Sunday, February 21, 2016


How do you see the world?  The ancient Hebrews had no single word for the material space we occupy, such as "world" or "cosmos."  The parts of our material space they described simply as heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1); heaven, earth, and sea (Exodus 20:11); heaven, earth, and water under the earth (Exodus 20:4); heaven, earth, sea, and the deep (Psalm 135:6).  The earth was like a saucer surrounded by water and resting upon water (Genesis 1:1, 6-8) or foundational pillars (Proverbs 8:27-29).  In short, there was a bit of firmament sheltering a flat earth from a surrounding watery chaos.
            The Creator saw everything that had been made "and behold it was very good" (Genesis 1:31).
            You know what happened next. Adam breaks the Creator's one rule (Genesis 2:17), and as a result he and Eve were banished from the good life in the Garden of Eden.  Life outside the Garden was difficult, threatening, and ended in death (Genesis 3:16-19).
            The Apostle Paul uses the banishment of Adam and Eve to explain why human beings die. They die because of Adam's sin (Romans 5:12-14, 17). And perhaps even the physical creation was also affected by his sin, for Paul describes the creation as being in bondage to decay waiting for redemption (Romans 8:18-21).
            Today even the most ardent Bible believer knows that this ancient story is mythical because they have seen photographs taken from the moon of our blue and white, more-or-less spherical, planet surrounded by limitless space in a cosmos of billions of galaxies and planetary systems—with not a drop of water around it.
            The world into which Adam and Eve, the progenitors of humanity, were forced has a bizarre landscape.  Things are not what they seem on the surface.  Horrid demons lurked about (satyrs, Leviticus 17:7; the night demon Lilith, Isaiah 34:14; the noonday devil, Psalm 91:6).  For the one sharing the Bible view of world there is a plethora of such demonic entities and evil forces that must be negotiated.  For example, the Prince of the Power of the Air (Eph 2:2; John 14:30, 16:11) leads a consortium of demons and evil spirits that threaten harm to human beings.
We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).
Evil and unclean spirits fall upon humans unawares, possess them, and cause them to behave insanely (Mark 5:1-10); they infect them with deafness, muteness (Mark 9:25), infirmity (Luke 13:11), and epilepsy (Matthew 17:15-18); they empower in them the black art of divination (Acts 16:16) and the performance of signs (Revelation 16:13-14), and even cause prophets to lie (1 Kings 22:21-23)—and who knows how much more.  Satan can even transform himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), so that a person never knows if s/he deals with a good or evil force. There is also a cadre of good spirits and angels at work in the world; a Great Spirit assigns angels to watch over "little ones" (Matthew18:10).
            Fortunately certain human beings, empowered by benevolent spirits can combat these evil forces. For example, Jesus gave his disciples authority to cast out unclean spirits (Matthew 10:1) and in addition commissioned them "to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers" (Matthew 10:7).  In other words the world is a place of constant struggle between the spiritual forces of good and evil, and the contested territory is precisely the mind, health, and behavior of human beings—at least that is what the Biblical writers want us to believe.
            Strange things happen in the Biblical world: axe heads float (2 Kings 6:4-7), donkeys talk (Numbers 22:21-30), the dead won't stay dead (Matthew27:51-54), people defy gravity and walk on water (Mark 6:45-52), on command the earth stops rotating (Joshua 10:12-14), snakes carry on conversations (Genesis 3:1-5). There are magic cloths that heal diseases and drive out evil spirits (Acts 19:12; Mark 5:24-30).
            I don't find the world I live in to be as described in the Bible.  I have never personally encountered the spiritual forces.  True, the world I live in is dangerous, but pretty bland when compared to the world seen through the eyes of the Biblical writers.  My life and welfare are always at risk from natural forces and even nature itself, but I have never been threatened with harm by evil spirits or demons.  I have never met an angel.  In the world as I experience it people who die stay dead, and day passes into night with amazing regularity.
            Did a world, such as described in the Bible, ever actually exist, do you suppose?  Or did it only exist in the imaginations of the ancient writers and in the minds of those who choose to believe them?
What kind of world do you live in?
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University
See "Wry Thoughts about Religion" Blog: March 13, 2013.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Revelation: Did God talk to Paul?

The ancient Greeks, and the Romans, were both very superstitious and religious.  One of their many ways of divination, i.e., ways to find the will of the Gods, was through consulting special intuitive persons at some twenty religious sanctuaries throughout the ancient Mediterranean world.  These "diviners" were called "oracles," and were the mediums through whom a God transmitted revelations and oracles (as the sayings of a God were called).  The most famous of these religious sanctuaries was Delphi, located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus overlooking the Gulf of Corinth.  People, from kings to paupers, came from all over the ancient world to Delphi to consult the Pythian oracle, prophetess of the God Apollo, one of the sons of Zeus.  She would receive her revelations while being possessed by the God in a cave located under the Temple of Apollo, whose ruins still exist, and she would communicate them to those inquiring of the God as sayings of the God (compare Acts 16:16-18: where a young girl is described as possessed by a "Pythian spirit").
            In the latter part of the first century and early second century A.D., a philosopher and literary figure, Plutarch, who was a priest at Delphi, wrote an essay explaining why many oracular centers in Greece had ceased to function ("Obsolescence of Oracles").  In other words a customary practice of ancient Greek religion was dying out.
            In the first third of the first century after the death of Jesus (around 30) certain followers of the Christ were also believed to be prophets (see Didache 11:3-13:7; 1 Corinthians 12:10, 29); they were moved by the Spirit to utter "the Word of the Lord" to their contemporaries, just as was done by the oracles in the religious sanctuaries of ancient Greece and Rome.  One of these early Christian Prophets was the author of Matthew's Gospel, who channeled a saying of the crucified and resurrected Christ (Matt 28:18-20).
            But perhaps more interesting is the claim of the apostle Paul that he himself, like the Pythia at Delphi, possessed the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 7:40), and said that Christ spoke through him (2 Corinthians 13:3).  Hence he was able to channel sayings (or oracles) of the deity, as the Pythia and the early Christian prophet Matthew had done.  Here is a clear instance of Paul claiming to be privy to "an abundance of revelations," channeling a saying of the Lord:
And to keep me from being puffed up with pride by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too puffed up.  Three times I begged the Lord about this that it should leave me; but he said to me "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:7-9; see also 12:1).
Further Paul claims that the gospel he preached was not something he learned from others or something he came up with on his own, but rather that it came to him directly "through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12).  He even claimed that he was directed "by revelation" to do certain things (Galatians 2:2), and on occasion he "would speak a revelation" to the assembly of saints (1 Corinthians 14:6).  He was not that special in this regard, however, for there were others in the gatherings of saints who also were believed to utter divine revelations to those assembled (1 Corinthians 14:26; for the divine gifts in the Pauline assemblies see also 1 Corinthians 12:4-11).  These spiritual abilities were not given to everyone, but only to certain individuals (1 Corinthians 12:28-30).  Paul used the same word to describe the revelations he received from the deity as the word he used to describe the authoritative prophetic writings of the Jewish Scriptures (Romans 16:25-27).  In other words his revelations were as authoritative as the Scriptures.
            To Judge by the experience of John, oracular utterances are received while the oracle is possessed by the spirit in a state of spiritual ecstasy (Revelation 1:9-20); that is, while the oracle is in a state of rapturous delight and beyond reason and self control.  There are still ecstatic churches today for which public utterances of glossolalia (speaking in tongues) are believed to be revelations from God.  Like the ancient oracle, the individual is thought possessed by the deity when bringing a revelation to the assembly (see Paul's description of such a public occasion, 1 Corinthians 14:1-25).  But for most of those churches, which are historically descended from the Reformation of the 16th century, glossolalia is a thing of the past—probably for obvious reasons.
            How does it seem to you?  Were there ever those among us so sensitive as to read what passes for thoughts in a Divine mind?  And was this intuitive ability on the part of some able to be used by all Gods of the ancient Hellenistic world to channel words of revelation?
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University
See also "Wry Thoughts about Religion" Blog: February 3, 2015; June 26. 2015; August 14, 2015.