Thursday, April 14, 2016

The 7 Disputed Books of the Old Testament

One major division between Catholics and Protestants is the true canon of the Bible. Catholics claim that Protestants took out 7 books of the Bible (Catholics call these “Deuterocanonicals”). Protestants on the other hand, claim that Catholics added 7 books (Protestants call these the “Apocrypha”) when the Bible was first created in the late 300s. The whole argument is based off of what the Jews regarded as scripture before Christ was alive. I take the Catholic view, and present my case below.

1. The full canon of the Hebrew Bible wasn’t closed until after Christ died.

A good question to ask is, “when was the Jewish canon closed?” This question is important because the date helps to decide whether Jews living before Christ used the 7 disputed books in their canon or not.

As for the answer, well, that depends. There are three parts of the Hebrew Bible. The first is the Torah (Pentateuch). It’s considered by all to have been accepted as inspired by at least the 5th century B.C. Next are the books of the Prophets (Neviim). These are believed to have been accepted into the canon as early as the 300s B.C., during the Persian Era. The last part of the Hebrew Bible is called the Writings (Hagiographa, or Ketuvim). This is the section that’s hotly debated. Many ascertain that the Hebrew Bible in its entirety was completed before Christ walked on earth, but there’s substantial evidence that that’s not the case. The Jewish Encyclopedia states

“It was impossible to determine the canon in the post-Maccabean period, because then the various schools of tradition began to flourish. So important a matter as the canon would not have been easily settled, as the controversies of 65 and 90 C.E. show… In some cases the critical tendency may have led only to the removal of what was rightly deemed to be later accretions, such as the additions to Daniel and Esther, while in regard to disputed writings, such as Canticles, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Ezekiel (and probably Daniel), the more liberal policy finally prevailed. While this criticism still continued in the second century of the common era, its main results appear to have been reached as early as the end of the first. Josephus ("Contra Ap." i. 8), about the year 100, counted twenty-two sacred books.”
The Jewish Virtual Library states “The conclusion of the last section of the Bible, ketuvim (Writings) is debated; however, a majority of scholars believe its final canonization occurred in the second century C.E.” The Britannica similarly says “The Hebrew Bible probably reached its current form about the 2nd century CE.” A Professor of Jewish Studies, Lawrence H. Schiffman even goes as far as saying

“While virtually all the Writings were regarded as canonical by the time of the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., arguments continued regarding the status of Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Esther, and these disputes are attested in rabbinic literature. Second Temple literature indicates that a collection of Writings existed as early as the second century B.C.E. but was not regarded as formally closed.
This shows quite clearly that as recently as 90 A.D., controversies on the Hebrew Canon were still swirling, and most likely continued on even after that. The argument that the Jews had a set canon before Christ was born is simply false.

2. Different groups of Jews believed in different canons of inspired books.

The agreement of a set Jewish canon at any date was rather fragmented. There were a few groups, each believing something different. The Sadducees believed that only the Torah was inspired. Hence, anything outside of that could be profitable, but was not truly God’s word. There were also the Greek-speaking Diaspora Jews who followed the Septuagint (Old Testament including the 7 disputed books). This is what Jesus Christ and the Apostles believed in (see point #3 below). Next, the Pharisees were the largest group of Jews. Their canon included the Torah, and other books, but excluded the 7 disputed ones. Interestingly enough, Christ knew this, and spoke to each group accordingly. He did not after all, ask the Sadducees why they failed to believe in the book of Jeremiah. Rather, he asks them about Moses. So even with certain parts of their canon closed, the Jews were not an agreeing people.

This leads into why Martin Luther even chose the “7 Books” argument in the first place. I believe it’s because the European Jews in the 1500s came from the Pharisees who were the largest group, and their Hebrew Bible was therefore the most common Hebrew Bible in Europe. In the interest of theological honesty, why did Luther not also consult the still extant Jews of the Diaspora, who still make up a large number and use the Septuagint even today?

3. The Apostles used the Septuagint
Another reason why the 7 disputed books belong in the Bible is because the Apostles as well as Christ Himself used the Septuagint. This is evidenced by literally hundreds of references in the New Testament. Compare Ephesians 6:13-17 and Wisdom 5:17-20, for example. In addition, as Catholic apologist Mark Shea writes,

“It's a strange irony that one of the favorite passages used in anti-Catholic polemics over the years is Mark 7:6-8. In this passage Christ condemns "teaching as doctrines human traditions." This verse has formed the basis for countless complaints against the Catholic Church for supposedly "adding" to Scripture man-made traditions, such as the "merely human works" of the deuterocanononical books. But few realize that in Mark 7:6-8 the Lord was quoting the version of Isaiah that is found only in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament.”

Furthermore, many in the early Church quoted from the disputed books, including The Didache (A.D. 70), Clement (A.D. 80), Polycarp (A.D.135), Iraneus (A.D. 190), and many others. It should be noted in fairness that Jerome himself rejected the 7 disputed books. However, he changed his position because it conflicted with the view of the Church. As Protestant patristics scholar J. N. D. Kelly wrote,

"For the great majority, however, the deutero-canonical writings ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense. Augustine, for example, whose influence in the West was decisive, made no distinction between them and the rest of the Old Testament . . . The same inclusive attitude to the Apocrypha was authoritatively displayed at the synods of Hippo and Carthage in 393 and 397 respectively, and also in the famous letter which Pope Innocent I dispatched to Exuperius, bishop of Toulouse, in 405" (Early Christian Doctrines, 55-56).

That Christ and the Apostles quoted the disputed books bring those books into serious consideration. Why after all, would the Jesus Christ and the Apostles make references to hundreds of verses in the Septuagint, if the 7 included books were frauds? That would call into question the whole Septuagint in the first place, and therefore Christ and His followers would have used the canon that the Pharisees used. If the 7 books were should not have been in the canon, it would also make sense that Our Lord would have warned the people He was teaching. Yet there was no warning given. In addition, if the complete Hebrew Bible truly was fixed at that time without the 7 books, why would Christ make so many references to the Septuagint? And finally, why did this issue finally arise so many centuries after the canon was chosen?

This all is causes a huge problem for Protestants. If one truly believes that the early Church made a mistake in compiling the books of the Bible, the whole list would be suspect. After all, if the compilers were not adequate enough to get those 7 books right, why should we trust them to get the gospels right? Who’s to say that the Gospel of Mark or Romans should be in the Bible, but the Gospel of Peter should not be? I’ve heard it said that we know that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John should be in the Bible because they all present the same message, and the message is the main thing we need to follow. Therefore whatever gospels differ with that message should not be included. This reasoning is faulty however, because though the 4 gospels present a common message, there isn’t any reason to believe in their authenticity over any others. There could be 4 other gospels all with the same message, but this does not mean they should be in the Bible.

Through the writings of historians, the differing accepted books of the Old Covenant Jews, and the fact that Christ and His apostles quoted more from the Septuagint than the Hebrew Canon that the Pharisees used, I believe that the 7 disputed books may safely be in the Old Testament. If one takes the opposite view, they’d be forced to believe in an Old Testament canon determined not by the Christians in the early Church, but by Jews who rejected Christ and His message.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Why Donald Trump Should Not Be President

There’s something I just don’t like about Donald Trump. I can’t put my finger on it, but…
It isn’t that he makes fun of disabled people.
It isn’t that he admits to bribery.
It isn’t that he appears to know next to nothing of Christianity, his self-proclaimed religion.
It isn’t that he calls women bimbos, dogs, fat pigs, and “pieces of ass”.
It isn’t that he brags about his infidelities.
It isn’t that he wants to murder innocent families.
It isn’t that he admits to not knowing much about foreign policy.
It isn’t that he claims to be Christian but says he does not need God’s forgiveness because he “doesn’t make mistakes.”
It isn’t that he makes fun of American POWs.

On second thought, maybe it's the hair.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Era of Cheap Money and What it Means to the US Economy

One of the greatest lies today regarding the Great Recession of 2008 is that there has been a significant and meaningful recovery. In short, a lasting recovery. I couldn’t disagree more, and believe that this era of normalcy we’ve had over the past few years cannot last without a natural and uninfringed recession. Below I will lay out my case. I will not get into the reasons why the recession started, as that is beyond the scope of this post. Instead, I will focus on the response of the Federal Reserve since the Fed is arguably the primary driver of the economy in the short run, and what it means for our future.

Interest Rates
When the 2008 crisis hit, one of the first things that the Federal Reserve did to aid the economy was to lower the short term interest rates. The rates were lowered from 5.25% to 2% between the months of September 2007 and April 2008. They were eventually lowered down to .25 percent in December of 2008-a historic low, an extreme even when going back 5,000 years. This was referred to as Zero Interest Rate Policy (ZIRP), and had the effect of making money extremely cheap to borrow. With these lower interest rates in place, more people had the chance to get their hands on money and invest in their businesses. This extended in a big way to the banks. The banks that were faltering during the recession (JPMorgan Chase, Bear Sterns, AIG, Citigroup, etc.) suddenly could borrow at a very cheap rate to invest for future profits.

This period of super low interest rates cannot last forever-it is, in fact, bad for the economy in the long run. People get the tendency to make bad investments because they can get the money so cheaply. In addition, rates need to be raised because of the threat of too much inflation. Too much inflation destroys currencies, but more on that later.

Quantitative Easing
The second thing that the Federal Reserve did was to institute a system of buying bank bonds, called Quantitative Easing (QE). Banks earn their money largely by selling bonds, and if people stop buying them, the banks would surely falter. This is where the Fed stepped in. With money they created from thin air, they bought those bonds and other assets, thus ensuring that those banks would stay afloat. The banks would in turn loan this money to others to create a profit. Quantitative Easing ensures that the biggest banks stay afloat, and that money makes its way through the economy.

The QE program began in December 2008 and went until March 2010, ultimately pumping $1.25 trillion into the US economy. The economy still struggled to get back on its feet however, so QE 2 was proposed in late 2010. It was implemented and ran its course. Still, the Fed did not see great signs of a healthy economy. Quantitative Easing seemed to not be working. Their answer? QE 3! It ran for a couple of years, greatly pumping up asset values, especially the stock market. In all, the Fed injected a total of $4.5 trillion worth of assets into the economy.

US Dollar
The US Dollar is greatly impacted by these programs. It must be remembered that the Dollar is extremely important for two reasons, among many others. For one, it is the currency of the country with the biggest GDP. Two, it is the reserve currency of the world, essentially meaning that all nations trade it in one way or another. Therefore, changes to the value of the Dollar have worldwide and serious implications.

Needless to say, the Dollar must be cared for. Both too few and too many dollars carry drastic implications. With this in mind, one can begin to see the ramifications of super low interest rates and Quantitative Easing. Both systems pump money into the economy to help it get back on its feet. What’s certain though, is that the Fed cannot keep calling its plays from the same playbook over and over again. Giving the economy cheap money might be the easiest thing to do, however it will eventually destroy the US Dollar, as it did in Germany in the 1920s and Zimbabwe in the 2000s.

So has the Federal Reserve created a lasting and healthy economy, and saved it from total disaster? I’d argue that no, it has not. The Fed has pumped $4.5 trillion into the economy, and at the time of writing, the interest rate is at .5%, which is extremely low. The rate was 20% in 1981, which shows you how far the US economy has declined since then. There are signs now that the US is once again going back into a recession.

One good question that may be asked is, if interest rates have been so low, and QE has injected $4.5 trillion into the US economy, why has there been no real inflation? I’d answer that aside from the insane way the CPI is calculated (hedonics, etc.), the US has been exporting their inflation. This means since America is a net importer of goods and doesn’t manufacture much anymore, we’re constantly paying other countries with our inflated dollars. Therefore, the US dollars that are increasingly worthless are not trading hands in the US. The dollars are in countries that export to us. They therefore take our inflation off our hands. Another important factor is the petrodollar. Since the 1970s, OPEC has had a deal with the US where they would only accept US dollars for their oil. This is fantastic for the US since all countries use oil. It also creates powerful demand for the dollar, thus making it easier to export inflation.

The Future
So what’s the answer? I’m afraid the best route is to let the free market run its course. This means pain now, but gain later-always an unelectable position to take. This would mean letting the free market decide on interest rates, and not bailing out the big banks when the next crisis hits. This will be painful but necessary. As it currently stands, I don’t know of one major banker from 2008 jailed for essentially speculating with billions of dollars of other people’s money for profit. Yet there are many of them. Those same people are still in power, running the same firms that helped create the 2008 debacle in the first place. It’s been well documented that they’ve given themselves bonuses with the bailout money given by the government (i.e. our tax money). Not only are those banks still in business, they're even more powerful, and bigger than they were when the 2008 crisis hit! So I believe creative destruction is key. Let the healthy companies thrive and the unhealthy ones fail. Until this happens, there will be no lasting wealth. The stock market and other assets have risen in price, but have they risen in real value?

The other option is to keep things the same as they’ve been going the past few decades. Americans will get deeper into debt, the same institutions run by the same crooks will be in power, and assets will continue being artificially inflated into much bigger bubbles. With this being the case, there will be a crash through natural forces that would be bigger than one had we not used QE or lowered interest rates.

The US economy must crash in one way or another. The only question in whether we let natural market forces transpire now or the market strong arms the economy later on, as it did in 2008. If we wait, the bubbles will grow larger and the pain will be worse. Either way, I believe that the government-especially the Fed-will do whatever it takes to keep this from happening. They will most likely send interest rates into negative territory as Europe has done, and run QE forever, buying more assets than ever before. In short, they will destroy the US dollar. Exporting inflation will no longer save it.

People sometimes call me a pessimist. I just call ‘em like I see ‘em. Viewing the charts and figures, I don’t see how this can go any other way.

This is all debt in the US. It will weigh down at an increasingly heavy rate as time goes on. It should be noted that wages have not risen anywhere close to cover this debt.
Factory orders show how much people are buying. In a healthy economy, people buy a lot, and money flows freely. In unhealthy economies, people are not buying because they either are scared and don't want to spend, or do not have the money to buy goods and services.

The Case-Shiller charts (normalized to be valued at 100) show how much home prices are above or below value. At its peak in 2006, it was numbered at 184. The chart currently is at 175. In the Bay Area, it's numbered at 217.

The Labor Participation Rate is important because it shows people's willingness to retire-usually based on savings. It's currently at the lowest level since 1978. This also helps interpret the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate can be low, even in an unhealthy economy if people are not participating in the work force.

The copper price has always been a good indicator of how well the economy is doing based on physical growth.

The Fed Funds Rate helps to show the general health of the economy. It has fallen from 20% in 1981 to .5% in late 2015.

The inventories to sales ratio shows how much inventory businesses have vs. how quickly they're selling their products. In a healthy economy people buy more, so the number is lower due to rapid turnover.
Based on the above charts and quite a few others, I believe that the US is falling into a recession. Hopefully we will find a way to come out of this without it being too painful.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Rather than Ban Guns, Let's Fix the People

Yearly mass shootings are a common occurrence in America, and clearly is an issue that needs to be addressed. Both Republicans and Democrats have their own differing methods to solve this problem, which they say centers on firearms. Republicans maintain that more people should be armed. From teachers in the classroom to pilots in the cockpit, these tragedies could have been avoided if they were armed. The National Rifle Association even called for the clearly untenable prospect of stationing police officers at every school in America. Democrats on the other hand call for tighter gun control by the government. If we banned assault rifles and high capacity magazines they say, we will finally have lasting peace.

I however believe that firearms are only a small part in a much bigger problem.

Guns are a tool. They do a specific function when manipulated a certain way. But they are the weapon of choice for people bent on mass murder. What people seem to forget however is that there’s a human element behind that trigger. Instead of focusing on the tool, we should focus on the person. We must focus on the root of the problem. What drives young males to get up one day and murder others in droves? Thinking about the lifestyles of average young men, certain unhealthy aspects come to mind.

Violence in video games and in the media is the norm today. Grand Theft Auto and Halo are one of the most popular games on the market, and they both revolve around violence. I admit, they’re very fun games, though not the healthiest. Kids can, and do play for hours after school and on weekends. But let’s think-what do hours of committing mass murder and bloodshed by proxy on a screen do to the teenage psyche? What would it do to somebody after he plays it for years? The obvious answer would be that it would desensitize him to the effects of committing atrocities to other human beings. Yet millions of young men are playing these games every single day, and have been since their childhoods.

Another big factor that contributes to violence is pornography, especially when it’s violent. Young men are particularly susceptible to this, which is largely why it’s so prevalent in society today. The first reason why pornography is so dangerous is because it objectifies the person on the screen. Human beings are no longer seen as human beings, but rather objects. It’s much easier to “harm” an object than a person. The second reason why pornography is dangerous is because when people become too engrossed with it, violence is oftentimes the outcome. Linda Lovelace’s experiences as a porn star led to violence. Before her, Bettie Page who was named the “Queen of Pinups” suffered nervous breakdowns and was prone to violence towards the end of her life. The infamous Ted Bundy who raped and murdered dozens of young women claimed pornography was the start of his downfall. When people become used to pornography, they need to “up the ante” to get their highs. Violence is typically their answer. As Bundy said, “The most common interest among serial killers is pornography.” Today, not only is pornography treated as harmless, it’s promoted everywhere. This cannot be healthy for America.

Another reason is a complete lack of God in both public and private life. When kids today have been brought up thinking there is no God or afterlife, coupled with a shaky moral compass, why not act however they feel like? Obviously not everybody why grows up in an atheistic environment ends up this way, but it’s easier to go down little by little if you don’t have a stable moral code. The Columbine shooters were going to die into nonexistence anyways, so in their deluded minds, what was to stop them from taking out 13 others in the process? If they had been taught to learn and love Christ, this tragedy would have been avoided.

Similar to the belief that kids are underachieving in schools because the schools don’t have enough money, politicians believe that mass shootings are a single item issue. The issue of guns is front and center when the other (and more difficult and possibly obscure) causes would harbor a greater contribution to reducing crime, if addressed. I’d much rather have a nation full of gun-toting students who do not play violent video games, are not addicted to pornography and go to church on Sunday rather than an unarmed group of atheist students who have been playing Grand Theft Auto, and have no solid moral foundation. Taking guns away will not solve the issue. Violence will still occur. Eusebius in his History of the Church writes “Josephus also tells of bandits in Jerusalem who murdered victims in broad daylight in the middle of the city. At festivals, in particular, they used to mingle with the crowds, stab distinguished people with concealed daggers, and then affect indignation when they had fallen, evading discovery in this way. First to be slaughtered by them was Jonathan the high priest, and after him many were murdered daily, and even worse was the fear instilled as each hourly expected death.” Murders like this happened 2,000 years ago without guns, and they will continue happening as long as we fail to address the source. If America fails to come to grip with changing the behavior of the person rather than the mechanism they use, the violence with just continue.