Monday, April 27, 2015

The Old Testament Apocrypha

“Apocrypha” is a word taken from the Greek word ”krypto”, meaning “secret” or “hidden”. Words like cryptography (the study of of codes) are also based on this word. Although it can have several different meanings, ”Apocrypha” typically refers to a group of 15 books, 12 of which are included in the Roman Catholic Old Testament, but none of which appears in non-Catholic Bibles. The Apocryphal books were written between about 350 BC and 80 AD — in those years between the Old and New Testaments. Non-Catholics have never accepted them because they do not consider them inspired of God. Catholics didn’t accept them either, at least not officially, until the 1500’s.
The Old Testament as we know it is a collection of books originally written in Hebrew. Jewish scribes have painstakingly preserved these writings for thousands of years. But none of the Apocryphal books has ever been included in Jewish scripture. That’s because most of them were not written in Hebrew but in Greek. This easily differentiates them from Old Testament scriptures, and that’s a big reason why you won’t find the Apocrypha in any Jewish Bible. There are plenty of other reasons, but before we look at them, let’s see just what these books contain.
What are the Apocryphal books about?
Here is a summary of each book to give an idea of what it is about. Please note: If you are interested in reading any of these books for yourself, each contains a link to the full text; most of them are rather short.
  • First Esdras (sometimes called Third Esdras):  Esdras is Greek for the Hebrew name Ezra. This book attempts to revise the Bible book of Ezra with supplemental material from II Chronicles and Nehemiah. It also contains a story of three young men who debate the question, “What is the strongest thing in the world?” in front of the King of Persia, who promises to give the winner a prize. This is one of the few Apocryphal books that is not part of the Roman Catholic Bible.
  • Second Esdras (sometimes called the Ezra Apocalypse or Fourth Esdras):  This book mostly contains conversations between Ezra and some angels sent to answer his theological questions. It also contains a fantastic story of how all the Hebrew Scriptures were lost during the Jew’s Babylonian exile, but were perfectly restored when Ezra, under God’s inspiration, dictated them word-for-word to 5 scribes. But he didn’t stop there. While he was at it, he dictated an additional 70 “secret books” that were only to be read by those who were wise. (Second Esdras is supposed to be one of those secret books.)
  • Tobit:  This book could possibly have been written in Aramaic before being translated into Greek. It is a story about a blind man named Tobit who sends his son to collect a debt for him. He is led on his journey by an angel who takes him to the house of a virgin who has been married 7 times. (Each of her husbands was slain by a demon on their wedding night.) Tobit’s son marries the virgin and manages to drive away the demon by burning the heart of a fish in their bedroom on their wedding night. He then goes and collects his father’s debt, and returns to Tobit with the money, his new bride and the remains of the fish. When he gets home he heals his father’s blindness using some bile extracted from the fish.
  • Judith:  This is one of the few Apocryphal books that really did start out in Hebrew. It is the story of a beautiful widow who saves her city from a military siege. When the city is surrounded, and all appears lost, she sneaks out to the enemy commander’s camp, endears herself to the general, gets him drunk, chops off his head, and brings it back to her city. When she shows her people the enemy commander’s head, they take heart, go out and rout their foes.
  • Additions to the Book of Esther:  Here are 6 paragraphs designed to be inserted at various places in the Bible book of Esther. Their main purpose is to give the book a more Jewish and religious tone. You may be aware that the word “God” does not appear in the actual book of Esther. Perhaps the apocryphal writer sought to “correct” that.
  • Wisdom of Solomon (also called simply Wisdom): It contains devotional and theological essays written so that they appear to have come from King Solomon. It compares Jewish religion with Greek philosophy, and it attempts to prove that the highest form of wisdom is faith. This is one of the few Apocryphal books that was used and respected by some early Christian writers, though it was not seen as inspired Scripture.
  • Ecclesiasticus (also called The Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach, or just Sirach):  This book contains discourses, proverbs and wise sayings from a teacher named Joshua Ben Sirach. Originally written in Hebrew, it was translated into Greek by Ben Sirach’s grandson. It is the most highly respected of all the Apocryphal books, and in early times was read in some church services. Again, it was not considered inspired Scripture.
  • Baruch:  Baruch was the prophet Jeremiah’s secretary — ”Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of The Lord” (Jer 36:4). This is a rather disjointed book, and it includes exhortations against idolatry, promises to faithful Jews, and affirmations that the Law of God is real wisdom. It is written as if by Baruch during the Babylonian exile.
  • Letter of Jeremiah:  This is a letter that purports to be from Jeremiah to the Jews in exile in Babylon. Often, because it is only one chapter long, rather than being a separate book, it is included as part of the book of Baruch.
  • Song of the Three Holy Children (sometimes the Prayer of Azariah):  This book was written as an addition to the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. It contains prayers and hymns alleged to be offered to God while the three were in the fiery furnace. It is typically added to the book of Daniel after Dan 3:23.
  • Susanna:  This is also an addition to the book of Daniel. It is the story of two men who try to seduce a pious, young wife. When she refuses their advances, the men publicly accuse her of adultery. Susanna is condemned to death in a trial where the men testify falsely against her. But Daniel comes to the rescue, exposing the lies of the two men during a second trial. The men are put to death, and Susanna regains her status as a virtuous woman.
  • Bel and the Dragon (sometimes called Bel and the Snake):  Here we have two different stories that were expected to be included in the book of Daniel. In the first, Bel is a Babylonian idol that supposedly ate food left for him (although really it was eaten by priests who sneaked in through a secret entrance). When Daniel refuses to give Bel an offering, he is challenged by the King. Daniel tells the King that the idol does not really eat anything. As a test, food is left at night for the idol — but without the priests’ knowledge, fine ashes are spread over the floor. In the morning the food is gone, but the King can see lots of footprints in the ashes. Score one for Daniel. In the second story, the people are worshipping a living dragon (actually a big snake.) Daniel kills it by feeding it a mixture of pitch, fat and hair, which causes it to burst open.
  • Prayer of Manasseh: This is a short psalm of repentance, purportedly by King Manasseh of Judah, as he was being carried off captive to Babylon. This is one of the few Apocryphal books that has also been rejected by the Catholic Church.
  • First Maccabees: Here is contained an honest and stirring account of Jewish history between 175 BC and 135 BC when the Jews gained their national independence from their Syrian oppressors. Historians consider this book an accurate account of events at that time. As an historical account, it is valued — but not as Hebrew Scripture.
  • Second Maccabees: This book relates many of the same events as I Maccabees, but in an attempt to add a religious flavor, it includes many legendary and fanciful additions. Some of the statements in this book are thought to support the Roman Catholic teachings on Purgatory, prayers for the dead, and the intercessory work of deceased saints.
Holy Scripture and the Apocrypha
The Jews have never felt that any of the Apocryphal books should be considered as the Word of God. Thus none of the books were ever included in Jewish scripture. They have been out-and-out rejected by Jewish religious teachers ever since the time they were written. So how can anyone now think that the Apocrypha should be part of the Bible?
The Old Testament has always been a Jewish book. It is written in Hebrew, explained in Hebrew and expounded in Hebrew. However by the 3rd Century BC, because of various exiles, there were Jewish people all over the Middle East, and many of them no longer spoke Hebrew. So sometime before the time of Christ, a Greek translation was made of the Jewish Bible for these non-Hebrew-speaking Jews. This translation was called the Septuagint. Even though the translators knew that no Jew considered the Apocryphal Books as inspired, nonetheless, for the sake of completeness, they translated and included the Apocrypha with the rest of the Old Testament. Big mistake. As time went on, the Septuagint became the official Jewish Bible in Greek. And so by default the Apocryphal books seemed to be canonized.
Now to the Jews this was never a problem. Their Bible contained the Law, the Prophets and the Writings — the complete Non-Catholic Old Testament. It never contained the Apocrypha. However when the Christian Church came on the scene and started compiling its own set of Holy Scriptures, the Apocryphal books were there in the Septuagint, just to confuse the issue. And the fight as to whether to include them or not went on for centuries. 
Why do non-Catholics reject the Apocrypha?
When the early Church began to gather together the various writings that were to become part of its Bible, the Apocryphal books were conspicuously missing.
  • As mentioned above, they were never part of any Jewish Bible, and since Christianity had spring up from Judaism, it just seemed logical to accept their scriptures without making changes.
  • Even though the Apocryphal books existed in the 1st Century AD, they were never quoted. The New Testament includes quotes from 34 different Old Testament books; Jesus himself quoted from 24 of them. Yet none of these quotations come from the Apocrypha. These books were simply not part of Jewish Scripture or Jewish life.
  • Just a quick reading of most Apocryphal books reveals that they do not have the basic qualities of inspiration that the rest of the Bible does. Large portions contain historical and chronological errors. In the book of Judith, Holofernes is described as a general for Nebuchadnezzar, and Nebuchadnezzar is named as ruler of the Assyrians in Nineveh. In actuality, Holofernes was a Persian general, and King Nebuchadnezzar ruled the Babylonians from Babylon. In I and II Maccabees, Antiochus Epiphanes ends up dying 3 times in 3 different locations. Problems like these are hard to rectify.
  • The Apocryphal books are often in direct conflict with canonical Scripture. Just as a single example, the book of Baruch talks of God hearing the prayers of those who are already dead — a concept quite foreign to accepted Scripture.
  • Finally, some of these books, quite obviously, contain just fanciful legends. In Bel and the Dragon, after Daniel kills the snake, he is thrown into the lions’ den — again — this time for 7 days. There Daniel is fed by the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk who brings him food, having been transported by an angel to the lion’s den. Or, see the description above for the book of Tobit. This bears no resemblance to anything in canonical Scripture. It is obviously just a legend.
So when the Christian Bible was compiled into a single volume, excluding the Apocryphal books was a foregone conclusion. The early church rejected these books outright, and this remains the position of almost all non-Catholic groups today.
Now it is true than many early non-Catholic English Bibles included the Apocrypha. But these books were segregated into a separate section of the Bible, all by themselves (usually between the Old and New Testaments), and almost always included a notation that they were not on par with Holy Scripture. They just about disappeared from all non-Catholic Bibles by the mid 1600’s.
Why do Catholics accept the Apocrypha?
The Catholic Church claims full authority to specify what is Scripture and what is not. Up until the 16th Century, the Apocryphal books were sort of a gray area. They were included in the Latin Vulgate Bible (the official Catholic Bible), but the church had never officially canonized them.
The non-Catholic Reformation changed all that. As common folks gained access to Bibles that were not written in Latin, but in their native tongue, the Catholic Church was being called to task for many of its beliefs and practices that did not appear to be founded in scripture — including the doctrine of Purgatory, prayers for those who are dead, and the selling of indulgences. Several of the Apocryphal books seem to support these beliefs, so it behooved the Catholic Church to declare these books as scripture. 
So on April 8, 1546, the (Catholic) Council of Trent removed all doubt as to the status of the Apocrypha. These books officially became part of the Roman Catholic Old Testament. And they meant business. Said the Catholic Church: ”If anyone receive not as sacred and canonical the said books entire, with all their parts, as they have by custom been read in the Catholic Church, let him be accursed.”  So all the Apocryphal books noted above, with the exception of I and II Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh, remain as part of the Roman Catholic Old Testament.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Simple-Minded – Part Two

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Eph 5:15–16
Oh to live a balanced, stress-free life, enjoying each day because we have chosen to spend it carefully! We want to place the following suggestions, collected from various sources, in the context of a Christ-centered life.

Start with your values.

Think about your values and write down those that really matter to you. What is most important, most pleasing to God? Spending time with family? Accumulating great wealth? Achieving powerful influence? Acquiring possessions? Expressing yourself? Learning new ideas? Experiencing adventure and travel? Maintaining excellent health? Socializing with friends? Contributing to the community? You can’t do them all. Cut out activities that aren’t consistent with your core values.

Set few but focused goals.

Write a list of goals you’d like to achieve. Focus on doing a few really well, rather than a lot in a mediocre way. You can’t add hours to the day, but you can cut down on activities.
Keep asking, “Is this going to simplify my life?”

Practice saying, “No.”

Remember that, each time you are pressured into saying “yes,” you are actually saying “no” to everything else. Say “no” to whatever compromises or conflicts with your values and goals. Do not agree to requests from others just because you like to please them. Instead, realize that you are free to respect yourself and say “no.” Creating plans or policies in advance can make it easier to decline later invitations or request that may overly complicate your life.
Resign from organizations that don’t contribute to your values and goals.
Reevaluate your current expenditures of time and money.
About a year ago we canceled cable television. As a result we do not surf through dozens of channels looking for something to watch. Thanks to an antenna in our attic we receive free high-definition network and other over-the-air broadcasts. We also use the Internet and a subscription service to provide other viewing options. We are saving both money and time, and we are simplifying our lives.
Choose between spending time and spending money.
Stop constantly spending time to save money. Instead, sometimes spend money to save time. Don’t drive across town to save a few cents on a grocery item. It’s not worth your time. Hire others to do jobs that would consume too much of your time or energy.
Cancel or limit everything you can.
Cancel subscriptions to magazines and newspapers you never get around to reading. Learn to live with less information.
Review your children’s planned activities. If they have to use a time planner to schedule their activities, and you spend all of your time taxiing them around, you are all too busy.
Cut back on – or cut out – television.
Limit television time. Only watch those shows you decide on beforehand. Turn off the television unless there is something specific you have chosen. Stop watching TV news. Go a week or two without watching television at all. You will be amazed at how much time you have as a result.
Free yourself from cyber captivity.
Do not be a slave to anything electronic. Reduce the time you spend on social media, email, mobile phones, web surfing, etc. Schedule your use of gadgets. Challenge yourself to see how long you can go without looking at a screen of any kind.
Clean it out.
Clean out your basement or your office. If you’re not using something, get rid of it. Put an expiration date on items when you can’t decide to keep them or not. Get rid of them when that date arrives.
Think less about money and stuff.
Carry a smaller wallet or purse. Start by cleaning out the one you’ve got. Get rid of unnecessary credit cards and other clutter that you don’t use regularly.
Stop checking up on your financial portfolio every day. Most people invest for the long term. Checking your results daily adds to stress and might lead to expensive and unnecessary changes.
Cut back on debt. Consolidate your different debts into one and pay it off. Put your credit cards in a spot where you won’t be able to use them until you’re debt-free. Track your expenses for a month, then cut back your spending on items you don’t need. For instance, pack a lunch rather than buying one at work. Mix and match your outfits rather than constantly buying new ones.
Live on 80% of what you earn, and give and save the rest.
Automate what you can.
Automate repetitive, clerical, mechanical tasks. For instance, set up automatic bill payments. Include your automatic savings plan as part of your monthly spending.
Plan positively.
Make a plan for the weekend that doesn’t involve work. Plan to spend more time with your family or with people who make positive contributions to your life.
Make time for yourself. Set aside time each day to reflect quietly, go for a walk, plan for your future or meditate. Visit the park instead of the mall.
Plan time for a vacation every year. Some people claim, “I haven’t had a vacation in three years” as if it is a badge of courage. It isn’t.

Live near your work.

Reduce your commuting time. Live closer to your work so you don’t have to drive. Work where you live, or live where you work.


Be in bed by 9:30 p.m. one night a week. Relax an hour or two each day.

Give thanks.

In addition to your prayers, take a moment each day to express your gratitude to someone who has made a difference in your life.
To live simply, simply live.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

How We Got the Bible - Part One - The Old Testament

This information is drawn from several sources, including those listed at the end of the post.
Writing in Ancient Times At least five different systems of writing are known to have existed in the general area of Syria-Palestine when Moses lived (c. 1500 BC). In fact, writing was widespread in Mesopotamia at least by 3000 BC.
Writing Materials
Stone Earliest writing material mentioned in the Old Testament. On it was written the Ten Commandments. (Ex 31:18; cf. 34:1, 28; Deut 10:1-5).
Ink on plaster On stones coated with lime. (Deut 27:23). An Aramaic text (700 BC) from the plaster of a temple wall in the Jordan valley says, “This is the record of Balaam, son of Beor…” (Num 22-24). This inscription appears like a column of a scroll. 
Clay Most common in Mesopotamia. The moist clay was made into tablets, then written upon and baked in an oven or allowed to dry in the sun. In Ezekiel 4:1 the prophet is commanded to sketch a plan of Jerusalem on a brick. Clay tablets were very durable.
Wood and wax The OT makes specific reference to writing on wooden rods and sticks (Num 17:2-3; Ezek 37:16-17). Isaiah 30:8 and Habakkuk 2:2 may well refer to wooden writing boards. In Greek and Roman times a whitened board was used for public notices, and this was called an “album.” The inscription on Jesus’ cross was likely written on a whitewashed board.
Metal Gold is noted in Ex 28:36. Cuneiform writings appeared on gold, silver, copper, and bronze, on plaques or tablets made of these metals. Two small, silver amulets worn around the neck contained scrolls with the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:24-26. The inscription in old Hebrew letters, from the sixth century BC, is the earliest piece containing Scripture.
Ostraca Broken pottery was readily available and was used in antiquity very much as we use scrap paper. Large numbers of ostraca have come from Egypt, representing much of its history.
Papyrus The earliest manuscripts of the New Testament were on papyrus, a plant found along the Nile River.  The manuscripts were copied by hand on scrolls (30ft long and 10 inches wide— average).  The columns were usually 3 to 4 inches wide.  Scribes often wrote on both sides of the roll.   Papyrus was used as a writing material in Egypt as early as 3500 B.C.  The earliest extant copies of the New Testament were written on papyrus.
Vellum or Parchment Goat or lamb skins processed to be written upon with ink.  This process was perfected in the second century B.C. and became the dominant means of preserving the New Testament in the fourth century A.D.
Paper Paper was not used in the West until the twelfth century.  Of the 5,400 known mss of the New Testament, about 1,300 are written on paper.
The Canon of the Old Testament
Canon: a straight rod or ruler; those writings which conform to the rule or standard for acceptance as inspired scripture.
The OT is based on the conviction that God spoke to Moses, who then wrote God’s words.
Deut 31:24 When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end …
Ex 24:4 And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”
Deut 31:9 Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. 10 And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, 13 and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”
Jos 8:34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.
Later writings built on the Torah and applied its truths. History, Poetry, Prophecy. These writings in Israel were measured against the standards of Moses and in light of the signs associated with the authors. Moses even gave some criteria of canonicity.  Deut 13:1-5; 18:14-22. For example, 1-2 Kings evaluates Israel’s and Judah’s kings according to the words of Moses.
1 Ki 2:1 When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, 2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, 3 and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, 4 that the Lord may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’
2 Ki 14:6 But [King Amaziah of Judah] did not put to death the children of the murderers, according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, where the Lord commanded, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. But each one shall die for his own sin.”
The books were not formally chosen by a committee; they were naturally recognized.
The Hebrew Bible (OT) is organized as follows:                    24 total = our 39
The Torah (Gen, Ex, Lev, Num, and Deut)                              5
The Prophets
The Former Prophets (Josh, Jud, Sam, Kings)                4
The Latter Prophets (Isa, Jer, Ezek, and the Twelve)      4
The Writings
Poetry and Wisdom (Ps, Job, Prov)                             3
Megilloth (Rolls) (Ruth, Song, Eccl, Lam, Esth)               5
History (Dan, Ezra-Neh, Chron)                                   3
Grouped in two categories, Law and Prophets or Moses and Prophets. Matt 5:17; Luke 24:27.
Grouped in three categories, the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Luke 24:44.
The OT Apocrypha (meaning “hidden” books), like 1 and 2 Maccabees, were written between the OT and the NT. The Jews did not consider them inspired. The Catholics do, however. These books do not claim inspiration; some even deny it.
The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (OT), produced in the 3rd century BC. The order of the books is the same order that we have in our OT. The books were given Greek names (Genesis = beginning, Ex = the way out, Deuteronomy = second law, etc.). The Septuagint is often called “the Bible of the early church.” The NT quotes it often. There are about 300 existing copies of the Septuagint.
The English OT is organized as follows:                                   39 total
Law (Gen, Ex, Lev, Num, and Deut)                                       5
History (Josh – Esth)                                                           12
Poetry (Job – Song)                                                            5
Major (longer) Prophets (Isa – Dan)                                      5
Minor (shorter) Prophets (Hos – Mal)                                     12
Josephus (Jewish historian, 37 BC – c. AD 100): “For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have], but only twenty-two books, which contain all the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death… the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life.” (Josephus may have joined Jud-Ruth as one book and Jer-Lam as one book. As a result his 22 books equal the 24 noted above.)
Josephus also noted the close of prophecy after the time of Artaxerxes. “It is true, our history hath been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there hath not been an exact succession of prophets since that time.” (Against Apion, Book 1, Paragraph 8)
1 Maccabees, written between the testaments, also noted that prophecy had ceased.
1 Mac 4:46 and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them.
1 Mac 9:27 So there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them.
1 Mac 14:41 The Jews and their priests have resolved that Simon should be their leader and high priest forever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise …
Jesus and the early disciples took no issue with the Jews regarding the OT canon. Matt 5:17-18
So the New Testament speaks of “Scripture(s)” (Matt 22:29; John 10:35; 19:36; Acts 18:24; Rom 1:2; 2 Pet 1:20), “sacred writings” (2 Tim 3:15), or “Law and Prophets” (Matt 5:17; 7:12; 22:40; Luke 16:16; Acts 13:15; 28:23).
The Transmission and Preservation of the Old Testament
Very few manuscripts survived Rome’s siege of Jerusalem in AD 70 when the city and temple were destroyed. In addition, once an old, worn, tattered manuscript had been copied it was destroyed! So, except for a few fragments, no Hebrew manuscripts from before AD 980 were known to exist. Of course the Septuagint provided a tremendous resource.
The Masoretes The Jewish Masoretic (from a word meaning transmission of a tradition) scribes (AD 500-1000) copied Old Testament manuscripts, using a very meticulous system of transcription. They had an almost obsessive respect for the text and preserved its accuracy. They had specific rules on the type of ink and the quality and size of parchment sheets. No individual letter could be written down without having looked back at the copy in front of them. The scribe could not write God’s name with a newly dipped pen (lest it blotch). Even if the king should address him, while writing God’s name, he should take no notice of him. They counted all the paragraphs, words and even letters, so they could know that they had done it perfectly. They knew the middle letter of each book; they could count back and see if they had missed anything.
The Leningrad Codex, or Leningradensis, is the oldest complete Hebrew Bible still preserved. While there are older parts of Bibles, or biblical books, still in existence, there is no older manuscript which contains the whole Hebrew Bible. The Leningrad Codex is considered one of the best examples of the Masoretic text. The manuscript was written around AD 1010, probably in Cairo, and later sold to someone living in Damascus. It is now in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Are such copies of copies accurate? Yes! There was an amazing discovery in 1947.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
Young Bedouin shepherds were looking for a stray animal in the caves near the Dead Sea. One threw a rock into a cave and heard the sound of breaking pottery. Among the manuscripts found inside the clay pots was the “Great Isaiah Scroll.” Dated to the first century AD, it contains the entire text of Isaiah. Except for minor scribal errors it is identical to the AD 980 manuscript written about 800 years later. Conclusion: the OT text had been transmitted accurately.
The Dead Sea Scrolls have given us nearly the entire Hebrew Bible in manuscripts that are 800-1000 years older than those previously available. The accuracy of the transmission is remarkable.
Sources / For Further Study:
F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Fifth Edition (Eerdmans 1960).
Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, Third Edition (Baker 2003).
Wayne Jackson, “The Holy Scriptures—Indestructible”
Larry Stone, The Story of the Bible: the Fascinating History of its Writing, Translation, and Effect on Civilization (Thomas Nelson, 2010).

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The "Weight" of Sin

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Heb 12:1-2
My friend and fellow-preacher, Bill Perkins, recently posted the following on Facebook, for all to see. I admire his honesty, his vulnerability, and his courage. He has given me his permission to re-post his remarks here. Thanks, Bill. Many will benefit from your candid message. I know I have. 
So here's the deal. I am overweight. I have been most of my life and based on your standard Height/Weight chart probably all of my life. As a matter of fact my BMI rates me as extremely/morbidly obese (that kind of hurts my feelings). And here is the irony, when I get depressed at how I look or when my clothes don't fit, the medicine of choice is more of what got me in the situation I am in, more food. And then there's the guilt, which is assuaged with more food. It's a vicious cycle and I hate it. I poke fun at myself and use self-deprecating humor as a coping mechanism, but the whole idea that fat people are jolly only applies to Santa Claus.
For those who have never had a weight problem, you say "well do something about!" Eat less, exercise more, change your life style. Some of you will offer to sell me some magic potions to help me lose weight without changing anything, I appreciate your concern, but no thanks. The only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you take in on a consistent basis. It's really quite a simple concept. If it tastes good don't eat it. If it tastes terrible eat a lot of it. And exercise an hour a day.
What I really want is what we all want. I want to keep doing exactly what I am doing and lose weight. Yes, I know that's crazy, but at some level it's human nature for most of is. My issue is food yours may be something else. Things don't change until you set your mind to change them and then follow through and put in the work. I have done that periodically over the years and had some great short term successes. At that point I vow to myself that I will never "get in that bad of shape again", have a celebratory meal that leads to a celebratory desert, that leads to celebratory donuts the next day and once again the train has left the station. And now that I am coasting down the back side of the hill, it's only getting more difficult.
I'm not really sure why I chose to write this today. I DO NOT want a pity party. I think what hit me today is seeing so many people who are in the same boat spiritually that I find myself in physically. They want a better life. They want a better relationship with their spouse, their children, etc. They know that the answer to many of their problems is a better relationship with God, but they won't put in the time or work. Attend church once and don't have a life-altering experience they don't come back. Pray for something and God doesn't grant it the next day, they stop praying. Can read a Harry Potter book in a weekend, but haven't cracked open God's word in months, and they can't figure out why their lives aren't getting any better. Like me, they want to keep doing the same things they are doing and have different results, which we all know is the definition of insanity. A relationship with God requires time, sacrifice, hard work and maybe even a little blood, sweat and tears. Going to church for an hour a week is not going to give you a spiritual 6 pack. If you want a faith that withstands the storms of life you simply have to put in the time.
I want to do better. I have to do better. Whatever it is you are struggling with, let's do better together.
Again, many thanks to Bill for sharing this with us. - Cory
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. Heb 3:13-14

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Simple-Minded – Part One

… Mary … sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:39-42
Life gets so busy, so hectic, and so rushed. Like Martha, we may be anxious and troubled about many things. As a result we may feel that we missed what mattered. Ironically, the secret to more joy may be found in letting go of much and doing fewer things with a sharper focus.
For example, for many years I have developed and collected all kinds of printed items in my office. The bulk and magnitude became too much. So for some time now I have pursued a process that is making my life much less complicated. I will pull out a file folder – just one – that contains past sermon notes, illustrations, letters, Greek or Hebrew studies, etc. If I already have an item in that folder in digital, computerized form, I throw the paper copy away. If I need to add my scribbled notes to a Word document, I open it, edit it, and save it before tossing the paper. I scan handwritten pieces, letters from other people, and so forth, in pdf format. I save all the files on my thumb drive and back them up. Then I dispose of the papers.
My goal is to be virtually paperless by the time I turn 60 later this year. I have found such peace and relief from having all my materials with me at all times and being able to access them almost instantly and print them as needed. There are added bonuses. When I see something that I think a friend or classmate would like to have, I can easily email it to that person and share great memories. In addition, when I am gone, all my life’s work will be collected to leave behind.
Here is another “simple-minded” step that many have taken. In our garage at home I have hung a string from the ceiling on each side with a nut on the end. When we pull a car in, and the windshield hits the nut, we stop. We know we have cleared the garage door behind us without hitting the shelves in front of us. No machinery to service, no complexity to untangle.
Tanya and I have learned to enjoy owning less, maintaining less, and storing less. We are committed to giving away, selling, or throwing away what we no longer use or need. The more we let go of, the more we enjoy the experience! And the more content we are with what we have. We hesitate to buy more “stuff” that we will have to store in the space we just emptied.
Of course as Christians we are taught to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,” to trust our Father rather than be distracted by anxiety (Matt 6:25-34). It is so easy to allow the cares of the world to preoccupy us (Matt 13:22).
The simple life begins by simply following Jesus.
Included in this first “simple-minded” post are the following steps to simplify one’s life that have come to my attention. Perhaps at least one of these suggestions will be helpful to you. If you have an idea to add, please note it in the comments section below.
15 Ways to Simplify Your Life (Edited)
By Pamela Lister, Redbook Magazine
1. Embrace your insignificance.
Even if you’re a CEO, you’re still only one spoke in the big wheel. Quit thinking everything depends on you.
2. Let go.
Something’s got to give if you want to be serene. What’s it gonna be? “Coming of age has a lot to do with letting go of what you were told were the right things and finding out what are the right things for you,” says Judy, a first-grade teacher in Vermont who’s also an accomplished artist.
The author of Keeping Life Simple suggests making two master lists, one of your responsibilities at work, the other of those at home, starting with the most important tasks at the top. (Just make one if you don’t go out to work.) Now draw a horizontal line through the middle of each list. Rarely, if ever, do the things beneath that line. Do not waver. “The thing about being a stay-at-home mom is that people know they’ve got you -- there’s nowhere to run when they call asking for something,” says Alison, a mother of two children, ages 7 and 9, in Connecticut. “So I only say yes to the people who need me most. For example, I’m more inclined to volunteer at my son’s school because most of the kids’ mothers are working moms. At my daughter’s school, where the PTA is being run by a bunch of former executives, I ask myself when they call for help, ‘Do they need me or just want me?’”
3. Do nothing -- alone.
Ask your husband to take the kids out for the afternoon, you don’t care where. Then stay home and do nothing -- nothing planned, scheduled or productive. If you end up asleep in front of the fire, great. Maybe you’ll read old love letters. Maybe you’ll paint your nails red. Whatever. Savor the rich pleasure of a timeless day.
4. Do nothing -- with your family.
Memories are spun of minutiae -- the marshmallows in the hot cocoa, the shared blanket on the couch in front of the TV. So you weren't productive. Ask the kids if they care.
5. Follow the money trail.
We have to keep the job because we have to make the money because we have to pay for the car, the clothes, the restaurants, the vacation, the new hot-water heater, the new roof and ... yah, yah, yah. No wonder we dream of chucking it all and escaping. “When I realized I was making tons of money and still didn’t have a lot in the bank, I knew I had to take a look at where I was spending it: You want to go out to dinner? Go. You want to take a cab? No problem,” says Christie, a former Wall Street broker. “Here I was with a big salary but no money and no time. So I started to think, Less money, more time. It became like a mantra.” Four years ago Christie quit her job and went to school to train in another field. Now she works in her hometown and makes about one-fifth what she did in New York, but she also has proportionately fewer expenses.
6. Keep an old quilt in the car trunk.
In case you want to stop and smell the roses along the way to wherever you’re going.
7. Buy same-colored socks.
If you buy only one color, there’s no hassle of chasing orphans. Plus, in a pinch, the kids can all share.
8. Eat the feast in your refrigerator.
The cook can find pleasure in making the most sumptuous meal possible out of whatever ingredients are available -- using what he has rather than complaining about what he doesn’t have. The spiritual allegory is hard to miss, but there’s a useful literal bit here, too: Instead of thinking about dinner in terms of what you want to eat, think in terms of what you’ve got and work with it, so you don’t have to run to the store every night.
9. Practice gratitude.
When you’re grateful you’re less impatient -- you’re not constantly thinking you should be doing or getting something else. It’s all about being in the moment -- being happy with what you have.
10. Grow things.
You will learn patience, peace and awe.
11. Express beauty.
Through your music, needlepoint, the cake you make, the flowers you arrange. Simplicity, beauty, comfort and harmony flow in and through one another.
12. Focus on your real friends.
Before you turn all guilt-ridden about pruning your social circle, remember, we’re talking about your sanity. “I had to learn that it’s okay to not keep in touch with everyone,” says Judy. “At first, I thought to myself, I have no loyalty. I’m not social. But I can’t accommodate that many people and still have a life. I had to realize that having less contact with some friends didn’t make me a bad person.”
13. Spoil your husband.
“We’ve made it a rule that Saturday night is adult time -- that’s when my husband gets my undivided attention, and I get his. But when we’re all together as a family, neither of us can expect that attention so we don’t get frustrated wanting it,” says Betts, a 36-year-old mother of two, ages 5 and 2, in San Francisco.
14. Paint one room.
Call it a sneak attack on clutter: “When I repainted my living room, all the books had to come down from the shelves, which forced me to go through them and throw out those I no longer wanted,” says Judy. “Then, when I was done with that room, I saw that the room next to it looked shabby in comparison, so I had to clean it out, too. It’s like a pebble in water: The rings keep moving outward until I run out of steam or things become acceptable.”
15. Make pillows.
The solution to a full life isn't to run from it, but to embrace it -- one pillow at a time.
Well, to put it "simply," that’s it for now! More later. God bless.