The Council of Nicaea is regarded as a watershed in Christian history, and rightly so, we might add, but it doomed Apostolic Christianity for the profit of Babylonian religion. Christianity would never be the same after the 318 bishops met in 325.

The Council is a hotly contested event – among those knowledgeable about its primary issues – down to the present time, if for no other reason than its wispy evidence leaves much to speculation. The chief reason for its controversial nature is that loss of the high ground by its defenders would threaten to undo the past 18 centuries of ecclesiastical and doctrinal development.
Our view is that the Council transformed Christianity from a practical religion of the heart into an intellectual one of the νους wherein the Babylonian concerns of power and glory predominate. This attitude was present at the council itself where many writers reported the famous slapping of Arius by Nicholas of Myra – the man after whom is patterned St. Nick – Santa Claus. The reports characterize the defendants as turning the other cheek or at least not returning evil for evil.
The aftermath of the Council reinforced the power politics of the assembly particularly as it relates to the vitriolic language of the anathema issued against Arius by Constantine which in part reads:

Now this also I ordain,
that if any one shall be found secreting
any writing composed by Arius,
and shall not forthwith deliver up
and burn it with fire,
his punishment shall be death;
for as soon as he is caught in this
he shall suffer capital punishment
by beheading without delay.

The anathema certainly does not evoke much tolerance to say nothing of the Sermon on the Mount. But this threat against conscience and assertion of mind control was only the beginning. Constantine set out on a murdering spree to rid himself of his enemies - mostly of the political and military variety - after the conclusion of the Council.
To top it all off, the emperor threw the party of the century after the convocation which lasted for months. Now we can assure you that it was not like a Baptist Sunday School ice cream social. It was more like Studio 54 on steroids. It is for reasons such as this that Constantine deferred baptism until the very bitter end of his life.
Now if Constantine were a theologian of conviction, we might expect him to insist upon baptism by a Trinitarian bishop; that was not to be. He called upon Eusebius of Nicomedia, leader of the Arians, to administer baptismal rites, having spent much effort re-establishing Arians prior to his death. It seems then, that the Council was an exercise in showmanship. But it went further than that.
Constantine used considerable calculation to impress and intimidate the bishops. He moved the conference to Nicaea where his opulent palace shocked and awed the attendees. If that were not sufficiently impressive, his armed guards stood ready to arrest dissenters, which indeed it did.
But why was such force necessary in the first place among harmless bishops? Well it appears that the Trinitarian faction was a distinct minority. So much so that even after the delegates signed the confession under threat of anathema, exile, or  death, the majority of bishops recanted their consent and returned to their Arian or semi-Arian ways once on safer ground in their home districts.
Our suspicion is that the controversy surrounding Arius was more of a contrivance of a cabal of ambitious power hungry bishops to introduce false doctrines into the church and to aggrandize themselves. The emperor faced a somewhat serious dilemma. With 90% of the empire officially Christian, and an empire east and west held tenuously together by armed force, the last thing Constantine needed was a religious split to ignite new centripetal tendencies.
Thus the pagan Christians under Hosius of Cordova found a ready collaborator in Constantine who, regardless of the theological merits of the Trinitarians, wanted a statement of unity. So by armed guards, intimidation from imperial power, and threat of life, the Trinitarians managed to shove the Nicene Creed down the throats of the attendees.
Contestants on both sides of the debate regarding Constantine’s influence over the proceedings divide sharply over his true understanding of the theological language and matters up for discussion. It seems to us that a man spending lavishly to erect gigantic statues of himself, murdering enemies, pursuing wars, and maintaining a grip on a once divided empire had little time for mastering theology – especially the arcana related to Arianism.
We suspect that Hosius was the power behind the throne feeding the emperor the necessary verbiage to move the debate to its preordained conclusion. And the conclusion was even more important for the establishment of a civil clerical administration which furthered the power of the state and that of the Pontifex Maximus. The Trinitarians strongly supported hierarchical religious structures, a desire which fed directly into Constantine’s need to pacify the populace.
We should also note that we do not use the term pagan Christian lightly when speaking of Hosius and his cabal. He and his confreres introduced many distinctly pagan ideas into the Church including the celibacy of priests, the Alexandrian trinity cult of Serapis-Isis-Horus, candle burning, and the pagan influenced priestly garments which in time became part and parcel of the Roman Church.
Even though we have favored the Arian cause in this ecclesiastical episode, one should not assume that we are Arians. Indeed the Arians held significant errors as did the Trinitarians. That discussion we save for another post.
In Search of the Loving God, Mark Mason,
Post-Nicene Era: A.D. 325-451; Council of Nicea to the Council of Chalcedon,
The Council of Nicaea (Nicene Council) ,
How The Church Hierarchy Allowed Emperor Constantine To Act As a Pope And The Price That Had To Be Paid,
The Council of Nicaea,
The Unitarian/Trinitarian Wars, Wade Cox