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Showing posts from August, 2020

When our anger gets us into trouble.

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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 replac…

Jesus’s most misinterpreted teaching.

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Matthew 5.17-20, Luke 16.16-17.Matthew 5.17-20 KWL17“Don’t assume I came to dissolve the Law or the Prophets.I didn’t come to dissolve but complete:18Amen! 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.19So 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:20I 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 KWL16“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.17It’s easier for heaven and earth to pass awaythan for one penstroke of the Law to fall.”Despite this very lesson, many Christians do in fact teach Jesus did come to dis…

Kamala Harris and religious affiliation.

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Kamala Harris. WikimediaKamala 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…

What religion is Jesus?

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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 involve…

Kings.

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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 k…

The world’s light.

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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 KWLSo 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…

The earth’s salt.

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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 KWL49“Everything for the fire will be salted.Lv 2.1350Salt 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 KWL34“So salt is good.When salt is also tasteless, in what way will it salt things?35It’s neither useful for the ground …

Awesome and awful.

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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 KWL3“The spiritually poor: How awesome!—th…

The Sermon on the Plain.

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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 KWL12 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 a…

The text of the Sermon on the Mount.

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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 KWL4.24 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 h…

The Sermon on the Mount.

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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 for…

Christianism.

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CHRISTIANISM'krɪs.tʃən.ɪz.əmnoun. A socially-approved worldview and belief system which claims to be Christian, but is not taught by Christ Jesus.[Christianist 'krɪs.tʃən.ɪstadjective.]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…

The comic book End Times.

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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 ch…

The kairos moment.

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KAIROS MOMENT'kaɪ.rɑs 'moʊ.məntnoun. 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…

“Losing your salvation.”

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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 …

Are Christian jerks even Christian?

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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 t…

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

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This is the only physical description of Jesus in the bible.Revelation 1.12-16 KWL12 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 p…

Misadventures with the dictionary.

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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 ’e…

The sort of poetry which doesn’t rhyme.

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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 rh…