Jesus prophesies to the Samaritan.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 May

When the woman at the well realized Jesus hears from God.

John 4.16-24.

John 4.16-19 KWL
16 Jesus told the Samaritan, “Go call your man and come back here.”
17 In reply the woman told him, “I don’t have a man.”
Jesus told her, “Well said, ‘I don’t have a man’—
18 You had five men, and the one you now have isn’t your man. You spoke the truth.”
19 The woman told Jesus, “Master, I see you’re a prophet.”

Well duh he’s a prophet.

Notice when Jesus replied to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well, he commended her twice for telling him the truth. Probably ’cause she’d never told anyone the truth before. For all we know, no one in her town, Sychár, knew her whole story. But clearly Jesus did. Yet he was in absolutely no position to know anything, so the Samaritan naturally concluded he’s a prophet. ’Cause he is.

This woman previously had five ándras/“men.” Most bibles translate it “husbands,” ’cause in Hebrew custom, ishí/“my man” (or Aramaic enáshi) meant a woman’s husband. (The Hebrews used to use the word baal/“mister” for husbands, but God told ’em to stop it, Ho 2.16-17 ’cause they kept calling pagan gods by that title.) There is an ancient Greek word for husband, gamétis, but it’s not in the bible—though gametí/“wife” appears once in apocrypha. In any case, if Jesus was speaking of “her man,” it’d usually mean her husband.

Most cultures, Samaritans included, figured if you lived together and had sex, you were married. Our culture doesn’t—we call it “living together,” and more conservative folks call it “living in sin.” That’s because we define marriage by wedding contracts and vows. Comes from Christian custom. It’s not universal. The ancients, including the Hebrews, defined it by sexual activity and living arrangement. Like Genesis describes it, a man leaves his parents, bonds to his woman, and the two become “one flesh.” Ge 2.4 Remember?

This woman didn’t currently have this arrangement. She had something with a man—but he wasn’t her man. Shtupping him, likely; but didn’t live with him. They didn’t wanna turn it into a marriage.

Previously she had five husbands. We don’t know why those relationships ended. A lot of preachers judge, and assume divorce. We don’t know that. Maybe she had a thing for older men and outlived them all. Maybe they were criminals, and the Romans crucified them one after the other. Let’s not leap to the conclusion she was defective in some way.

Because that was her problem. That’s why she was going to an out-of-town well at noon: She was isolated. Either because she was unwelcome, or because she didn’t feel welcome; she was sick of the town’s gossip about her. Either way she kept to herself. Possibly shared nothing with no one—meaning there was no way some wandering Galilean prophet could know about her man. Except he did.

Joy.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 May

Are you truly happy? ’Cause the Holy Spirit wants you to be.

Joy /dʒɔɪ/ n. Feeling of great happiness and pleasure.
[Joyful /'dʒɔɪ.fəl/ adj.; joyous /'dʒɔɪ.əs/ adj.]

You’d think I wouldn’t need to include a definition of joy before writing on the subject. You’d be wrong. Not everyone agrees with, or even approves of, this definition.

Joy’s a feeling. An emotion. A positive emotion, one which God wants us to feel. He wants us to experience joy on a regular basis. He wants us to be filled with pleasure and happiness. It’s how his kingdom’s meant to be. No more tears; Rv 7.17 nothing but joy.

But there are a large number of joyless Christians who claim it’s not a feeling of happiness; it’s not an emotion whatsoever. Instead it’s a “state of well-being.” Once you decide, regardless of your circumstances, you’re gonna be okay with things—despite suffering, chaos, or general suckitude, you’re gonna tamp down those feelings of despair and just tough it out—that’s joy. God gives us the power to slog out any circumstances, and psyche ourselves into feeling hope instead of despair. Jm 1.2

Yeah… that’s not joy they’re describing. It’s patience.

And patience—or if you wanna call it by its King James Version word, “longsuffering” Ga 5.22 KJV —isn’t a bad thing. It’s likewise a fruit of the Spirit. It’s an attribute of love. 1Co 13.4 But it’s not joy.

This redefintion has even slipped into dictionaries. One of my Greek dictionaries defines hará/“joy” as “gladness, cheerfulness”—which is correct; or “a state of being calmly happy or well-off”—and no it’s not.

Bust out your concordance and look up all the instances of hará/“joy,” number 5479 in Strong’s dictionary, and you’re gonna find joy hardly sounds like being content no matter the circumstances. Sounds more like being tremendously happy because of circumstances. Here’s a bunch of examples from the New Testament.

Luke 1.13-15 KWL
13B “Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son, and you’ll name him John.
14 He’ll be happiness and joy to you,
and many will rejoice at his birth, 15A for he’ll be great before the Lord.”
John 3.29 KWL
“The groom’s the one with the bride.
The groom’s friend, joyfully standing and listening, rejoices at the groom’s voice.
So this joy of mine is full.”
Luke 10.17 KWL
The 72 students returned with joy, saying, “Master, even demons submitted to us in your name!”
Luke 15.7 KWL
“I tell you, because of it there’s joy in heaven—over one repenting sinner.
More so than over 99 moral people who don’t need to repent.”

Arminianism, Calvinism, and Pelagianism.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 May

Eek! -Isms!

Some years ago I joined the Society of Evangelical Arminians. (Hey guys! Thanks for helping me tweak the Twitter meme.) Some months ago I also joined their Facebook debate group. Officially it’s called a discussion group, but let’s be honest: Debate happens. Even when we largely agree. Hey, so long as we keep it respectful. Most of us can.

Whenever I mention to people I’m in this group, it confuses ’em. Y’see, they don’t know what an Arminian is. Most of the time they think I mean Armenian, and are surprised: I’m so pasty white! I’ll get sunburn on an overcast day. Don’t Armenians tan way better than that?

Nope, not Armenian. Arminianism is named after Dutch theology professor Jakob Hermanszoon (1560–1609), whose Latin name is Jacobi Arminii, and in English that became James Arminius. He attempted to bring Calvinism away from what he (and we Arminians) considered extreme views about salvation, and get it back in line with the scriptures and historic Christian theology. His objections to what Calvinists taught were spelled out in the Five Articles of Remonstrance, presented in 1610 by Arminius’s followers to the Dutch National Synod. A lot of the reason there are so many Arminians in the United States is ’cause John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was Arminian; and the Pentecostal movement came out of Methodism, so most Pentecostals are likewise Arminian.

Oh yeah, Calvinists. Calvinism is named after French theologian Jehan Chauvin (1509–1564), whose Latin name is Joannis Calvini, or as we know him, John Calvin. He became the bishop of Geneva during the Protestant Reformation, and is arguably the most influential Protestant after Martin Luther. Calvinism stems from his 1536 book Institutio Christianae religionis (“Institutes of the Christian Religion”), where the 25-year-old spelled out his beliefs for the king of France—and anyone else who needs an introduction to Protestant thought. He revised the book throughout his life. His disciples took over the Church of Scotland, started the Reformed, Presbyterian, and Puritan movements. In recent decades a lot of argumentative young theologians have adopted Calvinism as their favorite cause, ’cause they’re under the impression it makes ’em look clever.

Since I’m bringing up those guys, may as well bring up the third major stream of theology we commonly find in Evangelical Christianity: Pelagianism, named for Welsh monk Morcant (c. 354–418), Latin name Pelagius. Greatly concerned about the constant problem of Christians taking God’s grace for granted, Pelagius overcompensated and wound up teaching we’re saved by our own efforts. St. Augustine, and a few subsequent church councils, condemned Pelagius’s teachings as heretic; and since a lot of the early Protestants were big fans of Augustine, they don’t like Pelagius either. However, Pelagius’s views are precisely what pagans believe. And since a lot of paganism has leaked into the church, plenty of Christians are Pelagian too.

Calvinists love to accuse Arminians of being Pelagian, but mostly that’s because Calvinists don’t know what Arminians are, and assume since we don’t do Calvinist theology, we must do none—we think like pagans. Plus they don’t bother to investigate any of the anti-Arminian slanders their fellow Calvinists spread. They have bigger fish to fry.

Hence this article, which’ll sort out the three views.

Samaritans, and Jesus’s living water.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 May

A bit about the woman Jesus met at the well, and her people.

John 4.1-15.

To give you a better sense of how the ancient Judeans felt about Samaritans, you gotta think about how the average Evangelical in the United States feels… about Muslims.

Yeah, there y’go. Distrust. Uncertainty. Fear. The assumption that because some terrorists claim to be Muslim, all Muslims are terrorist. The assumption that because Muslims in various countries live under strict interpretations of the Quran and Hadith, they wanna implement those customs in this country, and inflict their commands upon us. (Never mind the fact a number of Christians wouldn’t mind inflicting our strict interpretations of the Old Testament upon everyone as well.)

Samaritans had a similar reputation in ancient Judea. The Judeans figured they were right, and Samaritans wrong. Really wrong. Dangerously wrong. They considered them pagans and foreigners, and had nothing to do with them.

And Samaritans believe (yeah, they still exist) precisely the same thing right back at Judeans then, and Jews today. They consider themselves the real descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the real successors and keepers of Moses’s teachings, the real servants of God. The Pharisees and Jews were the heretics, who’d added all these extra books to the bible (the books from Joshua to Chronicles—or in Christian book-order, from Joshua to Malachi) and a whole bunch of rabbinical loopholes which the Samaritans found offensive. Worse, they had all this wealth and political power—and heretics with power is frightening, innit?

Oh, there are parallels aplenty between Judeans and Samaritans then, and Christians and Muslims today. And let’s not forget the hate crimes: Some Judean would get a little political power, and decide to go into Samaria and slaughter a bunch of Samaritans. Some Samaritan would get vengeful and attack Judeans as they traveled through Samaritan territory. Not for cause; solely because they were different from one another, and had old grudges. By Jesus’s day this sort of behavior had been going on for the past 400 years. Like the Israeli-Palestinian situation, but without explosions.

Gotta remember that animosity, fear, and rage they had towards one another, whenever we read about Jesus visiting Samaria.

John 4.1-9 KWL
1 Once Jesus knew the Pharisees heard, “Jesus has many students and baptizes, like John”—
2 though Jesus himself wasn’t baptizing; his students were
3 he left Judea behind and went to the Galilee again.
4 He needed to pass through Samaria.
5 Hence he came a Samaritan town called Sykhár,
near the field Jacob gave his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s Well is there.
Jesus, tired from walking the road, was sitting there by the well the sixth hour after sunrise.
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water.
Jesus told her, “Give me a drink,”
8 for his students had gone into town so they could buy food.
9 The Samaritan woman told him, “How can you be near me, Judean? I’m a Samaritan woman.
You ask me for a drink?—Judeans have no use for Samaritans.”

Many translations have “Judeans have no use for Samaritans” as the author’s commentary on the situation, not something the Samaritan said. The KJV puts it “no dealings with Samaritans,” but I rendered synhróntai/“make use of” more literally.

Obviously this woman didn’t recognize Jesus’s Galilean accent, and assumed he was Judean. Not that Samaritans and Galileans got along any better. But as we already know about Jesus, he did have use for Samaritans; he came to save everybody. Jn 3.16-17 Samaritans included. Jesus doesn’t do racism.

Sad prayers, mournful prayers, and weepy prayers.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 May

Sharing our sorrows with God. Or not.

When we’re in emotional distress, we need to cry out to God. Not just when we’re angry, although you knew that. But when we’re sad. When we’re mourning. When we’re miserable. In lament. There’s a whole book in the bible called Lamentations, y’know. That’s its point. And there are plenty more passages where people shared their sorrows with God.

King David was an emotional guy. When he got low, he had no qualms about writing the Bronze Age equivalents of the blues.

Psalm 38.1-9 KWL
1 LORD, don’t correct me angrily, instructing me in heat,
2 because your arrows fall on me. Your strong hand has me beat.
3 My flesh’s instability from your indignant face;
my bones lack peace; my sinning moves your presence out of place.
4 I’ve more misdeeds than height! a heavy, heavy load for me.
5 My wounds all stink and rot thanks to my clear stupidity.
6 I’m twisted, bent way down; I walk in darkness all the day.
7 My burning genitals!—unstable flesh just wastes away.
8 I’m numb. I’m very crushed. My groaning heart through which I’ve cried—
9 My Master, my desires and sighs are obvious. Don’t hide.

You notice he blames God for some of his suffering. Like all of us, David sinned; like most of us, David figured his suffering was because God was punishing him for it. (And be fair; sometimes God totally was.) Other times, David blamed his suffering on his enemies—and wanted God to take up his cause, and smite people in nasty ways. In such psalms we see a lot more righteous indignation than weepy apologies. But either way, David didn’t hold back what he felt. Never to God. God knew him inside and out anyway; Ps 139.1 it’d be stupid to try to hide things.

God can comfort the sorrowing. He knows how our emotions work. He did after all design us to have them. He has the very same emotions too, y’know. Although God’s gentleness, his emotional self-control, is absolute. Ours needs a load of work. But part of growing in the spiritual fruit of gentleness means learning emotional self-control directly from God.

Recognize God’s the perfect outlet for our emotions. He wants to be that outlet. Whether we’re deep in sadness, anger, shame, offense, resentfulness, bitterness, loneliness, powerlessness, low self-worth, suspicion, unhealthy skepticism, sense of abandonment or neglect, God can take all of it, guide us through it, and use it to create something better in us.

John the baptist’s shrinking ministry.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 May

Which he was okay with. Hey, it was his job to point to Jesus.

John 3.22-36.

The gospel of John doesn’t tell us about John the baptist’s arrest and execution. That’s in the other gospels. I’ll get to it. But in all the gospels, John’s role was to get Judea and all Israel ready for their Messiah. Now that Messiah’s around, John’s job was largely complete—as he himself expressed in John.

What prompted John’s teaching was an incident: Someone from Judea got into a debate about katharismú/“[ritual] cleansing.” Here, I’ll get to the scripture:

John 3.22-25 KWL
22 After these things, Jesus and his students
went elsewhere in the Judean province.
They stayed there with the people, and were baptizing.
23 John was also baptizing in Aenon-by-Salím:
Lots of water was there, and people came and were baptized.
24 John had not yet been thrown into prison.
25 So a debate about ritual cleansing
arose among John’s students and a Judean.

We don’t know which sect this Judean was from. Some of ’em ritually washed themselves obsessively, and others not so much. Ritual washing (vaptídzo, from whence we get our word “baptism”) required you to immerse yourself, fully clothed, in running water. This’d “clean” you from the various things in life which could make you “unclean”—your own bodily fluids, others’ bodily fluids (and any stuff they touched), rot, mildew, dead things, inappropriate food. Before you entered God’s presence, before you went to temple (or for Pharisees, synagogue), he wanted you “clean” first.

John’s baptism technically wasn’t any of those things. His baptism was unique: It symbolizes how people wanna leave behind their “unclean” sinful lives, repent, and turn to God. It’s the same baptism we Christians still practice.

Well, that’s not how Judeans did baptism. Uncleanliness wasn’t about sin. In fact you could be totally sinless, like Jesus, He 4.15 and still be ritually unclean: You could unintentionally touch a bleeder, or someone who recently had sex; you could accidentally touch a dead animal, or step on something rotten; you could obey the Law and bury the dead, Dt 21.23 and in so doing become ritually unclean. (Various Christians argue Jesus is so clean, when he touches an unclean person it cleanses them. But if this were true, Jesus wouldn’t have instructed lepers to go show themselves to the priests Lk 17.14 and get officially clean. Lv 14.1-9)

So we don’t know the details of this debate, but we can guess it was the usual:

JUDEAN. “You’re not doing it right.”
JOHANNITE. “We’re doing something different.”
JUDEAN. “Who gave you the authority to do something different?”

You know, the sort of fight-picking we usually find legalists start. They just aren’t happy unless they’re spoiling someone’s joy.

In the course of this fight, Jesus must’ve came up. Likely by the Judean, ’cause it was John’s students who came to John all anxious about it. Possibly—I’m still speculating—because the Judean didn’t approve of him either.

Covenant: How God makes our relationship official.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 May

Despite what you may have heard, it’s not just an extra-special contract.

Covenant /'kəv.ən.ənt/ n. Committed, intentional relationship. The parties who enter such relationships spell out the duties of one to the other, made with firm, binding promises.
2. v. To enter such a relationship.
[Covenantal /kəv.ən'ənt.əl/ adj.]

Our culture, including popular Christian culture, seldom understands the significant difference between “covenant” and “contract.” Usually because of marriage.

Seriously. Y’see, back when there was no such thing as separation of church and state, the government formally recognized various religious covenants: Baptisms, christenings, marriages, religious vows, and so forth. After the United States decided it was in our best interest (particularly the church’s best interest) for government to remain neutral, our governments nevertheless still kept marriage on the books. Because it comes in handy to know who is married to whom—for the purposes of inheritance, next of kin and spousal consent, parental rights and responsibility and custody, and so forth. (Plus there are tax breaks.) But the problem is our laws don’t legally define any covenant between the two… because a covenant’s about the nature of their relationship. All government does is recognize the legal contract between them. One which, as you know, our governments can easily dissolve. Or redefine, to the outrage of many.

So when your average Christian tries to define covenant, such as one of the many covenants between God and his people in the scripture, they tend to think of marriage. And tend to forget the concept of “marriage” they have in their brains… ain’t necessarily a covenant. Sometimes it is, because they remember it’s a formal relationship. And sometimes it’s not, because they forget the relationship part, and instead emphasize the idea it’s binding.

Of course it’s binding. The people who covenant together don’t merely intend to work together. They intend to be bound together, for life. Like a proper marriage, not a government-defined marriage.

God is relational. He wants a close personal connection between himself and his creation. But God is love, so he doesn’t wish any of his relationships to be a casual, go-as-you-please, Facebook-style friendship. No relationships of convenience: Those are impatient and self-serving, and neither of those things are love. God wants commitment. He wants to bind himself together with us. Hence he makes covenants.

This is why throughout the bible, heavily emphasized, we’ll find covenants. God makes ’em with everyone. He made one with Noah, Ge 6.18 Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Ge 17 Jacob, Ex 2.24 the entire nation of Israel, Dt 5.2-3 and anyone who joins Israel and willingly adopts the terms of God’s covenant. Is 56.6-7 Really, he’s made covenants with all of humanity, Ge 9.15 which is why he has every right to rule and judge us.

And of course we Christians recognize Jesus’s new covenant, in which God’s relationship with his followers involves giving us his Holy Spirit, and that we follow him instead of the stipulations spelled out in the Law. (Although since the Holy Spirit inspired the Law, 2Ti 3.16 we don’t disregard the Law! We simply recognize he supersedes it.)

God continually initiates these relationships because he wants his creations to become his children. He wants to interact with us, and be our loving God. Lv 26.12 He’s always wanted this. It’s why he created us humans in the first place. Our sin messed things up, and ever since, God’s been trying to put things back together.