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“The Once and Future King” by T.H. White – Honor, King David, and Justice

ofk-whiteT.H White’s classic Arthurian tale, The Once and Future King is an absolute delight to read. I had never read it before, and I was surprised to see the sheer amount of humor found therein. The depth of the work’s story is immense. Here, I will look at some of the worldview level themes found in the book. There will be SPOILERS in this post.

Honor

Young Arthur, known as “The Wart,” shows his character in one discussion with Merlyn-

If I were to be a Knight… I should pray to God to let me encounter all the evil in the world in my own person, so that if I conquered there would be none left, and, if I were defeated, I would be the one to suffer for it. (174)

Arthur is an honorable man–and was even an honorable boy. That doesn’t mean he never makes poor choices, but he is ultimately motivated by faith and a desire to take on evil directly.

King David… Arthur

In many ways, the story of Arthur parallels the biblical story of David. Like David, Arthur desires to follow justice and walk in the way of God. Like David, it is illicit affairs which lead to his undoing. Like David, Arthur’s downfall ultimately comes from within his own family. Each has a kind of guide in the early stages of their rule (Merlyn or Samuel), but neither takes on such guidance later in life. Each is guided by faith, and it each attempts to capture a kind of ideal in their monarchy. Their ideals are never quite reached, and it is evident in the story of each that their own choices limit their capacity to reach that ideal. In the end, each turns to God for the final answers.

Justice

One of the best portrayals of justice in the book can be found in the way White portrayed injustice. The knights are operating under a principle of “Might makes Right.” They expect the lower class soldiers to be slaughtered, while they themselves are so heavily armored they can barely be harmed (as hilariously depicted in an early scene that young Arthur gets to witness). Arthur seeks to go against this principle–to wage war on Might. Yet, even that battle ends in failure as it becomes corrupted. A question the book seems to point us towards is whether violence to overcome violence is a realistic means.

The conclusion to the book catches Arthur at his most reflective. White’s own view begins to peek through the words of Arthur’s thoughts. What is it that failed Arthur? How did his quest for good become so embroiled in deceit and betrayal? Yet Arthur finds that there was a crucial flaw in his plan: “[T]he whole structure depended on the first premise: that man was decent” (637). He had forgotten about the sinfulness of humanity:

For if there was such a thing as original sin, if man was on the whole a villain, if the Bible was right in saying that the heart of men was deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, then the purpose of his life had been a vain one. (638)

The purpose was vain, because it was not pursued alongside God’s will but rather as Arthur’s will imposed upon humanity–the very thing that Merlyn had come back through time (or was it forward?) to discover. Yet that which Arthur wished to bring about–the defeat of Might–was not itself an evil end. Indeed, it is the King’s page who reveals the ultimate judgment on Arthur’s plan: “I think it was a good idea, my lord”–thus said the page; and Arthur’s response: “It was, and it was not. God knows” (644).

Ultimately, it seems, justice is defined on God’s terms and humans are incapable of seeing the whole picture. White was an agnostic, but was apparently scornful of the evil he saw in the world. A kind of pessimism about human capacities is found throughout the book. The fact that, in the end, “God knows” is the answer that can be given towards whether humans can accomplish an ideal is telling. Without God, endeavors of that sort are impossible.

Other Topics

There are some pretty interesting parables included within the text, particularly in the “Sword in the Stone” section. One of them is from the Talmud–a story in which Elijah travels with a Rabbi and perplexes the Rabbi with his apparent lack of concern for the poor while he aids the rich. Yet this parable shows that God is indeed working towards justice, and a God’s-eye perspective of justice is impossible. Another parable tells a story about humanity as a kind of capstone of creation, while limiting humanity to being an “embryo” for all time- a creature in development. This capacity-laden view of humanity points to White’s worldview once more. Human choices matter, but we so often choose poorly.

The Dark Ages, White notes, may have been a bit of a misnomer:

Do you think that they [those times sometimes called “The Dark Ages”], with their Battles, Famine, Black Death and Serfdom, were less enlightened than we are, with our Wars, Blockade, Influenza and Conscription? (544)

Here again we see White’s own world creeping back into the novel. The novel was published in 1939, the year World War II officially began, though there was plenty going on before that. It was difficult to see the War coming and think that another age was to be singled out as the “Dark” age. There is a kind of intellectual hubris in dismissing the ideas of the past and seeing one’s own time as somehow enlightened. White did not think that was a route to take.

Merlyn (yes, Merlyn, not Merlin) is a character whose interactions with Arthur bring up all kinds of questions. He seems to be guiding a young Arthur towards the attempt to bring about justice in the world, but he also allows himself–seemingly willingly–to be cast aside when Arthur is at his most vulnerable. He only reappears at the very end of the book as a kind of wind. I am left feeling rather ambivalent about Merlyn, who had so much power but who did not ultimately use it very effectively.

Conclusion

The Once and Future King is a simply phenomenal book layered with many levels of meaning. There are so many avenues to explore from a worldview level that I’m sure repeated readings will be rewarding. The central theme, however, is incredibly powerful: humans cannot complete their own ideals. We are imperfect. God knows.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

Source

T.H. White The Once and Future King (New York: Ace, 2004 edition).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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“Jesus was a Young Earth Creationist” – A Problem

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female…'”  – Matthew 19:4 (NIV)
“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’”- Mark 10:6 (ESV)

Jesus states here that God made human beings. These passages have been used for any number of exegetical points, but the one I want to focus on now is that of certain Young Earth Creationists. Almost without fail, when I have a discussion about creationism and what the Bible says about creation, it is asserted that “Jesus was a young earth creationist.” When I ask for evidence of this claim, one (or both) of these verses inevitably are raised. But the question is: do these verses actually say what Young Earth Creationists (YECs) want them to say?

The implication the YEC wants to take from these verses is that humans were on the stage at creation, so there could not have been any millions or billions of years of time from the start of creation until humans arrived on the scene. Thus, by saying that “at the beginning” or “from the beginning of creation” humans were created and on the Earth, the YEC argues that Jesus was endorsing and giving evidence to their position.

It ought to be clear from this that the YEC must read these verses quite literally for this implication to follow. After all, the point of this passage is definitely not to speak to the age of creation–Jesus is making a point about divorce in context. Thus, to draw from these passages a young earth, the YEC must insist on a strictly literal reading of the passage and then draw out the implications from that literal reading. The problem for the YEC, then, is that on a strictly literal reading of this passage, the implication becomes that Jesus was mistaken; or at the least, that the YEC position is mistaken on the order of creation.

Read the passages again. They don’t merely say that humans were created in the beginning. Rather, they clearly state that God created them male and female “at the beginning” or “from the beginning of creation.” This must not be missed. A strict literal reading like the one required for the YEC to make their point from these passages must also take literally the word beginning. But if that’s the case, then it becomes clear the YEC reading of this passage breaks down. After all, humans in the Genesis account were the last of creation. They were the final part of creation. But these passages say at the “beginning” not at the “end” of creation. So if the YEC insists that we must take these words as literally as they want us to in order to make their point that Jesus is a young earth creationist, they actually make either Jesus, Genesis, or their own reading of the creation account wrong. Again, this flows simply from the way the YEC insists upon reading these texts. If Jesus says that humans were made at the “beginning” of creation and Genesis literally teaches that humans were the end of creation, then something has to give.

Counter-Argument

The most common objection I’ve gotten from YECs as I make this point is that my own position still would not be justified in the text. After all, if the Earth is really billions of years old, and most of that time lapsed without any humans being around, why would Jesus then say that “at the beginning” or “from the beginning of creation” humans were around? A fuller answer to what Jesus is saying in these passages is found in the next section, but for now I’d just say it is pretty clear that Jesus is making a point unrelated to the time of creation and simply using language anyone would understand. “Back in the day”; “ever since humans have been around”; “for as long as anyone knows about”; these are ways that we can make similar ideas shine through. Moreover, because a strictly literal reading of this passage to try to rule out any time between creation and humans implies the difficulties noted above, it is clear that such a reading is untenable.

A Proper Interpretation?

The final point a YEC might try to counter here would be to demand my own exegesis of this text. After all, if they’re wrong about how to read the text, how do read it such that it doesn’t make the same implications? That’s a fair point, and I’ve already hinted at my answer above. It is clear these texts are about divorce, as that is the question that Jesus was addressing. Thus, he’s not intending to make a statement about the age of creation or really its temporal order at all. He simply says “from the beginning” as a kind of shorthand for going back to the first humans. Humans, Jesus is saying, have been created like this ever since God made them. Period. The problem the YEC reading brings to this text is nonexistent, but only when one does not try to force it to answer questions it wasn’t addressing.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

Origins Debate– Here is a collection of many of my posts on Christianity and science.

 

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Book Review: “The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom” by Andrew Abernethy

igk-abernethyAndrew Abernethy’s The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom has a kind of dual purpose: introducing readers to the overarching themes of the Book of Isaiah and to show that Kingdom in particular is central to understanding the Book of Isaiah.

Abernethy acknowledges a number of difficulties with Isaiah, including the difficulty of tying down its historical context, the problem of a “meta-history” of the book and its composition and getting to its final form, and the sheer size of it going against several attempts at a unified meaning. Nevertheless, he takes on that latter task, and on the way manages to deal with the other difficulties, at least in passing.

Abernethy traces the concept of “Kingdom” in Isaiah through five chapters that each focus on one aspect of the Kingdom: God as King now and to come; God as saving King, God as warrior/compassionate king; lead agents of the king; and the people of God’s kingdom. The first three of these provide a broad thematic overview of Isaiah, splitting it into three parts, and the latter two cover each of the three parts related to the thesis.

The book is quite dense despite having a somewhat introductory idea. That is almost certainly because Isaiah itself is so dense that in order to do it justice, Abernethy was forced to introduce a vast amount of information. What makes the book particularly useful is that Abernethy ties Isaiah not just together, but also into the canonical narrative, and this is perhaps most prominent in the God as saving King and people of God’s kingdom sections. As an example, in the section on God as saving king, there is a small (two-page) section on Isaiah 40:1-11 and 52:7-10 in canonical context which contains over a dozen references to other canonical references (this at a glance). Abernethy thus deftly balances reading Isaiah on its own terms with understanding it both in its historical and canonical context. The fact that such a sentence can be written itself speaks highly of the work.

Perhaps the biggest strike against the book is that because it does have a rather basic feeling to it, and because Isaiah is itself so dense, the work feels much longer than it actually is. It stands at 200 pages sans the appendix, but feels much longer simply because so much space is covered, with multitudes of Scriptural references on each page. This makes me question what audience the book was written towards, as beginners will likely feel it is a daunting read, while those who’ve done a good amount of reading on Isaiah already will have picked up on most of the themes contained here. That said, the book can easily serve as a great reference and tool to glance over when one wants to explore the book of Isaiah in more depth. It is about as compact an introduction–while still being useful–as one could expect.

The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom isn’t trying to forge much new ground. Rather, it is a dense survey of a book of the Bible that is packed full of information. Abernethy does readers a service by helping to unpack Isaiah while sticking to broad themes rather than individual debates.

The Good

+Focus on broad themes makes it more readable
+Good reference work for themes in Isaiah
+Highlights many of the more interesting questions about the book of Isaiah

The Bad

-Incredibly dense for such a short read
-May be off-putting to some of the target audience

Really Recommended Posts 10/21/16- Reading the Bible, a pro-life argument, and more!

postGo Cubs! Enjoy the reads.

The What-He-Did: The Poetic Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith– Cordwainer Smith was a Christian who also happened to be an expert in psychological warfare, among other things. He wrote science fiction that is strange and alluring and poetic all at once, and imbued with his worldview.

Spoilers– Too often, we assume that because we’ve read it before, or know the “spoilers” of the story, we know exactly what the Bible is teaching. Is that really the case?

The Most Undervalued Argument in the Pro-Life Movement– A defense of a rather simple argument for the pro-life position.

Let’s All Be Nicene– The continuing debate over eternal subordination of the Son is, frankly, disturbing to me. I think the call to be Nicene is an appropriate one. This is a post highlighting some of the issues with those who are for eternal subordination of the Son and its problems.

6 Myths About Advocating for Women in Ministry– Don’t be deceived by false arguments that advocating for women in the ministry is somehow detrimental to the church.

“Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”– A brief account and reflection on Luther’s famous words.

Really Recommended Posts 9/16/16- Jesus as false prophet?, Irenaeus, ESV, and more!

geneva-bible-1581The latest round of Really Recommended Posts is in, dear readers, and is it a good batch, or what? We have a few posts on Crossway’s announcement of the “Permanent Text” of the ESV, a post addressing the claim that Jesus was a false prophet, insight into one of the earliest Christian apologists, and controversy over a citation of a scientist in regards to creationism. As always, let me know your thoughts.

The ESV: The New Inspired Version– A tongue-in-cheek look at the announcement of the “Permanent” ESV and the kind of reasoning it seems like is behind it.

A Permanent Text of the ESV Bible? They Must Be Joking– A more straightforward critique noting several difficulties with the concept of a permanent text or a “literal word-for-word” translation.

The New Stealth Translation: ESV– A post with some more in-depth look at specific aspects of the ESV changed in this “Permanent” text.

Was Jesus Really a False Prophet?– Thorough analysis of the argument that some have made that Jesus was, in fact, a false prophet.

A Crash Course on Irenaeus– Irenaeus offered one of the earliest defenses of the Christian faith. Check out this post with a wonderful infographic to learn the basics on Irenaeus.

Patterson Misquoted: A Tale of Two “Cites”– Some young earth creationists have been using a quote from Dr. Colin Patterson,  a paleontologist, to support their claims. Here is a detailed background of the quote and why it does not support young earth creationism.

Really Recommended Posts 5/6/16- creationism and the Grand Canyon, Deborah, and more!

Deborah judging in Israel

Deborah judging in Israel

It’s another week and I’m here to bring you some more great reading for your weekend. Be sure to let the authors know what you think, and let me know here as well. Topics for this week include the Grand Canyon and the biblical Flood, Deborah as leader, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and more!

Deborah and the “no available men” argument– A refutation of the notion that Deborah was only chosen to lead Israel because there were “no available men” who could or would do so. Unfortunately, this argument is fairly common among those who do not wish to affirm the Bible’s teaching on women’s equal leadership.

The Grand Canyon’s Magnificent Witness to Earth’s History– Often, young earth creationists argue that the Grand Canyon can only be explained (or at least is better explained) by the biblical Flood as a global flood. A new book is challenging that perception. Check out this post to learn more.

7 Things to Know about Jehovah’s Witnesses– It is important to understand others’ beliefs. Here is a post outlining 7 points of belief for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Calamity (The Reckoners)– Superheroes and villains face off with those who seek vengeance against those villains who destroyed their world. Check out this look at worldview issues in Brandon Sanderson’s latest Young Adult novel, Calamity. Also check out my own reflection on the book.

 

Really Recommended Posts 2/19/16- Textual Criticism, Lent,and Jesus on Evil

postAnother round of Really Recommended Posts for you, dear readers! This week, we have a biblical scholar from the throw out pile, voting in Lent Madness, the problem of evil and Jesus’ response, textual criticism, and women in combat. Be sure to let the authors know what you thought, and let me know your responses as well!

The Biblical Scholar from the Throw-Out Box– “If [Katharine Bushnell] had been a man, every single contemporary Bible scholar writing on gender would have had to reckon with her findings. As it was, she was a woman, and her work was ignored.” Here’s a post on

Lent Madness– Vote for different theologians throughout history in brackets to determine the winner of this year’s Lent Madness. Who will wear the golden halo this year?

Jesus’ Answer to the Problem of Evil & the Unfairness of God– What did Jesus have to say about the problem of evil? Here is a post looking into this topic in ways that might make us uncomfortable.

Debunking Silly Statements in Greg Gilbert’s Debunking Silly Statements About the Bible: An Exercise in Biblical Transmission– Some clarifications about textual criticism are found in this post that addresses some common misunderstandings that Christian scholars hold about the field.

The Bible and Combat Women- Does the Bible forbid women in combat roles? Does this go against gender roles entirely? Check out this commentary on the issue, and see also my post on the subject.

 

Book Review: “Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism” by John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

pc-stackhousejrPartners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism is a challenging, extraordinary work. The first thought many readers might have when they see the title of this book is “A conservative case for egalitarianism? What!?” Yet that is exactly what this is. John G. Stackhouse, Jr. presents a case for egalitarianism that will challenge those on either side of the issue to rethink various aspects of their view.

The book is organized around a number of chapters, each of which is quite short. Each chapter’s title basically states what the goal of that chapter is. For example, a chapter entitled “Counterarguments from Church History” presents counterarguments to Stackhouse’s position from, well, church history. The organization is helpful, though it should not be mistaken for a license to jump around within the book. The case made herein is progressive and builds up over the course of the whole book.

Central to Stackhouse’s model is the notion that complementarians and egalitarians often talk past each other or fail to recognize the genuine concerns and possible insights from the “other side.” Thus, he challenges egalitarians to take more seriously the arguments for maintaining complementarity in gender, while he pushes complementarians to realize how often their case is based on presupposition rather than the biblical texts themselves. In other words, Stackhouse is going to make you uncomfortable, no matter what your position is. And, frankly, that’s a good thing. I’m a staunch egalitarian who used to be just as entrenched a complementarian, and it was good for me to have a book that challenged the assumptions I’m working under now. I think that effectively any reader could benefit from Stackhouse’s approach, even in disagreement.

The breadth of topics the book addresses makes it an excellent resource. Church history, theology, exegesis, modern social science, and more are each pieces of evidence that is brought forward to shed light on the issue. Particularly interesting was the chapter “Why, then, Do Women Not Lead?” which answered the question with a number of arguments from social science to theology. This kind of integrated approach is used beneficially throughout the book.

A disadvantage of the way the book is organized is that there is little space to dedicate to individual exegesis. Make no mistake, this is not the strongest egalitarian case from the Bible that can be made. It is an introduction to the full scope and depth of egalitarian arguments, yes, but it should not be mistaken for the most powerful argument possible.

Stackhouse’s ultimate conclusion is that women should be allowed the same roles in leadership in the church and home as men are allowed to fulfill. Again, this is not to say he will not challenge those who agree with this conclusion. I was taken aback by how fair and balanced this case was, and I know of no other book that presents as broad an introduction to such a complex topic as this one. I highly recommend Partners in Christ to you.

The Good

+Will challenge virtually every reader
+Excellent case, in brief, for egalitarianism
+Addresses wide variety of topics, arguments, and counter-arguments
+Balanced approach

The Bad

-Quite brief on several key points
-Concedes the notion of the “feminization of worship”

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book for review by the publisher. I was not required to write any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

John G. Stackhouse, Jr. Partners in Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 1/8/16- Hyperbole, Voluntarism, commentaries, and more!

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneHappy New Year! Let’s kick off the year with another round of “Really Recommended Posts.” It’s cold so we’re doing an owl post edition. The topics I have for you, dear readers, include divine voluntarism (what?), hyperbole and the Canaanite conquest narratives, Leibniz’s contingency argument for God, bible commentaries, and Star Trek.

Hyperbole Interpretation is Not Helpful for Canaanite Conquest– Clay Jones argues that the recent apologetic turn towards arguing that the conquest narratives in the Bible feature hyperbole is not as fruitful an apologetic as some have thought. Although some of his argument resonates with me, I think he misses a crucial point in his counter-examples by having different categories of act. I hope to write a response to this… some day… when I have time.

Leibniz’s Contingency Argument (Video)– A relatively short video explaining the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument. I’m not as sold on how the argument is presented here, because I think the premise about the universe and God makes it tougher to defend, but I think this video does a good job of explaining the most important issues. Check out my post on the argument for more details, as well as the version I think is stronger.

Francis Turretin on Divine Voluntarism: Most Reformers Follow Aquinas– I found this an interesting read on the topic of divine voluntarism, which is an intriguing problem within some theological systems.

 

Christians for Biblical Equality’s Commentary List– Here’s a resource for we egalitarians out there: a commentary list put forward by Christians for Biblical Equality.

TV Trekkin for a New Generation– There’s a new Star Trek series coming! Here are some speculative details and discussion about what it might be.

 

 

Book Review: “The Great Christ Comet” by Colin Nicholl

gcc-nichollThere are few biblical images which capture the imagination as much as the Star of Bethlehem. Its prominent portrayal in films featuring the Nativity, in popular renditions of a Nativity scene, and its place in many Christmas carols demonstrates its continuing popularity. Colin Nicholl’s work, The Great Christ Comet is a significant contribution to scholarship about the nature of the Star of Bethlehem. Nicholl approaches the topic from both the standpoint of theology and astronomy.

Nicholl’s analysis of the biblical data is extensive and interesting. Early in the book, he establishes that the exegetical evidence is important to anyone–including astronomers–who would like to pinpoint what the Star of Bethlehem may have been.

As I read through the theological portions of the book, I found myself opening up my running Bible commentary document to add several notes as Nicholl provide insight into the text and argued for specifics about the narrative. In addition to interpreting the passage, he also sheds light on it from extrabiblical sources, particularly in regards to the Magi and Herod. Regarding the former, he discusses the practice and likely origin of the Magi, noting they were likely astrologer/astronomers from Babylon. Regarding the latter, he shows how the Massacre of the Innocents would not be so out of place for Herod, and why he would have been so willing to go to the depths of evil action that he did. There were many more times I found Nicholl’s exegesis enlightening on various passages–including prophetic ones in Numbers and Isaiah and others in Revelation.

The interpretation offered by Nicholl related to the movement of the Christ Comet is different than any I have read. Nicholl delves into Revelation 12:1-5a in order to argue that this passage describes a literal astronomical phenomenon with the celestial movements of Virgo, a comet, and a meteor storm in view. It was in this section that my confidence in his conclusions wavered. He makes a convincing argument for showing that the comet could have moved and shined in the way he believes is described in this passage, but I am less convinced by the simple connection of Revelation to Matthew in this literal, astronomical way. The infancy narrative of Matthew and the description in Revelation are both referencing the birth of Christ, but I’m not convinced John in Revelation is attempting to give a full explanation of a cosmic event that occurred here. Regardless of my reservations, however, Nicholl does establish that this is a possible, if not probable, reading of the text while also laying out in extensive detail how a comet could have engaged in this “cosmic drama.”

I am not an expert in astronomy, so my comments on that regard are that of an interested lay person. Nicholl gave significant background into astronomy before he delved into some of the data and the competing theories regarding the Star of Bethlehem. This included extensive discussion of the nature of different kinds of comets and how they move throughout. At many points these details are accompanied by historical drawings or artistic renditions of the aspects discussed. Nicholl’s theory is outlined in intricate detail, and it includes a kind of procession of the comet throughout various astrological signs to the point that it reaches Virgo. At this point, the Magi were convinced by the movement of the comet that a significant birth was occurring and they headed west. Nicholl draws upon the words of the Magi as well as Matthew and Luke’s infancy narrative, in addition to Revelation 12 to show that his theory corresponds to literal readings of the various passages and allows a real astronomical event to lie behind the explanation of the comet. This, however, does not mean that the comet is a purely naturalistic phenomenon, as Nicholl argues that the one-of-a-kind, astounding nature of this comet and its performance–down to marking the very location of Jesus’s home in Bethlehem–point to divine intent.

One significant difficulty with the book is the overall feeling of “assured results” found throughout. A search for “certainly” shows up 66 results; 9 for “unquestionably” (each used in context of conclusions drawn). Other words like “undoubtedly” (11 results) show up throughout as well. While it is admirable to have confidence in one’s own position, at times I wondered whether the arguments presented could yield such levels of confidence. The very existence of such continuing debate over the nature of the Star of Bethlehem calls into question any interpretation which comes along and offers certainty across the board, whether it is the refutation of other theories or the interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

So much is invested in the relation of Revelation 12 to the infancy narratives that if one remains unconvinced by his exegesis there, one may not find his overall theory convincing. However, this is not necessarily the case. The argument he presented for a great comet being the origin of the Star of Bethlehem was quite convincing to me, despite my not being fully sold on the Revelation 12 theory. One does not have to accept Nicholl’s view of how the comet played across the sky to accept that the comet is the best explanation.

As far as substantive critique of Nicholl, on the astronomical part I admit I don’t have the knowledge to offer much. Both theologically and astronomically, it seems Nicholl’s proposal is airtight and stunning. Frankly, that is probably where my suspicion comes from: I tend to be a bit suspicious of anything that is such a perfect fit. The Bible is a complex work, and the debate over the Star of Bethlehem is entrenched with many differing positions. Could it really be so simple (in the sense of having this be the answer)? I would like to say yes. I want to. But I’m not sure I can be fully on board. Nicholl has convinced me that the Star was a great comet, and the movement he describes seem possible, but it is perhaps only a personal feeling of reservation that holds me back from embracing the whole picture. This does say something for the strength of Nicholl’s argument, of course, for it suggests that it is really this personal reservation that holds me back rather than significant criticisms.

Nicholl’s concluding thoughts about the Christ Comet deserve to be quoted:

What the Great Christ Comet did… was extraordinary and merits wide telling. People of all disciplines… must come to grips with its story. In an era when science is often viewed as the enemy of religion, the Christ Comet suggests that science may be the best friend of religion. In a period when the claims of Christ are commonly disregarded, the Star callse upon all to give his claims a fresh reappraisal… (Kindle Location 7343).

Whatever one thinks about certain aspects of Nicholl’s argument, the book as a whole presents a comprehensive, deep case for the Star of Bethlehem being a great comet. The Great Christ Comet is a fantastic, deep read that will expose readers to a variety of topics in a fresh way. The amazing intricacy of the movement of the comet and its correspondence to the readings Nicholl presents in the book would be, if true, a monumentally powerful testament to the power of God and the truth of the Gospels. I enjoyed it immensely, even though I may not be fully convinced of every detail.

The Good

+Extensive look at the Biblical data
+Fascinating topic
+Provides background for astronomical analysis
+Massive scope with in-depth discussion

The Bad

-Overstates case at points
-Exegesis of some passages uncertain

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Colin Nicholl, The Great Christ Comet (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

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SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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