TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

18 August 2017

Bible “difficulties”: The passages which won’t do as we want.

Usually scriptures which appear to contradict other scriptures.

Whenever you hear Christians refer to “bible difficulties,” you’d think we meant scriptures which’re hard to translate, hard to interpret, hard to understand, or hard to follow. Often we do. Certainly I do.

But why do Christians consider these scriptures difficult? Three reasons.

  1. We believe the bible contains no errors—but these passages appear to be in error, or appear to contradict other scriptures. Like Jesus’s two different genealogies.
  2. We have certain beliefs, doctrines, traditions, or assumptions—and these passages appear to violate them. Like Christians who don’t wash feet, Jn 13.14 or Christian men who don’t kiss one another hello. Ro 16.16 We don’t wanna say these passages don’t apply anymore… but honestly, we don’t wanna follow ’em either.
  3. These passages actually are obscure, and Christians throughout history (and Jews too) have found ’em hard to interpret.

The most common reason would be the first one: Discrepancies. Scriptures which appear to contradict other scriptures… or reality itself.

Nearly every Fundamentalist believes the bible has no contradictions. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “Have these guys ever read the bible?” Tried to line up the resurrection stories, or Jesus’s aforementioned genealogies? Plus several orthodox Christian teachings—based on bible, I remind you—are kinda contradictory as well. Like how God’s kingdom is here, yet not yet here; like how God is one yet three. Fundies know all this stuff, but regardless: One of their fundamentals, one of their non-negotiable beliefs, is that the bible has no errors. And contradictions would be errors. Therefore no contradictions.

Hence Fundamentalists have written big giant books of bible difficulties. In which they try to explain away any discrepancies, plus any other problem scriptures, as best they can. Sometimes reasonably, ’cause these passages only look like discrepancies but aren’t really. Other times not so well.

17 August 2017

Losing your faith when you go to school.

More accurately, being the pagans you always secretly were.

In my town, today’s the first day of school. I have friends in other parts of the United States who say, “You start school in August? You’re nuts.” I look at it from an educator’s point of view: The shorter the summer vacation, the less chance there is for the kids to forget everything before we get ’em back in the classrooms. Plus most of the parents do not mind at all.

Colleges and universities are also starting up this time of year. Along with that comes a common worry Christians have: They worry their good Christian kids will go away to school, and gradually ditch their Christianity.

It’s hardly a new worry. It’s been around since the very first Christians sent their kids to the ancient version of university, the academy. It’s been around since the first universities slid away from the goals of their Christian founders, and became secular.

Since I grew up Fundamentalist, I got to hear their version of that worry. Fundies suspect their salvation depends on clinging to all the correct beliefs, and since any good school challenges us to question everything, that’s the very last thing they want their kids doing. It’s why they created Fundamentalist colleges, where they question everything but their fundamentals. (Though frequently these schools have way too many fundamentals, but that’s another debate for another day.)

Hence in high school my youth pastors told me, time and again, the only schools worthy of consideration are the Christian ones. Their goal was to shelter us from the cold cruel world out there, lest it corrupt us and turn us pagan.

A lot of us Christians bought into this mentality. It’s why, as soon as possible, Christians put their kids in Christian preschools, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools; then transition ’em to four-year Christian universities. Others don’t trust any Christian schools—somehow they’re all corrupt—so they educate their kids at home as long as possible. Heck, instead of going away to university, some of ’em take long-distance classes from home, lest the shelter the schools are meant to be, just isn’t strong enough.

In this way, parents figure the kids will never be drawn away from Jesus by the subtle, foundation-shattering perils of atheistic humanism in the classroom. Nor the drug-fueled hedonism in the dorms. Nor the distractions of popular culture everywhere else.

All the classroom subjects will be carefully based on a bible-centered worldview. And ideally so will all the extracurricular activities and dorm life. The kids’ll be totally immersed in Jesus. They’ll never fall away.

They never bother to consider: What kind of anemic, pathetic faith are we talking about, where we have to encase kids in a plastic Christian bubble lest any microbe from the outside destroy this faith?

See, that’s the real problem. These kids who abandon their faith? They don’t have faith. Their parents bungled the job of passing it down. The kids don’t love Jesus, if they even know him at all; they’ve been chafing under all the Christianity, and the instant they leave for school—even a Christian school!—there goes their religion. Cast off as fast as they can shed it.

Happened to me too: I didn’t ditch Christianity, but I totally ditched Fundamentalism. Plus various other annoying beliefs. Lemme tell you about it.

16 August 2017

The Deuteronomistic history.

How some of the books of the Old Testament share a theme—and likely an author.

When I was growing up, I was a little curious about who wrote the books of the bible. Supposedly Matthew wrote Matthew and John wrote John and the three letters named for him (plus Revelation) …but Timothy didn’t write Timothy, and since Samuel was dead way before the end of 1 Samuel, it stands to reason he didn’t write 2 Samuel. Naturally I wanted to know who did write the books, but none of my Sunday school teachers knew. One of ’em speculated it was Solomon.

Fact is, people back then people didn’t put their names on their writings. Even David didn’t put his name on his psalms: Whoever compiled the psalms together, added his name to the psalms which had traditionally been ascribed to him. It’s a safe bet David did write ’em. But the other anonymous books of the bible: We don’t know who put them together. They felt the story was way more important than the authors’ names.

Anyway. In 1981, bible scholar Martin Noth theorized the books which Jews call the “former prophets”—Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings—and more than likely the book of Deuteronomy along with them, are all part of one large history, edited together by one person. Or one group of people. Noth named it “the Deuteronomistic history,” named of course for Deuteronomy.

It was a very short period of time before a lot of bible scholars signed on to Noth’s theory. It makes perfect sense. Though many conservative scholars (myself included) don’t agree Deuteronomy oughta be included in the Deuteronomistic history. Even though Deuteronomy does repeat a lot of commands found in the previous three books. There are good reasons Deuteronomy is bundled together with the Law, not the Prophets; and good reasons the Deuteronomistic history is inspired by that book, and not just prefaced by it.

People tend to refer to its author (or group of authors) as “the Deuteronomist.” Since—for no good reason—Christians have traditionally assumed Samuel wrote Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, if not half 1 Samuel, I’ll call the Deuteronomist “Sam” for short.

15 August 2017

Telling your pastor you’re leaving.

Are we obligated to give our church an exit interview before we leave?

Got a question from a reader: “Last year my pastor preached about the steps you need to take before you leave the church. One of them was you first have to go to your pastor and talk it over with him. But most of the reason I’m leaving my church is because of him. Do I really have to talk with him first?”

No. You don’t have to say a word. You can go to another church immediately.

This “You gotta talk to the pastor before you leave” idea doesn’t come from bible. It comes entirely from pastors. They wanna know why you’re leaving.

Ideally, it’s because pastors wanna help. People leave churches for all sorts of reasons. And the pastors are hoping maybe, just maybe, they can help you work out some of those reasons, and change your mind. (I think it’s naïve of them to hope so, but many of them will try it just the same.)

Often, and more realistically, they’re troubleshooting. They wanna know why you’re leaving in case it’s the church’s fault. What can they fix? What can they do to prevent people from leaving in future?—to “close the back door,” so to speak?

And yeah, sometimes it’s not at all for noble reasons. Sometimes pastors want the chance to defend themselves. “You’re leaving because the church does [a bothersome behavior]? Well, we’re meant to do that. God wants us to do that. We’d be compromising the gospel if we quit doing that. It’s wrong of you to object to that.” Really, the discussion’s not gonna do a whole lot to convince you to stick around. It’s just to make the pastors feel vindicated and self-righteous; to feel they did nothing wrong, and you’re in the wrong for leaving. If that’s the sort of meeting you suspect you’re gonna have (’cause that’s the way the pastors tend to defend themselves every other time a problem comes up), definitely skip it. It’ll be no help to anyone.

Worst case: The pastors wanna do nothing but browbeat you for leaving. Or threaten you with hell, because they’re convinced their church is the only outpost of God’s kingdom there is, and everyplace else belongs to Satan. Don’t go to those meetings either.

If you really do want them to know your reasons for leaving, write them an email or letter. You needn’t read what they send you in response—especially when you suspect it’ll be hurtful. That too is optional. You needn’t send them anything.

What if your church made you sign a contract, when you became members, which required you to have an “exit interview” before you leave? Simple: They can’t legally enforce it. At all. (Contrary to popular belief, employers can’t legally enforce exit interviews upon their employees either. So your church definitely hasn’t a leg to stand on.) If they persist, tell ’em to either get a subpoena or leave you alone. And of course no court will grant them any such thing, ’cause separation of church and state.

Such churches may insist, “You promised us before God,” and hope this argument convinces you to attend any meeting they deem necessary. And yeah, when we swear to God, we oughta abide by any such promises, because God holds us accountable to them. But let me remind you that marriage vows are also a promise before God—yet Jesus permits people to divorce those who cheat on them. Mt 5.32 There’s a significant difference between promising God, who never goes back on his word; and promising humans, who regularly do.

So if your church mistreats you—and in so doing, defies God—you’ve been cheated on. You can divorce your church. Insisting you can’t, or that you must only do it on your church’s terms, is just more mistreatment. All of it manmade. None of it biblical.

14 August 2017

The subtler type of racism.

We’ll catch, and oppose, the more obvious forms of racism. The subtle sort tends to slide.

Once again I bumped into an odd phenomenon; one I briefly mentioned in my article on white Jesus. In short, it’s racism; the type people tend to get away with because it’s subtle.

But first, a big long bit of backstory.


Robert E. Lee, 1863. Wikipedia

Robert Edward Lee was the commanding general of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the United States Civil War. (The army started burying soldiers on Lee’s front lawn during the war, as a way to stick it to him; it’s now Arlington National Cemetery.) He was one of the better generals in the war… and arguably it’s because he was such an effective general that the war lasted way longer, and killed more, than it ever should have.

Y’might be developing the idea I don’t think much of Lee, nor the reputation the American south has granted him in the 150 years since the Civil War. You’d be absolutely right.

When Lee joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the man swore to defend the Constitution of the United States. Yet he participated in armed rebellion, supporting a separatist nation whose primary reason for existence, as stated in their new state constitutions, was to perpetuate slavery. Southerners imagine Lee was a noble man, conflicted because he didn’t want to shatter the union his own wife’s grandfather had created. (Her grandfather? George Washington. Yes, that George Washington.) Even so, Lee couldn’t bring himself to fight his fellow Virginians. Or at least that’s how he justified his treason to himself, and plenty of southerners have perpetuated this myth.

Sound harsh? I’ve been accused of that. But even by standards of the day, Lee’s behavior is inexcusable. Washington had recognized the immorality of slavery and freed his own slaves. His adoptive son had freed some slaves, and his slaves also expected to be freed at his death, but that didn’t happen. Hence Lee held these hundreds of people in captivity, kept them in shacks on his land, worked them without pay, and had ’em flogged when they displeased him. As general, he permitted his troops to enslave any free blacks they encountered. And of course they killed American soldiers so they could continue these offensive practices. He never spent an hour in jail for it; he was graciously given amnesty. If anything I’m being generous too.

Southerners are slowly starting to come around to the fact Lee is an embarrassing part of their history, and not someone to be celebrated. The reason it’s so slow? The white supremacist movement.

From the end of the war till 1877, white supremacists were suppressed by the army. That ended after the Republicans stole the 1876 presidential election. Seriously. Back then the Republicans were liberal and the Democrats conservative; the Republicans were the equal-rights party and the Democrats were super racist. (From the 1930s to ’70s, they gradually traded worldviews. Still a lot of non-racists among the Republicans, but after Democrats passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, many of the “Dixiecrats” joined the Republicans and brought their toxic views with them.) Democrat Samuel J. Tilden had unexpectedly won both the electoral and the popular vote, and Republicans were horrified. So they struck a deal: If the Democrats conceded the election to Rutherford Hayes, the Republicans would pull the army out of the south, and whatever happened thereafter, happened. What happened was a useless one-term president, and southern Democrats creating racist “Jim Crow” laws which made life hell for southern blacks for a century. White supremacists repainted the Civil War as a noble but failed cause. That’s when all the pro-Confederacy idols cropped up. Yes of course it’s civic idolatry… Confederate style.


Idol of Lee on his horse Traveller, erected in Charlottesville in 1925. Wikipedia

Including the idol of Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was commissioned in 1917, built in 1925, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Back in April the city council decided to sell it, and rename Lee Park as Emancipation Park. White supremacists have been fighting this plan ever since. Including a big rally this past weekend at the University of Virginia campus, where one of the white supremacists ran a car into counter-protesters. Some of ’em were waving Nazi flags right alongside their Confederate flags. Nazis are another group white supremacists are trying to repaint as a noble but failed cause.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee had tweeted,

I don’t care for everything Huckabee tweets (I don’t share his sense of humor at all), but I liked this one so I shared it.

Didn’t take long before I got these two responses:

  • “[It’s wrong] for ANY race to think they are superior to another. There are racists on both sides.”
  • “No worse than black racism. Racism is racism. There no runner-up prize.”

And someone who tried to pivot to a discussion of black people’s sins. See, when you can’t defend your own behavior, deflect as best you can.

09 August 2017

Criticism and self-promotion destroys. Humility restores.

Plus how “Christian businesses” aren’t really.

James 4.11-17.

Continuing on his whole theme of pride and its destructiveness, James went after those Christians who took it upon themselves to critique and condemn others, and those Christians who exaggerate their big plans which ultimately aren’t gonna come to anything.

Starting with the bit about badmouthing Christians. You know the type. Every church has ’em. Sometimes they’re even in leadership.

James 4.11-12 KWL
11 Don’t badmouth one another, fellow Christians.
One who badmouths or criticizes a fellow Christian, badmouths and criticizes the Law.
If you criticize the Law, you aren’t a doer of the Law, but a critic.
12 Only one is the Law-giver and critic, with power to save and destroy.
Who are you to be your neighbor’s critic?

This passage confuses people because of the different ways we interpret katalaleíte/“you all speak evil.” After all there’s many ways to speak negatively. Might be minor nitpicking (“Her pasta sauce is bland”) or gossip (“Her husband’s banging the nanny”) or full-on condemnation (“She’s a liar”). There are lots of ways to speak negatively.

Most of the time I hear this passage used to rebuke gossips. But considering the context—James went straight to talking about the Law—it clearly doesn’t mean minor badmouthing. It’s the full-on condemnation. The stuff where Christians are accusing one another of sin. And not following the process Jesus outlined, Mt 25.15-20 but trying to work the court of public opinion. Good old-fashioned backstabbing.

Part of the problem with how people interpret this passage has to do with dispensationalism: The belief the Law used to be how God saved people, but thanks to Jesus we’re saved by grace, and therefore the Law no longer counts. So much wrong with that idea: God always saved people by grace, and the Law didn’t save anyone, but was granted to a saved people to show ’em how now to live. Yes, Jesus fulfilled large parts of the Law, but as anyone who knows their 10 commandments can tell you, plenty of it still applies. The Law still defines right and wrong.

If you think the Law no longer counts, you won’t see the problem with badmouthing and criticizing the Law. Heck, you’re already doing it yourself. And James’s instruction will go right over your head. You will—as many a Christian has—skip the Law parts, and figure it’s only about saying mean things. Stop backbiting, Christians!

08 August 2017

Pride and coveting destroys. Humility restores.

Our lifestyle should reflect wisdom from above, not covetousness from within.

James 4.1-10.

At the end of chapter 3 of his letter, James was making the point zeal and argumentativeness don’t come from God.

James 3.14-18 KWL
14 If you have bitter zeal and populism in your minds, don’t downplay and lie about the truth:
15 This “wisdom” doesn’t come down from above—but from nature, the mind, or demons.
16 Where there’s zeal and argumentativeness, there’s chaos and petty plans.
17 Wisdom from above, first of all, is religious. Then peaceful.
Reasonable. Convincing. Full of mercy and good fruit. Not judgmental. Not hypocrisy.
18 Righteous fruit is sown by peace, and harvests peace.

Just because Christians split this teaching into separate chapters, doesn’t mean James was done with his idea. That’s the context for the next 10 verses. Righteous fruit is sown by peace… and wars and battles don’t come from the same place. They don’t come from above.

James 4.1-4 KWL
1 Where do the wars and battles all of you have, come from? Not there!
They come out of your hedonism, the “field experience” of your limbs.
2 You all covet, and don’t have. You murder, act in zeal, yet you’re powerless to achieve it.
You fight and wage war, yet don’t have—because you don’t ask.
3 You ask, yet don’t receive because you ask for evil!
—so you might spend it on your hedonism.
4 Adultresses! Haven’t you known friendship with the world is enmity with God?
So whoever wants to be a friend of the world, is rendered God’s foe.

As leader of the Jerusalem Christians, James naturally had to deal with all their fights and spats. No doubt some of ’em escalated into violent physical confrontations, ’cause “eye for eye” and all that. With his experience, James knew precisely what sparked the bulk of these fights: People wanted their own way. They hadn’t submitted to God. (They sure wouldn’t submit to one another.) They had their own ideas how things should be, who should answer to whom, and what God “owes” us.

Even Christians who should know better, try to get away with this. Years ago my pastor bought a luxury car, and spent the bulk of a sermon trying to explain God permitted him this extravagance. It was a pretty pathetic defense. It was little better than what we hear in Prosperity Gospel churches—how God wants his kids to have the best of everything, so what’s wrong with a little mammonism? Years later the pastor gave his car away; that defended his purchase far better than his sermon ever did.

But my point, and James’s, is that our idonón/“hedonism” (KJV “lusts”) are our real motives for our behavior. Not wisdom from above. Jm 3.15-17 ’Tain’t from above; more like below.

07 August 2017

Swiping my words.

Christians play really fast and loose with plagiarism.

Years ago I taught junior high. Various subjects: History, literature, grammar, science, bible, algebra. Sometimes ’cause the other teachers weren’t up to teaching those subjects; sometimes despite the fact they really wanted to teach those subjects, but I’m more qualified. (That’s a story for another time.) Anyway, I made the kids write. A lot.

Often in class: I’d give ’em an assignment which needed to be completed during classtime. I had an ulterior motive, which they didn’t always suspect: I wanted to learn how they wrote. Partly to work on improving it… and partly to catch ’em when they plagiarized.

’Cause time would come when they had to write reports. And when they did, I’d seen enough of their writing to immediately detect whether they wrote it personally, or not. I mean, it’s fairly obvious when they lift entire paragraphs from the encyclopedia; suddenly they were writing at a collegiate level, with vocabulary words I knew they didn’t know. But the internet has all sorts of writing styles.

Some of the dimmer bulbs in my classroom didn’t really try all that hard to disguise their plagiarism. They’d cut and paste directly from the website. Wouldn’t bother to change the font. Wouldn’t even bother to get rid of the hyperlinks. I kid you not: They’d turn in papers with blue underlined links to other webpages.

When I was in junior high, the teachers went a little too easy on you: Plagiarism would get you knocked down a grade or two. In high school you’d automatically get an F. I figured my kids oughta learn this lesson early, before it ruined their high school grade point averages: I also adopted a zero-tolerance policy. Plagiarism meant an F. I’d let kids redo their papers for better grades, but once you plagiarized, you were stuck with that F. No exceptions.

Now when I handed the graded papers back to the kids, I’d usually put ’em on their desks myself, and face-down. ’Cause it’s nobody else’s business what grade they got. Unless of course they made it everyone’s business… as one of ’em once did in one of my science classes. Loud enough for all to hear: “Hey, what’d I get an F for? I worked hard on that paper! Why’d you give me an F?”

Oh so we’re gonna have this discussion in front of everybody? Very well then.

Me. “You got it for plagiarism. You didn’t work hard on that paper. You cut and pasted from the internet.”
She. “I did not.”
Me. “Oh come on. You didn’t even get rid of the blue underlined links. It says on your paper, ‘Click on the link to see the animation.’ What am I supposed to click on?”
Rest of classroom. [hilarity]
Me. [miming trying to click on a sheet of paper] “Doesn’t work.”
She. [getting redder and redder]
Rest of classroom. [more laughter]
Me. “Don’t tell me it wasn’t cut and pasted.”

And I dropped it and changed the subject.

Yeah, I’d have fun with the kids when they tried to pull a fast one. Well, it was no fun for them. But they had no idea I’d done worse when I was their age. Kids rarely recognize teachers were once their age, and tried the same stunts they had. Or that years of previous students had tried such things too. I knew exactly how to catch the kids who never thought they’d get caught. I know I didn’t catch all of them—I let a few of ’em slide, ’cause you gotta pick your battles.

But plagiarism was definitely a battle. ’Cause it’s such an easy thing to avoid: Credit your source! Put the statement in quotes, and say who said it.

Back in high school I once wrote a science paper which was almost entirely quotes. I went to the library, wrote a few dozen quotes from three different astronomy books onto index cards, sorted them into a fairly coherent order, and the few parts I personally wrote were only there to link the quotes together. I barely wrote anything. But I followed the rules: I didn’t plagiarize, and named my sources. Got an A. I told kids all the time: The rules are easy. But kids’d break ’em anyway.

Years later, in grad school, I was working on a paper (or blogging; don’t remember; either way writing was going on). One of my hallmates, an undergrad, angrily slammed his door and stormed down the hallway.

Me. “What’s wrong?”
He. “Got an F on my [incestuous participle] history paper. The [same word] professor says I [his vocabulary wasn’t diverse] cheated.”
Me. “Did you?”
He. “No. I wrote the whole thing myself. I just quoted someone and didn’t give them credit.”
Me. “So, plagiarism.”
He. [look of “You’re on THEIR side”]

He disappeared from the school after that semester. I’m guessing he flunked out.

But here’s the problem: That’s just school. Once you graduate from high school, university, and graduate school, and go off into the “real world,” unless you’re in academics, journalism, politics, or publishing, nobody cares.

Yep. People plagiarize to their hearts’ content, and nobody calls ’em on it. That is, till they publish something which makes them rightly liable for a lawsuit. Then they might get sued or fired. But most of the time they totally get away with it.

Happens all the time among Christians, in the church. That’s who rips me off, anyway.

04 August 2017

Tongues and unfruitful minds.

Plus the unfruitful cessationist interpretations of this passage.

1 Corinthians 14.13-19.

This is a passage Christians like to quote. For different reasons.

For Pentecostals it’s to quote the apostles—specifically Paul—when they wrote, “I speak tongues more than all of you.” Then argue, “See? Paul did it. Why can’t we?” And then, more often than not, proceed to do it contrary to everything else Paul taught about building up the church.

For anti-Pentecostals, it’s to point to the statement, “Pray that you can interpret,” then loudly object, “People ought never speak in tongues tongues at church unless they follow up with an interpretation.” Then they proceed to ban even the tongues which might be followed up with interpretation, just to be on the safe side. If they’re full-bore cessationist, they’re pretty sure tongues are devilish anyway.

Well, let’s look at the passage in question.

1 Corinthians 14.13-19 KWL
13 So tongues-speakers: Pray that you can interpret.
14 When you pray tongues, your spirit prays. Your mind isn’t fruitful.
15 Why is this? I’ll pray by my spirit; I’ll pray by my mind.
I’ll sing by my spirit; I’ll sing by my mind.
16 For when you praise in your spirit, and the place is full of newbies,
how will they say amen to your thanksgiving, since they don’t know what you said?
17 You did give thanks properly, but others weren’t built up.
18 I thank God—and I speak tongues more than all of you.
19 But in church, I want five words in my mind to speak so I can also instruct others.
(That, or tens of thousands of words in tongues.)

Yes, my translation reads a little different than others you might’ve read. That’s because we have different biases. When others translate this passage, they imagine the apostles were contrasting. To them this passage is about speaking tongues versus speaking ancient Greek—or English, or Spanish, or whatever the locals speak.

That’s not at all my attitude, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the apostles’ attitude either. They spoke tongues; they never forbade it; they ordered the Corinthians to not forbid it either. 1Co 14.19 The issue wasn’t tongues versus no tongues; it was proper versus improper. It was using tongues for personal worship, not group worship, nor to create a “spiritual” atmosphere.

If you’re convinced the apostles were trying to contrast between tongues and no tongues, it’s really easy to make it sound that way by slanting your translation. First of all, the word de/“and.” Ancient Greek used it to connect sentences which had a common theme, much like today’s English uses paragraphs. When you translate, you can drop every de entirely; it shouldn’t change the meaning of the translation any. But when you translate de as “but,” like the KJV and many other translations, you’ve introduced a contrast which isn’t in the original text. And here’s what you get. (I highlighted every word in the passage which translates de.)

1 Corinthians 14.13-15 NIV
13 For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.

Plus if you translate i/“or” as “than,” you get:

1 Corinthians 14.19 NIV
But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Those four little words make four big differences, ’cause now people have the idea tongues are negative and undesirable—that in our churches, people should speak English only.

Bias, man. It’s a sneaky little critter.

03 August 2017

Killing false prophets: Wanna bring it back?

Fake prophets can be really destructive. But killing them is the easy way out.

When the LORD explained to Moses how his prophets were gonna work, he wasn’t messing around.

Deuteronomy 18.17-22 KWL
17 “The LORD told me, ‘What they say is correct, 18 so I’m raising up prophets for them—
from among their family, like you, and I put my words in their mouth.
They speak to the people everything I command them.
19 When anyone doesn’t listen to my words which my prophet speaks in my name,
I myself demand accountability from that person.
20 However, the prophet who presumes to speak in my name what I’ve not commanded them to speak,
or what was spoken in the name of other gods: This prophet dies.
21 When you say in your heart, “How can we identify a word which wasn’t spoken by the LORD?”:
22 When the prophet speaks in the LORD’s name, and it’s not my word—
it’s not something the LORD’s spoken; it won’t come to anything.
The prophet spoke it in pride. Don’t fear them.’ ”

True, we don’t execute false prophets anymore. Not because, as some dispensationalists would put it, we don’t live under the Law anymore; we live under grace. (And that grace apparently extends to con artists and manipulative people who’d convince you they’re true prophets, then proceed to ruin your lives and rob you blind.)

Nope, it’s because of separation of church and state. The government isn’t to interfere with any religion, including the fake stuff. As history has proven time and again, when it comes to religion, governments and politicians can’t be trusted to determine what’s real and what’s fake. To keep ’em from persecuting and destroying true religion, we have to self-police the frauds. But lest we go overboard ourselves, it means we don’t have the power to execute ’em.

Where does that leave us? Well, when they’re fraudulent in the area of prophecy, they’re frequently fraudulent in many other areas of their lives. Including areas where our governments can criminally prosecute them. The state can get ’em for fraud; the feds can get ’em for tax evasion.

And when they haven’t crossed that line, but are obviously fake prophets, Christians need to stop giving them free passes, nor covering up for their misdeeds. We’re supposed to expose such misdeeds. Ep 5.11-14 Broadcast far and wide that these fakes can’t be trusted; that they’re poison and cancer to our churches; that they ruin our Christian sisters and brothers for their own gain, drive some of ’em away from the church or even Jesus, and give pagans an excuse to mock us. Our tolerance level for fakes should be way lower than it is.

I know; Christians are supposed to do grace, like our Father. That’s why we’re to personally forgive these frauds when they wrong us. Be kind and loving to them. But put them into positions of authority thereafter? As far as leadership is concerned, that’s where we need to treat them as if they’re dead. They need to be “killed” from any list of potential leaders we might have: Power corrupts ’em too easily, and isn’t safe in their hands.

02 August 2017

Connect-the-dots interpretation: Stop that.

Just because your brain sees a connection, doesn’t mean it’s real.

Your brain is designed to recognize patterns.

It’s how the brain stores data. It takes a memory, breaks it down into “what I know already” and “what’s new,” stores what’s new, and stores links to the memories we know already. And they don’t have to precisely be memories we know already; just stuff that’s close enough. If it sees a similarity, or pattern, in what we experience, that’s close enough.

That’s how we pack 50-plus years of experiences into a 100-terabyte brain. And explains why some of our memories are kinda sloppy: Our brains were pattern-matching things which weren’t accurate matches.

Our brains pattern-match inaccurate things all the time. Sometimes for fun: Ever played the game of “What does that cloud look like?” Or had to put up with your mom insisting that so-and-so looks like some celebrity, but you can’t see it at all? Or been startled by a shadow which kinda looked like a stranger was in your house, but turns out it wasn’t?

Psychologists call this tendency apophenia: Your brain’s making a connection which isn’t really there. Happens all the time, and a lot of the time we realize this and are amused by it.


This person is pretty sure the word “love” is written in his cat’s fur. I see more of an “HXICVW,” but you know how people tend to see what they wanna see. Reddit

But other times we’re deliberately looking for connections. Like detectives trying to solve a case, like mathematicians looking for a statistical trend, like gamblers looking for a lucky streak, like conspiracy theorists searching for a cover-up. They wanna find a connection so bad, they’ll jump right on top of anything. Including all the bad matches our brain makes.

Yep, we Christians do it too. When we want a sign from God badly enough, we’ll settle for anything; we won’t even bother to confirm it. Or when we’re scouring the bible for truths and revelations, and find coincidences… and if we wrongly believe nothing is meaningless, we’ll insist these can’t be coincidences; they’re revelations!

Happens all the time. Generates a whole lot of really bad bible interpretations. So it’s something I gotta warn you about, lest you stumble into this trap yourself. Or be led into it by an overzealous preacher.

End Times preachers in particular; many of ’em are just the right combination of conspiracy theorist and connect-the-dots misinterpreter.

01 August 2017

The Almighty our defender.

This psalm isn’t necessarily about you, y’know.

Yoshév b’setér Elyón/“Seated in the secret [place] of the Highest,” (Latin Qui habitat) is our 91st psalm. It’s often called the Psalm of Protection, ’cause it talks about how the LORD will protect “you.”

Who’s the “you”? Actually that’d be the king. This is a messianic psalm, addressed to (and possibly written by) Israel’s king. This fact isn’t obvious; the psalm never bluntly says it. Hence loads of Christians figure they’re the “you,” apply it to themselves, and take a lot of comfort in the idea God’ll deliver us from our every foe.

Problem is, God never promised us any such thing. On the contrary: Jesus promised us we’d suffer. Jn 16.33 So to claim Yoshév b’setér Elyón for ourselves is not only taking the bible out of context, but setting ourselves up for huge disappointment when it inevitably won’t come true that way.

Yeah, my translation rhymes. Went with trochaic octameter.

Psalm 91 KWL
1 Seated in the Highest’s secret, seated in Almighty’s shadow,
2 tell the LORD, “You are my refuge and my fortress—God, I trust you.”
3 For he frees you from the fowler’s traps, from pestilence, destruction.
4 With his pinions you he covers. Under wing you find protection.
His truth is your shield and buckler 5 from the arrow’s daily flight.
His truth is your strong defense, so do not fear the dread of night.
6 Pestilence which walks in darkness, ruin at noon devastates—
7 thousands at your side and right may fall—but round you, it abates.
8 Only with your eyes you look, and see the wicked get their due.
9 The LORD God’s your refuge, and the Most High is a home to you.
10 Evil gets cut off from you. Inside your tent, plague is expelled.
11 For his angels, God commands to watch you, all your ways surveilled.
12 Lest you strike your foot on rocks, by hand they lift you in protection.
13 Step on lion, cobra; trample cub—and dragon!—his discretion.
14 “Since they love me, know my name, I rescue them and grant them safety.
15 They call; they I answer. I’m with them in all their difficulty.
I deliver them, and honor them, 16 and fill with days sufficient.
I will show them my salvation,” says with grace the LORD omniscient.

28 July 2017

The king’s English.

How to properly speak in Elizabethan English.

A lot of Christians—myself included—are big fans of the King James Version of the bible. A lot of ’em even worship the KJV, but let’s not go there today.

When I was a kid I memorized a lot of verses in this particular translation. As I got older my churches and AWANA preferred the New International Version, so I’ve got a hodgepodge of translations in my brain. But I like the KJV, and still quote it regularly. Often because I prefer the way they translated a verse; often because I like the old-timey English. To a lot of people it sounds formal and authoritative. I just think it sounds cool.

The KJV was first published in 1611, but the language it uses was old-timey even then. It’s English as it was spoken in the 1500s; arguably even the 1400s. Some verses are no different from the way William Tyndale originally translated the New Testament in 1525. They weren’t striving for English as it was spoken—unlike modern translators like me. They were striving for formal, historical, classical English. Problem is, language evolves. English especially. In the four centuries since the KJV was published, some of those words significantly changed meaning. That’s part of the reason we need to retranslate the bible on a regular basis: The scriptures never need updating, but the English definitely does.

Still, many Christians love the Elizabethan-era English—the stuff I call “the king’s English”—in the King James. And sometimes try to use it themselves. Like in prayers: They love to pray King James style. Makes it sound formal. So whenever they address God, it’s all “thee” and “thou.”

Three problems with the way they do this:

  • They barely know the current rules of grammar, so of course they Darn straight they mangle the Elizabethan rules. They get the pronouns and verbs wrong all the time.
  • They think “thou” is the formal way of saying the familiar “you.” It’s actually the other way round. “Thou” was how you addressed friends and family; “you” was how you addressed nobles and superiors. Just like French’s tu and vous, or Spanish’s tu and usted. Regardless, it’s entirely proper to address God with the familiar “thou.” He’s our Father, remember?
  • Speaking of tu in Spanish and French: That’s actually the proper way people in 1611 pronounced “thou.” It rhymes with “you.”

I should point out the KJV doesn’t actually do formal address. Read it again: Everybody gets addressed as “thou.” Slaves and kings, employees and bosses, prophets and pagans, God and the devil: Everybody gets the same pronoun. “You” is only used for plurals. The KJV never bothered to use formal pronouns, because there’s no such thing as a formal pronoun in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

Technically, English ditched the informal pronoun and addresses everyone formally. Kinda as a compliment; like how “ladies and gentlemen” addresses everybody, not just nobles. “Thee,” “thou,” and “thy” faded out of use; even Quakers (who used to address everybody with familiar pronouns, because we’re all equal in God’s eyes—which used to really bug nobles) don’t bother to use “thee” and “thou” anymore. The formal pronoun became our only pronoun.

But since old-timey prayers and psalms address God as “thou,” Christians leapt to the conclusion that’s special language for how to address God, and thus the formal and informal pronouns swapped places.

If you wanna still use “thou” to address God, of course he doesn’t mind. And if you wanna speak the rest of your king’s English properly… well, you’ve come to the right place.

27 July 2017

Jesus is returning. Sooner than you think.

If not for everyone, at least for you personally.

Immediacy /ɪ'mi.di.ə.si/ n. Bringing one into direct, instant involvement with something. (Usually including a sense of urgency or excitement.)
2. Christian doctrine that Christ Jesus is returning at any time.
[Immediacist /ɪ'mi.di.ə.sɪst/ adj.]

I don’t know when Jesus will return.

Neither do you. Neither does anyone. Neither did Jesus, Mk 13.32 although some Christians are mighty sure he found out after he ascended to heaven. And occasionally some nutjob will claim the Father told them when it’s gonna happen, and use the occasion to whip gullible Christians into a frenzy, and get ’em to join their death cult or something. All of them have been, and will be, lying. Because Jesus said that info is none of our business. Ac 1.7

But we do know Jesus is coming back. It’s part of orthodox Christianity, y’know. Like the Apostles Creed has it, “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Technically any Christian who thinks Jesus isn’t returning is a heretic. Doesn’t mean they’re going to hell; just means they’ve gone wrong.

A big part of knowing Jesus is coming back, is knowing he can return at any time. And if we’re not watching for it, he’ll return at a time we don’t expect him at all. That’s why he warned us to stay awake and watch for it. Mk 13.37 Don’t let him take you by surprise!

Luke 12.35-48 KWL
35 “Be people whose toolbelts are on, whose lamps are burning.
36 You should be like people waiting for their own master when he returns from weddings:
He arrives, knocks, and they can quickly unlock the door for him.
37 These slaves are awesome. The returning master will find them alert.
Amen, I promise you the master will put on a towel and have them recline to eat,
and he’ll come in to serve them.
38 Even at the second hour after sunrise, even at the third, he can come and find them ready.
These slaves are awesome.
39 You should know: If the homeowner knew what time the burglar came,
he’d never permit him to break into his house.
40 You be ready: The Son of Man comes at the time you don’t expect.”
41 Simon Peter said, “Master, are you saying this parable for us or for everyone?”
42 Master Jesus said, It’s to whoever’s a faithful, wise butler.
The master puts the butler over his waiters, giving them their trays at the right times.
43 This slave is awesome when the master, coming to the butler, will find them doing this job.
44 I tell you the truth: The master will put the butler in charge of everything.
45 But when this slave says in their mind, ‘My master delays in coming,’
and might start beating the boys and girls, or eating, drinking, and getting drunk,
46 that slave’s master will come on a day they don’t expect, at a time they don’t know,
and will cut them down to size, and assign them a position with the unreliable slaves.
47 That slave who knew their master’s will, and didn’t prepare, nor do his will: They’ll get skinned.
48 The one who didn’t know, who did what deserved a smack: They’ll get skinned a little.
To everyone who’s given much, much is sought from them.
To those with much set before them, more will be asked back.”

Much of the reason Jesus hasn’t returned yet, is because he’s giving the world a chance to repent before he returns. 2Pe 3.9 Take advantage of this time: Get right with God. Because once Jesus does return, time’s up. 2Pe 3.10

26 July 2017

The rosary: Meditation… oh, and prayers to Mary.

Why you don’t see a lot of Protestants pray rosaries.

A reader asked me about rosaries. I gotta admit I don’t have a lot of experience with ’em, ’cause it’s a Roman Catholic tradition—and I grew up Fundamentalist, and Fundies are hugely anti-Catholic. Many Evangelical Protestants are wary of Catholics too; either way they don’t do rosaries.

A rosary is a super-long series of rote prayers. How you keep track of which prayer you’re on, is usually with a strand of rosary beads. (People tend to refer to the beads as the rosary, but that’s not quite accurate.) Anyway, you pray a different prayer, or sequence of prayers, for each bead.

The reason Protestants aren’t so familiar with rosaries, is because the bulk of the prayers are to Jesus’s mother, Mary the Nazarene. The most frequent prayer in a rosary, prayed from 50 to 150 times, is the Ave Maria/“Hail Mary.” Goes like so.

Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee. Lk 1.28
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Lk 1.42
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
Amen.

Whereas few Protestants pray to saints. Yeah okay, some of us talk to dead loved ones, and hope God passes our messages along to them. But to Jesus’s family members and first apostles? Or the church’s official saints, whether ancient, medieval, or recent? Well, some Protestants are okay with it. The bulk of us chafe at the idea.

There are different rosaries, meaning different sequences of rote prayers. Here’s a common rosary:

  • First the Paternoster/“Our Father,” a.ka. the Lord’s Prayer.
  • Then the Gloria/“Glory Be.”
  • Then 10 Ave Marias.
  • Repeat 15 times.

And some Catholics won’t just pray one rosary in a stretch. They’ll pray two. Or five.

Why on earth are they praying hundreds of prayers in one sitting? Meditation. You don’t just recite the prayers while your mind remains unfruitful; you think about Jesus. Think about the scriptures. Pray silently with your mind, like you do when you’re praying in tongues.

If you’ve heard of “the mysteries of the rosary,” no they’re not weird secrets about how rosaries work, nor weird revelations you get when you recite ’em. The mysteries are simply things you meditate on while you’re going through a rosary. Like Jesus’s annunciation, or when Mary visited Elizabeth, or Jesus’s birth—these are called “joyful mysteries” because they’re about Jesus’s first coming. The “sorrowful mysteries” are stories about Jesus’s death, the “luminous mysteries” are teachings about Jesus being the world’s light, and the “glorious mysteries” are about Jesus’s ascension and establishing his kingdom (and yes, about Mary going to heaven too). It’s all good stuff to meditate on.

As you might notice, the prayers to Mary are a huge roadblock to Protestants. That’s why the rosary remains largely a Catholic practice. Other Christians also use prayer beads or prayer ropes, meditate, and pray decades of rote prayers… but not to Mary. They’ll pray the Jesus prayer, the Lord’s prayer, or some other rote prayer that’s addressed to God. Not a saint. Not even the very best saint, like Mary.

25 July 2017

The Four Seeds story.

So which soil do you figure you are?

Mark 4.1-9, 4.13-20 • Matthew 13.1-9, 13.18-23 • Luke 5.1-3, 8.5-8, 8.11-15

You’d think this particular parable would be super easy to interpret, since Jesus actually provided his students an interpretation after he told it. But never underestimate the ability of Christians who wanna weasel out of the implications of Jesus’s lessons.

The story is preceded by Jesus feeling the need to get a little bit of distance from the crowds who were swarming him. Since a number of his students were fishermen, he figured why not use this connection to his advantage?

Mark 4.1 KWL
Again Jesus went out to teach by the Galilee’s sea.
A large crowd gathered round him, so he entered a boat to sit in the sea,
The whole crowd at the sea were on the beach.
Matthew 13.1-2 KWL
1 That day, Jesus left the house and was sitting by the Galilee’s sea.
2 Large crowds gathered round him, so he entered a boat to sit in it.
The whole crowd was standing on the beach.
Luke 5.1-3 KWL
1 This happened when the crowds pressed on Jesus to listen to God’s word:
He was standing by Lake Kinneret, 2 and saw two boats run aground by the lake.
The fishermen had left them and were cleaning the nets.
3 Jesus entered one of the boats, which was Simon’s.
He asked Simon to put the boat out a little ways from the land.
Sitting in the boat, he taught the crowds.

Lake Kinneret, nowadays called Lake Tiberias, is a large lake (which is why the Galileans called it their “sea”) and the waves crashing on shore, even on a calm day, make a whole lot of noise. Jesus would’ve had to shout to be heard over them. Still, he must’ve figured this was preferable to getting crowded.

Between the surf noises and the fact Jesus didn’t explain his analogy, a number of ’em likely didn’t catch what Jesus meant by this parable. Namely that it’s about them.

Mark 4.2-9 KWL
2 Jesus taught them many things in parables, and told them in his lesson,
3 “Listen. Look, a planter came forth planting. 4 While planting, this happened:
One of the seeds fell by the road, and birds came and devoured it.
5 Another fell by rocks where it hadn’t much earth,
quickly sprang up because it had no depth of earth,
6 and once the sun rose it was scorched,
and because it had no root it was dried up.
7 Another fell in the thorns, and the thorns rose up and choked it.
It produced no fruit.
8 Another fell on good earth and was producing fruit—
rising, growing, bearing 30, 60, and 100 fruits.”
9 Jesus said, “Who has listening ears? Listen!”
Matthew 13.3-9 KWL
3 Jesus told them many things in parables, saying,
“Look, a planter came forth at the time of planting, 4 and during this planting
one of the seeds fell by the road, and the coming birds devoured it.
5 Another fell by rocks where it hadn’t much earth
and quickly sprang up because it had no depth of earth.
6 It was scorched by the rising sun,
and because it had no root it was dried up.
7 Another fell in the thorns, and the thorns rose up and choked it.
8 Another fell on good earth and was producing fruit—
one 100 fruits, one 60, one 30.
9 Listen, you who have ears!”
Luke 8.4-8 KWL
4 With the great crowds with him, traveling to him from the city,
Jesus said by a parable, 5 “At the time of planting, a planter came out with his seed.
During his planting, one of the seeds fell by the road and was trampled,
and birds of the air devoured it.
6 Another fell down in the rocks,
and as it grew it was dried up because it had no moisture.
7 Another fell in the middle of thorns,
and the thorns, growing up with it, choked it.
8 Another fell on good earth, and as it grew it produced 100 times the fruit.”
Saying this, Jesus shouted, “Listen, you who have listening ears!”

And if you also have listening ears, you’ll realize it’s just as much about you.

24 July 2017

TXAB’s spoiler policy.

In case you’re annoyed ’cause I spoiled something.

When you’re introducing your kids to the Star Wars movies, do try not to show ’em Episode III before Empire Strikes Back.

Not that a lot of parents in my circle do, ’cause Episode III is rated PG-13, and a lot of ’em take that rating very seriously. ’Cause—and here the spoilers begin—horrific third-degree burns, y’know. But if parents do show their kids Episode III before Episode VI, it means the children are gonna find out Vader’s the father of two protagonists of the ’70s films, Episodes IV through IV. And it’s gonna kill any surprised reaction they might have when Vader finally declares, “No, I am your father.”

It’s also gonna make the kids say Ewwwww! every time Luke and Leia kiss. And not just for the usual reasons kids are grossed out by public displays of affection: For the very same reasons I say Ewwwww when they make out. Yeah right George Lucas knew their backstory all along.

Star Wars nerds tend to recommend watching ’em in the order of the original Star Wars movie first (which later got renamed Episode IV: A New Hope), then Empire, then I to III (and some of ’em point out you can easily skip the kinda-slow Episode I: The Phantom Midichlorians), then Return of the Jedi. This way the kids build up a smidgen of sympathy for Annakin/Vader before Return, because if all they see are the ’70s movies, they’re gonna think, “Why on earth does Luke think he can reform him?”

And then expose ’em to The Force Awakens, and all its sequels. And the stand-alones, the TV shows, and the Holiday Special.

The bonkers thing is when I mention the whole “Who’s your daddy?” deal to people, and they immediately respond, “Dude, don’t spoil Star Wars for me.”

Um… these are 40-year-old movies. If you’re over the age of 13 and haven’t seen ’em yet, that’s on you.

I admit I myself don’t worry much about spoilers. If somebody lets slip how a movie ends, oh well. I don’t like surprises, so sometimes I’ll actually go find out a movie’s ending before I see it. Fr’instance when Batman v. Superman: Dawn of the Marthas came out, I heard some people complain it wasn’t very good; at least not in comparison with previous Superman and Batman movies. I wanted to know why, so I popped over to its Wikipedia page and read the plot. And Wikipedia gives away endings. True, there were a few surprises the director and producers wanted me to see in the theater, but tough: I wanted to know about ’em now.

Does doing this ruin the movie for me? Nah. People re-watch good movies all the time. Despite knowing the endings, because they’re good movies. If Batman v. Superman sounded any good, regardless of my knowing the ending in advance, I’d go see it anyway. But after the Wikipedia summary, I decided to skip the theater and watch it on home video. Wound up seeing the “extended edition,” which was 3 hours 2 minutes instead of the theatrical 2:21. It was okay. Still not happy Batman kills people in it: Trying to avoid guns and killing is kinda the one thing Batman’s known for. But the producers decided “Meh,” so now the Batmobile has machine guns. Meh.

Not that I blog about movies all that often. But I figure I may as well preemptively spell out my spoiler policy. So if you bellyache about my spoiling anything in future, I’ll refer you to this rant.

21 July 2017

Mary the Magdalene, apostle to the apostles.

The myths (and sexism) behind the first person to see our risen Lord.

22 July is the feast day of Mary the Magdalene, whom we also call Mary of Magdala. She’s the woman who shows up in all the resurrection stories, ’cause she’s the very first person Jesus appeared to after he was raised from the dead.

John 20.10-18 KWL
10 Then the students went away again, to their people,
11 and Mary stood outside the tomb, mourning.
As she mourned, she then bent down into the tomb, 12 and saw two angels in white,
one sitting at the head, one at the feet, where Jesus’s body was placed.
13 They told her, “Ma’am, why do you mourn?”
She told them this: “They took my Master away, and I don’t know where they put him.”
14 Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing—and didn’t know it was Jesus.
15 Jesus told her, “Ma’am, why do you mourn? Whom are you looking for?”
Figuring he was the groundskeeper, she told him, “Master, if you took him away,
tell me where you put him, and I’ll take him away.”
16 Jesus told her, “Mary.”
She turned and told him, “Rabbani!” (i.e. “teacher”).
17 Jesus told her, “Don’t clutch me. I’ve not gone up to my Father yet.
Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and yours; to my God and yours.’ ”
18 Mary the Magdalene came and told the students she’d seen the Master,
and he’d said these things to her.

Two of Jesus’s students, Simon Peter and John, had checked out the tomb, saw nothing, and left. Jn 20.3-10 But Mary stuck around and had a Jesus-sighting. And he sent her to his students and family: “Go to my brothers and tell them…” Jn 20.17 which she did. Jn 20.18 They should’ve known Mary’s character enough to accept her testimony.

Should’ve; didn’t. Because nobody expected Jesus to rise from the dead before the End Times. The 11 apostles wouldn’t believe the women saw Jesus, Lk 24.11 and Thomas wouldn’t even believe the other 10 after they saw Jesus themselves. Jn 20.24-25 So if you think the problem was sexism, there might’ve been a little bit of that in there. More so it was just how unbelievable the idea was.

Every so often, I hear a Christian preacher say it was totally sexism. Often they’ll do it in a way which exposes their own sexism. I’ve heard preachers claim in Jesus’s day, women’s testimony was inadmissible because women get hysterical, irrational, and are inherently untrustworthy. (God help those preachers’ wives and daughters.)

It’s bunk, because these preachers don’t know the Law. In patriarchal societies, women are subject to their patriarch—their husband or father or male relative who’s in charge of them. This man was granted the right to overturn or nullify his women’s vows. Nu 30 But this made it impossible for women to testify in court. Not because women aren’t trustworthy, but because their men could cancel out their testimony.

I’m not sure whether Paul had that idea in mind when he and Sosthenes listed 500-plus folks who saw the resurrected Jesus, 1Co 15.3-8 and didn’t include the women. Mt 28.9-10 We figure this list was originally composed and recited in the middle east, where Judeans had an issue with women’s testimony. Corinthians didn’t, so there was no reason to still skip the women.

Judean courts aside, Mary was as reputable as any student, and the students should’ve believed her, if anyone. Still, this isn’t the only time Mary’s been misinterpreted due to sexism.

20 July 2017

Touch not the Lord’s anointed.

When leaders try to evade accountability by the very verse which makes ’em accountable.

1 Chronicles 16.22, Psalm 105.15

Today’s out-of-context scripture is found in two places in the bible, ’cause either Chronicles is quoting Psalms or vice-versa. (Hard to tell, since they were written round the same time.) To get the full effect, you gotta quote it in the King James Version.

1 Chronicles 16.22, Psalm 105.15 KJV
Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.

The way it’s typically quoted is in the third-person form of “Touch not the LORD’s anointed!” But it doesn’t take that form in the bible.

I’ve seldom heard preachers quote it. More often I’ve heard it from people in church leadership, or people who are defending church leadership. Usually it’s to discourage us from questioning, critiquing, condemning, or otherwise interfering with those leaders. ’Cause they were anointed by the LORD—and look, it says right there in the bible you’re not to touch the LORD’s anointed.

It was written by King David ben Jesse, and you remember how he could’ve totally killed the insane King Saul ben Kish time and again? But he wouldn’t dare, ’cause Saul was the LORD’s anointed?

I should remind you the word which gets translated “anointed” is mešíakh/“Messiah”—one of the king’s titles, so I translated it appropriately. (I would hope you’re not using the title Messiah for anyone in your church leadership but Jesus.)

1 Samuel 24.4-7 KWL
4 David’s men told him, “Look, it’s the day the LORD told you of!—
‘Look, I put your enemy into your hand. Do whatever pleases your eye.’ ”
So David rose up and secretly cut the corner of Saul’s robe off.
5 Afterward, David’s heart struck him over this—that he cut off a corner of something of Saul.
6 He told his men, “By the LORD, I should never have done this thing to my master, the LORD’s Messiah;
to raise my hand to him, because he’s the LORD’s Messiah.”
7 David persuaded his men with such words and didn’t let them confront Saul.
Saul rose from the cave and walked to the road.

Yeah, it’s totally weird thinking of Saul as a Messiah, huh? Just goes to show you how much Jesus has redeemed that title.

David wouldn’t dare another time:

1 Samuel 26.8-9 KWL
8 Avišai told David, “God placed your enemy in your fist today! Now please—
I can smite him to the ground with a spear in one heartbeat. I needn’t repeat it.”
9 David told Avišai, “Don’t destroy him.
Who can raise their hand to the LORD’s Messiah and be clean?”

Get the point? Even though Saul was an absolute beast of a man towards the innocent David, he was still God’s anointed king. David had no business killing him—or even overthrowing him, or doing anything other than remaining in exile to await his king’s death. Beast or not, Saul was still Messiah, and David was never gonna depose God’s anointed king. (Now, Saul’s successor Ishbaal was another deal; David never recognized him as Messiah.)

But once we incorrectly apply the idea of an anointed king to Christian leaders, you might notice it gives ’em a free pass to be just as bad as Saul. ’Cause “touch not the LORD’s anointed.”

Now way before I ever get to the proper context, I should point out how absolutely insane it is to use Saul as an example. For Saul was insane.

The scriptures describe Saul as plagued by evil spirits. We’d nowadays call the guy demonized. The critters were only driven away when other anointed ministers worked on him, like David with his music. 1Sa 16.23 So “Touch not the LORD’s anointed, ’cause Saul,” is effectively saying, “Even if Pastor’s possessed by Satan itself, he’s anointed, so leave him be!” It’s probably the stupidest defense in Christendom.

19 July 2017

The effectual fervent prayer… of an obnoxious person.

God expects us to get in his face sometimes.

Luke 11.5-8, 18.1-8

Right after teaching the Lord’s prayer, Jesus told the Friend at Midnight Story. Yeah, he meant it in context of prayer. Yeah, it’s an odd little story. Odd because the protagonist is so annoying. And Jesus presents this as if it’s a good thing.

Luke 11.5-8 KWL
5 Jesus told them, “Any of you will have a friend,
and go to him at midnight and tell him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves,
6 because a friend of mine came off the road to visit me,
and I have nothing I’ll give him to eat.’
7 At this point, he’d say from within in reply, ‘Don’t put your trouble on me.
The door was shut already. My kids are with me. We’re in bed. I can’t get up to give you a thing.’
8 But I tell you, if he’ll not give it, nor get up for the sake of being your friend…
actually, he’ll get up for the sake of your rudeness, and will give you as much as you need.”

Now use this story as an analogy for prayer. You’re the person beating on the door. You have a friend in need; for once you’re not praying for yourself, but interceding for someone else. You’re short on resources, but you’ve gone to someone with greater resources. Like God, who has unlimited resources.

But the “friend” in this story isn’t actually God. As is made obvious by his behavior. It’s a little hard to imagine God asleep in the middle of the night. Or that he doesn’t wanna be bothered. Or that he’s latched the door for the night; he’s bundled up in bed with his kids; he’s done, and we’ve come to him too late. If we understand God’s unlimited grace, we know better. (If we don’t, we may not, which is why we might not pray as often as we ought. Might need to get to know his unlimited grace first.) The “friend” isn’t meant to be God, but to be compared to God. If this is how friends behave, isn’t God a better friend? Won’t he do way better for you?

And likewise the friend’s motivation, versus God’s. The friend doesn’t wanna do anything for you. In Jesus’s culture bedtime was after sundown, so midnight was right in the middle of the sleep cycle, where people really don’t wanna be woken up. Jesus has kinda arranged the story so you’ve come to the door at a really inconvenient time, where any good friend would be very unmotivated to do anything. Jesus’s audience would’ve experienced something like this, so they could relate.

They’d also relate to Jesus’s idea: No matter how close you may be, he may not care to help you out whatsoever. But he’ll help out just the same, because you’re just rude enough. Because he’ll want you to leave him alone. And again: If this is how friends behave, isn’t God a better friend? He doesn’t help us just to get us to shut up. He helps us out of his abundant love.

18 July 2017

Parables: Because the kingdom’s secrets are only for us.

Why Jesus was so heavy on the metaphors.

Mark 4.10-13, 25 • Matthew 13.10-17 • Luke 8.9-10, 18, 10.23-24, 19.26 • John 12.37-40

The first of Jesus’s parables is the story of the four seeds. Mk 4.1-9, Mt 13.1-9, Lk 8.4-8 But before I get to that story, I’m gonna discuss Jesus’s frequent habit of teaching things en parabolís/“in parables.” Or at least it’s frequent in the synoptic gospels; John skipped nearly all the parabolic stories, and stuck to Jesus speaking in metaphor, which is also a form of parable.

Parabolí literally means “to throw over,” kinda like the parabola a ball makes when you throw it in the air. Like such a throw, it’s deliberately meant to go over the heads of people whom you don’t want catching it. If you aren’t clever enough to figure out what Jesus means by his analogies, you’re gonna miss his point. You know, like pagans often will. And irritatingly, a lot of Christians also will, because we’re looking for the wrong things, and don’t care Jesus is trying to explain his kingdom by them.

Other ancient teachers taught by analogy. But they’d use these analogies to get attention, and explain their point as part of the moral of the story. Whereas Jesus didn’t always include a moral to his stories. Nor explain what his analogies meant. You figure ’em out—if you have the ears to hear.

Jesus did this so often, his students had to ask what it was all about:

Mark 4.10 KWL
When Jesus was with his students alone,
those around him with the 12 apostles asked him about the parables.
Matthew 13.10 KWL
Coming to Jesus, the students told him, “Why do you tell them parables?
Luke 8.9 KWL
Jesus’s students were asking him why this ought to be a parable.

At this point the commentators will weigh in with why they figure Jesus taught in parables.

The most common idea was Jesus was trying to evade the consequences of speaking about his kingdom in a politically charged environment. Herod was king of the Galilee, and Caesar the king of Judea; if Jesus spoke in any way about being king, it was considered sedition, and gave his critics and opponents the ammo they needed to get him arrested. Much like science fiction TV shows in the 1950s and ’60s, Jesus couched his radical ideas in metaphor so nobody could figure out what he really meant.

That theory gets disproven pretty quickly in Luke 20.19, where the head priests realized exactly whom Jesus meant when he talked about a “master” destroying his tenant farmers, Lk 20.16 and a stone grinding those who trip on it to powder. Lk 20.18 Jesus meant them, and they’d have totally arrested him had not the crowds been around. (Which is why they later arrested him when the crowds were gone.)

Nope, it had nothing to do with evading the opposition. They’d come regardless. It was about throwing his lessons over the heads of the crowds, ’cause he only wanted his real followers to catch them. The parables are for Christians. Not lookie-loos.

Mark 4.11 KWL
Jesus told them, “God’s kingdom’s mysteries were given to you.
To those outside, everything comes in parables.”
Matthew 13.11 KWL
In reply Jesus told them, “Because you were given knowledge of the heavenly kingdom’s mysteries.
They weren’t given that.”
Luke 8.10 KWL
Jesus said, You were given knowledge of God’s kingdom’s mysteries.
The rest is in parables, so ‘seers might not see’
and ‘hearers not comprehend.’” Is 6.9

Jesus wasn’t trying to dodge consequences. He was trying to dodge fools.

17 July 2017

Eugene Peterson’s rough week.

On the “yes” heard round the blogosphere.

Most Christians know Presbyterian pastor Eugene Peterson from The Message, his popular bible translation that’s looser than a boot on a pegleg.
Everybody’s favorite Wikipedia image of Eugene Peterson, as seen on various news sites lately.
(So loose, people gripe it’s more of a paraphrase.) Others are more familiar with his writings on pastors and church leadership. But thanks to The Message, loads of American Christians have at least that work of his on their bookshelves.

It’s because of this fame Religion News Service columnist Jonathan Merritt interviewed Peterson on a number of topics relevant to Evangelical Christianity. Plus, Peterson’s sorta retiring. He’s 84, promoting what he figures is his last book, As Kingfishers Catch Fire; he’s kinda saying farewell to his public.

But Merritt’s brief interview with Peterson, posted last Wednesday, 12 July, probably got a lot more attention than Peterson ever bargained for. The headline: “Eugene Peterson on changing his mind about same-sex issues and marriage.”

Here’s the relevant bit:

Merritt. “A follow-up: If you were pastoring today and a gay couple in your church who were Christians of good faith asked you to perform their same-sex wedding ceremony, is that something you would do?”

Peterson. “Yes.”

Now. Back in October, Merritt got popular Christian blogger Jen Hatmaker to say much the same thing, as I already ranted about. As a result LifeWay Christian Resources removed Hatmaker’s books from their stores.

It’s kind of a big deal. LifeWay’s the biggest Christian bookstore chain in the United States. It’s owned by the Southern Baptist Convention, the second-largest denomination in the United States. They’d be a primary route of Hatmaker’s sales. But LifeWay feels they have a duty to police the Christian orthodoxy—as they define orthodoxy—of the authors they carry. Not that any of Hatmaker’s previous books contained any endorsement of same-sex marriage in them: LifeWay figures if you’re heretic—again, as they define heresy—they don’t want their customers getting the idea you’re a safe author. Easier to just ban your works in entirety.

Given the Hatmaker situation, Christianity Today followed up Merritt’s interview that same Wednesday by asking LifeWay whether they’d likewise yank Peterson’s books off their shelves. No surprise coming: LifeWay responded of course they would.

So on Thursday the 13th, Peterson took it all back.

When put on the spot by this particular interviewer, I said yes in the moment. But on further reflection and prayer, I would like to retract that. That’s not something I would do out of respect to the congregation, the larger church body, and the historic biblical Christian view and teaching on marriage. That said, I would still love such a couple as their pastor. They’d be welcome at my table, along with everybody else.

Thereafter, Peterson states he’s not doing any more interviews. He’s done. Doesn’t want the controversy.

I don’t blame him. Just about every time I’ve been ensnared in controversy, it’s never been about something I intended to fight over. Or even wanted to. Or care about. It’s always the minor stuff which I don’t consider dealbreakers. Problem is, everybody else insists they’re dealbreakers. To some Fundamentalists, darn near everything’s a dealbreaker.

Same-sex marriage is definitely a dealbreaker to many Evangelicals. If you’re gay, Christian, and wanna get married, it’s not negotiable. And if you’re anti-gay, figure it’s not even remotely possible to be both Christian and gay, and consider same-sex marriage to be a state-legitimized abomination, that’s not negotiable. This isn’t a minor debate in Evangelical Christianity right now. It’s one of the bigger deals.

Eugene Peterson stepped right into this wet pile of dooky, right up to his knees.

14 July 2017

The bible’s genres.

It’s not all written in just one style of literature.

Genre /'ʒɑ(n).rə/ n. Type or category of literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, and subject matter.

Our word genre originates from the Old French word gendre/“gender.” ’Cause while men and women are both human, we’ve still got some important, distinctive differences. (Not as many as our culture dictates, but still.)

There are many types of literature. Stop by the local public library, and you’ll notice how the books tend to be lumped into categories so we can find them easier. Whether your library uses the Dewey system or the Library of Congress system, you’ll notice the gardening books are on one shelf, the photography books on another, the legal books on another, the biographies on another.

Now when the average person picks up a bible, they assume they’re picking up one category of literature: Non-fiction religious instruction. After all, that’s where we’ll find bibles in the library.

Thing is, the bible’s an anthology, a book collection. Yes, it’s religious. Yes, it’s mostly non-fiction. (You know the parables never literally took place, right? Jesus was just making ’em up to illustrate his lessons? Hope you knew this.) But within its pages are several books and letters of several different types: Commands and instructions. Logical arguments. Wisdom. Parables. Histories. Creation stories. Gospels. Poetry. Prophecy. Apocalypses.

Christians who figure it’s all one genre, and try to interpret the whole of it literally, are gonna get the bible wrong.

Problem is, even though many Christians know there are multiple genres in the bible, they figure these differences really aren’t that great, and don’t entirely matter. One part’s prose, one part’s poetry; this bit is prophecy, that part is history. But all they really care about is religious instruction, and figure they can be instructed by all parts equally.

After all, didn’t Paul say so?

2 Timothy 3.16 KWL
Every inspired scripture is also useful for teaching,
for disproving, for correcting, for instruction in rightness.

Every inspired scripture. All the bible. Every bit of it can be used for instruction in rightness, so they’re gonna try to pull that instruction right out of it. After all, the bible’s our “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” our guidebook for life, with all the answers to all our questions—if we analyze it just right.

So to them, genre doesn’t matter. We can find instructions in the wisdom writings or the gospels; doesn’t matter whether we quote the apostles or Moses. It’s all bible. It’s all inspired. All good. Right?

Well, let’s take apart these claims a tad.