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29 July 2016

Master of the Sabbath.

Who defines what’s good and evil on Sabbath? Jesus.

Mark 2.23-28 • Matthew 12.1-8 • Luke 6.1-5

As I said last time, don’t assume Pharisees were questioning Jesus because they wished to challenge him. Sometimes they were. But sometimes they were merely trying to understand why Jesus ignored their traditions—and why he was teaching his students to do likewise.

Just like it came up one Sabbath when Jesus and his kids were going past the fields, and some of ’em began to yank a few of the heads of grain off.

Mark 2.23-24 KWL
23 Jesus himself happened to travel through the fields on Sabbath.
His students began plucking the grain along the road.
24 The Pharisees told Jesus, “Look, why are they doing what one shouldn’t on Sabbath?”
Matthew 12.1-2 KWL
1 At that time, Jesus went through the fields on Sabbath.
His students were hungry, and began to pluck the grain and eat it. 2 Seeing it,
the Pharisees told Jesus, “Look, your students are doing what one shouldn’t do on Sabbath.”
Luke 6.1-2 KWL
1 Jesus himself happened to go through the fields on Sabbath.
His students were plucking and eating, rubbing it in their hands.
2 Some of the Pharisees said, “Why are they doing what one shouldn’t on Sabbath?”

Mark doesn’t mention they were eating the grain, so it sounds a little like petty vandalism—as kids will do. But no, it wasn’t that; the other gospels point out they were eating it. And no, that’s not theft. The Law stated people were permitted to do so.

Leviticus 19.9-10 KWL
9 “When you harvest the harvest of your land, don’t harvest the edge of your field completely.
Don’t take a second pass.
10 Your vineyard: Don’t strip it bare, and take the broken grapes of your vineyard.
Don’t take a second pass.
Leave them for the poor and the foreigner.
I’m your LORD God.”

God capped certain commands with “I’m your LORD God” when he really meant it.

This was all part of God’s welfare plan for the poor: When they’re hungry, let them eat from the edges of your fields, or pick up whatever you left behind after harvest, and God would bless you and make up for it. The nation was kinda on the honor system: They could glean what they needed… so long that they don’t grab a sickle and reap a swath of it. Dt 23.25 But for the most part it worked. Our culture, in comparison, considers any gleaning a form of theft, and farmers are far more likely to grab a rifle and take potshots at ’em to scare them off.

Regardless of feeding the poor: It was Sabbath. And you might recall the Pharisees had a whole list of stuff you can’t do on Sabbath. In the Mishnah’s list of 39 forms of prohibited work, number 3 would be reaping, and number 5 would be threshing. That whole “rubbing it their hands” bit Luke mentioned—getting the chaff off the seeds—counts as threshing. And if you really wanna get anal about it, by selecting which heads of grain to pluck, the students were sorting—number 7.

Three different kinds of work, and work is banned on Sabbath. It’s in the Ten Commandments, remember? Ex 20.10 Back in Old Testament times, it’d even get you the death penalty. Ex 32.2 So this is no minor quibble. It’s a capital crime.

28 July 2016

So why weren’t Jesus’s students fasting?

And what’s it have to do with wedding parties, robes, and wine?

Mark 2.18-22 • Matthew 9.14-17 • Luke 5.33-39

In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus taught on fasting, it was namely to say it’s to be private; we’re not to do it to seek attention. Mt 6.16-17 Certain Christians claim it also means we’re not to do it at all, and the basis for this claim is this passage, wherein some Jews complain Jesus’s kids don’t fast.

Mark 2.18 KWL
John’s students and the Pharisees were fasting. They came and told Jesus,
“For what reason do John and the Pharisees’ students fast, and your students don’t fast?”
Matthew 9.14 KWL
John’s students visited Jesus, saying,
“For what reason do we and the Pharisees fast so often, and your students don’t fast?
Luke 5.33 KWL
They told Jesus, “John’s students fast frequently and hold vigils.
Same with the Pharisees—and yours eat and drink.”

Ísan nistévontes/“were fasting” Mk 2.18 can also be interpreted “were [the sort of people who practiced] fasting.” The Pharisees were known to fast twice a week, Lk 18.12 probably on Monday and Thursday. Didache 8.1 Since the context of this story is Levi’s dinner party, some folks speculate Levi was throwing it on one of the Pharisees’ fast days. So part of what irritated Pharisees about the dinner wasn’t just the eating and drinking with taxmen and sinners; it was how Jesus was supposed to be fasting along with them, and instead he was enjoying a gourmet lunch, with better wine than they could afford. You know, jealousy.

Of course it’s just as likely this wasn’t a fast day. But they’d been keeping track: They’d never seen Jesus nor his students fast. (They didn’t know about his stint in the desert.) So this was as good a time as any to broach the subject: Why didn’t Jesus do they did?

And lest we blow this off as Pharisees whining about Jesus violating their customs again, all three gospels point out it wasn’t just Pharisees. The students of John the baptist—and we like John, right?—also fasted. Notice Matthew even had John’s students ask the question. Too often we Christians ignore the Pharisees’ considerations, ’cause we presume they were nothing but self-justifying hypocrites only looking to bash Jesus. And partly because we wanna ignore the Law, wrongly figure Jesus taught we can, and wanna bash Pharisees as legalists.

But most Pharisees were good Jews, earnestly trying to follow God, figuring their rabbis knew best… and unaware their rabbis were too often looking for loopholes in the Law. The reason Jesus wound up critiquing the Pharisees so often, was because he chose to be around them all the time. He taught in their synagogues. He ate in their homes. These were, for the most part, his people—who rejected him, Jn 1.11 but still. They followed him around because they wondered whether he was Messiah.

So they asked questions like this, not necessarily to accuse, but understand. Don’t assume they were trying to entrap him till the authors of the gospels, or Jesus, say so. “Why don’t you fast when we do?” is a perfectly valid question.

27 July 2016

Jesus calls Levi. Or Matthew. Whoever.

And why the point isn’t to party with sinners.

Mark 2.13-17 • Matthew 9.9-13 • Luke 5.27-32

I don’t expect anyone’s ever liked taxmen—except of course the kings for whom they were collecting. In first-century Israel, the Judeans and Galileans particularly disliked the taxmen, and to understand why, you gotta understand their history.

In 67BC, Queen Alexandra Salomé of Jerusalem died. Her sons Hyrcanus (whom she made head priest) and Aristobulus fought over who’d be the next king. Antipater bar Antipas, the governor of Idumea (formerly Edom) backed Hyrcanus, and talked him into getting military help from Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, whom we know as Pompey. The Romans intervened in the fight, overthrew Jerusalem (and out of curiosity, Pompey took a peek in the Holiest Place of the temple), and imprisoned Aristobulus. But Pompey screwed Hyrcanus over, keeping him head priest, but making Antipater governor of Judea.

Antipater’s son Herod: You might’ve heard of him. He married Hyrcanus’s granddaughter, and despite not being Jewish, used his Roman connections to become king of Jerusalem. After Herod’s death, his sons likewise fought over who’d be the next king—and again the Romans intervened, with Augustus dividing Israel into fourths. Two sons, Antipas and Philip, were made tetrarch/“ruler of a fourth” over the Galilee and Perea (today’s Golan Heights), and a Roman procurator was put over the other half, namely Jerusalem.

The procurators appointed whoever they pleased as head priest. Usually the Levite who bribed them the most. And this was the state of things when Jesus began his ministry: Half-Jewish “kings” over northern Israel, Romans over southern Israel, and a family of corrupt Sadducees—who don’t even believe in miracles!—running the temple. Plus Roman soldiers everywhere, keeping the scum in power, and crucifying anyone who rebelled.

You already don’t like the taxman, but these taxmen were collecting money for the Romans—forcing the people to pay to be oppressed. As a result these publicani/“public men” were seen as traitors. Most Jews simply hated them. For the most part they refused to let them into their synagogues or temple. Since the taxmen sided with the pagans, they were considered no different from pagans.

Romans didn’t pay their taxmen, but simply let ’em overcharge on taxes, and take their income from the overcharge. So taxmen regularly overcharged. And why shouldn’t they?—the people hated ’em anyway. May as well hate ’em back… and get rich off them.

26 July 2016

Loads of proof in Jesus’s favor—but people don’t wanna see it.

John 5.31-47

If you know the story, Jesus cured some guy in Jerusalem who’d been disabled for decades—an event which should’ve triggered great rejoicing, ’cause God had a prophet in Israel who could cure the sick!

Instead the Judeans pitched a fit, ’cause Jesus cured him on Sabbath. And when Jesus correctly pointed out he could cure on Sabbath because his Father authorized him to do so—he is the Son of Man, after all—they didn’t care to hear it. This, despite the obvious evidence Jesus is precisely who he says he is. Today we’ll get into it.

Elsewhere in John, the Pharisees objected when Jesus made similar grand statements about himself:

John 8.13 KWL
So the Pharisees told Jesus, “You testify about yourself. Your testimony isn’t valid.”

Because alithís ordinarily means “true,” various interpreters leap to the conclusion the Pharisees were accusing Jesus of lying. And no doubt some of ’em believed he was lying. But interpreting it “Your witness is not true” (NKJV) means the average Christian will miss the historical context: John, Jesus, and the Judeans were speaking of the sort of “witness” which held up when people were trying a case in court. And for that, the Law mandated the following:

Deuteronomy 19.15-17 KWL
15 “Don’t stand up only one witness against a man
for any act of evil, offense, or trespass, which he committed.
From the mouth of two witnesses, or the mouth of three witnesses,
a word may stand.
16 For when you stand up a false witness against a man,
to accuse him of rebelling against the Law,
17 the two men who are in dispute are before the LORD’s face,
before the face of priests and judges who are in office in those days.

Jesus prefaced his remarks with “Amen amen,” Jn 5.19, 24, 25 which is an oath—he swore what he taught was true, that he is the Son of Man, and will judge the world on behalf of the Father. But he knew by Pharisee standards he only provided his own word, so they wouldn’t accept it. They’d demand further witnesses.

I should point out some commentators claim Judeans wouldn’t accept anyone’s testimony about themselves. Supposedly in a Judean court, neither the accused nor the plaintiff could make statements. Well, the scriptures demonstrate people could, and did. In the trials of Jesus, Peter and John, Stephen, and Paul, all of ’em made statements. (Stephen took a whole chapter. Ac 7) Jesus was even sentenced to death because nobody else’s testimony was valid but his—and he testified he’s Messiah. Mt 26.63-66 One person’s testimony is certainly valid; Jn 8.14 it’s just Jesus’s listeners in this chapter wanted more witnesses.

So Jesus brought ’em forth. Starting with John the baptist.

John 5.31-35 KWL
31 “When I testify about myself, my testimony ‘isn’t valid’:
32 The one who testifies about me must be another person.
Fine. I know a witness who is valid, who testified about me:
33 You sent for John, and he answered truthfully.
34 I don’t accept testimony from people, but I say this so you can be saved:
35 John’s a burning, shining lamp, and you wanted to rejoice in his light for an hour.”

John had referred to Jesus as “God’s ram, taking up the world’s sin!” Jn 1.29 KWL He knew Jesus had pre-existed; Jn 1.15, 30 he’d seen the Holy Spirit stay on Jesus, because he’s the one who baptizes with the Spirit. Jn 1.32-33 John knew who Jesus was, and if you considered John valid (as we Christians do), he counts as a second witness to Jesus.

25 July 2016

The implications of being the Son of God.

And you thought it was just a nice title.

John 5.17-30

After Jesus cured the sickly man at the pool, the Judeans objected that he’d done so on Sabbath, to which Jesus responded like yea:

John 5.17-18 KWL
17 Jesus answered them, “My Father works today, just like I work.”
18 So the Judeans all the more wanted him dead for this reason:
Not only was he dismissing Sabbath custom,
but he said God was his own Father, making himself equal to God.

Now, why’d that outrage the Judeans? Sloppy interpreters say it’s because Jesus was claiming, “I can do whatever I want, because my Father can do whatever he wants. I’m as unbound by your Law as he is.” So the Judeans were offended because Jesus was claiming license to break the Law.

As they should be. When you break the Law, it’s sin. Yet Jesus was born under the Law, Ga 4.4 was held to the Law’s standard, Ro 2.12, 3.19 and didn’t sin. He 4.15 He didn’t violate the Law, despite anything lawless Christians claim—because they want license to break the Law.

Okay, so Jesus wasn’t talking about breaking the Law, nor having the divine prerogative to do so. So then why’d that outrage the Judeans?

In Roman culture—which had largely superseded the Hebrew patriarchal culture by this point in history—adult sons were considered equal in legal status to their fathers. They had the run of their father’s property; they held their father’s authority; they had full access to their father’s money; they were equal. So Jesus wasn’t saying, “I can cure on Sabbath because God told me it’s okay,” nor “I can cure on Sabbath because God commissioned me to do so.” He was saying, “I can cure on Sabbath because I’m legally equal to God.”

If that sounds blasphemous to you, you know it sure did to the Judeans.

But rather than back away from the idea, Jesus doubled down. Not only is the LORD his legitimate, literal Father, Lk 1.35 but you know how God’s gonna raise the dead 2Co 1.9 and judge the world Ps 96.13 when the End comes? Yeah… guess who he’s delegated all that to?

And the proof of it comes from the fact Jesus can heal. The Son doesn’t wanna go outside the Father’s will. The only reason he can cure the sick because he sees the Father cure the sick, and if the Father does it, this automatically authorizes the Son to do it. Hey, if the Father didn’t approve of curing the sick on Sabbath, why would the Holy Spirit grant Jesus the power to do so?

John 5.19-21 KWL
19 So in reply Jesus also told them, “Amen amen!
I promise you the Son can’t work anything by himself unless he sees the Father working.
For the Father might do anything, and the Son will do likewise,
20 for the Father cares for the Son, and shows him everything he does.
The Father’ll show him greater works—so you might be astounded!—
21 for just as the Father raises the dead and creates life,
so also the Son creates life in whomever he wants.”

You think Jesus curing the sick and throwing out demons is astounding? Just you wait. In the very near future, you’re gonna read stories from the gospels about Jesus raising the dead. And during the End Times, there’s gonna be even more.

22 July 2016

How your politics will kill your testimony.

If you can’t talk politics yet still produce good fruit, they’re in Christ’s way. And need to go.

Couple months ago I found one of my favorite theologians is on Twitter. I have a few of his books, and used to listen to his radio program—in podcast form, naturally; who listens to radio anymore? So I decided to “follow” him.

About two weeks later I simply had to stop following him.

Why? ’Cause everything he tweets is angry, partisan, hate-filled, deliberately provocative, overly zealous… and sometimes even the reverse of what Jesus teaches. You know, works of the flesh. The times he actually reflected Christ—the times he acted like the thoughtful theologian I originally became a fan of—were once in a blue moon. Now it’s nothing but bile.

What happened to the guy? He got political.

I know. If you’re the political sort, your dander’s probably up already. Might be from the title. “Politics kill my testimony? What, are you one of those [bums from the opposition party]?

Maybe. But no, I’m not saying politics is gonna turn every Christian, or even you, into a fruitless Christian jerk. It’s not the politics: It’s what the politics might turn you into. It’s whether your support of your party, your candidates, your political views, or your “Christian worldview,” ultimately make you unlike Christ. ’Cause it can happen. ’Cause it happened to me.

I don’t have an issue with politics per se. I have political friends. On both wings; I grew up in the midst of the American Christian Right, and I’ve since made lots of friends among the Christian Left. My own irritating politics pick and choose from both sides, based on whether I think they reflect Christ Jesus’s teachings best. The reason they irritate people is ’cause they don’t neatly fit into the popular categories. The reason my friends put up with it (and me) is ’cause a lot of times we do agree. And when we disagree, I’m not a dick about it. (I try not to be, anyway.)

Now, when I was younger, different deal. I was semi-solidly in the Christian Right. I say semi-solidly because while I fully agreed with their moral views, I had big problems with their economic ones—which don’t come from Jesus, but from the party. I had doubts, and rightly so. But I stuffed ’em, ’cause I wanted to be loyal. I zealously supported the party. Too zealously.

Problem is, I didn’t realize zílos/“zeal” is a work of the flesh. Ge 5.20 And why would I? My NIV translated it “jealousy,” and I wasn’t jealous; my KJV translated it “emulations,” and I didn’t know what emulations were. Plenty of Christians believe zeal’s a virtue, though it’s rarely used that way in the scriptures. We figure zeal’s what we should feel for the beliefs we hold, the causes we support, the Christ we worship. It justifies every unkind thing we do in their support.

21 July 2016

The big mystery: Gentiles get into the kingdom.

And how dispensationalists get this so mixed up.

Ephesians 3.1-12

Paul was under house arrest when he wrote Ephesians, Ep 6.20 but since he knew how to be content in any situation, Pp 4.11 he knew how to make jokes about it. It’s why this chapter begins with a little joke about the fact he was in bonds: He was Jesus’s bondservant. Specifically for the sake of the gentiles. Y’see, had he not been so intent on preaching the gospel to gentiles too, he’d likely never have been arrested in the first place. Ac 22.21-29 Not that he wasn’t totally taking advantage of his arrest so he could meet Agrippa Herod and Nero Caesar and share Jesus with them, but still.

But you wanna know the real reason he was in chains? Well, maybe you’ve read one of his previous letters, like Galatians or Romans. (No, Paul didn’t write those letters to Ephesus—nor did he write this letter specifically to Ephesus—but churches made copies and spread ’em around.) If you hadn’t, he spilled the beans right here.

Ephesians 3.1-6 KWL
1 Here’s the reason I, Paul, became Christ Jesus’s bondservant for you gentiles—
2 unless you already heard God’s system of grace he gave me for you.
3 He made the mystery known to me through special revelation—as I previously, briefly wrote you.
4 Its readers can see my meaning about “Christ’s mystery.”
5 It wasn’t made known to previous generations of the sons of men.
He now revealed the mystery to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
6 The gentiles are to be co-inheritors, co-body-parts, co-sharers
in the promise of Christ Jesus, through the gospel.

This was outrageous news to bigoted Pharisees who were certain God was gonna smite the gentiles, wipe them off the face of the earth, and populate his kingdom with only Jews.

Where’d they get such a genocidal idea? Wasn’t from bible. Messiah wasn’t (and isn’t) gonna wipe out the world’s kings; they’re gonna kneel before him. Ps 2.10-12 “King of kings and lord of lords” means other kings and lords are gonna exist in his administration—but under him. And not all these kings were gonna be Hebrew. He was always gonna be the gentiles’ king of kings. Everybody’s king.

The Pharisees already knew this… but some of ’em may not have put two and two together. And didn’t wanna. They held grudges against the gentiles. Some were still annoyed with the Greeks, Syrians, and Romans for conquering them. (Heck, some were still annoyed with the Egyptians for enslaving them 1,500 years before.) Some were annoyed with the gentiles who lived in their neighborhoods, for one reason or another. So they indulged their prejudices, and focused on the scriptures which imply God’s gonna severely decimate the gentiles’ numbers.

To such people, the very idea gentiles would share the Jews’ inheritance by embracing their Messiah? Oh, that pissed ’em off. It’s like telling a citizen of Arizona, “Hey, we’re gonna give these Mexicans free healthcare.” If they had guns back then, they’d open fire on you. The folks in temple did try to kill him, y’know.

20 July 2016

Are we living in the last days?


When people ask, “Are we living in the last days?” what they nearly always mean by it is, “These awful things happening in the present day: Are they signs Jesus is returning soon? Like in the next few years? Is it the time-before-the-End-Times?”

Why they’re asking is ’cause they already suspect the answer is yes.

Because awful things are happening in the present day. Cops shooting innocent citizens; citizens shooting innocent cops. Wars and terrorists, rumors of wars and terrorists, people who could shoot up a room with no advance warning, drones which could smite you from the heavens above like Zeus himself. Scary new diseases. Unfamiliar “social norms” which were neither “normal” nor “moral” just a decade ago; who expected marijuana to be legalized? Unfamiliar technology which, given its power, may very well be dangerous. Racism coming out of the closet. Immoral people running for president, and so-called Christians not just holding their noses and voting for the lesser evil, but endorsing them, and praying for their victory instead of their salvation.

So yeah, when things get bad like this, people understandably want it to be the last days. We don’t want it any worse. We really want Jesus to return, to stop the madness. In this, I don’t blame ’em whatsoever. The sooner Jesus invades, the better. Maranatha.

But does a sinful world indicate Jesus is returning soon? Nah. A sinful world is the status quo. The world’s always been sinful.

“But it’s worse than it’s ever been!” Again, nah. I once taught history. Still read history books for fun. Without a doubt, there’ve been many, many, many times throughout human history where things were worse. Far worse. Unimaginably worse; it’s why Game of Thrones still shocks people, even though worse atrocities have been committed in real life. If you’ve read your bible, you’ve even read some of them. If you haven’t, check out the early chapters of Exodus, or most of Judges, or the decline and fall of Israel after the kingdom split in two. Jesus lived under the Roman occupation of Israel; that was worse. It got even worse than that, as you’ll see when you read Flavius Josephus’s Jewish War.

Why do Americans insist things are worse than they’ve ever been? Mostly because of the popular myth, spread by political conservatives, that America used to be better. People used to be more noble, more Christian, kept their word, followed the Law, respected their elders; this used to be a Christian nation. And even though these very same people know their American history—the atrocities of African slavery, the genocidal wars against the Indians, the Civil War and racism and sexism and imperialism, the many things Americans had to overcome—somehow they divorce these effects from the causes, and forget we Americans were the causes. Total depravity, y’know. A truly moral people wouldn’t have suffered them, nor struggled so long to be rid of them, nor still need to deal with ’em.

If “things used to be better,” and currently they sure aren’t, it must follow we’re getting worse. And doesn’t worse mean Jesus is returning soon?

19 July 2016

The Didache: How’d the earliest Christians behave?

Yep, we have a written record of it.

Didache /'dɪ.də.kei, di.da'hi/ n. A first-century Christian manual for new believers. [From the Greek didahí/“teaching.”]

In the first century, some anonymous Christian leaders wrote a “teaching” for the new members of Christian synagogues: The stuff they felt these Christians oughta know and believe. Over time it’s become known as the Didache, from its first line, Didahí Kyríu diá ton dódeka apostólon toís éthesin/“The Master’s teaching to the gentiles, from the 12 apostles.” Western Christians assumed it had been lost sometime in the 800s, but Ethiopian Christians still had a version of it, and an 11th-century copy in the Codex Hierosolymitanus was rediscovered by Philotheos Bryennios in 1873.

Historians notice a lot of similarities between the Didache and what the Qumran community taught in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s considered a Jewish-Christian catechism, a lesson to be memorized (usually in question-answer format, though not here) to help adapt the Jewish way of life for gentile Christians. Whether it’s precisely as the Twelve taught, we’ve no idea; but it’s safe to say it’s what a lot of early Christians taught. In fact, a lot of early Christians wanted to include the Didache in the New Testament.

So why isn’t it scripture? ’Cause for the longest time, Christians thought it was written in the second century. And since the New Testament was ultimately limited to first-century writings, that left the Didache out. I’m not saying we should add it now… but it’s interesting to look at the way early Christians expected newbies to behave. It’s why I include the whole of it below.

The translation and chapter titles are mine. I took the text from the Codex Hierosolymitanus. Read it yourself, and notice how many of these ideas are still taught in your own church.

18 July 2016

Remember the Sabbath day.

Our weekly holiday… and a command we regularly violate.

Believe it or not, we Christians actually have a holiday every single week. You likely forgot about it because it’s so regular.

It’s Sabbath. It’s the day God mandated (in the Ten Commandments, you know) that people take off. We’re not to work on it. We have the other six days of the week for that.

Exodus 20.8-11 KWL
8 “Remember to separate the day of Sabbath.
9 Work six days, and do all your work. 10 The seventh day is Sabbath.
It’s for me, your LORD God. Don’t start any work on it. That counts for you,
your sons, daughters, male slaves, female slaves, animals, or visitors at your gates.
11 For six days, I the LORD made the skies and the land, the sea and everything in it.
The seventh day, I stopped, so I the LORD blessed a day of Sabbath. I made it holy.”

And once again, in Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 5.12-15 KWL
12 “Keep separate the day of Sabbath, as your LORD God commanded you.
13 Work six days, and do all your work. 14 The seventh day is Sabbath.
It’s for your LORD God. Don’t start any work on it. That counts for you,
your sons, daughters, slaves, ox, donkey, animals, or visitors at your gates.
Because your male and female slaves will rest like you:
15 Remember, you were a slave in Egypt’s territory.
Your LORD God got you out of there with his strong hand and extended arm.
This is why your LORD God commands you to do the day of Sabbath.”

Note God said it was ’cause he rested on the seventh day, but Moses said it was ’cause the Hebrews used to be Egypt’s slaves. It’s one of those little contradictions people like to pretend the bible doesn’t have. But really, there’s no reason we can’t accept both interpretations. After all, real life is messy like that.

Sabbath comes from the word shabbát/“stop.” God stopped creating the earth on the seventh day; Ge 2.2 likewise we’re to stop working every seventh day. We’re not meant to work seven days a week. We burn out. Our mental state collapses. God, recognizing this (’cause he made us, of course), put a moratorium on work every seven days: Stop. Rest. That goes for everyone.

15 July 2016

The sickly man at the pool.

Whom Jesus cured on Sabbath.

John 5.1-18

When people compare the gospels, they lump this story together with the story in the other three gospels where Jesus cured the paraplegic. ’Cause this guy sounds paraplegic. But we’ve no idea if that was his problem: All John wrote was he was asthenón/“sickly.” Without strength, weak, feeble. The KJV translates it as “impotent,” which means something entirely different nowadays, and if you want your listeners to giggle, go ahead and keep calling him “the impotent man.” Jn 5.7 KJV I’ll stick with “sickly,” thank you.

This took place at a pool in Jerusalem, during one of Jesus’s thrice-yearly Dt 16.16 trips to temple. The Sheep Gate was the east-wall gate, just north of the temple. (Today it’s the sha’ar ha-Arayot/“Lions’ Gate,” named after the leopard carvings over it, which get confused with lions. It’s the entrance to the Muslim quarter.) The KJV calls the pool “Bethesda,” so that’s what most bibles go with. But the original word is a bit harder to pin down. Greek bibles call it Bithatha (Codex Sinaiticus), Bithsaida (Codex Vaticanus), Bithesdá (Textus Receptus), and Bithzathá (UBS). People nowadays figure it was called Beit Khésda/“mercy house,” but the Copper Scroll among the Dead Sea Scrolls calls it Beit Eshdáthayin/“two mercies house.”

Two mercies, ’cause two pools. They were built by head priest Simon bar Onias in the first century BC. One held warm water, the other cold. They were surrounded by four shaded porticoes, and there’s a rock formation which provided the fifth shade. Apparently this was a therapeutic healing center—with a popular myth about an angel stirring the pool, which wormed its way into the Textus Receptus as verse 4. Since it’s not in the oldest copies of John, you’re not gonna find verse 4 in most current translations.

John 5.1-4 KWL
1 After these things Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a Jewish festival.
2 There’s a pool with five shaded areas by Jerusalem’s Sheep Gate, called Beit Eshdáthayin in Aramaic.
3 By it lie a large number of sickly, blind, injured, or disabled people.
[They wait for the water to move,
4 for sometimes an angel came down to the pool and stirred the water.
Whenever the water stirred, the first in got better from whatever ailment they had.]

I put it in brackets because though John likely didn’t write it, some Christian added it to explain the comment in verse 7 about “whenever the water gets stirred up.” Maybe that’s what first-century Judeans believed about the pool. Or maybe the water got stirred up whenever the attendants dumped in a fresh batch of bath salts. We don’t know. We just know the water getting agitated was a big deal, and “others go in before me” was the sickly man’s complaint.

We don’t know why Jesus was there, or why he zeroed in on one particular man and cured him, instead of curing everyone. Maybe he was the only one at the pool on Sabbath. ’Cause yes, it was Sabbath. This isn’t the first time Jesus did such a thing on Sabbath, but it’s probably the first time he got caught.

John 5.5-9 KWL
5 There was a certain person who’d been sickly 38 years. 6 Jesus saw him laying there.
He knew he’d been there a long time, and told him, “You want to get better?”
7 The sickly man answered him, “Master, whenever the water gets stirred up,
I have nobody who could throw me in the pool. I get into it; others go in before me.”
8 Jesus told him, “Get up. Pick up your cot and walk.”
9A Next, the person got better, took up his cot, and walked.

14 July 2016

Jesus forgives, then heals, a paraplegic.

And in so doing, shook the worldview of the scribes in the room.

Mark 2.1-12 • Matthew 9.1-8 • Luke 5.17-26

Bible scholars call this story a controversy pericope, a fancy way of saying it’s another tale where people debate who Jesus really is. You know, like Jesus tossing out the demonized guy in synagogue. There are a bunch of these stories in the gospels.

See, in the process of explaining God to people, Jesus steps on a lot of toes. Especially among people who figure they already have God figured out—and Jesus contradicts them, so Jesus must be the one who’s wrong. Jesus still scandalizes people this way—but nowadays, the closed-minded folks have already embraced an iffy interpretation of Jesus which doesn’t offend them any, and we outrage ’em by poking holes in it. (Welcome to my world.)

In Mark and Luke this story happens after Jesus cured an infectious man; in Matthew after visiting the Dekapolis and kicking 2,000 demons out of a pagan; and various gospel comparisons like to link this up to when Jesus cured a different paraplegic at Beit Khésda (KJV “Bethesda”), Jerusalem. I’ll tell that story next. But this one starts in a house in Kfar Nahum; likely Jesus’s, though a lot of Christians speculate (for no good reason) it was Simon Peter’s.

Mark 2.1-2 KWL
1 Days after Jesus entered Kfar Nahum again, people heard he was in a house.
2 So many gathered, the house no longer had room; not even by the door.
Jesus was teaching them a lesson.
Matthew 9.1 KWL
Stepping into a boat, Jesus crossed the lake and came to his own town.
Luke 5.17 KWL
This happened one day: Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and law-teachers were seated there.
They were coming from every village in the Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem.
The Lord’s power to heal was in Jesus.

Yes, Jesus’s house. People figure Jesus didn’t have a house, ’cause the Son of Man “had no place to lay his head,” Lk 9.58 but that’s when he was traveling. When he was in Kfar Nahum, he had a home. Likely with family; with his uncle Zavdi, and his cousins James and John. Who, I’m sure, were initially startled to find their home overrun with Jesus’s followers—and horrified when a bunch of guys decided to bust through the roof and drop a paraplegic on ’em.

13 July 2016

The man Jesus cured… then drove away.

Just because he cured you, doesn’t mean he anointed you.

Mark 1.40-45 • Matthew 8.1-4 • Luke 5.12-16

You know that saying, “No good deed goes unpunished”? Here we see it slam right into Jesus.

In Mark it’s after Jesus started traveling the Galilee preaching the gospel; Luke it’s while Jesus is in one of the towns; Matthew it’s immediately after the Sermon on the Mount, and doesn’t include the problematic ending I’m talking about.

Initially it looks just like another case of faith-healing. A man approached Jesus, suffering from chara’át, the catch-all term the bible uses for infection—whether skin diseases, or the rot we find in clothing or buildings. Lv 13-14 If we’re talking skin conditions, Leviticus describes more than one. A spreading white spot on the skin; or a raw spot more than skin-deep; an open sore with yellow or white hairs round it. Lv 13.3-4, 10, 19 It lists symptoms, but doesn’t nail down any one disease. Really it could be all sorts of diseases: Eczema, skin cancer, even a lack of pigment. (Though Leviticus makes clear that if the white skin covered your entire body, and you had no raw skin, you didn’t have chara’át. Good thing for me. I’m awfully white.)

The translators of the Septuagint simply called it lépros/“leprosy,” and so do the writers of the New Testament. But it’s not actually leprosy (i.e. Hansen’s disease). Leprosy isn’t contagious. It causes one’s extremities to go numb, and if you aren’t careful with your numb hands and feet, that’s how you wind up with sores. Chara’át was definitely contagious, which is why the scripture ordered its sufferers to wear shabby clothing and messy hair, cover their mouth, stay outside cities, keep their distance and live alone, and shout “Unclean!” whenever anyone came near. Lv 13.45-46

No, they weren’t necessarily dirty. They were ritually unclean. They were prohibited from worship, lest they spread their disease. The word we translate “leper,” chará, also means “to whip.” It gave people the idea God was doing the whipping. Maybe cause of something you did.

Contrary to those folks with a warped view of God’s sovereignty, who see all disease as an “act of God,” nature works independently of God. He doesn’t smite people with it, just so he can show off his almighty ability to cure it. Rarely does he use disease to punish people. More often he’s fighting it, same as we. Same as Jesus, who wants to cleanse people. Like here.

Mark 1.40-42 KWL
40 An infectious man came to Jesus, begging him on his knees,
telling him this: “If you want, you can cleanse me!”
41 Sympathetically extending his hand, Jesus touched him and told him,
“I want. Be cleansed”42 and next the infection went away. He was cleansed.
Matthew 8.1-3 KWL
1 Great crowds followed Jesus as he came down the hill.
2 Look: An approaching infectious man begged Jesus,
saying, “Master, if you want, you can cleanse me!”
3 Extending his hand, Jesus touched him, saying,
“I want. Be cleansed”—and next the infectious man was cleansed.
Luke 5.12-13 KWL
12 This happened while Jesus was in one of the towns:
Look, a man covered in infection. On seeing Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him,
saying, “Master, if you want, you can cleanse me!”
13 Extending his hand, Jesus touched him, saying,
“I want. Be cleansed”—and next the infection went away.

12 July 2016

Ready to take on the whole of the Galilee.

Never project your burnout upon Jesus.

Mark 1.35-39 • Matthew 4.23-25 • Luke 4.42-44

For some strange reason, whenever preachers talk about Jesus curing every disease in Kfar Nahum, they describe it as Jesus spending all day doing it. He didn’t spend all day at it. They came to him at sundown. Mk 1.32, Mt 8.16, Lk 4.40 He spent all night curing people and throwing out demons. That’s right. Hope he got his Sabbath rest, ’cause he sure needed it.

By the end of it, preachers tend to describe Jesus as exhausted. And he might’ve been pretty tired, ’cause he was up all night. But exhausted? That’s only because they don’t know what it’s like to supernaturally heal people. Faith-healers will tell you it’s just the opposite. It’s not like a medical doctor, repairing patient after patient with treatment after treatment, taxing their mind and body with thought and work. You aren’t doing the work; the Holy Spirit is. You watch him do his thing; you rejoice once he’s done it. It’s not tiring. It’s invigorating.

More likely, Jesus was wired after curing person after person after person. Too jazzed to ever get to sleep.

Since translators don’t realize this, they tend to make it sound like Jesus woke up crazy-early in the morning, after maybe two or three hours of sleep. But anastás exílthen doesn’t mean “rising up, he went out.” It means “the one who was [already] arisen, went out.” He didn’t get up and figure, “It’s prayer time.” He hadn’t slept yet. And didn’t wanna sleep. He wanted more.

What mood did you imagine Jesus was in?

Mark 1.35-38 KWL
35 Still awake in the still-dark morning, Jesus left, went away to a wild place, and prayed.
36 Simon Peter followed Jesus, and others with him.
37 They found Jesus and told him this: “Everyone’s looking for you.”
38 Jesus told them, “We should go elsewhere.
Into all the communities there are, because I should preach there.
I left for that reason.”
Luke 4.42-43 KWL
42 When it became day, leaving, Jesus went to a wild place.
The crowd was looking for him, and came up to him. They held him back, lest he leave him.
43 Jesus told them this: “It’s necessary for God’s kingdom
for me to evangelize other towns, because I was sent for this reason.”

“Kfar Nahum is cured. Who’s next? Give me more!”

See, mindset makes a huge difference when it comes to biblical interpretation. Christians bring their own pessimism, their own exhaustion, their own skepticism and cynicism and negativity, and as a result we wind up with a negative Jesus who just wants to get away from these people. What the hell? Jesus loves people. He came to save people! Not ditch ’em at the first opportunity.

11 July 2016

Jesus cures the crowds.

When he healed everyone in Kfar Nahum.

Mark 1.32-34 • Matthew 8.16-17 • Luke 4.40-41

In ancient Israel there was no such thing as healthcare.

If you got sick, your only recourse was either for God to miraculously heal you, or folk medicine. Science hadn’t been invented yet, so folk medicine was unproven. Some of it actually did work, like willow bark (which we nowadays call “aspirin”) or poppy juice (which we nowadays call “opium”). The rest were guesses, hearsay, rumor, or homeopathy—if something was poisoning you, a lot of poison oughta make your immune system fight it off all the harder! Or kill you, but them’s the risks.

If you were wealthy, you could go to experts. But like I said, no science yet: These “experts” didn’t really know what they were doing. Read Hippocrates or Galen sometime; their philosophical theories are sorta entertaining, but the idea of people trying to cure the sick through this so-called “knowledge” is frankly frightening.

We tend to translate the Greek word yatrós (plural, yatrói) as “physician.” Today physician means a doctor of medicine; in King James’ day it meant “one who gives you physic,” and physic means “medicine.” They’d inflict more folk remedies on you. They’d dope you up till you didn’t care about pain. It’s the best they knew.

Among pagan yatrói, one of the tools in their iffy arsenal was daimónia/“demons.” To our culture (and Jesus’s), demons were nothing but evil spirits. But to pagans, demons were considered minor gods, little helpers like guardian angels. If you were sick, the yatrói would ask their gods Apollo or Aesculapius to stick a few demons in you, and maybe they’d fix you right up. If they didn’t… well, add a few more demons. And more. A legion’s worth, perhaps.

A far better translation of yatrós would be “witch doctor.” It’s the one I tend to go with.

So if you’ve ever wondered why the gospels contain so many stories where Jesus had to throw out demons, and why getting rid of demons is so frequently linked with supernatural healing, this is why. Jesus lived in the Galilee, where Jews interacted with Syrian Greek pagans on a regular basis. Some of these Jews weren’t all that devout, so sometimes they went to witch doctors for help. When sick people get desperate, they’ll try anything… and it seems Galileans regularly settled for demons, and wound up with way bigger problems than they ever bargained for.

08 July 2016

Curing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law.

The first time Jesus cured someone on Sabbath.

Mark 1.29-31 • Matthew 8.14-15 • Luke 4.38-39

Jesus’s best student was probably Simon bar John Jn 1.42 (or Simon bar Jonah; Mt 16.17 Matthew and John don’t sync up) whom Jesus had nicknamed Kefá/“Cephas”/“Peter.” He was picked to be in the Twelve. Whenever the Twelve get listed, Simon came first; Mk 3.16 and when the Twelve first started leading the church after Jesus ascended, we typically read of Simon leading the group. Ac 1.15, 2.14, 5.29 Hence Christians tend to agree Simon was the church’s first leader; and Roman Catholics insist part of the reason the Bishop of Rome leads their church is because he’s Simon’s successor to that job.

But unlike leaders in the Catholic church today, Simon was married. 1Co 9.5 At this point in the gospels, he even had his wife’s mother living with him. For it was Simon’s house Jesus entered, and Simon’s sick mother-in-law whom they asked him to cure. The whole unmarried celibate leadership requirement, drawn from Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 7.32-35, didn’t become the standard for a few more centuries. Protestants still largely ignore it… even though, from what I’ve seen among certain Christian leaders who really don’t know how to juggle ministry and family, more of us Protestants oughta consider it. But I digress.

Anywho, let’s get to the story where Jesus cures Simon’s mother-in-law. In Mark and Luke it comes right after—possibly the morning after—Jesus taught in synagogue, and threw out an unclean spirit. Meaning this’d still be Sabbath. So here we have the first instance of Jesus curing disease on Sabbath, a practice of his which profoundly irritated Pharisees. But since it wasn’t in public, no Pharisees were around to know about it, much less bellyache about it.

In Matthew this story comes after the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus came down from the mountain, cured a leper, cured a centurion’s slave (a story which some folks like to mix up with curing the prince’s son, for no good reason), and then stopped by Simon’s and cured his mother-in-law.

I did mention Jesus’s students were teenagers. I also mentioned Jews could marry as soon as they reached adulthood, which’d be age 13 in their culture. Simon likely made good money in the fishing business, and could afford to support a wife, and marry young. Whether his wife came with him as he studied under Jesus, we have no idea. Certain verses imply not. Lk 18.29 But it’s not impossible.

To the story.

Mark 1.29-31 KWL
29 Next, coming out of synagogue, Jesus went to Simon and Andrew’s house with James and John.
30 Simon’s feverish mother-in-law was lying down, and next they spoke to Jesus about her.
31 Coming in, gripping her hand, Jesus raised her.
The fever released her—and she was ministering to them.
Matthew 8.14-15 KWL
14 Jesus came to Simon Peter’s house.
He saw Simon’s feverish mother-in-law had been knocked down,
15 and Jesus held on to her hand and the fever released her.
Getting up, she was ministering to him.
Luke 4.38-39 KWL
38 Rising from synagogue, Jesus entered Simon’s house.
Simon’s mother-in-law was wrapped in a great fever, and they asked Jesus about her.
39 Standing over her, Jesus rebuked the fever. It released her.
Getting up right away, she was ministering to them.

04 July 2016

Does God actually do anything in your testimony?

Whenever you share your God-experiences, make sure God’s actually somewhere in the experience.

Testimony /'tɛs.tə.moʊ.ni/ n. Public recounting of a religious experience, usually a conversion.
[Testimonial /tɛs.tə'moʊ.ni.əl/ adj., testify /'tɛs.tə.faɪ/ v.]

Usually when people talk about a testimony, it’s a formal legal statement, made before attorneys or a judge, of something you personally witnessed. Christian testimonies aren’t so formal. But they are about what we personally witnessed. We saw God do something. We’re sharing that story.

By testimony lots of Christians mean their conversion story: When we first realized we were Christians, or first decided to become Christians. Some of these stories are dramatic, like the heroin addict who’s decided to kill himself with one massive overdose, and then Jesus appeared to him and said, “Don’t,” and now he runs a megachurch. Some of ’em are a bit more mundane, like mine: I was a little kid, and Mom told me about Jesus, and I asked him into my heart… and I never did get to try heroin. Oh well.

But as I keep trying to remind Christians, conversion stories aren’t the only testimonies we have. Certainly shouldn’t be. Certainly aren’t for me. My little-kid conversion story was 40 years ago, and Jesus doesn’t even make a personal appearance. If the only experience I have of Jesus is that story, I suck as a Christian. What’ve I been doing for these past four decades? Knitting?

God has done a lot of things in my life. I have loads of God-stories. Any time I’m sharing Jesus with some pagan, and they wanna know, “But what can God do in my life?” I can always respond, “I don’t know; that’s between you and him. But I can tell you what he’s done in my life.” And out come my God-stories. When he’s told me stuff. When he’s given me prophecies. When he’s had me pray for people to get healed, and they were. When I’ve witnessed him heal other people. My Christianity isn’t just academic; God’s shown up a bunch. And every time he does, I get another testimony.

What’s God done in your life? That’s your testimony.

Now share it!

01 July 2016

Dual citizenship… and picking a side.

You’re a citizen of the kingdom and your nation. Which one has your allegiance?

Many Christians are fond of saying, “This world isn’t my home. Heaven is.”

To a degree that’s true. We’re part of the kingdom of heaven, with Jesus our king. We recognize his reign (or try to) and follow him (more or less). Or at least we expect, despite our unloving, unkind, impatient, fruitless behavior, he’ll nonetheless graciously recognize us as his followers when he takes over the world. Maybe he will.

In the meanwhile, we’re also citizens of our nations. I’m a citizen of the United States, as are most of TXAB’s readers, which is why I so often get U.S.-centric. Of course I know there are readers from all over: You might be a citizen of Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Ireland, Malaysia, the Philippines, Russia, the U.K.… and that’s the top 10, so if I didn’t list your nation, you’re just gonna have to enlist more of your friends to read, and bump up your stats. Anywho, as Christians we’re all fellow citizens of God’s kingdom—yet at the same time we have allegiances to our respective homelands.

In the U.S., if you’re both a citizen of this country and another one, we call you a “dual citizen.” We have lots of ’em. Officially the U.S. only recognizes one citizenship: Ours. (So pay your taxes. It’s why Americans who don’t even live in the States still have to pay American taxes.) When people become Americans, part of our citizenship oath requires people to renounce their original country. But if the original country doesn’t care about that, and still counts them a citizen, they’re dual citizens. Most of the dual citizens I know are also Mexican citizens, and take full advantage of their Mexican citizenship whenever they’re in Mexico. One’s from the U.K.—and when he visits family in the U.K., he’ll even switch his accent from Californian to Londoner.

Here’s the catch with dual citizenship: Sometimes you gotta pick a nation.

Say you were a citizen of both the U.S. and Iran. And say we went to war. (Hope not, but let’s just say.) Well, you’re gonna have to pick a side. Especially if you work for the government—of either nation. Neither country will let you stay neutral: You’ve gotta be wholly American, or wholly Iranian. (Or you’ve gotta flee to Argentina.)

Well, that’s how Christians are when it comes to our national citizenships. I’m a dual citizen of the kingdom and the United States. So what happens when the States does someting hostile to the kingdom? Right you are: I gotta pick a side. And I’ll let you know right now: I’m picking Jesus. Like any immigrant, I may have been born American, but I choose citizenship in the kingdom. So Jesus takes priority. Don’t even have to think about it.

Much as I love the United States, I’m fully aware that when Jesus returns, he’s gonna overthrow it. And when he raptures his followers to join his invasion, we’re gonna help him overthrow it. I’m gonna help him overthrow it.

Yes, that’s treason against the United States. Yes, this treason-talk is probably making a lot of good patriotic Americans feel extremely uncomfortable. As it should. ’Cause this isn’t a hypothetical situation: Jesus is returning. Not maybe; is. Not in some “spiritual sense,” by which you’re probably thinking imaginary. He’s literally, physically coming to earth to take it over. Maybe not in our lifetimes… but maybe he will; we don’t know.

So where’s your allegiance? ’Cause you must pick a side. Probably should do it now.