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Showing posts from January, 2016

The ministry of John the baptist.

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What Jesus’s first prophet was up to. Mark 1.2-6 • Matthew 3.1-6 • Luke 3.1-6 • John 1.6-8John 1.6-8 KWL6 A person came who’d been sent by God, named John, 7who came to testify.When he testified about the light, everyone might believe because of him.8He wasn’t the light, but he’d testify about the light.9 The actual light, who lights every person, was coming into the world.Luke 3.1-3 KWL1 In the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar’s governance, Pontius Pilatus governing Judea, Antipas Herod as governor over the Galilee, Philip Herod his brother as governor over Ituría and Trachonítis provinces,Lysanias as governor over Abiliní, 2 Annas and Joseph Kahiáfa as head priests,God’s message came through John bar Zechariah, in the countryside.3 He went into all the land round the Jordan,preaching a baptism of repentance—to have one’s sins forgiven—Mark 1.2-3 KWL2 Like it’s written in the prophet Isaiah:“Look, I send my agent to your face, who’ll prepare your road.”Ml 3.13 “A voice shouting out in th…

God doesn’t have a dark side.

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Yet too many people think the Almighty suborns evil for his secret purposes.1 John 1.5-7As I mentioned last time, a lot of gnostic religions were teaching all sorts of weirdness about Jesus. Some of their ideas had leaked into the first-century church; loads of them are still around. Some are outright heresy, stuff that leads us away from Jesus instead of towards him. John’s letter was meant to preemptively get to Christians before the wrong ideas took serious root.One of the more popular wrong ideas is that God has a dark side. It’s based on the idea, taught by many philosophers, religions, and many Christians, that once we take everything back to its first cause, that’d be God. It’s called the “unmoved mover” idea, as described by Aristotle of Athens. Problem is, people really do assume God is the first cause of everything—including dark stuff.Fr’instance God is sovereign: He’s in charge. He created the world, he sustains it, and he rules it. Right? But if God’s in charge, what abou…

Figure out what God wants.

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It’s not as complicated as we make it out to be. Too many of us Christians know God expects something of his kids. Loads of us preach it all the time: “God has a wonderful plan for your life. Just seek his face.” Problem is, when we seek his face, it’s only to praise him, not know him. The wonderful plan? We don’t know it, and never bother to find out what it is.In fact a lot of us assume God’s plan is unknowable. It’s part of his secret will, his intricate plan for the universe which has been micromanaged all the way down to every single action we take. Which is secret because—let’s face it—there’s no way any one human can fathom it in all its complexity. Way too many moving parts. God is thinking a billion steps ahead, and if he clued us in just a little, it’d blow our minds.Or, which is more likely, we’d respond like a backseat driver: “You know what you oughta do, God, is this…” and since we have the smallest fraction of information, we’re really in no position to judge how God ru…

The bible in “the original Greek”: The Septuagint.

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SEPTUAGINTsɛp'tu.ə.dʒɪntnoun. An ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament.[Septuagintal sɛp.tu.ə'dʒɪnt.əladjective.]When you read the New Testament, and one of the apostles quotes the Old Testament, most of the time they’re not translating it from the original Hebrew. They’re quoting a Greek translation.There wasn’t just one translation. Same as English versions of the bible nowadays, different translators had taken different shots at putting the Hebrew scriptures into Greek. Some Greek-speaking Jew in Jerusalem might put together something like a “King Jonathan’s Version,” or KJV; some Greek-speaking Jew in Egypt might’ve cobbled together an “Egyptian Standard Version,” or ESV; some curious gentile in Laodicea might’ve put together a “New Laodicean Translation,” or NLT… I could come up with more hypothetical reasons for these familiar initials, but you get the gist. But over time, copyists smooshed all these different Greek bibles together into one sorta-kinda-the-stand…

Dark Christianity.

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God is light. For this reason Christians ought not walk in the dark. 1Jn 1.5-10 People don’t bother to read this passage in context, and assume “light” and “dark” has to do with truth versus lies, or revelation versus mysteries. Nope; it has to do with obedience versus sin. Christians shouldn’t sin, and when we live in light, we oughta stay out of sin.But more than that. We shouldn’t fixate on sin either. We shouldn’t obsess about what sinners are up to. We shouldn’t analyze the devil’s works in order to understand it better, Rv 2.24 on the pretense that knowledge is power. Our strength isn’t mean to come through our studies of devilish strategies: We’re to be strong through God’s power. Ep 6.10 Resist temptation. Lead others to the light.However, there are loads of Christians who firmly believe a significant part of our duties—if not our only duty—is to study sin, fight it, and condemn it.In preparation these folks spend an awful lot of time on the dark side of Christianity. They wan…

Jesus of Nazareth, child prodigy.

A reminder to his parents of whom they were raising.Luke 2.41-52Growing up, I’ve usually heard this story taught this way: Jesus, now that he’s old enough to go to temple, went there with the folks for Passover. Afterwards, he stuck around and got into an interesting chat with the rabbis, and lost utter track of time. Extending into days, if you can believe he never noticed the need to sleep, eat, pee, etc.Meanwhile his unwitting parents got halfway back to Nazareth before finally noticing their son was absent. They turned back, finally found him talking shop in temple, and Mary rebuked him: “Your father and I were worried!” But Jesus came back with, “I was doing the work of my real Father.”But, in order to maintain appearances—in order to look like an ordinary human boy, instead of exposing the fact he was secretly a God-boy—Jesus went back to Nazareth with them. Back to their confining, non-intellectual existence. Behaving himself, quietly waiting for another 18 years for his time t…

1 John and the gnostics.

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Much of the reason this letter was composed, was to oppose heretics.1 John 1.1-4On to 1 John. Which, same as John’s other works, doesn’t have much of an introduction. (The introduction to Revelation was tacked on later by someone else.) 1 John just dives right into it—1 John 1.1-4 KWL1 He was in the beginning. We heard him, our eyes saw him, we examined and our hands touched—It’s about the living word, 2 and the life was revealed.We saw, witness, and proclaim to you the life of the age to come,who’s from the Father and revealed to us.3 We’d seen and heard; we proclaim this to you so you could also have a relationship with us.Our relationship is with the Father and with his son, Christ Jesus.4 We write you this so our joy would be fulfilled.—and there ya go. The apostles had seen “the living word,” who’d be Jesus. And this was who they declared to the Christians who read this letter.True, starting with revelation about Jesus gets our attention. It’s more interesting; more thought-provo…

God’s names. (And a bunch of his adjectives.)

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We call him lots of things. Some of them he even approves of.New Christians tend to be fascinated by the fact God has a lot of different names in the bible. There’s “God,” there’s “the Lord” (in capital letters or not), there’s “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “I Am,” there’s “the Most High” and “the Almighty”…
James Nesbit is selling this poster of God’s names. Without the watermark, I expect. jnesbit.comAnd I haven’t even got to the titles yet. Like Mighty God, Ancient of Days, Alpha and Omega, Lord of Hosts, and so on. Go to your average Christian bookstore (if it hasn’t closed up shop yet) and they’ve even got a poster covered in these titles.Bust out some Hebrew to go along with it, and some Christians will get sloppy with excitement. I can write about the attributes of God till my fingers go numb, but there’s just nothing like God’s names. Because, as many Christians teach, there’s power in God’s name. Jr 10.6 Power, power, wonder-working power. Power to break every chain, break every c…

TXAB’s bible-reading plan.

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Oughta get you through the bible in whatever order works for you.When I read through the bible, I read each of the books, but in no particular order. Usually I go with whatever book I feel like reading most. Followed by whatever book I feel like reading next. And so on, and so on, till I finish.Most people read the bible the very same way. Except they don’t keep track of what they read, and what they haven’t. Fr’instance a person (we’ll call her Apolonia) decides she wants to read John, ’cause it’s her favorite. Then she reads James, ’cause her pastor’s preaching a series on it. Then Philippians, ’cause her bible study is going through it. Then she reads Romans, ’cause somebody told her she really oughta. Then Genesis, because she feels she really oughta. Then somebody says something profound from Romans, so she decides to reread that book again. And then Genesis again. She’ll bounce all over the bible, which is fine; but she’ll skip books, which isn’t so good.Well, here’s how to avoi…

The King James Version: Its history and worshipers.

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Most of the verses I’ve memorized were in the King James Version.Hey, it’s my upbringing. The hundred English translations of the bible that exist nowadays? Weren’t around back when I was a kid. There were maybe a dozen in the Christian bookstores. But my church used the KJV, so that’s largely what’s in my brain. Even though I later got a Good News Bible, then a New International Version, when it came to memory verses my Sunday school teachers drilled us in KJV.In adulthood, for a lot of years I memorized verses in NIV. (Which they’ve updated three times since, so sometimes my memory verses don’t match the currentNIV.) After I learned biblical languages, I memorized verses in my own translation. Makes it tricky to look up memory verses in my bible software, which is particular about which translation I’m searching. Google isn’t so picky.Still, I quote KJV a lot, which surprises a lot of people. They assume I’m more “modern” or “postmodern” than that, whatever the mean by those terms. …

And now, a word of prayer.

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Christianese which nearly always means, “And now, a really long prayer.” WORD OF PRAYER /wərd ə preɪər/ n. Prayer, usually meant to invoke God before a function.2. Small sermon, disguised as a prayer. Brace yourself.From time to time, right before we do something important, like take a meeting, drive someplace, eat lunch, get a really large tattoo on our back, or whatever, Christians will often say, “Before we do that, let’s have a word of prayer.”Nope, they don’t mean it literally: It won’t be one single word. At all. For darn sure it’s not gonna be short. Words of prayer tend to be awfully wordy.Why “a word of prayer,” instead of simply “a prayer”? My guess is it originally meant a short prayer. Y’know, like when somebody stops you and says, “Can I have a word—just a word—with you?” They intend for it to be short. Or at least sound short, so you don’t respond, “Too busy,” and keep going. But depending on the person who wants “just a word with you,” the conversation might be mighty l…

How Jesus became “Jesus the Nazarene.”

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Imagine calling him “Jesus the Bethlehemite.” Hmm. Well, we’d have got used to it. Matthew 2.19-23.As we know from Luke, both Mary and Joseph were originally from Nazareth, but had to go to Bethlehem for survey reasons, and Jesus was born while they were there. But Matthew never told that part of the story; only that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Mt 2.1 If all you had was that gospel, you’d think that’s where they lived already. And maybe that’s what the author of Matthew believed.’Cause what happened was after Joseph took the family to Egypt to escape Herod’s mad little bout of infanticide, God finally lets him know it’s safe to return… and in returning Joseph “came to settle in a city called Nazareth,” Mt 2.23 KWL which implies he hadn’t already settled in Nazareth, and just hadn’t been home in a while.Well. Assuming, as most of us do, that Jesus was born around the year 7BC; that he was about two-ish when Herod came a-killing (round 5BC), and that the reason they needed to hightail …

Can God’s word “return void”?

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Depends. Are we really talking God’s word, or our excuse to preach at hardened people?Isaiah 55.11So one night I and my friend Jason (not his real name, and you’ll see why) were walking from the car to the coffeehouse. Enroute some vagrant asked us for spare change. Jason got it into his head this was a “divine opportunity”: It’s time to proclaim the gospel to this person! It’s time to get him saved.That’s how we wasted the next 15 minutes. Yes, wasted. Because the vagrant was: Either he was drunk, or had some condition which made him incoherent. Jason’d ask him questions to determine whether he understood the gospel, and the guy would start rambling about how he believed men and women should be together. In which context I don’t know. (Hey, this article is about context; I had to bring it up at some point.)Jason kinda had the poor guy cornered in a doorway, pressuring him for some sorta confession of faith, and after he extracted something he considered satisfactory, we went and got …

Praying like “St. Francis” did.

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When you don’t know what to pray, here’s a useful prayer.You know how when you’re praying in a group, and the prayer leader says something really profound which you wholly agree with, and you can definitely say amen to that? Rote prayers are the same way. Some of them just nail it: It’s exactly what you wanna tell God. So go ahead and borrow their words. They don’t mind. God doesn’t either.One of the more popular rote prayers floating around out there is “the peace prayer of St. Francis.” Which, let’s be honest, was never written by Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone of Assisi (1181-1226), the Catholic layman-evangelist who founded the Franciscan order. True, those of us who know about Francis’s life can certainly imagine him saying stuff like this, but just like a whole lot of popular internet quotes, ’twasn’t him. The Italians call this la preghiera semplice/“the simple prayer.” I don’t find it all that simple, but it’s a good one to pray.I prefer translating these things myself, so I…

Does Jesus call himself Messiah?

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As I pointed out in my piece on Historical Jesus, a number of skeptics claim Jesus didn’t say and do everything we read in the gospels. Or anything. Once they’re done revising him, turns out Jesus did no miracles, wasn’t resurrected, taught nothing, wasn’t even born. He was entirely fabricated by overzealous apostles.Hogwash, but popular hogwash. ’Cause if Jesus isn’t anything, they don’t have to follow him. And they really don’t wanna, so it’s quite fortuitous for them he turns out to not be anything. It’s almost as if they loaded the dice, innit?Anyway. The reason I bring ’em up is because every so often, one of the Historical Jesus revisionists’ claims winds up worming its way into Christendom. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The revisionists do like to point out baby Jesus wasn’t really visited by magi while he was still in the manger, and it turns out they’re right; it was years later. Skeptics can be mighty useful when they poke holes in popular culture’s myths and help us …

The bible, in chronological order. More or less.

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Some of TXAB’s readers intend to read the bible in a month—or in four weeks, anyway—and have expressed curiosity about reading the bible in chronological order. It’s not enough that the beginning of the world comes first in Genesis, and the end of the world last in Revelation: They want everything sorted out by date.Okay, fine.But I will point out this order is debatable. ’Cause of course it is. Since when aren’t Christians gonna debate about who came first, Job or Abraham? Or which letter did Paul write first 1 Thessalonians or Galatians? (My money’s on Galatians. But still.)So here, for your convenience, is the bible in chronological order. Print it out and check ’em off as you read ’em.

Getting drenched in the Holy Spirit.

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Spirit baptism is a controversial topic. ’Cause it involves power, and people either covet power, or fear it.Luke 3.16-17 KWL16 In reply John told everyone, “Indeed I baptize you in water.And one stronger than me comes. I’m not able to loose his sandal strap.He’ll baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire.17 The winnowing-shovel is in his hand to thoroughly clean his threshing-floor.He’ll gather together the grain in his silo.He’ll burn up the straw with endless fire.”Getting baptized, ritually washed, in water was not a new idea for John the Baptist’s listeners. Any time they wanted to be clean for worship, they baptized themselves and waited till sundown. John’s baptism, for those who were repentant of their sins, was a little different. But Jesus’s baptism would be way different. It involved the Holy Spirit. And fire.Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he told his students to wait in Jerusalem for that baptism, Ac 1.4-5 and 10 days later this happened:Acts 2.1-4 KWL1 When the 50th day a…

When the sinner’s prayer doesn’t work.

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Wait, it doesn’t work? Well, sometimes we do it wrong. Imagine you shared Jesus with someone. (Hope you are sharing Jesus with people. But anyway.)Imagine they responded well: They expressed an interest in this Jesus whom you speak of. They believed you when you told ’em Jesus could save them. They wanted to become a Christian right there and then. So you said the sinner’s prayer with them. They recited all the words right after you. They felt happy about it. You felt happy about it. And there was much rejoicing. Yea!Now imagine it’s a year later and you meet up with that person again. And you find their life hasn’t changed. At all.They aren’t going to church; they don’t see the point. They aren’t reading the bible; they don’t see the point. They don’t pray; no more than usual, which is the occasional “God, get me out of this and I promise I’ll [offering they never intend to follow through on],” and nothing more. Not even religious feelings, which I admit are usually self-manufactured…

The magi and the monstrous king.

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How Jesus’s birth got the attention of the powerful… and the infamous. Matthew 2.1-18.Both Mešíakh/“Messiah” and Hrístos/“Christ” mean king.It’s a fact most Christians forget. Either we translate these words literally and assume they only mean anointed, or we mix ’em up with the meaning of “Jesus” and figure they mean savior. We treat Christ like Jesus’s surname, and forget it’s his title.And we forget you couldn’t just wander around ancient Israel and call yourself Messiah or Christ. There were other people who laid claim to that title. Powerful people. Homicidal people. Like Herod the Great, who was only “great” because of all his building projects; as a human being Herod was a monster. Emperor Augustus used to joke he’d rather be Herod’s pig than his son. Herod did execute two of his sons, and since Edomites didn’t eat pork, Augustus’s comment was quite apt.How’d baby Jesus get on Herod’s bad side? Well, you might know parts of the story, and if you don’t I’m gonna analyze the stor…