You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2012.

We are now beginning to see some questionable stories after the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics Games. Two follow.

On the day that a story about mother-to-daughter womb transplants in Sweden appeared, the Telegraph also reported a request for a ‘ban’ on abortions where disability in the foetus has been detected. Interestingly, this did not come from groups of or for the disabled but from Catholic and Evangelical Protestant church groups.

The Paralympic Games were a joy to watch and, as I said previously, got many of us thinking differently about disability. This can only be a positive.

However, one has to wonder about the way disabled people are treated in general in the UK — benefits, mobility, job opportunity. Is this appeal for an abortion ban a form of emotional blackmail?

Women who want an abortion will go where they can get one, regardless of the law. Many Irishwomen came to the UK, teenage girls included, to get abortions. I don’t read so much about that now.

Here are a couple of reader responses, the first — and most recent — from a disabled person (emphases mine):

blondieuk: How dare these religious groups try to hijack the good feelings after the Paralympics for their own political and religious ends.

The athletes don’t triumph over their disabilities – they like myself, just make the best of what we can.

At a time when the disabled need all the help we can get with unfair benefit cuts, lack of access to jobs, lack of public transport we can use and an increase in hate crimes –  what do the religious groups do ? –  try to use disabled athletes for propoganda purposes.

Shame on you.

I’m disabled and fully support decisions made by families on what to do with unwanted pregnancies – even if the embryo has the same disabilities as I have.

If you want to help the disabled how about giving us a job or a tube we can get into or access to benefits when we are too sick to work instead of cynically using us for your own ends.

Anita Bellows: The Paralympics might trigger this call, but the way disabled people are treated by this government makes for the opposite argument.

MarinaS: Shame on you Telegraph for giving a platform to such an exploitative campaign. No disability campaigners or groups signed this letter; it is a case of outside religious interests exploiting the disabled (who have enough to worry about these days, thanks) to push an anti-woman agenda. 

Organisations like Life are pushing for a ban on all abortions, not just specific types. This is clearly a disingenuous wedge campaign on their part. A respectable broadsheet should not encourage such bad-faith arguments, especially ones that usurp the voices of the disabled.

This is a sensitive issue which the disabled, their families and their support groups should be mooting first.

The second news story involves an exhortation from the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, to businessmen. He believes they should model themselves on Olympian ideals. I can see a case for excellence, good ethics, sporting teamwork and so forth. However, I fear this is not what he has in mind:

We have no political agenda. We have instead a moral tradition that has accumulated wisdom down the centuries, drawing on the twin sources of revelation and reason.

It has given us an outline of a paradigm of good business practice that is contained in Catholic Social Teaching. This talks of solidarity and subsidiarity and their relation to common good, of the unique human dignity of every person specially those who are poor, vulnerable or disadvantaged, and it also talks about the nature of work and human creativity. And it is intensely conscious of the content and influence of culture, the shared values of any society that can do so much good – and if they go wrong, much harm.

I am joining prominent leaders of business and industry at a conference in London today [Tuesday Sept 18] in discussion of what it would take to bring about a renewal of the business culture in Britain.

We have sub-titled it “Uniting corporate purpose and personal values to serve society”, because we have detected a tendency for business people to feel they need to adopt a different set of values in business than those which they apply in the rest of their lives. That intriguing insight clearly needs further investigation.

Hmm, that sounds suspicious, too, especially as he goes on to mention that he and the Archbishop of Canterbury are in agreement on the matter. ‘No political agenda’, only that of the social gospel. (For more on this, please see my Marxism / Communism page and the heading ‘Communism and the Church Today’.)

Neither of these news items is completely honest. And that is not necessarily the Telegraph‘s fault.

This post continues an examination of the passages from St Mark’s Gospel which have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

As such, it forms part of my ongoing series, Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Mark 8:11-13

The Pharisees Demand a Sign

 11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

—————————————————————–

Last week’s entry ended with Jesus’s return to Dalmanutha, near His base in Capernaum.

Jesus no sooner disembarks from the boat when the Pharisees accost Him (verse 11). The argument is bad enough, but they also ask Him to perform a ‘sign from heaven’ to prove that He is the Son of God.

Bear in mind that in John 3 — so, earlier than this scene in Mark 8 — the Pharisee Nicodemus had already recognised Jesus’s divinity (John 3:2):

2This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

Jesus had a lengthy discussion with him about belief and later on in John 7, Nicodemus was the one who put forth the case that Jesus should be able to have a hearing before the religious authorities before they judge Him. It did not make Nicodemus popular amongst his peers. Between those two chapters, it seems likely that Nicodemus came to believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

The parallel account to Mark 8:11-13 can be found in Matthew 16:1-4, about which I wrote in 2010. St Matthew’s account reveals a bit more of what Jesus said to the Pharisees. He gave them a sideswipe in their knowledge which enabled them to predict the weather then criticised their spiritual and intuitive blindness.

The post also provided background on the beliefs and approaches of the Pharisees and their enemies the Sadducees (emphses mine):

The Pharisees were experts in Mosaic Law and legalism.  As a result, they were also self-righteous and often attached more importance to legal observance than to Scripture.  They were powerful men in society and eager to make converts.  People sought their opinion and respected their learned minds.  Think of today’s experts we see on television — the Pharisees were similar.  ‘Oh, he went to Harvard — he knows what he’s talking about.’ ‘She has a degree from Oxford — why doubt what she’s saying?’

The Sadducees were free-thinking rationalists who used the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament — written by Moses) on which to base their judgments.  If a belief was too airy-fairy — angels, for one — they dismissed them either through ridicule or posing questions asking for proof or for a display of logic behind such a belief.  So, although they were religious Jews, they would not be dissimilar to some of today’s secularists — asking for a neatly factual answer to a difficult question of faith. 

With regard to Jesus, they allied, adopting ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ perspective.

This is similar to what is happening today between many atheists and some Muslims. Both wish to clamp down on free speech. On the surface — admittedly, there is an element of this — it looks like appeasement of Islamists, the radicals.  However, deep down, both must know that the end result is that such a move would compromise the Church and her faithful.

John MacArthur has a good observation of people walking in darkness seeking each other out and falling further into the abyss of unbelief:

The first thing you see about people in the darkness is they’re comfortable with other people in the darkness and the second is, that the darkness deepens. They’re comfortable with the people who are in the darkness, and they’re consigned to deeper darkness. The more evidence you give them, the deeper they go. They get near the surface and they run deep into the darkness the more the light shines

But they were no different than Pharaoh. You remember after all the signs and wonders that Moses did, it says, “Pharaoh hardened his heart.” That’s the second reality that’s so tragic …

I remember reading years ago, Voltaire, the French atheist, and some of his skeptical statements. One of them stuck with me, he said this, “Even if a miracle should be wrought in the open marketplace before a thousand sober witnesses, I would rather mistrust my senses than admit a miracle” …

And this then is the third thing. The first is the blind are comfortable with the other blind. And they are consigned to deeper blindness. And thirdly, they’re condemned to terminal blindness

This is where we are today with the alliance between unbelievers and Muslims. This is why the Left fawns over them. This is why some on the Democratic National Committee wanted to eradicate God and Jerusalem from their party platform at their recent convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. As it turned out, they were unsuccessful in their vote. Did the hand of Providence produce confusion?

The second element of the Pharisees’ challenging Jesus to perform a ‘sign from heaven’ is the arrogance of their unbelief, also present in today’s unbelievers. Matthew Henry says:

They came forth on purpose to question with him; not to propose questions to him, that they might learn of him, but to cross question with him, that they might ensnare him

There was a sign from heaven at his baptism, in the descent of the dove, and the voice (Mt. 3:16, 17); it was public enough; and if they had attended John’s baptism as they ought to have done, they might themselves have seen it. Afterward, when he was nailed to the cross, they prescribed a new sign; Let him come down from the cross, and we will believe him; thus obstinate infidelity will still have something to say, though ever so unreasonable. They demanded this sign, tempting him; not in hopes that he would give it them, that they might be satisfied, but in hopes that he would not, that they might imagine themselves to have a pretence for their infidelity.

Why would they have asked for such a sign at all? It’s helpful to read the aforementioned passage from Matthew to better understand. MacArthur explains:

Here’s their approach, this is a dispute. The Greek word argues…dispute. They wanted to discredit Him before the people. So this is what they desire. “They seek from Him a sign from heaven to test Him.”

As a test, they want Him to do a sign from heaven. Now there’s a reason for this. The Jews had a superstition. The superstition of the Jews is that God could do heavenly miracles, but demons could only do earthly miracles. That God could do heavenly miracles but demons could do earthly ones. You know, like the magicians in Pharaoh’s court did when they mimicked the miracles of God through Moses and they did their false miracles, this and perhaps the actual supernatural activities of demons through the centuries had created this kind of notion that demons could do earthly miracles, if you will, but only God could do heavenly ones.

And so, they come to Jesus and they say, “Look, do a sign from heaven,” literally, “out of heaven.” A miracle in the sky, stop the sun, Joshua did. Bring fire down from heaven, Elijah did. Eclipse the moon, rearrange the constellations. Start and stop a storm. And they did it to tempt Him. They really wanted to discredit Him. And, of course, it’s supposed to be a rock and a hard place. If He says I’m not going to do that, then the people are going to know He can’t. And if He can’t, then He’s discredited. He’s a fake. Maybe He’s doing what He does by the power of Satan which is what they had said all along. And if He says I can, and I will, and they don’t believe He can, then He’ll fail. So in either case, this is the dilemma He can’t avoid. If He says He’s not going to do it, then the people can assume He can’t and all He can do is what Satan does. And if He says He can and tries it, He’ll fail because He’s not the Messiah, He’s not from God, they were sure of that, and He’ll be discredited either way …

They didn’t need more signs, more evidence. They had plenty. But there was, after all, you know, the notion that in the time of the Messiah’s arrival and the establishment of the Kingdom and judgment and all of that, there would be signs in the heaven, didn’t Joel chapter 2, didn’t the prophet say the sun will be darkened and the moon will turn to blood and there will be signs in the sky? I mean, the prophet did say that. And oh, by the way, that will happen when Jesus returns again to establish His Kingdom and judge the ungodly, read Matthew 24 where Jesus Himself is a sign in the sky and all His holy angels with Him. Read the book of Revelation, they’ll come signs in the sky ...

Then He says to them, according to Matthew 16, “You’re a wicked and adulterous…and He doesn’t just say group…generation.” That means all you leaders and all this nation that follow you, scathing statement. You’ll have one more sign, according to Matthew 16, Jesus said, on the same occasion and it’s the sign of Jonah, remember that? A sign of Jonah is given by our Lord in Matthew 12:39 and 40, He says, “As Jonah was in the whale for three days with a great fish, I’m going to be in the ground for three days.” That’s the only sign you’ll be given. No more signs.

And when that sign came and the word got back to the leaders of Israel that He had risen from the dead, according to Matthew 28:11 to 15, they called the soldiers in who were guarding the tomb and bribed them to lie about the resurrection. That’s fixed darkness. They would deny it when they knew it happened.

After the Pharisees mock Jesus by arguing for this sign, Jesus responds with a deeply emotional response (verse 12): ‘he sighed deeply in his spirit’. MacArthur tells us:

Only once used in the New Testament, here is that verb, compound form. The simple form is used in chapter 7:34 when He sighed, it’s a Greek expression. He sighed over a physical suffering, we read about it in chapter 7, deafness, He sighed. Here it’s compound, He’s sighing deeply. Stronger emotion over spiritual blindness and over physical suffering. It breaks His heart, that’s why He wept when He entered Jerusalem, Luke 19, John 11. He wept at the grave of Lazarus when He saw the power of sin, impact of sin to produce pain. His grief is profound over this hard, hearted, obstinate unbelief in the face of massive evidence, massive signs.

Imagine knowing something very emotionally painful — rejection and unbelief — will happen, then it does. Jesus’s sorrow must have been very profound indeed.

He then declares that He will not under any circumstances cede to this taunting from the Pharisees. He has washed His hands of them. And, as both Henry and MacArthur say, when these unbelievers did find out about His Resurrection, they wanted its truth rubbed out. A number of atheists today believe this discreditation, citing various ancient documents. If you want to see these discussions, read the Telegraph comment sections following news items concerning Christianity.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus’s desertion of the Jewish people in Jerusalem takes place in John 12, specifically, verses 35 and 36:

35 The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

Back to today’s verses from Mark. When Jesus leaves them (verse 13) to get back into the boat, He is consigning the Pharisees to their unbelief. He’s washed His hands of them in Galilee and is leaving them to the judgment of God the Father.

MacArthur explains the timeline and change of focus of Jesus’s ministry at this point:

His Galilee ministry is coming to its end, He’s going to go down to Judea for the last months of His life before He goes to the cross. He’s wrapping up this extensive more than a year that He has spent in a very small area of Galilee. This is the last encounter with the Pharisees and the Sadducees are there as well. It’s a milestone. It really is. It’s a milestone because it is the last time these leaders of Israel will face their Messiah and Savior in that area.

This is it. From here on, whenever He relates to them He relates to them as a condemning judge. Up to this point there have been invitations extended to the leaders of Israel to believe. No more. Denunciation now. But it’s a milestone then for a second and corollary reason. Since He is through with the leaders of Israel, He is through also with the people who follow the leaders of Israel. And from this point on, our Lord’s instruction and His power displays are not for the leaders of Israel, not for the rejecters anymore but for those who believe. So from here on, everything that takes place is driven directly at the disciples.

Next time: Mark 8:14-21

The Department of Health is launching a ‘mass quit attempt’ campaign in October 2012 called Stoptober.

Zzz.

I can think of a number of things to stop in October which are much more vital to life in Britain as we know it today: less government, lower taxes and particularly an end to advocacy groups because they sponge from the public purse.

A resistance measure is planned. It is called #Octabber, ‘tab’, like ‘fag’, being English slang for ‘cigarette’. Blogger Pat Nurse explains:

I first heard about the Govt’s Stoptober scheme aimed at getting us all to do “the decent thing” and quit smoking from Chris Snowdon’s tweets

I liked his idea of launching a counterblast Oct-tabber campaign for people who don’t want to quit and it appealed to many people I chatted to in the real and online world who also took that familiar sigh of despair on hearing of yet another “let’s give those smokers a shove with tax payers’ cash” initiatives – for our own good, of course, because we want it, allegedly.

I put a hastag on it because the idea was born on Twitter which uses that symbol to get a concept “trending” if you use it when tweeting so people can talk about it. I hope Chris doesn’t mind me rebranding it #Octabber.

Artist and designer Lawson Narse devised the graphics for this mass resistance attempt.

Pat, other resistance types and I would not want to discourage anyone from using the coming month to stop smoking — provided they really want to. And, as Pat points out, the NHS has ample resources to help those people to quit.

However, the rest of us involved are pretty sick and tired of the constant nagging to quit. I would like someone to nag ASH and the Department of Health to stop drinking coffee the way they nag us. They’d say, ‘Well, I can’t just stop drinking coffee now, can I?’ I’d say, ‘Yes, you can!’ then accuse them of moral weakness, addiction, being a drain on the NHS (caffeine can be harmful to the heart), damaging their relationships (caffeine lowers one’s emotional IQ) and so on. I’d tell them they have coffee breath which really does stink. And coffee drinkers breathe their fumes all over other people, especially on public transport and in offices. Yes, sirree!

The Filthy Engineer, Nik Lowe, at Oh what NOW set up a smoking poll a few weeks ago. After all, the NHS,  Department of Health, ASH and the rest of the Tobacco Control gang are always telling the public that smokers want to quit, they’re just morally weak, self-centred addicts.

This is Nik’s question:

Do you want to quit smoking?

These were the results on September 19, 2012 (emphases mine):

YES: 3.81% (8 votes)

NO: 88.1% (185 votes)

NOT SURE: 1.43% (3 votes)

OTHER: 6.67% (14 votes)

This is proof positive that we don’t care about Tobacco Control. Furthermore, we are aware of their bogus science as exposed by professors and doctors (Even, Molimard, Grieshaber and Davies).

So, Tobacco Control, stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

As Pat Nurse says in a follow-up post:

for those who really enjoy smoking and don’t want to quit, #Octabber is an alternative. There are two sides to this debate after all and those who don’t want to quit are as important as those who do.

And on an equally serious note she goes on to prove that smokers are second-rate citizens with no real advocacy support (Forest receives a tiny contribution from the tobacco industry and is restricted in what it can do):

Meanwhile, you may recall that last month I floated the idea of taking legal action against the Govt for treating us less equally than other adult consumers of legal products by aiming to remove our right to brand recognition and price comparison under it’s plain packaging plan – or theft of tobacco industry trade marks …

I’d hoped then that we could gain non tobacco industry funding from a consumer rights group to make up the rest but that doesn’t look likely either.

I’ve found that a consumer rights organisation is only a consumer rights organisation for all consumers except tobacco consumers.I shouldn’t have been surprised bearing in mind that we are discriminated against in all walks of life these days and consumer rights groups also live in the pocket of the Tobacco Control Industry.

This is the reply to my appeal for help that I received from Consumers International which is funded by such groups as Which?

Further to our recent telephone conversation I have now had a chance to discuss your request with our Senior Management team and so can formally respond to your email.

“As we discussed we are not a donor organisation; we are a membership organisation receiving subscription fees and so we can only use these funds or the funds that we raise for the benefit of projects and topics that are in line with our member’s work.

“CI does not currently have an international programme on tobacco control; however several of our members do have national campaigns on this issue that would not be in line with your position. Also CI lobbied for and is an observer to conference of the parties of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This is a long standing CI position based on consultation with our international membership and so we would not find support for you within our membership.”

So where next? The only help we’re ever likely to get as consumers would be from the industry that stocks our market but then we’d be instantly dismissed as “being paid by “Big” tobacco to get children addicted” …

It seems that the tobacco control industry only recognises the worth of a person who doesn’t smoke. Despite the fact that millions of smokers have brought up good law abiding kids to be contributing members of society, that they work very hard for their living, pay their taxes, don’t complain, have achieved much and often risen to the top of their professions, have been great, caring parents, they are simply dismissed as worthless by tobacco control which denigrates them as “negative role models” on account of one small aspect of their lives.

I guess a never smoking serial killer, a paedophile, or one who pulls guns on pregnant women are infinitely better citizens and role models for our children than those upstanding members of the community who just happen to enjoy smoking.

And the tobacco control industry wonders why we think they’ve lost the plot.

we have to hope that our Govt listens to real grass roots public and consumer opinion, sees sense, and recognises how the plain packaging issue is a step too far to take in removing consumer rights and will achieve nothing but more harm for those the Govt purports to want to protect.

And that is the point behind #Octabber.

Two months ago New Zealand, in its zeal to stamp out smoking, banned tobacco displays in shops.

Now Tobacco Control is disappointed that the display ban didn’t result in a drop in product sales.

As Jay at Nannying Tyrants says, it would be more meaningful to revisit sales volume in several months and a few years’ time.

Jay explores the notion of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Yet he, like I, have known of colleagues who have scoured an entire office block in search of a biscuit. Therefore, why wouldn’t a smoker react in the same way?

Tobacco Control aren’t very good students of human nature, nor do they particularly care to address this deficit.

Jay quoted New Zealand’s Labour health spokeswoman Maryan Street who said that laws change people’s attitudes (emphases mine):

As for the nanny-state accusations, I have always believed that the law changes people’s behaviour, and that attitudes come next. You can’t compel people to feel differently about things or to have different attitudes, but you can compel them to change their behaviour and that usually results further down the line in a change of attitude. The restrictions on smoking are a prime example of that.

That’s simultaneously bemusing, weird and scary.

Bemusing because attitudes normally change laws. The prohibition of slavery in the West is the most obvious example.  (It still occurs in Muslim-dominated countries in Africa.)

Weird because she is convinced of this.

Scary because one can envisage the Left lobbying for all sorts of laws being passed to change public attitudes. This is no doubt why left-wing governments pass a plethora of legislation and the Right, thinking that’s the thing to do, carries on with the pile-up.

If we consider the seatbelt law, CRB [UK’s Criminal Records Bureau] checks for volunteering, cycling helmets, smoking bans, transfat bans, soft drink taxes and so on — which most people happily accept without thinking — we can see that we have allowed government to run our lives over the past 40-odd years. That’s a heck of a long time. And, as Jay pointed out in his post, any resistance is regarded as secular heresy.

However, we the people need to do something if we wish to turn the tide.

Let’s take a step back and, yes, let’s resist for a change. Push back against further encroachment from the state.

Just say no to what you can when you can.

Carl V Phillips is a scientific researcher who works in tobacco harm reduction — THR — which encourages smokers to move to other avenues of nicotine intake, e.g. smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes.

Whilst he believes that smoking is harmful, he also takes issue with government bodies and some Tobacco Control individuals in this regard.

Phillips and fellow researcher Elaine Keller run a blog called Anti-THR Lie of the Day, which does what it says on the tin. It exposes untruths and sloppy science in Tobacco Control.

On September 16, 2012, Phillips addressed what lurks behind a commonly-used term thrown around with abandon in Lifestyle Control. This is ‘conflict of interest’, or COI.

In ‘What is conflict of interest?’ Phillips introduces the topic then goes on to say (emphases mine):

By now you have probably noticed the lack of any mention of funding in all of this.  That is because — contrary to the common naive view — funding is not COI. This is perhaps the most important thing to understand about COI:  It is about preference or belief — and willingness to act on those preferences when it is unethical to do so — not about what motivates someone to those actions.

Receiving funding from an entity with an interest in THR is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for having a COI.  The relationship of funding to COI is very similar to the relationship between toxicology and real world outcomes that I discussed before:  Funding is one possible explanation for why someone might have a COI, but it is not the COI.  The COI is the motivation to get a particular result from research or to communicate particular claims apart from their truth, no matter what the motive.

… It might be that funding has some influence at the margin, but I lived in that world long enough to know that funding generally chases true believers, rather than creating them.

… Someone who invented a product obviously should not be the one we trust to do the research on whether it works.  Employees of anti-THR organizations like, say, the American Cancer Society or most units of the US government, would probably suffer serious consequences if they told the truth about THR.  Such individuals have such extreme COI that if they wanted to try to be honest scientists, they would need to go to great lengths — making sure their work was extremely transparent, thoroughly reviewed by anyone who wants to review it, etc.

For an example of that, consider the scientific research that comes out of BAT.  The researchers there know that they have a clear COI because of their employment status, but are intent on doing honest research that contributes to our understanding of the health impacts of tobacco products (THR and otherwise), and having it taken seriously.  (I can testify to these motives based on extensive communication with many of them; this contrasts with those who casually make declarations about people’s motives with neither material evidence nor any familiarity with the people in question.)  Knowing that they have to deal with that COI, the researchers openly share their research to the extent possible and are very conservative in their conclusions.  Contrast that with most research from anti-THR organizations and individuals that is secretive, never seriously reviewed, and overstated.

Notice also that I mentioned the US government.  As noted in yesterday’s post, and as will become further apparent from future posts, the US government is and has been the most aggressive anti-THR liar in the world.  The EU government and the UN are similarly anti-THR and similarly dishonest.  So if funding were tantamount to COI, then anyone receiving funds from the US government or most other large governments or quasi-governments would have a COI.  Indeed, it is rather more likely that a government would cut off someone’s funding for taking the “wrong” position than would a pharmaceutical or tobacco company.  Governments and their puppets and puppet masters are all about politics, after all, while manufacturers have a real stake in good science, and are generally capable of distinguishing between someone’s scientific contribution and their political views.

In another post, he explores this at length:

As a first foray into that, I will address the testimony of US Surgeon General Richard Carmona before the a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing on smokeless tobacco in 2003.  That is the one that came up in a recent post because it was used as an especially stupid source citation.

The US government was the dominant anti-THR liar when I first started documenting anti-THR lies a decade ago, and they currently hold that position.  The United Nations might or might not have edged them out for a while during the years in between, but the FDA has put them solidly in the lead again.  Long before the lies about e-cigarette chemistry research from FDA, Samet, at al. became the most-cited anti-THR lie, it was Carmona lying about smokeless tobacco

Not that Carmona’s opinion was expert.  Far from it.  The core claim was:

No matter what you may hear today or read in press reports later, I cannot conclude that the use of any tobacco product is a safer alternative to smoking.

Someone really has to be clueless to make a claim like this.  Even the preamble clause is an embarrassment, saying, “no matter what evidence I hear, my conclusion will not change”.  But deadly lie is the rest.

It is rather difficult to believe that Carmona was actually so stupid as to believe that smokeless tobacco was not less harmful than cigarettes.  Realizing the truth did not take an expert, a genius, or even education about health science (and you might expect a Surgeon General testifying about a topic to have one or two of those characteristics).  Someone just had to know enough to reason, “let’s see: about half of the deaths from smoking are from lung diseases, and no one claims that smokeless tobacco causes any measurable risk for those; the only claim anyone ever makes about smokeless tobacco causing more risk than smoking is for oral cancer, and that would be in the order of 1% of the total risk worst case”.  A bit of grade school arithmetic will then get you to “I can conclude the use of smokeless tobacco is safer than smoking.”

As it turns out, there was already ample evidence and expert assessment that the risk was in the low-single-digit percent range compared to smoking.  There was already clear evidence that the hypothetical oral cancer risk did not exist to a measurable degree.  Indeed, there was (and is) no disease for which any measurable risk had been demonstrated for popular Western forms of smokeless tobacco.  Someone who knew the science would not have to resort to the rough-cut reasoning I proposed.  Still, even someone with only rudimentary knowledge of maths and the subject matter could use that reasoning to figure out that the risk was lower than for smoking.

There is more at the link. The issue is that many of us blindly believe what the government says — whether in the US or elsewhere — about health. Health has always been a hot-button issue, just as it was in Jesus’s time with the tens of thousands of people who flocked to Him for healing and not much else. And throughout history when people relied on barbers to bleed them up through to the present day.

And nothing, sadly, is a greater health bugbear than smoking.

Phillips makes an excellent point about Carmona’s testimony in his conclusion. It should make us sceptical about government health policies. Remember the year is 2003:

This is another great example of the conjunction lie I noted previously — he could have said “…by smoking or other forms of tobacco use or gazing upon my face and turning to stone”, and it would still be accurate.  He was using word games to imply that some nontrivial part of that figure cited was the toll from smokeless tobacco.  Indeed, that figure was the official estimated toll from smoking alone, so he was actually saying that neither smokeless tobacco nor his gorgon-like powers were killing anyone.  That is a bit of accidental truth that is conveniently overlooked by the anti-THR liars who still quote this national embarrassment to this day.

It is difficult to not be reminded of another bit of testimony from the same year from another cabinet-level official, Colin Powell insisting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.  In later years, Powell has expressed serious regret and apology for making that claim, and it basically cost him his legacy as a respected statesman, though he deserves a lot of credit for the apology.  But whatever one thinks of Powell and the war, the key observation is this:  Who would be stupid enough, years later, to quote Powell’s testimony and say, “this testimony is evidence that there were WMDs in Iraq”?  And yet that is equivalent to what the anti-THR liars are doing when they quote Carmona’s embarrassing and false testimony a decade later.

It seems curious that we accuse politicians and other officials of obfuscation in every aspect except health.

Let’s take time to research and get the facts first.

Most of my readers do not smoke.

It is time, though, that people — particularly children — realise that the photos of black or brown smoker’s lungs are fake.

Most people reading this will have seen them starting in primary school, as I did in the late 1960s. They are designed to shock.

Frank Davis has the full story on these photographs in ‘The Black Lung Lie’.

Frank’s post covers a broad spectrum of commentary from medical professionals and includes photographs. A few excerpts follow, emphases mine.

From Kansas City to Tennessee to New York to the Netherlands to Germany, physicians agree that it is impossible to tell whether lungs belong to a smoker or non-smoker. As such, they can be safely transplanted into non-smokers. Whether the lungs ‘take’ is another question, but that is irrelevant to whether the donor was a smoker.

The exceptions to the lung condition and colour occur in cases of emphysema and black lung — coal miner’s — disease.

Frank writes:

The lie hinges on first asserting that smoking causes emphysema (it may do, or it may not), and secondly asserting that emphysema turns lungs grey-black (it probably does), and then finally dropping the connecting middle term of ’emphysema’,  and asserting that smoking turns lungs grey-black. Or it’s just calling emphysematous lungs ‘smokers’ lungs’.

A parallel false ascription might be found elsewhere. People who visit Delhi may get food poisoning from ingesting bacteria. The food poisoning may cause vomiting and so on. But if the ‘bacteria’ link is missed out, and the malady is just called ‘Delhi belly’ (as it often is), it may mislead people into believing that it’s visiting Delhi (or Indian restaurants) which is the root of the trouble – although in fact most visitors to Delhi (and Indian restaurants) don’t suffer such ill-effects, and there are lots of other places in the world other than Delhi where you can contract ‘Delhi belly’.

It’s a thoroughly dishonest and disreputable mis-attribution of a disease. It pins the disease on a particular social group: smokers. And it makes it their disease, and nobody else’s – even though not everyone who gets emphysema is a smoker, and not all smokers get emphysema. But at least we may now see why pathologists aren’t finding grey-black smokers’ lungs: they didn’t have emphysema.

However, there is more dishonesty. This involves the blackest of the photographs, the kind they use in schools and on cigarette packets. Frank provides a full explanation along with the marketing guff and photos.

In short:

So firstly they’re pig lungs. And secondly they’ve been preserved and stained realistically. And simulated internal and external tumours have been added. And all to demonstrate the effects of prolonged smoking!  It beggars belief.

No doubt the students aren’t told any of this, and are led to believe that they’re looking at real human ‘smokers’ lungs’.

Too right. It was only a couple of years ago that my schoolchums and I had dinner together. I brought up the subject, as there were already rumours circulating of fake lung pictures.

These photos heavily influence people’s impressions of smoking.

Out of a party of four of us, two believed the photos were fake, one was undecided but still thought smoking was dangerous and the other was certain that the photos were real, otherwise schools would not allow the materials in class.

Amazingly, this fraud has been perpetrated on adults and — even worse — children for nearly 40 years. It continues today.

One of Frank’s readers added more information via a Washington Times article from 2011. This article covers the gamut of cigarette packet photos (emphases mine):

There is only one problem with the federal government’s great campaign of graphic images aimed at combating the deceit of tobacco companies and rescuing us from our stupid selves.

The images are fabricated.

“Some are photographs; some are illustrations,” a spokesman at the Department of Health and Human Services explained to me Tuesday when I called about the new pictures.

The dead man with the zipped-up chest? “It’s not a dead body,” the spokesman assured me. “It’s an actor. It’s supposed to be a cadaver after an autopsy.”

The man with the wispy smoke coming out of the hole in his throat? “That’s a Photoshopped illustration.”

The baby in an incubator is a creepy drawing …

The government unveiled the bogus pictures at a White House event staged to look like a press conference.

William Corr, a deputy secretary at HHS, lamented the formal setting, saying: “We should be having a party to celebrate!” He went on to testify how the new pictures “tell the truth.”

The only truth here is that people around the world are being lied to in the name of bogus ‘public health’.

As the Times journalist adds:

And you paid for them.

The incumbent for the US presidency has a new campaign slogan this election cycle.

Forward.

If that doesn’t raise alarm bells, it should.

The Washington Times has a potted but comprehensive history of this word as used by the Left:

Many Communist and radical publications and entities throughout the 19th and 20th centuries had the name “Forward!” or its foreign cognates. Wikipedia has an entire section called “Forward (generic name of socialist publications)” …

There have been at least two radical-left publications named “Vorwaerts” (the German word for “Forward”). One was the daily newspaper of the Social Democratic Party of Germany whose writers included Friedrich Engels and Leon Trotsky. It still publishes as the organ of Germany’s SDP, though that party has changed considerably since World War II. Another was the 1844 biweekly reader of the Communist League. Karl Marx, Engels and Mikhail Bakunin are among the names associated with that publication.

East Germany named its Army soccer club ASK Vorwaerts Berlin (later FC Vorwaerts Frankfort).

Vladimir Lenin founded the publication “Vpered” (the Russian word for “forward”) in 1905. Soviet propaganda film-maker Dziga Vertov made a documentary whose title is sometimes translated as “Forward, Soviet” (though also and more literally as “Stride, Soviet”).

Let’s not say we weren’t warned. Obama has not lied in his campaigning, except when he promised transparency.

Yes, things are ‘changing’ in the United States thanks to dopes filled with ‘hope’. Avoid the risk in November of taking this … forward another four years.

I have two words for you … John Calvin.

A name with which to conjure. What do we make of Calvin, whose 500th anniversary of his birth occurred in July 2009, just a few months after I started this blog?

At the time, I was still working my way through the Catholicism of my birth and formative years up through the Anglicanism of my adult years.

Until then, Calvin was to me anathema. However, the celebrations going on in Geneva and in other parts of the world encouraged me to read more about the man and his theology.

On June 25, 2009, I wrote a piece based on an article from Canada’s United Church Observer which exploded the myths about this much-contested theologian who sought refuge in one of the world’s most beautiful (and once tranquil) cities — Geneva, Switzerland.

Although you can read more at either link, these are a few of the highlights from my post:

– Myth — Calvin ruled Geneva as a theocracy: The only public office Calvin held in Geneva was that of chief pastor and then only for two years.  The city council might have dismissed him, but they invited him back in 1541. Upon his return, he became somewhat of a celebrity and those fleeing Catholic persecution wanted to hear him preach. His writing made him internationally famous.  Yet, ironically, those who were opposed to him actually governed the city during this time.  

– Myth — Calvin was an unforgiving disciplinarian: Minutes from the Genevan Consistory Panel reveal that Calvin and the panel’s members wanted to achieve ‘healing and understanding’ from the punishments they meted out.  (What the article doesn’t say is that similar ‘vice patrols’ were in operation in most European cities at the time.  Geneva was not an anomaly.)

– Myth — Calvin was a champion of self-denial: Calvin actually encouraged the rich to be more charitable, believing that the poor were ‘God’s proxies’ sent ‘as agents to gather in what is God’s’.

– Myth — Calvin was the spiritual father of capitalism: Although the Catholic Church criticised Calvin for encouraging the charging of interest, the kings of England and France were already lending out money at 12% or 14% interest.  Calvin, on the other hand, instructed his followers to charge no more than 5% (and, what the article doesn’t say, never to collect interest from the poor).

As I would find out, the one name connected with Calvin is Servetus, who died, sentenced as a heretic, in that great Swiss city. Arminians — Protestants who believe in ‘free will’ — often cite this episode in Church history to prove that Calvin was no good. Yet, Calvin was often subject to Geneva’s City Council in matters ecclesiastical.

Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California and the newly-revived Heidelblog explained the Calvin versus Servetus story on September 15, 2012. Emphases in the excerpts below (except for the subheads) are mine:

Calvin was more refugee than tyrant. At any rate, church-state relations in Geneva were fluid and complex.

The Servetus Episode

By “heretics” [Molly] Worthen presumably refers [to] the capital punishment of Miguel (Michael) Servetus (1509/11–53) for heresy in Geneva. Sadly, one thing that every educated person thinks she knows about Calvin, to quote the novelist Anne Rice, is “Calvin was a “true Christian” when he burned Michael Servetus alive in Geneva.” Even those who should know better sometimes position Servetus as if he were issuing a “prophetic challenge” to Calvin’s “overbearing dominance” in Geneva (Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1999), 21).

Of course, the actual history is much more complicated. Servetus was a well-educated Spanish humanist, physician, and amateur theologian. Servetus published an attack on the doctrine of the Trinity in 1530. He and Calvin corresponded and in 1546 Calvin wrote to [good friend and fellow theologian] William Farel that, should Servetus visit Geneva, he would do his best to see that the heretic did not leave alive and he warned Servetus that, should he come to Geneva, his life would be in danger. Servetus was arrested in Lyons in 1552 for having published heresy against the catholic faith. He was tried and sentenced to death but escaped the prison and strangely made his way to Geneva in July of 1552. Servetus was spotted in church, arrested, and examined twice regarding his teaching on the Trinity. Calvin served as theological prosecutor on behalf of the city council. Servetus was convicted by a unanimous vote of the city council and a majority of the council of 200. Servetus was burned at the stake in October, 1553.

As a matter of history it is inescapable that Calvin played a central role in the arrest and prosecution of Servetus but it is simply not true that Calvin killed Servetus. The city council is responsible for Servetus’ death. Had Calvin objected to the death penalty it is unlikely that the city council would have listened or could have listened. The [Roman Catholic] House of Savoy was poised to invade Geneva without much provocation. Servetus was a condemned heretic. Had a protestant city failed to death a notorious heretic it would have confirmed the suspicion of Roman critics that the Protestants were nothing but crypto-fanatics, hiding their true colors under a false profession of Trinitarian orthodoxy.

In fact, the killing of heretics at the stake was not uncommon under Christendom. Rome put her share of Protestants to death (including no fewer than 42,000 Reformed Christians in the period) and both Roman and Protestant magistrates killed about 3,000 Anabaptists …

The Reformed ministers in Heidelberg insisted on capital punishment of anti-Trinitarians in 1572 about which very little has been written in English. Arguably, that act was twice as heinous as the action of the Genevan civil authorities. Why then the focus on Servetus’ death? This episode is singled out because it is a convenient way to vilify Calvin and to reinforce the stereotype of Calvin the predestinarian monster of Geneva and, as Worthen’s article illustrates, the image of repressive Reformed churches.

Another episode occurred in 1546. Clark explains:

Pierre Ameaux, a member of the Petit Conseil, at dinner party one evening, anticipating the modern critique of Calvin, complained that Calvin taught false doctrine and exerted too much influence over the council.

On the surface this seems to be another example of Calvin’s alleged tyranny but there was more happening beneath the surface. Certainly Ameaux was humiliated because Calvin insisted, but technically it was the city council who effected the sentence and, more importantly, it was part of a metaphorically bloody political fight, dating to the mid-40s, over the direction of the city and the church. This was less about Calvin’s person than it was about the authority of the church to make ecclesiastical policy. Those interested in a balanced account will notice that Ameaux was made to apologize for criticizing the city’s pastors (an office), not for insulting Calvin’s person. T. H. L. Parker, John Calvin: A Biography, 99. says that what was at stake was the authority of the Word.

Calvin had only been back in Geneva since Easter, 1541 and Ameaux was a member of the powerful libertine party contesting the Consistory’s authority and especially Calvin’s. Further, this episode followed a legal and an ecclesiastical case (Register of the Company of Pastors, 1.309–10) concerning Ameaux’s wife, so there was some history. Further, Ameaux was not an ordinary layman. He was a successful businessman, who manufactured playing cards, and a member of the Petit Conseil and a leading member of the “Libertine” party seeking to discredit Calvin and the Reformation in Geneva. According to Bernard Cottret, Calvin, 187, “he was sentenced to make a circuit of the city, his head bare, a lighted torch in his hand.” This is a translation of CO 21.377, Registres du Conseil 41, fol. 68.

Surely it strikes us as severe today—It wasn’t for nothing that Calvin was called “The Accusative Case” by his fellow students—but remember the times and the context. Was it a confusion of the civil and ecclesiastical spheres for Calvin to demand civil penalties for being identified with the sufferings of Christ? Absolutely. From the perspective of a distinction between the ecclesiastical and common spheres, Calvin might have had a case before the Consistory but not before the Civil Authorities.

The true moral of this story, however, is of the danger of the Constantinian church-state alliance wherein civil authorities have the power to punish heresy. Nowhere in the New Testament or in the moral law is theological heresy a ground for civil punishment. The only sphere authorized by God to correct theological error is the visible church (see Matthew 18) and their means are purely spiritual: Word, sacrament, and discipline (e.g., rebuke, censure, excommunication).

Calvin had far more influence over civil life than we are accustomed to seeing but he was no tyrant in Geneva. He was not even a citizen until late in his life. He was a sixteenth-century man and a Constantinian—but so was most everyone else in the period. The real argument here cannot reasonably be over Calvin’s influence in civil affairs or else the entire magisterial Reformation must be convicted. Where’s the moral outrage over Bucer, Melanchthon, Luther, Zwingli, Bullinger et al? ? So, we may fairly wonder whether something else is bothering so many moderns and late moderns.

Two points about the last paragraph. One involves Zwingli and the drowning of Felix Mann, falsely attributed to Calvin. The second concerns Roman Catholics in the Low Countries (Benelux) at the time. This from D G Hart, an Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) elder in Pennsylvania, and co-founder of the Old Life Theological Society and, yes, the Nicotine Theological Journal. He reminds us:

In the sixteenth century when Roman Catholics wanted to rid the Low Countries of Protestantism they depended on Phillip II and the Duke of Alba (Margaret of Parma wasn’t too shabby either) to implement the church’s ban on heretics. In fact, Rome’s mechanisms of inquisition generally relied up civil authorities to enforce the temporal penalties for heresy.

But, then, we also have the notion that Calvin was a socialist before his time. For this, we return to Dr Clark:

This is amusing but wrong for two reasons:

1) It’s an anachronism. It’s true that Calvin lived on the cusp of what we know as capitalism but contrary to the typical schoolbook presentation (derived from Max Weber) the connections between capitalism and Calvin are best characterized as indirect. There were a number of changes afoot in the 16th century that helped set the preconditions for modern capitalism and Reformed theology was one of them.

Calvin was not exactly a free-market capitalist but neither was he any sort of socio-economic anarchist or statist or whatever social-economic views the Occupy movements represent. In some respects Calvin was socially “progressive” insofar as he was willing to reconsider the existing order …

2) It simply misrepresents Calvin’s concerns. If there was a single potential effect of the Protestant Reformation (and other social changes that coincided with the Reformation) that he feared it was the social chaos that might be unleashed as result of the changes. He was deeply worried about social mayhem. In that respect he was quite conservative of the established order. Even though his theory of two kingdoms  (Institutes, 3.19.15) has become strangely controversial in recent years he formed that theory within a web of Constantinian assumptions about the nature of civil power and the righteousness of the civil enforcement of religious orthodoxy. Calvin opposed the Anabaptist movements not only on theological grounds but also on socio-political grounds. He, like the rest of the magisterial Reformers, saw in Münster Rebellion (1534–35) a realization of what might happen were the radicals to gain influence or power.

And that is why Anabaptists, pietists and Arminians call Calvin ‘Satan’, ‘spawn of the Devil’ and so on. He opposed their so-called interests in a biblical way.

Calvin was a complex man. Outsiders saw him as cold and unfeeling. Others, like his wife who predeceased him, loved him dearly.

Calvin had a brilliant mind. He first studied law, then read theology. He attempted to codify, as far as possible, scriptural norms. He was a product of his time. John Knox took the theology further — badly, as it happened — as did Cromwell. However, it is doubtful whether we can blame Calvin for others’ departures from his own theology.

Yet again, we see that the editors — theologians and clergy — of the three-year Lectionary for public worship have left out another beautiful passage from the Gospel of Mark, leaving biblically illiterate Christians in more partial darkness.

As such, today’s entry is yet another in my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to an understanding of Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Mark 8:1-10

Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand

 1 In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, 2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” 4And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” 5And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. 8And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

——————————————————————

Last week, I directed readers to my discussion of Mark 7, which includes Jesus’s abolition of the Old Testament dietary/mealtime laws and the remote healing of the Gentile — Syrophoenician — woman’s daughter.

As St Mark’s Gospel is the first of the Synoptic Gospels, along with Sts Matthew’s and Luke’s, many of his short accounts of Jesus’s life appear in the other two. Synoptic means ‘seen together’.

As such, parallel accounts appear in Matthew 15. The verses in Matthew 15:10-20 parallel those in Mark 7:14-23. Here is Matthew’s account (emphases mine, highlighting the differences):

What Defiles a Person

 10And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” 12Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” 16And he said,  “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

The healing of the Gentile woman’s daughter is found in Matthew 15:21-28. Note that Matthew calls her ‘Canaanite’ not ‘Syrophoenician’, although they mean the same thing:

The Faith of a Canaanite Woman

 21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

In my post on the verses in Mark 7 which are excluded from the three-year Lectionary, I wrote of the woman:

What Jesus is doing is testing this Gentile’s faith.  His first obligation is to the Jews (‘children’), not to the heathens (‘dogs’). (A similar reference is Matt. 7:6.) The children must be fed at table first, with dogs picking up whatever is left.  Yet, Jesus knew that some Jews, having absorbed so many of His teachings, were already rejecting Him.  Matthew Henry says they were like well-fed children who played with their food.  Therefore, it was time to share this meal – the Good News — with unbelievers.  The lady agrees with what Jesus says. She is aware of her Gentile status. In verse 28 she replies, ‘Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Note that she does not say, ‘Give me what’s mine — I’m just as entitled as the Jews’ but instead asks for ‘crumbs’.  She is a humble supplicant begging for mercy and help in her dire situation. 

Jesus recognises her faith (verse 29) and tells her that she may go as the demon has left her child.  Verse 30 concludes with her returning home and seeing her daughter resting peacefully.  

Note that Mark 7:24 and Matthew 15:21 say that between the abolition of food laws and the healing of the Gentile woman’s daughter Jesus and the Apostles had left Galilee for Tyre and Sidon, a Gentile region. He might have done this for three reasons: 1/ because He perceived that His life was in danger after yet another confrontation with the Pharisees and knew His time had not yet come, 2/ He needed a psychological break from altercations with the Pharisees which were taking up much of His mental or emotional energies and 3/ He could see that He was getting nowhere with the Jews, the people He came to earth to save, so he would take His ministry to the Gentiles.

Jesus and His disciples then went to the Decapolis, which is where Mark 8 opens. John MacArthur explains the geography and the reluctance of the Apostles — Jews — to accept the principle of evangelising to idol-worshipping Gentiles (emphases mine throughout):

Now in the passage before us, we are really looking at the last recorded event in that several month period in which Jesus takes His Twelve into the Gentile nations that surround Galilee. He first made that move in chapter 7 verse 24 when Jesus gathered the Twelve and went to the region of Tyre. That would be a city on the Mediterranean coast north and west of Galilee, Israel, in the area called Syrophoenicia, ancient Phoenicia had been annexed to Syria to the east and it was now one great Syrophoenician Empire. It actually extended all the way east and all the way down south, a southern eastern portion of the Galilee region was also under the control of Syria. So this is Gentile area. Our Lord takes the disciples into a several month foray into that area. There’s really only just a couple of incidents that are recorded, verses 24 to 30 of chapter 7 tell about a woman who had a daughter with a demon and she lived in Tyre and the Lord delivered that daughter from the demon and the woman exercised saving faith which in Matthew’s account of that Jesus called mega-faith, great faith.

And then we find, having left that city of Tyre, went to Sidon and He crossed the north, the mountains of Lebanon, and headed east, all the time we have no record of teaching, preaching, healing. This is time for intensive training of the Twelve. What’s the theme of the training? It should be pretty obvious. He’s getting them ready for the Great Commission. What is the Great Commission? Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. They need to understand that salvation is for the Gentiles, that it’s for the world. You can’t just drop that on them in the Great Commission because they’ve been raised in Israel and Israel’s belief was that the Gentile are outside the Covenant, outside the compassion of God, outside the salvation purpose of God and Israel alone is the nation which God has favored. And that’s what they’ve been taught. That’s what they’ve been trained to believe, that Israel is the beginning and end of God’s purpose. Our Lord is showing them by the faith of that Gentile woman in Tyre set against the unbelief of the leaders of Israel and most of the people of Galilee who had heard and seen Jesus, that Gentiles are going to be incorporated in salvation. And so I think that was the teaching theme as He moved through the Gentile areas cause everywhere they went, they would be aware of the fact they were not in the land of Israel.

They finally end up, several months after they began the journey, down on the southeastern shore of Galilee, having gone west, north and a big loop and down to the bottom of the Sea of Galilee in an area called Decapolis, made up of ten cities, Gentile cities full of idol worship and typical Gentile life. There a massive crowd comes to Jesus by the Lake of Galilee and He heals them all…absolutely all of them, according to Matthew 15:29 to 31, He healed everybody who came and they were bringing all kinds of injuries, illnesses, diseases, etc. And this is all to demonstrate the healing purposes of God, the compassion of God and the salvation of God is intended for the world and for Gentiles. And this is sort of a microcosm lesson on this, which I am confident was reinforced as they moved those hundred and twenty, to a hundred and fifty miles over a period of several months in the presence of the Lord …

The result of His deeds of compassion in the Decapolis at the end of those months, the very time we’re looking at today, was that the Gentiles, according to Matthew 15:31, “Glorified the God of Israel.” I’m sure that encompassed some true faith. I’m sure during the period of time that He was doing all the healing He was also doing what He always did, teaching concerning the Kingdom. And some of them were glorifying the God of Israel. And the only way you could really do that truly would be by putting your trust in His Son.

All this healing goes on over a period of three days

The … crowd has been lingering for three days. They’ve slept on the ground. There’s no large city nearby and the cities of the Decapolis are scattered far apart, not like Galilee with two hundred and forty thousand villages close together. These people have come a long way. They’ve been sleeping on the ground. They haven’t eaten. Why? Why such interest?

Because remember, this is the only time He ever went in to that area. Some of them may have crossed the border. We know some from Decapolis came and saw His miracles. But He’s never been there before. This is compelling. This is stunning and staggering activity that they’re watching as He heals all these people with all these disabilities and all these diseases. They’ve never seen anything like it, or heard of anything like it. And so they don’t go anywhere. They put hunger aside. They’re so overwhelmed by what is going on, I don’t think they even felt hunger.

This miracle bears many similarities to that of Jesus’s feeding of the five thousand. The same story appears in Matthew 15:32-39.

In verse 1, Jesus is conscious that this assembly of people before Him have not eaten for three days and reminds the disciples of this fact. He tells them that He has ‘compassion’ for them (verse 2), even if they might not realise they need food for their physical state.

MacArthur explains the Greek word for ‘I feel compassion’ used here:

Three words in English, one word in Greek, splanchnizomai ... Splanchna is the root and the word means “bowels, inner organs, heart, some would say gut,” where you feel things emotionally. Sometimes you get caught in something that’s either producing fear or producing terror or producing anxiety and your stomach begins to churn and your heart begins to beat and you feel those emotions in your…in your midsection. That’s exactly what this word came to mean. The word splanchna means inner organs. But it is used to express feelings of emotion, affection, sympathy, pity, kindness and compassion.

So, Jesus responded profoundly to those before Him. He knew that once they left to go home, they would feel physically weak (verse 3). Matthew Henry analyses the situation:

Whom the proud Pharisees looked upon with disdain, the humble Jesus looked upon with pity and tenderness; and thus must we honour all men. But that which he chiefly considers, is, They have been with me three days, and have nothing to eat. Whatever losses we sustain, or hardships we go through, for Christ’s sake, and in love to him, he will take care that they shall be made up to us one way or other. They that seek the Lord, shall not long want any good thing, Ps. 34:10. Observe with what sympathy Christ saith (v. 3), If I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way, for hunger. Christ knows and considers our frame; and he is for the body, if we glorify him, verily we shall be fed. He considered that many of them came from afar, and had a great way home. When we see multitudes attending upon the word preached, it is comfortable to think that Christ knows whence they all come, though we do not. I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, Rev. 2:13. Christ would by no means have them go home fasting, for it is not his manner to send those empty way from him, that in a right manner attend on him.

The disciples wondered how any pieces of bread — flatbread, incidentally — could sustain the crowd on their homeward journeys (verse 4). Jesus discovered there were seven loaves (verse 5). As he did in the feeding of the five thousand, He asked the crowd to sit down, said a prayer of thanksgiving over the loaves and asked the disciples to distribute them (verse 6). So, He had multiplied them, as before, in sufficient quantities to feed everyone present and more.

Having then discovered that there were also a few fish amongst the people, Jesus asked that these be collected, whereby he blessed them and multiplied them, once again sufficiently to feed everyone assembled and then some (verse 7). In this way, the people had more than enough to eat to sustain them as they left and the leftovers filled seven baskets (verse 8). How merciful — and compassionate — our Lord is!

Verse 9 tells us that there were 4,000 people assembled who ate their fill. Matthew 15:38 specifies that the 4,000 men. There were additional people — women and children. So, perhaps this creative miracle for the Gentiles fed 16,000 people. I arrive at this number roughly, using John MacArthur’s estimate of the feeding of the 5,000, which Matthew told us was only the number of men — there were also women and children. MacArthur estimated Jesus fed 25,000 people on that occasion.

This account ends in verse 10 with Mark telling us that, afterward, Jesus and His disciples took a boat to Dalmanutha. Matthew 15:39 says the destination was Magadan. MacArthur says both were in the same region and that this means that Jesus and the disciples were leaving the Gentiles and returning to Galilee, near Gennesaret, where they were at the end of Mark 6:

we know that from Mary of Magdala, Mary Magdalene. Is it Dalmanutha? Or is it Magdala, Magadan? The answer is, it’s the same region. It’s the same area. South of Gennesaret. Basically we know where Magdala is and we know where Capernaum is and it’s not too far separated. When the lake was low, some years ago, archaeologists discovered a little harbor buried under the water really, or submerged under the water, between Magdala and Capernaum which some archaeologists think was probably Dalmanutha, a little fishing stop of which there were many along the shore. They also found a cave in the area called Talmanutha that may be in view as well. So the region of Magdala, the region of Dalmanutha would be in the very same area.

So the record ends of Jesus’ foray into Gentile lands. And so the record also brings a kind of a culmination to His Galilean ministry. Oh, He’ll have a little more ministry kind of in the outlying areas after He got to Dalmanutha, they confront the Pharisees again and He goes up into the north…out of the main stream area of Galilee for a little more ministry and finally heads down into Judea on His way to Jerusalem to His death and resurrection.

Matthew Henry summarises the lessons of this second creative miracle of massive proportions:

6. The bounty of Christ is inexhaustible, and, to evidence that, Christ repeated this miracle, to show that he is still the same for the succour and supply of his people that attend upon him. His favours are renewed, as our wants and necessities are. In the former miracle, Christ used all the bread he had, which was five loaves, and fed all the guests he had, which were five thousand, and so he did now; though he might have said, “If five loaves would feed five thousand, four may feed four thousand;” he took all the seven loaves, and fed with them the four thousand; for he would teach us to take things as they are, and accommodate ourselves to them; to use what we have, and make the best of that which is. Here it was, as in the dispensing of manna, He that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack.

7. In our Father’s house, in our Master’s house, there is bread enough, and to spare; there is a fulness in Christ, which he communicates to all that passes through his hands; so that from it we receive, and grace for grace, Jn. 1:16. Those need not fear wanting, that have Christ to live upon.

8. It is good for those that follow Christ, to keep together; these followers of Christ continued in a body, four thousand of them together, and Christ fed them all. Christ’s sheep must abide by the flock, and go forth by their footsteps, and verily they shall be fed.

Next time: Mark 8:11-13

Many Western Christians on both sides of the political spectrum feel called to ‘biblically transform’ society. How much should we do in this regard?

R Scott Clark has many resources on the Reformation concept of two kingdoms (2K), divine and civil, which Lutherans and Calvinists largely adhere to, although there are exceptions. Many Catholics also separate their church and civic lives.

In an April 2010 Heidelblog post, Dr Clark discussed the 2K concept with one of his readers, Tim. Tim asks the following by way of explanation (emphases mine):

I just returned from a weekend visiting friends and their emergent church that they go to. The person, “the grassroots pastor”, who leads this emergent community reads a lot of Richard Rohr, Rob Bell, Brian Mc[L]aren, especially Greg Boyd, and surprisingly N.T. Wright. In fact, almost every spiritually conversation I had, someone mentioned something about N.T.Wright. And in those same conversations the favorite phrase that always jumped out most was “the kingdom of God”. Now here is a reactionary community that is rebelling from pietistic fundamentalism which taught them their Christian lives are only as meaningful as their involvement in evangelism. This same emergent community now seeks to justify all their lives in terms of the service and being “agents of the new creation” to spread the “kingdom of God.” On Sunday morning the “grassroots pastor” said “the kingdom of God” essentially means everybody doing their share and “serving their brains out”. At the end of the service, the pastor pointed to the table in the back where United Way provided hundreds of ways to volunteer in their local city. And he encouraged everyone to sign up for at least one volunteer organization. The “grassroots pastor” said Christians are in the business of serving people, of volunteering, of ushering in the kingdom of God, of being conduits of the new creation. He said Christians are to be “ministers of the reconciliation.” This was a sermon full of imperatives. And I left feeling condemned especially because I am not “serving my brains out.” So my questions are:

1.To what extent does God call us to be agents of new creation involved in spreading the kingdom of God?
2.Does preaching like this, with emphasis on “serving our brains out”, fall under preaching Law and not Gospel?
3.Does serving the poor or doing other charitable work means someone is being a “minister of reconciliation” or does this phrase have a different meaning in the Bible?
4. What would you add to better explain what Guy Waters meant with his quote above?

To which Dr Clark replies:

… This is a category of analysis that the emergent guys, who are really just pietists with hip glasses, don’t have. They assume a transformationalist model of social engagement. My question is this: where in the NT is social transformation unequivocally taught? I can show where we are clearly and unequivocally taught to do our work in this world quietly but I’m hard pressed to find a single, clear, unequivocal command to transform society.

No question whether God is sovereign over all things. The question is: how has God willed to administer his sovereignty over all things? I would say that he has willed to do so in two distinct spheres. The KOG [Kingdom of God] is primarily (solely?) manifested in the visible, institutional church to which he has given the keys of the kingdom. Christians also live in what we may call the common realm or which Zacharias Ursinus called the kingdom of God most broadly considered — that is the realm of his general providence. In that realm Christians serve Christ but not by “transforming” the common but by being faithful in the common realm to their vocations and to the Lordship of Christ. Christians are Christians 7 days a week but not everything they do is under the Kingdom narrowly considered

Tim seeks clarification:

So McLaren insists we are to seek justice. Or as N.T.Wright would say, ” putting the world back to rights.” Furthermore, emergent types will go to passsages like Mat[t]hew 25:31-46 and say, “Look there, Jesus says “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” So they will say helping the poor, the powerless, the widows, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned is a major part of spreading the KOG. Another words as the “grassroots pastor” mentioned, “serving our brains out” is the way the KOG spreads. How would you respond to these issues I raised above? Thanks.

Dr Clark responds:

I wouldn’t trust Brian McLaren to help me understand anything let alone God’s Word … The truth is that the whole over-realized eschatology proposed by BM is no more than modern day revival of the Anabaptist eschatology [‘end times’ study].

Show me one concrete, unequivocal, passage where were are called to transform society. I didn’t ask for a deduction or an inference. It can’t be done because it doesn’t exist. The NT never once called Christians to transform anything. They are called to be transformed. The church as such is called to be transformed and Christians are called to fulfill their vocations in the world before God under his Lordship.

And this is but one of the exchanges and blog posts from Dr Clark — as well as his colleagues at Westminster Seminary California and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia — which got me interested in Calvinism.

Now, there are derivatives of John Knox (Calvin asked him to dial down the rhetoric and persecution) as well as Cromwell, not to mention today’s American Evangelicals in strange attire who are well meaning but are largely agenda-driven. They are derivatives of Christianity to such an extent that they are unbiblical.

And this is where we find ourselves today.

We Christians must choose our battles wisely.

This is what makes many wary of so-called ‘prophets’ and ‘believers’ of the past few decades who dishonour Christ and His redemptive power with their efforts to transform society through legalism, whether Left or Right.

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