Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Genre of Horror

My wife was teaching a literature class and she was discussing Poe's work as an early example of horror.  Some of the students wondered why they needed to read this genre.  She asked me to speak for a few minutes on why we need this type of literature.  I read some in the work of Brian Godawa.  His essay "A Theology of Horror Movies" was originally published in Chalcedon Journal (May and June, 2002) and can be found online.  I also came across his piece An Apologetic of Horror after I shared with the students.

Part of what I tried to do was to show that the Bible itself contains images of horror.  I looked at the following passages: Jeremiah 9.20-22; Ezekiel 9.1-11 (esp. vv. 5-8); Ezekiel 16.1-43; Revelation 14.9-12, 14-20.  Many of these are set in the context of idolatry.  We grow comfortable with our God-dishonoring ways and the biblical portrait of the radical evil of rejecting the living God is needed.  There are also a number of texts speaking about cannibalism: Deuteronomy 28.53; 2 Kings 6.28-29; Jeremiah 19.9; Lamentations 2.20; 4.10; Ezekiel 5.10.  I also spoke of a few texts in Proverbs linking illicit sex with the images of destruction: Proverbs 7.1-27; 9.13-18.

Here a few quotations from Godawa's An Apologetic of Horror:

The prophet Daniel wrote horror literature, based on images and drama pitched by God to him in Babylon. Not only did God turn the blaspheming king Nebuchadnezzar into an insane wolfman to humble his idolatrous pride (Dan. 4), but He storyboarded horror epics for kings Belshazzar and Darius as allegories of the historical battle between good and evil to come. Huge hybrid carnivorous monsters come out of the sea like Godzilla, one of them with large fangs and ravishing claws to devour, crush, and trample over the earth (7:1–8) until it is slain and its flesh roasted in fire (7:11); there are blasphemous sacrileges causing horror (8:13), including an abomination of desolation (9:26–27); angels and demons engaging in spiritual warfare (10:13); rivers of fire (7:10); deep impact comets and meteors colliding with the earth, Armageddon style (8:10); wars, desolation, and complete destruction (9:26-27). The book of Daniel reads like God’s own horror film festival.
 The book of Revelation is an epic horror fantasy sequel to Daniel, complete with science fiction special effects, and spectacles of horror darker than anything in a David Cronenberg Grand Guignol theater of blood. In this apocalyptic prophecy we read of a huge demonic spectacle of genetically mutated monsters chasing and tormenting scream ing people (9:1–11); armies of bizarre beasts wreaking death and destruction on the masses (9:13–18); a demonic dragon chasing a woman with the intent to eat her child (12:3–4); a seven-headed amphibious Hydra with horns that blasphemes God and draws pagan idol worship from everyone on earth (13:1–10); massive famines (6:8); gross outbreaks of rotting sores covering people’s bodies (16:2); plagues of demonic insects torturing populations (9:1–11); fire-breathing Griffon-like creatures (9:17); supernatural warfare of angels and demons (12:7); the dragging of rotting corpses through the streets while people party over them (11:7–13); rivers and seas of blood (14:20; 16:3); a blaspheming harlot doing the deed with kings and merchants (17:1-5) who then turn on her, strip her naked, burn her with fire, and cannibalize her (17:16); more famines, pestilence, and plagues (18:8); and when the good guys win, there is a mighty feast of vultures scavenging the flesh of kings and commanders in victory (19:17–18). And I might add, this all gives glory to God in the highest. 
This is exactly the tactic God uses with his prophets under both Old and New Covenants. God uses horrific explicit images in order to put up a mirror to cultures of social injustice and spiritual defilement. God used gang rape of a harlot and dismemberment of her body as a metaphor of Israel’s spiritual apostasy (Ezek. 16, 23), and the resurrection of skeletal remains as a symbol for the restoration of his people within the covenant (Ezek. 37). Our holy, loving, kind, and good God also used the following horror images to visually depict cultural decay and social injustice: skinning bodies and cannibalism (Mic. 3:1–3); Frankenstein replacement of necrotic body parts (Ezek. 11:19); cannibalism (Ezek. 36:13–14; Ps. 27:2; Prov. 30:14; Jer. 19:9; Zech 11:9); vampirism (2 Sam. 23:17; Rev. 16:6); cannibals and vampires together (Ezek. 39:18–19); rotting flesh (Lam 3:4; 4:8; Ps. 31:9–10; 38:2–8; Ezek. 24:3, 33:10; Zech 14:12); buckets of blood across the land (Ezek. 9:9, 22:2–4); man-eating beasts devouring people and flesh (Ezek. 19:1-8; 22:25, 27; 29:3; Dan. 7:5; Jer. 50:17); crushing and trampling bodies and grinding faces (Amos 4:1; 8:4; Isa. 3:15); and bloody murdering hands (Isa. 1:15, 59:3; Mic. 7:2–3). Horror is a strongly biblical medium for God’s social commentary.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Matthew 8.5-13 and Luke 7.1-10: Possible Resolutions to Tensions

I wrote the following for my high school systematic theology class when discussing the topic of inerrancy.  The whole discussion is pulled from Vern Poythress' book Inerrancy and the Gospels: A God-Centered Approach to the Challenges of Harmonization (Westchester: Crossway, 2012), 17-24.

Matthew 8.5-13 and Luke 7.1-10: Possible Resolutions to Tensions[1]

Matthew 8.5-13 (ESV)
Luke 7.1-10 (ESV)

5 When he had entered Capernaum,
 a centurion
came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.”

7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal
8 But the centurion replied, “Lord,

I am not worthy to have you come
under my roof,

but only say the word, and
my servant will be healed.
9 For I too am a man under authority,
with soldiers under me. And I say to one,
‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’
and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’
and he does it.”
10 When Jesus heard this,
he marveled and
said to those who followed him,
“Truly, I tell you, with
no one in Israel have I found such faith.
11 I tell you, many will come from east
and west and recline at table with Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,
12 while the sons of the kingdom
will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.”

And the servant was healed at that very moment.

1 After he had finished all his sayings in the
hearing of the people,
he entered Capernaum.
2 Now a centurion had

a servant who was sick
and at the point of death,
who was highly valued by him.
3 When the centurion heard about Jesus,
he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking
 him to come and heal his servant. 4 And
when they came to Jesus, they pleaded
with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to
have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our
nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”
6 And Jesus went with them. When he was
not far from the house, the centurion sent
friends, saying to him, “Lord,
do not trouble yourself, for
I am not worthy to have you come
under my roof.
7 Therefore I did not presume to come to
But say the word, and
let my servant be healed.
8 For I too am a man set under authority,
with soldiers under me: and I say to one,
‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’
and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’
and he does it.”
9 When Jesus heard these things,
he marveled at him, and turning to the
crowd that followed him, said,
“I tell you,
not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.

·      Matthew: no mention of intermediaries (i.e., “elders of the Jews” and “friends”)

·      Luke: no mention that centurion met Jesus face to face; intermediaries

Possible Responses

1.     Possibility of multiple events: are these two different events being narrated?

In any case that deals with parallel passages we have to ask whether they recount the same incident or two different incidents. In this case there are many similarities between the two accounts. The centurion’s speech given in Matthew 8:9 is almost identical to Luke 7:8. We can safely conclude that we are dealing with two accounts of one event. So there is a genuine difficulty.[2]

2.     Several stages of events

a.     Postulate stages in the encounter between Jesus and the centurion

                                                        i.     Centurion first sent elders of the Jews (Luke 7.3-5)

                                                       ii.     Then centurion sent friends (Luke 7.6-8)

                                                     iii.     Then centurion came in person and repeated some of what had been said earlier (Matthew 8.5-9)

b.     Norval Geldenhuys’ view

When we bear in mind the parallel account in Matthew viii. 5–13, we must picture to ourselves that after the centurion had sent his friends to Jesus he also went to Him himself. Owing to the seriousness of the circumstances and his inner urge to go to Jesus himself, notwithstanding his feeling of unwor- thiness, he overcame his initial hesitation. Luke emphasises the fact that the centurion sent friends, while Matthew only states that the centurion went to Jesus. And so the two Gospels supplement each other.[3]

c.      Minor difficulties

                                                        i.     Centurion states explicitly that he is unworthy (Luke 7.6) and that is why he has sent others (Luke 7.7).  Yet, he then changes his mind comes for a face to face to meeting with Jesus.

But Geldenhuys supplies possible motivations by reminding us of the “seriousness of the circumstances,” by postulating an “inner urge” to come to Jesus, and by labeling his original attitude “initial hesitation” rather than a firm resolve not to come because of his unworthiness. Is all this possible? It is. Human motivations and decision making are complex and often include some wavering or change of mind.[4]

                                                       ii.     Repetiton: Luke 7.6-8 friends give speech then, according to this theory, centurion says the same thing again (Matthew 8.8-9)

In Geldenhuys’s picture of the event, the centurion repeated in person what he had said to his friends earlier. We may ask why the centurion thought he had to repeat his speech, since his friends had already delivered it. But human motivations are complex. Particularly in a situation of distress, such as the emotional turmoil the centurion experienced, he might in spite of himself repeat what he knew had already been said.[5]

3.     Representatives acting on behalf of the centurion

a.     Augustine, Calvin, and R. T. France all offer this view

His [Matthew’s] omission of the means of the centurion’s approach to Jesus is a valid literary device to highlight the message of the incident as he sees it (on the principle, common in biblical and contemporary literature, that a messenger or servant represents the one who sent him to the point of virtual identity).  R. T. France[6]

b.     Craig Blomberg points out that Matthew 27.26 and Mark 15.15 also illustrate this principle.  “Both verses report that Pilate scourged Jesus; but given the social and military protocol of the Roman world, Pilate would not have taken up the scourge in his own hands.  The verses mean that Roman soldiers would have physically handled the scourge, acting on Pilate’s orders.”[7]

What We Learn from the Differences in the Narratives

1.     Plausible harmonizations are not inspired; the texts with the differences are inspired!

a.     The differences of nuance and detail have something to teach us

b.     Beware of “flattening out” the text into a harmony

2.     Matthew stresses the centurion’s Gentile status

a.     Matthew 8.11-12

b.     Theme in Matthew’s gospel

Matthew shows repeated concern for the unique role of the Jews and the issue of Jewish rejection of Jesus. Matthew alone has the expression “sons of the kingdom”: “the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer dark ness” (Matt. 8:12). These “sons of the kingdom” are Jews who are resisting his ministry. They have the privilege of having a certain nearness to “the kingdom,” that is the kingdom of God, and yet, tragically, they “will be thrown into the outer darkness.”Matthew alone includes the pointed threat, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” (Matt. 21:43). Matthew, more than the other Gospels, emphasizes the Jewishness of Jesus (Matt. 1:1–17). Twice Jesus emphasizes his ministry “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:6; 15:24). But Jews who presume on their heritage are in danger of being left out.

This theme is important to Matthew. It comes out pointedly in our first pas- sage, Matthew 8:5–13, because Jesus commends the centurion for his faith and contrasts this commendation with the failure in Israel: “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matt. 8:10). The centurion was a Roman soldier, not a Jew. His Gentile character comes more starkly to the foreground in that Matthew does not mention “elders of the Jews” as intermediaries.[8]

3.     Luke stresses the humility of centurion

The Gospel of Luke has humility as a theme. “He [the Lord] has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:52). “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14; see 14:11). Luke devotes attention to social outcasts and marginalized people: women, the poor, the sick, tax collectors, Gentiles (Luke 4:18; 7:21–23). Luke 7:1–10, by explicitly including the role of the intermediaries and by including the contrast between “worthy” (7:4) and “not worthy” (7:6), has highlighted the theme of humility and of Jesus’s mercy to the “unworthy.”[9]

4.     Conclusion

In sum, Matthew and Luke have distinctive emphases; Matthew emphasizes the centurion’s Gentile status, and Luke emphasizes his humility. Both of these emphases say something significant about the kingdom of God and Jesus’s ministry. First, the kingdom of God will include Gentiles and all who come to Jesus in faith. Jews who do not trust in Jesus are excluded. Second, those who enter the kingdom must come in humility, recognizing that they do not deserve the benefits that God offers.[10]

[1] I am dependent upon Vern Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels: A God-Centered Approach to the Challenges of Harmonization (Westchester: Crossway, 2012), 17-24.  Online:
[2] Vern Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels, 18.
[3] Quoted in Vern Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels, 19.
[4] Vern Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels, 19.
[5] Vern Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels, 20.
[6] Quoted in Vern Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels, 21.
[7] Vern Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels, 21.
[8] Vern Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels, 23.
[9] Vern Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels, 24.
[10] Vern Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels, 24.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"Was Nero the Antichrist?"

* These are the notes from a Bible study I did in September 2004.  The question was posed, "Was Nero the Antichrist?" and here is my answer.

1.     The need to define terms correctly!  What have you heard about "the Antichrist?"

2.     There are four (4) verses that use the term "antichrist"

  1. 1 John 2.18
  2. 1 John 2.22
  3. 1 John 4.3
  4. 2 John 7

*Note: None of the references to "antichrist" are in the book of Revelation even though the apostle John wrote both the Epistles of John and Revelation.

3.     Basic Bible study notes on the four texts mentioning "antichrist"

  1. 1 John 2.18-19

* you "heard" that antichrist is coming; (not necessarily true)

* even now many antichrists have arisen (plurality of antichrists)

* they (the antichrists) went out from the church

  1. 1 John 2.22

* liar = one who denies that Jesus is the Christ

* antichrist = one who denies the Father and the Son

  1. 1 John 4.3

* antichrist identified with a "spirit"

* this "spirit" does not confess Jesus

* "heard" antichrist is coming

* according to John antichrist is now already in the world

  1. 2 John 7

* antichrists identified as deceivers

* antichrists have gone out into the world (from the church)

* antichrists do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh (proto-gnosticism)

4.     Attributes of antichrists according to John

  1. Antichrists are contemporaries of John in the first century

-1 John 2.18-19
-1 John 4.3
-2 John 7

  1. Antichrists are multiple: a multiple movement

-1 John 2.28: many antichrists have arisen
-2 John 7: many deceivers have gone out into the world
-1 John 4.3: the spirit of antichrist (does not confess Jesus)
-1 John 2.22

            John clearly applies the conception of the one antichrist (ho antichristos)
            to the generic tendency to promote lies about the identity of Christ.
                                    Kenneth Gentry He Shall Have Dominion, p. 373

  1. Antichrists were religious leaders who went out from the Christian church.  They
arose from the inside of the church (cf. Acts 20.29-30).

-1 John 2.18-19
-2 John 7 (cf. vv. 10-11)

  1. Antichrists work by deception

-1 John 2.22: liars
-2 John 7: deceivers

  1. Antichrists were recognizable: this was one of John's purposes in writing (1 John

-Examine the teaching
-Certain doctrinal errors are labeled "antichrist"

     *Question: Does Nero fit these attributes?  No.

5.     Gary DeMar points to a two-fold problem with identifying "antichrist":

  1. Treating divergent biblical references as if they refer to the same person thereby creating a composite figure that is not found in Scripture, and
  2. Mistaking the time period in which these divergent figures are to appear.
Gary DeMar Last Day Madness, p. 221

      *The point here: Antichrist is wrongly equated with the Beast of Revelation
            (See The Truth About Antichrist and His Kingdom by Thomas Ice and Timothy
            Demy, pp. 8,9, and 21 for an example of this fallacy.)

6.     Revelation 13: The Beast

  1. The Beast as empire (general): vv. 1-2 (cf. Daniel 7.17)

  1. The Beast as a man (specific): v. 18

  1. The Beast persecutes the church from the outside: v. 7 and 15 (cf. Rev. 20.4)

*Question: What about the language "every tribe and people and tongue and nation  
                  was given to him" (v. 7)?

  Answer:  This phrase echoes Daniel 5:19, in which we are told that "all the peoples,
                 nations, and men of every language feared king Nebuchandnezzar."  Yet
                 Nebuchandnezzar's empire did not extend far beyond the Fertile Crescent,
            an area somewhat smaller than the Greek or Roman Empires.  Thus,
            although the language used is universal, it can have a limited application
            to the  known political world of the writer's time.
            James Nance "The Anti-Christ and the Beast" p. 114

7.     Indicators that the Beast was Nero

  1. Relevance of Revelation for original audience John wrote to
-1.1,3 and 22. 6,7,12,20: language of soon/near (bookends of the writing)
-historical churches being addressed in chapters 2 and 3

b. Interpreted imagery of Revelation 17 (see verses 3,7, 9-10): Seven heads equal:

i.               Seven mountains: Seven hills surround Rome

Suetonius and Plutarch record for us that in the time of Domitian the festival of Septimontium ("the feast of the seven hilled city") was held annually in December to celebrate the seven hills enclosing Rome.  Archaeologists have discovered the Coin (or Medallion) of Vespasian that exhibits a picture of the goddess Roma as a woman seated on seven hills.
                                    Kenneth Gentry Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 149

ii.              Seven kings: five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while (Rev. 17.10)

1.     Julius Caesar (49-44 BC)
2.     Augustus  (31 BC-AD 14)
3.     Tiberius  (AD 14-37)
4.     Gaius (Caligula) (AD 37-41)
5.     Claudius  (AD 41-54)
6.     Nero  (AD 54-68)
7.     Galba (AD 68 [June]-69 [January])

                         *This listing of emperors is detailed in the Roman historians Suetonius
                          (AD 70-160) Lives of the Twelve Caesars and Dio Cassius (AD 150-235)
                           as well as the Jewish historian Josephus (AD 37-101).

c.   Persecution time frame of Revelation 13.5: 42 months (3 1/2 years)

*Nero persecuted the Christian church from November AD 64 to June 9th AD 68
 (Just a few weeks over 42 months)

d.     The number 666

* Hebrew spelling of Nero's name equals: NRWN QSR

* The recognized numerical equivalents for the letters of the time of the apostle John yield the following:
            N=50                        Q=100
            R=200                        S=60
            W=6                        R=200
                        Total = 666


Suggested Bibliography

1.     DeMar, Gary. Last Days Madness. Smyrna, GA: American Vision. 3rd Ed. 1997.  Chapter 11 "Identifying Antichrist" and chapter 12 "Identifying the Beast."
2.     Gentry, Kenneth. The Beast of Revelation. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. [1989], 1994.
3.     Gentry, Kenneth. Before Jerusalem Fell. Atlanta, GA: American Vision. Revised Ed. 1998.
4.     Gentry, Kenneth. He Shall Have Dominion. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. 1992. Pages 370-378 on antichrists and the Beast.
5.     Gentry, Kenneth. Perilous Times: A Study in Eschatological Evil. Texarkana, AR: Covenant Media Press. 1999.
6.     Nance, James. "The Anti-Christ and the Beast" in And It Came To Pass [The Third Annual CEF Symposium: Preterism]. Moscow, ID: Canon Press. 1993.