When our anger gets us into trouble.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 August

Matthew 5.21-26, Luke 12.57-59.

In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, after explaining he’s not come to do away with the Law, he proceeded to give his commentary on the Law. These are the bits which follow the pattern of “You heard this said… and I tell you.”

Typically bibles translate Jesus’s followup as “But I tell you.” (KJV, NIV, ESV, NLT, etc.) It’s because the ancient Greek conjunction δέ/de, which generically connects sentences to one another, gets translated…

  • “And” when the sentences connect similar ideas.
  • “But” when the sentences contrast dissimilar ideas.
  • “Or” when the sentences list options.
  • “Then” when it’s part of a sequence of ideas.

De can be translated whatever way the interpreter thinks would make the clearest English. But really it’s got no more meaning than a semicolon. (I’d even translate it that way… if it didn’t wind up producing giant run-on sentences.)

Here’s the problem: Interpreter bias. When we correctly recognize Jesus isn’t throwing out Old Testament commands and replacing (or significantly updating) them with his; when we realize he’s explaining the LORD’s (i.e. his) original intent when he handed ’em down, we’re gonna translate de generically. Sometimes “and,” sometimes a semicolon, sometimes we’ll drop it ’cause it’s redundant.

But. When we incorrectly think Jesus is inaugurating a new dispensation—or we at least think Jesus is trying to add to the Law, despite Moses telling the Hebrews they don’t get to do this Dt 4.2 —we’re gonna think Jesus is contrasting ideas, and wind up with “but.” True, interpreters may only mean Jesus is just expounding on the idea—“You oversimplified it this way, but here’s what this really means.” Still, dispensationalists will claim the “but” backs their bad theology.

So I went with the simplest option, and dropped de as redundant. On to Jesus’s lesson.

In Matthew he begins his brief commentary on the spirit of the Law with the “Don’t murder” command from the Ten Commandments.

Matthew 5.21-24 KWL
21 “You heard this said to the ancients: ‘You shall not murder.’ Ex 20.13, Dt 5.17
Whoever murders will be subject to judgment.
22 And I tell you this: Everybody angry with their sibling will be subject to judgment.
Whoever tells their sibling, ‘You dumbass,’ will be subject to the senate.
Whoever says, ‘You moron,’ will be subject to a trash-heap of fire.
23 So when you bring your gift to God’s altar,
when you remember your sibling has anything against you,
24 leave your gift there, in front of God’s altar.
First go make up with your sibling. Then come back and bring your gift.

Popularly, this passage is interpreted all kinds of wrong. Namely it’s explained, “Hating your fellow Christian” (or hating anyone) “is just as bad as murder. Because you’ve spiritually killed them.”

Jesus’s most misinterpreted teaching.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 August

Matthew 5.17-20, Luke 16.16-17.

Matthew 5.17-20 KWL
17 “Don’t assume I came to dissolve the Law or the Prophets.
I didn’t come to dissolve but complete:
18 Amen! I promise you, the heavens and earth may pass away,
but one yodh, one penstroke of the Law, will never pass away; not till everything’s done.
19 So whoever relaxes one of these commands—the smallest—and thus teaches people,
they’ll be called smallest in the heavenly kingdom.
Whoever does and teaches them,
they’ll be called great in the heavenly kingdom:
20 I tell you, unless morality abounds in you, more than in scribes and Pharisees,
you may never enter the heavenly kingdom.”

This connects to Jesus’s similar teaching in Luke.

Luke 16.16-17 KWL
16 “The Law, and the prophets up to John: From their time on,
God’s kingdom is proclaimed as good news, and all struggle to get into it.
17 It’s easier for heaven and earth to pass away
than for one penstroke of the Law to fall.”

Despite this very lesson, many Christians do in fact teach Jesus did come to dissolve “the Law and the Prophets”—the way people in his day referred to the bible, our Old Testament.

As in Luke 16.16-17, Jesus is not announcing the termination of the OT’s relevance and authority (else Luke 16.17 would be incomprehensible), but that “the period during which men were related to God under its terms ceased with John”; and the nature of its valid continuity is established only with reference to Jesus and the kingdom.

D.A. Carson, Expositor’s Bible Commentary at Mt 5.17

It’s still relevant, still authoritative; it’s why Christian bibles still include it. But it’s no longer valid. It no longer counts. Fun to read, useful for historical context, and we can even pull a few End Times prophecies out of it. But follow it? Nah.

Exactly how is that not dissolving it? See, καταλῦσαι/katalýsë, which I translated “to dissolve,” refers to breaking stuff apart, like in water. Pour water on a sugar cube to dissolve it, and it’s no longer solid. Can’t construct any sugar-cube buildings, like the ones we made in grade school: It’s useless for any function which requires it to be solid. That’s precisely what Jesus said he didn’t do: He didn’t turn the Law and Prophets into crumbling, insubstantial mush. Yet that’s precisely what we claim he did: Rendered it moot. Invalid. Not binding. And therefore, really, not relevant and authoritative.

This idea exposes a huge, huge error in the way Christians think about God, his commands, the Law, and legalism. Worse, this false idea worms into the rest of Jesus’s teachings. Really, every instruction we find in the bible. As a result, Christians use grace as a loophole, an excuse to ignore Jesus’s teaching—or misunderstand it, misapply it, even violate it.

Gonna be a lot of “smallest” Christians in his heavenly kingdom.

Kamala Harris and religious affiliation.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 August

Kamala Harris. Wikimedia

Kamala Harris is one of my state’s senators, and recently she’s become presidential nominee Joe Biden’s choice for his vice-president. No, this isn’t an endorsement. (Though I confess I’m totally voting for Biden, ’cause Donald Trump is awful.) Instead I’m gonna talk about how the press talks about her religion.

Harris is a regular at Third Baptist Church in San Francisco. She considers herself Baptist. Now, her mother’s from Chennai (formerly Madras), Tamil Madru, India. Her mom was born into the upper-class Brahmin caste, and Harris has been to India many times to visit the family, and go to temple with them. Various news articles claim she was raised Hindu and Christian.

Hence I’ve heard a number of people claim this means she’s both. I’ve heard it from people in both parties: From Democrats who think having multiple religions makes her broad-minded… and from Republicans who think it makes her pagan.

The way certain articles report it, she sounds both Christian and Hindu. But you gotta remember a lot of reporters, including religion reporters, aren’t religious. So they don’t know squat about religion… and presume you’re born into your religion. Just as they themselves were born into the religions they no longer practice.

So if Harris’s mom is Hindu and her dad is Christian, that makes her both. Right?

Following that logic, I should be both Christian and atheist. Except I’m totally not atheist. I picked a side. People can do that, y’know. Harris did.

What religion is Jesus?

by K.W. Leslie, 26 August

Most of the time we Christians simply take it for granted Christ Jesus is the same religion we are. After all he founded the religion. He taught us who the Father is, taught us his interpretation—the proper interpretation—of the Law of Moses, voluntarily died for our sins so we can have new life, and he’s the king of God’s kingdom. He’s vital and central to Christianity.

But whenever somebody says out loud, “Jesus is a Christian”… well it just sounds weird.

’Cause Christian (which literally means “a little Christ”) means a Christ-follower. And Christ doesn’t follow himself. He does his thing, and expects us disciples to follow him. So technically no, Jesus is not a Christian: He’s Christ.

Where people start to go screwy is when they say, “Well… I guess no, he’s not a Christian. What religion does that make him? Um… well… I guess that’d be Judaism.”

Incorrect. The religion Jesus practices is the one he preached: Christianity.

The “Judaism” people assume Jesus interacted with and was involved in, is not at all the Judaism of today. Largely it was Pharisaism, which over the centuries, with heavy influence from the second-century Mishna and the medieval Talmud, evolved into what we nowadays call “Judaism.” It’s not the same “Judaism” Jesus encountered in synagogue and temple.

Sorta like today’s churches don’t look a lot like the first apostles’ churches. The cultural Evangelical Christianity I grew up in, looks way different than first-century Jewish in-home gatherings. Sunday morning worship services, one-year bibles, Christian radio, crosses and fish as decorations, preachers with big hair and suits and ties, bible quotes from Paul and John posted on Facebook. Yeah, doesn’t much sound like the Didache.

Well, describing Pharisaism as “Judaism” is like describing the early Christians’ activities as “Fundamentalist.” Wrong culture. Wrong era. Doesn’t fit.

Though Jesus clearly interacted with Pharisees most, and taught Pharisee children in Pharisee synagogues, he’s his own thing. “You heard it said,” he preached, quoting the Pharisee elders at first… and then he’d set aside their ideas and proclaim, “And now I tell you.” Which astounded Pharisees: He wasn’t teaching what their scribes did. He had his own religion.

Many people get this wrong. They insist Jesus was so a Jew. And when they mean Jesus is an ethnic Jew—a descendant of Abraham, Jacob, and Judah—they’re entirely right. Though sometimes they wrongly assume Jesus was white, kinda like white Jews in the United States, and imagine all sorts of white culture in his experience which wasn’t there. Jesus is brown. It’s the Europeans—the Romans and Greeks who once occupied his homeland—who were white.

Likewise when people mean Jesus is a cultural Jew—that he stuck to the Law instead of adopting Greco-Roman culture and traditions—they’re also right. But when they mean Jesus followed the Jewish religion, they’re imagining today’s Judaism, and that’s quite wrong. Jesus didn’t do Judaism. Not just because it hadn’t been invented yet; really Jesus really didn’t do Pharisaism either.


by K.W. Leslie, 25 August

So I wrote about how human government in the bible started with patriarchy. So where’d kings come from? Simple: One powerful patriarch got all the other families in the area to acknowledge his rule and his family’s rule. Maybe by bullying and conquering them. Maybe by doing them massive favors, like rescuing them from raiders, helping them survive famine, Ge 47.13-26 building a walled city and letting ’em live in it, being the priest of the local god; stuff like that. Hence we see kings all over the bible.

Properly defined, a king is simply a hereditary ruler. Nothing more. ’Cause every so often I hear some preacher claim the Hebrew word מֶ֑לֶךְ/melékh, “king,” means something more different or profound than Eurasian or African or Pacific kings. Sometimes ’cause they notice it’s a similar word to מַלְאָךְ/malákh, “angel,” and think there’s a connection there. There’s not. There is no deeper meaning to melékh; it means “king” whether it’s describing Israeli kings, Canaanite city-state kings, Moabite and Edomite client kings or puppet kings, Egyptian pharaohs, Babylonian empire-builders, or even the LORD himself. It’s a hereditary ruler. The only differences between one king or another are any constitutions which limit their power, the size of their kingdoms, and their own character and attitude about governance.

Other than the first king in the family, kings didn’t earn their position, didn’t merit it… or, bluntly, steal it through conquest or coups. They inherited it, ’cause their dads were the previous kings, designated them as successor, and the kingdom became their birthright. They could be utterly unfit to govern others… as is usually true throughout human history. Designated successors (or as we nowadays call them, crown princes) had the awful habit of not thinking of the kingdom and its people as their duty, and their leadership as service, but as possessions and slaves. It’s 180 degrees different from God’s attitude in his kingdom.

The world’s light.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 August

Mark 4.21, Matthew 5.14-16, Luke 8.16, 11.33, John 8.12.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his students they’re the light of the world. And multiple times in John, Jesus is declared the light of the world. Here, I’ve got one of those passages lined up for you.

Matthew 5.14 KWL
“You’re the world’s light.
A city can’t be hidden when it lies on a hill.”
John 8.12 KWL
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.”

So which is it?

Both, obviously. It’s not a contradiction. Jesus is the true light who entered the world; Jn 1.9 as long as he’s in the world he enlightens it; Jn 9.5 whoever believes in him needn’t live in the dark; Jn 12.46 he reflects the fact that God is light. 1Jn 1.5 And we’re the light of the world when we follow his example, and reveal to the world God’s kingdom is near, same as Jesus did. Once we were darkness, but now light, Ep 5.8 for since God’s now our Father, we are light’s children, 1Th 5.5 shining as lights in this dark world. Pp 2.15

Yep, this light metaphor is all over the bible. Wouldn’t hurt us to read up on it, and see all the different ways God wants us to carry his light. 2Co 4.6

Starting with the city-on-a-hill idea. Nowadays we don’t create cities on hills. When developers create a town, they place them somewhere convenient: Outside bigger cities, near main roads, a place easy to access. Hills aren’t so easy, plus there’s all the hassle of building on a hill. Put a city on a hill, and it’ll nearly always be an expensive city. But back in ancient times, rulers worried about invasion, and figured a hill was easier to defend than a plain. Plus they could see their enemies coming. The downside was their cities were very visible-especially at night, with all their torches burning.

That’s the trait Jesus wants his followers to have: We oughta be nice and obvious. (True, it makes us more visible to enemies, but let’s not hang up on the negative.) If Christianity is a city on a hill, we Christians need to be visible. No hiding our faith. No concealing who it is we follow.

The earth’s salt.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 August

Mark 9.43-50, Matthew 5.13, Luke 14.34-35.

If you’ve ever heard someone called “the salt of the earth,” usually they mean a decent person—but kinda ordinary. And no, that’s not what Jesus meant when he coined the phrase “salt of the earth.” Or as I translated it, “the earth’s salt.” I’ve no idea how it evolved from a remarkable person to an unremarkable person.

But when Jesus uses it, he means remarkable. He means a flavor enhancer. Be the salt of the earth: Enhance it. Make it taste better.

Mark 9.49-50 KWL
49 “Everything for the fire will be salted. Lv 2.13 50 Salt is good.
When salt becomes saltless, in what way will it season things?
Have salt in yourselves. Have peace with one another.”
Matthew 5.13 KWL
“You’re the earth’s salt.
When salt is tasteless, in what way will it salt things?
It’s of no use—well, unless it’s thrown outside, to be walked upon by people.”
Luke 14.34-35 KWL
34 “So salt is good.
When salt is also tasteless, in what way will it salt things?
35 It’s neither useful for the ground nor the dungheap.
They throw it outside. Hear me, you who have ears to hear.”

The spin Mark took on it is a little bit different than the ideas we find in Matthew. I’ll get to it momentarily. First the Sermon on the Mount idea.

Awesome and awful.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 August

Matthew 5.3-12, Luke 6.20-26.

A lot of Jesus’s teachings are bunched together as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke. They overlap a bunch, so I’m going through ’em together. And both of them begin with beatitudes.

Beatitude is an old-timey word for “blessing.” Most translations follow the King James Version’s lead and begins each line with “Blessed are the…” as Jesus lists the sucky, not-so-great situation which these folks are groaning under. They’re poor. Mourning. Humble. Starving for justice. Merciful in a world without mercy. Pure-hearted in a dirty culture. Striving for peace where there’s nothing but rage and fear. Getting hunted down, mocked, slandered, driven out. These things sure don’t sound like blessings.

Let’s be blunt: They’re not. We’re not blessed with poverty, misery, no justice, no peace, and persecution.

I’ll explain. But first let’s get to the beatitudes in these two gospels.

Matthew 5.3-12 KWL
3 “The spiritually poor: How awesome!—the heavenly kingdom is theirs.
4 Those mourning: How awesome!—they’ll be comforted.
5 The gentle: How awesome!—they’ll inherit the land.
6 Those hungry and thirsty for justice: How awesome!—they’ll be filled.
7 The merciful: How awesome!—they’ll be shown mercy.
8 Those of clean mind: How awesome!—they’ll see God.
9 Those making peace: How awesome!—they’ll be called God’s children.
10 Those hunted down because of justice: How awesome!—the heavenly kingdom is theirs.
11 When people condemn you, hunt you down, say everything evil against you, lie,
all because of me: How awesome you are!
12 Rejoice and celebrate for your great reward in heaven!
For they persecuted the prophets before you this way.”
Luke 6.20-23 KWL
20 Jesus, lifting his eyes to his students, said:
“The poor: How awesome!—God’s kingdom is yours.
21 Those hungry now: How awesome!—you’ll be filled.
Those crying now: How awesome!—you’ll laugh.
22 When the people hate you, segregate you, condemn and throw out your names as if evil,
because of me: How awesome you are!
23 Rejoice on that day! Skip! Look at your great reward in heaven!
Their ancestors did likewise to the prophets.”

Yeah, you likely noticed I went with a much different translation of μακάριοι/makárihi than the traditional “blessed.”

The Sermon on the Plain.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 August

My translation of the Sermon on the Plain.

I don’t know whether Jesus preached this as a whole other sermon from the Sermon on the Mount, or whether Luke heard a short version of that sermon… or whether Matthew heard a long version of this sermon. My guess is Jesus gave the same sermon lots of times; shorter or longer versions depending on the location and audience. So this is kinda the short version.

Same as the Sermon on the Mount, I translated it so I could study the original text in greater depth. Feel free to read it in other translations. Compare them to one another so you can see the translators’ consensus—and that gives you a better idea of what Jesus means, than simply reading one “best” translation. Then follow him; not us translators.

Luke 6.12-49 KWL
12 It happened in those days Jesus himself came out to the hill to pray, and he was spending the night in prayer with God. 13 When day came, Jesus called his students and chose 12 of them, whom he named apostles.
14 Simon who was also named Peter, and Andrew his brother.
James. John. Philip. Bartholemew.
15 Matthew. Thomas. James bar Alpheus. Simon who was called a zealot.
16 Judas bar James. And Judas the Kerioti, who became a traitor.
17 Coming down with the apostles, Jesus stood on level ground, with many crowds of his students, a plethora of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, the coastline of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They came to hear Jesus—and be cured from their diseases. Those tormented by unclean spirits were dealt with, 19 and all the crowd sought to touch Jesus, for his power came out and cured everyone. 20 Jesus, lifting his eyes to his students, said:
“The poor: How awesome!—God’s kingdom is yours.
21 Those hungry now: How awesome!—you’ll be filled.
Those crying now: How awesome!—you’ll laugh.
22 When the people hate you, segregate you, condemn and throw out your names as if evil,
because of me: How awesome you are!
23 Rejoice on that day! Skip! Look at your great reward in heaven!
Their ancestors did likewise to the prophets.
24 But the wealthy: How awful for you—you’ve been encouraged long enough.
25 Those who’ve been full now: How awful for you—you’ll be hungry.
Those laughing now: How awful for you—you’ll cry.
26 When the people say everything good about you: How awful.
Their ancestors did likewise to the fake prophets.

The text of the Sermon on the Mount.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 August

My translation of the Sermon on the Mount.

No, not so I can have my own spin on it, or an “authoritative text” to work from; that’s not how translation works. I translate so I can study the original text in greater depth. If you translate so you can frame it to suit yourself, stop it.

Feel free to read it in other translations. Compare them to one another so you can see the translators’ consensus—and that gives you a better idea of what Jesus means, than simply reading one “best” translation. Then follow him; not us translators.

And the best way to follow him is to follow his sermon, as he himself taught in verses 7.24-27.

Matthew 4.24 - 7.29 KWL
4.24 The rumor of Jesus went out to all Syria. People brought him everyone who had all sorts of evil diseases, crushed by torments, demoniacs, lunatics, the paralyzed—and he cured them. 25 Many crowds followed Jesus: People from the Galilee, Dekapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond-Jordan. 5.1 Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up a hill. As he seated himself, his students came to him. 2 Opening his mouth, Jesus taught them, saying:
5.3 “The spiritually poor: How awesome!—the heavenly kingdom is theirs.
4 Those mourning: How awesome!—they’ll be comforted.
5 The gentle: How awesome!—they’ll inherit the land.
6 Those hungry and thirsty for justice: How awesome!—they’ll be filled.
7 The merciful: How awesome!—they’ll be shown mercy.
8 Those of clean mind: How awesome!—they’ll see God.
9 Those making peace: How awesome!—they’ll be called God’s children.
10 Those hunted down because of justice: How awesome!—the heavenly kingdom is theirs.
11 When people condemn you, hunt you down, say everything evil against you, lie,
all because of me: How awesome you are!
12 Rejoice and celebrate for your great reward in heaven!
For they persecuted the prophets before you this way.

The Sermon on the Mount.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 August

Matthew 7.24-27, Luke 6.47-49.

When people read the New Testament (even though evangelists tell ’em to read John first, which they don’t have to; any of the gospels will do) they usually go to Matthew, the first book. So their first real introduction to Christ Jesus’s teachings is the Sermon on the Mount.

As, I would argue, it should be. John is great for talking about our salvation and Jesus’s divine nature. But now that we’re saved, how are we to live? What are the good works God has in mind for us? Ep 2.10 Duh; Sermon on the Mount.

Three chapters of solid Jesus. If you’ve got a copy of the bible which puts his letters in red, that’s three solid-red chapters. Entirely consisting of instructions on how he expects his followers to interact, treat others, and follow him. Pretty challenging instructions, too.

A little too challenging for a lot of Christians. For some new believers, it’s like a punch in the face. This is what Jesus expects of us? Righteous behavior? Self-control? Radical forgiveness? Integrity? Total faith in God? No double standards? In fact higher standards than the most religious people we know? Christ Almighty!

Some of us figure, “Okay,” and give it a shot. And grow as Christians really fast.

But historically most Christians have looked at the Sermon on the Mount, balked, and tried to find loopholes. Exactly like the Pharisees whom Jesus criticized so often. Irreligious Christians claim Jesus criticized ’em because they were legalists—and the reason they’re not really following Jesus is because legalism is so bad. And yes, Pharisees were guilty of some legalism, but you’ll notice every time they got legalistic is was so they could avoid their duties to God. Can’t help people on Sabbath, ’cause it’s Sabbath and they gotta observe Sabbath—and Jesus called this rubbish and hypocrisy. The same is true for irreligious Christians who “fear legalism”: That’s their loophole. They simply don’t wanna follow.

The result has been the five most common ways Christians choose to interpret the Sermon on the Mount. Four of ’em are obvious attempts to weasel out of it.


by K.W. Leslie, 15 August
CHRISTIANISM 'krɪs.tʃən.ɪz.əm noun. A socially-approved worldview and belief system which claims to be Christian, but is not taught by Christ Jesus.
[Christianist 'krɪs.tʃən.ɪst adjective.]

I use the word Christianist an awful lot in this blog. Lemme ’splain why.

There are Christians who try to follow Christ Jesus. We don’t always succeed, but we try, which is the important thing. I write this blog to encourage such people to keep trying, same as I keep trying.

Then there are people who don’t try. At all. Instead they take whatever they’re doing, slap a Christian label on it, and claim it’s legitimately Christian. Often they do this out of pure hypocrisy; they know they’re not really following Jesus, but they want everyone to think they are.

But thanks to generations of such hypocrites, thanks to entire institutions and churches where depraved human behavior has been repackaged with Christian terms, we now have multiple generations of people who think this is Christianity: This is how Christians think, or oughta think. This is what Christians do, or oughta do. This is what Jesus approves of.

Every other Christian they know, thinks and acts this way. And if everybody’s doing it, must be Christian, right?

Okay. Y’know how there are two words, Muslim and Islamist? One means a person who actually practices Islam. The other describes a person who uses Muslim trappings to promote their social or political ideas. Well this is the Christian variant: Christian for legit Christ-followers, and Christianist for people who borrow the trappings of the religion, but Christ himself and his fruit are optional.

The header image for my Christianism essays is taken from Mormon artist Jon McNaughton’s painting “One Nation Under God.” It shows us one really common example of Christianism in the United States: Civic idolatry, in which we confuse our nation and its ideals with God’s kingdom. Much as we’d like to imagine the United States is an outpost of the kingdom, it’s not, y’know. Jesus is gonna overthrow it, same as every other nation, when he returns. And a lot of Americans have never even considered this idea. We’re a Christian nation, they insist. He’d never. But he totally will.

If you’re a civic idolater, you’re gonna be hugely offended that I used this image, or call it Christianist. Cease-and-desist order forthcoming.

But imagine McNaughton was from Mexico. Imagine he painted something with all Mexico’s founding leaders in the painting. reverently calling the nation to turn to Jesus, with Jesus holding up Mexico’s constitution, and separating the sheep from the goats by how good they were as Mexican citizens. Wouldn’t it bug you just a little?

How about if NcNaughton were Russian? Saudi? North Korean? Civic idolaters unthinkingly assume these other countries aren’t God’s chosen people in the same way Americans are. Jesus’ll definitely overthrow those countries when he returns. But not ours. Never America.

The comic book End Times.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 August

I grew up Christian. And Fundamentalist, so one of the things they frequently told us was Jesus is returning. Awesome!

Except… well, kinda not. Because while it was gonna be great for us Christians, who’d get raptured away before the world began to suck—okay, it already sucks, but the idea is it’s gonna suck way, way, WAY worse—things are gonna get way, way, WAY worse. If any of us don’t qualify for getting raptured, we’ll have to live through it. If anyone becomes Christian after the rapture takes place, they’ll have to live through it too. That’s the whole premise of the Left Behind novels, y’know—people who got “left behind,” and now have to suffer through campy villains and the worst kind of melodrama. Oh yeah, and great tribulation.

Kids get really anxious about this sort of thing. Adults too, which is why my church went on and on about it. Some churches preach about little else. I got a coworker who constantly asks me what I think about the End Times. He’s got fears. ’Cause his church has fears, and put ’em into him. Tons of Christians have fears… and you realize it drives their politics. It’s why so many Americans are desperately afraid of anything which might trigger the End Times.

Wait, but the rapture and the second coming are part of it, right? Don’t we look forward to that? Again yes… and well, kinda not. The way dark Christians get about the End Times, people’s fears about it outweigh any potential joy they’d have in Jesus’s return. Even as their preachers try to say, “No no no; the second coming’s gonna be amazing!” they still spend more time, more emphasis, on the terrors and suffering to come, and lay on the stick so hard you forget there’s any carrot. It’s messed up, but that’s dark Christianity for ya.

So I had lots of questions about the End Times. ’Cause I read Revelation, which is all about the End, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. (’Twas a combination of the apocalypses and the obscure vocabulary of the King James Version. They made things nice and cloudy.) I went to Mom, but she was a relatively new Christian and didn’t have any answers either.

But then she found me a comic book which claimed to spell out everything.

Al Hartley’s There’s a New World Coming, based on the book by Hal Lindsey.

And now I’m gonna inflict share this comic book with you. It’s Al Hartley’s comic book adaptation of Hal Lindsey’s 1973 book There’s a New World Coming: An In-Depth Analysis of the Book of Revelation. Which itself is his update to his 1970 bestseller The Late, Great Planet Earth. (’Cause he had to update it, ’cause some of his predictions in the previous book weren’t happening the way he claimed they would. But I’ll talk about Lindsey another time.)

Between this comic book, and an in-depth Sunday school class on the End Times which I later took as a teenager, I was thoroughly introduced to the Darbyist spin on the End Times. I call it Darbyism after John Nelson Darby, the guy who came up with his particular system of dispensationalism.

Darbyists tend to call themselves “premillennial dispensationalists.” They believe in Darby’s view of dispensationalism—that God used different systems of salvation throughout human history, and that during Old Testament times people were no-fooling saved by their works. Not anymore; we’re saved by grace now. This distinction is the only thing keeping Darbyism from being full-on heresy—although you’ll find a number of Darbyists now think they’re saved by believing all the correct things, and those of us who don’t believe in Darbyism might wind up getting left behind. Yikes.

Anyway Darbyists are the ones who write the bulk of the End Times books in the Christian bookstores. They’ve spent a lot of time “discerning the news” and deducing which of it lines up with End Times prophecy, then publishing their findings. There’s good money in it! But no I’m not claiming they’re trying to make a quick buck off paranoid people: They themselves are paranoid, so they think they’re doing Christendom a service by warning us what’s coming. Even though, time and again, they’re proven wrong. But maybe, just maybe, this time they’re right… and so they write another book. And we let ’em, instead of stoning them to death. ’Cause grace.

Let’s dive into the book already, shall we?

The comic book begins with three kids from the 1970s, who weren’t at all fiddling around with LSD. Really. They just opened up their bible and were suddenly sucked into a psychedelic vortex. For totally innocent reasons. Promise.

This is why you don’t lick Revelation’s pages, kids. TNWC 1

Wonder whether Superbook pays Hartley’s estate any residuals for swiping his idea. They’d better.

The kids never get named. So for convenience I’ll call ’em Archie, Jughead, and Betty.

ARCHIE would be the blond boy, who looks kinda like Freddy from Scooby-Doo. He’s the know-it-all of the book.
JUGHEAD is the stock dumb guy, the fearful character who doesn’t know a thing, so the know-it-all has to explain everything to him. Comes in handy for those readers who don’t know anything either.
BETTY is the token girl. We get the idea she probably knows as much as Archie—maybe even more!—but since she’s a girl she’s gotta stay silent. Fundies, y’know.

The kids aren’t alone in the vortex. The guy who wrote Revelation is in there with them.

Hey look, it’s Gimli from Lord of the Rings. TNWC 2

For some reason he’s ruddy as a Scotsman; not at all as middle eastern as one should expect. And he’s writing Revelation in English, not ancient Greek. But it’s not even King James Version English, which’d be the mandatory translation of most every Darbyist. Betcha most of them found that the most bothersome thing in this comic book.

Betty comments, “When you see the mess the world is in… it’s hard to believe that Christ is in control of things!” Archie reassures her, “…But history is moving precisely as he predicted!”—and then we’re introduced to how Darbyists claim Jesus predicted things: The End Times Timeline.

Let me make this perfectly clear: To a Darbyist, the End Times Timeline is canon. Do not mess with it.

What Darbyists figure is the divinely-inspired End Times Timeline. TNWC 2

It’s even more sacred than bible, because it’s the lens through which they interpret it. But despite what they claim, it’s not actually based on the bible. It’s based on dispensationalism.

The End Times Timeline posits a future seven-year period, based on various scriptures which refer to various seven-day, seven-week, or seven-year stretches. In it, every single End Times prophecy gets fulfilled in a bloody frenzy. Lots of chaos, war, disaster, destruction. Tribulation, they call it. Those who trust Christ before tribulation, are spared it all. Anyone who misses the pretrib rapture, who realizes “Aw crap; the Christians were right!” and repents, is nonetheless just as screwed as the pagans. Now they gotta ride out tribulation, and be part of all the End Times prophecies about Christians getting persecuted. Meanwhile the other 2 billion of us lounge around in heaven.

Well… Darbyists are pretty sure it’ll be substantially less than 2 billion. Like the scripture says, “Two in a field—one taken, one left.” So it’ll be more like 1 billion. Or fewer. But let’s not get into that today.

God has HAD IT with these motherf---ing pagans. TNWC 3

For those who can’t fathom why a loving, patient, gracious God would suddenly get all medieval on humanity’s ass, Darbyists usually claim it’s because he is loving and patient. The tribulation is just tough love. Really tough love. Big bowls of angry, violent, genocidal love.

They spin it as one very last chance for everybody to repent before Jesus officially returns. ’Cause once he returns, he’s sending the wicked straight to hell. He’s not gonna let them experience his kingdom, where he rules the world and they get to experience his love and grace firsthand. He’s gonna have them experience his wrath, and that has to win them over. Kindness and gentleness didn’t work, so let’s try rage.

No, it’s not consistent with God’s character whatsoever. But Darbyists are dispensationalists, remember? They believe God practiced multiple methods of salvation, and didn’t always save by grace. In Old Testament times, people had to follow the Law or they’d go to hell. And in each different dispensation, God actually demonstrates a different character. It’s why God comes across all pissed off and smitey in the OT, but mushy and forgiving in our dispensation of grace. And during the End Times, it’s kinda like God goes back to rage, Old Testament style. Not towards us Christians; we’re up in heaven with him. But the pagans? They’re royally screwed.

The Darbyist philosophy of the End.

John Nelson Darby’s three other philosophies get jumbled together with his worldview, and therefore his interpretation of the End: Futurism, cessationism, and escapism.

FUTURISM is the belief every End Times prophecy takes place in future. Not just the future of Jesus and the bible’s authors: Our future too. Jesus’s prediction of the temple’s destruction Mk 13.2, Mt 24.2, Lk 21.6 was fulfilled in the year 70, when the Romans invaded and razed Jerusalem. But Darbyists claim no it wasn’t. It’s yet to come. Because immediately after Jesus foretold Jerusalem’s demolition, he said this:

Mark 13.24-27 KWL
24 “But in its time, after that tribulation:
‘The sun will go dark. The moon won’t give its light.’ Is 13.10
25 The stars will fall down from the sky.
The powers in the skies will be shaken.
26 Then the Son of Man will be seen, arriving in the clouds with great power and glory.
27 Then he’ll send out the angels.
They’ll gather together his chosen people from the four winds,
from the edge of the world to the edge of the sky.”

And if Jesus’s second coming is part of the great tribulation prophecy—as they insist it is—then it can’t’ve happened in 70. It must therefore happen during the End Times.

This is how they treat every prophecy about the End. Or every prophecy which might be about the End. They figure if a prophecy, whether in the Old Testament or New, hasn’t yet been fulfilled as far as they can tell, it will be—at the End. Since few of them know squat about the ancient Middle East, they believe a lot of prophecies aren’t yet fulfilled. So they find a way to shoehorn ’em into the End Times Timeline. And this is why they believe a lot of things will happen at the End, which are nowhere to be found in Revelation.

Why can’t these prophecies have been fulfilled during the past 20 centuries? Mainly ’cause cessationism.

CESSATIONISM is the belief God stopped doing miracles once the bible was completed. No, not every Darbyist is cessationist. But John Nelson Darby absolutely was, and the reason he came up with his system was so he could explain why miracles happened in bible times but, supposedly, not today.

And the reason Darbyism is futurist, is because in order for every prophecy to happen, God has to turn the miracles back on. And he won’t till the End. So they can’t have happened in the past 20 centuries of Christian history. It’s physically impossible.

I’m Pentecostal, and know plenty of Pentecostals and continuationists who recognize God never did turn off his miracles. Yet they totally believe in Darbyist versions of the End Times. It’s because they don’t know the underlying, faithless philosophy behind the system. It’s because they grew up in churches which assumed the Darybists were right. Or, when they had questions about the End Times, they were given Darbyist literature, same as I was, and assumed these guys know what they’re talking about. They never investigated further; never even thought to. They have no idea its futurism is based on unbelief—heck, in a deliberate rejection of God’s present-day power.

Anyway, if all the End Times prophecies can’t be fulfilled yet, they’re in our future. Which means Jesus can’t return till they happen. Which means Jesus’s return is constantly pushed forward in time. They don’t believe he can return till specific events first happen. In reality absolutely nothing can prevent Jesus from returning. It’s why he’s told us to stay awake—he can return at any time! Mk 13.33-37 Stop figuring he can’t come back till the Darbyist checklist of End Times events gets marked off. The only thing hindering Christ is he wants to save everybody he can before he returns. 2Pe 3.9 That’s all.

ESCAPISM, last of all, is the idea we Christians get to escape all the bad stuff. Jesus is gonna rapture out us Christians before we might really suffer. Darbyists claim it’s why Jesus taught “Two in a field—one taken, one left.” Mt 24.40 It’s not about the Romans killing half the Jews in the world; it’s about Jesus abandoning half the people who assume they’re Christian, ’cause half of us don’t really believe in him. So the left-behind half get smited along with the wicked.

Are these views taught in the bible? Nah. They first have to be overlaid upon the bible. That’s why when you read Revelation you’re not gonna see any of this. It’s why you first have to buy Darbyist books, so they can explain how to read Revelation and the rest of the bible through their lenses. And once they put these lenses on, a lot of Darbyists seriously struggle to take ’em off. I’ve pointed out more than once how 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17 clearly describe the rapture and the second coming as one and the same event, and Darbyists read these verses and simply can’t see it. Their End Times Timeline takes priority over bible, and their lenses have turned into blinders.

The pretrib rapture.

The End Times Timeline always begins with the rapture, so that’s where the book goes next.

The great what now? TNWC 3

I had never, ever, never ever heard of the rapture referred to as “the Great Snatch.” Never before this comic book. Rarely since—and only because people keep referring to this illustration, and making fun of it. I’ve definitely heard the term “great snatch” before, but it means something entirely different. Go ahead and Google it, though the results may horrify you.

Why’s it used here? Bear with me; I got a theory.

Back in the 1950s and ’60s, the Comics Code Authority censored all the comic books to a G-rated level. But comic book artists would occasionally try to slip a naughty joke past the censors. Like when Batman and Robin would talk about having a “gay old time” beating up criminals. Like when the Joker tricked Batman into making a mistake, and wouldn’t stop calling it Batman’s “boner”… way too often. So much, you had to wonder, “Don’t the writers realize 12-year-old boys read this stuff? How do you think their adolescent minds are gonna handle this material” Um… the writers totally knew. That’s why they slipped those jokes in the books. They shared that adolescent sense of humor.

So did Hartley, or one of the folks at Spire Comics, slip a naughty joke into a Christian comic book? Yes. Yes they did.

Why? Probably because one of ’em didn’t entirely buy Hal Lindsey’s worldview.

Many’s the time I, while working for one Christian ministry or another, was obligated to publicize some Christian nutjob. Still happens. Might be some conspiracy theorist, some preacher who never quoted the bible in context, some dangerously undereducated youth pastor, some false prophets who were trying to spread their fame instead of the gospel. I don’t agree with these loons, but my job isn’t to publicly correct their rotten theology. It’s to do as my boss or pastor instructs, and make the publicity packet, design the ads, or introduce the cranks to the audience. I gotta resist my strong temptation to voice my disapproval—or undermine ’em by picking the least-flattering publicity photo. (Although some of them do that job for me by submitting some of the cheesiest, vainest, Glamour Shots style pics. Creates a little halo effect around the comb-over.) I must resist the temptation to give ’em backhanded compliments, or kick the legs out from under their sermon by pre-correcting their out-of-context verses or inaccurate teachings in my introduction. You know, the usual passive-aggressive tricks.

So somebody at Spire Comics must’ve believed Lindsey’s version of the rapture is all wet, and therefore titled it “the Great Snatch.” Or tricked Hartley into calling it that. And if you poke around the internet, you’ll find a lot of people, pagans and Christians alike, find this description hilarious. It’s the fastest way to mock the rapture as too stupid to take seriously.

How Darbyists imagine the rapture varies. In Left Behind, Tim LaHaye described the Christians as simply vanishing, leaving behind absolutely everything: Clothes, jewelry, artificial hips and knees, pacemakers—as if God wants nothing non-biological. Off they went, to appear in heaven before God… buck naked, missing prosthetic limbs, suffering giant heart attacks.

Now, read about Jesus’s rapture in Acts, which the two men in white (probably angels) said would resemble his second coming. Ac 1.11 And oughta resemble our rapture. Jesus didn’t vanish and leave his clothes behind. He bodily, visibly went up into the air. It’s not gonna be a secret rapture, like some Darbyists describe it. The comic book version is much closer to what might look like—minus the ’70s fashions.

When God turns on the heavenly vacuum cleaner. TNWC 4

In Hartley’s version, at least we’re clothed. But the one thing Darbyists are consistent on is the rapture is unexpected. There’s no parting clouds, no trumpet, no falling stars, no sky going black, nothing. The planet’s Christians whoosh away without warning. Drivers disappear from their cars, which’ll then slam into things, like pedestrians and puppies. Hence the popular “In case of rapture” bumper stickers.

It’s not what either Jesus or the the apostles told us. Here’s how Paul, Silas, and Timothy described Jesus’s second coming to the Thessalonians.

1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 KWL
13 Christians, we don’t want you to know nothing about those who are “sleeping”:
You ought not grieve like all the others who have no hope,
14 for if we believe Jesus died and rose,
likewise God, through Jesus, will bring our “sleepers” with him.
15 We tell you this message from the Master.
We who are still alive at the Master’s second coming don’t go ahead of those who’ve died.
16 With a commanding shout, with the head angel’s voice, with God’s trumpet,
the Master himself will come down from heaven.
The Christian dead will be resurrected first.
17 Then, we who are left, who are still alive,
will be raptured together with them into the clouds,
to meet the Master in the air.
Thus, we’ll be with the Master—always.
18 So encourage one another with these words!

Now, compare this with the End Times Timeline:

Green arrow: Rapture. Yellow arrow: Jesus’s return. TNWC 2

The apostles described the rapture as the Master’s coming. 1Th 4.15 They didn’t do so ambiguously. It’s right there in the text, plain as day. But Darbyists claim the second coming and the rapture are years apart. They’re not simultaneous. There’s a seven-year tribulation in between.

What basis do they have for saying so? ’Tain’t bible. There are no other passages in the bible about the rapture. Jesus’s return comes up plenty of times, but Christians going to meet him in the air: 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 is all we got. (It’s why some Christians wonder whether there’ll even be a rapture: They want at least two proof-texts before they’ll declare a doctrine solid. Otherwise they say it’s debatable. I don’t agree, but that’s me.)

Most Darbyists figure in order for evil to run rampant on the earth, the Holy Spirit, who’s holding back the evil, has to be “taken out of the way.” 2Th 2.7 And since the Holy Spirit lives inside every Christian, he’s not leaving without us. So he takes us with him to heaven. Then evil can run amok. More so than usual.

What about the Christians who’ll be persecuted during the End?—the protagonists of Darbyist novels and movies, whom they imagine will be left-behind pagans who repent after the rapture. If there’s no Holy Spirit, how can anyone become Christian? It’s impossible. Well, Darbyists have explained to me, the “Christians leave because the Spirit leaves” idea is just a theory. A guess as to why there’s a pretrib rapture. We don’t really know the Spirit will leave, ’cause he’s gotta stick around to make tribulation saints. But just the same, there is a pretrib rapture. Bible says so.

No it doesn’t, but good luck cutting through that thick fog of illogic and denial. You can’t eat your cake and have it—or in this case, rapture your Spirit, then have him sneak back to make new Christians for your End Times novel.

There’s no biblical precedent for escapism either. Noah may not have drowned in the great flood, but he did have to build an ark and ride it out. The Hebrews weren’t smited by the Egyptian plagues, but they were still in Egypt, watching. Passed over, when the LORD’s angel killed the Egyptians’ kids, but still there. When foes came to destroy Israel, and God destroyed the foes first, the Israelis were there, all ready for battle, but sitting it out as God worked. He didn’t rapture them away to a place of safety. He’s their safety. As he is ours.

The point of the rapture isn’t escape, but to join the invasion on our Lord Jesus’s side. He’s coming down. He’s not going back up for another seven years, then coming back for a third coming. Think of it like an ordinary military invasion: When the invading army rolls into town, all the agents in-country, the people who’ve been laying the groundwork for the invasion, quickly come out of their hidey-holes and join the troops. That’s what we’re doing at the rapture: We’re falling in behind the general. We don’t go into the air to stay in the air. We join him in the air—so when he touches down on earth, it’s with his full complement of 2 billion immortal Christians. Picture that.

Gotta admit: I really like the idea of getting taken away before the bad stuff happens. Martyrdom’s gonna suck. But if that’s so, what was the point of Jesus warning us that life is suffering? That he’s gonna reward those of us who hold out till the very end? He promises this in Revelation, of all places. Rv 2.25-26, 3.11 But most Darbyists insist the rapture takes place before anything in Revelation happens. Doesn’t matter that St. John’s depicted in the vortex with the kids—as Hartley reminds us—

You think he dyes his hair? I think he dyes his hair. TNWC 5

—still writing the introduction, for we’re not even in his book yet.

In fact, since I’ll stop here, we’re not even gonna get to the book of Revelation. That’s just how screwy the End Times Timeline is.

The kairos moment.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 August
KAIROS MOMENT 'kaɪ.rɑs 'moʊ.mənt noun. Propitious time for decision or action.

Every so often there’s a window of time when something profound happens.

You make a life-changing decision. You don’t always realize it’s life-changing at the time; sometimes it occurs to you much later. But sometimes you’re in the moment and recognize this is a major turning point: You pick a university. Pick a job. Pick a spouse. Choose to follow Jesus. Choose to have kids. All sorts of things.

Might’ve been a split-second decision. Might’ve been a long, well-thought-out decision. Or you might’ve agonized over it for weeks, racked with indecision; maybe procrastinating the actual decision; maybe giving up and leaving it in the hands of others. (Or worse, coin flips. Or even worse, your horoscope.) In any event you stopped weighing your options and chose one of ’em.

For Christians, whenever we wanna Christianize the decision-making process—whenever we wanna make it sound like God’s heavily involved, even when he’s not—Christians tend to call this “a kairos moment.”

Yeah, it’s redundant. Καιρός/kerós is ancient Greek for “moment.” Sometimes it’s translated “an opportune moment,” because people are reading that whole kairos-moment mindset back into the bible. But do a word study on it sometime and you’ll find most instances of kerós really just describe ordinary moments. Jesus walking past wheat. Mt 12.1 Jesus noticing a fig tree’s not ready for figs. Mk 11.13 People believing a message for a while. Lk 8.13 Servants getting their groceries. Lk 12.42 Sometimes kerós isn’t even a moment; it’s just a general time-period. Ac 12.1, 19.13, Ro 8.18, 11.5, 13.11, 1Co 7.5, 2Co 8.14

And in one instance, observing those special kerós times gets rebuked:

Galatians 4.9-11 KJV

9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? 10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. 11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

Still, you’ll find most people don’t understand how words have multiple definitions. Or even care. “No, it always means opportune moment.”

Meh. Greeks today use kerós to talk about weather. Πώς είναι o καιρός;/Pos eine o kerós? “How’s the weather?” Yep, kéros could mean an entire season. A long season.

Basically the ancients used it to refer to time. And just as English-speakers sometimes use “time” to refer to a critical or important time, like “Time’s up” or “It’s time” or “You’re running out of time,” sometimes kerós referred to a critical time. Sometimes not so critical. Remember, the ancients didn’t have our timekeeping methods. No coordinated universal time, no time servers, no phones connected to those servers which tell us—down to the second—what time it is. For the ancients, sunrise to noon was six hours… even though the summer sun rose seven of our hours before noon, and the winter sun rose five hours before. Mighty flexible hours. Our hours? We use atomic clocks to measure ’em to the nanosecond.

Hence our culture is far more fast-paced than the ancients. The times we consider opportune are way shorter. Blink and they’re gone. Hence our attitude about every kairos moment: You don’t wanna miss it!

Again, meh.

“Losing your salvation.”

by K.W. Leslie, 11 August

When the subject of apostasy, of quitting Jesus, comes up, people tend to phrase it thisaway: “So you’re saying you can lose your salvation?”

Well I wouldn’t use the word lose. Because it suggests we can accidentally disconnect from Jesus.

Fr’instance pick any otherwise ordinary day. Let’s say I’m going through the Starbucks drive-thru, picking up another outrageously sugary mixture of coffee, milk, and ice. Let’s say I’m using cash, and the cashier gives me my change, and instead of a dollar bill she unintentionally gives me a hundred-dollar bill. Let’s say, instead of how I’d say, “Whoops, you don’t wanna make that mistake,” I say nothing and pocket the Benjamin and figure Starbucks is a big enough company to take the loss. And as a result of this hypothetical scenario, the Holy Spirit says, “Okay, I’ve had all I can stand of this jerk,” and unseals himself from me—and I haven’t been listening to him anyway, so I never notice his absence. So when a few minutes later I’m distracted by the straw wrapper and T-boned by a Mini Cooper, I die… and find myself burning in torment, and screaming, “Wait! Wait! I gave my life to Jesus 45 years ago! What happened?!

Well, y’know. Straw. Camel’s back. Whoops.

Are Christian jerks even Christian?

by K.W. Leslie, 10 August

Bouncing back to the question my pagan friend had in my first article on Christian jerks: “So you’re the real Christians, and they aren’t?” My response is “Kinda.”

Other Christians will respond “No.” Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, and if we’re not producing fruit as Jesus expects, these folks will point out there’s no evidence of the Spirit within us, so he may not even be within us. No fruit, no Spirit, not Christian.

And that’s a valid point.

No seriously: That’s a valid point. If we’re truly following Jesus, fruit’s gonna grow! In part because we’re gonna mimic his compassionate, kind, loving character: We see how Jesus treats people, and we treat ’em the same way. We’re not gonna project our bad attitudes on him so we can justify ourselves; we’re gonna choose to adopt his good attitude. And the other part is when the Holy Spirit pokes us in the conscience—“Hey, quit being a dick”—we’re gonna listen, instead of pretending the devil’s tempting us to stop being so zealous.

If we’re truly following Jesus, our character’s gonna transform into his. If we’re not, particularly if we’ve been self-identifying as Christians for decades, we might not even be Christian. Gotta repent and be saved.

But the reason I don’t just say Christian jerks aren’t real Christians, is because I’ve been one of ’em. And I was legitimately Christian. A sucky Christian, but still Christian. Fruit took a long time to develop, in part because instead of adopting Jesus’s character, I embraced the idea of cheap grace and took my salvation for granted: I did as I pleased, and didn’t bother growing fruit. Some grew, ’cause some always will, ’cause it’s how the Spirit marks his people. But it grew in spite of me, regardless of my poor efforts or lack of effort altogether. (I did grow in my knowledge of bible trivia, which was all the “fruit” my fellow Christian jerks cared about.) When the Spirit corrected me, or sent others to correct me, too often I’d blow him off: Didn’t God save me by his grace? He did? Well then I’m good… right?

Only good enough to be the lowest in God’s kingdom. Mt 5.19 But you realize Jesus expects more of us than that. Which is why the Spirit didn’t stop going after me till I got the point and worked on the fruit. Took me years. Takes others decades.

Some of Jesus’s first students committed some pretty serious dick moves, y’know. James and John wanting to rain fire on Samaritans. Lk 9.54 Simon Peter straight-up denied Jesus. Yet these things didn’t unsave them. I know; you mighta heard sermons which claimed otherwise. There’s a popular misinterpretation going round which claims Jesus had to restore his relationship with Peter by asking him “Do you love me?” thrice, Jn 21.15-19 to make up for Peter's three denials. Almost as if Jesus had to restore Peter’s karmic balance—which is how we know this interpretation is crap. Jesus totally foreknew Peter would fail him, Jn 13.38 and loved him anyway. Likewise he foreknew we’d fail him, as we regularly do. And no, there are no restorative incantations necessary. We won’t have to spend a thousand years in purgatory answering “Do you love me?” to make up for every boneheaded act we’ve committed.

Yes, Jesus saves jerks. Jerks like me. They’re not fake Christians, false Christians, phony Christians, lapsed Christians, heretic Christians. If they are, it’s because other things put ’em into those categories: Jerkish behavior isn’t what does it. You could totally be both a Christian and a jerk.

But please don’t.

White Jesus… and those who insist he stay that way.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 August

This is the only physical description of Jesus in the bible.

Revelation 1.12-16 KWL
12 I turned round to see the voice speaking with me,
and in so doing I saw seven gold lampstands.
13 In the middle of the lampstands: One like the Son of Man,
clad in a full-length robe with a gold belt wrapped round his chest.
14 His head and hair: White, like white wool, like snow. His eyes like fiery flames.
15 His feet the same: White bronze, refined in a furnace. His voice: Like the sound of many waters.
16 He had seven stars in his right hand. From his mouth came a sharp, double-edged saber.
His face: Like the sun, shining in its power.

Since it’s in Revelation, a book which largely consists of apocalyptic visions, people don’t take it literally. I find this to be true of even the nutjobs who take everything literally in that book. A Jesus with bronze skin and white hair? Gotta be a representative vision. ’Cause Jesus, as everybody knows, is white.

Been white since medieval times—’cause that’s how artists painted him.
Warner Sallman’s 1941 painting Head of Christ, the one many an American Protestant church has on the wall somewhere. Wikipedia
Arguably been white even longer than that: You know that picture of Jesus I use on the TXAB banner? Comes from Khristós Pantokrátor, one of the oldest ikons of Jesus we have, dating from the sixth century. Painted by Byzantine Greeks… so, no surprise, Jesus looks Greek. ’Cause when people try to produce an image of God, we have the bad habit of rendering him in our own image.

So that’s what we see in every European painting of Christ Jesus: He’s European. Artists wanted to identify with him, or make him more familiar-looking to local audiences, or portray him in church pageants without wearing brownface. Northern European paintings tend to make him look northern European; southern European paintings tend to make him look southern European. Italian artists made him look Italian, French artists made him look French, Dutch artists made him look Dutch, and American artists made him look… well, whatever ethnic background they have. Usually white.

So when I was growing up, just about every picture of Jesus to be found in Protestant and Catholic churches, depicted him as white. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the most diverse parts of the country, and even so: White Jesus was everywhere.

Most popular was Werner Sallman’s Head of Christ, which you’ll still see all over the Christian subculture. Even in predominantly nonwhite churches: Black, Latino, Chinese, everywhere. They frame and display it the same way government offices display the President’s portrait. And of course white Jesus was all over our stained-glass windows, paintings, statues, Sunday school materials, Nativity crèches… stands to reason you’d get that idea fixed in your mind.

Plus, all the Jews I knew where white.

Yes, this is an excuse for being ignorant. You see, we were never taught otherwise. No pastor ever gestured at the portraits of white Jesus and pointed out, “Of course, you know he’s not really white.” This was the image of Jesus, and we unthinkingly accepted it.

More or less. Different artists might render the beard a slightly different color. Conservative churches might insist on pictures of Jesus with hair which doesn’t go past the neck. Movies might depict him with a fringed cloak and tunic—you know, like an actual first-century Jew. But for most Americans, that image from the Sallman painting would kick in: The real Jesus had brown hair, a white tunic, and either a red or blue toga. No fringes. Fringes look raggedy.

We’re meant to outgrow this worldview. But not everyone does.

Misadventures with the dictionary.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 August

When I wrote about how to do a word study, I pointed out gotta use the dictionary last, for confirmation. Not first, as people tend to do.

’Cause several mistakes in interpretation are precisely the result of reading the dictionary first. When we were kids, most of us were taught if you wanna know what a word means, look it up in the dictionary! So we came to think of the dictionary as a primary source of information. But when we’re doing word study, the dictionary’s not primary. The bible is.

And for that matter, when a dictionary’s editors put it together, they did word studies. They don’t look up their words in a different dictionary. (The first guys to make dictionaries didn’t have dictionaries to go to.) They looked at literature. How’d previous writers use these words? How did John Milton, William Shakespeare, Alexander Pope, or John Wycliffe use the words? For an American English dictionary, they particularly look at how American writers use these words, ’cause we’re gonna use ’em differently than a British, Indian, Australian, Canadian, or Irish writer would. They look at the general consensus of the population, then put that into their dictionary.

So… what if they deduced the consensus wrong? Or what if you, as the reader, misunderstand what they did, or are trying to do, with their dictionary? Either way, you get errors.

When we go to the dictionary first, we wind up with the following problems. Instead of studying our word, we study…

The translation of the word.

This’d be those folks whose word studies never involve an original-language dictionary. When they look up peace, they never look up the Hebrew שָׁלֹם/šalóm or Greek εἰρήνη/eiríni; they’re using a Webster’s Dictionary, which has no foreign-language words in it. They look at what our culture means by peace. Not what the writers of the bible meant by it.

If your word study never involves the original languages, you’re doing it wrong. Period.

A variation of this is when people do look up the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek words… then read our current English words into them. I wrote on when people find out the Greek word for “power” is δύναμις/dýnamis, then claim God’s power is an explosive power, ’cause they connected the dots between dýnamis and dynamite. But if you’ve ever truly experienced God’s power, you know it’s not a flash in the pan; it’s a continual source of unending strength. But that “dynamite” interpretation still gets around. ’Cause it’s a flash in the pan.

The word’s history.

Words evolve. The English and French word table comes from the Saxon word tabule, which in turn from the Latin word tabula. Historians, especially word historians, find it interesting to see how words moved from one language to another, and this is why dictionaries frequently include these word histories. But here’s the problem: Our English word table, same as in French, means a piece of furniture with a flat work surface. The Latin word tabula properly means a tablet: It’s a flat board which you write on. (Yep, we got tablet from it.) A table and a tabula aren’t the same thing. They’re similar; they’re both flat work surfaces. Still.

Now we understand this, ’cause we speak English and know what a table is. But when we don’t know ancient Hebrew or first-century Greek—and most of us don’t—when people come across the word-histories in our Hebrew or Greek dictionaries, they think these are insights.

Homer, who wrote the Iliad and Odyssey, wrote in ancient Greek. So did the playwright Aristophanes and the philosopher Aristotle. Sometimes dictionaries will tell us what Homer meant when he used the word ἄγγελος/ángelos, ’cause it’s interesting. But what dictionaries won’t always remind us, is Homer wrote his poems 800 years before the New Testament. He wrote ’em before Isaiah was born.

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales about 630 years ago. Ever tried to read Chaucer in the original middle English? You’ll immediately notice English has changed a lot in the past six centuries. Many of the words no longer mean what they did in Chaucer’s day. So… is ancient Greek any different? Nope.

Aristophanes wrote 400 years before the New Testament. (So, closer to Nehemiah’s time.) Aristotle wrote 350 years before. Both these guys wrote in a form of ancient Greek we call Ἀττικός/Attikós, or “Attic” (it really means “Athenian, ’cause these guys are of course from Athens). In contrast the New Testament was written in κοινός/kinós, or “common” ancient Greek—changed by three centuries of interaction with Persians, Syrians, Egyptians, Asians, and Romans. Loanwords were added. Other words changed meaning and form. What it meant to Homer isn’t necessarily what it meant to John, Luke, Matthew, Paul, or Jesus.

Scholars are pretty sure Paul invented a few words. ’Cause we can’t find these words anywhere else in first-century Greek writings before Paul used ’em. Likewise Paul felt free to come up with his own definitions of certain common words: When he wrote on ἀγάπη/aghápi and defined love for the Corinthians, 1Co 13.4-8 he actually went against the popular Corinthian definition of love. For ancient Greeks, aghápi isn’t patient, kind, and selfless: It’s relentless, and stops at nothing till it gets what it pursues. Paul flipped its meaning over entirely—because he was thinking of the Old Testament concept of love, as defined by God’s faithful, merciful, kind חֶסֶד/khecéd.

Paul used aghápi different from everybody else in his culture. Bluntly, he used it wrong. And yet, for us Christians, it’s entirely right. Among us, his “wrong” definition became the right one. After Paul redefined aghápi, you’re never gonna hear a preacher talk about what it originally meant.

Not so true of other Greek words. Fr’instance the word ἁμαρτία/amartía, “sin.” It comes from ἁμαρτάνω/amartáno, “not hit [one’s target],” like when you’re throwing a spear and hit the charioteer instead of the archer. Homer used it to also describe moral failures, so over time it evolved into our concept of sin… but Christians keep insisting “sin” really means missing the mark. You likely know from personal experience: Many sinners aren’t even trying to hit the mark. Some trespassers stumble into the wrong space accidentally, but more of them deliberately ignore those boundaries ’cause they don’t care about ’em at all, and that’s more the nature of sin than trying and failing and “missing the mark.”

The word-roots.

Since I’ve already stumbled upon the issue of word-roots…

The Greek word for patience is μακροθυμία/makrothymía It’s a compound word (made up of two words, like “windbag” or “forklift”) from μακρός/makrós “long” and θυμός/thymós “anger.” But it doesn’t mean “long anger,” any more than blackmail refers to black chainmail or black envelopes. Splitting it apart doesn’t give you a better idea of what it means; it gives you the wrong idea. You’ll assume it means bitterness, not patience.

A more common mistake is the Greek word for church, ἐκκλησία/ekklisía, which literally means a council or congress. But it’s a compound of ἐκ/ek “from” and καλέω/kaléo “call.” Hence many a Christian claims the church consists of “a called-out people.” After all, Jesus calls his followers away from the evil and sin in the world, and calls us unto himself. It still doesn’t make this a proper definition of ekklisía: The ancient Greeks used it to describe groups. Politicians, philosophers, students, convicts, soldiers—any and every group. And the church is Jesus’s group.

Plenty of folks nonetheless go ga-ga for root words, and whenever you hear a preacher start talking about the root words, watch out. More than likely, they did a sloppy job of word study, and you’re about to hear “the real meaning of the word”—which really isn’t.

The other definitions.

You’ll notice dictionaries have multiple definitions of many words. Fr’instance the English word “house”:

  1. A building people live in.
  2. A family. (Usually a noble family.)
  3. A building where people gather for other activities, like a house of prayer or a steakhouse.
  4. A legislature.
  5. A style of dance music.

But it’s fair to say when people usually say “house,” they mean a building people live in. Definition #1.

And too often a preacher tries to discover something “profound” by using anything but definition #1. Definition #1 is the proper one, but it doesn’t make the lesson unique; doesn’t make people sit up and say, “Wow, I’ve never heard anyone say that before; it really speaks to me.” So they go with definition #2, or #3, or whatever wows the listeners most.

I’ve heard many, many preachers do this. Whenever preachers try to translate the bible themselves, and their translations go way off the beaten path, watch out. It’s the wrong path, with the potential to lead us astray.

Years ago I heard a sermon where the preacher’s entire point hinged on whether οὶκος/íkos means “sphere of influence.” It actually means “house.” (Although you might be more familiar with it as Dannon/Danone’s brand of Greek-style yogurt.) The preacher pointed out how the first Christians met in one another’s houses, Ac 2.46 and since he interpreted íkos as “sphere of influence,” he was trying to get his listeners to consider how we affect our respective spheres of influence. Now, let’s be honest: Christians should think about how we affect the people around us. It’s not a bad idea. It is, however, a bad interpretation. It’s not what Luke meant in Acts 2. If you really wanna preach that idea, I’ll bet you can find better verses in the bible to back it up. You don’t have to twist Acts 2, and force it into the text.

For whenever we find ourselves shoehorning our meaning into the text, no matter how good our idea may be, we’re still dishonestly warping the scriptures. We’re trying to disguise our message as bible, in order to swipe a bit of the bible’s authority. We’re false teachers.

To be fair, preachers don’t always go with definition #2 or #3 or #4 because they’re trying to deceive. Most of the time, it’s because they’ve fallen into the temptation of novelty: They wanna preach something new! They know their audience will appreciate something they’ve never heard before. It’s boring to say the same thing all the time. They’re out of idea on how to say it in new ways. They wanna preach something truly new; our culture loves new things. And what better way to appease other people, and our own bored selves, than to come up with a novel interpretation of the bible?

But we’re not allowed to preach anything new. The gospel hasn’t changed since Jesus first proclaimed it. It’s not gonna change—and that’s kinda awesome, ’cause it’s such good news! There might be nuances about it we’ve missed, or never noticed. We might introduce it, or reintroduce it, in multiple ways, same as Jesus did with his parables. But we have no right to change it simply to shake things up. That’s how people stumble away from Jesus. That’s how cults get started. Don’t try to invent new teachings and new interpretations! Rediscover the right ones.

All the definitions.

Just as often, preachers try to make something profound out of the scriptures by going through every alternate definition in their dictionary.

Fr’instance the Hebrew word יָד/yad. It literally means “hand.” But Hebrew uses idioms, just like English, so a hand might instead refer to something strong and helpful. Like God’s hands. “The hand of God” is mighty and powerful. Being in his hands doesn’t mean he literally picked us up; either he’s helping us out… or he’s gonna give us a spanking. Context should tell you whether it’s good news or bad. Likewise Jesus, who sits at God’s right hand, Ep 1.20 which means he wields God’s power, not that he’s literally next to God’s literal right hand; he is God y’know.

And yad also means five or six other things. Like one’s possession. One’s presence. One’s personal access. A sign. A support. A portion. A side. And yes, Isaiah actually used it as a euphemism for a penis. Is 57.8 (The KJV left it untranslated; the ESV went with “nakedness.”) How do we know which definition to use? Context. If “hand” best fits the verse, yad means hand. If “power” is better, go with that instead. If “portion” then portion. And so on.

Yet some folks will take, fr’instance, “Neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand,” Dt 32.39 KJV and claim, “So today I’m gonna speak about how

  1. Nobody can take God’s power away from us.
  2. Nobody can take God’s support away from us.
  3. Nobody can take God’s portion away from us.
  4. Nobody can take God’s presence away from us.
  5. Nobody can take God’s access away from us.”

And so on. I’d better stop before he gets to God’s penis.

But y’see what he did, and both Christians and Jews have done this sort of thing throughout history. If you need to preach a three-point sermon, look up a word with three possible definitions, and preach the dictionary. Some Christian writers are notorious for it. They compare it to a jeweler looking at a cut gem, and looking at every facet of the gem, and seeing something new in it every time. So that’s what they claim they were doing with the scriptures.

A much better comparison would be a kid looking at anything through a kaleidoscope. A kaleidoscope isn’t a tool; it’s a bit of harmless fun. It shows a bit of something, then reflects it a whole bunch of times and makes it look grander—and pretty, in a way. Does it reveal anything new, or truthful, or hidden? Nah. It’s a fun way to kill time.

That’s what rifling through every definition will do for a word study. You won’t learn anything new or deep. You’ll just feel like you have, because you spent time on it. In the end, only one of these definitions is valid, and matters. And I hope to goodness you remember which one that is, because it’s the only one you can count on. The rest is useless wordplay.

The sort of poetry which doesn’t rhyme.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 August

When children are first exposed to books, they’re exposed to poetry. (What, you didn’t realize Green Eggs and Ham rhymed?) Starting with children’s books, all the way up to Shakespeare.

And what’s the one thing English-speakers are all agreed upon about poetry? I’m not gonna wait for your answer: It rhymes.

Except it doesn’t always.

We were introduced to Walt Whitman in high school. To his stuff other than “O Captain! My Captain!”, which does rhyme; usually “Song of Myself” or “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d.” And a bunch of us objected, as do high schoolers across America: “This isn’t poetry. It doesn’t rhyme!” ’Cause we knew from Green Eggs and Ham on up: Poetry rhymes. That’s what makes it poetry.

Well, no. Poetry’s about using wordplay to evoke emotion. It’s why it works so well with small children. But it doesn’t have to rhyme, or have a metrical rhythm, or any of the things we frequently find in traditional English-language poetry. True, lots of languages do rhythm and rhyme. Even Hebrew poetry can rhyme, as y’might notice in Israeli hip hop. (What, you haven’t listened to Israeli hip hop? Lemme fix that.)

But the ancient Hebrew stuff focuses on rhyming in a different way. English rhymes sounds. Done and won, red and head, still and will, butterfly and flutter by. Sometimes you’ll find rhymes in Hebrew writings too; they’ll use them to make puns. But for rhyming, ancient Hebrew focuses on rhyming ideas: Same concept, said again in different words.


Psalm 19.1 NRSV
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

Note what lines up with what.

“are telling”“proclaims”
“the glory of God”“his handiwork”

Same ideas. Different lines. (Or sentences, or clauses. Hebrew sentences typically start with וְ/ve- or וָ/va- or וּ/u-, all of which mean “and.” So translators have the option of making a new sentence, new clause, or a new line. In theory an entire Old Testament book is just one big run-on sentence. But anyway.) And yes, you don’t usually think of “God’s glory” and “God’s handiwork” as the same thing… but now you do, ’cause you’re meant to.

This, and passages which practice this very same sort of parallelism, is how we know we’re dealing with Hebrew poetry. And it’s all over the bible, Old Testament and New. It doesn’t matter that the NT was written in Greek, because its writers all knew their Old Testament, and how to write Hebrew-style poetry, so they did. The psalms are nothing but poetry. The prophets are almost entirely poetry. Even the historical books and Law are loaded with poetry. Jesus uses poetry all the time to make his teachings memorable. Seriously, it’s everywhere.

It’s so common, whenever someone starts repeating ideas we immediately recognize this as “bible language.” (Assuming people are familiar with bible. Not so many of us are anymore.) People pray in Hebrew poetry, teach in it, give speeches in it, write songs in it. It’s all over English-speaking culture too. ’Cause our literature has been so heavily influenced by the King James Version and those who read it.

Because English poetry is primarily about rhyme and rhythm, it’s often tricky to translate our poems into other languages. You can’t always keep the poetic structure. But when Hebrew poetry is rendered into every other language… the parallelism is still there.

Almost as if God planned it that way, huh?

Why Hebrew poetry matters.

Hebrew poetry helps us interpret the bible. The scriptures’ authors used it to reiterate their points, and hammer ’em home with repetition. (Hey, check that out; I just did a little Hebrew poetry there myself.)

Which is really useful when we’re not sure what the authors meant. If any verse is difficult to interpret—we aren’t sure what the words mean, or we are sure but aren’t sure what the author meant by them—frequently the authors were writing in a poetic style, so we can simply look for the parallel ideas. ’Cause most of the time, there they are. The context of the parallels can help us interpret the proper meaning.

In fact you’ll notice a lot of the bible’s misinterpretations are usually the result of someone not bothering to check the context. Sometimes they don’t realize parallelism is going on, and try to interpret the parallel idea as if it’s an entirely separate, different idea. One famous example is this’un:

Genesis 1.26 NRSV
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

Notice the parallels, and you’ll realize the author of Genesis is totally writing in poetry. Here, I’ll put it in lines, since the translators of the NRSV didn’t bother:

Genesis 1.26 NRSV
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image,
according to our likeness;
and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,
and over the birds of the air,
and over the cattle,
and over all the wild animals of the earth,
and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

“Fish of the sea” gets contrasted with “birds of the air.” Domestic animals get contrasted with wild animals, and with every creeping thing on the earth.

And of course “in our image” is a basic parallel of “according to our likeness.” But it seems St. Irenaeus of Lyons wasn’t up to speed on his Hebrew poetry. (He knew his Greek poetry; not so much the Hebrew stuff.) He took the two words he saw in his Septuagint as two individual ideas, and stretched ’em so he could talk about what he wanted to talk about: Free will. Irenaeus claimed having his image means we likewise have free will; having his likeness means we likewise can do good. Well, till Adam and Eve sinned. Humanity actually lost God’s likeness, Irenaeus claimed. But we still have “his image,” the free will… which we now use to pick which sin sounds more fun.

Meh. If I wanted to claim humans are depraved, it’s not hard to do. It says so in the New Testament. It’s so easy to put together a basic theology on it. I don’t have to twist Old Testament passages till they do as I want. But before I rant further about bad interpretation, I’ll just remind you: Hebrew poetry. These are parallel ideas, not separate ones. If you know this, you’re not gonna repeat Irenaeus’s mistake. Okay?

Types of parallels.

Yep, grammar nerds came up with a few categories for all the different kinds of parallels we find in Hebrew poetry. Don’t worry; I’m not giving a test later. Just realize there are lots of ways ancient Hebrew authors played with words.

SYNONYMOUS. The usual, most common type of poetry in the bible is basic synonymous parallelism. Ideas get repeated. Like yea.

Amos 2.14-15 NRSV
14 Flight shall perish from the swift,
and the strong shall not retain their strength,
nor shall the mighty save their lives;
15 those who handle the bow shall not stand,
and those who are swift of foot shall not save themselves,
nor shall those who ride horses save their lives;

Yeah, that army was screwed. Every line just describes more defeat for its soldiers.

Sometimes poets liked to take the clauses in one line, and flip ’em over for the next line. Notice the first two lines of this Jeremiah verse.

Jeremiah 25.34 NRSV
Wail, you shepherds, and cry out;
roll in ashes, you lords of the flock,
for the days of your slaughter have come—and your dispersions,
and you shall fall like a choice vessel.

Notice “you shepherds” is in the first part of line 1, but “you lords of the flock” is in the second part of line 2. “Cry out” is in the second part of line 1, but “roll in ashes” is in the first part of line 2. Grammar nerds love to give names to this kind of behavior, so this one’s called a chiasm, ’cause the ideas in the clauses get flipped. You can draw a diagram connecting them… and it’ll look like an X, which is also the Greek letter chi, hence chi-asm. Nerds.

Thing is, y’might notice fewer chiasms in some bible translations, ’cause in order to make parallels more obvious, the translators unflipped the clauses:

Jeremiah 25.34 NLT
Weep and moan, you evil shepherds!
Roll in the dust, you leaders of the flock!
The time of your slaughter has arrived;
you will fall and shatter like a fragile vase.

It’s not a big deal, but it’s why I’m not using the NLT for my examples.

Another term grammar nerds like to fling around is emblematic parallelism. All that means is the poet’s using similes and metaphors. As poets do.

Hosea 4.16 NRSV
“Like a stubborn heifer,
Israel is stubborn;
can the LORD now feed them
like a lamb in a broad pasture?”

ANTITHETICAL. When we compare opposites, contrast ideas, or use antonyms, we got antithetical parallelism. The proverb-writers love kind of poetry. Love love love. Proverbs is riddled with this type of poetry.

Proverbs 1.7 NRSV
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 10.1 NRSV
A wise child makes a glad father,
but a foolish child is a mother’s grief.

The godly experience this; the wicked experience that. God gives this bunch good, that bunch evil. Wisdom does one thing, stupidity does the reverse. Truth produces blessing, lies produce evil. And so forth.

SYNTHETIC. One of the meanings of synthesize is “to build.” So in synthetic parallelism, the poet starts an idea in line 1, then builds ideas onto it in the lines which follow.

Psalm 147.7-11 NRSV
7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.
8 He covers the heavens with clouds,
prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills.
9 He gives to the animals their food,
and to the young ravens when they cry.
10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
11 but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.

There’s a whole logical chain to this psalm, which we see when we analyze the poetry:

  1. (a) Sing to God. (b) And make melody.
  2. (a) God sends clouds. (b) And rain. (c) And grass.
  3. (a) God feeds animals. (b) Specifically ravens.
  4. (a) God doesn’t care about horsepower. (b) Nor human power.
  5. (a) God is pleased with our respect. (b) And our patience.

The most common kind of synthetic parallelism is where line 1 starts an idea, and line 2 finishes it. We also see this all over Proverbs—either with comparisons, or explanations.

Proverbs 26.1 NRSV
Like snow in summer or rain in harvest,
so honor is not fitting for a fool.
Proverbs 19.20 NRSV
Listen to advice and accept instruction,
that you may gain wisdom for the future.

CLIMACTIC. A climax is the end of something. In climactic parallelism you simply have loads of repetition… but all the endings are different.

Psalm 29.1-2 NRSV
1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,[a]
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name;
worship the LORD in holy splendor.
Matthew 5.3-9 NRSV
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Notice Jesus’s poetry in Matthew 5: He has all the repetition of climactic poetry. And for those people who consider the stuff after “for they/theirs” to be separate lines, he’s using synthetic poetry—explaining why they’re blessed. (Kingdom is theirs, inheriting the land, getting filled and satisfied, etc.) Yeah, you can mix up all sorts of parallelism.

Bonus: Metrical psalms!

Because some English-speakers simply have to have all their poetry rhyme, various Christians have created metrical psalms—translations of Psalms which gave ’em English-style rhymes and rhythm. The Scottish Psalter is one example. I’ve dabbled in it myself.

Psalm 8 KWL
Arranged for lyre. A David psalm.
1 Our master LORD: What noble name!
You have, in all the earth, great fame
which sets your splendor in the skies.
2 And in the kids’ and infants’ cries
you build your strength against your foes,
the vengeful; stop all who oppose.
3 I see the skies—your fingers’ act:
The moon, fixed stars—and I react:
4 So what are humans, to your mind?—
You care for Adam’s sons so kind.
5 A little less than gods, we’re made
with glory, honor, crowns you’ve laid.
6 The things your hands made, you ordain
beneath our feet; you have us reign.
7 All sheep and cows at our command,
rule over animals on land,
8 birds of the air, fish of the sea,
whatever swims there: All we see.
9 Our master LORD: What noble name!
You have, in all the earth, great fame.

If you notice the gray text, you’ll notice I had to pad the translation a bit so it’d rhyme. That’s the catch with metrical translations: The more you try to make it fit English poetry, the less precise and exact of a translation it becomes. You can do it, but you sacrifice accuracy for esthetics. And if you’re not careful, all the original poetry—all the Hebrew parallelism placed there by David and the other authors—gets hidden, or even gets deleted. It’s why metrical psalms are great for memorization, but not so great for bible study.

The Puritans made ’em metrical because in a lot of their churches, they wouldn’t allow you to sing anything which didn’t come from bible. (Lest you unintentionally wind up singing heresy.) So once the psalms were thus adjusted, and you could find some music to match, you could sing all 150 of ’em.

When I taught English, I had my students take a stab at adapting the psalms into poetry. One boy objected to “tampering with scripture,” but I pointed out he was only making something based on scripture. Nobody was gonna consider his poem a replacement for scripture. (Certainly hope not.) Still, y’might try your hand at it yourself. I find it to be a fun devotional practice.