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Showing posts from February, 2019

How Paul remembered the Council of Jerusalem.

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Galatians 2.1-10.In Acts its author, Luke, provided no dates, no timeline. Exact dates weren’t relevant to historians back then, and it’s not like average people kept track. So when Paul provides something of a timeline in Galatians, it’s a little rough. All dates, other than the year the Holy Spirit started the church, are loose guesses:The Holy Spirit started the church.Stephen got killed; Paul started persecuting the church.Jesus got hold of Paul and flipped him.Paul’s trip to Jerusalem to see Simon Peter, “after three years.” Ga 1.18Barnabas gets Paul to join him in Antioch.Barnabas and Paul’s missions trip begins.Barnabas and Paul’s trip to Jerusalem for the Council, “after 14 years.” Ga 2.1Give or take the possibility Paul’s persecution began later, or lasted longer… or maybe all those events happened in the very same year, 33. Also bear in mind these might be rough estimates in Paul’s mind: Stating “14 years” isn’t a sign of accuracy and precision, but a sign Paul remembered tw…

The former persecutor turned evangelist.

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Galatians 1.11-24.So I did the bit where Paul wrote there’s no other gospel than the one he got from Jesus, and preached—and if anyone teaches otherwise, ban them from teaching, if not from our churches altogether. The Galatians were being peer-pressured, as Paul’s letter further makes clear, into the common pagan “gospel” of good karma: Be good, and in so doing earn God’s favor. Which sounds fair and commonsense, but isn’t at all how God’s kingdom works.As to how Paul got the proper gospel—i.e. God’s kingdom has come near, for Jesus’s self-sacrifice makes it available to all—most every Christian hears Paul’s story at some point. (Heck, it’s told three whole times in Acts.) Saul, a Benjamite Pp 3.5 from Tarsus, Cilicia, born a citizen of the Roman Empire, had moved to Jerusalem to study under rabbi and senator Gamaliel Ac 22.3 in a Pharisee academy. It was there he first encountered Christianity in the person of Stephen the deacon… and decided he personally needed to stamp it out. But…

The alternative gospel of good karma.

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Galatians 1.1-10.Probably the first epistle Paul of Tarsus ever wrote was Galatians, his letter to the churches of central Asia Minor (now Turkey), called “Galatia” because it was settled by Celts (whom Romans called “Gauls”). The Celts invaded Bulgaria in 279BC, moved into the Turkish highlands later that century, and took that over too. Yep, there were a whole bunch of white people living in the ancient middle east. History’s full of odd stuff like that.The New Testament epistles aren’t in order of date, but length: Paul wrote the most of them, and Romans is his longest letter; the sermon of Hebrews is the next-longest writing, James the longest after that, 1 Peter the longest (well, not all that long) after that, then 1 John, then Jude. All were written in the years 40 to 70, so the ancient Christians didn’t think their date of authorship was all that relevant. Present-day historians care way more about that sort of thing, and a number think 1 Thessalonians was written first, ’caus…

No, Jesus didn’t declare all foods clean.

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Mark 7.19.Mark 7.17-19 NIV17 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 καθαρίζωνπάντατὰβρώματα/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 sayin…

Jesus’s list of works of the flesh.

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Mark 7.17-23 • Matthew 15.15-20.Every so often I bring up a fruit of the Spirit (like grace) or work of the flesh (like gracelessness) —and it’s one Paul didn't list in Galatians 5. And every so often I’ll get pushback from a Christian who’s got those Galatians lists memorized: “Waitaminnit, that’s not one of the fruits of the Spirit.” Yeah it is. Paul didn’t write a comprehensive list. ’Twasn’t his intent.Sometimes it’s an honest mixup. More often it’s because they don’t want any more good or bad fruit added to the list. ’Cause it either means there’s more we have to do, or more we can’t do. Fewer fleshly behaviors we can get away with; more character traits we really oughta build. Limiting these lists to Galatians alone provides us Christians a handy Pharisee-style loophole for our spiritual growth only going that far—and no further.But. In addressing the very problem of Pharisees and their loopholes, and how Pharisee customs let ’em get away with violating God’s Law, Jesus had …

Can’t see; pretty sure they can.

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Matthew 15.12-14 • Luke 6.39-40 • John 9.39-41.Jesus’s saying about “the blind leading the blind” is pretty famous. So much so, people don’t remember who originally said it. I once had someone tell me it comes from the Upanishads. And it is actually in there; Yama the death god compares the foolish to the blind leading the blind. Katha Upanishad 2.6 But ancient, medieval, and modern westerners didn’t read the Upanishads! They read the gospels. They got it from Jesus.But Jesus didn’t use the idea only once, in only one context. We see it thrice in the gospels. It appears in Matthew after Jesus critiqued Pharisees for their loopholes; it appears in Luke as part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain; and in John it appropriate comes after the story where Jesus cures a blind man.So let’s deal with the context of each instance. Matthew first.Matthew 15.12-14 KWL12 Coming to Jesus, his students then told him, “You know the Pharisees who heard the word are outraged?”13 In reply Jesus said, “Every p…

Evil comes from within.

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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…

Jesus gave every Christian a mission.

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And missionaries are the only ones who follow through. MISSIONARY'mɪ.ʃə.nɛ.rinoun. 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 πάντατὰἔθνη/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 NLTBut 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 commissi…

God our Mother.

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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 ὁ πνεῦμα/o néfma, “the [he]-Spirit.” Nope, they went with the usual πνεῦμα ἅγιον/Néfma Ághion, “Holy Spirit”; τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦθεοῦ, “God’s Spirit”—both neuter. Every reference to the Spirit in the NT is neuter.But in the Old Te…

The cloud of witnesses.

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Hebrews 12.1.Hebrews 12.1 NIVTherefore, 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 s…