Halloween: What’s a Christian to Do?

Let me just say up front–I’m offering no answers. In some churches mention Halloween and an argument is bound to break out. It is a sensitive topic for many Christians. When I was living in seminary housing those who wished to participate either left their door open or put a paper pumpkin on the door. Closed doors with no pumpkin meant “don’t bother to knock.” Here are a few links which may you may find helpful. They don’t all come to the same conclusion but will offer food for thought. I’ve offered a paragraph or so from each to give you a glimpse of what the article is advocating.

Grace to You (Travis Allen)- “Christians and Halloween” “Ultimately, Christian participation in Halloween is a matter of conscience before God. Whatever level of Halloween participation you choose, you must honor God by keeping yourself separate from the world and by showing mercy to those who are perishing. Halloween provides the Christian with the opportunity to accomplish both of those things in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Mary Fairchild – “What Does the Bible Say About Halloween?” “I believe the most appropriate Christian response to Halloween is to study the matter for yourself and follow the convictions of your own heart. Let others do the same without condemnation from you. Perhaps the answer to the Halloween dilemma is … there is no right or wrong answer! I believe one’s unique convictions about Halloween must be individually sought, independently found, and personally followed.”

Focus on the Family – “Should Christians Participate in Halloween?” “Ultimately, we believe that you should stay faithful to your own convictions and do what you think best.”

J. Kerby Anderson – “Ten Reasons Christians Should Not Celebrate Halloween” “Participating in Halloween gives sanction to a holiday that promotes witches, divination, haunted houses, and other occultic practices.”

Word on Fire (Fr. Steve Grunow) – “It’s Time for Catholics to Embrace Halloween” “But what is the proper response to a culture of death? To lock the Church behind closed doors or to let her out into the world? I think it is time for Catholics to accept the religious liberties that this culture claims to afford them and go public with their own festivals- and to do so dramatically and with a great deal of public fervor. What is holding us back? What are we afraid will happen? The reticence and fear that characterizes Catholics is costing the Church its unique culture and it is allowing the culture of death to flourish. Halloween should not be a day when our churches go dark and Christians retreat into the shadows, but when we fill the darkness with Christ’s light and go out into the culture, inviting everyone to the prepare for the festival of the Saints with all the joy we can muster.”

Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (Matt Slick) – “Where Did Halloween Come From? Can a Christian Celebrate it?” “Even though Halloween has pagan origins and because of your freedom in Christ, you and/or your kids can dress up in costumes and go door-to-door and just have fun. However, if you are not comfortable with doing this, then you should not. If you know of a person who would be hindered by doing it, then you shouldn’t either.”

Christian Mommies (Kelly McCausey) – “Why We Don’t Celebrate Halloween” The article starts with a disclaimer: “Editor’s Note: this isn’t an official stance per se, and we have forum members of varying opinions on Halloween. I’m sticking this note here to clear up any confusion, because usually around Halloween we have some forum applicants under the impression that every single C’Mom here is against Halloween.” From the article: “My son will not celebrate or participate in Halloween because:

- I don’t want him to underestimate the devil
– I don’t want him to open up to demonic influence
– I don’t want him to stumble into an area of the occult unaware
– I want him to know that I take the Bible literally
– I want him to prefer the light of the Gospel to the darkness of the occult
– I want him to know that it is OK to stand apart from the world on these issues
– I want him to recognize easily what is evil and stand against it in the name of Jesus”

Was the “Tree of Life” a Sacrament?

My question today was prompted from reading a new release from Baker Academic: Adam, the Fall, and Original Sin edited by Hans Madueme and Michael Reeves. C. John Collins writes the first chapter—“Adam and Eve in the Old Testament.” Collins firmly believes in a literal Adam and Eve but that’s not what I want to focus on here. Rather it is a comment he makes about the “tree of life” in Genesis 3 that intrigued me. Here’s what he wrote:

“But what of the ‘tree of life”? Does it work ‘automatically,’ which is what most mean by calling it magical? Genesis says very little about it. What it does say (3:22, where God fears that the man might live forever if he takes of the tree of life) should be put together with the other passages that use the same idea. In Proverbs 3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4, various blessings are likened to a tree of life: all of these blessings, according to Proverbs, are means to keep the faithful on the path to everlasting happiness. In Revelation 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19, the tree is a symbol of confirmation in holiness for the faithful. This warrants us in finding this tree to be some kind of ‘sacrament’ that sustains or confirms someone in his moral condition: that is why God finds it so horrifying to thing of the man eating of the tree in his current state. I call it a ‘sacrament’ because I do not know how it is supposed to convey its effects, any more than I know how the biblical sacrifices, or the washing ceremonies, or baptism, or the Lord’s Supper work. But they do work. Only in this sense may the tree be called ‘magic,’ but this sense has moved us away from folklore.” (p. 20-21)

He adds a footnote to this on C.S. Lewis. “He [Lewis] describes the sacrament of communion as ‘big medicine and strong magic,’ and then defines his term: ‘I should define ‘magic’ in this sense as ‘objective efficacy which cannot be further analysed.’” (p. 20n.57)

It’s something to think about.

Adam, the Fall, and Original Sin is from Baker Academic. It is a paperback with 352 pages and sells for $26.99.

Hans Madueme (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is assistant professor of theological studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, and an adjunct professor at Trinity Graduate School, Trinity International University. He also serves as a book review editor for Themelios.

Michael Reeves (PhD, King’s College, London) is theologian-at-large at Wales Evangelical School of Theology. He previously served as head of theology for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) and is the author of several books, including Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith.


Does “It was Good” in Genesis 1 Imply No Death?

Through much of my theological education I was taught that the phrase “it was good” in Genesis 1 had implications of perfection. That is to say there was no death or decay prior to the fall. Everything was perfect. How could death ever be described as something “good”? I understand there are other arguments that augment this (such as death is the result of sin so it could not have preceded the fall). But for today’s post I want to look only at the one phrase to see if it can carry the weight of the argument. In Death Before the Fall (IVP Academic) Ronald Osborn writes,

“As unsettling as it may be for some readers to discover, nowhere in Genesis is the creation described as ‘perfect.’ God declares his work to be ‘good’ or tob at each stage and finally ‘very good’—tob me’od—at its end. Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible tob me’od describes qualities of beauty, worthiness or fitness for a purpose but never absolute moral or ontological perfection. Rebekah is tob me’od or ‘very beautiful’ (Gen 24:16 NASB). The Promised Land is tob me’od or “exceedingly good,’ is fierce inhabitants and wild animals not withstanding (Num 14:7 NASB). When Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery the result is great hardship and pain for Joseph over many years, yet he declares that God providentially ‘meant it for tob in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive’ (Gen 50:20 NASB). According to the book of Ecclesiastes, ‘every man who eats and drinks sees tob in all his labor—it is the gift of God’ (Eccles 3:13 NASB). In Lamentations, the prophet asserts that ‘It is tob for a man, that he should bear the yoke in his youth’ (Lam 3:27 NASB).”

“In fact, Mark Whorton writes, nowhere else in Hebrew Scripture is tob or tob me’od interpreted by biblical scholars ‘as absolute perfection other than Genesis 1:31, and in that case it is for sentimental rather than exegetical reasons.’ There are other words in biblical Hebrew that are closer to the English sense of ‘perfect’ than tob me’od and that might have been used instead. The book of Leviticus commands that burnt sacrifices be tamim, ‘without defect’ (e.g., Lev 1:3, 10; 3:1; 4:3; 5:18; 14:10). Elsewhere in Genesis, Noah is said to be tamim or ‘blameless’ (Gen 6:9). In Deuteronomy 32:4, we read that God’s ‘work is tamim’ or ‘perfect,’ for ‘Is not He the Father who created you, fashioned you and made you endure!’ (Deut 32:6 NJPS). Even in these texts, however, the biblical understanding of perfection or blamelessness lends little support to modern creationists.” (p. 29)

The most compelling verse here for me is Numbers 14:7. Clearly, the land had elements of death and was occupied by potential enemies which posed a threat to the people as they entered. Yet, the land could be described as good. The case for no death before the fall may still be made but appeal to “it was good” does not seem so satisfying.

death before the fall

Did the Serpent in Genesis 3 Have Legs Before it Was Cursed?

I’ve done a couple of posts about the serpent/snake in Genesis 3 which you can find here, here and here (all these posts were on the issue of a “talking” snake). Today’s question involves the curse on the serpent which says “you will crawl on your belly.” (3:14, NIV) Some have suggested from this that the snake had legs prior to the curse. The MacArthur Study Bible says “It probably had legs before this curse.” (Note on Gen. 3:14) The Ryrie Study Bible says “the serpent’s very form and movements were altered.” (Note on Gen. 3:14) The “Answers in Genesis” (AIG) website provides a nice chart of commentators who believed the serpent had legs and those who don’t. Among those who believed the serpent had legs are: Henry Morris, John Gill, Matthew Henry, Adam Clarke, Matthew Poole, Martin Luther, and the author of the article for AIG. On the “no” side we have: John Calvin, Gordon Wenham, and John Sailhammer. We could also add Derek Kidner, and Kenneth Matthews in The Apologetics Study Bible. The AIG article says, “The more logical answer is that the serpent originally had some form of legs or appendages, and these were either lost or reduced.” “The problem,” she notes if the serpent stayed the same is “it reduces the curse to almost a meaningless status.”

John Walton offers an alternative interpretation which doesn’t involve the serpent having legs. He writes,

“The Egyptian Pyramid Texts were designed to aid the pharaohs of the Old Kingdom (end of the third millennium) on their journey to the afterlife. Among the over 700 utterances are several dozen spells and curses on snakes that may impede the king’s progress. These utterances contain phrases that are reminiscent of the curse on the serpent in Genesis 3. For instance, the biblical statement that the serpent will ‘crawl on your belly’ is paralleled by frequent spells that call on the snake to lie down, fall down, get down, or crawl away (Pyramid Texts 226, 233, 234, 298, 386). Another says that he should ‘go with your face on the path’ (PT 288).”

“These suggest that when God tells the serpent that he will crawl on his belly, there is no suggestion that the serpent had legs that he now will lose. Instead, he is going to be docile rather than in an attack position. The serpent is on its belly is nonthreatening, while the one reared up is protecting or attacking. Notice that on the pharaoh’s crown, the serpent (uraeus) is pictured as upright and in an attack position. Nevertheless, I should also note that there are occasional depictions of serpent creatures with legs. There is no indication, however, of an occasion in which serpents lost their legs.” (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Vol. 1 p. 35, Zondervan)

Victor Hamilton, in the Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary (Baker Books), concurs saying, “Phrases like ‘crawl on your belly’ and ‘eat dust’ may be understood as metaphorical expressions denoting the serpent’s submission. (Compare the statement made of Israel’s messianic king in Ps. 72:9, ‘His enemies lick the dust.’)” (p. 13)

Can a Monkey Type “Hamlet” Given Enough (Infinite) Time?

You’ve heard this before. Give a monkey an infinite amount of time on a typewriter and he/she will eventually type out Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. The idea is that no matter how impossible it might seem it’s just a matter of time. If the monkey has an infinite amount of time it will happen. Atheists and skeptics like to use this to illustrate the point that given the current theory of the multiverse which posits an infinite number of universes it is only natural that a universe like ours will exist so there is really nothing special about it. All this talk of fine tuning means nothing since infinite time plus matter will eventually produce a universe that can sustain life. No need for God.

In his book Why Science Does not Disprove God Amir Aczel explains how this really does not work. He writes,

“The heart of the argument here is the immense power of infinity. If you allow infinity to enter any argument, anything can happen—even monkeys typing Hamlet. The play has about thirty thousand words, and if we assume an average of five letters per word, that is about 150,000 characters that the monkey needs to get right and in sequence. So the probability of getting it right the first time (leaving out spaces and punctuation, which would make it even more difficult) is one divided by 26 raised to the power 150,000, which is a number very, very close to zero—but not identically zero. Making the number of trials equal to infinity ‘forces’ the answer to be 100 percent. It is simply a mathematical fact that has no meaning outside the realm of pure mathematics and does not describe the real world in any way. So playing the ‘monkey typing Hamlet’ game is not a good approach to real-life situations, and real universes—of which we know only one. . . . And it isn’t science, since it’s not based on any reality, any experimentation, or even any viable theory. It is simply a ‘forcing argument’ that allows you to prove anything you like. It’s just like proving that a monkey can type Hamlet despite the unreality of the whole idea: the only reason it works is that infinity is such an overwhelmingly powerful concept. It you ‘go to infinity’ (whatever that may mean, since infinity is inaccessible to us), you can pretend to prove anything. So the multiverse and the infinitely many copies of you and me that Brian Greene seems so eager to assume must exist out there (where, exactly?) mean absolutely nothing and really have no place in any scientific argument about nature, life, and our universe and where it came from.” (pp. 165-67)

In another place he adds color to what this would really entail.

“The monkey typing forever, meaning producing infinitely many replications of 26 characters, will theoretically produce not only the whole of Hamlet–in fact, the monkey will do it infinitely many times!–but also every piece of writing ever created in history, including all the works in the lost great library of Alexandria, as well as Virgil, Dante, Hemingway, Jane Austen, Salman Rushdie, and the U.S. Constitution; and every letter any person in history has ever written to another person, or would have written, or might write, or could write, or will ever write; and every possible grocery list, and every possible presidential election speech. You can see just how preposterous all of this becomes when you try to apply an abstract mathematical concept to the real world. And by the theorem I’ve alluded to, it may take “forever” for these things to happen.”

The idea is simply crazy and adding “infinity” to it to give it credibility won’t help.

Why Science Does not Disprove God is from Willow Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins). It is a hardcover with 304 pages and sells for $27.99.

Amir D. Aczel, Ph.D., received graduate degrees in mathematics from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Oregon. He is the author of the acclaimed Fermat’s Last Theorem, which has been published in twenty-eight languages and was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and many other works of nonfiction. In 2012, he was awarded a Sloan Foundation grant for his groundbreaking research on the origin of numbers; in 2004, he was awarded the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. From 2005 to 2007, Aczel was a visiting scholar at Harvard University. He is currently a research fellow in the history of science at Boston University. He also writes for Discover magazine, regularly publishes in Scientific American, and has written science pieces for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Why Science

Mark 13, the ESV, and Essentially Literal Translation

A primary feature of the ESV is its claim to be an “essentially literal” translation. It states, “Within this framework we have sought to be ‘as literal as possible’ while maintaining clarity of expression and literary excellence. Therefore, to the extent that plain English permits and the meaning in each case allows, we have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original.” (From the Preface p. viii)

In The Word of God in English Leland Ryken rightly argues that “Biblical authors will sometimes repeat a word or phrase in order to emphasize it, or to make it clear that they are still talking about the same subject.” (p.308) He says the ESV is superior to other translations in being consistent about this translation practice. (See his complete discussion on pages 308-17.) He faults the NIV and the TEV in particular on their translation of the Greek word for abide in John 15. He argues that a variation in translation loses something and therefore the reader does not have a transparent view to the Greek underneath the English translation. Had the NIV and TEV been consistent in their translations it “would have led to a more accurate communication.” (311) Mind you, of the seven occurrences of this Greek word in John 15 the NIV only varies once (in verse 16). This single change, Ryken, says is “almost as good” as the ESV.

This brings to me to my reading of Mark 13. In Jesus, the Temple and the Coming Son of Man Robert Stein argues that 13:5-23 forms a “unified whole” in part because of the repetition of the Greek word blepete (13:5, 9, 23). (p. 71) Here’s a sample of how it is translated by other English versions in the order as it appears in the chapter (5, 9, and 23). Notice that the translation that purports to be the most literal, the NASB, translates it three different ways.

ESV – “See,” “be on your guard,” “be on your guard”

NIV – “Watch out,” “be on your guard,” “be on your guard”

HCSB – “Watch out,” “be on your guard,” “must watch”

NRSV – “beware,” “beware,” “be alert”

NET – “watch out,” “watch out,” “be careful”

NAB/NABRE – “See,” “watch out,” “be watchful”

NASB – “See,” “be on your guard,” “take heed”

New Jerusalem Bible – “take care,” “be on your guard,” “be on your guard”

REB – “be on your guard,” “be on your guard,” “be on your guard”

RSV – “take heed,” “take heed,” “take heed”

KJV – “take heed,” “take heed,” “take ye heed”

Lexham English Bible – “watch out, “watch out,” “watch out”

ASV – “take heed,” “take ye heed,” “take ye heed”

These last five translations show that it is possible to translate the word with the same English word or phrase. So what is it about this passage that made the ESV translators alter the RSVs “essentially literal” translation to a less literal translation (as understood by Ryken and others)? Both are “permitted” by plain English. Both maintain “clarity of expression.” I don’t see how one is more literarily excellent over the other. This is just one example of where the advertising of a translation does not match its actual practice.

Whether you agree or disagree with Stein about the unity of the passage the ESV fails to do what it tells its readers it will do—translate the same Greek word with the same English word. (For a book that highlights this divergence between Bible advertising and actual practice see One Bible, Many Versions by Dave Brunn.)

The Interpretive Difficulties in Mark 13 (some of them)

This weekend I started Jesus, the Temple and the Coming Son of Man by Robert Stein. The book is a commentary on Mark 13 commonly known as the “Little Apocalypse” or the “Olivet Discourse.” A simple chapter but one that contains numerous interpretive difficulties. Here are just a few:

  • In 13:6 did Jesus mean that false teachers would come claiming to be him (i.e., Jesus of Nazareth, the risen Christ) or the Jewish messiah longed for by non-Christian Jews?
  • Was the prophecy of 13:10 fulfilled already in apostolic times (cf. Paul’s statements in Rom 16:26; Col 1:6, 23 that the gospel had become known ‘to all nations’ [RSV]), or does it still await its fulfillment?
  • What does Jesus mean by the ‘abomination of desolation’ (ESV) in 13:14, and does his/its appearance involve the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 or the future coming of the Son of Man?
  • Is the language of 13:24-27 to be understood literally or figuratively? Is Jesus using this imagery in the same manner as the Old Testament prophets (cf. Js 13:9-11; Jer 4:23-28; Ezek 32:5-8; etc.)—that is metaphorically?
  • Does Jesus teach in 13:24 that his return as the Son of Man would occur immediately after the fall of Jerusalem in 13:14-23?
  • What does Jesus mean by ‘this generation’ in 13:30, and was he wrong in his prediction?
  • How do Jesus’ other sayings on this subject, such as Mark 8:34-38 and Matthew 25:1-46, and the additional comments we find in the parallel accounts (Mt 24:1-51 and Lk 21:5-36) help us understand Jesus’ teaching in Mark 13? (18)

Later he adds,

“Yet even among scholars who have the same goal understanding the meaning of the author of Mark 13, there exist many differences about how this chapter should be interpreted. This is due in part to the presence of numerous crux interpreta in the chapter. The most important of these involves the two questions found in 13:4. Does Mark understand ‘When will [these things] be?’ (13:4a) and ‘What will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished? (134b) as a two-part question in which the same issue (the destruction of the temple) is addressed? This would then be a tautology and essentially an example of synonymous parallelism. Or does he understand them as two different questions in which the second introduces something quite different (the coming of the Son of Man) not found in the first (the destruction of the temple). This would then be an example of step parallelism.” (45-46)

Another difficulty which he notes is “acknowledged by most scholars” is “that the sayings of Jesus in Mark 13 were not all proclaimed at the same time and in the same order. If, as is probably, some were taught by Jesus at different times, the order and the logical progression of the arrangement in 13:5-37 is not so much that of Jesus as that of Mark.” (33)

I will read with great interest how he navigates these difficulties, and many more, in the short span of 138 pages. Stein is also the author of the commentary on Mark in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic).

Jesus, the Temple and the Coming Son of Man is from IVP Academic. It is a paperback with 157 pages.

Robert H. Stein is senior professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

He is the author of An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus, The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings, Difficult Passages in the New Testament, Luke (New American Commentary), A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible, Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation and The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction.

Jesus, the Temple