Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The wisdom of youth

Amanda Witt shares a brief conversation she had when her boys were 3 and 4.
"I really don't like you pretending to shoot people," I told them.

"We're not pretending to shoot people," my older son said. "We're shooting pretend people. Dangerous ones."

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Is the glass half full or half empty?

This question always bothered me. My answer was neither.

I realise this is a question about our tendency towards optimism or pessimism. I can be both, though tend more toward pessimism. But I also consider myself logical, so that in any given situation I try to identify the likely outcome. Though I admit that if I am called to see my boss I assume (or fear) it is for correction which it almost never is.

But back to the glass. I didn't see the question as legitimate. And it isn't. The answer is neither.

The glass is half full if it is in the process of being poured into, and half empty if it is in the process of being drunken from.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Books of The Bible

International Bible Society released The Books of The Bible in 2007. It is the Bible in a modified format. It has been released in Today's New International Version (TNIV).

I think this is a good idea, though I am uncertain it is as revolutionary as it suggests.

My thoughts on the features.

1. They have removed the chapter and verse divisions.

This is probably the main feature. The goal of this is to encourage people to read the Bible in books (ie. The Books of the Bible), or longer passages rather than a few verses. I already do this and do not find the verse numbers affect my ability to do such. Though this can be an issue for some people. I had a Bible that has many of the words indexed to translation numbers within the text, which didn't bother me; but a friend found it very difficult to read.

My thoughts are that the verses should stay and the chapter numbers should be reduced in size (and bolded) and removed to the left of the text; Psalms excepted. ESV places the verse numbers in a different font to illustrate they are not part of the text, but they also bold them which highlights their presence.

2. They use paragraphs

They comment that verse and chapter divisions are not part of the text and were added later, which is true, but of what significance. It is also commented that the text is formatted to reflect the author's intentions. Presumably that means paragraphs for prose and stanzas for poetry. The use of paragraphs is the best advance in biblical format and significantly improves readability while removing reliance of verse format. But this is hardly new! And traditionally verse formatted versions such as the NASB and the NKJV are now formatted in paragraphs. I am not certain what is meant by author's intentions other than this. There were no paragraph breaks in the (Greek) autographs, or punctuation, or even spaces between words. Hebrew had white space but I would be surprised if they follow this format (the Transparent English Bible does).

3. They remove the translators section headings and relegate footnotes to endnotes.

Reasonable on the section headings. I use them for reference and finding passages, though electronic searches are better for that. I would leave section headings in a study Bible, but shift them to the right of the text.

Endnotes are to prevent flow interruption. Whatever your preference I suppose. Footnotes are similar to verses, though perhaps more likely to affect flow, I am liable to check the footnotes. But I would probably anyway and footnotes are less disruptive than endnotes. I really don't like endnotes (save webpages where footnotes are endnotes).

5. They alter the book order.

No big issue. The books are separate and the order of several is somewhat arbitrary. I believe the Protestant and Catholic order of the Old Testament follow the Septuagint. Books of The Bible has its own order for both Testaments with the Old similar to the Hebrew order.

I don't like the New Testament order though. The gospel of John is located with his letters. Mark with Peter's letters, presumably because Peter was a source for Mark. The only good modification in book order is Paul's letters seem to be chronological, or as best as can be ascertained; I believe there is uncertainty on the dating of Galatians for example.

5. They join some books together.

It is true that Samuel was split into 1 and 2 Samuel, presumably for ease of use in scroll form. I think joining some books is a positive, though minor change. I am not certain of the legitimacy of joining Samuel and Kings into a single book. I wouldn't join Chronicles to Ezra-Nehemiah. And though I understand the joining of Ezra-Nehemiah, I think the internal evidence is these were written as separate books.

But Luke-Acts? Sure, have them follow each other but Acts clearly documents these were written separately.

My understanding is that the gospel order reflects the sequence they were written in (traditional belief). This may be correct, although the current consensus is that Mark antedates Matthew. I would shift John to the beginning of the New Testament; the parallel to Genesis is appropriate; and then Luke would be followed by Acts. Then the letters in chronological order (with or without Pauline subgrouping), then Revelation.

6. They display the text in a single column.

Reasonable. Not the first Bible to do so. It depends on the size of the page I think. Narrow columns are quicker to read; and newspapers use columns so the format is familiar. I would use a single column in a study Bible, as I note the ESV Study Bible has also done, because of other formatting considerations.

7. They include book and book grouping introductions.

This is completely reasonable and I think introductions can be quite helpful if well written. This is because the Bible was written in a variety of genres and within a different culture. I do note the irony though: of removing verses and translation footnotes because they affect the text; then adding in significant interpretative advice.

My comments seem mildly negative. Probably because I have explained where I depart but only mentioned where I agree. The concept is reasonable and I would consider buying one if I didn't already have Bibles in the double digits. I don't own a TNIV so it may still be a consideration. Note also that I have not actually read it. Perhaps doing so will make evident that verse and chapter numbers affect reading more than I am aware. And if it gets people reading more of their Bible….

I have included the book order below as the link is a 3MB pdf. At only 2 pages long, this size is a little excessive.

First Testament
Covenant History
Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy
Joshua
Judges
Ruth
Samuel-Kings

The Prophets
Jonah

Amos
Hosea
Micah
Isaiah

Zephaniah
Nahum
Habakkuk

Jeremiah
Obadiah
Ezekiel

Haggai
Zechariah
Joel
Malachi

The Writings
Psalms
Lamentations
Song of Songs

Proverbs
Ecclesiastes
Job

Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah
Esther

Daniel

New Testament
Luke-Acts
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians
1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
Galatians
Romans
Colossians
Ephesians
Philemon
Philippians
1 Timothy
Titus
2 Timothy

Matthew
Hebrews
James

Mark
1 Peter
2 Peter
Jude

John
1 John
2 John
3 John

Revelation

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The adulterous woman and capital punishment

Blair asks how Jesus' acquittal of the adulterous woman affects the Christian view on capital punishment.
In John 8:3,5 the leaders of the Jewish people (the experts in law and religious authorities) challenge Jesus as to what to do with a woman caught in adultery. They directly refer, Jesus, to the law of Moses which states such a person should receive the death penalty. While she has not committed murder she, according to Mosaic law is deserving none the less of the death penalty.

It is clear from the passage that they are not motivated by any sense of the holiness of God, obedience to the law or justice. Rather, their desire is to trap Jesus over a legal question to discredit him (verse 6).

In response, he does not contradict them on their point of law. Instead he issues a challenge to their understanding and application of the law. A challenge that is intended to expose their hearts: before Christ the only one who can administer the punishment they have called for is one who is without sin. Jesus isn't making this point to a group of individuals who are self appointed but to the Jewish leaders (verse 3): those in authority who could 'legally' stone her. It appears to me that in Christ's mind only those who were without sin could administer such a penalty (verse 7).

If the only ones who could administer such a penalty were those without sin - where then does this leave us if, as Christians, we advocate for the death penalty? Surely in the same position as those that Jesus spoke to in (verse 7).

In my mind it is clear from the passage, that as one who never sinned, Jesus considered himself the only one justifiably (from a legal, moral, ethical & spiritual sense) able to administer the death penalty, but in this situation he chose not to. Instead he asked her where her accusers were (after his challenge to her accusers), forgave her and in doing so 'raised' her from the dead (for without his intervention she was as good as dead) while commanding her to go and sin no more. (He met her as her redeemer for her sin, saving her from the death penalty. In choosing to exercise grace and mercy and not judgment or condemnation (verses 10–11) he set her free and restored her to be able to fully partake in society again as one forgiven and restored). This is evident from his question with regards to her accusers and in his command to go and sin no more.
Understanding Jesus' approach to the Mosaic Law is important as it gives us greater understanding in the ways of God. Jesus frequently exposed the inadequate views of Jews of his day. He gave deeper perspectives on what the Law meant and he corrected inappropriate weighting of the Law, that is he showed them what was most important. As an example of the former Jesus taught that hating people in one's heart contravenes the command not to murder (Matthew 5:21); as an example of the latter Jesus taught that tithing while proper (for the Jews) was less important than justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23).

Therefore I am interested in Christian apologetics against the death penalty. I must say however that I have not read any that I find convincing.

There are several reasons why I don't think this passage contradicts my perspective on capital punishment.
  1. Is this passage really part of John's gospel?
  2. I am defending capital punishment for murder
  3. Mercy does not negate the permissibility of the death penalty, or even the necessity of it
  4. The Jews were not able to administer capital punishment in this situation
  5. The question was to give the scribes and Pharisees a charge against Jesus
  6. Jesus was a servant during the first advent
  7. Jesus did not address the question of capital punishment
I will address each of these in turn and then what I think Jesus words to the accusers and the accused imply.

Is this passage really part of John's gospel?
There is considerable debate over the legitimacy of this passage. It is not found in the oldest manuscripts, it is found in Luke in some manuscripts. The ESV Study Bible states
There is considerable doubt that this story is part of John's original Gospel, for it is absent from all of the oldest manuscripts. But there is nothing in it unworthy of sound doctrine. It seems best to view the story as something that probably happened during Jesus' ministry but that was not originally part of what John wrote in his Gospel. Therefore it should not be considered as part of Scripture and should not be used as the basis for building any point of doctrine unless confirmed in Scripture.
I do not intend to address this debate here. I am prepared to interact with this passage and I am happy that this event is possibly true—it has similarities to the question about paying taxes to Caesar—but I do think the caveat is worth keeping in the back of one's mind.

I am defending capital punishment for murder
In my post I specify that my defence is restricted to murder. I am prepared to extend this to related crimes such as treason and espionage.

I made this restriction as the reason for execution of murderers is not the same as the reason for other crimes. The Israelites were to execute men who drew their neighbours away to worship foreign gods (Deuteronomy 13:5; 18:20). While this is appropriate for the ancient Israelites because of God's redemptive plan, I don't think God intends for Christians to kill every infidel in the current age.

Thus even if Jesus does qualify the punishment for adultery within the Mosaic Law (I am not certain he does), this may not affect the appropriate punishment for murder in Gentile nations.

Mercy does not negate the permissibility of the death penalty, or even the necessity of it
There are 2 related questions concerning this (or any) punishment.
  1. Is this punishment acceptable?
  2. Is this punishment required?
If a punishment is: acceptable but not required, then not having such a punishment within the justice system is a possible scenario. In the case of theft, one country may prescribe a fine, another a jail term.

But even if a punishment is required, there are times when we may not give a full punishment. Offering mercy is allowed within a legal framework. One should not show favouritism. Note that when a man knows he deserves a punishment he is more receptive to mercy.

The Jews were not able to administer capital punishment in this situation
The Jew's were not legally allowed to execute criminals under Roman occupation. When the Sanhedrin brought Jesus before Pilate he said
"What accusation do you bring against this man?" They answered him, "If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you." Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law." The Jews said to him, "It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death."
This means that no Jews were permitted to carry out the death sentence under Roman occupation (at least without their permission).

The question was to give the scribes and Pharisees a charge against Jesus
Because the Jews were unable to execute people under Roman law the question was to try and catch Jesus. It is similar to the situation when they asked him if it was lawful to pay taxes or not. The Jews were not interested in understanding Jesus' interpretation of the Law, they were trying to place him in a catch-22 position.

Jesus was a servant during the first advent
Jesus is God. He is the judge of the world. And we are fully at his mercy. John the Baptist recognised he greatness as did many others.

Jesus was sent on a mission to earth 2000 years ago. That mission was as a servant to men. That is partially why many did not recognise him as a Messiah as they were looking for a king. Now Jesus is in and of himself a king. He set up a kingdom. And he will return as king and judge. But this was not his role during the first advent. So while he is judge by right, Jesus the man denied his role as (an earthly) judge at that time. He submitted himself to the authority structures when appropriate during his earthly sojourn. Where Jesus did act in "judgment" over situations, it was as an eternal judge, not temporal; e.g. "Your sins are forgiven you."

Jesus did not address the question of capital punishment
Jesus' words in this situation do not specifically say whether or not capital punishment is appropriate for this or any crime. And I am uncertain if he did elsewhere. However he noted that all men must face judgment and we need to be ready when we die, whether justly or unjustly.

So what of Jesus' response to the accusers and the woman?
Jesus response to the accusers did not exactly deal with the issue of the appropriate punishment for adulterers. It dealt with the hearts of the accusers. And this is frequently Jesus' modus operandi. People come to Jesus with a question about justice, or requesting a judgment and Jesus speaks to that person's heart. When the man asked Jesus to intervene so an inheritance was divided fairly Jesus spoke to the man's covetness (Luke 12:13). Jesus was not necessarily saying the other brother had done the right thing, Jesus was using the man's plea to focus him on things eternal. Note also in this example that Jesus refuted that he was an appropriate judge in the specific scenario.

Therefore I am not certain that the statement
Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.
says anything about the appropriate punishment for adultery. Jesus is speaking to the hearts of the men bringing the accusation.

Jesus response to the woman was clearly redemptive.
Jesus stood up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more." (John 8)
God does not want people to be condemned, Jesus came to redeem them. John 3 says
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
So Jesus does not condemn this woman yet still exhorts her to leave her life of sin.

Still, the focus on redemption leading to life could hint at the possibility that allows an alternative to the death penalty, compare Ezekiel 18, and note also item 6 above.

Conclusion
The several reasons above show why I think this particular passage does not obliterate capital punishment for murder; and I am not even certain the Jesus is suggesting that capital punishment is inappropriate for adultery (in a Jewish context).

I will add that Paul thought that death remained an appropriate punishment from the state in certain situations. Paul said,
If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. (Acts 25)

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Perpetuum Jazzile performs Africa

Jazz choir Perpetuum Jazzile is from Slovenia. This is a video of them doing a performance of Toto's Africa a cappella . I think the thunder simulation is quite clever.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Am I dumb?

I was directed to this quiz. I managed 25/25. So I thought I would try the impossible quiz. That is, it is impossible to get 100% (first time). It was significantly harder, I only got 15/20. They also have an IQ test, though I am not certain how accurate these internet tests are; I mean 20 questions seems a little too few. I have never done a real IQ test, it is not something that was done at school. Though I believe these tests may be a little more common in the United States.

I guess the ratings for the first 2 are skewed to the right as some people are likely to redo the quiz after they find the answers.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Crime in the United Kingdom

The Telegraph states that crime in the United Kingdom is high and climbing,
The UK had a greater number of murders in 2007 than any other EU country – 927 – and at a relative rate higher than most western European neighbours, including France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

...A breakdown of the statistics, which were compiled into league tables by the Conservatives, revealed that violent crime in the UK had increased from 652,974 offences in 1998 to more than 1.15 million crimes in 2007.

It means there are over 2,000 crimes recorded per 100,000 population in the UK, making it the most violent place in Europe.

Austria is second, with a rate of 1,677 per 100,000 people, followed by Sweden, Belgium, Finland and Holland.

By comparison, America has an estimated rate of 466 violent crimes per 100,000 population.

France recorded 324,765 violent crimes in 2007 – a 67 per cent increase in the past decade – at a rate of 504 per 100,000 population.
Comparing statistics from different sources or countries can be difficult as mentioned in the article. Murder figures are more useful comparators as they are less likely to be coded differently.

Nevertheless it seems as if crime is very high in the UK. London has the most closed circuit television (CCTV) in the world. CCTV is on the rise here and probably elsewhere. We can now all be filmed multiple times per day with the claim that it prevents and helps catch crime, but clearly it isn't working.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Why doesn't the Bible address X?

A not infrequent complaint raised by theism sceptics is that the Bible does not address many issues the sceptics think it should address; if indeed the Bible is a divine book and not merely a human one.

There are several problems with this demand
  1. It assumes the critic's concerns are the same as God's
  2. It assumes the Bible is written for the sceptical
  3. It assumes that God should dictate Scripture rather than use his servants to author it
  4. It ignores that Scripture was written into a culture
  5. It ignores what is contained within Scripture
  6. It ignores that the issues may be addressed indirectly
  7. It places an unreasonable burden on the size of the resultant text
  8. It suggests that if such was included the sceptic would be convinced of the truth of the Bible

Whose concern is important?

To ask that the Bible address X, Y, or Z assumes that these are the things God is most interested in recording for his people. The Bible is diverse, though there are several common themes. A major theme is right relationship with God. There is a large amount of material discussing individuals and nations in right and wrong relationship with God and the consequences of such. God is forever calling people to himself and rebuking them for going their own way. The Bible suggests that the biggest problem in men following God is not evidential, rather wilful. All Jericho were in fear of Yahweh after reports of his exploits, yet only Rahab submitted to him.

Related to this theme is reconciliation, especially the focus on God coming to earth as a man to teach us God's way, to receive our punishment, and to establish a kingdom. Thus, much of Scripture builds up to this event, describes this event, and discusses the consequences of this event.

Who was the Bible written for?

The Bible has information that can be used to defend the truth of God and to rebuke the mocker; that is, it does have apologetic value. However the intended audience includes, and is probably predominantly, those who belong to God's kingdom. At the time of the Old Testament that was Israel (though admittedly this included apostate Israel). In the New Testament the gospel of Luke (and Acts) are addressed to Theophilus (Friend of God). The letters are all addressed to individual Christians or churches. The biblical "inadequacies" as claimed by the sceptical may be of less concern to believers.

The Bible was written by God's servants

Scripture, in the main, is not dictated by God. Thus there is freedom for the authors to write in their own style. Christians believe God had the authors include what God wanted recorded. Many also claim that God prevented them from writing error. This at least allows for difficulties in reconciling parallel passages, none of which contain exhaustive information.

The Bible was written into specific cultures

This fact has been misused to limit the scope biblical injunctions. Nevertheless, the authors were writing to the people who lived and thought a common culture. They addressed issues that were pertinent to the people around them. This includes who they perceived as their friends and enemies at the time. Laws related (in part) to their way of life, the types of houses they lived in, the foods they ate. The Israelites were an agrarian society. Many of the specific issues we face in the 21st century were non-existent in ancient Israel, and some of them would have been barely comprehensible. However most issues faced by diverse nationalities have some degree of commonality. Truly new concepts, such as intellectual property, are not that common. To request the Bible address specifically, issues that post-date its completion is anachronistic. The Bible may do so if God wishes, but to complain of these types of deficiencies is unreasonable.

What does the Bible discuss?

The fact is, the Bible does discuss a wide range of issues. There may be questions we have that it is difficult to clearly answer from biblical considerations, but what of that which the Bible does tell us? It tells us a lot about God, a lot about us. It tells us we are broken. It tells us our relationship with God is broken, and better, how to fix it. It tells us how to treat others. It teaches about relationships with one's spouse and with one's children. It tells us about honesty in business relationships. It tells us to concern ourselves with the less fortunate.

There is much we are shown about in the Bible. Is the concern about what is lacking actually about us not liking what is not lacking?

The indirect teaching of Scripture

It is not that difficult to apply what the Bible says within an ancient culture to our modern one. Is it really that hard? to go from "build a parapet around the edge of your [flat] roof" to "build a fence around your swimming pool." Does one really think that if God opposes getting intoxicated with wine that he approves of getting intoxicated with marijuana? Many of the questions we have in our modern technological age are addressed indirectly through Scripture.

How big do we want our Bible?

It is difficult for a finite text to cover all the questions that man is capable of asking. The amount of information now known to man is vast, too much for any one person to know. Yet there are questions I can ask (that are intrinsically answerable) and not one man on earth currently knows the answer. If the Bible addressed in detail the specific answer, along with an underlying explanation of the assumptions of the questioner, of every question raised by a bibliosceptic its size would be enormous, not to mention unsustainable for the ancient scribes. For a hand-written book, the Bible is already pretty large. And even many Christians have not read it thru. How does one gain the overall themes of a book that would take a lifetime to read thru once?

Would a different text alter the sceptic's position?

My considered view is that the complaint of biblical deficiencies is an empty one. Inclusion of specific issues would only mean that different deficiencies would be raised.

As mentioned above, the problem, as the Bible sees it, is not one of knowledge; rather it is one of the will. Rahab chose to worship Yahweh. Many of those who would be willing to submit to Christ have enough information to evaluate him. If someone has a real stumbling block then it is worth addressing it with him. But there is enough clarity in Scripture for those whose hearts are good soil, and there is enough concealment for the mocker to remain sceptical.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Random quote

The thing I don't like about socialists is that they are dead to shame. They see nothing wrong with begging, nothing wrong with robbing, nothing wrong with being a tax-eater rather than a productive member of society. They see nothing wrong with a man not providing for his family, nothing wrong with breaking up families, nothing wrong with exploiting the poor for political gain, nothing wrong with dishonor. Instead they spend their time consumed with mock-outrage at honest men who make an honest living.

John C. Wright

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