Friday, January 30, 2015

Stump the Priest: One Mediator, Many Intercessors

The Virgin Mary beseeching Christ at the Wedding of Cana

Question: "Protestants often claim that Orthodox (and other Christians)  raise the Theotokos to the divine level of Jesus Christ by referring to her as "intercessor". In their opinion "there is only one mediator; the Man Christ Jesus". Furthermore they point out that by beseeching her to "turn away the wrath stirred up against us" we turn her into a Christian "type" of the pagan Mother & Child deities from the ancient world. These "mother goddesses" were often invoked to similarly turn away their "son-god's" wrath. They say this is a blasphemous aberration that entered the Church under the "paganization process" they claim happened under the Roman emperor St Constantine. How does one answer these accusations from both Scripture and Tradition?"

This claim is based on St. Paul's statement in 1 Timothy 2:5: "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." However, one need only look to the verses immediately prior to that statement to find: "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:1-4). St. James also tells us that "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). So clearly the fact that Christians are called upon to make supplications, prayers, and intercessions on behalf of others is not a contradiction to Christ being the one mediator.

In what sense is Christ the one mediator? In Hebrews 9:15, St. Paul also says: "And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." So is the unique mediator between God and Man in that He became incarnate, was crucified, died,  and rose again for our salvation. No one else can possibly provide the basis for our salvation. And yet, God desires that we have many intercessors who pray for others, and that God acts in response to these prayers.

When I was a Protestant, who was interested in Orthodoxy, but had to deal with this question myself, it so happened that one day I was talking to a neighbor who was talking about the wife of a retired professor at Southern Nazarene University (the school I attended). He said that this woman was such a woman of prayer that if you ever needed an answer to prayer, she would be the one to go to, because she “had a hotline to God.” Having known some very pious Nazarenes over the years, I didn't find his account hard to believe. But then it dawned on me, if any woman ever had a hotline to God, that would be first and foremost, the Virgin Mary, wouldn't it? And didn't Christ say that God was the God of the living and not the dead (Matthew 22:23-33), and so if I could ask this pious old Nazarene woman  from Bethany, Oklahoma to pray for me, couldn't I also ask the Virgin Mary from Nazareth of Galilee to pray for me?

As for the question of turning away God's wrath, one finds many examples in which God's wrath was turned away by the prayers of righteous men. For example, Moses himself recounts how he turned away God's wrath from the people of Israel: "Furthermore the Lord spake unto me, saying, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: let me alone, that I may destroy them, and blot out their name from under heaven: and I will make of thee a nation mightier and greater than they.... And I fell down before the Lord, as at the first, forty days and forty nights: I did neither eat bread, nor drink water, because of all your sins which ye sinned, in doing wickedly in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure, wherewith the Lord was wroth against you to destroy you. But the Lord hearkened unto me at that time also (Deuteronomy 9:13-14, 18-19). And in the Psalms we are told: "Therefore he said that he would destroy them, had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, to turn away his wrath, lest he should destroy them" (Psalm 105[106]:23). So if Moses could turn away God's wrath, I see no reason why it would be blasphemous to ask the Virgin Mary to pray for us, and to turn away God's wrath from us.

See also:

Stump the Priest: Is There Anything Special About the Virgin Mary?

The Gospel of the Virgin Mary

The Icon FAQ: Answers to common questions about icons (which discusses the veneration of Saints)

Can the Virgin Mary "Save" Us? by Fr. Andrew Damick

One Mediator Between God and Men, by Tim Staples (from Catholic Answers)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Stump the Priest: "Valid Sacraments"


Question: "Someone has been insisting to me that the Russian Orthodox Church recognizes the validity of the Sacraments of the Roman Church. And in fact, have since at least 1776. Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev said something to this effect as well at one point, but I'm not sure I buy it, how would you respond?"

I think they probably meant to say "since at least 1666-1667, which were the dates of the a controversial council in Moscow, which condemned the Old Rite, and deposed Patriarch Nikon. That council is a topic unto itself, but the documents of that council do speak of "valid" Roman Catholic sacraments. But one can find this expression in one of the oldest Liturgical texts published in English, which is still widely used today -- the Hapgood Service Book, translated by Isabel Hapgood, with the blessing of St. Tikhon of Moscow.

Even in the Ecumenical Canons, we find provision for receiving converts from certain groups by means other than baptism, though included among those canons is the canon of St. Cyprian of Carthage that states that there is no true baptism outside of the Church. This canon was affirmed by the Sixth Ecumenical Council in its second canon. However, that same canon also affirmed the canons of St. Basil, and his first canon, provides a bit more nuance. He agreed that the Church is under no obligation to recognize baptisms that take place outside of the Church, but states that for the sake of "economia" the Church may do so, though he also noted that in different regions, different practices prevailed when it came to how certain heretics or schismatics were received. So in terms of theological principle, we affirm that there are no sacraments, in the fullest sense, outside of the Church, but the Church does receive converts from heterodox or schismatic groups by economia -- which could mean that we chrismate them, or in some cases that we simply accept them by confession and a profession of faith. And in the Hapgood Service, there is a service provided for this very purpose.

Beginning on page 454 of the Hapgood Service Book, there is a service entitled "THE OFFICE FOR RECEIVING INTO THE ORTHODOX FAITH SUCH PERSON AS HAVE NOT PREVIOUSLY BEEN ORTHODOX, BUT HAVE BEEN REARED FROM INFANCY OUTSIDE THE ORTHODOX CHURCH, YET HAVE RECEIVED VALID BAPTISM, IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT".

But the question we have to ask is, what does it mean when it speaks of "valid baptism"? First off we should ask, what does true baptism do? Among other things, it unites one to the Church. But right after the above quoted heading, it says: "The power of granting absolution to such persons, and of uniting them to the Church properly devolveth on a Bishop. Nevertheless, that the converts to Orthodoxy may not be tempted to return to their heresy by reason of delay, it is wiser and more expedient that the Bishop should delegate his power, and grant his blessing therewith, to a Priest well versed in divine lore, and who is competent to instruct such a person in the articles of the Orthodox faith, and to correct his erroneous opinions." And so if a "valid baptism" outside of the Orthodox Church united one with the Church, there would not be a further need for any service to unite them to the Church, but that is precisely what this services is intended to do.

The first question the convert is asked is "Wilt thou renounce the errors and false doctrines of the Roman-Latin [or Armenian, or Lutheran, or Reformed) Confession?" and  then they are asked "Dost thou desire to enter into and abide in the communion of the Orthodox-Catholic Faith?" And after the convert is asked to renounce specifically the false teachings of their former confession, and to affirm the basic tenets of the Orthodox Faith, they are told "Enter thou into the Orthodox Church; and cast away all the errors and false doctrines wherein thou hast dwelt: and honor the Lord God, the Father Almighty, and his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, one true and living God, the holy Trinity, one in essence and indivisible." And all of this is in the service that would be used, even for those being received by confession and profession of faith. This service makes it abundantly clear that we are uniting someone to the Church who was previously not united to the Church.

So what happens when the Church accepts a baptism that was done outside of the Church, by economia? St. Augustine compared baptism to the "military mark" which was a tattoo a soldier was given when entered the Roman Army, and it showed what commander he belonged to. St. Augustine said that such a mark could be retained by deserters (schismatics), and it could illicitly be given to those who had never been in the army, and yet unless and until such men actually joined (or rejoined) the army, those marks did not have the real significance that they should have... however if they did rejoin or join the army, the mark would not need to be redone. And so what happens when someone is received by economia is they are finally united to the Church, and their baptism is then given the real meaning of what true baptism is.

And so when we speak of "valid" Roman Catholic Sacraments, we mean that they are valid in the sense of their outward form. I have not seen any official Russian Orthodox statements that said that the Roman Catholic eucharist was "valid", and this is because we can receive a convert who was been baptized by economia, and we can even receive a Roman Catholic Priest in rank, by economia... but we could never receive the Roman Catholic eucharist by economia. This does not mean that we say that Roman Catholics are all going to hell, or that their worship and devotion to God has no meaning to God. Those things are between them and God. This is not a matter for us to pass judgment. We also pass no judgment on the souls of those outside of the Church, but we can say that at least in this life, they remain outside of the Church until and unless they are received into the Orthodox Church.



Saturday, January 17, 2015

Review: The Old Testament in Eastern Orthodox Tradition


The Old Testament in Eastern Orthodox Tradition, by Fr. Eugen J. Pentiuc.

One thing that comes across in this book is Fr. Eugen's love of Scripture. In his introduction, he speaks about how when he was growing up in Communist Romania, he first had the opportunity to read a Bible at the age of 13. The Communists limited the Church's ability to print copies of the Bible, but 1968, the Church was allowed to print 100,000 copies (for a population of 20 million people). He was able to get his hands on a copy of the Bible, and read almost the entire text in one week. Then, he says, the services of the Church came alive to him, when he was able to connect all the Scriptural references for the first time. The excitement of this 13 year old boy, who was able to secretly read the Bible still comes across in the rest of the text -- and even more so, when you hear Fr. Eugen speak.

Here are some podcasts of his talks that are well worth listening to, and I think show what I am talking about:

http://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/episode/fr._eugen_pentiuc

http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/downtheroad/the_christian_bible_unity_in_diversity

http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/downtheroad/scripture_and_tradition

I suspect he is probably the favorite professor of a great many of his students.

This book was very interesting and informative. However, I would not recommend it to those who are unfamiliar with contemporary Biblical Scholarship. It is written on a scholarly level, not really as a guide to the average layman. There are a number of things that he writes that I would take issue with, but I look forward to the next two books Fr. Eugen intends to write as follow up texts to this one.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Stump the Priest: How do we know what the Orthodox Church believes?

The Council of the Holy Fathers 
(various Fathers with St. Constantine the Great, holding the Nicean Creed)

Question: "How does doctrinal authority work in Orthodoxy? In a simplified form, how do I know what Orthodox believe? Less simply, what are the common sources for Orthodox when seeking to believe what the Church teaches? And how is it possible to know that certain teachings are definitely the Orthodox position, not only a possible opinion?"

There are different sources of doctrinal authority in the Orthodox Church: 1. Scripture; 2. Apostolic Tradition; 3. Ecclesiastical Tradition; and 4. the living witness of the Church.

We believe that the Scriptures are the inspired and inerrant word of God, and Scripture is the core of the Orthodox Tradition. However, while we can distinguish Scripture from the rest of the Tradition, we cannot properly understand Scripture outside of the context of that Tradition.

Apostolic Tradition has its origins in Christ Himself, and is preserved in a number of different ways. For example, many aspects of Apostolic Tradition are preserved in the Ecumenical Canons. The basic elements of our worship are based on Apostolic Tradition. It is also preserved in the collective memory of the Church, and is reflected in the writings of the Fathers of the Church.

Not every canon of the Church is based directly on Scripture or Apostolic Tradition. There are also Traditions that are Ecclesiastical Traditions. The Scriptures tell us that Christ gave the Apostles the power to bind and to loose, and Apostolic Tradition tells us that this authority was passed on from the Apostles to their successors, the Bishops. When confronted with heresies or problems that are not addressed directly by Scripture or Apostolic Tradition, the Church has made decisions that are binding. The most authoritative examples of this would be the Ecumenical Canons of the Ecumenical Councils, and those local and patristic canons that those councils approved. Like the Scriptures, the Church believes that these Ecumenical Canons as well as the doctrinal statements made by these councils have an authority like Scripture, and are infallible.

While the above referenced sources of authority have greater weight, because their authority has been firmly established and universally recognized in the Church, the Church continues to have the power to bind and to loose, and so the Church makes decisions all of the time hat have authority for Orthodox Christians. For example, we cannot find in Scripture or the Ecumenical Canons a clear answer to the question of what we should make of artificial insemination, local Orthodox Churches have made statements on this question. For example, in an All-Russian Council in 2000, the Russian Church issued a document called  "The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church," which addressed this question, as well as many other contemporary issues. Technically, this council would only have immediate authority over those in the Russian Orthodox Church, however, other local Churches received it favorably at the time it was issued. At some point in the future, this document may be universally received, and then have a greater level of authority than it does today, but already, Orthodox Christians outside of the Russian Church have looked to it for guidance on these issues.

It takes time for the body of the Church as a whole to come to firm conclusions about the authority of a council, or the writings of a saint. No council was had universal authority simply by virtue of it meeting with a certain number of bishops. It was only when the Church as a whole was able to reflect on such councils that they were either embraced, or rejected.

There are theological or practical matters that there is not a firm, universal answer for, and so within certain bounds, there is room for theological opinions (theologoumena) which may or may not be correct. This does not, however, mean that a person can believe whatever he wants. For example, one could have different opinions on how literally we should interpret the seven days of creation in the first chapter of Genesis, but it would be beyond the bound of acceptable opinion to suggest that the universe came into being by chance, and God did not create it.

So how does one go about acquainting themselves to what the Church teaches? You have to be Orthodox, you have to live the sacramental life of the Church, and you need to study -- study the Scriptures, the writings of the saints, the lives of the saints, and you would also do well to read good books by more contemporary authors that are recognized as good and useful texts. The longer you are Orthodox, and are actively engaged in trying to learn your faith, the more you will acquire an Orthodox mindset, and will become increasingly discerning.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Stump the Priest: The Orthodox Canon


Question: "In the Orthodox Study Bible and in other places online, I've seen a chart comparing the Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox canon of Scripture. My question is from what canon of what council does Orthodoxy draw her canon of Scripture from?"

On the one hand we have a precisely defined New Testament Canon, about which there is no dispute... at least not since the 4th century. On the other hand we have an Old Testament canon that has a precisely defined core, and fairly well defined next layer, and then less clearly defined edges. So why the precision in the case of the New, but not the Old?

The New Testament Canon is fixed, largely due to the false canon of the heretic Marcion. The Old Testament canon has been less precisely defined, and so one still encounters some disagreement on the fringes of the list... though most of the books are not questioned at all. The Church simply has not felt the need to be more precise... but this can be an uncomfortable thing for some folks to deal with. However, if you have the proper understanding of Tradition, it becomes much less of an issue.

If you think of the Tradition as a target, with concentric circles, you could put the Gospels in the middle, the writings of the apostles in the in the next ring, maybe the Law of Moses, in the next, the prophets in the next, the writings in the next, the deutrocanonical books in the next, the writings of those who knew the Apostle in the next, the Ecumenical Canons in the next, etc. The only debate would be which ring to put them... and ultimately, is that the most important question? For a Protestant, this is a huge question. For the Orthodox, it is not so much, because we see Scripture as being part of Tradition, not as something separate to it, and certainly not as something opposed to it.

The term "Deuterocanon" is actually of Roman Catholic origin, but I think it is a useful term. In Russian texts, and some patristic texts, you find the phrase "non-canonical" books, but by this, the distinction is between the Hebrew canon and the books excluded by the Hebrew canon which the Church has embraced. Another term is "Readable book", which means a book can be read in Church.

Yet another term is "apocrypha", which we generally do not use with reference to these books, but Origen had some interesting comments on the origin of the the term "apocrypha." In his letter to Africanus (ANF v. IV, pp 386ff.) he was responding to the question of why he quoted from the portion of the book of Daniel which contain the story of Susanna, which is not found in the Hebrew text. Origen responded that he was not unaware of this fact, and he proceeded to defend its authenticity. His response is detailed, but let me highlight a few points:

"And, forsooth, when we notice such things we are forthwith to reject as spurious the copies in use in our Churches, and enjoin the brotherhood to put away the sacred books current among them, and to coax the Jews, and persuade them to give us copies which shall be untampered with, and free from forgery?! Are we to suppose that that providence which the sacred Scriptures has ministered to the edification of all the Churches of Christ, had no thought for those bought with a price, for whom Christ died; whom, although His Son, God who is love spared not, but gave Him up for us all, that with Him He might freely give us all things? In all these cases consider whether it would not be well to remember the words, "Thou shalt not remove the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set." Nor do I say this because I shun the labor of investigating the Jewish Scriptures, and comparing them with ours, and noticing various readings. This, if it be not arrogant to say it, I have already to a great extent done to the best of my ability, laboring hard to get at the meaning in all the editions and various readings; while I paid particular attention to the interpretation of the Seventy, lest I might to be found to accredit any forgery to the Churches which are under heaven, and give an occasion to those who seek such a starting point for gratifying their desire to slander the common brethren, and to bring some accusation against those who shine forth in our community. And I make it my endeavor not to be ignorant of their various readings, lest in my controversies with the Jews I should quote to them what is not found in their copies, and that I may make some use of what is found there, even although it should not be in our Scriptures. For if we are so prepared for them in our discussions, they will not, as is their manner, scornfully laugh at Gentile believers for their ignorance of the true readings as they have them. So far as to the History of Susanna not being found in the Hebrew."

Skipping further on in the text we find Origen saying that the reason for many of the omissions in the Hebrew text are because the Scribes and Pharisees omitted things that made them look bad:

"The answer is, that they hid from the knowledge of the people as many of the passages which contained any scandal against the elders, rulers, and judges as they could, some of which have been preserved in the uncanonical writings (apocrypha) [which gives new meaning to the term "hidden books"]. As an example, take the story told about Isaiah, and guaranteed by the epistle to the Hebrews, which is found in none of their public books. For the author of the Epistle to the Hebrew, in speaking of the prophets, and what they suffered, says "They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were slain with the sword"."

He goes on to mention that, by a tradition contained in the Apocryphal books, we know that the Prophet Isaiah was sawn in half.

The Orthodox Study Bible list of Old Testament books is based on the books included in the Greek Editions of the Scriptures, published by the Church of Greece. The Church of Greece based their decision in part on the decree of the Synod of Jerusalem:

"What Books do you call Sacred Scripture?

Following the rule of the Catholic Church, we call Sacred Scripture all those which Cyril [Lucar] collected from the Synod of Laodicea, and enumerated, adding thereto those which he foolishly, and ignorantly, or rather maliciously called Apocrypha; to wit, “The Wisdom of Solomon,” “Judith,” “Tobit,” “The History of the Dragon,” “The History of Susanna,” “The Maccabees,” and “The Wisdom of Sirach.” For we judge these also to be, with the other genuine Books of Divine Scripture, genuine parts of Scripture. For ancient custom, or rather the Catholic Church, which hath delivered to us as genuine the Sacred Gospels and the other Books of Scripture, hath undoubtedly delivered these also as parts of Scripture, and the denial of these is the rejection of those. And if, perhaps, it seemeth that not always have all been by all reckoned with the others, yet nevertheless these also have been counted and reckoned with the rest of Scripture, as well by Synods, as by how many of the most  ancient and eminent Theologians of the Catholic Church; all of which we also judge to be Canonical Books, and confess them to be Sacred Scripture.." (The Synod of Jerusalem (1672) (from the Confession of St. Dositheus).

The Synod of Jerusalem was held in large part to respond to Protestantism, and in this case, they were responding to the general Protestant position on the canon of the Old Testament, which was to adopt the Hebrew Canon, and to reject any Old Testament books not included by the Jews as "apocrypha." The Council of Jerusalem called these books canonical, not non-canonical, or deuterocanonical. However, the Greek Bible used by the OSB includes several more books, which were not mentioned by that council (see: http://my.execpc.com/~gto/Apocrypha/Summaries/table.html) And you will see that the Russian Bible includes some more yet. The Synod of Jerusalem did not specifically address them. The Greek Church probably included them because editions of the LXX have long included these books. The Russian Church probably also included 2nd Esdras (aka 3rd Esdras) because it was included in the canonical list found in the canons of the Holy Apostles, and is also found in the Latin Vulgate (see: http://www.bible-researcher.com/canon2.html). Which is also why it was included among the "Apocrypha" of the original editions of  the King James Version.

Why is there no absolutely definitive list? The Church has not felt the need to create one... for the Old Testament. It did in the case of the New because of Marcion, and you do find statements, such as that of the Synod of Jerusalem which defended certain books specifically rejected by the Protestants. But for us, whether or not 2nd Esdras is canonical, deuterocanonical, or simply an appendix, reflecting a book considered to be of traditional importance, is not nearly so big of a deal. But most of the books of the Old Testament are canonical, and there is no dispute about them, and so we do have certainty, just not for every book.

If you have a Revised Standard Version or New Revised Standard Version Bible that includes the "Apocrypha," then you can look at the introduction to each of the books and see who accepts them. The Greeks do not include 2nd Esdras (note the comments below about confusion over the titles of the books of Esdras/Ezra (in the Russian Bible it is called 3rd Esdras). The Russian Bible does not include 4th Maccabees. By the way, neither 4th Maccabees nor 2nd/3rd Esdras is to be found in the Orthodox Study Bible.

Now, if you look at the Orthodox Study Bible, you will see that it has 1st Ezra and 2nd Ezra. Why they did this, and without better notes in the introduction is beyond me. What they call 1st Ezra is a deuterocanonical book, found in the Latin Vulgate and the Septuagint, but not considered deuterocanonical by the Roman Catholic Church.  In the Vulgate, and the in the King James, RSV, and NRSV Apocrypha, this book is 1st Esdras. What they call 2nd Ezra, is the book that is called "Ezra" in just about any Bible in English -- and so if you are trying to find a passage in the book of Ezra that most English speakers will have in mind, you will need to look in 2nd Ezra... but most people, who don't look closely, will probably think that 2nd Ezra is either 1st or 2nd Esdras.This is one of my complaints about the OSB: they opted to use non-standard names for many of the Old Testament books, and so they are going to confuse a lot of people who are trying to find a passage of scripture in this or that book. I also think they made a huge mistake adopting the Greek order of the books. They should have used the Vulgate order, because that is the basic order we have used in English Bibles for the past 400+ years.

For more information see:

An Orthodox Look at English Translations of the Bible

Biblical Canon and Interpretation

All Scripture Is Inspired by God: Thoughts on the Old Testament Canon, by Joel Kalvesmaki

Various Canons and comments on the canon of the Old Testament

Friday, January 02, 2015

Stump the Priest: Lot's Daughters

Lot and his two daughters flee the destruction of Sodom

Question: "Why did Lot offer his virgin daughters to the Sodomites? Why wasn't Lot appointed a place with the Sodomites for such a horrible offer?  As a young man I scratched my head at this passage, but now as a father I am incensed. What am I missing?" 

It is very important to understand the genre of a passage of Scripture, if you are going to interpret it properly. In this case, the genre is historical narrative, and historical narrative is always descriptive, but not always prescriptive. In other words, historical narrative tells you what happened, and what people did, but many of the things that we are told that people did are not intended as positive examples, that we should read and then "go, and do thou likewise". And this is true in many cases, even when the good characters in Scripture are involved. For example, one of King David's sons raped his half sister, and while David was angry, he really did not deal with it in any decisive way. This led to Absalom, the full brother of the woman who was raped, to plot to kill his brother, and eventually to lead a revolt against his father (2 Samuel 13:1-18:33). There is nothing in that story to suggest that David handled the rape of one of his daughters in a praiseworthy manner. In fact, it is clear that David's failure to handle this properly led to the disastrous results that followed. Furthermore, given that these events followed closely on the heels of David's sin with Bathsheba, it is clear that these events were in fulfillment of the God's judgment against David, which was pronounced by the Prophet Nathan:

"Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun’"(2 Samuel 12:10-12).

And in the case of Lot, while he is described as a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7), not all of his actions were praiseworthy either. For example, we are told earlier:

"Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom. But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly" (Genesis 13:12-13).

The statement that Lot chose to dwell near Sodom is followed by the assessment of how wicked the people of Sodom were. The next time we hear of him, he is living in Sodom (Genesis 14:12). The narrative does not come out and say that Lot should not have moved into Sodom, but that is a clear inference from the text.

The point of the story of the two angels who visited Sodom was to highlight the depravity of the city. God had told Abraham that he intended to destroy Sodom, but Abraham interceded for them, and God promised that if he could find ten righteous men there, he would not destroy the city. So two Angels went into Sodom, in the appearance of men, and when Lot saw them, he was anxious to have them stay at his home because he knew the wickedness of the city, and knew what they would do to strangers. When the men of the city, both young and old, gathered outside of Lot's home and demand that he send out the two visitors so that they could rape them, Lot was not only concerned for the two visitors, but having a middle eastern sense of hospitality, he saw the violation of his daughters as being less of a shame than the violation of two visitors that he had extended hospitality to. The point of all this is not that Lot's understanding of how hospitality should dictate one's response to such a situation. The point is that this mob of men, given the chance to rape two young women instead, preferred to rape two men. So not only were they immoral, violent, and inclined to take advantage of strangers, they preferred unnatural homosexual sex to natural (though nonetheless forced) heterosexual sex. There is nothing in the text that suggests that Lot's choice was a good one. And as a matter of fact, the two angels blinded the mob, and spared them all from their perversity, and then told Lot to take his family and to get out Sodom, because God would destroy the city, since there were no righteous people in Sodom outside of Lot's own family.