the book of life

Book of LifeThe Bible contains several vague references to a heavenly book. This book can be considered the Book of Life. In this book, whether literal or figurative, are the names of all who are living (or, alternatively, all who are God’s people). This book also (or alternatively) contains the list of good or bad done by these people. Blotting people out of the book is used either for physical death or for disqualification as God’s people, perhaps coupled with future physical death.

The first possible reference to a Book of Life is found in Exodus 32. The situation is that the people have rebelled against God. Moses, on Mount Sinai, pleads for the people. God acquiesces Moses. Moses descends the mountain, rallies the Levites to kill the worst offenders, and then returns to speak to God. Moses pleads that God take out His wrath on Moses instead of the people:

Exo 32:32 Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.”
Exo 32:33 And the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.
Exo 32:34 Now therefore, go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you. Behold, My Angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin.”
Exo 32:35 So the LORD plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made.

Moses states that God has a book, a book God has written (either literally or figuratively). The book is used to list those who are alive and/or righteous. Being blotted out is physical death or the equivalent to being added to God’s hit-list. Moses wants God to blot him out (presumably kill him). God states He “will blot [the unrighteous] out”. God states He “will visit punishment upon them for their sin” on a future day. The ideas seem to be linked, one and the same. Being “blotted out” doesn’t necessarily mean instant death, but “death” and being “blotted out” had some relation. God then plagues the people in order to hurt and kill those who have had their name blotted out.

In Psalms, David describes some sort of global list of living and/or righteous people.

Psa 69:26 For they persecute the ones You have struck, And talk of the grief of those You have wounded.
Psa 69:27 Add iniquity to their iniquity, And let them not come into Your righteousness.
Psa 69:28 Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, And not be written with the righteous.

David asks that his oppressors (equated with God’s enemies) are removed from the book “of the living”. The implication is that these people are possibly still in this book and that they would die (or be eventually killed) if removed. In this case, David is referring to some sort of book listing out people who are alive. David then reveals that the proper use of the book is for the righteous. In David’s worldview, the natural progression was from unrighteousness to death. In this sense, listing the names of the unrighteous alongside the names of the righteous was a overturning of the proper order of things.

In Psalm 87, one of the sons of Korah writes about God’s holy city:

Psa 87:6 The LORD will record, When He registers the peoples: “This one was born there.” Selah

This sentence is in the context of God especially liking Zion (Jerusalem). God’s love for Jerusalem even causes Him to value someone born in Jerusalem more than others. God is said to record this information in a book. In this book, there is a list of names accompanied by personal information including their place of birth. Does this book contain the names of all people? Just the righteous? We are not told.

In Isaiah, there seems to be a book used to list out the living:

Isa 4:2 In that day the Branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious; And the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and appealing For those of Israel who have escaped.
Isa 4:3 And it shall come to pass that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy—everyone who is recorded among the living in Jerusalem.

Isaiah describes a list of names of those still living. Again, this could be metaphorical. The idea is that after a great purging of Jerusalem then everyone remaining in the book will be righteous. Like David’s concept, the wicked are purged from the Book of Life.

In Daniel, a similar book serves to help judgment of both the living and the dead:

Dan 12:1 “At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book.
Dan 12:2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt.

In Daniel, this book seems to contain information about a person’s life, both righteous people and unrighteous people. From this information, people are categorized into either eternal life or eternal death. God seems to be the one using the book to make judgment. The purpose of the book seems to be to inform God about how to act.

In Malachi, a similar book is said to have been written:

Mal 3:16 Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name.
Mal 3:17 And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.
Mal 3:18 Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.

In Malachi, there seems to be a concern among those who worship God that God will not remember who is righteous and who is unrighteous. The righteous talk among themselves, and God listens. God seems to mitigate their fears by writing a spiritual(?) book which lists out those who fear God. This book, like other mentioned books, lists out righteous individuals and might contain deeds that they have done.

Paul uses the Book of Life as some sort of global list of those who are God’s people:

Php 4:3 And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.

To Paul, being in the book was equated to being a true Christian. Perhaps Paul is using this book in a new sense or echoing the use in Exodus.

The Book of Life might be metaphorical or it may be a heavenly book. It may be a cultural idiom, used with flexibility to refer to life and death, to righteous and damned. The understanding of the book is that people are written into the book along with things about those people. The book records the living and lists the righteous. Being stricken from the book is synonymous with rejection by God, current rejection with possible future physical death.

Posted in Bible, Figures of Speech, Open Theism, Theology | Leave a comment

a first class economist on the minimum wage

An important post on the Minimum Wage debate. Don Bourdreaux posts some blog comments from an anonymous commenter. Excerpts:

On possible unintended consequences:

(1) Low-skilled workers can be replaced by slightly more-skilled workers once the wage difference between them has dramatically compressed.

(2) New workers can enter (or old workers can increase their labor supply) in response to higher wages; if this happens, people who might need the job will be disemployed even if labor demand is constant.

(3) Labor can be replaced by automation.

(4) Customers can substitute between businesses that provide the same basic service but with dramatically different business models. (e.g. less shopping at Walmart, which is now more expensive, and more shopping at Costco; only problem is that Costco has half as many workers per dollar of sales, so labor demand decreases dramatically)

… and so on.

In general, the exasperating thing about left-wing economic commentary is that it always declares victory when it’s cast doubt on one margin of unintended consequences, even when 10 other still-viable margins remain.

And that’s where things get so strange. Aggregate supply and demand responses represent the accumulation of many different margins. When the price of low-skilled labor rises, firms might demand less of it because they find a way to replace it with medium-skilled labor. Or maybe they’ll replace it with automation, or consumers will demand fewer products intensive in low-skilled labor, or they’ll acquire substitutes through trade… or any number of other possibilities. Maybe you have a clever argument for why one of these margins doesn’t matter, but you need to be far more ambitious (reckless, really) to deny all of them.

Whenever someone mentions a margin along which firms or households could substitute in response to changing prices, thereby creating unintended consequences from the policy you support, you’ll dig deep and find a way to argue (earnestly as ever) that the substitution response is actually close to zero. Then they’ll mention another margin; again, you’ll find a way to deny it, and so on it goes…

The problem with all this Selective Skepticism of Substitution is that it makes you look silly. Surely there are, in reality, plenty of ways in which agents substitute in response to changing relative prices. That’s how the economy works! It would really be quite a coincidence if substitution happened to be shut down in only those cases that matter for the minimum wage.

On incentivizing higher skilled workers to take lower skilled jobs:

I want you to look at the table of occupations from the BLS’s Occupational Employment Statistics, and sort by median wage. Think about all those occupations with median wages below $15 – and then also think about all the occupations with median wages a bit above $15 that still have 20 or 30 or 40 percent of workers making below $15.

If we raise the minimum wage to $15 and entry-level fast food or cashier jobs are just as easily available as they are today, do you really think that none of the kinds of people who currently train for the other jobs with median wages below $15 will be tempted to just pick the lower-end jobs instead? “Pest Control Workers” have a median wage of $14.74 – are you really so confident that none of them will say “f*** pest control, I’m going to earn the same wage working the counter at McDonald’s”? The 25th percentile wage for “rock splitters, quarry” is only $12.81 – are you really so sure that none of them will get tired splitting all those rocks and take the Safeway cashier job closer to home instead, once it pays just as much?

On the miracle of left wing wage studies:

To top it all off, none of these stories can explain the key feature of the minimum wage literature that supporters are always citing – which is that estimates for the disemployment effect are generally near zero. Not positive or negative depending on the exact balance of the monopsony and substitution effects (which might vary predictably based on the features of the industry or occupation), but zero.

To be precise, the estimates cluster around zero, with these researchers never able to reject the null hypothesis of zero at a rate higher than you’d expect from chance alone, and the most precise point estimates getting closer and closer to zero (as you may have seen in all those funnel graphs). Taking all the evidence at face value, in fact, you must believe that we have a rather precise quantification of the effect of the minimum wage, at almost exactly zero.

How remarkable that the monopsony or Keynesian or whatever channels happen to precisely cancel out the substitution channel in every environment that left-leaning labor economists study! Truly, this is an economic miracle that should command our deepest respect and attention…

… or else maybe there’s something else messed up with the studies, and the zeros are spurious. Come to think of it, maybe the Selective Skeptics of Substitution aren’t so bad after all. At least their hypothesis, however ridiculous, is consistent with the evidence they cite.

Addendum. A good minimum wage debate:

Posted in Econ 101, Economics, Incentives Matter, Price Controls | Leave a comment

the Bible does not command holy war

crusader-17203The Old Testament has been criticized for the violence commanded by God. Israel is told to kill the inhabitants of the Promised Land. This command extends to women, children, and even livestock:

Deu 20:16 But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes,
Deu 20:17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded,

The Deuteronomy passage gives a reason for the genocide:

Deu 20:18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.

A few notes: God wants the genocide because He fears that Israel will adopt their practices (a prediction which comes true). This command only applies to inhabitants of the Promised Land. Foreign peoples were only to have the fighting age males killed, and this is only if they are in war with Israel and only if they refused to become tributaries (Deu 20:10). An underlying justification for the genocide is that the inhabitants are intolerably wicked. This is explicit in Leviticus 18:

Lev 18:24 “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean,
Lev 18:25 and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.
Lev 18:26 But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you
Lev 18:27 (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean),
Lev 18:28 lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.

Israel is allowed to dispossess the current inhabitants because they are exceedingly wicked. God lists their sins: incest, sex with both a mother and daughter, sex with a menstruating woman, adultery, sacrificing children, homosexuality, and bestiality. Murder and sexual sins are the chief of God’s concerns. Of important note, God is not overly concerned about foreigners worshiping other gods. As Christine Hayes writes:

Moreover, like Kaufmann, Sarna stresses (Genesis, 53) that humankind is not, in this story, punished for violations of religious sins, that is, for idolatry or failure to worship the god of Israel. It is the view of the Torah books that each nation worships its gods in its own way, and only Israel is obligated to worship the god of Israel. The other nations are not held accountable for idolatry in the Torah as Israel will be. But all peoples, Israelites and non-Israelites alike, by virtue of having been created by the one god and in his image— even though they may not know or worship that god— are bound to a basic moral law that precludes murder and all forms of physical and social violence.

What this means, and a major factor in considering the justice of Israel’s genocides, is that the wars of Israel were not Holy Wars. Additionally, there does not seem to be a general command of Israel’s tributaries to worship Yahweh. Israel’s wars were not jihad against the “infidel” (sometimes Israel warred against Israel for moral reasons). The inhabitants would not have been dispossessed of the land if they were righteous. The double coincidence of residing in prime real-estate and being intolerably evil led to their downfall. [There is the curious case of Gibeon, who was able to avoid genocide with a crafty peace treaty. This trumped God’s command for genocide and was honored by Israel.]

Instead of Holy War, God’s commands had a foundation in moral, retributive justice. The pagan nations were involved in heinous sex crimes and in murder of children. It was this that God was punishing. God tells Israel that if they commit the same, God will likewise do to them. Israel could easily be the recipient of God’s punishment.

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Fallacies of Calvinists

These following fallacies are common Calvinistic fallacies. This list is not meant to be taken that non-Calvinists do not often fall for these fallacies, but that these fallacies are ones often encountered in debates with Calvinists.

Moralistic fallacy

What it is:

The moralistic fallacy is the informal fallacy of assuming that whichever aspect of nature which has socially unpleasant consequences cannot exist. Its typical form is “if X were true, then it would happen that Z!”, where Z is a morally, socially or politically undesirable thing. What should be moral is assumed a priori to also be naturally occurring.

Where Calvinists use it:

Everywhere and always. Open Theism is wrong because it presents a new understanding of omniscience. Open Theism is wrong because God then would not be “sovereign”. Open Theism is wrong because if the future is open the Satan might win. Open Theism is wrong because then God would sometimes be “wrong”.

This article “refuting” Open Theism relies primarily on the Moralistic Fallacy: link

The Motte and Bailey Argument

What it is:

The writers of the paper compare this to a form of medieval castle, where there would be a field of desirable and economically productive land called a bailey, and a big ugly tower in the middle called the motte. If you were a medieval lord, you would do most of your economic activity in the bailey and get rich. If an enemy approached, you would retreat to the motte and rain down arrows on the enemy until they gave up and went away. Then you would go back to the bailey, which is the place you wanted to be all along.


The idea is that an arguer makes an absurd claim that is not defensible. When pressed, they retreat to a more defensible position. If they win that, the again continue claiming the original absurd claim.

Where we see it:

Any time Calvinists claim that God controls everything or that God knows everything in the future. They may retreat to attempting to prove God controlled one thing or that God knew one thing in the future.

Here is one Calvinist claiming that the case of Joseph proves God’s control of all things:

The Worst Argument in the World

What it is:

I declare the Worst Argument In The World to be this: “X is in a category whose archetypal member gives us a certain emotional reaction. Therefore, we should apply that emotional reaction to X, even though it is not a central category member.” Source

Where wematt-slick-worst-argument-in-the-world see it:

When Calvinists want to call the God of Open Theism “ignorant” or “makes mistakes”. The fallacy comes because usually people that “know quite a lot” or even know “everything everywhere” would not be conventionally called “ignorant” even if they might somehow technically fit the definition. Likewise, here is Matt Slick making the Worst Argument in the World when trying to get an Open Theist to say God makes mistakes: link

Posted in Calvinism, critical thinking, Theology | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Uncontrolling Love of God by Thomas J Oord


For believers, making sense of [evil events] requires belief in God. But the answers that most give to the question of God’s relation to randomness and evil leave me unconvinced and discontented. They don’t make sense. Believers need better responses than the usual fare.
– Thomas Oord, The Uncontrolling Love of God

Thomas J Oord is understandably unimpressed with the standard answers to the problem of evil. Evil, it is said, is part of God’s plan. Evil is used by God to teach people. Evil is the result of sinful people and God does not interfere in order to preserve freedom. Christians give all sorts of complicated and incomplete answers to the answer of evil, but evil remains a powerful argument from those wishing to reject God. Former Calvinist Bart Ehrman, a popular scholar and critic of Christianity, cites evil as the main reason he left Christianity. If evil can convert hardcore Calvinists into atheism, then what chance do the rest of us have?

In his first chapter, Oord details three such true stories of heartbreak, suffering, and random happenstance. I will add to it my own:

A day after my 31st birthday, we received a call about my six year old son. We had been trying to diagnose a lump on his neck. The doctors were not certain what it was, but on this day they were informing us about the results of a biopsy. It was cancer: T-Cell leukemia. For the next 6 months we spent week after endless week in the hospital. This six year old was poked and prodded. He lost his hair. They installed a port on his chest and in his stomach. They pumped endless toxins into his spinal column. Although he finally was placed in the medium risk category and fell into remission, his newfound friends at the hospital were not as lucky.

One child, struggling to stay alive, is now given a 20% chance of survival. This strong kid fights day and night, braving horrendous radiation treatments. He desperately clings to life against the odds. Although his odds of survival are slipping, he presses to do anything to live. Often these children die in spite of their pleas for life.

I lay awake at night in the children’s ward listening to the cries from adjacent rooms. The sound is maddening. Children are suffering through no fault of their own, day and night. Some are too young to comprehend what is happening. And this is a first world country. In other places and in other times, there was not medicine to dull the pain. There was no surgery to fix a broken body. There was no hope. Child mortality, until the modern world, hovered at about 50%.

Evil is real and critics of Christianity cannot just be easily dismissed with platitudes on this front. Where was God in all of this? Was this some sort of plan by God to teach some lesson?

Oord responds:

Is the “lesson” they learned in death worth the evil they suffered? Can dead people mature?

Some evils are character destroying rather than character building. Many people have lives that are made far worse because of intense pain. They grow bitter, vengeful and tyrannical, making life hellish for others and themselves. The alleged divine strategy of improving personal character is often counterproductive.

Oord spends the first few chapters talking about randomness. He very well understands that events can be random but aggregates can be predictable. He also spends an appropriate amount of time dispelling the myth that any limitations on choice is a violation of free will. He states the most intuitive position on the matter: “The limited-but-genuine-freedom position says we freely choose among a limited number of options.”

This is what human beings experience. We cannot choose to jump to the moon, but most can choose to jump two feet into the air as opposed to one foot into the air. We choose what position to hold our arms during the jump or whether to allow physics to control their placement. Although our jump is limited by the extent of our strength, I would add that humans have available an infinite number of choices within set limitations. Even with limits, human beings have limitless options.

Oord starts with the common sense notion that whatever we experience should be our default understanding as to how the world works. If our daily experience is free choice (e.g. I choose between a Coke or some Lemonade to drink) then this should be our default metaphysical position. Fatalism should only be accepted if there is strong evidence to overcome our intuition (and claiming “intuition” is a result of fatalism is of no help to anyone). Oord acknowledges that the fatalists will always claim that there are underlying formulas influencing everything that happens (despite evidence of randomness on a subatomic level). If someone is devoted to fatalism, they can always claim that fatalism produces an appearance of randomness. How this is more rational than defaulting to randomness creating an appearance of randomness is anyone’s guess.

On top of this basis, Oord presents a model of providence in which God’s natural attributes inherently limit the extent of God’s abilities. This should be a very familiar concept to anyone familiar with the metaphysics proposed by most modern Christians. Proponents of “omniscience and omnipotence” claim that omnipotence does not include the ability for God to limit His knowledge (e.g. forget events or not see events happen). Proponents of “omnipresence and omnipotence” claim that omnipotence does not include the ability for God to limit His location. Proponents of “omnipotence and immutability” claim that omnipotence does not include the ability of God to change. Even schools of Open Theism limit omniscience to what can rationally be known. Because Negative Attributes are inherently contradictory, something has to give. To Oord, what gives is God’s ability to be coercive (God’s benevolence limits God’s omnipotence).

This proffered metaphysical model, admittedly, is of better fit than most current models although it shares with these other models the reimagining of ancient Jewish theology. In both Reformed metaphysics and in Oord’s metaphysics are God’s thoughts and actions stripped from the Biblical narrative (such as God’s destruction of the Earth to undo His regretted creation, or God’s laments that He has punished Israel continuously in vain). In this respect, Oord is similar to the Calvinist tradition. In other respects, Oord is superior to the Calvinist tradition (by not stripping God of His emotions, relational nature, and love). In both Oord’s metaphysics and Calvinism, God is powerless to stop evil (so there is not a power disparity). For this reason, I would classify Oord as more Theologically Biblical than even a Fundamentalist Calvinist. Both rework the Bible’s picture of God, Oord to a lesser extent.

Oord offers a metaphysics of “essential kenosis”. The idea is that God gives Himself into creation. Because the world is an extension of God’s love, God cannot unilaterally change creation. This would be God changing His own nature, which Oord says is impossible. Evil exists because God cannot stop it. But God can bilaterally change creation (differentiating Oord from Process Theology). This is Oord’s solution to a benevolent God coexisting with an evil world. Oord explains this more thoroughly than a review can do justice.

The book is engaging to read. There are insights on just about every front (from statistics to science to theology). The sources that are cited come from a wide variety of traditions. The flow of the text is, for the most part, smooth. The points are interwoven to make the most of their effect on the audience. Anyone interested in benevolence (or even Christological metaphysics) would do well to pick up this book.

If a reader is looking for a book on Biblical critical scholarship, this is probably not the book for them. If, instead, a reader is interested in a compelling and fair overview of a host of metaphysical models (proffering what it believes is the best metaphysical model which can be then applied to the Bible), this is a book they should not miss.

Book available December 2015.

Posted in God, Open Theism, Theology | 2 Comments

against the modern pharisees

south park cigs
There is a scene in Mark in which the Pharisees accost Jesus for not following ritual law that had been developed from their interpretations of Levitical code:

Mar 7:5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?”
Mar 7:6 He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR FROM ME.
Mar 7:8 For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men— the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”

The Pharisees approach Jesus and condemn/question him for not purifying his hands before eating. This law was invented by the Pharisees, an interpretation of broader laws found in the code of Moses (possibly Leviticus 11). Jesus responds by condemning them for following the guidance of man and ignoring what God actually said.

In America, Christians have invented their own morality, not unlike the Pharisees. In American culture, it is a sin to drink, smoke, and to do drugs (these Christians often make exception for medical purposes, vaguely defined). This article will focus on smoking, being a particularly weird morality stance taken by the modern Pharisees.

In these circles, one cigarette (or e-cigarette) is a sin. The view that one cigarette is evil is drawn from wild leaps of logic, irrational thinking, and is applied with inconsistency over a wide range of actions and behaviors. There is always just one prooftext for this:

1Co 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?

1 Corinthians 6:19 is found in a fleeting reference in a letter to the Corinthians from Paul. This is the “go-to” verse on this issue. Presumably, if 1 Corinthians 6:19 was to have been lost in history the anti-smoking advocate would not be able to find support in the 31,101 other verses in the Bible. 1 Corinthians 6:19 is the catch-all verse used to condemn any behavior with which the modern Pharisee does not agree (it is the Biblical Commerce Clause).

The verse, itself, is found in the context of sexual immorality. Sexual immorality is a consistent sin that is countered throughout the Bible. There are a lot of prohibitions found on sexual immorality in the Bible and even laws against sexual immorality in the Old Testament. In context of 1 Corinthians 6:19, Paul is countering an often condemned sin. This is not an “exercise and be healthy” verse. The modern Pharisees then take Paul’s words and extend them to a whole host of activities that are not elsewhere covered in the Bible (activities of their own invention which just happen to line up with modern American sensibilities).

The thought pattern is as such:
Premise 1: “Your body is a temple”. Premise 2: “Cigarettes are dangerous”. Conclusion: “Smoking even one cigarette is a sin.” Bonus: “e-cigarettes are also a sin because they kind of look like normal cigarettes.”

Notice the wild leaps of logic. Assumptions are brought onto what it means that “our body is a temple”. Assumptions are brought into the dangers of smoking and these assumptions are pressed past the point of breaking with reductio ad absurdum that is honestly believed by the advocates. Just to be emphasize this important point: the reductio ad absurdum is the position held by the advocates (it is not just a hypothetical to cast doubt on a belief).

But the entire chain of logic is flawed. Starting with the last claim: by what standard can one cigarette be said to be dangerous?

Is one Oreo cookie dangerous? Surely, eating nothing but Oreos is incredibly dangerous. Is it likewise a sin to eat a single Oreo? One Oreo a week? One pack of Oreos a week? One pack of Oreos per day? Some studies suggest Oreos can be more addictive then even cocaine (link).

One cigarette in someone’s lifetime cannot have any discernable effect on the “temple of God”, especially not more effect than one Oreo or one slice of greasy pizza or one day exploring a cave. Plenty of employees currently work in conditions that have air much more toxic than one cigarette per day. Are these immoral jobs? Is living in a polluted city a sin? Why are cigarettes singled out? Where does the advocate draw the line? It is arbitrary and absurd.

All of this challenges the second claim: at what point are cigarettes dangerous? One pack a day? One pack a week? One pack a year? It is hard to know.

Cigarettes are just one input over a lifetime of conflicting inputs into how healthy people are. In Japan, there is a higher consumption rate of cigarettes coupled with some of the lowest rates of lung cancer in the world. In fact, Americans are six times likelier to get lung cancer than their equivalent Japanese counterpart. Japan has the longest life expectance in the world while it ranks number 17 for cigarettes smoked per adult per year. Something else is going on, and it does not look like cigarettes are the entire picture.

Not all people have the same harms induced by cigarettes. In fact, smoking might have some health benefits (like the following). For sake of argument, if occasional smoking had health benefits then is smoking still bad?

As a disclaimer: nothing in this article is calling for people to take up heavy smoking. This should be obvious, but in my conversations with these modern Pharisees, they do not understand temperance and moderation. They just try to assume out a possibility that is very real in my own life: smoking on average about 1 cigarette per year.

The most absurd leap of logic made by these Pharisees is thinking that the apostle Paul had smoking in mind when he was writing about the body being a temple. This is the same Paul that wrote:

Col 2:16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths…
Col 2:20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—
Col 2:21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,”

Paul’s literal claim was that we should not be concerned with what we ingest. The pagans in Colossae were of the opinion that wine and food (the pleasure of consumption) were to be avoided. They were ascetics, trying to deprive their bodies of sensual pleasure. Paul is combating this “humility”. To Paul, nothing we consume can make us unclean. What defines a Christian is our walk with God.

To claim that Paul was writing against cigarette consumption is a complete reversal of Paul’s explicit teachings on the mater. And Paul was merely echoing Jesus’ statement:

Mat 15:11 Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”

When the modern Pharisees claim that something is a sin, there ought to be a little better evidence than tenuous leaps of logic that are formed in their own mind.

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the name of God

tetragrammatonIn Exodus 3:14, God introduces Himself to Moses. This is a very important event in the Bible as it represents perhaps the first time God’s name was known. In Exodus 6, God recounts to Moses that His name “Yahweh” was not known to previous patriarchs:

Exo 6:3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name LORD I was not known to them.

But Exodus 3:14 is when God finally does make His name known. The narrative is that Yahweh hears the cry of the slaves in Egypt and Yahweh remembers His covenant with them. Yahweh’s covenant spurs Him to action as He appoints Moses to be His spokesman. Moses is a reluctant spokesman. Moses resists in all types of fashions. One such resistance is Moses’ desire for a power name in order to inspire and intimidate his listeners:

Exo 3:13 Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”
Exo 3:14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” [Yahweh asher Yahweh] And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”
Exo 3:15 Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The LORD [Yahweh] God [eloheem] of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’

God’s response almost seems tongue-in-cheek. God’s name is Yahweh, as consistently stated throughout the Bible, so “Yahweh asher Yahweh” might be a snarky way of presenting the name “Yahweh” to Moses. If “Yahweh asher Yahweh” was meant to be God’s full proper name, it is interesting that it is never used again.

The meaning might be “I will be whoever I want to be”. This might be God’s way of frustrating Moses’ question. Yahweh then immediately ties the name “Yahweh” with Israel. So God’s response could be seen as: “I will be whoever I want to be and I chose to be the God of Israel”.

In any case, Moses has no knowledge of this name nor do any of Moses’ hearers. What would they take away from hearing this name? Moses never does get the response for which he is looking. God’s response, translated literally, is “I will be who I will be”. This is an ambiguous and confusing statement of little use to Moses (Moses is never recorded as using it).

But God then takes great care to link His name with Israel. Moses might not have a useful name, but Moses should be reassured in God’s commitment to Israel. Yahweh links His name with Israel in verses 15, 16, and 18. However the name “Yahweh” is taken, it is in relation to Israel. The Talmud backs up this idea:

The only full interpretation of Exodus 3:14 in the Talmud is in Berakoth 9b2, where it is framed in the context of Israel’s servitude in Egypt and Babylon, and is interpreted as an assurance by God that He will be with Israel in all its troubles. The only Talmudic citation of the absolute ehyeh of 3:14b also features in this interpretation, where it is understood simply in terms of God’s compassion towards Israel. Apart from it being the only full interpretation of Exodus 3:14 in the Talmud, Berakoth 9b2 is also highly noteworthy because it is the interpretation subsequently espoused by Rashi, the most respected and influential of all Talmudic commentators and one of the most respected and influential figures in Judaism. The extract from Berakoth 9b2 reads as follows in the Soncino Talmud:

“I am that I am: The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: Go and say to Israel: I was with you in this servitude, and I shall be with you in the servitude of the (other) kingdoms. He said to Him: Lord of the universe, sufficient is the evil in the time thereof! Thereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: Go and tell them: I Am has sent me unto you.”

Some individuals, such as Norman Geisler, take Exodus 3:14 as some sort of metaphysical claim by Yahweh to be timeless or immutable. But in the Talmud, God’s name is not linked to immutability or timelessness, but to Israel. The idea that God’s name is linked to Israel is a claim for mutability. God is identifying Himself relationally.

The Septuagint might back up Geisler’s claim. This document, written under the watch of the Hellenized king, Ptolemy II, translates Exodus 3:14 roughly to “I am the Being” or “I am the One”. The Hebrew from which it is translated no longer exists, but the translators seem to have taken some liberty.

In contrast to this, the earliest Hebrew texts of Exodus 3:14 record the ancient Hebrew name found in the earliest Hebrew quotes of the Bible. The Dead Sea Scrolls use the ancient Hebrew script that is also used on the Ketef Hinnom (the earliest known Bible quote dating from 700-650 BC). This is quite interesting as the rest of the Dead Sea Scroll text is in more modern Hebrew. The name Yahweh is left in an ancient script among newer Hebrew script.



Furthermore, two ancient Greek translations also use translations counter to the LXX and closer to what one would expect the Hebrew to mean:

The versions of Aquila and Theodotion have ehyeh asher ehyeh and the ehyeh of 3:14b rendered into Greek as “esomai hos esomai” and “esomai” respectively, which in turn translate as “I will be who I will be” and “I will be”.[3] There could have been several reasons why they chose to translate the words of Exodus 3:14 in this way, but among them would certainly have been a desire to produce a translation that would be more true to the Hebrew original than the Septuagint. For this reason they would have wanted to restore the idem-per-idem form of ehyeh-asher-ehyeh, and so they did. However, had the translators’ only purpose been to restore the idem-per-idem form, then the most obvious revision of ego eimi ho on would have been ego eimi ho ego eimi, which would at least have preserved the only literal translation of ehyeh that does feature in the Septuagint version of the verse (ego eimi). Instead, they chose to replace the words “ego eimi” with “esomai”, which is to replace the words “I am” with “I will be”, and, in keeping with the apparent intention of the Hebrew text, they translated all three occurrences of ehyeh in this way.

The author of this paragraph rejects the understanding of Aquila and Theodotion because the author absurdly maintains: “in Judaism God is understood to be eternally immutable”. But Aquila and Theodotion appear to be preserving the natural Hebrew reading in which God is not making a metaphysical claim (a claim never developed anywhere in the Bible and is countered by endless texts). But Aquila and Theodotion support the idea that God is saying “I will be who I will be” or “I am who I will be”. Their claim, along with what is probably the original Hebrew text, is that God is dynamic and relational.

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