The Testament of Abraham, the NPP, and Carefully Reading Texts

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A few years ago I wrote an exploratory piece on a pseudepigraphal work called, The Testament of Abraham. When I first approached the text, I did so with a clean slate. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. No preconceptions. But I wanted to try my hand at understanding a piece of ancient literature apart from any prior knowledge. I spent quite some time simply reading and rereading the text. Then I tried my hand at an outline. Then I read some short essays on TestAb. Finally I sifted through a number of books on my shelves to see if and how people were interacting with and “using” TestAb. What I encountered was rather disappointing. Seldom was the piece referenced; but when it was referenced, it was both misread and misused. I engaged the work of Simon Gathercole and A. Andrew Das at some length. I blogged my original work and that material was linked on The Paul Page (something of a clearinghouse on all things pro- and con-NPP). Subsequently, I received a number of notes of appreciation for my work. Someday I would like to go through the same process of a couple dozen other pseudepigraphal and apocryphal works.

Periodically I run across references to TestAb, including some of the verses that I addressed at some length. Seldom do I find anyone who has carefully read TestAb, rather than simply raiding it for proof texts supporting this or that proposal. Most recently I noticed that in his most recent work, The Saving Righteousness of God, Michael Bird references TestAb 10:13 (“…Abraham has not sinned…”) in support of the proposition that, “There are instances in second-temple Jewish literature which either demand or assume that law-keeping perfection is attainable” (p.162). He proposes that Paul is counters such a perspective in, say, Romans 3:23 (“for all have sinned…”).

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Mormonism on the Fall

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(Originally published online 24 June 2004.)

It is increasingly common to hear of Mormonism (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) as being “just another denomination.” But I would suggest that this is a misperception. One very clear difference between Mormonism and Christianity resides in their respective views of the fall of Adam and Eve.Biblically speaking, the actions of Adam and Eve, in partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, can in now way be understood as virtuous. Not only did they act contrary to the expressed will of God (Genesis 2:17; cf. 3:3), later biblical authors describe Adam’s action as “sin” and “transgression” (Romans 5:12ff). They also describe Eve’s actions as resulting from a deception (2 Corinthians 11:3-4; 1 Timothy 2:14). The action of God in exiling Adam and Eve from his presence in the garden illustrates divine disapproval in no uncertain terms.

But even given this biblical portrait of the fall of Adam and Eve, as resulting from actions of disobedience, Mormonism promotes Adam and Eve as exemplars of virtue. This strange perspective on the fall is illustrated in two works commonly available to Mormons; and both of these works bear some official sanction by the Church.

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Abortion and Followers of Ayn Rand

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(Originally published online 5 July 2004. Now there is a self-serving site named, Abortion Is Prolife. At that site you may listen to a brief lecture by Dr. Peikoff claimed to be “the best 10 minute argument for abortion on the internet.” None of his arguments there succeeds any better than those I addressed in the piece below, though his prejudices, rhetoric and fallacious arguments are more pronounced, so to speak, in the lecture.)

Abortion Rights Are NOT Pro-Life:
A Response to Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s editorial,
“Abortion Rights Are Pro-Life”

Kevin James Bywater

“Abortion rights are pro-life. They give a woman the right to control her own body, which is part of her right to her own freedom and life. An embryo, in contrast, is pre-human, only potential, not actual, life. As such, it cannot possess any rights.” —original summary of Leonard Peikoff’s editorial

Dr. Leonard Peikoff—the self-proclaimed “foremost authority on Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand”—has written an editorial entitled, “Abortion Rights Are Pro-Life.” He argues that fetuses are potential human beings, whereas women are actual human beings; thus women have rights, while fetuses do not. The pre-born, being pre-human, have no right to life, according to Peikoff. Little in his editorial is unique. This should not surprise us, given the volume of material available on all sides of the abortion debate. Our hope in interacting with Dr. Peikoff’s editorial is that readers will gain a greater understanding of the rational and scientific issues involved in the issue of abortion.

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The Saving Righteousness of God

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Dr. Michael F. Bird (New Testament Lecturer at Highland Theological College) has just published an engaging monograph, The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies in Paul, Justification and the New Perspective (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2007). In the US, it is available through Wipf & Stock Publishers and Amazon.com, and for a much better price than in the UK. To get something of a preview of Bird’s approach to these topics, you can download an earlier version of the fourth chapter that was published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, “Incorporated into Righteousness: A Response to Recent Evangelical Discussion Concerning the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness in Justification” (a pdf file for download; JETS 47.2 [2002]: 253-75). Michael also has an informative and engaging weblog, Euangelion.

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New Blog

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As you can see, I’m in the process of recreating my website. I’ve been really busy lately researching and writing my PhD thesis, which explains why my blog has been down for so long. Of course, this is no promise that I’ll be blogging much. I still have a lot of work to do right now. On top of that, we’re expecting the birth of our baby (this time a boy!) within a couple of weeks. So, a lot of things to think about and do right now. Cheers!

Assurance of Salvation

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I’m regularly impressed with the Westminster Confession of Faith. Not that I agree with everything: Some things I’d phrase differently, others I’d simply address differently. But I continue to appreciate the confession. One particular chapter that I find illuminating and instructive is chapter 18, “Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation.” I’ve included it here for your consideration. While some of the language is rather archaic, and some of the proof texts could be improved, the substance of this chapter is worthy of much contemplation and appreciation. It is, I believe, profoundly pastoral in essence. Enjoy!

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Two Year-Old “Bad Guy”

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Our youngest daughter has an issue. She’s admitted it, to be sure. She may recover. Unfortunately, she seems to relish the problem. You see, she’s “bad guy.” No, she’s not a bad guy or just any bad guy. She’s Bad Guy — apparently the one, the only. This is her preferred self-description and title.

“Bad Guy likes oranges,” she declared to her mother the other day.

Emmeline had been saying this often enough that my dear wife was a bit tired of it.

“We don’t have any oranges. Besides, this ‘Bad Guy’ thing is driving me nuts!” Angela blurted, only half-jokingly.

“Oooooo,” Emmeline excitedly grinned, “Bad Guy likes nuts!”

Yea, sometimes Emmeline’s that fast. We can’t win.

Later I asked our eldest daughter if she knew how Emmeline came to such a self-appellation. Elizabeth explained that one day she and Katherine were playing and had made Emmeline “the bad guy.” “Quick, run from the bad guy,” they exclaimed as they dashed from the room, Emmeline huffing behind them, willingly adopting the epithet.

Well, it stuck! For how long, we don’t know.

What we do know is that a “bad” characterization makes for a corruption of company.

Dalrymple, Burgess and A Clockwork Britain

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Theodore Dalrymple (whom I recommended in a previous post) has written an unnerving piece on life in Britain. He keys the essay off of Anthony Burgess’s controversial novel, A Clockwork Orange. In, “Oh to Be in England: A Prophetic and Violent Materpiece,” Dalrymple escorts us through the erie story line of the novel Burgess most disliked, and then brings it to enlighten the ways and means of a significant faction of youth culture in Britain (some of which we’ve witnessed).

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It’s the Demography, Stupid!

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Mark Steyn’s at it again!”The Real Reason Why the West Is in Danger,” is the subtitle for Steyn’s recent piece in the Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Page, Opinion Journal. “The design flaw of the secular social-democratic state is that it requires a religious-society birthrate to sustain it. Post-Christian hyperrationalism is, in the objective sense, a lot less rational than Catholicism or Mormonism.”

Ouch! But isn’t that the truth?

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