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

by K.W. Leslie, 30 December

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

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

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

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

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

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

TXAB’s bible-reading plan.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 December

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

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

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

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

The books of a Christian’s library.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 December

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supernatural discernment: Knowing what you can’t know.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 December

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy holidays!

by K.W. Leslie, 21 December

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

Javascript isn’t working this Christmas!

Some elf overdid it on the sugar.

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

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

The Wheat and Darnel Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 December

Matthew 13.24-30, 13.36-43

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sock-puppet false prophecy.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 December

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope, not kidding. Wish I were.

…Don’t we all have some fundamental beliefs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait, don’t we all do that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strong numbers. Or Strong’s numbers. Whichever.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 December

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I’m twelve.

The odds of Jesus fulfilling prophecy.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 December

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lambs and Kids Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 December

Matthew 25.31-46.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Killing false prophets: Wanna bring it back?

by K.W. Leslie, 09 December

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you know you heard from God?

by K.W. Leslie, 08 December

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

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

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

The Talents Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December

Matthew 25.13-30.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hypocrisy versus inconsistency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And not just because the LORD said so—

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

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

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

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