Ben Affleck on the Bible

This post was written by Demian Farnworth, who authors Fallen and Flawed, at the beginning of this month. I have re-posted it here in its entirety with his permission. Please head to his site to leave comments.

Ben Affleck never read the Bible as a child.

So, as an adult he expected it to be loaded with fire and brimstone…

Ripe with weeping and gnashing teeth.

Naturally this notion was only reinforced as he encountered one angry, hateful person after another who claimed to represent all Christians.

This stereotype held until he actually read the Bible.

In fact, this is what he said about reading the Gospel According to Matthew in an August 2008 Oprah magazine:

“Reading the Bible disabused me of any sense that a hateful person could represent this faith. The book is beautiful and exquisitely written–but it is characterized by one quality that colors every page: love.”

He went on to say that reading the Bible made it harder for him to accept the “damaging and small minded beliefs” that people promote in the name of Christian values.

I wonder if he had Fred Phelps in mind when he said that.

Where I’m Going with This

Often on this blog I here non-believers write the Bible off as a collection of hallucinogenic babbling from the mental fringe.

Indeed in my own experience as a non-believer I made outlandish claims about the perversity of the Bible…without ever reading it…so I’m inclined to believe neither have they.

At least not carefully.

Yet honest people like Richard Dawkins read the OT and shake their head in disbelief at what they deem a volatile, childish tyrant.

What gives? The New Testament gives.

Sinclair Ferguson writes, “You cannot open the pages of the New Testament without realizing that one of the things that makes it so ‘new’, in every way, is that here men and women call God ‘Father.’”

This conviction of intimacy with the creator of the universe lies at the heart of our faith. And it suggest we humbly read the Bible in it’s entirety…

And we understand the OT through the lens of Christ.

Reading Matthew obviously had an impact on Ben Affleck. But I don’t know if Ben Affleck is a true believer.

To be sure, he anticipates the question in the article when he says he considers his religious beliefs private matters.

But he nonetheless is moved by it. Perhaps no more than a deep interest in social justice as indicated by his involvement in genocide recovery.

Your Turn

But what about you: What was your first encounter with the Bible like? With the New Testament? With a particular Gospel?

Did you view it as a majestic piece of literature that can stand on it’s own feet [as I once did during a "Bible as Literature" course]?

Or were you appalled by what you read?

Or did you tear your clothes in grief like Josiah who said, “For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us”?

What'd you think? 


Book Review: Jesus Lives by Sarah Youn

Sarah Young. Jesus Lives: Seeing His Love in Your Life. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009, 359 pp.

This is a devotional book that is written from the perspective of Jesus speaking to the reader. It is also written with a very specific topic in mind—the unfailing love of Jesus Christ. Each of the devotions is designed to bring you to understand that love and experience it in a new and/or fresh way. Life brings with it many challenges and difficulties that may cause us to question the love of our Savior. Sarah Young hopes to help those who use this devotional to “’see’ His Love in [those] moments of our lives.”

The layout of this devotional is topical. This is different from a great majority of devotionals available that take the format of lining out the devotions according to the calendar. Of the 180 devotions contained in the book, some of the topics on which you can find devotions are: Adversity, emptiness, His forgiveness, idolatry, prayer, sorrow, worship, etc.

All in all, this is a wonderful devotional book. I like how the author writes as though Jesus were speaking directly to the reader. The other thing I really like about this book was that every devotional was accompanied by several Scriptures to meditate and reflect upon as you read the “message from Christ.”

I am typically not big on devotional materials as I think they very often times tend to simply give Christians the feeling that they have spent time in the Word of God when they have only read one verse. This devotional is slightly different than most and has some value for those who would like something to help them with understanding certain topics better. For example, if someone is struggling with trials in their life, there are five devotions that address that very topic. And each of those devotionals will point them to several places in the Scriptures that will help them better understand trials. Therefore, I don’t think this is a devotional that one would sit down and read from cover to cover; but I think it is one of those books you turn to at different points in your life when you need a fresh perspective on something.

I am a book review blogger for Thomas Nelson Publishers. brb.thomasnelson.com

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Are Christmas Trees Idols?

I have seen a lot on the Internet of late about Christmas. One of the hot topics is the origin of the Christmas tree. What bothers me most about a lot of what I have read is that many people appear to simply throw assertions out with nothing to support their claims. Such as this comment by @Deathiepants, "Come on, let's be honest. A Christmas tree is just an Asherah pole anyway." No support given to support the claim, just the assertion that Christmas trees are Asherah poles. I read a Jewish cite condemning Christmas and Christmas trees. I even read an article from a Christian claiming that the entire tradition of Christmas is pagan and that God commands we not celebrate it at all. That being said, there are a great number of websites that cite credible sources regarding the origin of the Christmas tree—an excellent example is History.com.

There is no hard evidence which reveals exactly how the tradition of bringing an evergreen tree indoors and decorating it became intertwined with the Christmas celebration. There are a few facts that seem to indicate it came from a Germanic background. In this tradition, the evergreen tree was decorated with apples to recall the Garden of Eden and were popularly known as “Paradise Trees.” However, there were also traditions from many different cultures that would bring boughs of evergreen branches into their homes during the winter. The best explanation seems to be that the tradition was born out of Queen Victoria’s urging of Prince Albert to decorate a tree in 1848. This appears to be one of the singular acts that brought the Christmas tree into mainline Christmas tradition.

The claim that Christmas trees are really just Ashera poles bothers me because it is an assertion with no support. What is interesting is that many of those who claim this look to the Bible to try and claim support. The passage they regularly cite is Jeremiah 10:2-5, which reads:
This is what the Lord says: Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them. For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good.
At this point, the claim is along the lines of “God condemns the putting up of pagan (Christmas) trees with this plain Bible command!” So does the Bible condemn Christmas trees? Well, when one takes this passage in context that is not what God was condemning at all.

The cultures around the nation of Israel (and even Israel at times) would create gods to worship. One of the typical methods of doing this was to cut a tree down from the forest and carve it into the rough shape of the idol they were making. Then, they would cover the idol with gold or silver. This is similar to our modern day gold plating. It is cheaper to use an inferior metal for the bulk of something, and then cover it in a coating of the more expensive precious metal. Can you imagine trying to build a seven-foot statue of Zeus from solid gold to be placed in all of the temples erected to worship him across the Greek and Roman empires? It would be nearly impossible to locate that much gold and keep people from trying to steal the statues. Neither could many other ancient cultures when creating the images they worshiped. The wood served as the bulk of the idol while the precious metals and stones were then fashioned as a covering.

This is clearly seen when you look at some of the other biblical passages that address using trees to make idols. Isaiah 41:7 mentions the craftsmen “nailing down” the idol so it will not topple, just as it is in Jeremiah 10. A much longer treatment is given in Isaiah 44:12-20. In fact, the Bible uses sarcasm when condemning idol worship in this passage. Another place that mentions them using silver and gold when fashioning their idols is Isaiah 46:5-7 where individuals weigh out gold and silver and hire a craftsman to fashion a god(s) for them to worship.

It is abundantly clear that Jeremiah 10 is not condemning Christmas trees. What is being condemned is idol worship. There is no doubt about this when one considers the other passages mentioned. Besides, if they were worshiping the tree itself, why cut it down? Why not simply go out into the woods and worship the tree in all of its glory as many of the nature religions do?

At this point, I must tell you that I am not condoning nor condemning the practice of putting up Christmas trees. I can tell you that real Christmas trees smell great, but I hate having to clean up all of the needles left behind when it is time to take them down. What I can say is that Christmas trees most certainly have some roots in pagan worship practices. The choice to place a Christmas tree in your home or not is a choice that your family will have to make. I only wanted to make it clear that the Bible does not expressly forbid Christmas trees. I think that there would still be nay-sayers if Jesus’ birth was celebrated almost any other day of the year. Somewhere, someone would find some connection to a pagan celebration and then explain that we shouldn’t celebrate the birth of Jesus.

As for me and my house, we will most certainly celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. For without the advent of Jesus, there could not have been the greatest gift of all time—salvation.

Back to "Christmas: Separating the Fact from the Fiction"
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Is December 25th really Jesus birthday?

There are not very many people who forgo celebrating Christmas in some way, shape, or form. But what is Christmas all about? Christmas is truly supposed to be a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. This naturally leads many people to ask the question, “Was Jesus born on December 25th?”

The short answer to that question is quite simply no; Jesus was not born on the 25th day of December. In fact, it is most likely that Jesus wasn’t even born anywhere close to December. We do not have an exact date for the birth of Jesus, but what we do have are some pretty good clues as to the season of his birth.

There are two major clues found in the Scriptures concerning the date of Jesus’ birth. The first is mentioned in Luke 2:1. This verse mentions the reason Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem, where Jesus would be born. There was a census given by the Roman Empire that required everyone to return to his or her ancestral home. For Joseph, this was Bethlehem.

The exact date of this census is somewhat hard to determine because Luke’s choice of wording. He mentions the governor Quirinius. However, there is some confusion as to whether or not the census was issued during Quirinius’ governorship or if it was before his time as governor. This is because Quirinius became governor (4 AD) after Herod I had died (4 BC). This would have made the claim in Matthew 2:7-8, 16 about Herod seeking out the Christ child rather difficult as Herod would have been dead if the census was issued during the governorship of Quirinius. The most likely explanation is that the phrase “the first census” is better translated as “the census before Quirinius”—just as the same Greek word was translated in John 1:15.

Nevertheless, the Romans would never have ordered a census to be conducted in the middle of the winter. Not only would it have been difficult for the people to travel and be counted, but also it would have been difficult for the officials of the Empire to travel about and conduct the census and gather the results.

The second major clue as to the birth of Jesus is found in Luke 2:8—And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. The sheepherders would not have been found in the open fields in December. It would have been much too cold and the fields would not have enough vegetation to support their flocks. The shepherds would only have been found in the fields from about the end of March to the beginning of September.

Taking these two pieces of Biblical evidence together, it can only be concluded that Jesus was not born in December, much less the 25th day of the month. But this is not really any surprise; biblical scholars have known for many years that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25. At this point, you might be wondering to yourself why we celebrate the birth of Christ on a day that we know isn’t correct. It is because of a couple of things that did take place on and around this date.

There was a Roman emperor who ruled about 150 years before Jesus was born. Antiochus IV is responsible for creating some of the historical traditions that eventually led to Christmas being celebrated on December 25. The story goes that Antiochus began to utterly despise the Jews. He began outlawing many Jewish religious rituals. If that wasn’t enough, he also required them to begin worshiping the Greek gods.

Antiochus went so far as to seize the temple. Then he proceeded to dedicate the temple to Zeus. In an official act of commencement, he slaughteed a pig on the altar to indicate the temple was dedicated to Zeus from that point forward. This was also a way that Antiochus was thumbing his nose at the Jews because pigs were detestable to them. For Antiochus, it was not enough to take the temple from them (their national religious symbol), but he had performed an act of desecration as well by slaughtering the pig. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the day that Antiochus performed this sacrifice was December 25th. This began a rebellion by the Jewish people known as the Maccabean Revolt.

Eventually the rebellion was successful and Jerusalem was recaptured. Before restoring proper worship in the temple, the Jews removed all traces of idol worship from the temple and held a ceremony to mark its cleansing and dedication back to the worship of Yahweh. Part of this celebration was lighting the menorah. Due to the rebellion, there was only enough oil to burn the lights for one day. The day of this celebration was the 25th of Kislev. However, the Talmud records that the candles miraculously burned for eight days. This sparked an annual celebration known as Hanukkah. This is also known as the fest of dedication or the festival of lights.

This celebration is mentioned in the Bible. It is found in John 10:22. Jesus was teaching in the temple courts. Specifically, what was known as Solomon’s Colonnade. At this point, the Jews approach him and ask, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” They were asking a very specific question. They wanted Jesus to state whether or not He was the Messiah, God in the flesh. This is particularly interesting as Hanukkah marked a time of renewed Jewish nationalism as they remembered a time of their ancestors overcoming an empire and restoring Israel to national independence. They believed the Messiah would also bring the nation of Israel independence. So their question naturally flowed from the celebration. At this point, Jesus clearly proclaimed, “I and the Father are one.” Thus indicating that he was the Messiah.

Even more interesting is the fact that the passages directly preceding this one are clearly intended to demonstrate that while Hanukkah was not a festival established in the Old Testament, Jesus still fulfilled it. In John 8:12 Jesus declared, “I am the true light.” Then in Chapter 9, John records Jesus’ healing of the man born blind. In other words, Jesus brought light into this man’s life of darkness.

It is for these reasons that it is certainly fitting and proper that we would celebrate the birth of Christ, the coming of “the light of life” (Jn 8:12). It is a time when Jesus proclaimed his message of salvation, his message of freedom from spiritual darkness. December 25th is a time to tell our children, family, and friends how we used "to be darkness, but now [we] are light in the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8). It is a time to proclaim the gospel of salvation with renewed fervency.

Back to "Christmas: Separating the Fact from the Fiction"
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Three Kings: What Your Sunday School Teacher Didn't Tell You

There is a guest author posting today here at Mr. Hyde's Blog. His name is Demian Farnworth and he is the keynote blogger for Fallen and Flawed. He is kicking off the series titled "Christmas: Separating the Fact from the Fiction." After you finish reading his post, you should head on over to Fallen and Flawed and check out his blog.


Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.

Do those names sound familiar? Should, they're the names of the three kings who brought gifts to the baby Jesus.

Only problem, the Bible never names the three kings. In fact, the Bible never specifies how many kings actually visit the baby Jesus.

Yes, it specifies three gifts: frankincense, gold and myrrh, but Matthew 2:2-12, which narrates the visit of the kings, allows for the visitation of a hundred kings.

It's that wide open.

And while we're on the topic, those kings...well, they weren't actually kings. That's right. The Bible states "Magi from the east came to Jerusalem."

Well, how did they become kings then? The most popular theory suggests that after 350 A. D. someone wanted to endorse the role of Christian monarchs--and voila, the magi became kings.

But what's a magi? Think Zoroastrian priest. In Latin, the singular form of magi--magos--refers to the religious caste in which Zoroaster was born.

The biblical equivalent would be the religious caste of Levi.

What did Zoroaster and his priests caste do? They studied astronomy, medicine and mathematics--and, you guessed it, astrology--the art of interpreting how stars influence human affairs.

So, where did the those names come from? Well you have to wait about 500 years before the names crop up in a Greek manuscript found in Alexandria.

After that, they just stuck.

Okay, if so much of what we know about the story of the Magi's is wrong, what's true? Well, we know this much: They humped it across the desert to Bethlehem following a star, found baby Jesus in a cave and bowed before him.

Then they gave him gifts fit for a king.

Gifts that were a beautiful reflection of their spiritual adoration. An adoration you and I would be wise to imitate.
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Christmas: Separating the Fact from the Fiction

Last week I placed a poll up and those of you who voted made it clear that you would like there to be a series on the myths of Christmas. I am planning to tackle as many of them as I can before Christmas, as it is upon us. So be watching for the posts in the coming days and weeks ahead.

If you have any suggestions or something you've always wondered about Christmas, please feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.


Posts in this Series:

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America: A Pro-Choice Nation?

ProtestersThere was an article in New York Magazine last month that addressed the topic of abortion. Specifically, the question was about whether or not America really has a pro-choice majority among its citizens. I would recommend that read the article and then stop by Al Mohler's blog and read his response to it. You will thoroughly enjoy both articles and learn a lot about the current debate around abortion.
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Hanukkah: The Jewish Christmas?

Hanukkah or Chanukah is the Jewish festival of dedication. It is also known as the festival of lights. It is celebrated from the 25th of Kislev to the 3rd of Tevet. It is one of the more widely known Jewish holidays in North America because of its proximity to Christmas. However, there is still a lot of confusion by those outside the Jewish faith as to exactly what Hanukkah is and what it celebrates. Hanukkah is a festival that stems from an event in history known as the Maccabean Revolt. Antiochus IV was the ruler of the Seleucid dynasty, which was part of the remnants of Alexander the Great’s empire. Antiochus began taking great measures against traditional Jewish practices by outlawing Jewish rituals and ordering them to worship Greek gods. In 168 BC, Antiochus seized the temple and dedicated it to the worship of Zeus. At this point, it is said that Antiochus offered a pig on the altar of the temple. This sparked a revolt by the Jews that eventually succeeded in 165 BC. Upon recapturing the temple, the Jews cleansed the temple and decided to hold a ceremony to rededicate the temple to the service of the LORD. The Talmud records that at this point there was only enough oil to light the menorah for one day. The menorah, however, miraculously burned for eight days.

Hanukkah commemorates this miracle at the rededication of the temple with an eight day celebration and a special menorah with eight branches—one for each day of the celebration (see video below).



This is where many people’s knowledge of Hanukkah ends and where the questions begin. For this reason, I decided it most appropriate to seek out and ask these questions to a Jewish Rabbi. So I would like to introduce you to my guest, Rabbi Leonard Zukrow of the Temple Beth-El in Pensacola, FL. My questions are bold and italic, while Rabbi Zukrow's follow in normal font.

Should we call the candelabra a menorah or a hanukkiah?
The menorah is a seven branched candelabra that stood in the Temple. The Chanukah menorah, known in Hebrew as a Chanukiah is eight branched to mark the eight days of the festival. There is one additional candle known as the “shamash” which is the “helper” candle used to light the other candles.

Has the celebration of Hanukkah changed over the years?
Yes, as is the case with most Jewish festivals. We retain the core practices – in the case of Chanukah – lighting the chanukia – and we build upon and expand the observance through foods associated with the festival, songs, stories, images, and new innovations that enrich our observance.

Is gift giving part of the Hanukkah celebration?
Yes, it was a custom to receive “Chanukah gelt” – a silver coin. In North America within the “season of giving” associated with the Christmas season, gift giving has expanded with the celebration of Chanukah. Traditionally and in Israel the practice of gift giving takes place at Rosh haShanah (The New Year) and Purim (The Feast of Esther).

What is the purpose of the gifts and what is the manner in which the gifts are given? For example, does the value or number of gifts increase or decrease each day?
Again, the practice of gift giving is more an American practice and it has evolved to gift giving on each night of Chanukah. Today, many families are forgoing gifts and offering contributions to various causes and organizations in place of personal gifts.

How much of the American celebration of Christmas do Jews participate (Christmas trees, Santa Clause, Christmas lights, etc.)?
There are accounts of Jews who participate in Christmas, most common is having a tree. Those Jews who do this see the tree and the Christmas season as a secular event. As a rabbi, I want Jews to celebrate Chanukah and as a rabbi, I want Christians to truly celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. I fully support putting Christ back into Christmas, observing Christmas in church and at home. As Christmas moved into the public square it has become more secular and national, and less religious.

Is it appropriate for me (a Christian) or someone of a different faith to wish a Jew “Happy Hanukkah”?
Yes, it is welcomed. I do not have an issue with wishing you a Merry Christmas. The holiday you celebrate IS Christmas. However, I and most Jews and those who do not observe Christmas seek acknowledgement for who we are and that we are unique.

What do you feel is the most misunderstood or misrepresented aspect of Hanukkah?
That it is the “Jewish Christmas” because of the shared season and calendar. Chanukah is not a biblical holiday, it is a celebration of an historical event, similar to our Independence Day of July 4th. July 4th is a unique American festival, we mark it and have our traditions associated with it – however, for the rest of the world July 4th is another day on their calendar.

Is it okay for Christians to celebrate Hanukkah? Why or why not?
Chanukah is more like a Jewish independence day for its time, it celebrates a return to the practice of Jewish ritual life at the Temple. The Maccabees were a priestly family – they fought to re-establish the rituals of Jewish sacrifice at the Temple. Non-Jews were not obligated nor permitted to offer sacrifices at the Temple. Thus, one could assert from a limited perspective that Chanukah is a Jewish festival for Jews. There is a wonderful story of non Jews in Montana who all engaged in lighting menorahs in support of the Jews of their town who were being persecuted by anti- Semites. When non-Jews light a menorah for this purpose most Jews would welcome this.

I would like to thank Rabbi Zukrow for his willingness to participate and answer my questions. I would also like to thank everyone who submitted questions to me about Hanukkah. Hopefully everyone now has a better understanding of Hanukkah, what it celebrates, and how it is celebrated.
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New Poll

Hey everyone, I have a new poll up to see if all of you might like for me to write a series on the myths about Christmas. I know a lot of you subscribe by email and rss readers and rarely come to the actual site. So please take a minute to stop by and vote.

If there is any particular myth you might like for me to address, please feel free to leave it in the comments section of this post or email it to me at MrHydesBlog@gmail.com. Look forward to hearing what you want.
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Book Review: The Family God Uses

Tom and Kim Blackaby. The Family God Uses: Leaving a Legacy of Influence. Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers, 2009, 188 pp.

A lot of parents want to make sure they are raising their children up properly. As we parents so often joke about though, children don’t come with owner’s manuals. This leaves a lot of parents wondering if they are raising their children the best way possible, or is there a more effective way? Tom and Kim Blackaby give parents some guidance in one aspect of parenting—instructing them in their faith. They begin by laying the foundation of what a Godly family is and God’s design for families. Then they address how that works out in church life, in the home life, and in your interactions with your children. They finish by giving some tips to help your family become a family God uses.

I struggled to stay focused as I read this book. It is not because the book is poorly written, but because of how I learn. This book presents the material in a very personal and example driven method. Tom and Kim give the biblical principles and then show how that principle played out in their lives. So this book will strike a real chord with those who learn best from hearing how a principle was lived out in other peoples lives as opposed to simply being given the principle and how it applies to our lives and our families. I just don’t learn best like this because I feel like the principle is lost in the wealth of information given. In other words, I feel like I am looking for the light switch in a dark room that I’ve never before seen. If you are like me and learn best from simple straightforward presentation of principles, then you might struggle to read this book and learn from it. On the other hand, if you learn best from hearing how a principle was lived out in someone else life before you “get it,” then this book will be perfect for you. The book has a great message with solid biblical principles for families, which is needed in our nation of growing broken and blended families. This book can be purchased at Amazon.com or from the WMU bookstore.
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Flat Earth: Mid-Evil Belief?

It seems to me that the attacks on Christianity today come with greater frequency and greater fervency than I have ever before seen. There are attacks from the “New Atheists.” There are attacks from “science.” There are attacks from the pop-culture. The list could go on, but what is surprising is the veracity of those attacking. It seems that those opposing Christianity are no longer satisfied with simply stating their problem with the Christian faith and then leaving it at that. No, they would prefer to see the Christian faith exterminated. As though it were a rat infestation at a restaurant. However, these attacks have almost always existed since the dawn of the Christian faith. One of the pot shots that have somehow managed to survive through the decades is that the Church has always opposed science and tried to suppress its advancement. A very common example of this today is the notion that the mid-evil church believed that the earth was flat. The common story told in school textbooks is that this is why Christopher Columbus’ voyage was opposed; they were afraid he would sail of the edge of the earth. However, this is a fraudulent myth that has no place in history textbooks. There were no serious scholars (secular or religious) that believed the earth was flat during the Middle Ages. Matt Flanagan has posted an excellent article on his blog MandM that goes through the details of this myth and exposes for the propaganda that it is. I highly recommend following the link over to his blog and reading the entire article.
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