No, Jesus didn’t declare all foods clean.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 February

Mark 7.19.

Mark 7.17-19 NIV
17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

Jesus has an actual point to make with this passage, but a number of Christians skip it altogether because of how they choose to interpret it. Namely they take the clause καθαρίζων πάντα τὰ βρώματα/katharídzon pánta ta vrómata, “cleansing [out] all the food,” chop it off the sentence Jesus was speaking, and turn it into the declaration, “All the food [is] cleansed.”

This spin isn’t just found in the NIV either:

ASV.This he said, making all meats clean.”
AMPLIFIED. “(By this, He declared all foods ceremonially clean.)”
CSB.(thus he declared all foods clean).”
ESV/NRSV. “(Thus he declared all foods clean.)”
GNT. “(In saying this, Jesus declared that all foods are fit to be eaten.)”
MESSAGE. “(That took care of dietary quibbling; Jesus was saying that all foods are fit to eat.)”
NASB. “(Thus He declared all foods clean.)”
NET. “(This means all foods are clean.)”
NLT. “(By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)”

It’s not found in every bible. A number of ’em take Wycliffe and the KJV’s lead, and use some form of their “purging all meats.” I did too:

Mark 7.19 KWL
“Because it doesn’t enter their heart, but into the bowels, and comes out into the toilet.
All the food gets cleaned out.”

I did it because that’s the literary context. Katharídzon pánta ta vrómata isn’t a sentence fragment Mark inserted to interpret Jesus’s teaching; it’s a clause that’s part of the teaching. Jesus is explaining how food goes in the face, goes out the butt, goes down the toilet, and doesn’t corrupt the heart like our depraved sinful nature can. So when Pharisees fixated on external ritual cleanliness, they were missing the point.

Kinda like we miss the point when we insist this passage is all about how there are no longer any kosher rules… so now we can eat fistfuls of pork.

Evil comes from within.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 February

Mark 7.14-16 • Matthew 15.10-11.

So Jesus is lunching with some Pharisee, who has a snit about how he and his students don’t ritually wash when they enter a home, and Jesus turns round and complains how some Pharisee rituals violate the Law.

Now you do recognize it’s a common weaselly debate tactic to change the subject by attacking your opponent, but you should realize Jesus is no weasel: This wasn’t changing the subject, but getting to the very heart of why the Pharisee complained about hand-washing. He wasn’t insisting on it ’cause it offended his sensibilities, his religion, his devotion. He was doing it because it didn’t look good, which is hypocrisy of course. Too much of Pharisee custom was about appearing to follow the Law, but really following custom; the Law not so much.

And as for ritual cleanliness, Jesus wanted to make it obvious the ritual didn’t make anybody or anything clean. The ritual—like all rituals, including Christian rituals—only represents what it purports to do. Ritual cleanliness represents spiritual cleanliness. It’s not the same thing. As proven by any hypocrite—who might be so physically clean you could lick chocolate pudding off his hands, but so nasty inside you never would.

So Jesus took a little break from dinner and went to bring this up with the public:

Mark 7.14-16 KWL
14 Calling the crowd again, Jesus told them, “Everyone listen to me, and put this together.
15 There’s nothing outside a person going in, which can make them ‘common.’
But what comes out of a person is what defiles the person.
[16 If anyone has hearing ears, hear me.”]
Matthew 15.10-11 KWL
10 Calling the crowd, Jesus told them, “Listen and put this together.
11 It’s not what goes into the mouth which makes a person ‘common.’
But what comes out of the mouth—this makes a person ‘common.’ ”

Mark 7.16 isn’t in the oldest copies of Mark; it first showed up in bibles in the 300s, and Jesus did say those words a number of other times. Mk 4.9, 4.23, Lk 8.8, 14.35

I remind you this idea that we’re corrupted from the outside-in: Wasn’t just a popular Pharisee belief. Humans have always taught it. Christians frequently still teach it. Every time we warn our kids about corrupting outside influences—“Be careful, little eyes, what you see”—it’s based on the idea evil comes from without. Not within.

It’s based on Pelagianism, the idea humans are basically good. Pelagians figure God created us and called us good, Ge 1.31 and it’s only pessimistic Christians like St. Augustine, corrupted by Plato’s ideas about how matter is bad, who overlaid his ideas into Christendom and invented total depravity—humans are too selfish and messed up to turn to God without his help. Humans may do evil, but that’s way different from claiming we inherently are evil, been that way since birth; they can’t accept that idea at all.

Well of course they can’t. ’Cause the human self-preservation instinct won’t allow us to believe anything negative about ourselves. No matter what evidence we’ve been shown to the contrary. No matter what Jesus, his apostles, and the scriptures teach us. We choose to believe what makes us feel good about ourselves—and reject history, commonsense, and all the sins we ourselves commit. That’s just how total our depravity is: It inherently makes us not wanna believe in it. It’s no wonder people don’t cry out to Jesus for help: Humanity is in serious denial about how badly we need a savior.

And even when Christians claim we believe in human depravity, some of us think the instant Jesus saved us, and the Holy Spirit entered us, we were cured of our depravity. We used to be self-centered and corrupt, but once we became Christian we’re good. We don’t need to unlearn bad behaviors and grow the Spirit’s fruit; we already have his fruit and are doing just fine. We don’t have to put on God’s new nature Cl 3.10, Ep 4.24 —it’s already on! And so we’re in the very same boat as Pelagians… but hey, at least we’re orthodox.

Yep, that’s also a product of our total depravity. There’s good reason theologians describe it as total: It’s everywhere.

Jesus gave every Christian a mission.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 February

And missionaries are the only ones who follow through.

MISSIONARY 'mɪ.ʃə.nɛ.ri noun. Person sent on a religious assignment, namely to spread Christianity in another place.

Jesus ordered his students to tell the whole world about his kingdom, and go make him more students. Mt 28.19-20 By πάντα τὰ ἔθνη/pánta ta éthni, every ethnicity (KJV “all the nations”), our Lord really did mean everyone. So Christians obediently have.

Well, some of us. Most of us don’t bother.

Because we tell ourselves that’s a specialized job. One for people who’ve to have a God-experience: Jesus personally spoke to them, or appeared to them, and made us one of his apostles. Only then can we go to other lands and tell the locals about Jesus.

Meanwhile we pray the Moses Prayer…

Exodus 4.13 NLT
But Moses again pleaded, “Lord, please! Send anyone else.”

…and avoid anything where Jesus might show up, where we can no longer avoid him or explain him away, where he might actually tell us to obey him already. ’Cause the commission to tell the world about his kingdom isn’t just for apostles. It’s for every Christian. EVERY. CHRISTIAN. And if we’re not doing it, we’ve no business calling ourselves Christian.

But because the bulk of Christians aren’t doing it, we have a designation for Christians who actually obey Jesus: Missionary. This is the tiny minority who obey Jesus.

Most of us do it a little here, a little there. We go on a missions trip for a week or two, pitch in at another church, and use that church as a base from which we can go into the nearby communities and share Jesus. You know, like Barnabas and Paul and their teams did in Acts. It doesn‘t have to be in a foreign country; y’notice Paul doesn’t appear to have ever left the Roman Empire. But there’s something about foreign visitors which really gets the locals’ attention. So by all means take advantage of this interesting trait in human nature, and go share Jesus in some foreign countries.

Some Christians do these mission trips as a career. They travel the world, visiting country after country, connecting with local churches everywhere—or if there isn’t one, helping to get one off the ground. Again, like Barnabas and Paul in Acts.

Some travel to only one country, and plant a church there. Weirdly, we tend to call them “missionaries,” and the folks who do the Barnabas/Paul type stuff “traveling evangelists.” Not that the church planters aren’t just as much missionaries! And not that Jesus doesn’t frequently send people to do exactly as they’re doing. He gives Christians all sorts of specific missions.

But the general mission he gave to every Christian, the one we call the Great Commission, is this one:

Matthew 28.18-20 KWL
18 Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “Every power in heaven and earth is given to me!
19 So go disciple every people-group:
Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
20 and teach them to stick to everything I’ve commanded you.
And look, I’m with you every day—till this age is over.”

Have we got to every people-group yet? No? Then let’s get cracking.

God our Mother.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 February

Our hangups about gender get in the way of understanding the Almighty.

Years ago I observed a rather heated discussion between two people about which pronoun to use for the Holy Spirit.

See, when people don’t know the Holy Spirit, they tend to refer to him as “it”—they think he’s a force, or God’s power, or otherwise don‘t realize he’s a person. The Greek word for spirit, πνεῦμα/néfma, isn’t much help in making this determination: In English nearly all our nouns are neuter, but in nearly every other language they’re not; they’re either masculine or feminine. Well, Greek has masculine, feminine, and neuter… and néfma is neuter. The writers of the New Testament didn’t try to masculinize it either, and turn it into πνεῦμος/néfmos or give it masculine noun-markers like πνεῦμα/o néfma, “the [he]-Spirit.” Nope, they went with the usual πνεῦμα ἅγιον/Néfma Ághion, “Holy Spirit”; τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ, “God’s Spirit”—both neuter. Every reference to the Spirit in the NT is neuter.

But in the Old Testament, the Hebrew for spirit, רוּחַ/ruákh, is feminine.

I once heard a pastor claim the Old Testament noun might be feminine, and the New Testament noun might be neuter, but the writers of the NT treated néfma, whenever it meant the Holy Spirit, as if it’s a masculine noun. I thought that was interesting. Repeated the statement myself a few times. Then I took Greek in college and discovered it’s not so. (Would’ve been nice too: There are certain bits of Paul’s letters where it’s hard to tell whether he means our spirit or the Spirit, and if he always used masculine markers for the Holy Spirit, it’d make interpretation so much easier. But he didn’t.) Don’t know where this pastor got his idea, but it’s utterly bogus.

Because néfma is neuter, I gradually got in the habit of using neuter pronouns when I refer to spirits. After all, spirits are immaterial and have no gender: They’ve no chromosomes, no “plumbing,” so to speak; they’re not meant to breed nor marry. They’re neuter. So when an angel appears in the bible, I tend to call it “it.” That includes Satan. In fact an exorcist I met pointed out evil spirits certainly tend to act like unthinking animals rather than rational beings. So he naturally grew to refer to evil spirits as “it.” Sounds about right to me.

But because the Spirit’s name in Hebrew, רוּחַ־קֹ֖דֶשׁ/Ruákh-Qodéš (or as Christians who don’t know Hebrew tend to call him, רוּחַ הַקֹּ֜דֶשׁ/Ruákh haQodéš) is feminine, there are a growing number of Christians who refer to the Spirit as “she.”

Bear in mind it’s only by custom we refer to the Spirit as “he.” God is spirit, Jn 4.24 and before he became human, he had no DNA, no plumbing, which defined his gender. The LORD is “he” only because his self-chosen name, אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה/Ehyéh Ašer Ehyéh (KJV “I AM THAT I AMEx 3.14), means he defines himself—and went with the pronouns “he” and “him” and “his,” or their equivalents in the bible’s languages. He describes himself, and Jesus describes him, as Father. Stands to reason “he” would be the pronoun for every person in the trinity, right?

But customs aren’t bible, and the Spirit of God is “she” throughout the Old Testament. So these Christians feel entirely justified in calling the Spirit “she.”

And this practice totally freaks out certain other Christians. Sexists in particular.

The cloud of witnesses.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 February

Hebrews 12.1.

Hebrews 12.1 NIV
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…

Growing up, my pastor liked to start his sermons by referring to a recent football or baseball game. He was a big sports nerd, as were other people in our church.

Many of whom hate the label “sports nerd,” ’cause they’re from a generation where “nerd” wasn’t recognized—as it is today—as a good thing. Part of how they figured they could dodge the “nerd” label was by getting into sports: Supposedly sports is the opposite of nerdery. But it’s not at all. Nerdery is about obsessive interest, and sports nerds are frequently way bigger nerds than those who are into video games and comic books. Anyway I digress.

Mom wasn’t a fan, knew nothing about any of the teams or athletes Pastor would go on and on about, and wanted him to hurry up and get to Jesus. The sports references irritated her. “Why‘s he always gotta talk about sports?” she groused. Because that’s what nerds do.

And there’s precedent in the bible. Both Paul and the writer of Hebrews liked to make reference to track and field events. Every large city in the Roman Empire—Jerusalem included!—had an amphitheater where games were held. Yeah, sometimes they were gory gladiator fights. But there were also footraces and chariot races; same as NASCAR today, humans have always felt the need for speed. And the apostles liked to refer to these races as metaphors for the Christian life.

Problem is, lots of Christians don’t know about ancient sports, and don’t understand the references.

Namely there’s Hebrews’ author’s mention of a νέφος μαρτύρων/néfos martýron, “cloud of witnesses.” Christians read that and assume it refers to a crowd of witnesses. Which is actually how the NLT chose to render it.

Hebrews 12.1 NLT
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

No, a néfos isn’t an ancient synonym of ὄχλος/ókhlos, “crowd.” You don‘t see other first-century authors using néfos to describe a lot of people. Clouds meant clouds. Or haze, or mist; or if the clouds weren’t made of water, smoke or dust.

But Christians make the assumption the “witnesses” refer to a large crowd of spectators on the sidelines or in the stands. And why are they on the sidelines? Why are they only witnessing our race, instead of getting down there on the field and helping, coaching, maybe running with us?

Well, I’ve heard many a preacher explain, it’s because they’re dead.

No, really. The word μάρτυς/mártys is properly translated “witness,” as in someone who saw something happen, and can therefore give testimony before a judge. But quite frequently Christians translate it literally as “martyr”—and our culture adds a whole extra meaning to that word. To us a martyr isn’t just someone who witnessed stuff. Martyrs are victims. They had stuff done to them. In the case of Christian martyrs, they usually got killed because they were Christian, and wouldn’t renounce Jesus even when threatened with death.

So these “witnesses“ aren’t just ordinary human spectators: They’re the ghosts of dead Christians. They’re in the stands because they can’t participate, ’cause they’re dead. But they can look down from heaven—which is up in the clouds, isn’t it? So that’s why the author of Hebrews brought up a cloud.

Yeah, it’s a thoroughly creepy idea. But popular Christian culture is full of ideas like this: Totally wrong, and kinda pagan, but nobody challenges or doubts them, because some folks actually find comfort in the idea of dead people watching over us. Unless it’s that one pervy uncle, and we’re bathing. But otherwise…

Nevermind. Should I get to the proper context of this verse? Probably should.