The First Mortal Sin

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Mortal Sin

The Catholic Church defines Mortal Sin as having three characteristics:

  1. Grave (serious) matter
  2. Full knowledge
  3. Deliberate intent

The Tree of Premeditated Good and Evil

In Genesis 2:17, God gives a single prohibition to Adam. Of the tree in the center of the garden, with the mysterious name "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" in the King James translation, Adam was not to eat. Would doing so be a mortal sin? Let's go through the definition.

  1. "In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." That is certainly a "grave" matter.
  2. God gives very clear and explicit instructions, and the tree is in a clearly marked location. There is no "accidentally" eating from the wrong tree. It could only be done with "full knowledge".
  3. The tree is named the Tree of Knowledge. The Hebrew word is da'ar, the same word used in Joshua 20, where God establishes "cities of refuge" for those who kill someone "without knowledge". This means not premeditated, but accidentally, in self defense, or in sudden passion.

In Genesis 3:4, every thing Satan tells Eve is a lie. The last claim is no exception: he tells her that the tree is called the Tree of Knowledge because "you will be like God, knowing good and evil". But as with everything else he says, Satan has twisted the name of the tree. The word translated "know" is a different Hebrew word, yada, which means "to be intimately familiar with", the same word used in "And Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore a son."

When Eve ate the fruit, it was not a Mortal sin. Why? Eve was deceived. When Adam ate the fruit, it was with full knowledge and deliberate intent - a mortal sin.

The Death of Humanity

Adam's mortal sin was the death of not just Adam, but all his descendants. For in Adam all died. Adam could have chosen to ask God how to redeem the situation. Instead, he plunged us all into sin and death. But Christ, as the 2nd Adam, does what the 1st Adam refused to do, and redeems the situation - raising us to righteousness and eternal life.

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The Sceptre Shall Not Depart From Judah

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What is Fascism?

Are you wondering how this question is going to tie in to our Bible lesson?

Today, everyone of every political stripe has been called a "Nazi" by someone. This is not a new development. In 1944, at the height of World War II, George Orwell described this behavior in his essay, "What is a Fascist?". Youtube personality, "The Black Pigeon", argues that World War II has given the West an anti-ideal - Nazi Germany. Instead of aspiring to positive ideals, we aspire to be as unlike our anti-ideal as possible. Humans do not do well with negative role models. The man who strives to be unlike his alcoholic father, becomes him.

The Literal Meaning of Fascism

There are academic definitions of economic and cultural fascism - but nobody cares or uses them except academics. There is no consistent popular meaning, other than "people we don't like are fascists". No one uses or cares about the literal meaning either, but it is historically, and Biblically instructive.

What is a Scepter?

The dictionary defines "scepter" as "an ornamented staff carried by rulers on ceremonial occasions as a symbol of national sovereignty." Egypt used a "sekhem", Rome used a fasces. The Roman fasces was a bundle of rods with an axe in the middle. As a child of the Roman Empire, the United States depicts a bundle of arrows carried by a great eagle on its Seal, which resembles the Roman fasces.

In Genesis 9, God gives the authority and responsibility to every government since the flood to take the life of murderers. From Egypt to Rome, the power to carry out capital punishment was the practical mark of national sovereignty - and the sceptre was its symbol. From Noah to the present, the right of an individual to self defense is the mark of individual sovereignty. Throughout history, only slaves have been denied that right.

The Scepter shall not depart from Judah

In Genesis 49 Jacob prophesies on his deathbed that "The scepter shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh come." Shiloh is the Messiah, and the scepter did not depart from Judah until AD 9, when repeated massacres by a corrupt Herod Archelaeus (Wars of the Jews 2:8) led Rome to banish him to Gaul and remove the power of capital punishment from Judea, making Judeah a Roman province, appointing Caponius Procurator (around 7 A.D.):

“But in the tenth year of Archelaus’ government, both his brethren, and the principal men of Judea and Samaria, not being able to bear his barbarous and tyrannical usage of them, accused him … Caesar, upon hearing what certain accusers had to say… both banished him, and appointed Vienna, a city of Gaul, to be the place of his habitation, and took his money away from him…Caponius also, a man of the equestrian order, was sent…to have the supreme power over the Jews” (Josephus, Antiquities, Book 17; chapter 13 verse 2 and Book 18; chapter 1 verse 1).
By that decree, the Sanhedrin was restricted and adjudication of capital offenses was lost. The Jews went about mourning for they thought (but see Luke 2:42-52):
"Woe unto us for the scepter has departed from Judah and the Messiah has not come!" (Babylonian Talmud, chapter 4, folio 37).
The Word of God had apparently failed. But Messiah had certainly been born, and apparently (given current date of 4 BC for his birth) had also presented himself to the Jewish leaders in the temple.

Twenty some years later, when the Jewish leaders arrested Jesus and Pilate reviewed the case, Pilate tells them to judge him according to their own laws. "It is not lawful for us to put a man to death." they respond - for the scepter had departed from Judah, and they must kill their Messiah as the Lamb of God even as they killed the Passover lambs during the coming day.

The Scepter and National Sovereignty

Why was it such a disaster for the Jews when the Scepter departed from Judah? The scepter was a symbol of national sovereignty. Even when under the yoke of Babylon, Persia, or Greece, the Jews were self governing - as long as they paid their taxes and tribute. The departure of the scepter meant a loss of sovereignty.

Self Defense and Individual Sovereignty

Over that same 4000 years, there was one common feature of slavery: slaves could not carry a weapon for self defense. (They were of course often required to carry one for their masters as "cannon fodder".) This is why losing the right of self defense is a big deal.

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Esau Have I Hated

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Esau Have I hated

Genesis 25

When Rebecca becomes pregnant with twins, God gives her a prophesy. Birth and death seem to be occasions of prophecy - as described for instance in a previous blog post.

The Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” Genesis 25:23

Rachel takes this to heart. Isaac rebels, and you can see the resulting loss of communion with God in the next chapter. In the chapter 24, Isaac meditates regularly on the LORD.
In chapter 26, he dwells with the phillistines.

Genesis 27

Rebeccah has God's promise that Jacob will carry on the blessing, and Esau had sold him the birthright. But Isaac is determined to make it Esau instead. So just as Sarah decided God needed a little help in providing that heir from Abraham's loins, so Rebecca decided God needed a little help in making Isaac get with the program.

When Isaac discovers he was deceived, he remembers the prophecy and is stunned at first. But the rebellion has been broken, and he is able to speak prophetically.

Much later, God says, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

God did not hate Esau personally – he hated the future with Esau as the line of the Messiah. God blessed Esau personally, and gave him and his descendants an inheritance in Canaan (Deuteronomy 2). Think of it like “Back to the Future 2”, where the protagonist and audience hate the Biff future, but in the George future, Biff has a good life.

Why God hated the Esau future becomes apparent when Esau despised his birthright. Later when the descendants of Esau's grandson Amalek refuse to allow Israel passage, God declares war on them. 400 years later, King Saul is instructed to kill all the Amalekites – he kills all but King Agag and his family. Smart move! The survivors wouldn’t be expected to hold a generational grudge against Israel, would they? Samuel kills the king, but the sons escape.

Much later, Haman the Agagite nearly kills all the Israelites but is finally stopped by Saul's descendent, Mordecai.

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Liberty and Bureaucracy

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Liberty and Bureaucracy

Exodus 18

The lesson for adult Sunday School was on Jethro's advice, contrasting Calvin's rather Statist interpretation with most other commentators. But an astute member of the class had a further insight worthy of a blog post.

Moses Seat

Moses sat alone to judge 2 million people. He couldn't possibly arbitrate every dispute. The lines were long. People waited days, weeks, for their case to be heard. Jethro offers the obvious Statist solution - create a bureaucracy of lower and higher courts so that everyone's dispute can be handled. Moses followed Jethro's advice, and the implementation was still in effect when Jesus came. But did Moses do the right thing? What if he had not elaborated on God's instruction?

The Lone Judge - an alternate history

Moses sat alone to judge 2 million people. He couldn't possibly arbitrate every dispute. The lines were long. People waited days, weeks, for their case to be heard. So, in most cases they didn't. This was a strong motivation to work out their own disputes. There were harsh punishments for resorting to violence (as we'll see later in Exodus), so negotiation was the way to avoid the lines.


When the parties were at loggerheads, and negotiation was at a standstill, there was still an alternative to the interminable wait to see Moses. Both parties could agree to a neutral arbitrator acceptable to them both. They could even pay him for his time.

The lines got shorter, but were still long. More importantly, people were learning to get along, and work out their own disputes. People with the wisdom to settle disputes were in demand as arbitrators. And Moses was still available (eventually) when one or both parties refused to follow the arbitrators decision.

If Moses had followed Jethro's advice, there would be no incentive to learn to get along. There would be no freedom to choose an arbitrator - the lower courts were appointed by the central government.

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The Disappearing Alphabet

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The Disappearing Alphabet

"Not Invented Here" syndrome and the language wars

The alphabet is going away. Controls on machines, electronic or otherwise, now use ideograms instead of words. I wouldn't be so annoyed if they used an existing system of ideograms (like, say, Chinese used by billions of people). But no, they have to invent an entirely new system out of whole cloth. Now we have a daily struggle to decipher a language which is evolving daily, has no extant literature, no textbooks or even dictionaries, and hundreds of dialects. I have to help my family with questions like, "Dad? What does the character with 3 different sized circles in a horizontal row, a horizontal line underneath, and a short vertical line on the left mean?" ("I think that means Check Engine - look in the owners manual, maybe they have a translation.")

I often hear it said that "young people understand technology". On a surface level, that is blatantly false: young people have very little understanding of how computers or any modern technology work. Any actual questioning of their understanding quickly reveals monstrous misconceptions and ignorance. What young people are doing is learning a new language - which they can do much more quickly than adults. And I'm not talking about something useful like a computer language or a foreign language (although a few are doing that as well). Young people learn almost instantly what 2 short vertical lines next to each other means on a button, or what a circle with a single radial segment at the bottom means on another button.

Quick quiz: what does two diagonally crossed lines - where the upper left to lower right line has a small semi circle on each end, and the lower left to upper right line is thicker at one end than the other - mean?

Extra credit: if you took on the project of creating a dictionary for the evolving Western ideograms (which would lock in a nice income stream for some time due to the regular updates needed), how would you sort the characters? (Hint: look for existing practice in another system.)

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