Defending the House GOP Agenda

As a political conservative, I have been waiting for quite awhile for the time when our leaders and representatives in the U.S. federal government would start chopping away at some of the unneeded and unwanted federal bureaucracy and regulatory restrictions and other laws that are a blight on our nation. From what I have seen so far, the Trump Administration combined with the current, Republican-led legislative branch is beginning to do just that. It won’t be easy, and there will be much internal disagreement. But, I am encouraged to see positive steps being taken.

So, you can probably imagine what I thought the other day, when a politically “progressive” friend of mine on Facebook — call him “SB” — shared the following on his wall:

In case anyone got overly sidetracked by the Russian spy drama, the following bills HAVE been introduced:

1. HR 861 Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency
2. HR 610 Vouchers for Public Education
3. HR 899 Terminate the Department of Education
4. HJR 69 Repeal Rule Protecting Wildlife
5. HR 370 Repeal Affordable Care Act
6. HR 354 Defund Planned Parenthood
7. HR 785 National Right to Work (this one ends unions)
8. HR 83 Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill
9. HR 147 Criminalizing Abortion (“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act”)
10. HR 808 Sanctions against Iran

Please copy/paste and share widely. Call your House Representative and ask them to not only vote “NO”…but to speak up for our rights, health & safety, and our beautiful country.

[Incidentally, I found a version on Citypages that includes “11. HR 622 Removing federal policing from National Parks turning over to local authorities.” Is that really so scary?]

I didn’t engage other than to Like another person’s “Go Donald” comment (even though the above are House bills and not Executive Orders). My friend’s response to this comment was:

“Just like Christ would have done right can we stop pretending we’re either Christians or he is for once and be honest with ourselves”

I took this comment to mean that SB thinks that 1) Jesus would be against these bills and 2) it is hypocritical for Trump or anyone else who is for them to call themselves “Christian”. (Just f.y.i., SB grew up in a Christian household but no longer professes to be a follower of Christ.) Leaving aside the question of Trump’s spiritual status, I strongly disagree. So, let’s take a brief look at each of these bills….

First, the “environment”.

1) The shared goal of #1 and #4 (and a couple others) is to get the federal government out of controlling areas where it’s not supposed to be. OK, sure, an argument can be made that the federal government has a vested interest in the nation’s ecological well-being, and the EPA is supposed to ensure that. But, the unelected officials running the EPA (under direction of the Executive) have long abused their position by instituting many costly and burdensome regulations on American businesses and individuals. (Check out this article for some examples.) We don’t need the EPA to responsibly care for our natural resources. In fact, we can do better without it.

4) HJR 69 is a Joint Resolution that says both houses of Congress disapprove (and hereby nullify) the rule submitted by the Department of the Interior relating to “Non-Subsistence Take of Wildlife, and Public Participation and Closure Procedures, on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska” (81 Fed. Reg. 52247 (August 5, 2016)). Basically, this rule would allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to “seize authority away from the State of Alaska to manage fish and wildlife on federal wildlife refuges in Alaska – a clear violation of federal law.” (Read more here.)

Next is education.

2) Simply put, HR 610 is an effort to give parents more choice in where to have their children educated. As this Forbes article concludes,

“In simple terms, public schools would be left with fewer total dollars but more dollars per student. This implies opposition is not due to concerns over funding, but likely a simple case of trying to maximize public school enrollment so as to maximize unionized teaching jobs. Opponents of school choice are not worried about children, either the ones who want to leave or the ones that would stay. They only care about the teachers’ job security. So remember, the debate about school choice isn’t about education quality, it is really about jobs and union dues.”

3) The Constitution gives the federal government *no* authority in this area. Worse, since President Carter (re-)created it in 1979/80, the Dept. of Education has become a bloated, expensive, largely ineffective bureaucracy that, along with many teachers’ unions, actually works against the best interests of the students.

Healthcare & abortion…

5) Re HR 370, we all know what an extraordinarily expensive failure the ACA (aka Obamacare) has been. Sooner rather than later, we need a truly patient-centered, market-driven healthcare and insurance system. I’m not sure “Ryancare” is the best replacement — in fact, I have serious reservations about it. But, repealing the ACA is a necessary first step to getting there, so that Americans can truly have personal healthcare that is both competent and affordable.

6) Numbers 6 & 9 are — and this should be obvious by now, but… — to protect unborn, defenseless human lives. I have written several posts on the matter of abortion (see “Pro-Life’ link at top of page), so I won’t delve into that here. But, from a moral standpoint, it should be apparent why we should defund the #1 abortion-provider in America. It should also be clear from a Constitutional and financial standpoint why the federal government has no business funding an organization responsible for such atrocities, let alone to the tune of over a half billion dollars a year!

9) As for HR 147, here’s the beginning of the official summary:

“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) of 2017

This bill imposes criminal penalties on anyone who knowingly or knowingly attempts to: (1) perform an abortion knowing that the abortion is sought based on the sex, gender, color or race of the child, or the race of a parent; (2) use force or the threat of force to intentionally injure or intimidate any person for the purpose of coercing a sex-selection or race-selection abortion; (3) solicit or accept funds for the performance of such an abortion; or (4) transport a woman into the United States or across a state line for the purpose of obtaining such an abortion.

Violations or attempted violations shall result in fines and/or imprisonment for up to five years….

A woman having such an abortion may not be prosecuted or held civilly liable.”

So, this is hardly an all-encompassing law to outlaw abortion, nor does it send violators to the electric chair, or even mandate anything close to a life sentence. Furthermore, the mothers are not held guilty. On the contrary, it punishes those involved in coercing, performing, or receiving funds for abortions based on sex- or race-selection. Even liberals should appreciate that!

Unions.

7) Contrary to the above, the National Right-to-Work Act would not end unions. Rather, by amending a few sections of the existing National Labor Relations Act, its stated purpose is:

“To preserve and protect the free choice of individual employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, or to refrain from such activities.”

The labor unions currently have way too much control over who can be hired in the industries they are involved in. Workers are often forced to join a union if they have any hope of getting a job, and they are required to pay union dues. There may be benefits to being part of a union, but unions (and their dues) should never be mandated, especially when there is so much corruption typically involved. This bill not only gives laborers the right to have & join unions (which they already have, of course) but also makes it clear that are not required to do so (or pay dues/fees) and they have federal support should they choose to opt out.

Sanctuary cities?

8) There are many issues with illegal immigration in this country. For the sake of national security and the safety of U.S. citizens and legal residents, there needs to be cooperation between local/state governments (and their law-enforcement) and the federal government (and its law-enforcement). More to the point, defiance by local/state government is a big problem. To partially address one area of conflict, HR 83 has been sponsored by Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA). According to the official summary,

“This bill prohibits a state or local government from receiving federal financial assistance for a minimum of one year if it restricts or prohibits a government entity or official from: (1) sending to or receiving from the responsible federal immigration agency information regarding an individual’s citizenship or immigration status, or (2) maintaining or exchanging information about an individual’s status.

The bill restores assistance eligibility upon a Department of Justice (DOJ) determination that the jurisdiction no longer restricts or prohibits such actions.

DOJ shall report each year to Congress regarding state or local jurisdictions that restrict or prohibit such actions.”

Seems fair to me.

Finally, Iran sanctions.

10) Iran is a very dangerous, terrorism-sponsoring, human rights-abusing nation. The U.S. (and our allies) must use whatever means we can to curb Iran’s agenda, based on its politico-religious aspirations, while trying to avoid going to war. Introduced by Rep. Peter J. Roskam (R-IL), HR 808 (i.e., “Iran Nonnuclear Sanctions Act of 2017”) proposes to do this via a number of a) sanctions with respect to entities owned by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC); b) sanctions relating to human rights abuses in Iran; c) sanctions with respect to the ballistic missile program of Iran; d) sanctions with respect to certain Iranian transactions; and e) miscellaneous other measures, involving the modification of requirements relating to state sponsors of terrorism.

Granted, I only skimmed the bill, but I don’t think there is anything excessively harsh or uncalled for. On the contrary, Iran deserves everything we can do to slow them down and/or “punish” them for their many terrible actions.

Of course, the liberals/”progressives” love Big Government control and the associated reductions in Constitutionally-recognized freedoms. They are all for onerous restrictions in favor of “the environment”. They love abortion-on-demand. The unions give them a lot of money, support, and votes. And many think that letting states like Iran have nuclear weapons, etc., will make them feel “respected” and, thus, no longer feel the need to “posture” and do bad things. IMO, these attitudes betray a mix of naivete, misinformation, and moral confusion, but they explain why SB and others think these 10 bills are bad and need to be voted down.

I, on the other hand, see them as potentially doing a lot of good, increasing security, improving the economy, and saving innocent lives. As an American, I think these are all good things that promote the general welfare. As a professing Christian, I hold these to be positive things, the benefits of a wise government that seeks the best for its citizens and friends.

Jesus didn’t come to Earth (the first time) as a political savior. But, do I think He would be in favor of retaining inalienable rights (and perhaps granting others based in Judeo-Christian principles); improving/ensuring people’s health & safety in a fair, ethical, and economically effective way; and responsible management of natural resources in our beautiful country; not to mention, minimizing the potential for governmental tyranny? Yeah, I think He would.

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The “Two-Books Doctrine” and the Belgic Confession

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1 (ESV))

Have you heard of the “two-books doctrine” before?

Night sky w/ Milky Way (photo: © Joe LeFevre / NBP/ Wilderness)

The short version is that God has given us two books: the “book” of nature (aka general revelation, available for all to see) and, of course, the book of Scripture/Christ (aka special revelation, the Word of God). Since God is the author of both and He doesn’t lie, both books are not only reliable but internally and externally consistent — thus, in agreement and completely trustworthy in what they have to say.

“The God who neither lies nor deceives (see Num 23:19; Ps. 12:6; 19:7-8; 119:160; Prov 30:5; John 10:35; Heb 6:18; I John 1:5) has made both books reliable and trustworthy.”  — Dr. Hugh Ross, astrophysicist, author, apologist, pastor

Many Christians and other theists — and, obviously, non-theists — aren’t aware of this concept and/or they have somehow adopted a different understanding, wherein one or both books are *not* totally trustworthy and scientific findings in nature are expected to often be at odds with (or, at least, unsupported by) the Bible. There are two versions of this: the “Non-overlapping Magisteria”, or NOMA, approach (a la Stephen J. Gould) and the “Conflict” approach. They typically think that anyone who holds a position in which nature and Scripture are in harmony is grossly mistaken and guilty of bad science, bad theology, or both.

But, the “two-books doctrine” has a firm foundation in the history of the Christian church (especially the Protestant Reformation) as demonstrated by the Belgic Confession (1561), which in turn draws directly from various Scripture passages but primarily from Psalm 19 and the Book of Job. There is a lot of great stuff in that confession*, but here is the most relevant section:

Article 2: The Means by Which We Know God

We know him by two means:

First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: God’s eternal power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.

All these things are enough to convict humans and to leave them without excuse.

Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for God’s glory and for our salvation.

According to Hugh Ross, writing in his book Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job, “this creedal article rests more securely on Job than on any other portion of Scripture. No other Bible book makes a stronger argument for God’s revelation of himself to all humanity through nature’s record.”

Other sections of the Belgic Confession most closely connected to the “two books” are:

Article 3: The Written Word of God
Article 5: The Authority of Scripture
Article 12: The Creation of All Things
Article 13: The Doctrine of God’s Providence
Article 14: The Creation and Fall of Humanity

I haven’t finished reading Hidden Treasures, but I am quite enjoying it and can already highly recommend it. (I’m also re-reading Job, this time in the HCSB translation, and it’s easier to follow and appreciate than in more formal translations (e.g., KJV, NASB, ESV).) It is not your typical commentary on Job, that’s for sure. Ross’ theological and scientific insights are, as usual, atypical — yet firmly within conservative orthodoxy — and much appreciated.

If you are curious, here is a brief interview with Ross in which he discusses the “two-books doctrine” and the necessity of a testable Creation model.

* As per CARM.org, “Creeds and Confessions are written summaries of the Christian faith. Different Creeds have different reasons for coming into existence, and they don’t always agree with each other 100% of the time. However, they divulge the truth of the Christian faith in the essentials…. This Reformed confession was prepared in 1561 by Guy de Bres (c.1523-1567), who was later martyred, and others, and then slightly revised by Francis Junius (1545-1602) of Bourges. First written in French, it was soon translated into Dutch and Latin.  The Synod of Dort (1618-1619) made a revision but did not change the doctrine. It covers the spectrum of theological topics.”

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What to Do with the United Nations

“The U.N. was established to promote Western values. Franklin Roosevelt did not set it up to be anti-American or promote dictators and terrorist regimes.”  — Fred Fleitz, a senior VP at the Center for Security Policy

There is a lot of grumbling about the United Nations and, lately, some of this has turned to talk of getting the U.S. out of the U.N. altogether. Part of me wants to support this. But, given the organization’s prominence in international affairs and its potential for good, I also have questions about the wisdom of such a move.

From what I can tell, the main complaints appear to be 1) ineffectiveness, with an associated poor use of funds, and 2) undue influence of dangerous nations and NGOs which work against the promotion of Western values, including many of the freedoms that we still (mostly) enjoy. So, the questions we must ask are, “Is it worth the roughly $10 billion per year that we spend on the U.N. and its programs for the U.S. to remain a member?” and secondly, “Should we boot the U.N. out of New York City?”

To be honest, if the U.S. withdrew from the U.N., I’m not totally sure we would have a markedly smaller influence on world affairs. Lots of diplomatic activity happens in other ways and at other venues, of course. However, it might make things more difficult, and I think it would lessen our ability to keep tabs on what other nations — in particular, non-allies — are discussing, debating, and deciding among themselves, which often affects us and our allies. Waiting for notification of U.N. plans, resolutions, and activities via the newsmedia or other intel might be “too late”, in some cases. It’s better when we are involved and can have some influence, even if the votes don’t always go our way.

Similarly, if we forced the U.N. to relocate outside the U.S., it would only make it that much harder to stay on top of U.N. activities. So, with my admittedly limited knowledge about these issues, it seems to me that a better solution is to work toward reforms within the U.N. and keep it where it is. So, what can the Trump administration do to, as Fred Lucas puts it, curtail the U.N.’s power and help make sure it is spending American taxpayers’ money more wisely?

Brett Schaefer, the Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs with The Heritage Foundation, says that the U.S. needs to stay in the U.N. to influence actions of the U.N. Security Council. Schaefer also ideas about the various and sundry U.N. programs, which cost so much money.

“The U.S. should look at contributions to each program, and determine if it is meeting its mission.”

Late last year, Schaefer authored a Heritage Foundation report recommending several actions Trump et al. should take to address the many U.N.- and related concerns: “Eleven Priorities on International Organizations for the Trump Administration”. He begins by recognizing reform efforts that the previous administration had initiated or supported and encourages the current administration to continue and expand upon them, “especially higher standards for conduct by U.N. peacekeepers.” On the other hand, he acknowledges that “[t]he Obama Administration, however, has pursued misguided policies or failed to pursue others that would advance U.S. interests.”

Brett Schaefer

Schaefer encourages Trump to ask Congress to “examine past practice on how various subjects have been treated historically (treaty, executive agreement, or congressional–executive agreement) and specify the issues or context that should mandate consideration of international agreements as treaties under Article II.” He then proceeds to lay out the titular 11 priorities:

1) “Evaluate all peacekeeping operations before supporting establishment or renewal.”

“[A] U.N. operation may not be the best option for addressing a crisis, particularly one where there is no peace to keep.”

2) “Enforce the 25 percent cap on funding for U.N. peacekeeping.”

Despite a 15-year-old deal, the current U.S. peacekeeping assessment is 28.5738 percent, and it’s Congress’ fault.

3) “Enforce whistleblower withholding as required by U.S. law.”

Unlike the Obama Administration, “[t]he Trump Administration should hold U.N. organizations to the standard established by Congress.”

4) “Strengthen independent oversight of U.N. organizations.”

U.N. employees are largely immune to criminal prosecution, and the U.N. has been historically weak in its internal oversight and accountability. “[T]he Trump Administration should establish a dedicated unit within the State Department Office of Inspector General charged with inspecting and auditing use of U.S. funds by international organizations and work with like-minded governments to establish a truly independent U.N. oversight body.”

5) “Engage with Congress to clarify the treaty process.”

“Which international agreements constitute treaties requiring Senate advice and consent in accordance with Article II of the Constitution is often subject to dispute.”

6) “Withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).”

“Unless and until [the Palestinians formally recognize Israel as a sovereign state and agree to a peace agreement acceptable to both sides], the U.S. should not provide any funding to UNESCO lest it encourage other U.N. organizations to grant membership to the Palestinians.”

UN General Assembly hall

7) “Withdraw from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).”

“Withdrawal would not preclude the U.S. from adopting climate policy deemed appropriate. It would, however, prevent abuse of the UNFCCC as a vehicle for asserting U.S. commitments while avoiding Senate advice and consent in the treaty process.”

8) “Reduce U.S. support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).”

“[E]stablished more than 60 years ago as a temporary initiative to address the needs of Palestinian refugees…, [UNRWA has grown to] become a permanent institution providing services to multiple generations of Palestinians, a large majority of whom live outside of refugee camps, enjoy citizenship in other countries, or reside in the Palestinian-governed territories.”

9) “Reconsider U.S. support for the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC).”

“[The HRC] remains biased against Israel, includes repressive governments among its membership, and fails to condemn many of the world’s worst human rights abusers.”

10) “Launch a cost-benefit analysis of U.S. participation in international organizations.”

Not all such organizations provide important contributions to U.S. diplomatic, economic, and security interests, so our ROI should be questioned.

11) “Instruct the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to compile and release a comprehensive report on all U.S. contributions to the U.N. system.”

Though the State Dept. is the largest contributor, some funds flowing from the U.S. to the U.N. come from other agencies; so, we cannot rely on State’s annual report as a complete picture.

These actions all seem reasonable, even necessary, to me. Trump should definitely take this report seriously and work with Ambassador Haley, Secretary of State Tillerson, and Congress to incorporate these priorities into the overall, foreign affairs agenda. Of course, Schaefer goes into a bit more detail on each item, including links to additional reports and other documents. Good summary regarding reasserting U.S. interests at the end, too. The report isn’t terribly long or technical, and I encourage you to read it.

Antonio Guterres, the new United Nations Secretary-General, sounds like he is on board for at least some changes.

Antonio Guterres

“We need to make sure that we are able to reform the U.N. development system as member states have asked us, and we need to try to get rid of this straightjacket of bureaucracy that makes our lives so difficult in many of the things we do…. [T]his also requires a lot of discussion and dialogue and mutual understanding with member states and we need to overcome many of the divides that still exist within the organization.”

Very diplomatic, in that he didn’t name any specific nations or issues in his remarks. But, then, he is now the world’s top diplomat. It remains to be seen if he is only paying lip-service or if he will make it his own priority to support and, whenever possible, implement the many reforms necessary to make the U.N. a much more effective and efficient force for peace and security in the world.

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How to Undo Years of Government Overreach

“In Washington, there is a saying that regulators never met a rule they didn’t like.”  — Paul J. Larkin, Jr., Heritage Foundation’s senior legal research fellow in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies

One of the big issues of the day is the mounds of regulations that federal agencies have been inflicting upon the American people and businesses for decades, while Congress sat on their collective hands. It is the administrative state gone amok, and it has had the effect of putting a stranglehold on the American economy and freedom in general. I’ve been meaning to write about this monstrosity for some time, but I just don’t know where to start.

In an article for ‘The Daily Signal’ last week, Paul Larkin asked the question, “What if Congress could not only reverse this trend, but undo years of burdensome regulations dating as far back as the mid-1990s?” His answer is the Congressional Review Act (CRA) of 1996. (Download a CRA Fact Sheet here.)

The Act authorizes Congress to “invalidate an agency rule by passing a joint resolution of disapproval, not subject to a Senate filibuster, that the president signs into law.” He continues…

“Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress is given 60 legislative days to disapprove a rule and receive the president’s signature, after which the rule goes into effect. But the review act also sets forth a specific procedure for submitting new rules to Congress that executive agencies must carefully follow.

If they fail to follow these specific steps, Congress can vote to disapprove the rule even if it has long been accepted as part of the Federal Register. In other words, if the agency failed to follow its obligations under the Congressional Review Act, the 60-day legislative window never officially started, and the rule remains subject to congressional disapproval.”

This sounds very promising! Larkin goes on to explain…

“The definition of ‘rule’ under the Congressional Review Act is quite broad — it includes not only the ‘junior varsity’ statutes that an agency can adopt as regulations, but also the agency’s interpretations of those laws. This is vital because federal agencies often use a wide range of documents to strong-arm regulated parties.

The review act reaches regulations, guidance documents, ‘Dear Colleague’ letters, and anything similar.

The Congressional Review Act is especially powerful because once Congress passes a joint resolution of disapproval and the president signs it into law, the rule is nullified and the agency cannot adopt a “substantially similar” rule absent an intervening act of Congress. [emphasis mine]

This binds the hands of federal agencies to find backdoor ways of re-imposing the same regulations.”

To use a phrase from my youth, “Excellent!”

Obviously, President Trump doesn’t need congressional support to undo some parts of the Obama regulatory agenda, for example, and he has been revoking previous Executive Orders with new ones where he can. But, for those more difficult areas, this sounds like a terrific tool for our anti-regulation President and a sympathetic, majority-Republican Congress to work together to not just neutralize but make null-and-void tons of freedom-restricting — and sometimes downright stupid — regulations written by unelected bureaucrats from the past 20 years. In fact, they’ve already begun, and I’m all for it!

EPA, FDA, FCC, IRS, etc., y’all are hereby put on notice!

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Is the Bible History?, part II

“If archaeologists and historians could not find correlation between archaeology and the biblical text, there would be no such thing as ‘biblical archaeology’. But of course they do find such correlation, and lots of it.”  — Dr. Craig A. Evans, author of Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence

Givati Parking Lot Excavations (arch. dig in Jerusalem)

This is a sequel of sorts to my “Is the Bible ‘History’?” post from a couple months ago. In that one, I cautioned against judging the content of the biblical text using modern standards, especially when not allowing for different authorial styles, purposes, and genres. Citing from an article by Kirk Lowery, the post affirmed that the Bible does indeed record real, historical people, places, and events that took place in various time periods.

In modern history, however, a skeptical approach has been adopted by many academics and laymen alike. It became quite popular to assume that the Bible was mere myth and legend, especially when clear evidence for certain individuals, people groups, kingdoms, and cities had not yet been found by professional archaeologists. In other words, until a document or other artifact is found and “proven” to support something from the Bible, it is assumed to be fiction. So, I decided that another post was in order, this time listing several examples of important archeological finds that support the biblical record. As before, I turn to an article from  Holman’s Apologetics Study Bible (2007), this one titled “How Has Archaeology Corroborated the Bible?” by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

“The real role of archaeology is not to ‘prove’ the Bible, for that kind of ‘proof’ is available only in certain deductive sciences such as mathematics and logic. On the contrary, the role of archaeology is: (1) to supply cultural, epigraphic, and artifactual materials that provide the background for accurately interpreting the Bible, (2) to anchor the events of the biblical text in the history and geography of the times, and (3) to build confidence in the revelation of God where the truths of Scripture impinge on historical events.

Over the last century or so, archaeology has strengthened the case for biblical reliability. Missing individuals, peoples, places, and obscure customs, historical, and political settings have been helpfully identified.

Missing Individuals
It had been fashionable in some circles for many years to ridicule Isaiah 20:1 for its allusion to ‘Sargon king of Assyria.’ Excavations of Nineveh had seemingly revealed all the kings of Assyria, but there was no Sargon. The Bible must have gotten it wrong. However, in 1843, Paul Emile Botta found a virgin site northeast of Nineveh, later excavated by the University of Chicago with details published in the 1930s. Sargon had built his own capital there in 717 BC. His son, however, moved the capital back to Nineveh, so the site was lost as was Sargon’s name. Now Sargon is one of the best known Assyrian monarchs.

Relief of Winged Bull of Nineveh, from Palace of Sargon II (Louvre Museum)

Likewise, the bible contended that King Belshazzar was the final ruler of Babylon (Dn 5:1,30), but until AD 1929, the extra-biblical evidence pointed to Nabonidus as king at the fall of Babylon in 539 BC. This apparent conflict was solved when documents were discovered revealing that Nabonidus spent his time in Arabia, leaving the affairs of the kingdom to his eldest son Belshazzar, who reigned as co-regent for a decade or so.

Discoveries of other biblical names have confirmed biblical reliability, including King Jehoiachin’s presence in Babylon, Sanballat as governor of Samaria along with some of Nehemiah’s adversaries such as Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab (Neh 2:19). Other discoveries confirm well-known biblical individuals such as Balaam, David, Ahab, Jehu, Hezekiah, Manahem and others.

Missing Peoples
Until Hugo Winckler discovered the Hittite Empire in 1906, many unbelievers doubted the Bible’s insistence that the Hittites were part of the land of Canaan (Gn 10:15; Jos 1:4). Now they are so well documented that a score of volumes has been necessary to build a Hittite dictionary based on the tablets left in their civilization. [Ed. Note: In fact, I happen to have a copy of a book by Dr. E. Neufeld titled The Hittite Laws: Translated into English and Hebrew with Commentary (1951).]

Another mystery group were the Horites, descendants of Esau from Edom (Gn 36:20; Dt 2:12,22). But in 1995 Giorgio Buccellati discovered the Horite capital city beneath the modern Syrian city of Tell Mozan.

Missing Places
First Kings 9:28 claimed King Solomon brought back 16 tons of gold from Ophir. But where was Ophir and did it really exist? In 1956 at Tell Qasile in Israel, broken pottery was found with an inscription referring to a shipment of ‘gold of Ophir for Beth-Horon, thirty shekels.’ Thus, Ophir was confirmed as known in the world of commerce with its trade in gold. Ophir is identified today as a port some 60 miles north of Bombay.

Another example is the disputed list of sites along the route of the exodus in Numbers 33. But Charles Krahmalkov noted three ancient Egyptian maps of the road from Arabah to the Plains of Moab, with the earliest of the three maps inscribed on the walls of Karnak in the reign of Thutmosis III (c. 1504-1450 BC). According to the list, the route from south to north follows precisely the way the Israelites listed in Numbers 33 with four stations especially noted: Iyyim, Dibon, Abel, and Jordan.

Other Sensational Finds
Discovered by Grenfeld in Egypt in 1920, the ‘John Rylands Papyrus’ yielded the oldest known fragment of a NT manuscript. This small scrap from John’s Gospel (Jn 18:31-33,37-38) was dated by papyrologists to AD 125, but since it was so far south into Egypt, it successfully put an end to the then-popular attempt to late-date John’s Gospel to the second century rather than to the traditional first century date of AD 85-90.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, found in 1948 in caves at Qumran, near the northwest end of the Dead Sea, gave us some 800 manuscripts of every book (in part or the whole) of the OT except for Esther. Prior to that, the earliest Hebrew texts dated to around AD 1000, but the scrolls at Qumran are generally more than one thousand years older! These Hebrew texts illustrate that a thousand years of copying had provided us with an amazingly pure text, with one of the best examples being the book of Isaiah where only three words had slight modifications.

In 1990, a bone chest was discovered accidentally during work in Jerusalem’s Peace Forest. This ‘Caiaphas Ossuary’ belonged to the high priest from AD 18-36 (see his cynical words in Jn 11:49-53). The inscription, found in two places, read: ‘Caiaphas’ and ‘Joseph, son of Caiaphas.’ First-century Jewish historian Josephus provided the full name, ‘Joseph, who is called Caiaphas of the high priesthood.’

Space precludes discussion of the many more archaeological corroborations, such as the Pontius Pilate Inscription, the Pool of Siloam excavated in 2004, and the amazing Ketef Hinnom Amulets discovered in 1979 (with inscriptions of Nm 6:24-26 and Dt 7:9 perfectly matching the biblical Hebrew text — amazing since these seventh to sixth century BC amulets contain OT texts skeptics argued could not have been written until the 400s BC.)

Archaeology, then, has illuminated and corroborated the Bible in numerous ways. The interpreter finds in archaeology a good friend for understanding and substantiating Scripture.”

I don’t know about you, but I find this stuff encouraging and exciting. The fact that the people and things found within the Bible are set in history — and not merely “once upon a time in a land far away…” — should make them even more real to us as readers. These discoveries also not only provide insights into ancient history and peoples, which are valuable in themselves, but they give ever-increasing physical evidence that the biblical accounts are historically reliable. The Bible cannot be simply dismissed as fictions and fables.

If you are curious to dig into this subject more, in addition to the book mentioned in the opening quote, here are a couple more substantial texts: On the Reliability of the Old Testament (2003) by Kenneth Kitchen and Archaeology and the New Testament (1991) by John McRay. My copies are several years old, but there may be newer editions. An even older but handy introductory book that you might be able to find used is Archaeology and the Bible (1979) by Donald J. Wiseman and Edwin Yamauchi. (There are others, of course, but these are ones I am familiar with, and they are by respected archaeologists with a “high view” of Scripture.)

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Jesus Was NOT a Social Justice Warrior

“Jesus is the most famous Social Justice Warrior of all time.”  — misguided gamer on Tumblr

I thought that title might get your attention. I also wouldn’t be surprised if some of you are already formulating your objections. I mean, isn’t it obvious that Jesus was a SJW, given all his attention to and instructions regarding the poor, sick, orphans, widows, etc.? EVERYbody knows this! Well, hold your horses for a minute and consider what Mr. Koukl has to say, alright?

I am referring, of course, to Greg Koukl — Christian apologist, speaker, author, radio show host — who just came out with a terrific new book called The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between. In the chapter titled “The Rescue”, Koukl begins to answer the question “What did Jesus come to do?” by clarifying what He did not come to do.

“[L]et us be clear. Jesus did not come to help us get along or teach us to take care of the poor or to restore ‘social justice’.¹ To some, this assertion is a bold stroke, since they have been told just the opposite. This is because there are many noble people who are drawn to Jesus for his moral excellence (as they should be). However, often their admiration of his civic virtue has distracted them from a more important matter.

Their mistake is thinking that Jesus came principally to teach us how to live a better life. He did not. God had already sent many before with the kind of advice we need to hear, and there was no point in his personally coming down merely to repeat what had already been said. No, Jesus came for a different reason.

What I am going to say next will come as a shock to some, but here it is. You can eliminate every single thing Jesus ever said in his life about the poor and social justice, and still you will not undermine his main message one bit. As severe as that may sound, this is precisely what one of Christ’s closest followers actually did.

The Gospel of John is the last biography written on Jesus, and it came to us from his last surviving apostle, the ‘beloved’ disciple John, a member of Jesus’ intimate inner circle. Many think it the most elegant summary and most definitive statement of who Jesus was and what he came to do. Yet you can read from John’s first sentence to his last and you will not find a single word about helping the poor or restoring social justice. Not one. In John’s lone reference to the poor, Jesus is actually somewhat dismissive of them.² That is not because he doesn’t care about them, but because he is comparing their situation with something far more important.

This observation about John’s account in itself seems enough to make the point about Jesus’ focus, but let’s go a bit further. Jesus gave four major discourses — the Sermon on the Mount, the Bread of Life Discourse, the Olivet Discourse, and the Upper Room Discourse.³ Only in the first does he mention the poor at all. Yet even here there are two qualifiers you must keep in mind.

First, in his Sermon on the Mount Jesus commends not the poor per se but rather the poor in spirit. To them, he says, belongs the Kingdom of Heaven. There is a reason the Kingdom belongs to them — not because they are poverty stricken (their income is irrelevant to Jesus), but because they are morally broken and they know it.4 That is what ‘poor in spirit’ means. Picture the tax collector in Jesus’ parable — hardly a destitute man — beating his breast pleading, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’5 This man proclaiming his spiritual poverty goes away justified, Jesus says, while the Pharisee, whose spiritual arrogance clouds his genuine spiritual need, does not.

The second qualifier I want you to keep in mind about Jesus’ comments on the poor is this: In the vast majority of cases where Jesus mentions the poor, he does so not to commend the poor as such, but to make a point about something else — hypocrisy, a widow’s generosity, Zacchaeus’ repentence, the rich young ruler’s confusion, or a lesson about the afterlife.6 Even when he mentions them, the plight of the poor simply was not the focus of Jesus’ teaching.

Now, we must not conclude from this that Jesus didn’t care about the poor and so we need not care either. He cared very much about them, and the Story has much to say about their situation. Do not miss, though, that he also cared about the rich and powerful. Jesus helped everyone and anyone who came to him — poor beggar or prostitute, wealthy tax collector or Pharisee. The divide for Jesus was not between the poor and the rich, but between the proud and the repentant, regardless of income or social standing. Miss that, and you miss everything.

These are the facts we must face if we are to get Jesus right. ‘Social justice’ is not the Gospel. It was not Jesus’ message. It was not why he came. His real message was much more radical. Jesus’ teaching — and the Story itself — focuses on something else. Not on the works of Christians but rather on the work of Christ. That is what the Story teaches.”

Make sense? Man, I wish I could write as clearly and insightfully as Koukl does. If you want to read more about “the Story”, follow the above link to get the book. (Note: Yes, that link has my affiliate code, as do most of my links to books on Amazon, so I’ll get a few cents if you purchase through it.) Plus, you can visit STR.org to read Greg’s articles and listen to his podcasts. And, of course, Greg and I both highly recommend reading the Bible, too. Check out the NET translation, free online over at lumina.bible.org. (It has the most footnotes of any translation out there, which is awesome, if you’re into that sort of thing — especially in re textual criticism.)


Footnotes:

1. The term social justice is misleading. The poor only need justice if they have been wronged in some way. Otherwise, the Story teaches charity and mercy toward those in need. The view that all poor people are victims is a recent invention. It is not what Jesus taught, and it is not part of the Story.

2. The single reference in John to the poor is found in Jn. 12:8: ‘You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me.’

3. Find the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5-7; the Bread of Life Discourse in Jn. 6; the Olivet Discourse in Matt. 24, Lk. 21, Mk. 13; and the Upper Room Discourse in Jn. 13-17.

4. Jesus makes a reference to the poor in Lk. 4:18-19 NASB: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.’ Even here, though, it seems clear that, in light of the rest of the verse and everything that follows about Jesus’ teaching on ‘the Gospel,’ He is making reference to spiritual benefits, not material benefits.

5. Lk. 18:9-14

6. Hypocrisy (Matt. 6:2-3), a widow’s generosity (Lk. 21:2-3), Zaccheus’ repentance (Lk. 19:8), the rich young ruler’s confusion (Matt. 19:21), a lesson about the afterlife (Lk. 16:20,22).

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Sojourners Among the Hebrews vs. Illegal Immigrants in America

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”  — Leviticus 19:33-34 (ESV)

I don’t have to tell you how controversial an issue the whole illegal immigrants thing is. I mean, what is the compassionate thing to do, while still protecting U.S. citizens and making sure that our laws are respected and upheld? Should we deport millions of people? Do we care if we break up families? How does all this jibe with our founding principles? Etc.

Then there is the biblical angle. Christians want to do the right thing, according to God’s teaching. Loving our neighbor and all that. Even those who don’t normally hold the Bible — especially the Old Testament — in high regard suddenly become Bible thumpers, when they find a verse or passage that they think supports their position. In particular, those who are pro-open borders and amnesty quote the above passage (and others) to “prove” that the Bible is on their side — at least, on this issue. But, is it?

Is there a parallel between the ancient Hebrew nation and present-day America? Even if so, is it appropriate to apply God’s covenant instructions for Israel to the current situation in the U.S.? In a recent article for the Religion News Service (RNS), Dr. James K. Hoffmeier, professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and author of The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible, weighed in.

“This wonderful passage has nothing to do with illegal immigrants in America…. Old Testament laws were primarily intended to promote an orderly society for a nation — ancient Israel. Simplistic application of 3,000-year-old laws to American society is ill-advised until one thoroughly understands what was meant by “stranger” in this verse. The Bible is not “a living breathing document” that can mean whatever one wants it to say.

Regarding the Hebrew Scripture’s instructions on the “stranger,” two fundamental questions must be answered: What is a “stranger,” and how did people obtain that status?

The relevant Hebrew word is [transliterated] “ger,” variously rendered in different English translations of the Bible as “stranger,” “sojourner,” “alien” and more recently as “foreigner.” The [last] is quite misleading because there are other Hebrew terms for foreigner — for example, “nekhar,” or one who is passing through another country and not seeking residence. “Zar” is another Hebrew term rendered “foreigner,” but it has a more hostile nuance: a squatter or an enemy. The “ger” alone has obtained legal status to live in a different country and might be seen as a foreigner who has become a “protected citizen.””

In case anyone is curious, I checked over 30 current English translations (and a couple older ones) to see which ones use which term in the Leviticus passage: “stranger” is used by ASV, AMP, ESV, KJV, NASB, NKJV, NLV, RSV, VOICE, WEB; “sojourner” is used by YLT, CLV; “alien” is used by CSB, ISV, LEB, NABRE, NRSV, REB; “foreigner” is used by CJB, CEV, GW, GNT, HCSB, MEV, MSG, NCV, NET, NIV, NLT; “outsider” is used by the TLV; “immigrants” is used by the CEB.

“How did people become legal aliens (gers) in another country? The classic example is when Jacob’s family went to Egypt to escape a famine in Canaan. They asked Pharaoh for permission:

And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our fathers were” … “We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. And now, please let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you. Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land. Let them settle in the land of Goshen” (Genesis 47:3-6).

No less authority than the king of Egypt granted this permission. This means that the Hebrews, though foreigners, obtained legal status in Egypt; they were gers.

“Joseph Presenting His Father and Brothers” – by François Boucher

In biblical law the distinction between the alien or stranger (ger) and the foreigner (nekhar) is striking. The ger in Israel could receive social assistance such as the right to glean in the fields (Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 24:19-22) and resources from the tithes (Deuteronomy 26:12-13). The ger and citizen were to be paid alike (Deuteronomy 24:14-15).

None of these benefits was available to the nekhar (the foreigner without legal status) in biblical law. Charging interest to fellow Israelites or ger was prohibited, but the foreigner (nekhar) was fair game (Deuteronomy 23:20). These passages show that aliens or strangers received all the benefits and protections of a citizen, whereas the foreigner (nekhar) did not. The reason is that the ger had legal status; they were, so to speak, documented!

It is wrong, therefore, to confuse these two sociological categories of foreigners and then to use Scripture regarding the ger as if it applied to immigrants of today who enter the country illegally. I would argue that if one wants to apply biblical passages regarding the ger to our context, green card holders would better correspond. They need protections so as not to be abused and exploited as we have unfortunately seen. Old Testament law simply does not address how people in the U.S. illegally should be treated.

My intention here is not to discourage utilizing biblical principles to shape public policy and law, but to call out the abuse of Scripture and to urge that it first be read carefully and contextually before emotionally satisfying, but simplistic and inaccurate, interpretations are applied to 21st-century American issues. Certainly Christians should not be made to feel guilty by the exploitation of Scripture by social justice activists who seek to advance a particular political agenda.”

Dr. Hoffmeier makes some much-needed distinctions, and I’m glad I came across his article. If the supporters of open borders and amnesty for illegal immigrants insist on making a biblical argument, they are going to have to do much better. (I, for one, don’t think they have a legitimate case, though.)

We seem to have many nekhars — and, unfortunately, more than a few zars — in the U.S. that are posing as gers or insisting that they be treated as such, and we cannot allow this to continue. Our new President agrees, and I pray that he, his administration, and our Congress use both wisdom and compassion in how they undertake to stem the flow of illegals and properly deal with those already here.

P.S.  Here is another article from Hoffmeier that I came across shortly before going to press. He addresses some of the above, as well as a little more on Moses, plus re sanctuary cities.

P.P.S.  On a related note, if you or someone you know is freaking out about Trump’s new executive order re refugees, etc., check out this article to get past the hysteria.

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On This Historic Day

As you probably have seen for yourselves, the media (including blogs of various sizes) has been awash with commentary on the Presidential Inaugural ceremonies — from the actual swearing in of Donald J. Trump as our 45th President to the various dances and observations of what the ladies in attendance were wearing. Rather than going in that direction, I wanted to express some feelings of excitement mixed with trepidation about the new administration and its potential impact on the nation and the world.

After wrestling a bit with the issue, I decided instead to share the following, which pretty much sums up what I am thinking and does it fairly concisely. It comes from an email sent out this past Friday afternoon by a Tea Party group called the Independence Hall Foundation. (Hope they don’t mind me sharing.)

“Dear Members and Friends,

On this historic day, the Foundation wishes both the incoming and outgoing presidents well as the peaceful transition of power, prescribed by the US Constitution, is successfully completed.

We have endured 8 long years under President Barack Obama’s leadership and can honestly say this day couldn’t have arrived soon enough.

To President Donald Trump, we extend our best wishes for a successful four years–one that brings peace and prosperity to all Americans.

As a conservative organization, we will support President Trump when he seeks to fulfill conservative policy goals–such as appointing conservative judges, repealing ObamaCare, cutting taxes, reducing regulations, preventing illegal immigration, or making America energy independent–and will oppose him (as we did President Obama) when he veers away from conservative principles by proposing trillion dollar spending programs, initiating new federal programs (childcare), or raising tariffs that lead to trade wars.

While we back the President’s support of Taiwan in the face of a hostile mainland China, we are horrified by his indifference to Russian aggression in the Ukraine, Crimea, Georgia, Syria, and elsewhere–and his coziness with Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin.

And though we appreciate President Trump’s criticism of the United Nations, we are completely dismayed by his constant reference to NATO as obsolete.

Suffice it to say, we will be as vigilant with President Trump as we were with President Obama–the only caveat being that we expect to be in the 45th President’s corner more often than not.

On behalf of the Foundation Board,
Don Adams”

Trump & Co. appear to be off to a fine start, and I truly hope and pray that they stay on target, defending the Constitution (as originally conceived) and doing what is best for America and Americans. MAGA!

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3 Positive Things About Obama

I was reflecting on all of the negativity in the press about the President-elect-now-President Trump from the Left and other detractors and about the now-former President Obama by the Right. I have posted several things over the years about how bad a president Obama has been, and I stand by them. But, now I’d like to try to point out three objectively positive things about the man. I’ll be brief, but here goes…

1) He was “cool”. He exhibited an air of calm, cool confidence, both in his manner of speaking and in his body language. He just projected an ease about himself that was attractive and made people think, “This is one cool cat!” Then again, in another sense of the word “cool”, he also often came across as coolly indifferent. And, of course, whether or not his self-confidence was justified is another matter entirely.

2) He was articulate. Give the man a rousing speech to deliver — either memorized or by teleprompter — and he would knock it out of the park almost every time. For many, Obama’s rhythms and cadences served to make even the most self-serving talks sound inspiring. In fact, his most ardent fans seemed to be awestruck by his well-crafted, well-delivered addresses, such that the guy could do no wrong.

3) He appreciated decorum. For the most part, Obama appeared to respect the “dignified propriety of behavior, speech, dress, etc.” that is expected in the Office of the Presidency. I say this, of course, as one observing from a distance and only occasionally. Unlike our new President, Obama seemed to (mostly) exercise proper civility and restraint in his communications. At least, when he said stupid, inappropriate, and/or untrue things, he used the “proper” methods of communication.

Unfortunately, the above characteristics, while nice, are not enough to make anyone an upright or effective leader. Just sayin’…

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Blinded by the Light

reflectacles demo - camera 13If you watch a lot of cop shows like I do, you may have noticed how often facial recognition software provides the good guys with crucial images for identifying criminals, victims, and even witnesses. Though the real thing probably doesn’t have quite the success rate as its fictional counterpart, it really is amazing technology.

However,… with CCTV cameras here, there, and everywhere, — and not always obvious — isn’t it a bit disconcerting, knowing that people are (or could be) watching your every move? (At least, when those cameras are present.) Most of us probably recognize the need for such security measures in and around banks, for instance, and other institutions where financial transactions are handled and proprietary information is located. But, when the cameras are on street corners, traffic lights, subway platforms, etc., monitored by law enforcement and other government officials, it can get kinda creepy. “Police-state” creepy.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that someone has finally invented technology to counter such surveillance. Call it “anti-facial recognition”, if you will. Or, as creator Scott Urban calls his new eyewear product, “Reflectacles”. They are made from “solid blocks of clear cellulose acetate” and “micro-prismatic retro-reflective materials” normally only used in specialized fields. Microscopic examination reveals “many very small cube-like prisms that bounce light along each edge of the prism surface and then bounce it right back in the direction the light originated from,” as Urban explained to The Sun. No glare to the wearer, though.

Reflectacles Originals, available in seven different colors, reflect only visible light. Reflectacles Ghost, available only in Gray, intensifies the effect by incorporating micro-corner-cubes, “the most reflective material that currently exists… used in laboratory situations or for signal/controller applications.” This model reflects light from the visible and infrared portions of the spectrum.

reflectacles“This means, security cameras that work using infrared technology, which basically means a majority of such devices, will never capture your facial features when you are wearing Reflectacles Ghost…. [They] can also reflect visible light, due to which drivers on the road will be able to notice you at once as soon as you enter the road no matter if you are walking or riding a bike.” (H/T Hackread)

I think this is pretty cool, and I totally understand some people’s being a bit freaked out by the increased surveillance by the state. (Even more so in places like the UK than in the US… for now.) No surprise, then, that these are Urban’s primary target market. But I was concerned about criminals of various sorts using the tech to protect their own identities while committing crimes. To this, Urban points out that full-face ski masks are still cheaper and (in most cases) more effective for such nefarious purposes.

Sturdily built and reasonably priced (£77 Originals; £101 Ghost), Reflectacles will begin being sold in June 2017.

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