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Showing posts from January, 2021

Which bible translation’s the best?

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HE. “So lemme ask: Which version of the bible do you use? Which one’s the best?” ME. “None of ’em. Learn Hebrew and Greek.” As soon as someone finds out I know the bible’s original languages, that’s nearly always the question they ask me. Sometimes because they earnestly wanna know, and figure I’m more an expert than they are. Sometimes because they already have a favorite, and want some affirmation. Sometimes because they already think their favorite is best, so they’re testing me. Well, this question has a long answer. It’s the rest of this article! But I found when you being with the long answer, their eyes roll back in their heads; they don’t wanna deal with the complexities of bible translations. They only wanted a quick ’n dirty answer. Tell ’em the best bible version, so they can go get that version and use it forevermore. Or judge you. Whatever. So I start with my joke answer: “None. Learn original languages.” Sometimes, but rarely, they realize I’m kidding. The

Do you know your bible quotes?

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Generally if you’re gonna call yourself biblically literate, you oughta at least know these quotes from the bible. Probably already do; you just didn’t realize they were from the bible. ALL HAVE SINNED AND FALL SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD. Or “come short” in the KJV . Comes from Romans 3.23 ; means nobody measures up to God’s standard of perfection, but God graciously forgives us and grants eternal life. Ro 6.23 ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE. Or “all men” ( KJV ): Paul’s claim he adapted his circumstances so he can find common ground with everyone, and share Christ with them. 1Co 9.22 Y’know, “when in Rome.” Certain Christians are quick to point out Paul didn’t compromise his beliefs or behavior in so doing. ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD. In context, “to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” Ro 8.28 Various Christians pull it out of context and claim everything always turns out for the best. I remind ’em to read Ecclesiastes sometime.

The bible, in chronological order. (More or less.)

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Some of TXAB ’s readers intend to read the bible in a month —or in four weeks, anyway—and have expressed curiosity about reading the bible in chronological order. It’s not enough that the creation of the cosmos comes first in Genesis , and the beginning of New Earth last in Revelation : They want everything sorted out by date. Okay, fine. But I will point out this order is debatable. ’Cause of course it is. Since when aren’t Christians gonna debate about who came first, Job or Abraham? (It’s Abraham. Job’s an Edomite; Edom/Esau is Abraham’s grandson.) Or which letter did Paul write first 1 Thessalonians or Galatians ? (My money’s on Galatians .) Other chronological-order lists are gonna have a slightly different order, although Genesis is usually first and Revelation last. Here, for your convenience, is the bible in chronological order. Not always the order it was written , but the order of the events which took place in the books. Print it out and check ’em off as you

The Thessalonians’ reputation. And ours.

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1 Thessalonians 1.6-10. In a few of the apostles’ other letters, the churches they were writing to had gone wrong, so they seriously needed to correct ’em. (I’m looking at you, 1 Corinthians and Revelation .) In the letters to Thessaloniki, Macedon, the locals needed a few pointers and minor corrections, but for the most part they were good. Better than good: They had a reputation for being amazing Christians. Not just in cranking out the good works, good fruit, and miracles: They were known for being a bunch of reformed pagans who eagerly pursued Jesus. And that’s a reputation you want . Certainly the reputation I want; certainly the reputation we all should have. Paul, Silas, and Timothy continue to recap their experiences with the Thessalonians: 1 Thessalonians 1.6-10 KWL 6 You became imitators of both us and the Master, accepting the message in great persecution, yet joy in the Holy Spirit. 7 Thus you became an example to all the believers in Macedon and Achae

Double standards.

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Mark 4.24, Matthew 7.1-5, Luke 6.37-38, 41-42. “Judge not, lest ye be judged” is a really popular verse for people who don’t wanna condemn anyone. But I already wrote an article about how people take it out of context. People use it to avoid making judgment statements, or to rebuke those who do… and it’s not at all what Jesus means. So today I get to what Jesus means. This bit of his Sermon on the Mount comes right after Jesus taught us about worry. Which is appropriate: Don’t prejudge circumstances indiscriminately, and don’t prejudge people unfairly. Matthew 7.1-2 KWL 1 “Don’t criticize. Thus you won’t be criticized. 2 For you’ll be critiqued by the very criticism you criticize with. The measurement you measure with, will measure you.”   Luke 6.37 KWL “Don’t criticize, and you won’t be criticized. Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Forgive, and you’ll be forgiven.” Obviously I translate κρίνετε / krínetë, “criticize,” differently than the KJV ’s “jud

Apostolic succession.

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APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION æp.ə'stɑ.lɪk sək'sɛ.ʃən noun . The action, process, or sequence of inheriting a title and office in church leadership, founded by one of Christ Jesus’s first apostles. Jesus sends his apostles on various missions, and in so doing, many times these apostles start ministries. Sometimes a church or denomination. Sometimes hospitals and hospices, schools and universities, shelters, charities, or whatever Jesus tells ’em to start. Sometimes the apostle’s job is to only start this ministry, then move along to the next task; Paul of Tarsus obviously did that with churches and schools. But a lot of times it’s to run the ministry for the rest of their lives. Or until they reach a point where they can’t physically do it anymore, and have to retire. Does this mean the ministry is over? Occasionally yes; the apostle kinda was the ministry, and without that apostle it becomes a shell of itself. (Or worse, a mockery.) But if Jesus wants it to keep going, he

What does Jesus send apostles to do?

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When people investigate what an apostle is, mainly they wanna know whether Jesus still makes them, or whether they’re just a first-century, back-in-bible-times phenomenon. Especially when they don’t want there to be any more apostles, ’cause they don’t like the idea of Jesus designating leaders himself, with no input from them. (I already discussed this in my article on apostles.) The rest of the time they’re usually looking for a job description. ’Cause some Christian has claimed, “This is what an apostle does,” and they wanna know whether that’s true. Do the scriptures tell us that’s what an apostle does? Or is this person all wet, and claiming some heretic weirdness instead of something truly biblical? Here’s the thing: The bible doesn’t spell out an apostle’s job description. Because it’s not actually a particular job. It’s a person. The word ἀπόστολος / apóstolos means “one whom [God] sent.” That’s a person. An individual. A woman or man to whom Jesus appears,

Apostles: Those whom Jesus sends out to do his work.

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APOSTLE ə'pɑs.əl noun. Person commissioned by Christ Jesus to perform a leadership role. [Apostolic æ.pə'stɑl.ɪk adjective , apostleship ə'pɑs.əl.ʃɪp noun ] Jesus didn’t just have the 12 students. The actual number fluctuated, as some joined the group, Mk 10.52 and others quit in frustration. Jn 6.66 Jesus had loads of student-followers. But he designated the Twelve in particular as ἀπόστολοι / apóstoli, “sent ones.” Lk 6.13 Eleven of ’em—including another student named Matthias whom they promoted apostle Ac 1.26 —became the core leaders of his newly-created church. And apostle still designates anyone whom Jesus, or the Holy Spirit on Jesus’s behalf, sends forth to do his work. Well… in some traditions. Y’see, various Christians insist the only apostles in human history are Jesus’s original 12 guys. Well… okay, they concede Judas Iscariot turned traitor and died, Ac 1.16-20 and Matthias replaced him, so Judas is out and Matthias is in. And okay, P

The Spirit’s power in a new church.

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1 Thessalonians 1.1-5. This letter, which we traditionally call 1 Thessalonians , was a team effort. Most commentators, myself included, usually talk about it as if Paul of Tarsus did all the writing, and gave co-authorship to his team members out of courtesy. Timothy gets a mention in 1 Thessalonians 3.6 , and since he’s spoken of in third person whereas Paul is always “I,” y’gotta wonder how much authoring Timothy really did. But the giant run-on Greek sentences are a dead giveaway: This letter, same as probably all Paul’s letters, was dictated , spoken aloud to a scribe. Probably Paul doing most of the talking; possibly the other guys added a sentence or two. We don’t know the level of their contributions. We do know they’re listed as co-authors, so it wasn’t nothing. Still, for convenience, I’ll refer to 1 Thessalonians ’s authors as “Paul.” Here they go. 1 Thessalonians 1.1-5 KWL 1 Paul and Silas and Timothy. To the Thessalonian church, in Father God and Master C

Don’t you worry ’bout a thing.

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Matthew 6.25-34, Luke 12.22-32. Right after Jesus taught we can’t make masters of both God and Mammon, he got to the core reason why we humans tend to slide away from trusting God, and instead put our trust in money: When it comes to basic daily needs, we don’t look to God first. We look to our wallets. Can we afford it? If not, then we might call out to God… but too often we don’t. This is a much harder lesson to learn for rich Christians than poor ones. In rich countries, we have crazy standards for what denotes “basic daily needs.” It’s not just food, drink, and clothing, as Jesus addresses in the following teaching. It’s having a roof over your head. A bed. Electricity and gas, for the central heat and air conditioning. Oh, and since you have electricity: A refrigerator to keep the food in. Internet and wifi. A phone. An email address. A television—’cause you can’t expect us to watch all our TV on our phones. And probably a car, ’cause you can’t expect us to walk every

Spiritual disciplines: Gotta develop the Christian lifestyle.

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If we’re gonna become better Christians, we have to get religious. I know; it’s popular among conservative Evangelicals circles to insist, “It’s a relationship, not a religion.” For much the same reason pagans insist they’re spiritual, not religious : They have no interest in getting methodical, disciplined, or systematic about God. They want their heavenly Father to be a Disneyland dad, with all the fun and none of the obedience. They wanna do as they please, take advantage of God’s grace, and get into God’s kingdom despite being wholly unfit for it. True Christians can’t sit back on our salvation: We follow Jesus. We do stuff. We act saved. We stop behaving like we can’t help our sinful behavior; we know the Holy Spirit’s empowered us so we totally can. We stop acting like pagans do, as if we’re not a holy people, and behave as if we really are filled with the Holy Spirit. We stop being jerks and start producing fruit. I know; it’s way easier said than done. But

Epiphany: When Jesus was revealed to the world.

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6 January is Epiphany , the day which celebrates how Jesus was revealed to the world. True, the Christmas stories figure that was with the angels and sheep-herders, and maybe with the magi. But technically he was revealed at the beginning of his ministry, at his baptism, where John the baptist identified him as God’s son. John 1.29-35 KJV 29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. 30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. 31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. 32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. 33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth wi

Read the bible in a month. Yes, seriously. A month.

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January’s here; you made resolutions, and one of ’em was to read the bible. As you should! It’s gonna make you more familiar with God. Some people unrealistically expect a new, profound God-experience every day, as the Holy Spirit shows ’em stuff, but hopefully you’re more realistic about it. Hopefully you’re realistic about all your resolutions. Not everyone is. So we need to read through through the entire bible, Genesis to maps. (That’s an old Evangelical joke. ’Cause a lot of study bibles include maps in the back. Okay, it’s less amusing once I explain it.) So Christians get on some kind of bible-reading plan to make sure we methodically go through every book, chapter, and verse. ’Cause when we don’t, we wind up reading only the familiar bits, over and over and over again—and miss a lot of the parts we should read. The reason so many Christians misinterpret the New Testament is because they know so very little of its Old Testament context. Every time I quote just a

Ulterior motives for being religious.

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Two years ago Trevin Wax wrote “Routine bible reading can change your life.” Another site changed the title to the clickbaity, “Why so many Christians start, but don’t finish a bible reading plan.” ’Cause that’s what it’s about: Why so many Christians start, yet don’t finish… you know. Got my attention because at the turn of the year, I usually urge folks to start a bible reading plan. I plug mine, but any will do. I encourage people to do it in a month, in part because I’m convinced longer programs are needlessly so, and you’re more likely to give up on them because they’re longer. You gotta rigidly stick to it for so long —and you’re not gonna get as much out of a bible snippet as you will a whole book. Wax gave another reason Christians quit on these plans, and it’s quite insightful for a lot of reasons. I’ll quote him—but yeah, I edited out all his capitalizations. One reason may be that we have too high of an expectation of what we will feel every day when we read

What is religion?

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Over the past four decades, Christians in the conservative Evangelical movement have come to consider “religion” a bad word. Even an offensive word. In fact we’ll get downright snotty about it: “I don’t have a religion ,” we’ll scoff; “I have a relationship .” By which we mean a relationship with Christ Jesus. To the conservative Evangelical, “religion” means ritual. Namely the rituals of people who lack this relationship with Christ Jesus. And for the most part, they’re thinking of people who aren’t conservative Evangelicals like them. They figure progressive Evangelicals are more focused on social justice and works righteousness. They figure non-Evangelicals are more focused on sacraments, on getting saved because they do the rituals—which is just another form of works righteousness. If they grew up in such churches, the way they remember them was based on how these churches introduced ’em (or, let’s be fair, didn’t properly introduce them) to Jesus: How they were told