Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Embracing the Dark Side of Doubt & Uncertainty

Not many years ago I spent nearly a year held within the black landscapes of doubt and uncertainty. My soul was troubled unlike anything I had ever experienced before and it drove me towards shattering my past before I was allowed to reform/reframe my future. Most curiously was the journey itself in that I didn't mind being in this troubling stage of destruction. I knew it needed to be done. And it needed to be quite thorough. But nor did I go on a "binger" and freak out during this time. I still was a husband and a dad and worker and lay minister with community responsibilities. But underneath to the observing eye there were dark waters and warring storms crashing across my soul.

Worse still was this strong feeling of God's absence. How ironic I thought! How could that be? Because even though there was this deep sense of abandonment of God's Spirit still I knew God was there. Hearing my laments. Knowing the troubles demanding my soul. But perhaps this was Job's experience too. Or, the Psalmist David's. Or really, any of those prophets of the bible who needed to be stretched out and laid bare before God from all the beggardly conformities of this tempestuous life.


And so I tarried in this dark land of shattered dreams, unknowing, and personal removal. What I was ,and where I was, before this occurred turned significantly afterwards to what, and where, I am now, today. It was unplanned. It was deeply surprising and unnerving. But it was also necessary. And it wasn't a place I wanted to leave or abandon while going through this dark, soul-searching time. Why? For some reason it dawned upon me that God needed to have His way with me during this time and that I shouldn't quit it lest it be undone or incomplete. And so I stayed and waited for a redemption to come in the days of my reforming.

I knew too that my God would never leave me. But as well that I must fundamentally leave my past to follow Him. And so, it was a spiritually dark time. Nearly oppressive in many ways. And without anyone who would or could help though I tried to speak of my travail several times to unhearing ears. Still, there was silence. From God. And from man. But as this darkness persisted through most of a year I began to hear the Spirit's words in my heart and my mind more plainly than I had ever heard Him before. More surprisingly was the movement of God's Spirit upon me to write of Him in fundamentally new ways that freed my soul to do the task laid out before me; and later would go on to bless many others seeking healing, inspiration, or reconstitution.

And lest you think this is a rare occurrence let me share a video below which gives but a small glimpse of the agony a believer can go through when pressed of God into a new service, a new change of living, a new burden. But know also we are never forsaken of God though it feels for a time we are. Mine lasted most of a year. Now that is a long time. And certainly it was troubling to my soul. Foundationally troubling. Here was were doubt and uncertainly lived. Lands I had previously embraced, but now in fundamentally new ways of acceptance (and joy). Even so, though I felt abandoned by God I knew God was with me as He is with all of us at all times though we feel it not at times in life. At least that was my experience knowing God's assurance never left me even though heaven's brass ceilings echoed my laments back only to myself with no one - not even the Divine - seemingly hearing.

But morning eventually came and when it did I then understood the value of God's silence. For it was in the wilderness of my despair that He ministered to me across a land of hard rocks and desert heats. Through anguishingly empty spaces and formidable obstacles I would encounter in my (unwanted) journey into the divine whose fire burned all that remained within me. And it was there that faith returned and grew strong again in the bad lands of evil and lostness. That a divine compass was re-ignited to guide me again. That nourishing manna was provided to heal the soul. And cold waters would flow from the fissures of the earth opening up in their time.

And so it was enough. And the long days of despair in wilderness living were left behind and in its place, as I looked back, were discovered scattered memorials to God's faithfulness supplying His grace and wisdom in the desert places of my soul though I saw it not at the time. And with it a new direction that might guide me through the end of my days. And perhaps guide a host of other penitents living out their own wretched miseries and afflictions like as I. At least this is my prayer of healing restoration to the ones who weep in the night seeking guidance upon their knees. Whose speak words of lament to questions, angers, or disappointments without answer heard only upon the blowing wind. But know this, there is a mighty wind of the Spirit who bears and hears all who blows across the desperate reaches of our soul.

R.E. Slater
July 20, 2016

Doubt is Real - I Pray This Blesses Someone in Jesus name
Artist: @ChristianRapz
Category: Christian Hip Hop

Not knowing but moving forward

The Agnosticism of Wonder

The Sibylline Oracles of the Pseudepigrapha, Part 1

Introduction to the Sibylline Literature

by Phillip J. Long
July 19, 2016

The genre of the Sibylline Oracle is well known in the ancient world. The Sibyl is always an elderly woman who delivers strange sayings as if from the gods. Ovid tells the story of a woman who asked Apollo to live as many years as there are sands on the seashore. The wish was granted, but she did not ask the god to keep her from aging, so she is forced to live as a shriveled old hag. Various cultures have versions of this story – the Jewish legend calls her Sabbe or Sambethe and made her a daughter of Noah (Collins, OTP 1:317-38)

Erythraean Sibyl, Michelangelo
There were many sibyls by the fourth century B.C., but by the first century B.C. the most important was the Roman Sibyl. Her sayings were kept in Rome and consulted in times of crisis. These books were destroyed in 83 B.C. when the temple of Jupiter was burned. When it was rebuilt in 76 B.C., sibylline books from all over the empire were brought to Rome to be housed at the temple. Roman sibylline texts were filled with omens and prodigies, so too the Jewish oracles.

When something strange happened, the Oracles were scoured to give potential meaning to the event. The books could function as propaganda since a king could confirm his action by pointing to an arcane sibylline line which “predicted” his birth or some other key event. The obscurity of these works made them easy to manipulate and fabricate (Cicero, De divinatione 2.54.110; Plutarch, De pythiis oraculis, 25, cited by Collins 1:320, note 38). Eventually Augustus destroyed thousands of Roman oracles because he considered them politically subversive (Collins, OTP 1:320, citing Suetonius,Augustus 31.1.

The collection of oracles titled Sibylline Oracles in most collections of the pseudepigrapha are Jewish or Christian creations which mimic the style of Roman oracles in order to provide some additional validity to Jewish (or Christian) worldviewsThese Sibylline Oracles are not single work from any one time. They range from Jewish works of the first century to late Christian theologies. To complicate matters, there are Christian interpolations into some of the Jewish oracles. This is a real problem for using this material: what is (early) Jewish as opposed to (later) Christian?

Sometimes this is obvious since the writer is clearly referring to Jesus Christ. For example, in the eighth oracle, lines 217-250 “an acrostic poem that spells out with the initials of each line the words Iēsous Christos Theou Huios Sōtēr Stauros, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, Cross.” As Collins points out, the first five of these letters spell Ichthus, “fish,” a famous Christian cryptogram (OTP 1:416).

Other times it is possible we may have a vague reference to a messianic figure or the messianic age which could be either Jewish or Christian. For example, in Oracle 3, some elements seem Jewish, such as lines 573-75, “There will again be a sacred race of pious men who attend to the counsels and intention of the Most High, who fully honor the temple of the great God.” But a few lines later there is a description of a restored kingdom which sounds like Christian descriptions of a millennium: “And then God will give great joy to men, for earth and trees and countless flocks of sheep will give to men the true fruit of wine, sweet honey and white milk and corn, which is best of all for mortals (3.-619-622).

Many times these “either/or” sections are not important (praise of God, for example), but in eschatological contexts it is very difficult to tell the Jewish from the Christian. This is the case because early Christian eschatology is very similar to Jewish eschatology since both developed out of the Hebrew Bible.

* * * * * * * * * *

Dating the Sibylline Oracles, Books 1-3

by Phillip J. Long
July 20, 2016

Because the “books” of the Sibylline Oracles are from different periods it is necessary to briefly note the date and provenance for each. See this post for oracles 4-7this post for oracles 8-14.

Sibylline Oracles Books 1-2. The first two books of the Sibylline Oracles form a unit. Lines 1-323 are a Jewish oracle which begin to recount the “ten generations” of human history. The first seven periods are covered in this section, but lines 324-400 are clearly Christian. After a brief transition in 2.1-5, 2.6-33 finished the “ten generations” theme. The eighth and ninth generations are missing; Book 2 picks up with the tenth generation. SibOr 2.34-347 describes eschatological crisis and judgment. It is Jewish, but there are a number of lines which are Christian interpolations, especially in lines 45-264. The Jewish section of the book has been dated from 30 B.C. to A.D. 250 based on the dominance of Rome in the textThere is no reference to the fall of Jerusalem nor the Nero Myth (a frequent motif in later oracles.) Collins concludes that the Jewish sections date to pre-70, while the Christian interpolations date after 70, but no later than A.D. 150. There are numerous parallels between the second and eighth oraclesimplying some literary dependence (which, assuming oracle eight used the second, implies the second was written first.) The Jewish section probably comes from Phrygia based on the reference in 1.196-198 to the ark landing in that country.

Sibylline Oracles Book 3Lines 1-96 are probably a conclusion to another book. Lines 97-349, 489-829 are the “main book,” with an “Oracles against the nations” section inserted in 350-488. The main section expects God to intervene during the reign of the seventh king of Egypt (lines 193, 318, 608). The mostly likely candidates for the seventh king are Philometor (186-164, 163-145 B.C.), Neos Philopater (145-144 B.C.) and Physcon / Euergetes II (170-164, 164-163, 144-117 B.C.). Collins cites Valentin Nikiprowetzky, La Troisiéme Sibylle, (Paris: Mouton, 1970) as arguing the seventh king is Cleopatra VII (Athens, 85). As can be observed from the dates of these three kings, there are some co-regencies which complicate the chronology. Collins dates the book to 163-145 B.C. based on the prominence of Rome after 175 B.C. The book is definitely written after the battle of Magnesia, 190 B.C., (OTP 1:355).

This view has been challenged, however, by Rieuwerd Buitenwerf. He points out the numbering of Ptolemaic kings did not exist in antiquity. They were identified by “title.” The number seven is used three times in the context of the prediction of a seventh king, all figuratively according to Buitenwerf (cf. Erich Gruen, Heritage and Hellenism [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998], 277). The writer of the oracle can only be said to believe that Roman rule will end when an Asian king conquers Egypt, signaling the appointed time for God to intervene in history. Therefore, the historical seventh king in the Ptolemaic dynasty does not matter for dating the book. Although he accepts the number seven may have been chose as an ideal number, Collins disagrees that the seventh king has no bearing on the date. The prediction of God’s intervention when the seventh king reigns is meaningless if it is known there have been more than seven kings (Collins,Athens, 83-84, interacting with Erich Gruen).

Buitenwerf points out there is no hint of a Roman invasion of Palestine nor an end to the Ptolemy dynasty, therefore the book must be written some time before Actium, 31 B.C. He finds confirmation for this date in the paraphrase of Book 3 of the Sibylline Oracles by Alexander Polyhistor on the tower of Babel. His citation of lines 3.91-107 are preserved in Eusebius’ Chronica and Josephus’ Antiq. 1.118-119, although Josephus probably also used Polyhistor. Polyhistor began to write about 880 B.C. and died about 40 B.C.

Collins believes the main section of the book to be pro-Ptolemaic and therefore argues the book is the product of a diaspora Jew living in Egypt. This too has been challenged by Buitenwerf, calling the evidence for an Egyptian origin “extremely meager” (Buitenwerf, 131). He considers Collins’ evidence of a pro-Ptolemaic author as saying nothing of the sort and considers the topographical details as a reflection of “general education” (Buitenwerf, 132). He argues for an Asian origin for the book based on the frequent mention of Asian locations and (more importantly), the prediction that an Asian king will invade Egypt. Lines 367-380 predicted this Asian king will usher in a time of bliss for Egypt, then again in lines 601-623 an Asian king invades and God intervenes in the world. The prophetess identifies herself as the Erythraean Sibyl, a very famous Asian prophetess. He concludes the author was a Jewish inhabitant of the Roman province of Asia. Collins agrees the “oracles against the nations” need to be dated a bit later, likely before the battle of Actium in 31 B.C., but the main section of the book, in Collins opinion, is earlier (Compendia rerum Iudaicarum 368-369). These are “gentile oracles” included to bring book three up to date and add to the sibylline flavor.

The first section is different from the rest of the book and is to be dated at least after Actium (line 46 seems to refer to the second Triumvirate.) Lines 75-92 refer to Cleopatra. Lines 63-92 are the most difficult to date, and ought to be considered separately from the rest of the introduction since they refer to the coming of Beliar. This looks like a Christian interpolation. The identity of Beliar may be Simon Magus as an anti-messiah, who was from Samaria (Herod’s renamed Samaria “Sebaste” in honor of Augustus in 25 B.C.)

A second and more likely possibility is the phrase describing Beliar ek Sebasttenon means “from the line of Augustus,” making Beliar Nero. This is in keeping with the Nero Myth and the common association of the return of Nero with an end-time villain. If the second option is accepted, then the date must be after A.D. 70 (when the Nero myth began to circulate), possibly laterThe use of the Nero Myth in Revelation 13 is a bit controversial since most scholars date Revelation to the mid 90’s A.D. This would mean the Nero Myth was still common knowledge nearly 30 years after his death.

* * * * * * * * * *

Dating the Sibylline Oracles, Books 4-7

by Phillip J. Long
July 21, 2016

Because the “books” of the Sibylline Oracles are from different periods it is necessary to briefly note the date and provenance for each. See this post for oracles 1-3this post for oracles 8-14.

Sibylline Oracles Book 4. Collins describes this book as a “political oracle from the Hellenistic age updated by a Jew in the late first century A.D.” (OTP 1:381. In Compendia rerum Iudaicarum 363, Collins says lines 49-401 are “substantially older”, probably the oldest in the Sibylline Oracles. It has been re-worked at a later date to include Rome and a prediction of the downfall of Rome). The earliest layer is quite early since there are no clear references to historical events after the time of Alexander the Great nor to the rise of Rome. It seems anti-Macedonian since Alexander does not bring in the golden age. The redaction “updates” the text sometime after A.D. 80. For example, line 116 refers to the destruction of the temple; lines 119-124, 138-139 refer to the Nero Myth, and 130-135 refer to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (A.D. 79). Collins speculates the text was used in a Jewish baptizing context, such as the Ebionites or Elcasaites due to the emphasis on baptism as a requirement for salvation and a rejection of temple worship (line 383).

Sibylline Oracles Book 5This book cannot be dated earlier than 70 because of the numerous references to the Nero Myth in all but the very first section, but not much later than 80. The first section has favorable comments about Hadrian, which Collins uses to argue for a date for the first section prior to the Bar Kokhba rebellion of 132 (OTP 1:391). There are a number of references to destroying pagan temples, possibly a reference to the Jewish Diaspora revolt of A.D. 115. That the book originated in Egypt is clear from line 53 (the Sibyl is a friend of Isis) and the interest in Cleopatra found throughout the book. Collins comments that despite the similarities to Sibylline 3, the eschatological perspective is quite different.

Sibylline Oracles Book 6. This short 28 line text is clearly a Christian “hymn to Christ” (OTP 1:406). There is no Jewish or pagan elements to the book, and very little to help date it either. The latest date is fixed since it is used by Lactantius about A.D. 300, but an earlier date is impossible to determine. Since the book has an interest in baptism and the Jordan River, some suggest an Ebionite origin, but Collins dismisses this as unlikely (OTP 1:406).

Sibylline Oracles Book 7Collins describes the seventh books as “disorderly” and “loosely structured” (OTP 1:408). It appears to be entirely Christian, any Jewish elements are not distinctly so. The book is also used by Lactantius; a date in the second century is commonly given for the bookThe origin of the book is also difficult to trace, Collins suggests Syria because of a slight interest in the region and in the baptism of Christ (OTP 1:408).

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Dating the Sibylline Oracles, Books 8-14

by Phillip J. Long
July 22, 2016

Because the “books” of the Sibylline Oracles are from different periods it is necessary to briefly note the date and provenance for each. See this post for oracles 1-3this post for oracles 4-7.

Sibylline Oracles Book 8The eighth oracle is a composite of two works. The first half of the book (lines 1-216) has been described as entirely Christian (Geffcken) or Jewish (Rzach), although it is probably best to see the section as a Christian redaction of a primarily Jewish work, probably under the influence of the book of Revelation (OTP 1:415-416). The first half can be dated during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (d. 180) since line 148 appears to predict Nero’s return in the reign of Aurelius (year 948 of Rome.) The second half of the book (217-500) appears Christian, possibly relying on the Christian section of Sibylline Oracles 2 (OTP 1:416). Lactantius used the second half of the book extensively, but there is nothing in the section to help fix a date prior to A.D. 300.

Sibylline Oracles Book 11-12. The last four of the sibylline books form a unit since they are a continuous outline of history. The later books appear to have appended to bring the outline of history “up-to-date.” Book eleven may end at the death of Cleopatra, although this is a challenged point (Compendia rerum Iudaicarum, 375-376, OTP 1:431-432). A date of the “turn of the era” is the best, but there is no doubt in Collins mind the book comes from Egypt because of the prominence of Cleopatra. If books 11 and 12 form a continuous unit, then the date needs to be pushed back to the third century since the book ends with Alexander Severeus (A.D. 218-235).

Sibylline Oracles Book 13. The beginning of this book appears lost since the history resumes with Gordianus (A.D. 240-244). Since it ends without mentioned the death of Odenath of Palmyra, the book is to be dated “with confidence” to A.D. 265 (Odenath took the title “king” when Valerian I was captured, Collins OTP1:458, note d2). Like the previous two books, it was likely written from Alexandria, Egypt. The book has very little theological content, making a decision on Jewish / Christian authorship impossible.

Sibylline Oracles Book 14. This last oracle is described by Collins as a reductio ad absurdum for the whole sibylline genre. He cites Geffcken’s assessment: the writer was “a Phantast . . . an ignoramus who knew nothing except names of people, countries and cities, and arbitrarily mixes them . . .” (OTP 459; Note 7 references Boussett in Real-Encyclopedia who assumes the work is Christian without arguing the case).

The book probably comes from the seventh century, written by an Alexandrian Jew with no hint of Christian redactions. W. Scott thought the book referred to the Arab conquest of Egypt, placing the date in the seventh century (W. Scott, “The Last Sibylline Oracle” Classical Quarterly 9 (1915), 144-166; 207-228, 10 (1916) 7-16).

Sibylline Fragments. Collins lists eight fragments of oracles which are found in Theophilus Ad Autolcycum 2.36 (fragment 1, 3) and 2.3 (fragment 2). Lactantius has fragments 4-7 and fragment 8 is referenced in Constantine’s “Speech to the Saints” The authenticity of the Theophilus fragments has been doubted. Geffcken thought Theophilus forged them himself (OTP 1:467).

Phillip J. Long - Discussion of 3 Enoch

What is 3 Enoch?

by Phillip J. Long
July 12, 2016

While the book is attributed to the rabbi Ishmael, who died before the Bar Kokhba revolt, Alexander dates the book to the fifth or sixth century A.D. (Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 223). Odeberg thought the earliest stratum of the text dated to the first century, although the main body of the text was third century. Christopher Rowland described 3 Enoch is described as “a solitary example of the extravagant Enochic speculation preserved in the Jewish tradition” (DDD, 303) As Alexander summarizes: “3 Enoch contains some very old traditions and stands in direct line with developments which had already begun in the Maccabean era, a date for its final redaction in the fifth or sixth century A.D. cannot be far from the truth” (“3 Enoch,” 228). Milik dated the book very late, to the ninth or tenth century. This date is based his belief 3 Enoch was dependent on 2 Enoch, which he dated to the same period. For a bibliography on 3 Enoch, see Andrei A. Orlov, From Apocalypticism to Merkabah Mysticism: Studies in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 59-63.

The importance of 3 Enoch is for the study of Jewish mysticism, especially merkabah mysticism. Merkabah mysticism is based on the throne vision of Ezekiel 1-3. A mystic is “caught up” into heaven and receives a vision of the wonders of heaven, the throne of God and the chariot of his glory. The visions are usually filled with fantastic descriptions of angelic beings. This is a very difficult area of study because sources are esoteric and often limited because the visions were secret. The Talmud considered these so esoteric they were not to be discussed (P. Alexander, “Third Enoch” in ABD 2:523).

3 Enoch may be important for the background to the Jewish mysticism in the Colossian heresy. Fred Francis argued the Colossian church was influenced by the merkabah mysticism of early Judaism. This mystical form of Judaism stressed visions (especially visions of the throne room of God.) Because of the obvious connection to the descriptions of the false teachers in the letter, this view has gained a great deal of attention of late.

A second possible New Testament connection to merkabah mysticism is Paul’s vision in 2 Corinthians 12:1-7. In this text Paul describes being “caught up to the third heaven,” language quite familiar to the reader of the Enoch literature. He says he entered paradise and learned secrets he cannot relate. There are any number of problems interpreting the section in 2 Corinthians (for example, when was this vision? What was the point of the vision for his ministry? Was Paul the subject of the vision himself? Is “I knew a man” an ambiguous self-reference?) Merkabah visionary experiences may provide some context for Paul’s experience, but it will be difficult to argue Paul’s vision is the same as the later merkabah visionaries.

The book of Revelation contains elements of merkabah mysticism in chapter 4-5, but there are a number of differences which set the Apocalypse apart from the later mystical texts especially with regard to the throne of God itself. But as David Aune points out, 2 Corinthians 12 and Revelation 4 are the only reports of these sorts of visions in all of early Christianity or Judaism (Aune, Revelation 1-5:14, 276-279). In Revelation, John is caught up into heaven, but he does not pass through stages or layers of heaven. He sees a variety of angelic / heavenly beings, although they are not described in the detail found in 3 Enoch or other any other intertestamental text. It is possible we can think of Revelation 4-5 as an “early”merkabah vision, while 3 Enoch represents a more fully developed form with the stock elements greatly expanded.


3 Enoch: Alexander, P. S. “3 Enoch” in OTP 1:223-254; “The Historical Setting of the Hebrew Book of Enoch,” JJS 28 (1977) 156-180. Christopher Rowland, “Enoch” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. (in K. V. D. Toorn, B. Becking, and P. W. Horst, P., eds. 2nd rev. ed.; Leiden: Brill, 1999).

Merkabah Mysticism: G. G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition (New York, 1960); David Flusser, “Scholem’s Recent Book on Merkabah Literature,”`JJS 11 (1961). Ithamar Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism (AGJU 14; Leiden: Brill, 1980).

Colossians and Merkabah mysticism: Fred Francis, “Humility and Angel Worship in Col 2:18,” pages 163-195 in Conflict at Colossae (F. O. Francis and W. A. Meeks, eds.; Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1975). F. F. Bruce argued the heresy is non-traditional Judaism, likely influenced by merkabah mysticism. F. F. Bruce, “The Colossian Heresy,” BibSac 141 (1984):195-208; H. Wayne House, “Heresies in the Colossian Church” BibSac 149 (1992) 45-59; Clint Arnold, The Colossian Syncretism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1996) 95-100.

Paul and Merkabah mysticism: “There are definite links from the language and ideas of these Jewish texts from Second Temples times and the testimony of Paul to and the Tannaitic and Amoraic Merkabah (and later Hekhalot) traditions….” James D. Tabor, “Heaven, Ascent To” in ABD 3:91-94; Brad H. Young, “The Ascension Motif of 2 Corinthians 12 in Jewish, Christian and Gnostic Texts” GTJ 9:1 (Spr 88) 73-103; J. Bowker, “‘Merkabah’ Visions and the Visions of Paul,” JSS 16 (1971): 157-173; P. Schäfer, “New Testament and Hekhalot Literature: The Journey into Heaven in Paul and in Merkavah Mysticism,” JJS 35 (1984): 19-35.

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Who is the Angel Metatron?

by Phillip J. Long
July 13, 2016

3 Enoch explains how the Rabbi Ishmael journeyed into heaven and saw God’s throne and chariot guided by the archangel Metatron. The general form is a report of a vision and an explanation of elements of the vision by Metatron. Since this angelic being is not mentioned by name in the Hebrew Bible, so it is important to understand who Metatron was in the post-biblical traditions.

Metatron becomes one of the greatest angels in the Jewish mystical literature, as close to a “son of God” as one gets in this literature. He is “God’s vizier and plenipotentiary” and is sometimes called a “little Yahweh” (R. S. Anderson, “Son of God” in ISBE Revised, 4:572; cf., Hengel, Son of God, 46). 3 Enoch 25:1 says Metatron’s name is “ʾOpanniʾel YHWH.” Because of his righteousness, Metatron is “installed as God’s vice regent and is given authority over all the angels” (3 Enoch 4:3-5 and 10:3-6; Grindheim, 146).

In 3 Enoch 12:5, Metatron is called the prince of the ophanim (אוֹפַנִּימ), a kind of angelic being based on Ezek 1:15. The Hebrew word אוֹפַן refers to a wheel and Anderson points out that although 4QŠirŠabb uses ophanim for literal wheels, but the word refers to a “class of angels in 1En 61:10; 71:7; 2En 29:3” (OTP 1:279, note g).

3 Enoch 12:5 Why is his name called ʾOpanniʾel? Because he is appointed to tend the ophanim, and the ophanim are entrusted to his keeping. Every day he stands over them and tends them and beautifies them: he praises and arranges their running; he polishes their platforms; he adorns their compartments; he makes their turnings smooth, and cleans their seats. Early and late, day and night, he tends them, so as to increase their beauty, to magnify their majesty, and to make them swift in the praise of their Creator. (Anderson, OTP1:279–280.

Metatron is far more spectacular than the angels in Exekiel 2. He has “He has sixteen faces, four on each side, and 100 wings on each side. He has 8,766 eyes, corresponding to the number of hours in a year, 2,191 on each side” (25:2). Like God, Metatron has seventy names (3 Enoch 45D:5), he rules the angels in God’s name (10:5) and represents God’s authority when he judges. Metatron “assigned greatness, royalty, rank, sovereignty, glory, praise, diadem, crown, and honor to all the princes of kingdoms, when I sat in the heavenly court” (16:1).

Since 3 Enoch describes Metatron in such exalted terms, some popular writers have tried to see this angelic being as a Jesus-like figure who sits on God’s throne and rules on behalf of God. As Sigurd Grindheim states clearly, “Metatron is not portrayed with an authority of his own that matches the authority of God. He does not act as God acts, but he is consistently on the receiving end of God’s actions” (147). In fact, Grindheim points out that 3 Enoch warns against making too much of Metatron’s power: When ʾAher sees Metatron on the throne, he declares “there are indeed two powers in heaven” (16:3). A divine voice censures ʾAher and he is not allowed to return to God and Metatron himself is punished with “sixty lashes of fire.” Metatron is therefore not an object of worship and according to 3 Enoch, those who think he might worthy of worship are in serious danger.

Metatron is a very powerful angel in this literature, but he is not divine and certainly not to be worshiped as God. There is no reason to think this being actually exists and even less reason to seek out hidden, mystical knowledge based on these texts in 3 Enoch.

Bibliography: Sigurd Grindheim, God’s Equal: What Can We Know about Jesus’ Self-Understanding? (LNTS 446; London: T&T Clark, 2011).

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Angelic Beings in 3 Enoch

by Phillip J. Long
July 14, 2016

The book has a higher view of the man Enoch than the previous Enoch pseudepigrapha. We learn in chapter 4 the angel Metatron is actually Enoch himself, having been elevated by God himself to the level of an angel (6:1-2). Enoch is described as the “choicest of all” and worth all of the rest of humans in righteousness. He is brought up to heaven in the Shekinah glory of God and brought into the divine presence itself (chapter 7). He is blessed with 1,365,000 blessings, his body is enlarged and he is given 72 wings, each wing is large enough to cover the whole world, and he is given 365,000 eyes each like the Great Light (the sun, chapter 9). The number 365 repeats throughout the book in a variety of forms (hundreds, thousands, etc.)

This is based on Enoch’s age when taken into heaven, and probably reflects the 365-day calendar theme from the early Enoch literature. Enoch is given a throne in glory at the door of the seventh palace and the Lord commanded that all should obey him (chapter 10). Enoch was given a name (“little Yahweh”), a robe and a crown (chapter 12-13). This crown is inscribed with “the letters by which heaven was created.”

All of the angels worshiped him, and their names are listed in 14:4 along with their responsibility in the order of creation. He is finally transformed into fire (chapter 15). In Chapter 16 Metatron is dethroned, but this is likely a secondary addition since it is entirely out of place in the context of the glorification of Enoch. (OTP 1:268, note a).

In chapters 17-40 there is a detailed listing of the names and responsibilities of the angels and other personnel in heaven. This material goes far beyond the biblical teaching on angels. There is a mind-boggling level of complexity for the hierarchy of the angelic beings! The seven honored princes of heaven are listed as Michael, Gabriel, Šatqiʾel, Šaḥaqiʾel, Baradiʾel, Baraqiʾel, and Sidriʾel; each are attended by 496,000 myriads of ministering angels. In addition to these are several princes in charge of “special angels.” These are all described like the angelic beings in the Hebrew Bible, majestic and powerful and unimaginably huge: The height of ʾOpanniʾel’s body is “a journey of 2,500 years.”

  • The princes of the “wheels” (the throne-chariot from Ezekiel), Rikbiʾel YHWH, “the great and terrible Prince.”
  • The prince of the holy creatures (the four-faced creatures from Ezekiel), Ḥayliʾel YHWH. The holy creatures are described in chapter 21 and they are far more amazing than Ezekiel 1. Each of their four wings covers the whole world, that their faces are crowned with 2000 crowns, each like a rainbow.
  • The prince of the cherubim, Kerubiʾel YHWH. This angel is described in terms similar to the angelic being in Daniel 10.
  • The prince of the ophanim, ʾOpanniʾel YHWH. This angel has 16 faces, and has 8,766 eyes, corresponding to the number of hours in a year.
  • The prince of the seraphim, Śerapiʾel. This creature wears a crown with the name “Prince of Peace.”
  • The heavenly archivist, Radweriʾel YHWH. This being has a sealed scroll box containing heavenly records.

Chapters 29-40 describe the Watchers and other angelic beings in a “heavenly law court.” These scenes contain the typical rivers of fire, thundering voices and earthquakes. Like the overly fantastic sizes of the angels, the numbers of the angels in this section are innumerable: 496,000 myriads of camps of angels with 496,000 angels in each camp (someone else can do the math!) There are seven rivers of fire 365,000 parasangs long (about 1,360,802 miles each), and they are 248,000 myriads of parasangs deep.

All of these overwhelming descriptions overwhelm the reader with the unimaginable greatness of heaven and the heavenly creatures. Although much of the imagery is drawn from the Hebrew Bible (especially Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1-3, and Daniel 10), the book multiplies these descriptions to infinity and beyond.

* * * * * * * * *

3 Enoch and the Cosmic Secrets

by Phillip J. Long
July 18, 2016

The final section of 3 Enoch contains several heavenly features in a somewhat random order. Metatron reveals these “secrets of the cosmos.”

  • Chapter 41 describes the letters by which the world was created. These letters are not identified in this section, but in chapter 44 the letters of the Torah are specifically mentioned so it is not unlikely the letters that created the universe are the Hebrew letters of the Torah.
  • Chapter 42 describes the raqia’, the firmament of Genesis 1 and the power of the name of God, who is an everlasting rock and everlasting fire.
  • Chapter 43 describes a storehouse of souls of the righteous. Some of these souls have returned and others have not yet been created.
  • Chapter 44 describes the wicked in Sheol and lists the angels in charge of the place as well as the souls of the patriarchs who pray before the Holy One. Souls are brought “to punish them with fire in Gehinnom, with rods of burning coal” (v. 3). There is a hint at purgatory in this section, since these tortured souls “are tainted until purified of their iniquity by fire.”
  • Chapter 45 describes the “curtain of the Omnipresent One.” On this curtain are printed each generation of the world, which are listed from Adam until the time of the Messiah. There appear to be two messiahs here, one who is the son of Joseph and one who is the son of David (verse 5). There are a number of potential rabbinical sources for the “nebulous figure” of the first messiah, son of Joseph, as a forerunner of the Davidic messiah (OTP 1:298 note t).
  • Chapter 46 describes the “the spirits of the stars” which live in the raqia’. The section specifically quotes Psalm 147:4 (God counts and names all of the stars) and Psalm 19:1 (the heavens declare the glory of God), and there are allusions to several other texts from the Hebrew Bible.
  • Chapter 47 describes the ministering angels who are punished by the fiery coals whenever they “do not recite the song at the right time or in a proper and fitting manner.”

Chapter 48A is the most eschatological section in the book. This chapter describes the right hand of God which created the 955 heavens. This right hand is “banished behind him” because of the destruction of the Temple. When it weeps five rivers flow out of it and split the earth in five ways, five times. When the Lord reveals his arm to the world, Israel will be saved from the Gentiles (verses 9-10). This re-gathering of Israel is described as a banquet and even the gentiles will share in this eschatological with Israel and the Messiah. This final eschatological statement may also allude to the banquet on Zion in Isaiah 25:6-8, but this is not as clear as Isaiah 66:20.

3 Enoch concludes by drawing together Isa 52:10, Deut 32:12 and Zech 14:9 to show the Lord will rule over the whole world, both Jew and Gentile. If the 3 Enoch is the product of a ninth century Christian monk, it is strange that Israel would have first place in the kingdom since by this point Israel has been theologically replaced by the Church as God’s people and eschatology such as this played down or allegorized. This eschatological conclusion seems to imply an early tradition present in 3 Enoch, although it is impossible to know how old this tradition is.

[End of 3 Enoch]

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

R.E. Slater - Radical Reflections on God, Faith, and the Bible

I hear too many Christians say that God's Spirit has left this world. I hear too many Christians looking forward to Jesus's coming in militaristic power and authoritarian judgment. But the doctrine of insistence says God has never left this world. That His Spirit has doubled-down in His death on the Cross. That His resurrection was not so simply b-a-c-k to heaven but into the very sub-structures of this world and into humanity's desperate plights. The power and presence of the Holy Spirit in this world is now more evident than ever despite what we preferred to see of its evils and atrocities. There is a global resistance to evil even as evil continues it's strife against mankind. The doctrine of insistence says God's Spirit and presence will persist against evil and that He will be all that He is becoming. Even so Lord, become all that you must be in our midst.

R.E. Slater
July 17, 2016

* * * * * * * * *

The emerging God is the evolving God. God's manifestations unfold in human
understanding through time, marking territory along the way. This is highly
noticeable in the biblical text, which can be referred to as an evolving story,
where the Creator speaks, the Crucified and Risen One takes center stage, and
then the Spirit signs us towards a destiny with God, which will someday be
fully realized.

- Reflections for the Week of July 18 by Living Spirituality

I can fully agree with the above reflection in the process sense and in the evolving (non-inerrant) bible sense.

Both God Himself, along with our understanding of God, is evolving through time and history - as would be natural as societies develop and God's experience evolves in relation to mankind's societal evolution.

As examples, when reading Israel's tribal laws from Leviticus or the Deuteronmic legal code it feels like we're reading Sharia (Islamic) law more concerned with cultural/community purity than love or compassion. But when Jesus comes along many, many generations later to reinterpret these sections the religious crowd doesn't like it. Nor did Paul who persecuted Christians for years before coming to the Jesus view of scriptures.

What this means is that we are allowed as we grow older to change our minds and attitudes from those early Sunday school days of youth and instruction as we gain maturity and wisdom. That it's not enough to "know" the Bible from a religious sense but to understand it from a contemporary  (Jesus) perspective. That our understanding of the bible changes with societies and their evolvement with one another.

As another contemporary example, to accept evolution should be more helpful than it present is to Christians too easily upset in their faith and traditions when considering this science (sic, cf. Christian anti-science proponents such as Ken Hamm et al).

Or, to understand that biblical passages do fall in the literary genre of narrative story telling should be a helpful observation rather than the need to legalistically codify biblical passages into strict doctrines of belief (the genre of biblical myths and legends versus literalistic interpretation).

By these examples we can see that a faith maturity requires energy and work and sometimes, if not many times, failure, doubt, uncertainty, disappointment, suffering, and intense struggle. Without these blessings-in-disguise God and His Word will never make sense to us. Nor can we evolve and mature in our religious thinking as contemporary witnesses to God's majesty and glory. Rather, we miss God completely within our traditions requiring a Jesus-figure to come along and point out to us that "there is another way of hearing and understanding God."

R.E. Slater
July 18, 2016

* * * * * * * * *

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way
through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that
democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

- Issac Asimov

I've said before and will say again, "Ignorance, though blissful, is always illusionary." 

Especially in a Christian culture more willing to believe what it believes than to critically examine those beliefs perpetuating ignorance and myth.

Harsh? Yes.

True? Yes as well.

And don't suppose apology is the answer to critical thinking. It isn't. It is a defensive response to rebutting proper criticism in order to comfort the supporters wishing to continue in errant beliefs. 

Thus the dissonance of the world with the church and the church's banal belief it is always being persecuted for its beliefs.

Or for falsely believing God's Spirit is abandoning the world as He prepares it for judgment when in fact He is abandoning the church for its harshness and uncompassionate religious zeal.

So to listen to church folk trying to reinforce their religious beliefs is quite problematic in a scientific era which rightly questions staid church doctrine.

The truth is you won't lose your God or your faith by critiquing either.

In fact, quite the contrary.

Both God and faith will be enriched and expanded in the discovery of conflict and abandonment of unbiblical church doctrine more commonly described as folk religion or religious dogma than it is good doctrine.

R.E. Slater
July 19, 2016

Horror Begets Horror. Let us Stop Building with these Horrific Tools.

The first time it was reported that our friends were being butchered
there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred were butchered.

But when a thousand were butchered and there was no end to the butchery,
a blanket of silence spread.

When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out "stop!"
When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible.

When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard.

The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.

- Bertolt Brecht, Selected Poems


The Christian must be dedicated to loving all men including their enemies. A currency built on love, mercy, and forgiveness cannot be wrong. A state policy built upon peace cannot be wrong. An attitude of acceptance, of worthiness, of embracing whatever color or tribe or nationality cannot be wrong. Let us not wait for Jesus to come but for Jesus to become in our lives, communities, and state policies using whatever degraded political-economic-social system we live in to God's cruciformed glory. Let the black rain become our summer's mourning dews.

R.E. Slater
July 17, 2016
"If It's Sunday I'm Preaching Peace!"

Saturday, July 16, 2016

21 Books (& Interviews) for the 21st Century Theologian

21 Books for the 21st Century Theologian

July 15, 2016

It’s Christmas in July for theology nerds!

Below are the 21 books PLUS links to an interview with each author:

  • On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process by Catherine Keller [interview] [book]
  • Did God Kill Jesus?: Searching for Love in History’s Most Famous Execution by Tony Jones [interview] [book]
  • The Divine Magician: The Disappearance of Religion and the Discovery of Faith by Peter Rollins [interview] [book]
  • Triune Atonement: Christ’s Healing for Sinners, Victims, and the Whole Creation by Andrew Sung Park [interview] [book]
  • The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology by Amos Yong [interview] [book]
  • Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks by Walter Brueggemann [interview] [book]
  • Christ and the Cosmos: A Reformulation of Trinitarian Doctrine by Keith Ward [interview] [book]
  • We Have Been Believers: An African American Systematic Theology by James Evans [interview] [book]
  • Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil by Emilie Townes [interview] [book]
  • The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence by Thomas Jay Oord [interview] [book]
  • Hoping Against Hope: Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim by John Caputo [interview] [book]
  • Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God by Elizabeth Johnson [interview] [book]
  • Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love by Grace Ji-Sun Kim [interview] [book]
  • Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed by John Cobb [interview] [book]
  • God the Revealed: Christology by Michael Welker [interview] [book]
  • The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, and Faith by Philip Clayton [interview] [book]
  • Theology and the End of Doctrine by Christine Helmer [interview] [book]
  • The Homebrewed Christianity Guide To Jesus: Lord, Liar, Lunatic… or Awesome? by Tripp Fuller [interview] [book]