Thursday, 31 March 2011

El is God!

In my road, there are several cars. Now due to my lack of imagination I refer to my car simply as a car. When I go out the door saying I’m getting in the car, I do not refer to a general car, I’m not going to get in to a random car, I’m not going to get in to the closest car but rather I will climb in to my specific car. Because I have labelled my car ‘car’, it does not mean that every reference to car refers to my car or that all cars are synonymous.

That seems obvious but what happens when we instead of thinking of cars we think of God? In Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou “Did God Have a Wife?” this seems to be the logic used. That if two things are referred to by the same classification then they must be the same thing. Specifically there was a Canaanite god called El and the word El is used in the Bible to refer to God.

“I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty (El-Shaddai), but by my name the LORD (Yĕhovah) I did not make myself fully known to them.” Exodus 6:3

The problem with this is that El means God, so the fact that there was a god called god is not entirely surprising and it doesn’t mean that every use of the word god refers to that specific god. Else in today’s language someone talking about David Beckham being a god should be interpreted as saying that David created the universe and everything in it as, after all, the word god is used to describe that as well.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Brotherly Love

This is the second post I’ve now written on characteristics that we should strive to possess, based on a series of sermons at church at the moment on 2 Peter 1. This post is about brotherly love:

“…add to your faith goodness;… and to godliness, mutual affection” 2 Peter 1:5-7a

In this translation, the word mutual affection is used, but other versions translate it as “brotherly kindness” or even ”warm friendship”. Perhaps a good way to sum up all of these various ideas is in the term ‘brotherly love’. This is also a literal translation of the Greek word that is used here: φιλαδέλφεια (philadelphia). It is in fact an amalgamation of two simpler words: philos meaning love and adelphi meaning brother.

What is perhaps interesting but not obvious is what words could have been used instead. For instance Peter didn’t write φιλανθρωπία (philanthropia) a word which was available to him (used in Acts and Titus) and from which we get the word philanthropy. This word might also translated as mutual affection but it has different subtleties. Philanthropia like philadelphia is derived from two words, the first of which is again translated as love. The second however is anthropos meaning humanity or mankind. So this word means love of humanity or humanitarianism.

In this light, the brotherly kindness that we are meant to add to godliness is not simply helping those in need but also conveys the sense of community. We need to grow closer together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. That we would resemble the family that we claim to be. This is a lot harder to do than to simply help those in need. For once you have helped someone you can remove yourself from them, but in a family you can’t remove yourself from any problems that arise. It is easier to love someone at a distance then to love your brother. Many people acknowledge this, even world renowned philosophers, such as Linus (from Charlie brown) who states:

“I love Humanity! It’s people I can’t stand.”

Saturday, 19 March 2011


The elect of God: a contentious issue in many Christian circles. Who are they? Do they have a choice in the matter or are they simply ‘chosen in him before the creation of the world’?

In some views of Christianity God chooses people who will be saved and they have no real say in the matter. They are brought as a slave on a block, and have as much opportunity to choose their master as the slave does. Another view of this issue holds that each person who hears the gospel has the ability to accept or reject its message and in this decision God has no say.

I have issues with both of these view points: The first does not speak to the reason that God saved us in the first place, his desire for a relationship with the church. What kind of relationship can you have with someone who has no say in whether they are in the relationship? Consider a marriage, for instance, where the husband loves the wife but if the wife does not also love the husband then theirs is not a true relationship.

The second point of view says that there is something which God has no say in, that God’s will could in theory be thwarted. If God wants someone to be saved and they say “no” then there is nothing that God can do about it, there would be something that God had no control over.

However I believe that both of these points of view do have some merit in explaining such a complicated issue. The first sees God as in complete control, being sovereign over absolutely everything and the second views being saved as entering in to a relationship with God, giving him the rightful kingship of our lives. Trying to reconcile all of these ideas with the passages that are used to support both of them I have formed my own view on the issue of election.

I believe that God, before the creation of the world, made two groups of people, the elect and the un-elect. I think that rather than choosing individual people to put in to each group he defined what it would mean to be in each group. To be an ‘elect’ you must trust Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and to be an ‘un-elect’ you must not. That is, God choose the elect before the beginning of the world but he did not choose individual people to be elect. We have the choice as to which group we are in, and God desires us all to choose the ‘elect’ group for ‘God does not wish any to perish but all to come to repentance’ but because of his desire for a real relationship with us he will let us make this choice.

My thoughts on this are still not fully formed and I would appreciate any comments on what people think.

Saturday, 5 March 2011


What does it mean to be good? Is it simply not doing things that are wrong or is it more than that? This question comes out of a series that we are doing at church at the moment on 2 Peter 1, on characteristics that we should aspire to have.

“…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.” 2 Peter 1:5-9

So, what is this goodness that we should seek to add to our lives? It is here listed as a virtue, which means that it can not simply be the absence of a vice. That is, goodness is not simply ‘being good’, not doing anything wrong, but rather has a proactive nature that replaces something which is bad with something desirous. Simply put, goodness is not simply the absence of badness.

We do have a model for what goodness is, and that model is Christ. When Jesus was called ‘good teacher’ he responded thus

“’Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.’ ” Luke 18:19

So we are to seek to become more like God in this, to become good as God is good. Specifically the word here translated goodness is ‘αρετε’ in the Greek, which means (according to my pastor) ‘moral characteristics worthy of praise’. So we are to add to our faith moral characteristics which are worthy of praise.

Can we look at our lives at the moment and say that our character is worthy of praise, as God’s character is? I certainly can not, and it is a high thing to aim for, but that is what we are called to do. Remember that ‘with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’; it is only through faith that we have a chance of adding goodness to ourselves.