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Showing posts from April, 2017

Textual variants.

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’Cause sometimes the bible’s oldest copies won’t agree. TEXTUAL VARIANT 'tɛks.tʃ(əw.)əl 'vɛr.i.ənt noun Form or version of a document which differs in some respect from other copies or editions of the same document. Before the printing press was invented in the 1400s, books were copied by hand. Sometimes this was done carefully and conscientiously. The Masoretes, fr’instance, were Jewish scholars who wanted to be certain they got exact copies of the scriptures, with super-duper anal-retentive precision. So they invented a very careful procedure, including a system of checksums, to be sure every copy of the bible was an exact replica. It’s why, when you compare the first-century Dead Sea Scrolls with 10th-century copies of the Old Testament, you find astonishingly few differences. Dudes knew what they were about. Other times, not so much. Even when they knew this was a very important book. (Heck, back then most books were considered important. Hand-copying meant

Do we perform sacraments or ordinances?

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Many Protestants are weirded out by, and water down, this “sacrament” language. ORDINANCE 'ɔr.dɪ.nəns, 'ɔrd.nəns noun. Authoritative order or decree. 2. Religious ritual; particularly one ordained by Christ. 3. What Evangelical Christians call sacraments. I refer to certain Christian rituals as sacraments. But you’re gonna find many Evangelicals really don’t like that word. To them, we don’t call these practices “sacraments.” We call them “ordinances.” Why? Officially, lots of reasons. Unofficially it’s anti-Catholicism. See, a lot of Evangelicals come from churches and traditions which are historically anti-Catholic. True, all the original Protestants originated from various spats with Catholicism. But these folks were raised to be particularly leery of Roman Catholic beliefs. To them, “sacrament” has a lot of bothersome theological baggage attached. So they refuse to use it. But we gotta call our rituals something, and for some reason “ritual” is out. So

“I’ve never heard that before.”

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When ignorance disguises itself as skepticism. In bible studies, whenever certain topics came up in the passages we’re reading, my habit is to bring up the different beliefs and interpretations which different Christians have about them. You might notice I also do this on this blog. Yeah, I do it all the time. For three reasons. My church is hardly the only one out there. Hardly the only denomination; hardly the only tradition. Hardly got a monopoly on the truth. Lots of other Christians have pitched their two cents on these issues. Some of their ideas are useful. And some of ’em aren’t. They’re problematic. So it’s a bit of warning: At some point you’re gonna run into people who actually believe such things. (Even in your own church—what with the way Americans switch churches so often, not everybody grew up with your traditions.) You’ll wonder why the two of you seem to be talking past one another. Helps to know where they’re coming from. In general, it’s not wise for Christi

Don’t just believe. Behave.

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James 1.22-25. I grew up among Christians who believe they’re saved by faith. Not, as the scripture teaches, God’s grace. It’s weird, too; they read the very same letter of Ephesians as the rest of us (“by grace ye are saved” Ep 2.5 KJV ), yet they somehow bungle their interpretation of 2.8 (“for by grace are ye saved through faith” Ep 2.8 KJV ) and assume through takes precedence over by . This isn’t a unique phenomenon either. To this day I run into Christians who think they’re saved by faith. All they gotta do is believe in Jesus—which is correct; it really is all we gotta do—and they’re saved. But they’re not saved by believing in Jesus. Nobody is. We’re saved by grace. If we were saved by faith, it’d mean in order to be saved, I have to believe certain things. Believe ’em really hard. Reject every other belief, no matter how likely I might be to believe them instead. Sort out my beliefs so I’m believing all the correct things. Get my theological ducks in a row. A

The explosive power of God?

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Humans covet power. It’s why we regularly misinterpret what the scriptures have to say about it. Dynamis power /'di.na.mis, usually 'du'nə.mɪs 'paʊ(.ə)r/ n. The extra-mighty sort of power God possesses. [Dynamite power /'daɪ.nə.maɪt 'paʊ(.ə)r/] “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” So wrote poet Alexander Pope in his Essay on Criticism , and a lot of people stop there. They figure what Pope meant was be careful with knowledge. Knowledge is power, and knowledge is dangerous. Read the whole poem and you learn different. A little learning is a dang’rous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring: There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, And drinking largely sobers us again. The Pierian Spring was a fountain in Macedonia dedicated to the Greek goddesses of wisdom and talent, the Muses. Drink from it, and you’re supposed to gain knowledge. Sip from it and you get half-truths. That’s what’s dangerous: A little learning, partial kn

“The gates of hell”: Just how won’t they prevail?

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Lots of weird pop culture interpretations of this one. Typically they’re wrong. Matthew 16.18 Jesus once asked his students who they thought he was. Simon Peter, his best student, correctly identified Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. Mt 16.16 (Since we Christians recognize Jesus is the Father’s only-begotten son, Jn 1.18 we tend to read that into it, rather than recognize “Son of God” as one of Messiah’s titles. In historical context it’s not what Peter meant. But I digress.) In response Jesus pointed out how awesome this was ( KJV “blessed”) because Peter hadn't just deduced it; this was a case of supernatural discernment, or special revelation. The Father had personally revealed this to Peter. Mt 16.17 Which is kinda awesome. Then Jesus said this: Matthew 16.18 KJV And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The words Jesus used were pýlai ádu /“hades’s ga

Who’s the Man? That’d be us Christians.

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American Christians’ persecution mentality… and the sober reality. There’s a 2006 Sprint commercial pertinent to this discussion. I attached the video… which has been on YouTube a while, so let’s see how long it continues to stick around. The dialogue: Stickin’ it to the Man. Assistant. “Is that your new Sprint phone?” Boss. “Uh-huh. With Sprint’s new Fair and Flexible plans, no one can tell me what to do. I can talk when, and how I want. It’s my little way of… sticking it to the Man.” Assistant. “But… you… are the Man.” Boss. “I know.” Assistant. “So you’re sticking it to yourself.” Boss. “…Maybe.” Sprint’s sales pitch follows. What makes this commercial funny is the idea someone in the ruling class, underneath all his success, still has a little bit of rebellion in him, getting satisfaction from the idea of resisting someone who’s got one over him. What also makes it funny is it’s self-delusion. In fact he’s resisting no one. Sprint wants people to have th

Theists and deists: The ways people believe in God.

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Most pagans do believe in God, y’know. THEIST 'θi.ɪst adjective . Believes in the existence of God or gods. 2. Believes in one God, a personal being, the universe’s creator, who interacts with its creation. [Theistic θi'ɪst.ɪk adjective , theism 'θi.ɪz.əm noun ] DEIST 'di.ɪst adjective, noun . Believes God exists, specifically as a creator who doesn’t supernaturally intervene in his universe. [Deistic 'di.ɪs.tɪk adj. , deism 'di.ɪz.əm n. ] If you believe in gods, you’re a theist . People tend to bunch theists into different classifications, depending on how many gods they believe in, and how. Both religious and irreligious people (and the Christian term for the non-religious is “pagan” ) alike fall into these slots: MONOTHEIST : Just the One God, thanks. POLYTHEIST : Multiple gods. Sometimes two, a good and bad god, in a dualistic system. Sometimes three, among heretic Christians who really misunderstand the trinity. Sometimes a whole p

When we’re surrounded by sickness and evil.

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A psalm for whenever we feel like we’re crapped upon. A lot of the “problems” westerners go through are what we call “first-world problems”: If you’re rich and comfortable, little annoyances get exaggerated into big huge crises. Like when your phone battery dies, or the grocery store shrinks your favorite yogurt from 150 grams to 100 and raises the price a nickel, or somebody cut in line at the coffeehouse, or someone misunderstood your latest tweet and got all offended. Now your day is just ruined . Poor people just laugh at these woes as ridiculous. ’Cause they are. Parents of teenagers know what I’m talking about. I used to teach grammar, and my kids would write poetry, and sometimes they’d write really awful poems in which they’d bellyache about the “problems” in their largely problem-free lives. Rarely were they legitimate—like not having enough food, like fighting a difficult disease, like child abuse. Just a bunch of first-world problems. This or that kid was mean to ’em.

Baptism: Get saved, get wet.

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BAPTISM 'bæp.tɪz.əm noun. Religious ritual of sprinkling water on a person’s forehead, or immersing them in water, symbolizing purification, regeneration, and admission to the church. [Baptist 'bæp.təst noun , baptizand 'bæp.tɪ.zænd noun , baptismal bæp'tɪz.məl adjective. ] Whenever the ancient Hebrews did something ritually unclean, before they went to temple they had to make themselves ritually clean. How they did that was to simply wash themselves with water and wait till sundown. After which point they could go to temple. Since you only had to go to temple three times a year, this didn’t require a whole lot of ritual washing. That is, till the Pharisees showed up. To them, any form of worship required people to be ritually clean. So if you went to synagogue, whether daily or just for Sabbath, you needed to be ritually clean. Gotta wash. How the Pharisees (and today’s Orthodox Jews) did so was to create a mikvéh /“collection [of water].” Basicall

Misreading and mistreating those who mourn.

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Job 4–5 After Job suffered the tremendous disaster of having his children, employees, and livestock all killed in one day, three of his friends came and sat shiva with him. Jb 2.11-13 For a week they said nothing. Then Job vented for a chapter.“Wish I’d never been born; Jb 3.3 why didn’t I die at birth; Jb 3.11 I wish I were dead.” Jb 3.20-22 The usual stuff people say when they’ve suffered an earth-shattering loss, particularly when loved ones die. Stuff we’re supposed to listen to, sympathize with… and watch these people in case they actually try to act upon any of it. (Half the time they’re all talk, but sometimes they’re not, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.) But you know how humans are: We try to fix one another. We don’t leave it in the hands of professionals, who know how to guide people to make good choices. We tell ’em, “You know what you oughta do,” and tell them so. Or worse, we try to do it for them. So in Job , here’s where all the bad advice b

So you feel unclean. Pray anyway.

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Stop letting your sins keep you from prayer. God already forgave you. Probably the most common reason Christians don’t pray… is because we don’t feel clean enough. I’m not talking about ritual cleanliness. Most Christians don’t even know what that is anyway: It’s the idea of ritually washing yourself before going to temple. Since the Holy Spirit now dwells in us Christians, we don’t need to ritually wash before temple; we are his temple. But like I said, it’s not about that. It’s about feeling clean because we haven’t sinned. Or because we’re pretty sure we haven’t sinned; as far as we know we’re good. But if we have sinned, we figure we’re not worthy to approach God. We feel we’re too dirty, or he’s too righteous, for us to be around him. Some Christians even teach God is repelled by our sins; that if we’ve got any sin in our lives, there’s no point in approaching God ’cause he’ll just turn away from us and ignore our prayers. Or even leave , in offense and outrage. It’s