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Showing posts from June, 2019

What’s the difference between a seer and a prophet?

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In case you’re the sort of person who skips titles (a phenomenon I’ve seen a bunch of times, and still don’t get), I remind you this article is called “What’s the difference between a seer and a prophet?”Short answer: No difference. Same thing.1 Samuel 9.9 KWLIn the past, in Israel, a man said this when he went to seek God: “Walk, walk to the seer.”For “the prophet” today was “the seer” in the past.The Hebrew רֹאֶה/rohéh, “seer,” is the noun-form of the verb רָאָה/raháh, “to see.” It means what we mean by “seer”: A person who can see. A person whose eyeballs work, so they can point ’em at stuff and identify what they’re looking at. It’s not a complicated word. When I see rainbows, I’m a seer of rainbows. Duh. But when they used this word in the bible they obviously had an attached idea that a seer saw something more than others could. ’Cause like all legitimate prophets, seers had the Holy Spirit, who’d show ’em stuff.It’s a term which didn’t entirely die out “in the past,” because we …

The street-corner show-off.

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Matthew 6.5-6.Throughout history people have prayed publicly for various reasons. Some noble, some not.And a regular problem throughout history has been the person who gets up and prays publicly, not because they legitimately wanna talk with God, or call to him for help. It’s because they wanna be seen praying. They wanna look religious. Usually so they can look more religious than they actually are. In other words hypocrisy.Nothing annoys Jesus like hypocrisy, which is why he tries to discourage his followers from doing this. Although you know some of us do this anyway.Matthew 6.5-6 KWL5“When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites who enjoy standing in synagogues and major intersections,praying so they might be seen by the people. Amen! I promise you all, they got their satisfaction.6When you pray, go into your most private room with the door closed.Pray to your Father in private. Your Father, who sees what’s private, will satisfy you.”Standing was how the ancients prayed. They didn’t kn…

When the unclean spirit leaves a person…

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Matthew 12.38-45 • Luke 11.24-26.Previously I wrote about how some Sadducees and Pharisees in Dalmanuthá approached Jesus demanding a sign, and Jesus’s response was to say they’d get the Jonah sign, and nothing more.But Matthew has a second version of this story, where Pharisee scribes approached him for a sign, and Jesus likewise said they’d get no more than the Jonah sign—then tacked on an odd little story about an evil spirit leaving a person, and coming back later. Luke tacks this lesson to when people accused Jesus of throwing out evil spirits with Satan’s power, and it seems to fit rather well there. It’s a little more odd when this lesson is placed together with the people who requested a sign.People who are fascinated with evil spirits and demons—and paranoid about the possibility of being possessed by these creatures—have spent the past 20 centuries trying to glean information from this bit about how devils work.I’ve decided to include Jesus’s Matthew statement so you can see…

“What’s God’s secret, evil plan for my life?”

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In seminary I was introduced to the Calvinist idea God has two wills. Sometimes it’s called a “twofold will.” (As if that doesn’t also make him sound a little schizophrenic.)There’s the will he’s revealed to everybody in the bible. This’d be found in the Law, expounded upon in the Prophets, interpreted by Jesus’s teachings and the apostles’ instructions. It’s the stuff he expects us, his followers, to do. So get out that bible, look it up, and obey.But there’s apparently a second will: God’s plan for the whole of creation.From the time he first made the world, to the point he’s gonna restore it, to our infinite eternal future with him, God’s set a plan in place for everything. But unlike the first will—the one he revealed to everybody—God hasn’t revealed this second will. Oh, he revealed he has a plan. He just hasn’t told us any of its details. It’s none of our business. True, if he feels like it, he may sometimes choose to reveal bits and pieces of the plan to his prophets, just to l…

The storehouse of merit?

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“Treasure in heaven” does not mean your accumulated good karma.Jesus tells us to stash our wealth in heaven. Actually he said it this way:Matthew 6.19-21 KWL19“Don’t hoard wealth for yourselves on earth,where moths and corrosion ruin it, where thieves dig it up and steal it.20Hoard wealth for yourselves in heaven,where neither moth nor corrosion ruins, where thieves don’t dig, nor steal:21Where’s your wealth? Your mind will be there too.”If our wealth consists of material possessions—like homes, cars, electronics, jewelry, cash—we waste way too much time stressing about its upkeep and safety. We hoard more, “just in case.” We encourage laws and business practices which let us keep our wealth… and, all too frequently, aren’t charitable with others. The love of money becomes the underlying cause of all sorts of evil. 1Ti 6.10Thing is, people skip this whole idea of de-prioritizing material wealth, and focus on the idea of treasures in heaven. Which, because humanity believes in karma, i…

Demanding a sign from Jesus, and getting the Jonah sign.

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Mark 8.10-13 • Matthew 12.38-42, 16.1-4.I grew up among cessationists, folks who think God has multiple dispensations, and think he turned off the miracles in the dispensation we’re in. Which is a hard view to maintain, ’cause God still totally does miracles. But they try; they insist their anti-supernatural doctrines are more important than God’s revelation. They know better than he does—although they’d never ever phrase it that way.So whenever they wanted to defend their worldview, they’d pull up this passage, and spin it to mean Jesus rejected and rebuked miracles. Even though he did miracles. Even though he deliberately did miracles as signs to foster belief. Even though God did ’em all the time to foster belief. It was the entire point of the first miracles Moses ever did!Exodus 4.1-9 KWL1 In reply Moses said, “Look, the Hebrewswon’t believe me, won’t hear my voice:They’ll say, ‘The LORD didn’t appear to you.’2 The LORD told Moses, “What’s this in your hand?”Moses said, “A stick.…

The Orthodox/Catholic schism.

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History books tend to refer to the Orthodox/Catholic schism as “the Great Schism.” And history teachers have the bad habit of mispronouncing schism, which is 'sɪz.əm not 'skɪz.əm —as well as oversimplifying and underplaying what really happened.So what really happened? Jesus’s church split. Not because one faction went heretic, so they needed to split: It’s over stupid, petty, political things.I know: Both sides claim it was neither stupid nor petty, but vitally important. Of course it’s because they picked a side. They’re either pro-Orthodox or pro-Catholic, and wanna defend their team. But just like the Catholic/Protestant schism, there’s no defending the fruitless behavior both before and after the division. Both sides acted like power-hungry politicians, violated Jesus’s command to love one another, Jn 13.34 and seriously hindered the church’s growth in both maturity and ministry.Let’s begin at the beginning.As y’might know if you read Acts, Jesus’s church began with 120 p…

Did Paul write all his letters in the bible?

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Most figure yes. A minority say no. Here’s why.There’s a type of ancient literature called pseudepigraphasu.də'pɪ.ɡrə.fə which means “fake writings.” Basically it’s stuff which claims it’s written by someone, namely someone from the bible… and it’s not; it’s Jewish or Christian fanfiction. It’s like the book of 1 Enoch, which was supposedly written by Enoch ben Methuselah, and obviously wasn’t. (Couldn’t have been. Dude didn’t speak Hebrew!) And yet people knew of the book; Jesus’s brother Jude straight-up quoted it. In the bible. In our bible.Why did people write such things? Well like I said, fanfiction. They wanted to teach their ideas, and figured the best way to do it was with a book supposedly written by an Old Testament or New Testament saint. Sometimes they wanted people to really believe it was written by that saint, so they’d take the book seriously. Sometimes they were okay with people knowing better. Problem is, people would believe that saint wrote that book… and migh…

Who wrote “the books of Moses”?

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The composition of the first five books of the bible.The first five books of the bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (or as Hebrew-speakers call ’em, Berešít, Šemót, Vayiqrá, Bamidbár, and Devarím) are commonly called the books of Moses. They’re also called תּוֹרָ֣ה/Toráh, meaning “Law,” because the Law’s in them; Greek and English speakers also call them Pentateuch, which comes from πέντετεῦχος/pente téfhos, “five tools.” (I know; people regularly claim “Pentateuch” means “five books”—and they don’t know Greek, so of course they do. The Greek for “book” is βίβλος/vívlos, the word we got “bible” from.) I tend to call these books Torah, as I will throughout this article.They’re called the books of Moses even though Moses isn’t in Genesis at all… but his ancestors were, so there’s that. Largely they tell us the creation of the Hebrew people: How they got into Egypt in the first place, how they became Egyptian slaves, how the LORD saved ’em, how God covenanted with…

The Deuteronomistic history.

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How some of the books of the Old Testament share a theme—and likely an author.When I was growing up, I was a little curious about who wrote the books of the bible. Supposedly Matthew wrote Matthew and John wrote John and the three letters named for him (plus Revelation) …but Timothy didn’t write Timothy, and since Samuel was dead way before the end of 1 Samuel, it stands to reason he didn’t write 2 Samuel. Naturally I wanted to know who did write the books, but none of my Sunday school teachers knew. One of ’em speculated it was Solomon.Fact is, people back then people didn’t put their names on their writings. Even David didn’t put his name on his psalms: Whoever compiled the psalms together, added his name to the psalms which had traditionally been ascribed to him. It’s a safe bet David did write ’em. But the other anonymous books of the bible: We don’t know who put them together. The authors felt the story, and God, was way more important than their own names.Anyway. In 1981, bible …

Who wrote the bible?

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A lot of times, we don’t know. And that’s okay.No, the answer’s not “God.”The bible was written by prophets, people who heard from God and shared what they heard. Out of humility, some of ’em didn’t necessarily describe themselves as prophets, but all the same, that’s what they are: Their God-experiences inspired them to write about him, and thus we have the books and letters which make up our bible.“God wrote it” is the short answer people give when we’ve no clue how God works. We assume God did with his prophets the same as he did with Moses: He stated a bunch of things, and the prophets took dictation like a secretary. Or they assume how the Holy Spirit “inspired” the authors was to work the prophets’ hands like a puppeteer with a marionette, and made them write the bible.Generally they’ve got micromanagerial ideas about how God works, and figure had to take absolute physical control of the circumstances to guarantee we have the bible he wanted… ’cause he didn’t trust his followers…

Pilgrimage: Off to meditate.

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PILGRIM'pɪl.ɡrəmnoun. One who goes to a sacred place for religious reasons.[Pilgrimage 'pɪl.ɡrəm.ɪdʒnoun.]Lots of Christians go on pilgrimage.Might be a trip to Israel, to see where Jesus was born and buried. Might be a famous cathedral, an important monastery, a house of prayer, a room where a miracle happened, a place where revivals have been known to break out. Might even be the campground, chapel, or church building where you first gave your life to Christ Jesus—which is partly nostalgia, partly pilgrimage. Pilgrimage takes all shapes.Various Christians might go on pilgrimage because they think the holy places might make ’em holier (and certainly make ’em feel holier) but the places aren’t gonna do anything; they can’t. Only the Holy Spirit makes someone holier. And since we Christians carry him wherever we go—collectively we’re his temple—we bring the holiness into these places. If we have any profound experiences in them, it’s not because of the places themselves; it’s b…

Affection—versus love.

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Affection is one of the eight things our culture defines as love. It—or more accurately a Greek word which gets translated that way, στοργή/storgí—took up a chapter of C.S. Lewis’s book The Four Loves, in which Lewis described it in some detail. Mainly to talk about what traits of storgí might be sorta-kinda godly. For even though affection isn’t at all what Jesus and his apostles meant by αγάπη/agápi, it’s got its positive qualities.But no, it’s not a fruit of the Spirit. Anybody can be affectionate. Plenty of pagans are. It can be a good thing, and have positive effects: People tend to be accommodating to those for whom they have affection. But as you know, “accommodating” can be either a good or bad thing. Looking the other way as your kids commit crimes isn’t a good thing. People are way too affectionate towards our favorite vices.Years ago I was curious to find all the instances of storgí in the New Testament, to see how various translators interpret it. To my surprise I found it…