“Silent years”: Did God once turn off his miracles?

by K.W. Leslie, 30 December

It’s usually round Christmas when preachers start talking about “the silent years,” or “the 400 silent years,” and how the annunciations of John the Baptist and Christ Jesus mark the end of that era.

As it’s taught, for roughly four centuries between the writing of Malachi, “the closing of the Old Testament canon,” and Gabriel’s appearance to John’s dad, the Holy Spirit was silent. He stopped talking to prophets, and had none. ’Cause if he did, these prophets would’ve written a book, right? But no prophets wrote a book, ergo no prophets.

And during these “silent years,” it’s claimed the Spirit likewise stopped doing miracles. ’Cause if he had, again, someone would’ve written a book about it. But nobody wrote one, so nothing miraculous musta happened. If those 400 years weren’t silent, we’d have more books of the bible.

(Um… what about the books of prophets, and of the Spirit’s activity, in the apocrypha? You realize they were written during that 400-year period. But the preachers who claim there were silent years either know nothing at all about the apocrypha, or dismiss ’em as Catholic mythology—or worse, claim they’re devilish. Either way they don’t count.)

Okay, lemme first clear up a minor mistake: The actual last book written of the Old Testament was 2 Chronicles, not Malachi. It’s what we find in the Hebrew book order. There are three groupings, Law, Prophets, and Writings, which were written in that order. Malachi is among the Prophets; Chronicles is the last of the Writings. Some scholars figure they were written round the same time; some don’t.

Now the major mistake: The entire idea of “silent years” contradicts the scriptures. You knew I was gonna get to that, didn’tcha?

TXAB’s bible-reading plan.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 December

Whenever the new year approaches, Christians resolve to read the bible. The entire bible, not just the parts we like best: Genesis to maps, as the old joke goes. (See, when you buy a bible in print, most of them have maps of Israel and the Roman Empire in the back. Yes, explaining the joke makes it less funny. Yes, deliberately making the joke less funny is ironically funny. Yes, this is metahumor. I’ll stop now.)

Christians tend to pick up a bible-reading plan of some sort, and most of the time it goes through the scriptures in a year. Which, I insist, is far too long. I prefer you do it in a month. Yes it’s totally possible; the bible’s a big fat inspired book anthology, but it doesn’t take an entire year to read. What book do you take an entire year to read?—unless you chop it into bite-size bits so small you’re spiritually starving. No wonder so many Christians lose track and lose interest.

Now if a month seems too extreme for you (especially if you don’t read), y’know what you could do: Read the bible at your own speed. Read it till you’re done. However long it takes you to get it done. Might be three months. Maybe two. Then again you might surprise yourself and finish it in one.

That’s where TXAB’s bible-reading plan comes in. It’ll help you read it at whatever speed you’re going.

The books of a Christian’s library.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 December

Birthdays and Christmas frequently mean gift cards, and if you got one you might be thinking, “Hmm, what books ought I buy?” But probably not. People don’t read.

Okay you clearly do, if you read TXAB. But most don’t. Christians might read the bible, though many of us consider it a massive struggle; a New Year’s resolution we never get round to completing, and peter out in March along with our gym memberships. We’ll read little else. We don’t want any more books, and figure most Christian books are either poorly-written fiction, repackaged sermons, or light devotional stuff which are no deeper than the stuff we hear Sunday morning. (Which largely ain’t wrong.)

So I rarely get asked, “What books should I own?” Most Christians figure if their Christian library contains a bible alone, they’re good.

Sometimes more than one bible. Maybe a study bible; maybe a concordance, exhaustive or not; maybe an inexpensive one-volume bible commentary, like Matthew Henry’s. Maybe a prayer book or devotional.

The rest will be the odd Christian book they were given as gifts, or bought when a traveling preacher visited the church and had a book table, or bought because they heard it was really good… so they read it, and likely won’t read it twice.

Ought we own more than that? Well, it won’t hurt.

Supernatural discernment: Knowing what you can’t know.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 December

Yesterday a coworker was trying to explain some scripture to me. It’s an interpretation I was entirely unfamiliar with, so I found it interesting. Had my doubts, but kept an open mind. It sounds a little bit plausible, so I spent some of this morning investigating it. Turns out it’s something the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach, and nobody else. So, nah.

But yesterday, while he was still talking to me, before I ever looked it up and knew it was something JWs teach, I had deduced, “Y’know, I think this guy’s Jehovah’s Witness.”

No, the Holy Spirit didn’t supernaturally reveal this to me. I deduced it. From the clues:

  • It’s the Christmas season, and I had heard him mock Christmas a number of times. Admittedly I do this too with the materialism around the holiday, but JWs are particularly notorious for not observing Christmas. Big obvious red flag there.
  • He dismissed any comments I had to make, or any corrections I offered to his proof texts. He was entirely sure he knew what he was talking about. JWs are notorious know-it-alls; their claims of knowing it all is largely what attracts people to them.
  • I’ve studied Christianity all my life and generally know what most Christian branches teach about that particular scripture. (And I know what Mormons teach about it; it’s not substantially different.) I’ve not studied JW teachings, so I suspected that was why this teaching was unfamiliar.
  • We have two big JW churches (ar as they prefer to call ’em, “Kingdom Halls”) in town. They’re predominantly black churches; every JW who’s come to my door has been black; and this coworker is black. Yeah, I admit there’s some racial profiling in this “clue.” Still.

So I had a working hypothesis. But of course I couldn’t prove this hypothesis… till I looked this interpretation up on the internet, and bada-bing: It’s a Jehovah’s Witness view; dude’s a Jehovah’s Witness. Okay. So now I gotta approach him from that angle whenever we talk about Jesus.

Okay. How would supernatural discernment work? Simple: The very minute I met him, before he’d said or done anything, before I had anything I can draw a conclusion from, I’d know he was Jehovah’s Witness. I’d just know.

I’d still have to confirm this belief, ’cause while the Holy Spirit is infallible, I’m surely not. It might be my own gut, not him. But it’s the easiest thing to confirm. “Hey, what church do you go to?” “Well it’s not a church; the church is people, not a building.” Ah, so you are one of those. Good to know.

You see the difference? Natural deduction, the non-supernatural stuff, involves my brain finding clues and drawing a conclusion. Sometimes properly, sometimes improperly, but it takes brainpower. The supernatural stuff does not. It’s revelation: The Holy Spirit had to give it to me. It appeared in my mind as if it’s any other data I drew from it, like how many toes are on my foot, or what color are that passerby’s shoes. It felt like pre-existing knowledge, not something the Holy Spirit told me at that instant.

Happy holidays!

by K.W. Leslie, 21 December

In the United States it’s the holiday season. As soon as Halloween is over, out come the Christmas sales, and people start putting mint in everything. You know what we’re ramping up towards.

Javascript isn’t working this Christmas!

Some elf overdid it on the sugar.

I get why the holidays bug people. It’s the commercialism. The merchandising. The obligatory traditions which hold no more meaning for you. The mandatory functions which aren’t any fun, like the Christmas pageants where you gotta watch kids and earnest church members, who have no business singing in public, charitably permitted to nonetheless sing in public. Or the naked, unadulterated greed which sucks the soul out of this time of year.

It’s why I advise Christians to redirect our attention to Advent, the four weeks before Jesus’s nativity. Eastern churches start it even earlier, 40 days before Christmas, and make a fast of it, like Lent. Which you could do, if you’re into fasting; I’m not. But Advent’s purpose isn’t to deprive ourselves so Christmas seems way better by comparison. Nor is it to ramp up the pressure to make ready for a super-blowout Christmas Day. Properly it’s the time to set our eyes on Jesus. He came once before… and he’s coming back again.

The Wheat and Darnel Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 December

Matthew 13.24-30, 13.36-43

Elsewhere in Matthew Jesus tells a story often called the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, from the word tares used in the King James Version to translate ζιζάνια/zidzánia, “darnel.” It’s a specific weed, Lolium temulentum, frequently called “false wheat.”

In ancient times darnel was constantly found in wheat fields. Some darnel always got mixed up with the wheat during the harvest, and it wasn’t until we invented separating machines that people finally got the darnel problem under control. Darnel looks just like wheat when it’s growing… but once the ears appear, any farmer will realize it’s not wheat at all. When they ripen, wheat turns brown and darnel turns black.

If it’s harmless, why did the ancients make a big deal about darnel? Because darnel is very susceptible to Neotyphodium funguses, and if you ate any infected darnel, the symptoms were nausea and a little drunkenness. (The temulentum in darnel’s scientific name means “drunk.”) And of course it might kill you. Hence people sometimes refer to darnel as poison.

So Jesus’s audience realized the serious problem these specific weeds posed. The rest of us, who only read “tares” or “weeds” in our bibles, not so much. Weeds are inconvenient, and use the water meant for our crops, but otherwise they sound kinda harmless, and it should be easy to sort them out, right? Um… not so much with darnel. And not so harmless.

Matthew 13.24-30 KWL
24 Jesus set this idea before his students,
saying, “Heaven’s kingdom is like a person scattering good seed in his field.
25 During his slaves’ sleep, his enemy came,
scattered darnel in the middle of the grain, and left.
26 When the shoots sprouted and bore fruit, then the darnel also appeared.
27 Going to him, the householder’s slaves told him,
‘Master, didn’t you scatter good seed in your field? So where’d the darnel come from?’
28 The master told them, ‘This was done by a person—an enemy.’
The slaves told him, ‘So do you want us to maybe pull them up?’
29 The master said, ‘No, lest pulling the darnel up uproots the grain together with it.
30 Allow them to both grow together till harvest.
At harvest time I will tell the harvesters, “Pull up the darnel first.
Bundle them into bundles for them to be burnt up.
Get the grain into my granary.” ’ ”

Later in the chapter, Jesus interprets his own story for his students. They really should’ve been able to interpret this story without his explanation—and probably did, but just wanted him to confirm their conclusions. I’ll get to that later.

Sock-puppet false prophecy.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 December

Last year I wrote about sock-puppet theology. It’s when people develop their beliefs about God all wrong because of how they came about those beliefs. Instead of doing as we’re meant to—

  • read the scriptures,
  • study their textual and historical context,
  • compare them with Jesus’s character,
  • compare them with the conclusions of other Spirit-led Christians,
  • and of course use our commonsense

—these people take much easier, non-study-based tack. They meditate on certain scriptures, use their imagination to “make the scriptures come alive,” then draw conclusions from these self-induced visions. Sometimes they’ll even talk to the people in their meditations: They’ll have a full-on conversation with, say, David ben Jesse. They’ll ask him what it was like to trust the LORD while he was hiding out from King Saul ben Kish, whether in caves or Philistine territory. David will have a whole bunch of interesting insights. They’ll actually base their relationship with God on “David’s” insights.

But that’s not David. That’s an imaginary David. That’s not the guy who wrote all the psalms, conquered Jerusalem, defeated a coup led by his own son, and circumcised 200 Philistines. (Seriously. 1Sa 18.27) That’s a David based on one person’s limited knowledge of David… which might be heavily distorted by movies and books about David, sermons which oversimplified David, tacky Christian art and other forms of Christian popular culture, and of course their own ignorance. There’s nothing wrong with using our imagination to meditate, but we need to be fully aware we don’t know all—and that the Holy Spirit isn’t filling in all the blanks in our knoweldge; we are.

“David’s” insights are really our insights. And sometimes they’re not insightful at all. They’re just the same old prejudices, the same worldly thinking, we’ve always had… dressed up in a nice Christian package. It’s not David; it’s a David sock puppet.

I remind you of this, and went on about this, because today I’m writing about prophecy, and about one particular practice you’ll find among people who really, really wanna become prophets. But they’re not willing to do the hard work of learning to recognize God’s voice, and confirming it’s him. So what they’ve done… is create a Holy Spirit sock puppet.

Nope, not kidding. Wish I were.

…Don’t we all have some fundamental beliefs?

by K.W. Leslie, 16 December
FUNDAMENTALIST fən.də'mɛn.(t)əl.ɪst adjective. Adheres to certain beliefs as necessary and foundational.
2. Theologically (and politically) conservative in their religion.
3. [capitalized] Has to do with the 20th-century movement which considers certain Christian beliefs mandatory.
[Fundamentalism fən.də'mɛn.(t)əl.ɪz.əm noun, Fundie 'fən.di adjective.]

I grew up Fundamentalist, and refer to Fundies from time to time. But I need to explain what I mean by the term. Too many people use it, and use it wrong.

For most folks fundamentalist is just another word for conservative. Not just sorta conservative; super conservative. If you’re a fundamentalist Christian—or fundamentalist Muslim, fundamentalist Jew, fundamentalist Mormon, fundamentalist Republican—they assume you’re extremely conservative, or at least more conservative than they are. “I may be conservative, but you’re fundamentalist.”

It picked up this definition for good reason: Fundies frequently are super conservative. Some of of ’em pride themselves in just how conservative they can get. Feels sometimes like they’re trying to play a game of conservative chicken: “You might claim to be prolife, but I’m willing to blow up clinics. How prolife is that?” Um, not at all. But let’s not go there today. (I wrote on the topic elsewhere.)

But Fundamentalist isn’t synonymous with conservative. Fr’instance my church has its Fundamentalists… who aren’t anywhere near as conservative as other Fundamentalists might demand. My church’s Fundies recognize women can minister. Recognize Jesus came to save everybody, not just Christians. Recognize miracles still happen, whereas other Fundamentalists are absolutely insistent they stopped. Yet they’re still Fundamentalist.

’Cause properly a fundamentalist is someone who believes there are fundamentals—non-negotiable doctrines which people have to adhere to. Christians who have no fundamentals, who think absolutely everything is open for debate, who even deny some of those things you’d reasonably expect a Christian to believe (like, say, in Christ!) can’t legitimately call themselves Christian.

Wait, don’t we all do that?

Well, most of us. There actually are some folks on the fringe who claim they’re Christian, but it turns out they don’t believe in Christ. Or they’ve mangled his teachings so bad, they’ve basically nullified them all. Or instead of Jesus, they believe in Historical Jesus, but ironically their idea of Historical Jesus is total fiction. Or they like Jesus a whole lot, but in practice they follow Deepak Chopra more. They assume they’re Christian because they were baptized Christian, but they’ve never really followed Jesus, and there are a lot of fake Christians out there.

Fundamentalism is meant to be the antidote. Capital-F Fundamentalists are pretty sure there are churches who don’t recognize Jesus as Lord and God. Don’t believe God’s a trinity. Can’t believe Jesus was born of a virgin, raised from the dead, or is coming back. Don’t trust the bible. Don’t really trust Jesus to save them; they gotta merit salvation with their good karma. In contrast, they have fundamental truths, and require them of all their members.

Which “fundamental truths?” You know, the basics. Stuff which defines orthodox Christianity. Stuff you find in the Apostles Creed, plus a few other things like the bible’s authority. Fundamentalists worry these ground-floor ideas have been compromised in too many churches, among too many Christians. They want no part of any Christianity which won’t defend ’em. Real Christians embrace the fundamentals.

So it’s not wrong to say fundamentalism is conservative. The very definition of conservatism is to point backwards to the tried-and-true as our objective standards.

Here’s the catch; here’s why Christians and pagans alike are confused as to what a Fundamentalist is: Not every conservative is pointing back to the same past.

Me, I point back to the first-century apostolic church of Christ Jesus. Or to the creeds which the ancient Christians sorted out. Sometimes to the beginnings of my own denomination.

And another is pointing back to “the way we’ve always done things.” Which really means the way they remember they’ve always done things; some of those traditions only go back 20 or 40 years. Or two generations. Or a century, like my denomination. The Pharisees’ “tradition of the elders” only extended back about 50 years before Jesus began to critique it. Hardly that ancient.

Way too many of these traditions date back… to the upper-class customs of the American South during the Jim Crow segregationist era. In other words, not pointing to Christianity at all, but a particularly heinous form of Christianism, which they remember fondly only because it wasn’t persecuting them.

That is the form of fundamentalism I object to. Not the folks who wanna keep Christianity orthodox, who wanna make sure we follow Jesus, know our bibles, believe the right things, and do good deeds for the right reasons. I’m all for that. I’m not for the false religion of conforming to a social standard which only appears moral, and is really patriarchy, racism, earthly power, control, greed, and hypocrisy.

Strong numbers. Or Strong’s numbers. Whichever.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 December

From time to time I refer to Strong numbers or Strong’s numbers. I suppose I need to explain ’em before people get the idea I’m introducing them to numerology.

A concordance is a list of every single word in a book. People make ’em for the bible so they can use it as kind of an index: You might remember there’s a verse in the bible about “the meek shall inherit the earth,” but not remember where it’s found. (And you might live in 1987, when you couldn’t just Google it.) So you bust out that concordance, flip to “meek,” and find out where it’s hiding. Seems it appears 17 times in the King James Version.

Nu 12.3 the man Moses was very m., above all the men H 6035
Ps 22.26 The m. shall eat and be satisfied H 6035
Ps 25.9 The m. shall he guide in judgment H 6035
Ps 25.9 and the m. shall he teach his way. H 6035
Ps 37.11 But the m. shall inherit the earth H 6035
Ps 76.9 to save all the m. of the earth. H 6035
Ps 147.6 The LORD lifteth up the m. H 6035
Ps 149.4 he will beautify the m. with salvation H 6035
Is 11.4 reprove with equity for the m. of the earth H 6035
Is 29.19 The m. also shall increase their joy H 6035
Is 61.1 to preach good tidings unto the m. H 6035
Am 2.7 and turn aside the way of the m. H 6035
Zp 2.3 Seek ye the LORD, all ye m. of the earth H 6035
Mt 5.5 Blessed are the m.: for they shall inherit G 4239
Mt 11.29 for I am m. and lowly in heart G 4235
Mt 21.5 Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, m. G 4239
1Pe 3.4 even the ornament of a m. and quiet spirit G 4239

So check it out: The meek inheriting the earth comes up twice, actually. In Psalm 37.11, and in Christ Jesus’s “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Mt 5.5

Some bibles have a mini-concordance in the back, to be used as just this sort of index. They don’t include every word. Really, not even an exhaustive concordance does: There are 64,040 instances of “the” in the KJV. (More instances of “the” than there are verses.) When people are trying to track down a verse, they don’t use “the.” Too common.

Anyway. Dr. James Strong wasn’t the first guy to produce an exhaustive concordance of the KJV, but his was powerfully useful for one reason: His numbers. When you looked up any word in his 1890 concordance, you’d find he provided a number. In the back of the book were his Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary of the Old Testament, and Greek Dictionary of the New Testament. Don’t even have to know the Hebrew or Greek alphabets: You look up the word by its number, and there you go: It’s the proper original-language word behind the KJV’s translation.

Wanna know the original word for “ass” in 2 Peter 2.16? Strong’s concordance will point you to number 5268, and once you look up that number in the Greek dictionary, you find this:

5268. ὑποζύγιον hupozugion, hoop-od-zoog'-ee-on; neuter of a compound of 5259 and 2218; an animal under the yoke (draught-beast), i.e. (specially), a donkey: ass.

Nice, huh? Wanna know the original word for “buttocks” in Isaiah 20.4?

8357. שֵׁתָה shethah, shay-thaw'; from 7896; the seat (of the person):—buttock.

Yes, I’m twelve.

The odds of Jesus fulfilling prophecy.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 December

Round Christmastime you’ll hear all sorts of sermons about Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem. I certainly have. Hear ’em every Christmas. Frequently way more than one sermon: I regularly go to the live nativities my city’s churches put together, and the Christians there are gonna preach about Jesus’s birth yet again, just in case anyone doesn’t already know the story. (Nevermind the fact live nativities keep getting elements of the story wrong, like magi at the stable.)

The sermons are frequently from the Luke point of view, which has his actual birth in it. But occasionally preachers will bring up Matthew’s bit about the magi, because it specifically refers to the prophecy Messiah’s to be born in Bethlehem:

Micah 5.2 NASB
“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will come forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His times of coming forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.”

A previous Messiah, David ben Jesse, came from Bethlehem, 1Sa 17.12 and the great once-and-for-all Messiah, his descendant, was also expected to come from there.

And certain Christians love to bring up this prophecy. Because it reminds us this was all part of God’s plan to save the world, y’know. Jesus wasn’t an unplanned pregnancy, despite the clever-sounding prolife memes going round the internet. His birth had been in the works since the very beginning.

Certain other Christians love to bring up the prophecy, because Christian apologists love to point out the significance of Messianic prophecies in general. They claim they’ve done the math, and the chances of Jesus fulfilling every single prophecy about Messiah in the Old Testament comes out to a crazy-big number. Astronomically huge. Got an unfathomable number of zeroes after it. One popular stat, based on Jesus fulfilling only eight prophecies, comes out to one in a sextillion. That’s 1021, meaning 21 zeroes in the number. A billion trillion.

Sounds impressive, but the problem is their math is based on a faulty premise: When you’re calculating odds, you’re talking about chance. And when we’re talking about Jesus, ain’t no chance involved.

These’d be the odds if Jesus had unintentionally, coincidentally fulfilled prophecy. In other words, if Jesus had never read a bible. Never encountered a biblically literate culture. Knew nothing about what was expected of a Messiah. Yet stumbled into actions which just happened to sync up with every ancient prediction.

Thing is, Jesus is more biblically literate than everybody. He knows these predictions. He knowingly, intentionally, deliberately fulfilled them. The gospels even say so. Like I said, ain’t no chance involved.

The Lambs and Kids Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 December

Matthew 25.31-46.

The next story in Jesus’s Olivet Discourse, where he taught his students about the End Times, is usually called the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. It all comes from verses 32-33, in which Jesus compares the division of humanity into camps of righteous and reprobate, like a shepherd segregating his flock by species: Lambs on one side, kids on the other. One group to get shorn, one to get milked. Or in this case, one group to go one way, the other to go another.

This story terrifies legalists. Because outside the proper context of God’s grace, it looks like you get into God’s kingdom entirely on merit. You do for Jesus—or, as Jesus puts it, you do for the very lowest of the people he identifies with, which is all the same to him—and you inherit his kingdom. Or you don’t, so you go to hell. So get cracking! Start feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, reforming the prison and healthcare system, and otherwise fixing society!

Wait, is that what legalists do? Nah. Usually they’re too busy getting all paranoid about the rules they designated for themselves, or their cult leaders assigned them. Doing for society?—they don’t. Or they interpret “one of the least of these my brethren” Mt 25.40 KJV as only meaning fellow Christians—or, if they wanna get strict about it, only meaning members of their churches; or if even stricter, only church members of good standing. The stricter you get, the less you gotta love your neighbors. Funny how that works.

More often, Christians just ignore this passage altogether. We figure we’re saved by grace (which we are), but this passage sounds like we’re saved by good works. And we’re not. We know we’re not. We know that we know that we KNOW we’re not. So whatever this passage means, it can’t mean that… and we’re fine with not really knowing what it’s about, so we skip it. Unless we wanna terrify pagans with it.

Of course you realize I’m gonna apply historical context to it, and explain what it’d mean to Jesus’s students who heard it, and point out how entirely consistent it is with God’s grace. Probably to the degree it’ll outrage many a legalist Christian. But whatever. Let’s begin with my translation, and if you wanna compare it with other translations be my guest. I don’t think mine is far different.

Matthew 25.31-46 KWL
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, all the angels with him,
he’ll then sit on his glorious throne
32 and every nation on earth will be gathered together before him.
He separates them like a shepherd, lambs from kids,
33 and will place the lambs at his right, and the kids at his left.
34 The King will then tell those at his right:
‘Come, you who’ve been blessed by my Father!
Inherit the kingdom, prepared for you from the world’s foundation!
35 For I hunger and you feed me. Thirst and you water me.
A foreigner and you include me. 36 Naked and you clothe me.
Weak and you look out for me. Imprisoned and you come to me.’
37 In reply the righteous lambs will then say, ‘Master?
When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and water you?
38 When did we see you a foreigner and include you, or naked and clothe you?
39 When did we see you weak and imprisoned and come to you?’
40 In reply the King will tell them, ‘Amen! I promise you:
Whatever you do for one of the lowest of these people in my family, you do for me.’
 
41 The King then says to those at his left:
‘Get away from me, you damned people!
Go to the fire of the age, prepared for the devil and its angels!
42 For I hunger and you don’t feed me. Thirst and you don’t water me.
43 A foreigner and you don’t include me. Naked and you don’t clothe me.
Weak and imprisoned and you don’t look out for me.’
44 In reply the kids will say, ‘Master?
When did we see you hungry, thirsty, a foreigner, naked, weak, or imprisoned, and not serve you?’
45 In reply the King will tell them, ‘Amen! I promise you:
Whatever you don’t do for one of the lowest of these, you neither do for me.’
46 These people will go to the correction of the age to come.
The righteous, to life in the age to come.”

The Textus Receptus added the word ἅγιοι/áyiï, “holy,” to verse 31, which is why the King James has “holy angels” instead of just “angels.” As if Jesus would bring unholy angels with him. But whatever.

Killing false prophets: Wanna bring it back?

by K.W. Leslie, 09 December

Moses ben Amram was gonna die before the Hebrews entered Canaan, so Deuteronomy tells of his last address to them before they entered that land. He reminded them of the LORD’s commands, had ’em reaffirm their covenant with him, then died.

Up to this point, Moses had been the Hebrews’ primary prophet. If you wanted to know God’s will, and God didn’t tell you directly, you went to Moses. (Or even if God did tell you directly, you double-checked with Moses.) Moses’s death meant people were understandably anxious about losing God’s main spokesperson, but Moses reminded them he was far from God’s only spokesperson.

Deuteronomy 18.15-22 NRSV
15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16 This is what you requested of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the LORD my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” 17 Then the LORD replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. 19 Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20 But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.” 21 You may say to yourself, “How can we recognize a word that the LORD has not spoken?” 22 If a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.

Yep, the LORD decreed the death penalty for false prophets. Which was kinda necessary at the time: The LORD was Israel’s king, his commands were the law of the land, and a lot of them were life-and-death decrees. And you can’t have a phony spokesperson make life-and-death decrees in his name. It’d kill and ruin people. So false prophets got the death penalty.

True, we don’t execute false prophets anymore. Not because, as some dispensationalists claim, we no longer live under Law but grace. Nor because, as cessationists claim, God stopped doing prophecy. Nope; it’s because of separation of church and state. The LORD is not the United States’ king; our Constitution is the law of the land, and the Supreme Court sorts it out instead of prophets.

So prophets no longer make life-and-death decrees. You’re entirely free to heed them, or not. Yeah, false prophets can still destroy people’s lives; they can start cults and sucker swaths of minions into obeying them, and enforce their decrees within the cult community. But they’re no longer the highest authority in the land: You can call the cops on them. You can sue them. If they’re frauds as prophets, they’re nearly always frauds in every other area of their lives, including finances and taxes and stuff the civic government can prosecute. If they committed or suborned murder, the state can execute them.

If they haven’t crossed legal lines, but they’re still obviously false prophets, we pretty much have one recourse: Prove they’re false, and broadcast our proof widely. We’re supposed to expose such misdeeds. Ep 5.11-14 Warn everybody away from ’em: They can’t be trusted; they’re poison and cancer to our churches; they ruin our Christian sisters and brothers for their own gain, drive some of ’em away from the church or even Jesus, and give pagans an excuse to mock us.

I know; Christians are supposed to do grace like our Father. That’s why we’re to personally forgive these frauds when they wrong us. Be kind and loving to them. Don’t lie about them, nor slander them. Accept their apologies when they make ’em.

But put them into positions of authority thereafter? Nope. They’ve proven they can’t be trusted. They need to be removed from any list of potential leaders we might have. Power corrupts ’em too easily, and isn’t safe in their hands. No “rehabilitation process” should ever put ’em back in charge. Our tolerance level for fakes should be way lower than it is.

How do you know you heard from God?

by K.W. Leslie, 08 December

Let’s say I’m talking with a Christian friend about the time she had to make a great big decision. Like where to go to college, whether to move to Chicago, whether to buy her house, whether to marry her husband, whether to quit her job. You know, the usual life-changing, life-rearranging decisions which people would rather God just tell us what to do, and grant us the best possible timeline.

So as my friend is describing how she came to her conclusion, she drops the inevitable, “Then God told me….”

ME. “Okay but how’d you know it was God?”
SHE. “Well I just knew.”
ME. “Just knew? How could you ‘just know’? Because it felt like God?”
SHE. “Exactly.”
ME. “Well fine; I can work with that. So what’s God feel like?”
SHE. “Oh, he’s indescribable.”
ME. “Yeah yeah; we all know the Chris Tomlin song. Now try to describe him.”
SHE. “I just felt an incredible peace about my decision. That’s how I knew it was God.”
ME. “I know what you mean. I feel an incredible peace after the barista hands me my morning coffee. But I’m pretty sure that’s not divine revelation. Describe him better.”
SHE. “I just wasn’t worried about my choice any longer. I knew I made the right one.”
ME. “You stopped worrying, so you figure God turned off the worries. And if you were still anxious, that’d mean you didn’t make the right decision. God uses your emotions to steer you the right way.”
SHE. “Yes.”
ME. “What about those people in the bible who still worried God wouldn’t come through for them? Like Abraham. The LORD seemed to be taking too long to give him a son, so he borrowed his wife’s slave and put a baby in her. Ge 16.1-4 Shouldn’t God have turned off his worries?”
SHE. “Abraham should’ve had faith.”
ME. “Abraham did have faith. Three different apostles used Abraham as an example of the very best kind of faith. Ro 4.9, He 11.8, Jm 2.23 But great faith or not, Abraham was still anxious about what God was gonna do, and decided to jump the gun. God didn’t steer Abraham through his worries. Abraham’s worries were totally his doing.”
SHE. “God would’ve taken them away if Abraham had only asked.”
ME. “You don’t think Abraham asked? Obviously he asked, ’cause God told him more than once he’d have a son—and he didn’t mean the slave’s son. God even took human form and visited Abraham personally, just so he could promise him again. Ge 18.1-15 Why go to all these lengths when all he had to do was turn off Abraham’s worries?”
SHE. “Abraham wouldn’t let God turn them off.”
ME. “Because Abraham was in total control of his worries.”
SHE. “Yes.”
ME. “Kinda like how you’re in total control of your worries, and whether they’re on or off has to do with you. Not God.”
SHE. “Right. Wait… no. You’re trying to mix me up.”
ME. “Nope. Just trying to point out emotions aren’t the Holy Spirit.

The Talents Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December

Matthew 25.13-30.

Nowadays when we say talent we mean a special ability; something one can do which most others can’t. The word evolved to mean that, but in ancient Greek a τάλαντον/tálanton meant either a moneychanger’s scale, or the maximum weight you put on that scale. Usually of silver. Sometimes gold… but if the text doesn’t say which metal they’re weighing, just assume it’s silver.

Talents varied from nation to nation, province to province. When Jesus spoke of talents, he meant the Babylonian talent (Hebrew כִּכָּר/khikhár, which literally means “loaf,” i.e. a big slab of silver). That’d be 30.2 kilograms, or 66.56 pounds. Jews actually had two talents: A “light talent,” the usual talent; and a “heavy talent” or “royal talent” which weighed twice as much. But again: Unless the text says it’s the heavy talent, assume it’s the light one. And of course the Greeks and Romans had their own talents: The Roman was 32.3 kilos and the Greek was 26.

Using 2020 silver rates, a Babylonian talent is $30,200. So yeah, it’s a lot of money. Especially considering you could get away with paying the poor a denarius (worth $3.51) per day. Mt 20.2

When Jesus shared parables about his second coming, he told this story about a master with three slaves, each of whom was given a big bag of silver to supervise. And Jesus compared their experience to what our Master kinda expects of his followers once he returns.

Matthew 25.13-30 KWL
13 “So wake up!—you don’t know the day nor hour.
14 For it’s like a person going abroad:
He calls his slaves to himself, and hands them his belongings.
15 He gives one five talents [$151,000]
and one two [$60,400] and one one [$30,200]
—each according to their own ability. He went abroad.
16 The slave who got five talents went to work on them, and made another five.
17 Likewise the slave with two talents made another two.
18 The slave who got one talent burrowed in the ground
and hid his master’s silver.
19 After a long time, the master came to these slaves
to have a word with them.
20 At the master’s coming, the slave who got five talents
brought another five talents,
saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me.
Look! I made another five talents.’
21 His master told him, ‘Great! My good, trustworthy slave,
you’re trustworthy over a little, and I will put you in charge of much.
Come into your master’s joy.’
22 At the master’s coming, the slave who got two talents
said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me.
Look! I made another two talents.’
23 His master told him, ‘Great! My good, trustworthy slave,
you’re trustworthy over a little, and I will put you in charge of much.
Come into your master’s joy.’
24 At the master’s coming, the slave who got one talent
said, ‘Master, I’ve come to know you as a hard person,
harvesting where you don’t plant, gathering from where you don’t scatter.
25 Fearfully going away, I hid your talent in the ground.
Look! You have what’s yours.’
26 In reply his master told him, ‘My useless, lazy slave,
you figured I harvest where I don’t plant and gather from where I don’t scatter?
27 Therefore you needed to put my silver with the loan sharks!
At my coming I would receive what was mine, with interest!
28 So take the talent away from him.
Give it to the slave who has the 10 talents.
29 For to one who has everything, more will be given, and more will abound.
And to one who hasn’t anything, whatever one does have will be taken away from them.
30 The useless slave? Throw him into the darkness outside.
There, there’ll be weeping and teeth gnashing in rage.’ ”

The word δοῦλος/dúlos tends to get translated “servant” (as the KJV did), but nope; it means slave. Hebrew slavery didn’t treat slaves as permanent property, but as people contractually bound to their master till the next Sabbath year. American slaves would rarely, if ever, be entrusted with as much authority as Hebrews did their slaves. Whole different mindset.

Hypocrisy versus inconsistency.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 December
HYPOCRISY hə'pɑk.rə.si noun Pretense: Practice of claiming beliefs or moral standards which one doesn’t truly have.
2. Inconsistency: Practice of claiming beliefs or moral standards, but one’s own behavior demonstrates otherwise.
[Hypocrite 'hɪp.ə.krɪt noun, hypocritical hɪp.ə'krɪd.ə.kəl adjective.]

I reposted the definition from my original article on hypocrisy because I need to remind you there are two popular definitions of the word: Pretense and inconsistency. When Christians talk about hypocrisy, we usually mean pretense: Someone’s pretending to be what they’re not. When everybody else talks about it (and many Christians are included in this group), they mean inconsistency: A person says one thing, but does another.

And yeah, some of this idea is found in the gospels. Right before Jesus went on a rant about Pharisee misbehavior, he pointed out how inconsistent they were.

Matthew 23.1-4 NLT
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.”

Yet as they’re inflicting Pharisee customs on the population, and enforcing it as if God himself commanded it, everything they do is for show. Mt 23.5 They pretend to be holy, yet sin just as much as anyone.

So yeah, this behavior is galling. Notice how often kids are quick to make a fuss about it. At one time or another every little kid has objected, “How come you get to stay up till midnight, but I have to go to bed at 8:30?” And since we’re never gonna tell them, “So I can get three hours of uninterrupted peace for once,” usually our excuse will be some rubbish about how they need more sleep than adults do. (Yeah they do, but not that much. Adults need way more sleep than we get!) But the bottom line is thIs: There’s an inconsistency in the rules, which favor the ones who make the rules. That’s not right.

And not just because the LORD said so—

Leviticus 19.15 NLT
“Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly.”

—but because it violates the human tendency towards reciprocity and karma. What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander. Equal justice under law. The idea’s pretty widely taught, and well-embedded in our institutions… although let’s be honest: Tons of Pharisee-style loopholes for the rich and powerful are also well-embedded in our institutions.

These inconsistencies are wrong. People are right to say so. People are pretend they’re not there, or they’re no longer there, or they’re not as bad as all that, or who blind themselves to how they benefit from these inconsistencies: Some of them are willfully evil, and some are naïvely so. But it’s unjust, and we Christians need to fight it.

Now, is it hypocrisy? Not if we’re using Jesus’s definition, no. Hypocrisy means pretending to be what you’re not. True, people frequently use hypocrisy to defend inconsistency (“What do you mean, that law’s unjust? I haven’t suffered from it”) but they’re still really two different things. Both wrong, but still.

The Christian year.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 November

A Christian newbie once told me he found it strange how Jews and Muslims have their own calendars, but us Christians don’t.

We do, I pointed out. The western calendar, the one the entire world uses (Jews and Muslims included, as their secular calendar), is the Gregorian calendar, formalized by Gregorius 13, bishop of Rome, sovereign of the Papal States, and head of the Roman Catholic Church, from 1572 to 1585. It’s an update of the Julian calendar, proposed by Gaius Julius Caesar in 46BC (or to use the ancient Roman era, 708AUC) which is also a Christian calendar, in use by Orthodox churches who didn’t care to have Catholics update their calendar. (A number of ’em use the Revised Julian calendar, updated in 1923, which conveniently syncs up with the Greogian… till the year 2800.)

So yeah, the Christian calendar has become everybody’s default calendar. Which means it’s no longer a special religious calendar anymore, unlike the Jewish and Muslim ones.

Various people, Christians included, will insist it never was religious. The pre-Julian calendar was put together by ancient Roman pagans; the Julian calendar was simply that old pagan calendar, updated by Greek mathematicians. Note all the months named for pagan gods and dead Caesars. Even the weekdays are named for pagan gods; in Latin-speaking countries they’re named for Roman gods, in Greece for Greek gods, and for northern European countries all but Saturday are named for Norse gods. Pope Gregory adjusted the leap years a little so they’d sync up with the equinoxes, and moved New Year’s Day from 25 March to 1 January (’cause it was a little weird how 24 March 1570 was immediately followed by 25 March 1571; shouldn’t we switch months first?). Of course moving New Year’s Day means mensus September/“seventh month” became the ninth month, so that’s weird too. But the only thing overtly Christian about the Gregorian calendar is the anno Domini, the AD, marking the age: “the Lord’s year.” Which is gradually being replaced by the secular CE for “common era.”

Hence various Christians, particularly folks in liturgical churches, have created sort of a shadow calendar. It’s “the Christian year,” a variant of the Gregorian calendar which is meant to be more Christ-focused, which begins on Advent Sunday. Other churches call it the “church year,” the “liturgical year,” or the “kalendar” with a K; it’s basically their church calendar, but extra-special.

Immature prophets.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 November

Every Christian can hear God. This being the case, every Christian can share God’s messages with others: We can prophesy. We can become prophets. It’s why the Holy Spirit was given to us Christians in the first place: So we can hear and share God. Ac 2.17-18 Now, whether every Christian listens, hears God accurately, and prophesies accurately, is a whole other deal.

See, Christians are at all different levels of maturity. Some of us call it “spiritual maturity,” but there’s no functional difference between intellectual, emotional, and spiritual maturity. If we‘re one, we’re automatically one of the others. Too many Christians presume our knowledge makes us mature, instead of puffing us up like a bratty child prodigy. Likewise too many Christians presume if we’re fruitful, we needn’t be knowledgeable—which means we’re not wise, which means we ain’t all that fruity.

No matter which kind of immaturity we’re talking about, immature people are gonna do dumb. They don’t know any better. And an immature human is always gonna be an immature Christian. We need to recognize this, and not move immature Christians of any sort into any positions of responsibility. 1Ti 3.6 Since I’m writing on prophecy today, obviously this includes letting people speak on God’s behalf. New prophets need supervision!

Y’see, to the person who’s brand-new at listening to God, they may not realize every voice in their head sounds exactly the same. We weed out which spirits are God’s (or the Holy Spirit himself) by learning what he sounds like by reading our bibles. Newbies are new to the bible: They might’ve read it, but they don’t yet get it. They can’t tell the difference between God’s voice, their own voice, some other spirit’s voice, or even a devil’s voice: They all sound alike!

You know the devil’s totally gonna take advantage of this.

Some of these wannabe prophets never do learn the difference. Fr’instance cessationists presume every voice in their head is their own, and every clever idea they get is their idea. Even if it comes from the Holy Spirit. Or Satan. And if they don’t like the idea—even if it’s totally a God-idea!—they assume it’s their own personal crazy idea, which they dismiss out of hand, never share it, never obey it, don’t grow, and don’t grow others.

Now to the other extreme: We got Christians who for the rest of their life presume their own voice is God’s. And whattaya know: He likes what they like! He thinks like they do! He shares every single one of their wants, desires, and opinions! How handy. Hence some of ’em proclaim their various wants, desires, and opinions as if they came from God, because they’re entirely sure they and God are on the same wavelength. They pass for authentic prophets ’cause they sound so certain… and they are certain. But they’re false prophets ’cause that’s their voice, not God’s.

Inbetween we got prophets who do actually hear God. But they can likewise bollix their own prophecies for one rather obvious reason: They think their prophetic ability is fruit. Yep, they confused supernatural gifts with fruit. They think the power to do stuff takes priority, or even takes the place, of love, kindness, patience, grace, and gentleness. And since they’ve not grown that fruit, they’re not yet ready to speak for God. Because—

1 Corinthians 13.1-3 KWL
1 When I speak in human and angelic tongues:
When I have no love, I’ve become the sound of a gong, a clanging cymbal.
2 When I have a prophecy—“I knew the whole mystery! I know everything!”—
when I have all the faith necessary to move mountains:
When I have no love, I’m nobody.
3 Might I give away everything I possess?
Perhaps submit my body so I could be praised for my sacrifice?
When I have no love, I benefit nobody.

—they’re noise. They’re nobody. They benefit nobody. They will someday. Just not just yet.

But lemme remind you these immature Christians aren’t ready to speak for God… but do actually hear him. I’m not at all saying they don’t. Nor am I saying they’re frauds, nor malicious, nor bad Christians. They might not be! But because they lack fruit, they’re functionally just as error-plagued and destructive as any false prophet.

So I warn you about ’em now. Watch out for them. Don’t become one of them.

The 10 commandments.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 November

No doubt you’ve heard of the 10 commandments, or as they tend to be stylized, “The Ten Commandments,” as if they’re a movie title. (Which they were, repeatedly; the one with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner is the best-known.) In Hebrew they’re called the עֲשֶׂ֖רֶת הַדְּבָרִֽים/aserét ha-devarím, “10 words,” or “10 lessons.” Specifically they’re the 10 commands the LORD spoke aloud to the Hebrew people from Sinai (or Horeb), a mountain somewhere on the west coast of the Arabian peninsula.

No, the 10 commandments aren’t the only commands God gave the Hebrews. Nor the first. Nor even the greatest: When Jesus was asked about the most important commands, he listed none of the 10 commandments. He listed two other ones: Love God and love your neighbor. Mk 12.29-31 Those Christians who have no idea the LORD gave about 613 commands in the Law—and that’s not even counting Jesus’s commands in the gospels—sometimes take Jesus’s top two commands, add ’em to the 10 commandments, and actually talk about “the 12 commandments.” Again, as if God only gave us the 12.

The 10 commandments are significant because they’re the ones God considers important enough to tell everyone audibly. And we get ’em twice in the bible: In Exodus 20 when the LORD declares them himself, and Deuteronomy 5 when Moses reminded the Hebrews of them.

Today I’ll give you Everett Fox’s translation. (He didn’t put the LORD’s words in red though; I do that.

Exodus 20.1-13 Schocken Bible
1 God spoke all these words,
saying:
2 I am YHWH your God,
who brought you out
from the land of Egypt, from a house of serfs.
 
You are not to have
any other gods
before my presence.
 
3 You are not to make yourself a carved-image
or any figure
that is in the heavens above,
that is on the earth beneath,
that is in the waters beneath the earth;
4 you are not to bow down to them
and you are not to serve them,
for I, YHWH your God,
am a zealous God,
calling-to-account the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons,
to the third and the fourth [generation]
of those hating me,
5 but showing loyalty to the thousandth
of those loving me,
of those keeping my commandments.
 
6 You are not to take up
the name of YHWH your God for emptiness,
for YHWH will not clear anyone
who takes up his name for emptiness.
 
7 Be mindful
of the Sabbath day, to hallow it.
8 For six days, you are to serve, and are to make all your work,
9 but the seventh day
is Sabbath for YHWH your God:
you are not to make any work,
you, and your son, and your daughter,
your servant, and your maid, and your beast,
and your sojourner who is within your gates.
10 For in six days
YHWH made
the heavens and the earth,
the sea and all that is in it,
and he rested on the seventh day;
therefore YHWH gave the Sabbath day his blessing, and he hallowed it.
 
11 Honor
your father and your mother,
in order that your days may be prolonged
on the land that YHWH your God is giving you.
 
12 You are not to murder!
You are not to adulter!
You are not to steal!
You are not to testify
against your neighbor as a false witness!
 
13 You are not to desire
the house of your neighbor,
you are not to desire the wife of your neighbor,
or his servant, or his maid, or his ox, or his donkey,
or anything that is your neighbor’s!

And, because they’re important enough to be in the bible twice:

Deuteronomy 20.6-17 Schocken Bible
6 I am YHWH your God
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a house of serfs.
 
You are not to have other gods beside my presence.
7 You are not to make yourself a carved-image of any form
that is in the heavens above,
that is on the earth beneath,
that is in the waters beneath the earth.
8 You are not to bow down to them, you are not to serve them,
for I, YHWH your God, am a zealous God,
calling-to-account the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons
to the third and to the fourth [generation] of those that hate me,
9 but showing loyalty to thousands
of those that love me, of those that keep my commandments.
 
10 You are not to take up the name of YHWH your God for emptiness,
for YHWH will not clear him that takes up his name for emptiness!
11 Keep the day of Sabbath, by hallowing it,
as YHWH your God has commanded you.
12 For six days you are to serve and to make all your work;
13 but the seventh day
is Sabbath for YHWH your God—
you are not to make any work:
you, and your son, and your daughter,
and your servant, and your maid,
and your ox, and your donkey, and any of your beasts,
and your sojourner who is in your gates—
in order that your servant and your maid may rest as one-like-yourself.
14 You are to bear-in-mind that serf were you in the land of Egypt,
but YHWH your God took you out from there
with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm;
therefore YHWH your God commands you to observe the day of the Sabbath.
 
15 Honor your father and your mother,
as YHWH your God has commanded you,
in order that your days may be prolonged,
and in order that it may go-well with you
on the land that YHWH your God is giving you.
 
16 You are not to murder!
And you are not to adulter!
And you are not to steal!
And you are not to testify against your neighbor as a lying witness!
17 And you are not to desire the wife of your neighbor;
you are not to crave the house of your neighbor,
his field, or his servant, or his maid, his ox or his donkey,
or anything that belongs to your neighbor!

Kingdom economics: How’s your eye?

by K.W. Leslie, 22 November

Matthew 6.22-23, Luke 11.34-36.

Some of Jesus’s teachings tend to get skipped entirely.

Let’s be honest: It’s because we don’t like them. Plenty of us hate the idea the Law still counts, and God judges us by it; we prefer dispensationalism. Plenty of us hate Jesus’s teachings on money, ’cause we still kinda worship it. So we borrow his parables about forgiveness, where money wasn’t even the point, and try to claim they’re about capitalism. Or socialism. Or they’re Jesus’s secret critique of socialism. Whichever suits us best.

Today’s lesson from the Sermon on the Mount is in fact about money. Not opthamology.

But because people nowadays are unfamiliar with the Hebrew idioms “good eye” and “evil eye”—and will even mix ’em up with the European idioms, and think they have to do with all-purpose blessings and curses—we’ll interpret this passage all kinds of wrong. Or claim, “Well it’s obscure,” and skip it. Usually skip it, and focus on the verses we can understand. Verses we figure we’re already following.

So in Matthew, right after saying we oughta keep our treasures in heaven, Jesus taught this:

Matthew 6.22-23 KWL
22 “The body’s light is the eye. So when your eye is healthy, your whole body will be bright.
23 When your eye is ill, your whole body is dark.
So if the light in you is dark, how dark are you?”
 
Luke 11.34-36 KWL
34 “The body’s light is your eye. Whenever your eye is healthy, your whole body is bright too.
Once it’s ill, your body is dark too. 35 So watch out so the light in you isn’t dark.
36 So if your whole body is bright, without having any parts dark,
the whole will be bright—as if a lamp could shine lightning for you.”

In the King James Version, in both gospels, the words to describe the eye are thus:

  • Ἁπλοῦς/aplús, “healthy,” is translated “single.”
  • Πονηρὸς/ponirós, “ill,” is translated “evil.”

Why? Well… ’cause that’s what the words literally mean. That’s the problem with idioms. Literal translations, and likewise literal interpretations, give you the wrong idea. If I described you as “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” then had that phrase translated into Chinese, my poor Chinese friend would find it inaccurate if you actually have brown eyes… and be stunned to hear you have a tail at all, much less a bushy one.

By aplús and ponirós Jesus meant a healthy eye, or a sick one. If your eyes aren’t well, vision’s gonna be a problem, and you’re gonna be in the dark. But if your eyes are healthy, you’ll see just fine: Light could enter your body “as if a lamp could shine lightning for you,” Lk 11.36 which interestingly is just how 19th-century arc lamps worked.

Well, light could more or less get into us. Remember, Jesus is teaching religion, not anatomy. Only the truly dumbest of literalists are gonna insist since our eyes work, our doctors won’t need to use the lights on the laryngoscope. Or colonoscope.

Confession: Breaking the chains of our secret sins.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 November
CONFESS kən'fɛs verb. Admit or state one’s failings or sins to another [trustworthy] person.
2. Admit or state what one believes.
[Confession kən'fɛs.ʃən noun, confessor kən'fɛs.sər noun.]

The way to defeat hypocrisy, plain and simple, is authenticity. We’re not perfect—none but Jesus is—and we need to say so. And in many cases need to say more than just the generic “I’m a sinner,” with no further details: We need to give some of those details. We need to tell on ourselves. We need to confess.

The practice of confession—heck, the very idea of confession—is controversial to a lot of Christians. ’Cause we don’t wanna! And I’m not even talking about people with deep dark secrets. Plenty of folks have little bitty secrets—stuff everybody kinda knows already, or can figure out easily—but the very idea of publicly admitting to such things, they find far too humiliating.

Fr’instance. Back in college, in one of our men’s bible studies, our group leader was talking about things every man does, and used masturbation as an example. And one guy in our group immediately objected: He never did such a thing. Never once. Not ever. Wouldn’t even countenance the notion he did such a thing.

“Oh come on,” was every other guy’s response.

He persisted. His face was turning mighty red, and his arguments were getting less and less plausible, but he persisted. He would never, he claimed. Never ever ever.

But he wasn’t fooling anyone, and lots of hypocrites are the very same way when it comes to our “secret” sins: They’re not as secret as we imagine. We’re fooling no one but ourselves.

These are the folks who insist confession isn’t in the bible. That the only person we’re to confess sin to, is God. Certainly not to a priest-confessor; certainly not to fellow Christians; never to air our dirty laundry, whether it be in public or private.

And of course it’s in the bible. What, do I have to quote it for you? Ugh, fine.

James 5.16 NKJV
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

I quoted the New King James ’cause it uses the word from the Textus Receptus, παραπτώματα/paraptómata, “missteps” or “trespasses.” Kinda like the Lord’s Prayer, it deals with everything we might’ve done wrong, and not just sins. Though the original Greek of James is more likely just ἁμαρτίας/amartías, “sins,” an authentic, transparent life means we oughta confess far more than just sins. We oughta be open books.

Hypocrites don’t wanna be open books, so they insist the folks in the bible never publicly did any such thing—

Acts 19.17-18 NKJV
17 This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. 18 And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.

—that confession is just a Catholic thing, and even that it’s wrong to share such things with people. Besides, what business do we have telling people they’re forgiven, or telling ’em to go in peace?

John 20.22-23 KWL
22 And when [Jesus] had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But in fact whenever we publicly or semi-publicly confess, God forgives us. 1Jn 1.9 When Christians say, “Go in peace; you’re forgiven,” all we’re really doing is telling them God forgave ’em already. But if you wanna argue, “No, I can forgive anybody’s sins,” well… Jesus kinda backs you up in this scripture.

The reality is, people refuse to confess, and reject the very idea of confession, because we really don’t care to stop sinning. But we wanna look like we have. We’re not fooling God, but we are trying to fool our fellow Christians, and look devout and righteous when we’re no better than they. Yep, it’s total hypocrisy: We’re dirty liars. And since God calls us sinners, but we’re pretending to not be, we’re making it look like God’s the dirty liar. 1Jn 1.8 That ain’t good.

Now that we belong to Jesus, we’re meant to quit sin. Ro 6.11-12 When we hide our sins, disguise the chains sin still has on us, and pretend we’re living like Christians… we remain the same old slaves to sin we always were. It’s as if we never had turned to Jesus. It’s like an alcoholic who never quit drinking because he’s not going to any bloody A.A. meeting. Or the addict who pretends she went to rehab, and hopes nobody notices she’s still hooked. Same fraud; different vice.

So we rail against confession. If nobody knows about our sins, and how often we commit ’em—if the only person we tell these things to is the Holy Spirit, and we assume he’d never tell on us (biblical evidence to the contrary Ac 5.1-11), we can go right on committing ’em. Secretly. Privately. Hypocritically.

Hypocrisy in leadership: It can get really bad, really fast.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 November

Most Christian leaders know better than to let hypocrisy grow among their leadership structure. It’s poison. It’s how scandals start, ruin churches, drive people to quit Jesus (or at least give ’em an excuse), and give all of Christianity a lousy reputation. So they take great care to keep hypocrites from ever being put in charge.

Others take no such care, and are full of hypocrites.

I used to single out particular churches, with particular leadership structures, for being particularly hypocritical. And yeah, it’s much easier for phonies to hide in churches with few to no accountability structures. (Or even with tremendous accountability structures, like the Roman Catholic Church… but the catch is their structure only offers forgiveness, not consequence, and that’s why so many evil leaders can get away with what they do.) It’s almost a given you’re gonna find hypocrites in anti-denominational churches: They want no oversight, no one to tell them to behave. But it’s hardly just the antidenominational folks. Any church can undermine or ignore all their safeguards.

So we gotta keep our eyes open! Watch for fruit. Mt 7.15-20 Good fruit and bad.

And it’s hardly just the leadership’s duty to watch out for hypocrisy. Every Christian needs to watch out for hypocrisy among our leaders. If they’re acting fake, take ’em aside privately, and call them on it! “You said such-and-so happened, but I know it actually didn’t,” or “You say you’ve never committed such a sin, but I know different,” or anything else which feels fraudulent. Yeah they’re gonna balk at the correction. Too many people think of accountability as judgment, and they don’t wanna be judged! But Christian leaders know (or should know) that judgment is part of the job. As is accountability.

Loopholes.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 November

Popular culture, especially popular Christian culture, uses the word Pharisee as a synonym for legalist.

That’s what we presume the Pharisees’ problem was: They overdid it on God’s commands. They were so careful to follow every single one of them perfectly (and in so doing, earn salvation), they created all these extra doctrines and traditions as kind of a hedge around the Law. Supposedly they spent so much time fretting about the extra stuff, they’d never get around to breaking the Law.

Yeah, that’s not why Pharisees had the doctrines and customs. Wasn’t what they were doing at all.

If you want to know what the Pharisees were about, you gotta read the Mishna, a compilaton of what Pharisees were teaching as of the early second century. (Which of course includes what they taught in the early first century, i.e. Jesus’s day.) The Mishna is the core of the Talmud, one of the two main books of present-day Judaism. (The other’s the Tanakh, which we call the Old Testament.) And in it, you’ll discover a lot of these customs and rules… are actually loopholes.

No foolin’. The rabbis of the Mishna were of two minds: One group wanted to follow the Law and teachings of the bible, namely the spirit of the bible—exactly like Jesus wants us to study the bible. And the other group wanted to figure out how to technically follow the LORD’s commands… but not really. They wanted to follow them to the barest minimum. Or, if possible, not follow ’em at all.

When Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites, that’s the group he meant. They’ll sit in the teachers’ seats in synagogue and read the bible to the audience, and tell ’em to follow it, and meanwhile they themselves don’t. At all.

Matthew 23.1-7 NLT
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.
5 “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. 6 And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. 7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.‘ “

In the gospels, the problem with Pharisees wasn’t legalism. In Acts and Paul’s writings it was: The Pharisees insisted to the ancient Christians one has to follow the Law before one could be saved. (As if the Hebrews of the Exodus met that standard when the LORD saved ’em from Egypt!)

Legalism’s a valid problem, and there was a legalist faction among the Pharisees. Same as we Christians likewise have our legalists and libertines. Every religion has ’em!

But the bigger, more pervasive problem with Pharisees was their loopholes. They had tons.

Take this Mishnaic ruling. The topic is ritual sacrifices. Jesus’s death rendered them moot, so we Christians no longer sacrifice animals and grain to anything but our stomachs; we’re not familiar with biblical procedure. Well, some you burned entirely on the altar, and some you ate with the priest and your family. The question came up whether a worshiper could just burn part of an animal, and have that count, then eat the rest. It’s like the half-caff version of a sin offering.

The useful thing about the Mishna is it regularly gives both sides: The strict tulings and the loose ones. In this case it starts with the strict ruling… then what Rabbi Yoseh let his synagogue get away with.

Temurah 1.3 KWL
Don’t substitute a leg for a fetus, nor fetuses for limbs.
Don’t substitute a leg nor fetus for a whole animal, nor whole animals for them.
Yet R. Yoseh says a leg can be substituted for a whole animal—but not whole animals for legs.
R. Yoseh says, “Isn’t it the rule for sacred animals
that when one says, ‘This leg is for burnt offering,’ the whole animal is a burnt offering?
Likewise if one says, ‘This leg instead of that leg,’ all of it is a substitution in its place.”

This is why Jesus called ’em hypocrites. They claimed to be following the Law as best they could, to be the most righteous people on earth. They claimed they were looking for ways to follow God better, more devoutly, in order to grow closer to him. Like Nicodemus; like Paul, who overzealously went the wrong way till Jesus redirected him the right way. But the reality is they were looking for ways to make the Law convenient. Less duty. Less charity. Less obedience… but they could point to their bare-minimum efforts and claim, “But I am obedient. I’m doing as my rabbis taught.”

Looks like religion; actually is irreligion. So it’s hypocrisy.

And of course we Christians do the very same thing. We likewise look for loopholes in the bible, in God’s laws, in Jesus’s instructions, in the apostles’ teachings. We’re pretty sure we found plenty: Huge swaths of the bible, we claim, don’t apply to us. The Old Testament doesn’t count ’cause we’re under the New Testament. Or we’re in a different dispensation; we’re under grace not Law. We have freedom in Christ and following any guidelines is legalism and slavery. Whatever excuse helps us get out of our obligation to be good and faithful servants of our Master, and be good as God defines goodness.

Hypocrites. They’re everywhere.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 November
HYPOCRISY hə'pɑk.rə.si noun Pretense: Practice of claiming beliefs or moral standards which one doesn’t truly have.
2. Inconsistency: Practice of claiming beliefs or moral standards, but one’s own behavior demonstrates otherwise.
[Hypocrite 'hɪp.ə.krɪt noun, hypocritical hɪp.ə'krɪd.ə.kəl adjective.]

The Greek word ὑπόκρισις/ypókrisis literally means “over [the] face.” In the ancient Greek religion, whenever someone claimed they spoke for the gods, they’d put on a bit of a show. When a man claimed Zeus spoke through him, he’d assume a deep voice, exaggerated gestures, and perform a sorta impersonation of Zeus. (Since we’re talking about fake gods, it was totally an act.)


Comic and tragic masks. Wikimedia

This “prophetic” acting evolved into Greek drama. Certain “gifted” poets, whom the Greeks believed had some divinely-inspired prophetic ability, would have actors memorize their “revelations” and present them to audiences. So the audience would know who was playing whom, actors wore masks. Masks might have exaggerated features, ’cause the actors weren’t always good at their jobs. You know those happy and sad masks, associated with drama and the theater? (Don’t worry; I included a picture.) Anyway, ypókrisis turned into the Greek word for “actor.”

There’s nothing wrong with acting… so long that people know it’s all an act. When they don’t, it’s fraud.

So when Jesus borrowed the word ypókrisis to describe Pharisees,, he meant they were acting, but hiding it; therefore fraud. And Jesus isn’t happy about the fraud. Pisses him off more than anything.

Matthew 23.1-7 NLT
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.
5 “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. 6 And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. 7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ ”

It’s a good idea for us Christians to occasionally swap the word “Pharisee” with “Christian” and see whether it still fits. Annoyingly, it often does.