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Friday, 26 July 2013

Damien Hirst's 'Verity'

Last week I visited Ilfracombe in North Devon, a quaint Victorian town on the rocky North Devon coast, with several thousand souls.  I spent the first six months of my life here, so feel a vested interest, and affectionate attachment to the place. Damien Hirst's statue "Verity" stands at the end of the harbour quay, inviting study and reflection.
Controversy abounds as to the artistic value of the statue. Some say it is 'disvalue': an ugly and meaningless piece of ConArt, destined for the scrap heap. One Facebook entry, ("Manyani") says (Oct 12 2012):

"I think the problem is that Hirst's recent work lacks any soul. It is about as emotionally engaging as as a souvenir knick knack in a tourist trap. Completely dead. It would be interesting to see it turn green if it will and if I'm alive in 20 years to see whether it has become a much loved local focal point."

It "lacks soul"?  Yes, says Ruth Dudley Edwards, no thanks to the Tate lately 'promoting talentless self-publicists, and encouraging the proliferation of the ugly and the pointless.'  But, Hirst must have meant something by it, other than buy it!"

I'll attempt to give it soul, or reveal its soul.  Yes, it has turned a streaky chlorinated green - maybe oppressed by bored and jealous mermaids.  The artist said his inspiration for the statue came from three sources: the Statue of Liberty, Degas' "Little dancer," and the Scales of Justice, mounted over the Old Bailey. This gives us some clues: the New York symbol represents freedom from oppressive and arbitrary authority; the Little Dancer represents the effect on a girl of sexually abusive men, whilst the Scales speak of the natural human desire for justice to be satisfied.  Thus, we see Verity trampling over those books of Law (and Science?), which lie beneath her bronze feet - she feels oppressed by them.  Her face suggests she is a scarred victim of a malicious rapacious criminality - as was the Little Dancer.  Her pregnant despair cries out for help, for, although she shares the guilt of the abuser, she asks, perhaps, for pity, not condemnation, as she hides the scales of justice behind her back.

Verity means Truth (Lat. veritas),  Hirst speaks in an interview of using "universal triggers" to provide strands for his work, which he then brings together to produce a piece of art.

There are perhaps five attempted universals in 'Verity', starting from the base of the statue:
a. Rebellion  - the books on the pedestal represent authority, whether of Law or Science, or both.  'Verity' puts experience above all book learning, and is prepared to trample on all ancient notions of authority. Experts differ, opinions differ, and all knowledge in a post-modern world is uncertain.  There's no such thing as objective truth about the meaning of sex, only your truth - which may not be my truth - and vice versa. The woman must find her own meaning in gender relationships, not rely on others to interpret them for her.

b. Admission - the open womb represents a more honest statement about women's predicament. Some may prefer the term 'Exhibition', as compared to the traditional practice of privacy and confinement in time of pregnancy.  She wants 'pro-choice' freedom to have sexual experience without childbirth, all the while acknowledging she knows she is responsible, as a mother, to face up to the dilemma this occasions.

c.  Abstention - Verity has hidden the scales of justice behind her back.  That is, she asks viewers to abstain from judging her condition negatively, as if a damning verdict may justly be passed on her condition.

d.  Frustration - She has voluptuous lips, which speak maybe of insatiable sexual appetite. What chance has she of staying childless, when surrounded by men who find her sexually alluring, and feel seduced by her?

e. Contention - the sword speaks of woman's readiness to respond aggressively to men's (or others) criticism of her condition.  She will give as good as she gets. She knows that her sexuality gives her power over men, and she is prepared to use it to the full, if need be.

To make sex and gender so central to his statue suggests Hirst has drunk at the well of Sigmund Freud and, like his mentor, he makes no bones in not believing in God. There's your first mistake, Damien.

Anyway, let's analyse these supposed 'universals' a little closer, and give a biblical perspective to them.
1. Rebellion  - 'Your truth may not be my truth, and vice versa.' The woman must find her own meaning in gender relationships.' The Bible's remedy to the one-parent problem is a one man-one woman marriage for life - without attitude. "[As to wives, let their adorning] . . . be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." 1 Pet. 3: 3-4. Marriage will not work if the woman lacks a "meek and quiet spirit."  But, that's far too high a price to pay for many.

2. Admission -  'Verity wants 'pro-choice' freedom to be childless, while acknowledging she is responsible as a mother too.' The Bible's remedy for this dilemma, is to see childbearing as a wonderful privilege and duty, in spite of what the Enemy did in the Garden: "For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they [both parents] continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. 1 Tim 2: 13

3.  Abstention - Verity has hidden the scales of justice behind her back.  She asks viewers to abstain from judging her condition negatively,  Jesus (and the Bible) agree with her, when he said:"Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. 3And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" Matthew 7.   He [Jesus] said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? 11She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." John 8.

4.  Frustration -  'What chance has she of men not feeling seduced by her?' The Bible's answer to this: to realise that unless she searches for sexual healing - and wholeness - she will always be vulnerable to abusive men, and to her own changing moods.  Our Verity has, perhaps, the spirit of Degas' little dancer - the abused child-prostitute - who will one day become, as described in Proverbs 9: 18 " A foolish woman is clamorous: she is simple, and knoweth nothing. For she sitteth at the door of her house, on a seat in the high places of the city, To call passengers who go right on their ways: Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: and as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him, Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. But he knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell."

 5. Contention - She will give as good as she gets - she knows that aggressive sexuality gives her power over men, and she is prepared to use it. The Bible's remedy for this false feminism is to realise she needs the new birth, no, not physical, but the spiritual rebirth Jesus speaks of, to the Jewish rabbi, Nicodemus (John 3): "Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? 5Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.. . . 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. . . . For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. "

When we take the remedy, healing immediately begins. Jesus' healing turns 'unwanted' natural life, into a life which God has planned, for your good and mine. As Jesus Christ said, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." John 10: 10.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Jesus and same-sex union

Last Sunday the Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Rev. James Jones, seemed to be exercising a semantic sleight of hand, when arguing on the BBC's Sunday programme, that it is right to ask for God's blessing on same sex relationships. He sought to validate the Church's blessing by saying that biblical relationships laid a doctrinal foundation, namely, Jesus' relationship to His Father (John 1:18), John the apostle's relationship to Jesus (John 13:25) , and David's affection toward his best friend Jonathan, son of King Saul (1 Samuel 18:1). In the first two cases, Jones stressed that the physical intimacy is described in Scripture as a relationship in "the bosom" (KJV), that is, 'close to the heart.'

Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. St. John 13:25`No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. St John 1:18

The relationship between John and Jesus, as well as David and Jonathan, says the Bishop, were "same-sex" relationships. However, by comparing them with Jesus' relationship to His Father, he introduces confusion. Rev. Jones ignores the fact that gender difference is peculiar to the need for human reproduction.; Fatherhood in God bears no relationship to gender as such, but is a necessary metaphor to describe God analogically. God is One who protects, provides, guides and cares for us, in the same way a father should do in the human family. Describing God as "Father" is not a sexual or gender statement at all. If angels neither marry nor are married in heaven (Matt. 22: 30), how much more true that is of God, who is totally Unique. Just as God cannot create a stone He cannot lift, so He cannot reproduce - the idea is a monstrous thought.

So far has the Bishop strayed from Scripture, that he has lost hold on the Head (Col. 2: 19). The muddled thinking consists in the use of the phrase, "same-sex relationships." A normal use of the phrase, when discussing homosexuality, includes showing the kind of physical affection which is "non-celibate" between males (or between females), where such affection includes an invasive (in my view) interference with "those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable,' and about which St Paul says: "upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness." (1 Cor. 12: 23-24). They were made by God for purposes of procreation, and the only basis on which a spouse (of the opposite sex) has a peculiar position in relationship to those parts of the body, is described by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7: 4

The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.

Pauline teaching is statedly grounded in the Mosaic Law, for he authoritatively sets out relationships within the church on the assumption "the Law" has a teaching authority (1 Cor. 9:8; 14: 21, 34). But, the Mosaic Law condemns same-sex relationships:

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. 23Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion. 24Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: . . . 25And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. Lev. 18.

Also, St. Paul reasserts the norm of marriage, as being between one man and one woman, which Jesus Himself taught.

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. 3Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.1 Cor 7: 1-2And he [Jesus] answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? 6Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. Mat 19: 4-6

The expression "touch" in 1 Cor. 7: 1 is euphemistic for taking advantage of a woman in a sexual way. There was no place in Paul's thinking for questioning the Law's condemnation of homosexual relationships. He says, for example:

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Cor. 6: 9-10

Here, the apostle uses two Greek words (as underlined), "malakos" and "arsenokoites." The first refers to the 'female' partner in the relationship, who has a more passive role, and thus takes on an effeminate, soft body language uncharacteristic of men; the second refers to the 'male' in the relationship, who takes more initiative, and who is thus is more obviously guilty of abusing his sexual appetite, through such misuse.

When the writer and historian Antonia Fraser in "The Life and Times of King James of Scotland" accused King James 1 of having a homosexual relationship, she added, 'presumably the relationship was consummated.' By this she meant to imply that same-sex union is characteristically expressed by conduct (abnormally) mirroring, as far as possible, conjugal union. The KJV uses the term "sodomy" for such behaviour. It is amazing to me that our UK Parliament has recently added its official blessing to such a corrupt relationship. The apostle Paul claims to speak to this issue with God's authority here, as elsewhere in the canon of Scripture. One example, among his many statements, is to this effect:

If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. 1 Cor 14: 37

Someone who makes no profession of being a believer in, and disciple of Jesus Christ will naturally consider Paul to have been self-deluded, in making claim to possessing prescriptive authority. But, for a Church bishop to implicitly deny that authority is morally indefensible. Confusion is the outcome - there's a day of reckoning ahead.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Did Jesus command his disciples to “raise the dead”?

A few days ago I was visiting the Emmanuel Centre, Westminster for an OM event (Operation Mobilisation) , and was impressed with the golden-varnished texts displayed around its walls. Matthew 10: 8 was one of the texts featured, which had me thinking: for over three hundred years the Church has believed Jesus said these words to his chosen few:

“These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, . . .[G]o rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. 8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead,cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” Matthew 10.

It is sometimes believed (wrongly) that the great defender of the Traditional text of Scripture, Dean John Burgon, - of Chichester Cathedral, and an Oxford don – believed every word of the King James Version was accurate. This may be because the Dean Burgon Society, founded by Dr. Donald Waite in New Jersey, USA, rejects all English versions (including the NKJV), other than the “Authorised”. Burgon believed no text should be changed until all the evidence was in; but this involves a comprehensive study of the thousands of cursive NT manuscripts (MSS), which have been preserved through the centuries. Burgon also insisted on the same attention being given to all the church fathers' writings, whose evidence for the correct text is as important as that of the Greek MSS themselves. Also important are the thousands of lectionaries, which are service manuals, preserved from the fourth century onwards.

Truth is, Burgon was not entirely true to his principles, for in his “The Revision Revised” he dismissed the supposed instruction of Jesus to raise the dead, because, as he said, 'not 1 in 20 of the MSS support it.' But, all the evidence is not in on the Text, so he was a bit naughty to plead the majority argument at that point, as if that settled the matter. I suspect he rejected the phrase, not only on textual grounds, but for theological reasons. He probably thought it was intrinsically unlikely that Jesus would have expected an ability from his disciples to actually raise the dead, when their faith seemed at times so frail or fragile.

On the theological point, there are several reasons to explain why Jesus commanded them to raise the dead. First, Jesus expected his close disciples to do the same work of healing etc., as he did, however little or much faith it took. Thus, in Matthew 16:

“Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? 20And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. 21Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” Matt. 17: 19- 21.
Secondly, he taught them they would be able to do just what he did, which as we know included raising the dead. St. John explains:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. 13And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” John 14: 12-14

The fact that the disciples lacked the faith to do such an extraordinary thing as raise a dead person to life is not relevant. They had watched him raise the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7: 11), and the daughter of Jairus (Luke 7: 12 - 15), and multitudes of those terminally sick (Matt. 12: 15) had been healed. When Martha and Mary complained to Jesus that he had been tardy in responding to their pleas to come and heal Lazarus before he died, he didn't apologise for the delay. Instead, he said he expected better of them:

“When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11.

He even chastised them severely in Matthew 17:14 ff. for their lack of faith:

“And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, 15Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. 16And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. 17Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. 18And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.”

So, if John Burgon was dismissive of the Text on theological grounds, he was out of order, for it's easily possible that Jesus was challenging the disciples to exercise extraordinary faith. If he dismissed the phrase on text-critical grounds, then he breached the rules he recommended to others, when he argued that no KJV text should be altered (does that not include, 'or propose to be altered'?) until a comprehensive (exhaustive) study of the primary sources has been undertaken. Such a thing will apparently never be done, as there is little taste for such minute study in scholarly circles, except by the very few. The task is gargantuan, and there's so much else to attract our attention.

Why did Burgon argue against the phrase, “raise the dead” on the textual evidence? Because he wanted to make the point that the later cursive MSS were far too easily dismissed, when textual critics weigh up the evidence, for including a verse or phrase in. These miniscule MSS proliferate as the centuries proceed, and they bear witness to the united testimony of what was later called “the Received Text” (TR). “Received” means 'believe to have been received by the churches all down through the centuries as authentic', starting with the Apostolic autographs. The Reformers rightly believed (e.g. John Owen) that God the Holy Spirit was concerned to preserve every word of the original text (St. John 16:13), in spite of human carelessness, whether by the copyist or some other. Had not God said:

“He (Jesus) answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” St. Matt. 4:4.

That's every word, and:

“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Matthew 24:35

Jesus is indeed ”the Word,” and, as the preincarnate 'logos' (Gk. word), he is in a real sense the author of it all. By what reasoning do we accept, then, that Jesus neither meant “every word” literally, nor that God failed to do what he promised (Psalm 12: 6-7).

Such are the vagaries of New Testament criticism, that with industry and artistry it is possible to make a reasonable (or plausible, depending on your presuppositions!) case for every verse of Scripture in the TR. If you have a knowledge of textual criticism, then you will be interested to read my rationale below, for keeping Matthew 10:8 in the Text. Don't be deceived however. I would not have the same confidence to defend it, did I not already believe, prior to study of a text, that (a) God intended to preserve every word, and (2) The KJV translators had a superior understanding of the main sources available (early Christian writings, lectionaries, Versions) to achieve textual certainty.

As far as the textual evidence – for or against “raise the dead” – is concerned, one would have thought that the KJV translators would have omitted the reading from the Text, because the Traditional text (Byzantine), which they believed in, largely omits it. Only a comparitively few miniscules have the command in - Burgon thus opposed it. “Raise the dead” is supported by the uncials AlephABCD but that cut no ice with Burgon, as he lamented the five Uncials are so at loggerheads with one another in the Gospels, and in so many places, they were totally untrustworthy as witnesses to the genuine Text. This is in sharp contrast to the views of Westcott and Hort - and todays critical editors of the Text - who still adhere to the old line that Hort's theories are essentially 'kosher', and the readings of the two codices AlephB are therefore a necessary default position, where the correct Text is difficult to decide upon. This is said to be the case, even though AlephB readings are followed by, at most, 47 Greek MSS compared to over 5000 Greek MSS, which largely reflect the Traditional text, that Text believed to be handed down from the apostles.

Thus, the case for not leaving the words out is: that the major early Uncials have it in (01, B, C*, D, N, P, W, D, 0281vid,) and several of the cursives also (f1, f13-part, 22, 33, 157, 372, 565, 700mg, 892, 2737, pc, L2211). The Old Latin and the Vulgate have it in, as well as the Syriac Sahidic and the Syriac Bohairic (Lat, Sy-S, Sy-H, bo).

The case against the words lies in the fact that the major Uncials are untrustworthy (01, B, C*, D) and most of the preserved MSS through the centuries leave them out. If we follow Burgon's view here, we will not only say most of the MSS omit it (not an unimportant consideration). Several Uncials also omit it (C, K, P, L, X, G, Q, 124, 174, 788 (=f13-part), 118, 700*). The Syriac Palestinian MS omits, the Syriac Peshitta omits (this is an important early Version); the Egyptian Sahidic omits, and one church father omits, Basil (4th AD).

Which is the correct reading?

Burgon, in my view, got it wrong - it should be kept in the Text. Wrong, not because Burgon was a poor scholar (far from it!), but because he lacked a certain belief that God had promised to preserve every word of Scripture. If we are to grow to true maturity, spiritually, we need every word, not simply most words. There are several readings in the TR, which the KJV translators followed, even though they are not in the Majority text. The TR got its first orientation from Erasmus's first printed NT Greek edition. Erasmus was willing to follow the Latin text when it seemed to reflect the common text (ie readings accepted by most churches in the West). But, why should we trust these readings when they fly in the face of the choices of the copyists of most of the MSS? Because a belief in the superiority of the traditional text is essentially a “faith” position. This consists in saying: (1) God promised to preserve for us every word of the Bible (KJV Psa 12: 6-7 says so). (2) The TR should be followed implicitly, because God would have not abandoned His detailed concern to preserve for us every word of God at the critical moment of printing (1516 AD) when the hand-written Text became the first printed Text, through Erasmus. (3) It is therefore logical and spiritually astute to believe that the Holy Spirit guided Erasmus in his initial choices – his work was later taken up by other TR editors (Stephens, Beza, Elzevir – the KJV used Beza's text as their base text).

I should distrust my own judgement, when someone casts doubt on any word in the KJV. I should study it seriously on any and every particular point, to know whether my trust in it is justified. It's a life-changing translation. Don't let its influence escape your intellect. No, we should let it shape our minds on a daily basis. The next generation needs to see us reading it, and they will then follow our example. But, if you leave it on the shelf unread, and ban it from public use, don't expect the younger generation not to follow your example, and so they will neglect it.