They Might be Cannibals

I work with Seventh Day Adventists (I think I've mentioned this before). And, as individuals, they're very nice. But many of them also strike me as naive. 

So, I asked one the other day about the SDA dietary restrictions - among other things, they don't eat pork or shellfish. (That should ring a bell for you.) I asked about Peter's vision, in Acts, and she replied, "Well if you read it in context, it's about people, not food." Which is her polite way of saying, you're reading it wrong, and pretty much every Christian since Paul has been reading it wrong. Oops. 

I see two ways to approach this. One would simply be to reply, "you're the one who's not really reading it in context, you're just focusing on Acts 10:28, 'God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.'" I'm not sure what her reply would be, and I really don't care if she eats pork or not: I'm a vegetarian myself. 

But the other approach is more intriguing: what if we do take the larger context into account, but read it as being about people, not food? What exactly does the voice say in Peter's vision in Acts 10:13? "Get up, Peter; kill and eat.

I think I'll stay away from their food at the next potluck.


Literal and Metaphorical

So many of the things we learn in school, we forget, because we have no context for them...

I'm rereading some things I first read eight years ago, and have largely forgotten, but which are relevant to my current context. It's interesting to read about them (I may talk more specifically about this in a future post) when I'm in the middle of things, rather than seeing it as something abstract, far-in-the-future.

But the other thing I have recently come across was a passage from Ezekiel 28, in a Seventh Day Adventist booklet, about the King of Tyre. (I realize that the Seventh Day Adventists aren't the only ones who look to this passage in particular, but this is how I came across it.) I'm sure I've run across the passage before, and might even have some notes from my Old Testament class, but it doesn't ring a bell (which is to say, it's not what I remember about Ezekiel).

This passage cannot be read literally. Just for starters, it's addressed to the King of Tyre, a mortal, and it says, "you were in the garden of Eden." I know that the literalists want to read the Bible straight through, literally understanding all the passages literally - well, it just can't be done. But even they acknowledge that some passages have to be understood metaphorically. How might we read this? That's where things get strange. They say that this is really - really - about Satan. Well, why in the world would you think such a thing?

Because that means taking the description literally, rather than metaphorically, but taking the identity of the king as (at least partly) metaphorical. And why would you do such a thing? There are various reasons why you might make references to someone metaphorically. The primary one, in this context, is if you're talking about someone who really could just send out troops to kill you, without any trial or anything, maybe while you sleep, and maybe your whole village too, just because he can. And if you're writing about that dude, you might think, "hm, if I refer to this guy as a giant bear with five horns, or a dragon, people will know who I'm talking about - wink wink - but I'll have some deniability." That really makes sense if you're living under foreign occupation. I can almost imagine someone making the counter-argument, "but we are living under occupation - from Satan!" Must our references to Satan be veiled, or coded, somehow? Or are you really a Zoroastrian who wants the Christian Bible to support your viewpoint (and I realize that the actual Zoroastrians don't do this).

It doesn't make sense to be oblique about identity if you're directly calling someone out, though: you want that person's attention. "Hey, you! Knock it off!" But how do you get this guy's attention, without just making yourself into a target? "Well, Mr. Putin, in addition to being handsome, you're a powerful man, someone to be reckoned with. However..." And that's really how I read this passage: Ezekiel has a prophecy against the King of Tyre, wants him to actually hear it, and not get squished himself. But the description is metaphorical, a hyperbolic flattery to get this guy's attention. How is that difficult to see?

The alternative - taken by Ellen White and the Seventh Day Adventists, among others - is to see this as only metaphorically referring to the King of Tyre, but actually referring to Satan - because the descriptions aren't metaphorical, but literal. What? Why in the world would Ezekiel bury condemnation of Satan in the middle of all this other stuff? It's not as though the "King of Tyre" is a made-up designation, either.

Ockham's razor, paraphrased, says that we should prefer the simpler of two explanations, if they otherwise do an equally good job. Satan gets the boot. And I should probably stop reading Ellen White.