Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Barack Obama - Antichrist?

I'm glad to see Barack is in good company in this video - remember when Ronald Reagan, Henry Kissinger, and Prince Charles were identified as the Antichrist? There's a book called Naming the Antichrist: The History of an American Obsession, which will make you very skeptical about such attempts.

The main problem with claims like this is that they attempt to find coincidental similarities between a modern figure and the Antichrist while ignoring the central characteristics of the Antichrist. No one is eligible to be an (or the) antichrist unless he persecutes Jews and/or Christians, and sets himself up as an object of worship even above the pagan gods. Leaders like Domitian, Mao, Stalin or Hitler (whose names probably don't mean anything special!) might qualify on those grounds - but not a politicaly liberal president who doesn't agree with Evangelical Christians on some matters.

Linguistically, the claims of the video are off. In Hebrew and in Aramaic, lightning is baraq. (BTW, the speaker is not accurate to say that Aramaic is the most ancient form of Hebrew - the first hint that he is not an expert. His use of Strong's concordance is another hint that he doesn't actually know Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek). But in Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic, that q at the end is a different letter from k, and is even pronounced differently. In all three languages, barak (with slight spelling differences between the languages) means "blessed." The parallel name in Hebrew is Baruch, and Mubarak is another Arabic name with the same root. English speakers may think that barak and baraq are about the same - but non-English speakers would think that watch and wash are about the same.

"Obama" fares no better. I am no expert in this area because Obama is an African tribal name, not Arabic or semitic. That means there is no linguistic connection between the Hebrew bamah (heights, hills) and the tribal name Obama. I can't vouch for this website, since I haven't studied any African languages, but it seems much better informed than the video.

Finally, the video has its biblical interpretation off. Jesus does talk about the antichrist, but not in Luke 10:18. The Bible makes a clear distinction between the human antichrist and the angelic/demonic Satan, and there is absolutely no discussion of the antichrist anywhere in Luke 10. The video also refers to Isa 14:12-14. Although it is common for Christians to think this passage is talking about Satan, you will have a hard time finding an Old Testament scholar who agrees. It is a hyperbolic description of the king of Babylon, as the first line in the poem says (14:4). Even if the passage was describing Satan, the word "heights" is not a description of Satan. We might as well pick other random words from the passage and claim that anyone with a name like that might be the antichrist (Maybe Ken Starr? Isa 14:12).

And if that's not enough, you can tell that the video was really fishing, since lightning in the Bible is associated with Satan only once, and is associated with God or the Son at least thirty times (Ezek 1:13, Lk 17:24, Rev 4:5).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"I am not going up to this feast" (John 7)

John 7 is a story about conflict over Jesus' identity. Jesus' brothers as well as the crowds at Jerusalem believe that Jesus is some sort of great rabbi or wonder-worker, but they do not believe that he is the Messiah. Much of the account depicts Jesus' invitation to move beyond deficient beliefs about him.

The story starts with an interesting dialogue between Jesus and his brothers, who, we are told, do not yet believe in him. The brothers want Jesus to publicly proclaim himself at the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus responds "My time is not yet here... You go up to this feast. I am not going up to this feast, because my time is not yet fulfilled" (John 7:6-8) But then Jesus goes secretly halfway through the feast.

Some Bibles have "I am not yet going up to this feast." Some ancient manuscripts have "not" (ouk) and others have "not yet" (oupo). It seems more likely that John originally wrote ouk. The earliest manuscripts (p66, p75, B) have this reading. But more importantly, we can imagine a pious scribe changing "not" to "not yet" in order to preserve Jesus' honesty; it is very difficult to imagine a scribe changing "not yet" to "not." (On the other hand, the reliable 4th century ms Sinaiticus has oupo, leading the UBS Committee to give a C rating to their decision in favor of ouk).

So why did Jesus say "I am not going up to (or at) this festival"? John loves to use plays on words (see some of my other posts on John). Elsewhere in John, going up (anabaino) is used to refer to Jesus' "glorification" - his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension (John 3:13, 6:61-62, 20:17). The "hour" is also a reference to Jesus' glorification (John 4:21, 23, 5:25, 28, 7:30, 8:20, 12:23, 27, 13:1). So Jesus may be saying that this festival is not the time for him to display his glory through his death; he must wait for the following Passover. This pattern - Jesus uses a play on words, and someone else misunderstands - can be found in other places in John (3:3-5, 4:9-11).

Although I have read the passage as a subtle reference to Jesus' coming glorification for some time, I recently discovered that some church fathers read it this way. Augustine and Chrysostom seemed to view the passage in this way, and (according to Beasley-Murray, who thinks the view is nonsense) so did Ephraem and Epiphanius. Augustine and Chrysostom were not viewing the passage that way in order to preserve Jesus' honesty, since they were working with manuscripts that said "not yet."

[However, it is possible that there is no play on words here; anabaino is the standard word used for going up to Jerusalem, especially for a festival (John 2:13, 5:1, 7:8, 10, 14; 11:55, 12:20).]

The picture: Jesus teaching in the Temple, Michelangelo, 1548.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Age of the Fallen

My friend Mark Olmos has just published Age of the Fallen, a fictional book about spiritual warfare amoung youth in Japan. I have not read it yet, but I intend to. Mark is a great pastor and one of the most creative people I know, so I expect it to be a great read. It would help him the most if you order directly from his website.