If you don’t follow Jesus, of course you misunderstand him.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 September

John 8.21-29.

As you know, those who imagine Jesus is only a great moral teacher, and figure “I’m the world’s light” means that and no more, tend to ignore the radical statements Jesus made about who he is, what he can do, and who sent him and why. They refuse to recognize him for who he is. When he made roundabout statements about it, they deliberately chose to misinterpret him; when he made blunt statements about it, they wanted to kill him. John 8 contains both such things.

So let’s get to those things. Back to temple, Jn 8.20 where Jesus was teaching yet another lesson to skeptical people.

John 8.21-29 KWL
21 So Jesus told them again: “I’m going away.
You’ll seek me, and you’ll be destroyed by your sins: You can’t go where I go.”
22 So the Judeans said, “He won’t kill himself, will he?
—because Jesus said, “You can’t go where I go.”
23 Jesus told them, “You’re from below. I’m from above.
You’re from this world. I’m not from this world.
24 So I told you you’ll be destroyed by your sins,
for when you won’t believe who I am, you’ll be destroyed by your sins.”
25 So the Judeans told him, “Who are you?”
Jesus told them, “I’ve been telling you who, since the beginning.
26 I have much to say and judge about you—but my Sender is truth.
And what things I heard from him, I speak to the world.”
27 The Judeans didn’t understand he spoke to them of the Father,
28 so Jesus told them, “When you exalt the Son of Man, you’ll then know who I am.
I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things just as my Father teaches me.
29 My Sender is with me; he’s not left me alone, so I can always do what pleases him.”

As the world’s light, those who follow Jesus get our eternal life from him. Jn 8.12 And those who don’t, who have no intention of following him, can’t possibly go where he does. Don’t wanna go where he’s going. He’s leading us to his kingdom. They might imagine they want God’s kingdom, but they want something radically different than what he’s creating, so they’re not going in. So their sins will destroy them.

Listening to our God, not our gut.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 September

Jude 1.19-25.

Years ago, I had to deal with an unteachable co-worker. We’ll call him Ulises. Nice guy, but nobody could tell him a thing: He knew what he already knew, and figured he already knew best. This attitude eventually got him fired. Our boss discovered repeated warnings just weren’t working, and sent him home.

Ulises followed his gut. Most people do. They encourage us to. We’re supposed to listen to that deep inner voice which tells us what we really oughta do. What we really want, what’s really best for us, what’s the right thing to do: The inner voice knows all. Don’t starve it.

Sometimes we call it following your instincts, following your hunches, following your gut; following the core of our being which knows the difference between wise and dumb, true and false, right and wrong, good and evil. Christians imagine it was put there by God. And it’s not a new idea, believe it or don’t; it’s always been around. Every generation dusts it off and repackages it.

The ancient Greeks called it the πνεῦμα ψυχικόν/néfma syhikón, “psychic spirit,” the essence of life. First God creates the life-giving air, we breathe it, and in our lungs it’s turned into the πνεῦμα ζωτικόν/néfma zotikón, “vital spirit,” and then it works our way into our minds and becomes psychic spirit. This psychic spirit travels down our nerves, moves our limbs, and makes us alive. Oh, and as a handy side effect it also imparts divine wisdom.

Your average person who follows their inner voice, has never heard of this and may even think it’s rubbish. But Plato, Erasistratus, Galen, and plenty of ancient Greeks sure did. And of course these beliefs trickled into the church, and warped a few teachers. And that’s where we get to Jude.

Jude 1.19-20 KWL
19 They’re the ones making distinctions based on a “psychic spirit” they don’t have.
20 You, beloved: Build each other up in your most holy faith. Pray by the Holy Spirit.

We Christians aren’t to follow any “psychic spirit,” inner voice, id, instinct, inner child, or whatever you wanna call it. Because the scriptures actually call this our flesh. It’s our carnal human impulses, our self-preservation instinct gone wrong, our sin nature. I often joke my inner child is really an inner brat: He’s whiny and selfish, and needs to be “put in time out” forever. Brats need discipline.

In contrast, Jude told his readers to pray by the Holy Spirit. We’re not to follow our own spirits, but our Lord. The inner voice is the wrong voice—and the devil does a mighty good job of hijacking it, making evil look good or pragmatic, and getting us to do evil instead. So listen for God. The Spirit knows the right way to go.

And confirm him. One of the ways we do that is with our “most holy faith”—the religion taught by Jesus, confirmed by his prophets and apostles in the bible, handed down and encouraged in by the Christians of our churches. You know who you believe in; keep believing in him. Join hands with his fellow servants and follow him together. Not on our own, where we can go horribly wrong: Together.

When Christians have no respect for leadership.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 September

Jude 1.14-18.

I previously explained when Jude referred to the mythology of his day, it doesn’t mean Jude considered these books historical or authoritative. I bring this up again ’cause Jude quoted a bit from 1 Enoch, a fictional firsthand account of heaven as shown to Noah’s great-grandfather Enoch. (Who went there y’know. Ge 5.24)

Jude 1.14-15 KWL
14 Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them,
saying “Look, the Lord comes with myriads of his saints, 15 making judgment upon all,
examining every life against all their irreverent work, irreverently done;
concerning every harsh thing the irreverent sinners said against him.”

No, 1 Enoch wasn’t actually written by Enoch. It was written in Aramaic, a language which didn’t even exist in whatever century Enoch lived in. It claims to be by him, so we call it pseudepigrapha, which means “fake writings.” But it’s fanfiction. Well-known fanfiction; Paul even took the idea of the “third heaven” from it, 2Co 12.2 ’cause that’s where paradise is figured to be. There’s even a copy of it among the Dead Sea scrolls.

The bit Jude quoted comes from this passage—I’m quoting a Greek translation found in the Codex Panopolitanus.

…that he comes with his myriads and his saints, making judgment upon all. He will destroy all the irreverent, and examine all flesh against all their irreverent work, irreverently done; and harsh words which the irreverent said, and everything which the irreverent sinners said together about him. 1 Enoch 1.9 KWL

Obviously Jude wasn’t making an exact quote; he may have been quoting it from memory.

Think of it this way. Say I’m talking about Jesus’s second coming. Say, in order to make a point, I quote Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”:

There’s no time to change your mind;
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind.

Norman was hardly an infallible prophet. But hey, he rhymes; and as we learned from The Lego Movie, that ain’t nothing. Some people will believe anything put to poetry.

Why do people quote other people? Usually it’s to criticize, but often it’s to prove we’re hardly the only people who believe as we do. Jude was far from the only apostle to teach Jesus is returning and’ll judge the wicked. But when Jude wrote his letter, he didn’t have their writings to quote from. So he quoted what he did have, off the top of his head: 1 Enoch. It’s not bible, but it’s something. Something his audience knew.

Still true, too. Jesus is returning and’ll judge the wicked. And go-it-alone Christians who presume they’re righteous when they reject Jesus’s church, who slam church leaders and presume their rebellion is righteousness, are gonna find themselves on the wrong side of salvation history.

Rebellion against God’s authorities. Not his angels.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 September

Jude 1.8-13.

Previously I brought up the people with whom Jude disputed in his letter: The folks who were going their own way, embracing their favorite myths instead of Christianity, going astray, and leading others with them.

And I suspect the reason Jude kept referring to Pharisee mythology throughout his letter, was because these ancient Christianists were likely also referring to Pharisee myths. Christians still do it too, y’know. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard non-biblical stories about Satan, used as proof how it behaves or what it’s up to. Preachers like to claim these stories give us insight into devilish behavior. More like insight into how little homework people do before they get behind the pulpit and claim to teach God’s word.

In my experience, when a person’s quoting myths instead of bible, not only do they take bible out of context, but usually take the myths out of context too. So what I believe Jude did here (and yeah, I admit I’m biased in favor of this interpretation ’cause it’s what I’d do—isn’t that how bias usually works?) was find out what the myths really taught, then turn ’em around on the heretics. Like so.

Jude 1.8-10 KWL
8 Of course these people who dream of flesh stain themselves.
They reject authority. They slander the well-thought-of.
9 When the head angel Michael was debating with the devil over Moses’s body,
it didn’t dare bring a charge of slander, but said, “Lord rebuke you.”
10 These people don’t understand such things, and slander them.

Nope, we don’t have a copy of where the Michael-debating-Satan story comes from. The early church father Origen believed it’s from a book called The Ascension of Moses. De Principiis 3.2.1 We think we have a copy of that book, but our copy doesn’t include that story. Maybe Origen was wrong; maybe we have the wrong book; maybe our copy of the book is missing a chapter; doesn’t matter. Plenty of Pharisee myths include heavenly courtroom cases, with Satan as adversary and other popular angels as defenders. Some of our own, too: Stephen Vincent Benét’s 1936 short story “The Devil and Daniel Webster” has a lot of parodies in popular culture.

So when these ancient misbehaving Christians claimed, “It’s okay to tear Christian leaders a new one when they’re wrong… after all, Michael ripped Satan a new one in The Ascension of Moses,” Jude came right back at ’em with, “Nope; you read that story wrong. Michael didn’t ‘rip Satan a new one.’ Satan fought dirty, but Michael behaved itself, and resisted the temptation to act like an ass. Not so much you.”

A lesson plenty of Christians nowadays have definitely not followed.

Lessons from Jewish (and Christian) mythology.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 September

Jude 1.5-8.

Jude 1.5-6 KWL
5 I want to remind you—though you knew all this already:
First the Lord rescued his people out of Egypt. Second, he destroyed those who didn’t trust him.
6 Including the angels!—who didn’t keep their original authority, but abandoned their own dwelling.
For their judgment on the Great Day: Kept in indestructible chains, in the dark.

Jude isn’t the only apostle who finds it fascinating that God judges angels. (And apparently we Christians judge ’em too. 1Co 6.3) Simon Peter brought ’em up, 2Pe 2.4 and Christ Jesus himself taught the everlasting fire was constructed for them. Mt 24.41 The apostles liked to point out God doesn’t spare angels when they sin, and he’s mighty close to them… so why do we presume he’ll spare us humans when we sin? Grace is awesome, but it’s still not a free pass.

Irritatingly, popular Christian theology has made the apostles’ idea meaningless. How? Because we teach angels don’t get judged the same way as humans. Different species, different rules.

We point out the bible says nothing about atonement for angels. ’Cause it doesn’t. Jesus died to make humanity right with God. Not angels. Jesus became human to die for us. He didn’t become angel. He came to save the world, Jn 3.17 not the heavens. Angels can go take a flying leap.

“Jesus didn’t die for angels” gets repeated in pulpits, in seminaries, everywhere. Humans get grace; angels don’t. Humans sin and get forgiven; angels sin and never, ever do. Because, it’s explained (and this explanation doesn’t come from bible), angels see God. Up close. So when they sin it’s a billion times worse: They of all people should know better than sin. Consequently when they sin, it’s one strike and you’re out: They fall from grace and go to hell. Do not pass the cross; do not collect atonement.

This strikes me as entirely inconsistent with God. He’s love, remember? 1Jn 4.8, 16 So how would his love evaporate when an angel sins? Why are humans of such value he gave us his Son, but angels are as disposable as a ripped ketchup packet? Even if God loves us humans way more than he does angels, it’s still really contrary to grace to imagine God has none for them.

And inconsistent with what the apostles taught. They were trying to make a logical comparison between angels and us: If angels get in trouble, so do we.

All right, let’s plow through Jude.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 September

Jude 1.1-5.

On my previous blog I was midway through Jude, and then I stopped doing that blog and started TXAB. So some people were wondering whether I’d ever go back to it… and others didn’t care, ’cause Jude’s an obscure little letter which makes no sense to them, and they’d rather I analyze other books. And cut out that whole debunking popular Christian myths thingy I do, and just reconfirm all the things they already believe.

My mini-rant aside, yeah I dropped the ball, but here I pick it back up.

Jude 1.1-2 KWL
1 Judah, slave of Christ Jesus, Jacob’s brother, to those in God the Father—
those whom Christ Jesus loves, those whom he watched over, those whom he called.
2 May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you all.

“Judah” would be Judah of Nazareth, brother of Ἰακώβου/Yakóvu, i.e. Jacob of Nazareth, who’s better known to us as James. (That’s what happened after medieval English-speakers mixed up the Latin names Iacobus and Iacomus.) This’d be the James who was bishop of Jerusalem, who wrote the letter we call James, who’s therefore Christ Jesus’s brother. Mk 6.3 Which means Judah, who’s better known to us as Jude, is also Christ Jesus’s brother.

Protestants and some Orthodox figure Jude’s the biological son of Mary and Joseph, Jesus’s mom and adoptive dad. But according to Roman Catholics Jesus’s mom stayed a virgin, so she’s either Jude’s stepmom, or the word ἀδελφοὶ/adelfé, “siblings,” used to describe James and Jude and their brothers Joses and Simon, Mt 13.55 actually meant “cousins.” (As it gradually came to mean, once Catholics insisted long and hard enough it could mean that too.)

Now Jesus did have a cousin named Judah, “Judas of James,” whom he made one of his Twelve. Lk 6.16, Ac 1.13 In other gospels, Judas of James got swapped with Thaddaeus, Mk 3.18, Mt 10.3 which is why Catholics often call him “Jude Thaddaeus.” They figure the Jude who wrote this book is that Jude.

I figure he’s Jesus’s brother, but brother or cousin, either way Jude is family.

Jesus’s brothers didn’t really believe in Jesus Jn 7.5 till he was resurrected. Then they joined his followers Ac 1.14 and led some of his churches. He’s called Jude instead of Judah ’cause “Jude” was how you spelled Judah back when English-speakers still pronounced those silent E’s.

We don’t know where Jude wrote from, or to, or precisely when, ’cause he didn’t say. Considering all the references Jude made to Pharisee myths, it’s a good bet he wrote to Pharisees. Just as James wrote his letter to Jews scattered all over the Roman Empire, Jude likely had the same audience in mind. (As James’s brother, if you’re gonna listen to the one, you’ll likely listen to the other.) So same as James, Jude’s letter applies to us Christians today when we go through the same scenarios. It’s why the ancient Christians kept it.

So let’s get to it.

Worldviews: What Christianists promote instead of orthodoxy.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 September
WORLDVIEW 'wərld.vju noun. A particular philosophy about life, or concept of human and social interaction.

When Christians talk about worldviews, we’re talking about politics.

Yeah, Christian apologists who examine “the Christian worldview” claim they’re talking about how we Christians understand the world around us, based on what God created it to be—as opposed to how pagans and nontheists interpret things. But three things you’re gonna notice really quickly about their interpretations:

  • It invariably leads to a politically conservative point of view—regardless of whether Jesus even addressed, much less supports, their favorite conservative views.
  • It invariably leads to their particular church’s views on God. Fits extremely well if you’re Calvinist or Fundamentalist… and less so if you’re not. (God help you if you’re Roman Catholic.)
  • It doesn’t promote loving our neighbors so we can point ’em to Jesus. More like being appalled at the stuff they’re trying to sneak past us, and therefore angry with our neighbors.

Anger’s a work of the flesh, folks, and one of the faster ways to get people to stop thinking, start reacting, and follow whoever riled ’em up. It’s what got the crowds to shout, “Crucify him!” It’s a very useful political tool. As are worldview studies, ’cause they’re basically political apologetics disguised as Christian apologetics.

Our word worldview was borrowed by Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer in the 1960s from the German word Weltanschauung 'vɛlt.ɑn.ʃaʊ.ʊŋ, “world-outlook.” German linguists coined it to describe how language grows to include new ideas. Fr’instance it’s hard to talk about a rodpur when you’ve never heard of a rodpur, and have no idea what it is. Once you learn it’s a nektim with a purple essip coming out its porgir, then you have a better idea of it, and we can start talking about it: Your worldview has expanded to include the word and idea. Thus language and culture grow at the same time. (Yeah, I made up all those unfamiliar words, but you get the point.)

Historians and psychologists were more fascinated by what happens when two cultures with different worldviews clash. That’s what interested Schaeffer about it. Like St. Augustine’s book City of God, Schaeffer looked at the way the Christian worldview—which he equated with God’s kingdom—butted heads with secular popular culture. Those who talk about the Christian worldview tend to focus on what Schaeffer’s disciple Charles Colson called “kingdoms in conflict”—the Christian worldview versus the secular worldview.

Ah, but which secular worldview? And for that matter, which Christian worldview? See, Schaeffer and Colson were modernists, who presumed there’s one single, correct way to look at the world. One way which matches Jesus best. Any other view is, bluntly, wrong.

Which leaves us no room for Christian diversity, for freedom in Christ, for letting each believer be fully persuaded in their own mind without condemning one another. Ro 14.4-5 Jesus isn’t the one right way and truth; Jn 14.6 their worldview is. So, y’know, they’re promoting legalism.

But primarily political conservatism. Which is why they don’t realize it’s really Christianism: They’re distorting religion, and stirring up other works of the flesh like divisiveness and partisanship.

When’d the events of the bible take place?

by K.W. Leslie, 19 September

Humanity largely uses the Gregorian calendar, Pope Gregory’s 1582 update of the Julian calendar, which was Julius Caesar’s 46BC update of the old Roman calendar, which according to legend was an update of Romulus’s 10-month 360-day calendar. So, y’know, it’s clearly not the calendar Moses used.

Add to this the fact the bible’s authors didn’t really tie their events to specific dates. They rarely said, “On the , such-and-so gave this prophecy….” Didn’t occur to them to be this kind of exact. That’s a western priority, and one a lot of today’s middle easterners share. But it’s not an ancient middle eastern one. Doesn’t make a story more true, or feel more real and less mythological or fairy-taleish, when you can begin with an exact date instead of “Once upon a time.”

This lack of dates makes westerners bonkers: We wanna know when these events happened! What year did the Exodus take place? What year did Abraham die? When’d Noah’s flood happen? We want details, dangit. But honestly, we don’t have those details. We have estimates, based on the few clues the bible provides.

So this article isn’t gonna give you any peace of mind about these dates. All I have are best guesses; namely the guesses of various Christians who don’t always know what they’re doing.

“Christ-followers”: Rebranding for the wrong reasons.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 September
CHRIST-FOLLOWER 'kraɪst fɑ.loʊ.ər noun. Adherent or devotee of Christ Jesus.
2. One who believes themself a real devotee of Christ, as opposed to other Christians.

To be fair, a lot of Christians aren’t doing the title “Christian” any favors.

There are irreligious Christians, who figure all they need do is believe, and figure obedience is for suckers people who don’t believe. There are fruitless Christians, whose character is no different than pagans, but who point to their beliefs or works and think that should count for something. There are Christianists, who don’t know there’s any difference between their culture or their politics, and what Jesus teaches—but they clearly aren’t doing as Jesus teaches.

And there are Christians who aren’t as bad as all that. They’re working on it. Some harder than others. But let’s give ’em some grace, shall we?

But other Christians have decided there are so many substandard Christians, the title “Christian” has simply been ruined. Same as the titles “Evangelical,” or “Fundamentalist,” or “born again,” or “disciple,” “apostle,” “believer,” “Christ-bearer,” or what have you. The usual titles have been so befouled by posers, they’re gonna rebrand.

So they call themselves Christ-followers. As in,

SHE. “Are you Christian?”
HE. [correcting her] “A Christ-follower.”

Not in the sense that “Christian” and “Christ-follower” are synonyms. To these people they’re not synonyms: A “Christian” is someone who claims allegiance to Jesus but doesn’t really follow him. Doesn’t really take him seriously. Not like they do.

Yep, that’s the underlying message they’re trying to give everybody: They follow Jesus, and the rest of us [sneer] “Christians,” not so much. They… well, lemme have our Lord Jesus more accurately express the way they feel.

Luke 18.11-12 KWL
11 “Standing by himself, the [Christ-follower] prayed this: ‘God, thank you that I’m not like the other people!
Those greedy, unrighteous cheaters—or even like this taxman.
13 I fast twice a week. I tithe everything I get.’ ”

Yeah, this bit comes from Jesus’s Pharisee and Taxman Story. Lk 18.9-14 You may recall Jesus didn’t care for this particular prayer. It wasn’t that of a humble follower, but a pretentious ass. Those who exalt themselves, Jesus concluded, get humbled. Those who think they’re better than other people have another think coming.

When God answers our mundane prayers: Thank him!

by K.W. Leslie, 17 September

I’ve written before about how we can pray for ordinary stuff. That it’s okay to pray for ordinary stuff. God wants us to cast all our cares on him, 1Pe 5.7 and not worry about all the silly daily things we ordinarily do, and that pagans fret about. Mt 6.25-33 So go ahead and pray for God to help you find your phone. Or to speed up a traffic light. Or to help your kids do well on that spelling quiz. Or for a generally good day.

And y’know, plenty of Christians already do precisely this. We pray all the time for little trivial things. “God, I’m gonna be late!” “God, take care of this.” “God, help her out.” Some of us make these little prayers all day long. Good!

Thing is, God answers these prayers. All the time. Sometimes with no. Frequently yes.

But because they’re mundane requests, because our prayers are so numerous—and kinda automatic and unthought—we kinda take God’s answers for granted. We have a good day… and forget to credit God with it. We assume circumstances made our day good. Less so God.

We find the misplaced phone, and forget to thank God for jogging our memory: “Maybe you should check yesterday’s pants.” We whip down a street full of green lights, and forget to thank God for smoothing out the traffic. We breeze through the line at Starbucks, and forget to thank God for giving the baristas a good day too.

Is this ungrateful of us? Yeah, just a bit. But that’s not actually the problem. The problem is our little prayers for these mundane things weren’t actually prayers of faith. They were prayers of habit. We did ’em without thinking, because it’s just what we do.

A prayer of habit is a heartless prayer. One which expects nothing, but says the prayer because “Christians gotta pray.” One which doesn’t remember to thank God for his answers, because it’s not actually looking for answers, and credits circumstances or ourselves.

Kinda sad, but kinda common.

More than a great moral teacher: The world’s light.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 September

John 8.12-20.

If we skip the Adulterer Story as we read John (as we probably should, ’cause whether it happened or not, it didn’t happen at this point in John), this lesson took place right after Sukkot was over, after the Judean senators had decided Jesus isn’t a relevant prophet. Because, among other things, he’s Galilean.

Which only goes to show they didn’t know anything about Jesus’s family and backstory. They could’ve found it out with some very minor investigation. Talk to any of Jesus’s family members; they knew the entire story. But the senators didn’t bother, and stuck with their fairly superficial observations—which Jesus, in today’s passage, calls judging “according to the flesh.” Jn 8.15 They presumed they knew better, and missed their Messiah.

So when Jesus made really bold statements about himself, they naturally balked: These statements are too bold. You can’t go making unsubstantiated statements like this. Like “I’m the world’s light.”

John 8.12-20 KWL
12 So Jesus spoke again, saying, “I’m the world’s light.
My followers should never walk in the dark, but will have light and life.”
13 So Pharisees told Jesus, “You testify about yourself. Your testimony isn’t true.”
14 In reply Jesus told them, “Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true:
I know where I come from and go to; you don’t know where I come from and where I go.
15 You judge according to flesh; I judge nothing.
16 When I judge—and I do—my judgment is true, for I’m not alone:
Instead I and my sender, the Father, agree.
17 It was written in your Law that a testimony of two people is true. Dt 19.15
18 I’m a witness to myself, and my sender the Father witnesses about me.”
19 So the Pharisees told him, “Who’s your father?”
Jesus replied, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you’ve known me, you’ve also known my Father.”
20Jesus spoke these words in the treasury, teaching in temple.
Nobody seized him, for his time hadn’t yet come.

And y’notice Jesus kinda agreed with them: No, he can’t make unsubstantiated statements about himself, but his statements are substantiated, because they’re backed by the one who sent him to us, his Father. Whom, he radically commented, they don’t know. If they did, they’d listen to him, and know from him Jesus is legit.

Bible “difficulties”: The passages which won’t do as we want.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 September

Whenever you hear Christians refer to “bible difficulties,” you’d think we meant scriptures which’re hard to translate, hard to interpret, hard to understand, or hard to follow. Often we do. Certainly I do.

But why do Christians consider these scriptures difficult? Three reasons.

  1. We believe the bible contains no errors—but these passages appear to be in error, or appear to contradict other scriptures. Like Jesus’s two different genealogies.
  2. We have certain beliefs, doctrines, traditions, or assumptions—and these passages appear to violate them. Like Christians who don’t wash feet, Jn 13.14 or Christian men who don’t kiss one another hello. Ro 16.16 We don’t wanna say these passages don’t apply anymore… but honestly, we don’t wanna follow ’em either.
  3. These passages actually are obscure, and Christians throughout history (and Jews too) have found ’em hard to interpret.

The most common reason would be the first one: Discrepancies. Scriptures which appear to contradict other scriptures… or reality itself.

Nearly every Fundamentalist insists the bible has no such contradictions. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “Have these guys ever read the bible?” Tried to line up the resurrection stories, or Jesus’s aforementioned genealogies?

Plus several orthodox Christian teachings—based on bible, I remind you—are kinda contradictory as well. Like how God’s kingdom is here, yet not yet here; like how God is one yet three. Fundies know all this stuff, but regardless: One of their fundamentals, one of their non-negotiable beliefs, is that the bible has no errors. Contradictions would be errors; therefore no contradictions.

Hence Fundamentalists have written big giant books about bible difficulties. In which they try to explain away any discrepancies, plus any other problem scriptures, as best they can. Sometimes reasonably, ’cause these passages only look like discrepancies but aren’t really. Other times Fundies really stretch reality in order to defend their doctrine.

Our error-free, perfect bible?

by K.W. Leslie, 12 September
INERRANCY ɪn'ɛr.ən.si noun. Belief the bible contains no errors of any kind.
[Inerrantist ɪn'ɛr.ən.tɪst noun.]

We Christians put a lot of trust in the scriptures. We trust their authors to steer us right when it comes to God, to Christ Jesus, to salvation, to eternal life. We use them as confirmation the stuff God tells us personally, the stuff he reveals to Christians as we follow him, is valid. We’re basing an awful lot of our beliefs on the bible. It had better be up to the task.

I believe it is. As far as God and Jesus and salvation is concerned, the bible’s infallible: It’s an accurate, trustworthy, truthful description of the stuff we need to know to connect with God, and corrects us when we go astray. That’s why God inspired it, why Christians kept it, and why we read it. 2Ti 3.16

Inerrantists claim this isn’t good enough. They insist the bible has no errors. At all. Period.

In order for the bible to be truly authoritative, inerrantists figure it has to be perfect—as they define perfect. Errors would make it imperfect. Therefore it can’t have any. And anything which appears to be an error or discrepancy in the scriptures, simply isn’t. Can’t be. There’s gotta be a reasonable explanation for it, and with a little investigation they’ll find it. But it doesn’t matter how much it may look like an error: There are none.

Why do they believe this? Mostly because humans are creatures of extremes. “You believe the bible’s trustworthy? I believe the bible’s absolutely error-free. Hah. In your face. You don’t have faith. I have faith.” Of course that’s not faith. That’s dick-measuring.

But that’s not the only reason Christians insist the bible’s inerrant. Really it’s because they’re putting a lot of trust in the bible… which really, properly, oughta be put in the Holy Spirit instead. See, when we read bible, if we’re reading it with wrong or ulterior motives, we’re gonna lead ourselves astray, despite having the bible’s fully accurate testimony of who God is and how salvation works. Doesn’t matter how perfect the bible might be; in the wrong hands we’ll go so wrong, as heretics and cults demonstrate all the time.

Whereas when we’re following the guidance of the Holy Spirit—the same Holy Spirit who inspired the authors of the bible—he’s gonna steer us right. And even if the bible were full of errors and factual inaccuracies (and it’s not), the Spirit can steer us right around every landmine and lead us to truth. If you’re gonna put your faith in anything, put it in him.

Well, inerrantists don’t. They put it in bible. Then they fight anyone who says, “Waitaminnit.”

The fake fruit of fidelity.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 September

So as I wrote previously, the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians is πίστις/pístis, “faith.” Not, as too various bible translations render it, “faithfulness.” Like the ESV.

Galatians 5.22-23 ESV
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Faith is also a supernatural gift of the Spirit, and various Christians wanna make a distinction between gifts and fruit. (Usually ’cause they have some problematic beliefs about the gifts.) So they prefer the interpretation “faithfulness.” By which they mean fidelity—you can be depended upon to do as you say, to stand up for those you love.

And hey, fidelity can be an admirable trait. But that all depends on whom we show fidelity to. As humanity has demonstrated lots of times, we can show fidelity to some really godless people, ideas, and institutions. We can do profoundly stupid or evil things in their support—because we value them more than we do wisdom or goodness.

Should Christians be loyal? To Jesus, absolutely. To family members, friends, fellow Christians, and the suffering, sure: Part of love is not giving up, and enduring all.

But is it what Paul meant by pístis? No; he meant faith. It’s a lot harder to trust God, than it is to stand up for people. Humans can pretty much stand up for anything. Doesn’t take the Spirit’s power to do so. People can be loyal, dependable, steadfast Christians our whole lives long… yet when the Holy Spirit expects us to put our doubt on hold and trust him, often we can’t. We might be loyal to the Lord, but we don’t entirely trust him. And which of the two is more important?

Likewise we Christians tend to be just like everybody else in the world when it comes to loyalty and fidelity: It has a cut-off point. We love and support one another in good times and bad… until somebody violates something to which we show more loyalty. We’ll eat Big Macs every day… till that giant heart attack. We’ll love our kids no matter what… till they declare they’re gay. We’ll love our spouses through thick and thin… till they cheat on us. There’s nearly always another line in our minds, whether we realize this or not, and once it’s been crossed, that’s the end of our fidelity. We cut ’em off.

True fidelity among fellow Christians is hard to find. Oh, it exists. But you won’t see it unless we’ve done something that’ll alienate nearly everyone. Like murdering your parents: Most of your so-called Christian friends won’t stick around after that. (Even if they think you’re not guilty!—they’re too afraid of what others will think when they associate with you. Jesus might eat with sinners, but they would never.) The few which remain are truly loyal; the rest, not so much. We tend to only be loyal to the righteous. And sometimes the popular.

The prayer of faith. Or not.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 September

James 5.13-18.

There’s a blog I follow. A few weeks ago the author wrote about how he no longer believes in prayer: He no longer believes it heals people.

’Cause he’s tried to heal people. He’s a pastor; he’s been in thousands of situations where he’s prayed for the sick and dying, or been asked to pray for them. He’s led prayer vigils and prayer chains, and begged God over and over and over again to cure people or let ’em live. He hasn’t got the results he wanted: Either God didn’t cure them (or didn’t cure them enough), or didn’t let them live.

So he’s figuring prayer must not work that way: It’s not about making our petitions known to God, on the grounds God might intervene in human history and do us a miracle. It’s only about being God-mindful, and letting that personally transform us and our attitudes.

He’s not the first Christian to claim this. I grew up in cessationist churches, and heard it all the time from Christians who don’t believe God intervenes; that praying for the sick to become well is a nice idea, but it’s the act of desperate people who can’t accept reality. You just need to accept reality, accept that God’s allowing this to happen, and just slog it out. Hey, suffering builds character.

I might be inclined to believe this too… if I never read James.

James 5.13-18 KWL
13 Do any of you suffer? Pray!
Is anyone cheerful? Make music!
14 Are any of you unwell? Summon the church’s elders.
Have them pray over you, anointing you with oil in the Master’s name.
15 The believer’s intercession will save the sick person; the Master will lift you up.
And if you committed sins, they’ll be forgiven you.
16 So confess sins to one another, intercede for one another, so you can be cured!
A right-minded person’s request is much more powerful.
17 Elijah was a person like us, prayed a prayer for no rain,
and it didn’t rain on the ground three years and six months!
18 Elijah prayed again, and the skies gave rain,
and the ground sprouted its fruit.

Apparently James bar Joseph believed if mature believing Christians pray, sick people get cured. Based on what? Duh; based on personal experience. Read Acts. In his day, Christians prayed for one another and for strangers, and got straight-up cured. Cured like when Jesus cured the sick, ’cause it’s the same Holy Spirit who’s empowering the curing. This wasn’t for “back in bible times”—this wasn’t stuff which happened in Elijah’s day, but no longer. This was for now. It’s still for now.

I’ve had this same personal experience. I’ve seen sick people get cured, right in front of me. Prayed for them, and the Holy Spirit cured them. They prayed for me, and the Holy Spirit cured me. No I didn’t psyche myself into thinking the Spirit cured me; I was honestly skeptical he’d do anything, but he graciously cured me anyway. Wasn’t my faith that cured me; it was the person praying for me. That’s all the Spirit wants to see.

So why do I have experiences which jibe with the bible, and this blogger doesn’t?

The Adulterer Story… if it even happened.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 September

John 7.53 – 8.11.

Today’s passage is called the Pericope Adulterae, the Adulterer Story, about a woman caught committing adultery, and Jesus was expected to judge her, and didn’t. It’s a really popular story in Christendom, and even pagans know the line, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Jn 8.7 KJV It’s used as the basis for a lot of live-and-let-live, “who am I to judge?” beliefs.

Two things though.

  • That’s not what Jesus meant by “He that is without sin.” I’ll get to that.
  • This entire story isn’t found in the earliest copies of John. Nor the gospels. It got added in the 300s. It’s a textual variant.

That second thing tends to really freak out Christians when I point it out to them. But just about every copy of the bible but the KJV points this out. The whole passage is put in brackets, or prefaced by “The oldest copies of John don’t have this story.” Some more daring bible translations even put the whole thing in the footnotes, and John 7.52 is immediately followed by John 8.12.

Here’s the story as the UBS has it. Lighter-text parts come from the Textus Receptus, which is where the King James Version’s translators got it.

John 7.53 – 8.11 KWL
53 Each person went to their house, 1 and Jesus went to Mt. Olivet.
2 At dawn Jesus went again to temple, and all the people came to him. He sat to teach them.
3 Scribes and Pharisees brought Jesus a woman caught red-handed in adultery.
They stood her in the middle 4 telling Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultering.
5 In our Law Moses commanded us to stone such people to death. Lv 20.10 So what do you say?”
6 They said this to test Jesus, so they could have an accusation on him.
Stooping down, Jesus was writing on the ground with his finger,
as if he weren’t listening, 7 while they continued to question him.
Then Jesus stood and told them, “Whoever among you haven’t sinned: Throw the first stone at her.”
8 And again Jesus bent down to write on the ground.
9 The listeners, one by one, convicted by their consciences, left, beginning with the elders.
Only Jesus, and the woman in the middle, were left.
10 Standing, seeing no one but the woman, Jesus told her, “Woman, where are they?
No one condemns you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.”
Jesus told her, “I don’t condemn you either. Go, and don’t sin from now on.”

Prophets in the bible: Read their books!

by K.W. Leslie, 06 September
THE PROPHETS ðə 'prɑf.əts noun, plural. Biblical writings by and about God’s Spirit-inspired messengers.
2. [In Christian bibles and book order] Books in the Old Testament primarily consisting of prophecies. Usually Isaiah through Malachi.
3. [In Jewish bibles and book order] The second major grouping of the Hebrew scriptures: Books written between 1000 and 400BC; Joshua through Malachi.

Sometimes I refer to “the Prophets,” and I admit this can be confusing to Christians who grew up Jewish. To Jews, “the Prophets” are the middle part of their bible—Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the 12 minor prophets.

But to Christians, “the Prophets” are the books with prophets’ names on them, specifically written by them, specifically full of their prophecies. Isaiah, Jeremiah (and Jeremiah’s book Lamentations), Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Some of us throw in the New Testament book of Revelation, and others throw in the apocryphal book of Baruch.

And for too many of these Christians, these are flyover books.

Yep. Just like snobs on the east and west coasts assume the middle of the United States consists of irrelevant “flyover states” which one needn’t bother to visit, many Christians figure these books needn’t be read. ’Cause they were written to the ancient Hebrews, not us. And they’re too confusing. Too filled with hard-to-interpret visions. Too weird. Not relevant.

They figure the Prophets have only two functions; only two reasons why we bother to publish bibles including them. First of all, they’re full of predictions Messiah was coming, so they point to Jesus. So we keep ’em for the Messianic prophecies, in case anybody isn’t sure the Prophets did foretell Jesus’s first coming.

The other is because they also foretell Jesus’s second coming. They foretell the End Times. So “prophecy scholars” mine ’em for their End Times prognostications, for anything which might fill in the blank parts of their timelines.

Otherwise, these books are considered a hard read. So Christians don’t read ’em. We read the books we consider relevant: The New Testament. The Old Testament origin stories, or tales of great biblical heroes. The psalms, for the poetry. Proverbs, for the wisdom. Song of Songs, for the smut.

But not the Prophets. Otherwise you’d have to learn about the historical context these prophets were talking about, and that’s way too much homework for your typical Christian’s taste. Plus they’re a bummer, ’cause they’re full of condemnation and God’s wrath. So, as I said, they’re skipped. Mine ’em for proof texts in case there’s a “biblical principle” you’re pushing. But otherwise skip ’em.

This attitude is incredibly short-sighted for those of us who wanna hear from God.

Because these prophets likewise heard God. You wanna know what God sounds like? Read the Prophets. You need to hear what God’s legitimate messengers sound like.

Summaries of the New Testament’s books.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 September

Did the summaries of the Old Testament’s books, so it’s time I summarized the New Testament’s books too.

Gospels.

The gospels, I should point out, aren’t Jesus-biographies. They only focus on his ministry: Proclaiming God’s kingdom has come, and he’s its king; teaching us how we’re to live in his kingdom, starting now; and his death and resurrection.

Because people think of gospels as Jesus-biographies, they regularly miss the fact Acts is also a gospel: It likewise proclaims God’s kingdom has come, with Jesus its king; how we’re to live, with examples from the apostles’ behavior; and the aftermath of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Acts was written as a sequel to Luke, and arguably they oughta be read together as one giant two-part book. Still, people’s confusion means a lot of New Testament booklists have Acts in its own standalone category of “history.”

GOSPEL, ACCORDING TO MATTHEW. A gospel of Christ Jesus, written particularly for a Jewish audience. Hence all its Old Testament quotes, Jesus’s commentary on the Law, and other things first-century Jews would consider relevant; gentiles not so much. (A popular theory is it was originally written in Aramaic and translated to Greek, but we’ve no proof.)

GOSPEL, ACCORDING TO MARK. Probably the first gospel written, and one of the sources for Matthew and Luke. It’s short and to the point.

GOSPEL, ACCORDING TO LUKE. With Acts, a gospel that more resembles ancient Greco-Roman histories, particularly in Luke’s attempt to determine the dates of things, and quote multiple sources. (Including, likely, Jesus’s mom.) Luke tried to include all the reliable Jesus stories he could track down, making it the longest gospel.

GOSPEL, ACCORDING TO JOHN. And John apparently filled in all the blanks in Luke, giving a firsthand account from one of Jesus’s first students about some of the things Jesus taught and did.

ACTS OF THE APOSTLES. After Jesus was raptured, how his new church got its start. Its first persecutions, first council, the origin of Paul of Tarsus, and how it was spread across the Roman Empire.

Summaries of the Old Testament’s books.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 September

It’s nice to have the book order memorized, but it’s far more useful to know what’s in the books. So here’s a brief summary of each book of the Old Testament.

Books of Moses.

GENESIS. These are the formation stories of the earth and the Hebrew people.

  • Creation.
  • Adam and Eve and humanity’s fall.
  • Noah ben Lamech, and humanity wiped out by floods.
  • Babel, and humanity’s scattering.
  • Avram ben Terah, or Abraham the Hebrew; his relationship with God, and his relocation to Canaan.
  • Jacob ben Isaac, or Israel; his relationship with God, and the creation of his large family—the ancestors of the 13 tribes.
  • Joseph ben Jacob, or as the Egyptians called him, Chafnat-pahaneakh; how he went from slavery to become Egypt’s vizier, and his brothers’ relocation to Egypt.

EXODUS. Primarily it’s about the Exodus—how the Hebrew descendants of Israel became a nation, became enslaved by Egypt, and had to be saved by the LORD himself. It tells how the LORD did that, through 10 plagues of judgment upon Egypt. It introduces his prophet Moses ben Amram, his Law, and his instructions for the tabernacle (which’d be replaced four centuries later by the temple).

LEVITICUS. Largely consisting of commands, Leviticus mostly focuses on how the LORD wanted his priests to perform his ritual sacrifices, and his definitions of ritual cleanliness. He wanted Israel to be holy; these were the steps they had to take.

NUMBERS. What happened to the Israelis (KJV “Israelites”) after the LORD handed down his commands at Mt. Sinai: Wandering though the wilderness, grumbling all the way; failing to enter Canaan, so wandering through the desert some more; rebellions from certain malcontents, and opposition from other Hebrew nations. Various new commands were added by the LORD as needed.

DEUTERONOMY. Right before the Hebrews entered Canaan, Moses gave a book-long speech to the new generation of Israelis, reminding them of the Law and informing them what they were in for. (And foretelling how they’d repetitively go through a cycle of repentance.)

God’s still small voice?

by K.W. Leslie, 03 September

Y’might’ve heard this story before.

1 Kings 19.11-13 KWL
11 The LORD said, “Go out. Stand on Mt. Sinai before the LORD’s face.”
Look, the LORD passed by.
A great, strong wind tore away the mountain, breaking rocks before the LORD’s face—
but the LORD wasn’t in the wind.
After the wind, an earthquake. The LORD wasn’t in the quake.
12 After the quake, a fire. The LORD wasn’t in the fire.
After the fire, a voice—a thin whisper.
13 When Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his robe and went out to stand in the cave’s opening.
Look, the voice to him said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

This is the only instance in the bible of a ק֖וֹל דְּמָמָ֥ה דַקָּֽה/qol demamá daqqá, “a voice, a thin whisper,” better known by the way the KJV puts it, “a still small voice.”

The only instance. Nowhere else is the LORD described as talking this way. Usually he’s super obvious, and super loud. Frighteningly loud, and even people who knew and loved him would cower in terror, ’cause God’s louder than the loudest thing the authors of the bible could describe. Usually they’d go with thunder, or “many waters”—multiple waterfalls, or ocean waves, which are the darnedest things to talk over. Rv 19.6

Yet for some reason, the still small voice is how everybody seems to think God talks to people: He’s quiet. A tiny whisper. Something you can barely hear.

I would argue they can barely hear him for other reasons. Not because he’s quiet—or worse, because he’s silent.

The senators dismiss the Galilean prophet.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 September

John 7.37-52.

The last day of the Sukkot festival was treated like Sabbath. Lv 23.36, Nu 29.35 Every day, God was presented a ritual food offering; on the last day they presented a ritual drink offering. The priests drew water from the Šiloakh pool (where Jesus later sent a blind guy to wash himself) then walked round the temple’s altar with the water. Then the officiating priest lifted his hand to indicate the ritual was over… and then this happened.

John 7.37-39 KWL
37 On the last day, the great day, of the Sukkot feast, Jesus stood and called out,
saying, “When anyone thirsts, come to me and drink!
38 When one believes in me, as the scriptures say,
‘Rivers of living water will flow from his womb.’ ”
39 Jesus said this about the Spirit who was about to receive those who believed in him:
The Holy Spirit hadn’t yet come, for Jesus hadn’t yet been glorified.

Jesus’s bible quote isn’t an exact quote of anything. He was going for a general idea of water bubbling up from within, as implied in verses like this one.

Isaiah 58.11 KWL
“The LORD led you constantly. He satisfied your soul in scorched lands. He strengthened your bones.
You’re like a well-watered garden, like a water spring which doesn’t produce foul water.”

It’s similar to what he told the Samaritan at the well:

John 4.13-14 KWL
13 In reply Jesus told her, “All who drink this water will be thirsty again.
14 Whoever would drink the water I give them, won’t be thirsty in the age to come.
Instead, the water I give them will become a water spring within them,
bubbling up into eternal life.”

As John said, this is a prophecy about the Holy Spirit, who wouldn’t come Ac 2.1-4 till after Jesus was raptured and glorified. Ac 1.9-11 Come to Jesus and receive the water of life; receive the Holy Spirit.

Still, it galvanized the people, who were pretty sure Jesus was either the Prophet or Messiah… although as you can see, there was still some debate about his credentials to be Messiah. He was Jesus the Nazarene, after all—and they knew Messiah didn’t come from Nazareth.

John 7.40-44 KWL
40 So some from the crowd who heard this word said, “This is truly the Prophet.”
41 Others said, “This is Messiah.”
And some said, “No, for Messiah doesn’t come from the Galilee!
42 Doesn’t the scripture say Messiah comes ‘out of David’s seed’ Ps 89.4
and ‘from Bethlehem,’ Mc 5.2 the village where David was from?”
43 So there became a split in the crowd about Jesus.
44 Some of them wanted to arrest Jesus, but nobody put their hands on him.

We know Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but I remind you John didn’t include Jesus’s birth story; he just showed up in his 30s to be baptized by John, gather students, and start teaching. John states multiple times he came from heaven, sent by the Father, which was good enough for John. Not so much for the Jerusalemites, who were looking for any reason to disqualify him. Jesus is descended from David ben Jesse, Mt 1.1 and wasn’t just born in Bethlehem but had ancestors from Bethlehem; Nazareth was founded by Bethlehemites. His provenance definitely doesn’t disqualify him from being Messiah. But for doubters, any excuse will do. We get the same way nowadays; all humans do.