Law and Grace: The Joseph Story

During our service this morning, we had traditional Advent readings and a selection of carols. As I was listening to Matthew’s account of the angelic dreams Joseph experienced, a thought occurred to me.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.  And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.

Matthew 1:18-21

The overarching narrative of the Bible is about the relationship between God and humans. God being perfect, and wanting good things for His creation, wants us to be free moral agents. However, being free, we are capable of making evil choices, and these choices have impacts, like ripples, across creation.

This structure leads to a tension between law and grace. Both are facets of goodness, and are interestingly manifested in the story of Joseph, the adoptive and legal father of Jesus of Nazareth.

Joseph was a good man in both senses of the word: he knew and reverenced the law, but he was also capable of great compassion. Remember, before the angel visited, he had no reason to believe that special circumstances applied to Mary. As far as he could tell from the available facts and the usual course of events, Mary had been unfaithful.

Unfaithfulness is morally wrong. If we do not recognise moral failings, then we deny justice and take a step further away from the ideal to which we aspire: a world in which people consistently make good choices.

However, we are also loving. If we punish moral failings, but do not show compassion, we create a world in which rights and duties matter, but the underlying reason for them is forgotten. In short, we create a world without joy.

Joseph was thus faced with a dilemma, and he opted for a compromise. To administer some element of justice, but to temper it with compassion. This was as far as he could go. He could not solve the problem of sin – Christ was born for that purpose.

The story is important as a reminder of our real-world lives. At times the events of the Bible seem very removed from our daily lives. Most of us are not kings like David or wandering prophets like Elijah or warriors like Samson. Most of us have not seen obvious miracles like the Parting of the Red Sea.

But we do all have interpersonal relationships. Marital breakdown in some form affects most of us: whether as spouses, children, relatives, friends, or workers. The Joseph story, in its own way, is a good nutshell for the Gospel message. Something to think about in the remaining days of Advent.

A Review and Renewal of All Along the Watchtower

Dear Readers,

Sometimes I look at the statistical history of the beginning of this blog to the present. The Blog use to be extremely popular with an extremely large reach. The stats begin in 2012 and by 2013 had exploded. After 2013 the stats begin to decline steadily with 2015 and 2016 at a steady viewership. It was during 2016 that I began to participate in the discussion of the blog and at the time it was still graced with many authors: Chalcedon, Neo, Geoffrey, Scoop, Quia, Nicholas, Gareth, Bosco, and the return of the creator of the blog Jessica. A unique place of ecumenical discussion of theology that broke the echo chamber of those locked in their own faith’s groupthink.

Reviewing the statistics, after 2016, the blog began to decline more rapidly. I remember there began a lot of infighting between the participates of the blog that was getting personal in nature about not necessarily the theology of Christianity but the institutions and personal relationships to those institutions themselves. The outcome is that many left the blog and it has been a shadow of itself ever since.

I hope those that have left will return. In fact, part of me still blogs on here for that very reason. Our last author to leave was Nicholas. Nicholas, I believe came after me, a friendly fellow that should be thanked for keeping the blog alive as he was the most constant poster of the last year. My participation usually occurs during breaks of my classes, so it can become more sporadic at times. However, Nicholas was constant and I was sad to see him go. Scoop is perhaps the last man standing of the old gang. In fact, I think part of him still treads on in hopes of the return of those who have long left.

In 2019, The arrival and era of the atheist commenters have commenced. I’m familiar with most of them from other blogs and they have been frustrating at times; however, in some sense, I see them as valuable contributors to this blog, something that I may not have said in years past. However, they break us out of our echo-chamber to hear the skepticism of the age nonetheless. In fact, a lot of my previous work, I’ve adjusted and reviewed due to their contributions–even God’s grace continues to work despite their best efforts. What has their arrival produced? Since 2013 there has been a decline in views of the blog; however, at the end of 2019, this is the first year that the blog has seen a surplus in views, I cannot see the raw numbers, but I am sure that their presence has led to an uptick in numbers.

I am one of the newer participates of this blog, but due to the exodus after 2016, I have been made one of the old dogs. One of my hopes in this new year is that the blog can come away from a more pessimistic approach to Church current events–oftentimes with the Catholic Church and the pontificate of Pope Francis, and a return to the theological topics of the faith and its historic claims. My hope is such a renewal will lead to a return of the old and perhaps some new participates will arise to this platform.

Thank You for your participation at All Along the Watchtower. Please come and join us here.

Be Skeptical of the Biblical Minimalist School

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Biblical Minimalists attempt to dispel a great many details in the narrative of various books of the Old Testament. The attempts are framed by attempting to persuade those to their claims or make fun of detractors as looking anti-historical by using a cherry-picked version of historic-criticism. An example of Biblical Minimalist, or also referred to as “deconstructionist” is their attempt to dispel archaeological evidence that proves of the Israel royal house of David—which was denied as existing at all by skeptics until the Dan inscription was found that bore the name “House of David.”

A Deconstructionist by the name Philip Davies then tried to argue that inscription didn’t have a word divider between the words House of David and therefore wasn’t an inscription describing the ancient royal house as described in the Old Testament. Of course, it is quite common knowledge that in ancient languages word dividers were not always applied and more or less a development of written language. The late Near-East scholar Anson Rainey explains that these scholars tend to be outsiders explaining, “Davies’s objections are those of an amateur standing on the sidelines of epigraphic scholarship. Naveh and Biran cannot be blamed for assuming a modicum of basic knowledge on the part of their readers. They are not used to dealing with the dilettantism of the “deconstructionist” school. Competent scholars will doubtless take issue with some of Naveh and Biran’s interpretations, but Davies can safely be ignored.” (Rainey, Anson F. “The ‘House of David’ and the House of the Deconstructionists.” The BAS Library, 5 Nov. 2015, https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/20/6/3.)

Atheists: True and False

Smoke of Satan & the Open Windows of Vatican II

Let me see if I get this …
You had a porn addiction, but was never really a true atheist and for some reason (emotional trauma perhaps?) returned to Jesus and was saved?
Is this about right?
A
RKENATEN, combox atheist troll

I never thought the day would come when I would be quoting a troll from a combox for a blog post. But then again, I never thought the day would come when Democrats would impeach a president merely for being Republican. These are strange times, my friend.

I quote this godless fool in order to highlight a bit of foolishness I have experienced from the atheists since my conversion to Roman Catholicism in 2012. Prior to this, I had been an atheist officially since 1999. Unofficially, my unbelief began a few years prior after finding a friend of mine dead from suicide. Like me, my friend was a…

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Farewell to the Devil?

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In his essay “Farewell to the Devil?”, Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) examines and rebuts the argument presented by Swiss Catholic Theologian Herbert Haag, who asserts that Satan does not exist and that Satan was an idea that manifested ancient Jewish culture’s understanding of evil and sin. (Ratzinger, Farewell to the Devil? 197.) Haag’s thesis was written during the time of great cultural upheaval both in secular culture and in Catholic Culture as his book “Farewell to the Devil” would be printed after the Vatican II council. It should be no surprise that Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Sosa, has recently made comments that Satan is an analogy making very similar points as presented in Haag’s argument ( A comment that Fr. Sosa has since walked back a bit).

Ratzinger explains that this position is one that uses a methodology that is devoid of literary analysis of scripture but rather is a methodology that focuses on a false historicism (emphasis mine) that those of a different era are either stupid, naive, or both, so in effect, Haag’s position is based on the rhetoric fallacy of “poisoning the well” of the witness testimony of Jesus and the Apostles as it is presented in the New Testament. Haag’s thesis is refuted by Ratzinger by examining the New Testament in which Satan and Demons exist, and the Devil is not a synonym for sin which is claimed by Haag (Ratzinger, Ibid.).

It’s so glaringly obvious in the belief of those in scripture that both Satan and Demons exist that Haag had to admit this is a commonly held belief of those in 1st century Palestine. However, Haag argues that these people were victims of their understanding and culture during this period of time. Again, it’s important to reiterate that Haag’s position is based on his own cultural bias in which he has already assumed those in Jesus’ time are inferior to his own understanding. Naturally, this type of assertion is one of the most dangerous facets of a strict historical-critic exegesis and the use of historicism by modern scholars. Ratzinger does a good job acknowledging that it’s Haag’s bias that has predetermined his conclusion on this matter, Ratzinger writes, “Haag bids the devil farewell, not in his capacity as exegete or interpreter of Scripture, but rather as a contemporary, who considered the existence of a devil untenable (Ratzinger, 198).”

One of the key aspects in understanding Satan and Demons, after examining the role of the Old Testament as being dependent on the New Testament, is understood when Ratzinger writes, “The spiritual battle against the enslaving powers, the exorcism pronounced over a world blinded by demons, is an inseparable part of Jesus’ spiritual way that belongs to the heart of his own mission and of the mission of his disciples.” (Ratzinger, 202). Furthermore, Ratzinger indicates that our understanding of the faith must be rendered within the faith community. If it is to be determined that Satan is merely an analogy to sin or a sort of moral taboo then the Church’s sacramental life with the foundation of baptism would be moot. Ratzinger writes, “One must be able to take baptism at its word, especially in its central action. It indicates what takes place in becoming a Christian and what does not…exorcism and the renunciation of Satan are part of the central action of baptism.” (Ratzinger, 203.)

At the end of the essay, Ratzinger questions what Haag means that the Devil cannot be understood to exist by what we know in our modern age. In many respects, I believe the question of “Farewell to the Devil?” is one that originates in the metaphysical and spiritual and moves into the material, perhaps, there is to be understood better the sacred and the profane. A good measurement of whether something is contingent on faith testimony which is the essence of the faith is its relation to the Incarnation itself.

How does Satan, the demonic, and hell relate to the Incarnation? In the course of the history of the Church, the great heresies have always been misguided teachings on who is Jesus Christ. Satan and hell must be articles of faith as without those parts of revelation, it would render the Incarnation useless. If theologians eliminate Adam and Eve, the fall, hell, and then the slope—as we see today—leads to there being no such thing as sin, then those theologians have rendered Jesus Christ merely an ancient understanding of the world.

Local Battle of Letters on Abortion

Smoke of Satan & the Open Windows of Vatican II

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In my small town in South Carolina we have a bi-weekly paper that covers the local news and from time to time an editorial column with the opportunity to respond.

About 4 issues ago we had one of these editorials on abortion and it was, as to be expected, pro-choice (or pro-abortion which is more accurate). In this editorial the gentleman who wrote the column spoke about the Catholic Church and our beliefs which were totally misrepresented and needed clarification.

A friend from the parish cut out the column and brought it to dinner one night and asked that one of us would write a rebuttal of sorts. I took on this task but then it was suggested that perhaps my wife should write the letter as a letter from a woman on this issue is far more influential than one coming from a man. I’m not so sure of…

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The God of the Gaps

Smoke of Satan & the Open Windows of Vatican II

The God of the gaps argument for God fails when a plausible scientific account for a gap in current knowledge can be given. I do not dispute that the exact nature of the origin of the universe remains a gap in scientific knowledge. But I deny that we are bereft of any conceivable way to account for that origin scientifically.
VICTOR J. STENGER

When you talk to atheists and debate with them, they will throw out the “God of the gaps” tripe. They assert that God is nothing more than the putty believers use to fill in the gaps of our scientific knowledge about the universe. This is how Zeus gave way to positive and negative electrical charges in explaining lightning. The assumption is that myths fall as science increases. But is this really the case?

I think we can shed more light on the issue by actually making a…

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From being to Life; creation from the Progenitor of both being and living

Smoke of Satan & the Open Windows of Vatican II

1058276091“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.” __ John 10:10

It is a fact that with all that science knows along with our knowledge of atoms, molecules, proteins, amino acids and all the stuff of life (the building blocks of what we like to call life), we have developed theories and models, that still only end up seeing life generated only from pre-existent life. Whether you believe in the science of evolution or the Creator that breathed life into the ‘stuff’ of all creation, man is unable to prove or to demonstrate in any way that they can create life. If the seeds of life on this planet hitched a ride from some distant galaxy in the universe on an asteroid to be deposited on this earth still does…

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Biblical Exegesis: Primarily a philosophical discussion or historical?

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Pope Benedict XVI explained in his 1988 Erasmus lectures, “The debate about modern exegesis is not at its core a debate among historians, but among philosophers”. (Matthew J. Ramage, Jesus Interpreted, 9).

Is the discussion of the Holy Scriptures primarily a philosophical debate of those who claim there is a God and those who do not?

The statement appears to be correct on the surface; however, the difficulty with this particular assertion is that it is a false dichotomy when it comes to the interpretation of what is true and what actually happened as it is described in the written word. In attempting to determine what is true, the historian–both secular and religious–deals with the axiological value judgment of the truth just as much as any philosopher would when it comes to scriptural exegesis and the matter of what is the truth.

Make sure to pre-order my new book: The Birth of God in Historical Context: An Examination of the Infancy Narrative of Jesus Christ: 

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-birth-of-god-in-history-phillip-hadden/1134980944?ean=9781078744492