Africanus and Eusebius on Jesus’s two genealogies.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 October

Eusebius Pamphili was the bishop of Caesarea, Judea, from 314 to 339. He wrote the first full-length Christian history of the church, Historia Ecclesiae/Church History, sometimes called Ecclesiastical History, in part to defend the church as well as give its background.

Today’s excerpt is from Church History 1.7, in which he explains why Jesus has two genealogies. Popularly, Christians claim one belongs to his mom, and the other to his adoptive dad. Sometimes they vary about which belongs to whom; frequently Matthew is considered Mary’s, because it appears to have the more legitimate royal claim. (Though I remind you God can anoint anyone king he pleases, as he did Saul, David, Jeroboam, and Jehu; Jesus’s only ancestral “requirement” was he be David’s descendant, and he is in both genealogies.)

To help, Eusebius borrows a big long excerpt from fellow Christian historian Sextus Julius Africanus, from his letter to Aristides of Athens, now lost. (Some Christians have tried to piece it back together from the various ancient Christians who quoted it, but it’s just a bunch of big fragments; not the whole letter.) Sextus Julius’s nickname Africanus/“the African,” refers to his birthplace in Libya, though he considered himself from Jerusalem, and lived in Nicopolis (formerly Emmaeus; different Emmaeus than the one in the bible), in Palestine. We don’t know his dates. The usual guess is the early 200s, but Aristides died in 134, so either the guess is wrong or the letter to Aristides is bogus.

He did correspond with Origen of Alexandria, and wrote two other works—the the Chronographiai, his five-volume history of the world (in which he figured creation happened in 5500BC); and Kestoi, a scientific encyclopedia.

As far as we know, Africanus was the first guy to try to explain this particular bible difficulty in writing. No doubt plenty of Christians tried to explain it away with best guesses. Africanus’s explanation became the standard explanation of ancient Christians, but as you might notice, not many people today seem to know of it.

I’m not 100 percent sold on this explanation, myself. But regardless, here it is.

Heavens!

by K.W. Leslie, 28 October
HEAVEN 'hɛ.vən noun. The dwelling place of God, his angels, and debatably good humans after they die. Traditionally depicted as above the sky.
2. A euphemism for God himself. [“Sin displeases heaven.”]
3. The sky, perceived as a vault containing the sun, moon, planets, and stars.
4. A place of bliss. [“This is heaven!”]
5. Short for the kingdom of heaven, i.e. God’s kingdom.
6. The state of being in God’s presence, namely after death.
[Heavenly 'hɛv.ən.li adjective.]

As you can see, there are multiple definitions of our word “heaven.” But when Christians talk about heaven, we mean the dwelling place of God. Right?

Not really. In fact not usually.

In my experience, when Christians talk about heaven, we’re actually talking about the kingdom of heaven. In other words, God’s kingdom. Which is meant to happen here on earth. We Christians are supposed to be already living like it’s here—and when Jesus returns, he’ll fully set it up and run it. But too often Christians act like this kingdom does not happen on earth, and never will: It’ll happen in heaven. In the future. After we die. When we do stuff in heaven, “heaven” is always way later. Or we describe the stuff we’ll be doing in New Jerusalem… which is actually in New Heaven, which is not even the same heaven the scriptures typically mean.

I listed six definitions of heaven. No, I’m not gonna therefore say there are six heavens, like C.S. Lewis did when he wrote about four loves. There are likely more definitions of heaven than even that.

But there are Christians who claim there are multiple heavens. Not just the current heaven, and the New Heaven of Revelation 21. There’s the seven heavens of Dante Alighieri’s Paradisio, the 10 heavens of the Pharisees, and the three heavens which you’ll hear Evangelicals talk about ’cause they’ve neither read Paradisio nor 1 Enoch.

Confused yet? Maybe a little. Hope not. Let’s start with the bible’s descriptions of the heavens.

God can’t abide sin?

by K.W. Leslie, 27 October

“God can’t abide sin. It offends him so much, he simply can’t have it in his presence. He’s just that holy.”

It’s an idea I’ve heard repeated by many a Christian. Evangelists in particular.

It’s particularly popular among people who can’t abide sin. Certain sins offend us so much, we simply can’t have ’em in our presence. We’re just that pure. Well… okay, self-righteous.

You can see why Christians have found this concept so easy to adopt, and have been so quick to spread it around. It’s yet another instance of remaking God in our own image, then preaching our remake instead of the real God.

Don’t get me wrong. ’Cause Christians do, regularly: I talk about grace, and they think I’m talking about compromise. Or justification. Or nullification. Or compromise. Or liberalism. Whatever reason they can think of to ignore grace, skip forgiveness, disguise revenge as justice, and claim they only have these prejudices and offenses because God has ’em. You claim you practice grace? Then grant me some so I can explain.

Obviously God is anti-sin. He told us what he wants and expects of his people. Both through his Law, and through the teachings and example of Christ Jesus. (I was about to write “and he didn’t mince words,” but Jesus kinda did in some of his parables, for various reasons. Regardless, any honest, commonsense Christian—and plenty of pagans—can figure Jesus out.)

Yes, God’s offended by our willful disobedience. And he’s just as offended by the sins of people who don’t know any better: They do have consciences, after all. Ro 2.15 At one point they were taught the difference between right and wrong, and even so, they chose what’s wrong.

But the issue isn’t whether sin bugs God. It’s whether sin bugs God so much, he can no longer practice grace. Whether he can’t abide sin—and therefore he can’t abide sinners.

The rosary: Meditation… oh, and prayers to Mary.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 October

Some years ago a reader asked me about rosaries.

I gotta admit I don’t have a lot of experience with ’em. Rosaries are a Roman Catholic tradition, and I grew up Fundamentalist—and Fundies are hugely anti-Catholic, so any Catholic traditions are looked at with suspicion and fear. Many Evangelical Protestants are likewise wary of Catholic practices. Very few do rosaries.

Evangelicals assume a rosary is a string of prayer beads. Actually it’s not. The rosary is the super-long string of rote prayers you recite, and how you keep track of which prayer you’re on, and how many you have left, is with the beads. Each bead represents one prayer.

And most of these prayers are the Ave Maria/“Hail Mary.” It’s prayed from 50 to 150 times. Goes like so.

Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee. Lk 1.28
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Lk 1.42
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
Amen.

Yep, it’s not a prayer addressed to God; it’s to his mom. You’re mostly praying to his mom. Whereas very few Evangelicals pray to saints. Okay yeah, some of us talk to our dead loved ones, like a deceased parent or spouse or child, and hope God passes along those messages to that loved one, whom we hope is in paradise. But passing such messages along to anyone else feels, well, weird and wrong. Praying to Jesus is one thing; praying to his family members Mary, Joseph, James, and Jude, seems strange (do we really know these people?); as is praying to his apostles, praying to medieval saints, praying to famous dead Christians like C.S. Lewis or Martin Luther King Jr.… I mean, at least those last two guys spoke English. Pretty sure Mary of Nazareth only knew Aramaic.

But Roman Catholics believe when saints die, they go to heaven, where they’re resurrected; they’re alive. Ain’t nothing wrong with talking to living people. That’s what we do when we pray; we talk. Talking to Mary is fine. Hailing her and calling her blessed is biblical. And asking her to pray to her Son on our behalf is fine too.

But most of the reason people pray a rosary (apart from those who incorrectly think it earns ’em salvation points with God) is meditation. We don’t just recite rote prayers while our minds remain unfruitful: We think about Jesus. Think about the scriptures. Pray silently with our minds, like we do when we pray in tongues.

That’s why some Catholics won’t just pray one rosary in a stretch: They’ll pray two. Or five. They wanna spend significant time meditating on God, and to help ’em focus, they keep their bodies busy with reciting prayer after prayer after prayer, and fix their minds on Jesus. And, if they’re huge fans of his mom, Mary. But if that bothers you, you don’t have to meditate on Mary, or even pray to her. The prayers in one’s rosary are optional, as are all rote prayers.

The Five Stupid Teenagers Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 October

Matthew 25.1-13.

The Five Stupid Teenagers Story is also called the parable of the virgins, of the maidens, of the bridesmaids; of the wise and foolish virgins, or of the 10 virgins. Usually they’re called virgins ’cause that’s traditionally how people have translated παρθένοις/parthénis: A girl, or unmarried woman, and women back then used to marry mighty young. Like as soon as they attained legal adulthood, so 13 years old. Since they were unmarried, the usual assumption is in that culture they’d be virgins, which is a reasonable assumption. But parthénos was sometimes used in Greek literature to describe young women who weren’t virgins, like in the plays of Sophocles and Aristophanes.

Maiden is alternately used to describe them, but maiden historically means the same thing as virgin. And in either case I’m not sure Jesus’s point had anything to do with their virginity nor marital status. More like with their youth. You know how some kids can be wise and clever, and some kinda dense and foolish? And how some kids can sometimes be one and sometimes the other? So, that.

So my translation focuses on their age as well: These are young teenagers, old enough to be responsible for themselves, but not all of ’em were necessarily mature enough. Kinda like Jesus’s own students. Kinda like newbie Christians.

Like all Jesus’s parables, this story’s about his kingdom, and since it’s part of his Olivet Discourse he’s talking about his second coming. Unlike dark Christian interpretations which are all about doom, tribulation, death, and hellfire, Jesus’s parables are about encouragement: He’s not returning to destroy the world, but save it. Get ready to join his entourage! Otherwise you’ll miss out on the fun parts.

We don’t know when Jesus is returning, and he instructs his kids more than once to stay awake and be prepared. This is one of those times. Dark Christians insist it’s about missing the rapture and going to hell. But the stakes are nowhere near that high in Jesus’s story.

Matthew 25.1-13 KWL
1 “Then heaven’s kingdom will be like 10 teenagers
who come out to meet the husband, bringing their own lamps.
2 Five of them are morons, and five wise,
3 for the morons who bring their lamps don’t bring oil with them.
4 The wise teens bring oil in flasks, with their lamps.
5 During the husband’s delay, all the teens fall asleep, and sleep.
6 In the middle of the night, a loud voice came:
‘Look, the husband! Come to meet him!’
7 Then all those teenagers rise and get their own lamps ready—
8 and the morons tell the wise teens, ‘Give us some of your oil,
because our lamps are out.’
9 In reply the wise teens were saying, ‘Likely there’s not enough for us and you.
Instead go to the oil-sellers and buy your own!’
10 And as they went away to buy, the husband comes,
and those who were ready, enter the marriage feast with him.
He closes the door.
11 Later, the remaining teenagers also come to the door,
saying, ‘Sir, sir, open it for us.’
12 In reply the husband says, ‘Amen, I promise you, I don’t know you.’
13 So be awake—because you don’t know the day nor the hour.”

Shekhinah: Everybody’s favorite non-biblical Hebrew word.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 October
Shekhinah sɛ.xi'nɑ American ʃɛ'kaɪ.nə noun. The glory of God’s presence.
2. God’s presence.
3. God’s dwelling place.
[Shekhinic ʃɛ'kaɪ.nɪk adjective.]

The Hebrew word שכינה/šekhiná, which English-speakers tend to spell “shekhinah” or “shekinah,” isn’t found in the bible.

No, really. It comes from the Mishna. Sanhedrin 6.5, Avot 3.2, 6 It refers to God’s presence. More specifically the weight of God’s presence; not in a literal sense, but more like its importance, substantiveness, reality, the fact the Almighty showed up is a really big deal. The King James Version tends to call it his glory.

God’s everywhere, and ordinarily not visible. But sometimes he makes his presence more visible than usual. Like when he allowed Moses to see his glory Ex 33.18 —from the back, anyway; from the front might crush Moses. Or when the Hebrews saw God’s glory in his temple, 2Ch 7.3 or when Stephen had a vision of it. Ac 7.55

None of these folks were talking about seeing God himself. The apostle John is entirely sure they didn’t see God himself. Jn 1.18 But they saw something, and what they saw was what God שָׁכַן/šakhán, “dwells in.” That’s a verb we do find in the bible, as well as its noun-forms שֶׁכֶן/šekhén, “dwelling place,” and שָׁכֵן/šakhén, “dweller.”

So where’d šekhiná come from? Well, Pharisee rabbis wanted a unique word which refers to God’s particular glorious habitation, so they coined one. Hebrew words have masculine and feminine genders, like Spanish and French, so the rabbis took the masculine word šekhén and turned it into the feminine word šekhiná. Still means “dwelling,” but now it specifically means God’s dwelling.

Thing is, because šekhiná is a feminine noun, a lot of rabbis also use it as a jump-off point so they can talk about God’s feminine aspects and qualities. Because even though God goes with the pronouns “he” and “his,” he doesn’t actually have a gender. (Spirits don’t!) And God does have a motherly side.

So when you talk about God’s šekhiná with Jews, don’t be surprised when they start talking about “the female divine presence.” And every once in a while… they get weird. And no, I’m not saying this ’cause of any chauvinist hangups. Some really do get super weird.

Of course that’s not at all what we Christians mean by shekhinah. We mean revelation. The brightest light. Clouds of glory. Overwhelming God-experiences. The tremendous power of the Almighty. We mean experiences so mighty, we lose control of our bodily functions and now we gotta steam-clean the church building. We mean seeing God.

Well again, not really seeing God, ’cause “nobody’s ever seen God,” Jn 1.18 and “no one can see me and live.” Ex 33.20 We probably won’t survive the full God encounter while we’re alive, or before we’re resurrected. But meh; close enough.

Literally.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 October

The word literally has two definitions. And they contradict one another.

Literally 'lɪd.ər.əl.li or ˈlɪt.rəl.li adjective. In a most basic and exact sense, without metaphor, allegory, exaggeration, nor distortion.
2. Used for emphasis or strong feeling, though not precisely true.

I know; plenty of people insist the second definition isn’t the proper definition, and anyone who uses the word this way is wrong. Problem is, words are not absolutes. I know; plenty of people wish they were, and insist they are. (It’s why people still buy the original edition of Noah Webster’s dictionary instead of something up-to-date, with current definitions.)

Words aren’t defined by historical precedent, like laws, treaties, or biblical doctrines. They’re defined, and regularly redefined, by popular use. By popular vote, so to speak. Once enough people use a word “wrong,” the wrong definition becomes a second definition. Case in point: Our word “awful.” Used to mean “full of awe.” Doesn’t anymore; it means terrible. Once the new definition is used far more often than the original definition—and sometimes exclusively; nobody uses the original definition anymore!—the new definition becomes the main definition, and the original definition becomes wrong. “God makes me feel awful,” unless you’re trying to say he struck you with the plague, is wrong.

Yep, this is why we need to keep re-translating the bible. And why, whenever we read the King James Version, we can’t assume it’s using the same definitions for its words that we are. ’Cause too often, and when we least expect it, it’s not.

Anyway. The reason I bring up the evolution of language, is because plenty of Christians insist they interpret the bible “literally.” By which they think they mean the first definition: In its most basic sense.

In reality they mean the second definition: They interpret it seriously. They take it seriously. The bible is full metaphor, allegory, exaggeration, and distortion, and they know this. They’re not such fools as to ignore the bible’s different genres, and insist no, we gotta take metaphorical genres (like, say, the visions in Revelation) as if that’s precisely what has to happen. Well, most of ’em aren’t such fools.

You know there are parts of the bible we don’t interpret literally. Like poetry. Similes. Apocalyptic visions. Prophetic visions. Parables. Teachings where Jesus says, “I’m the good shepherd,” Jn 10.11 and no he doesn’t mean when the students aren’t watching, he runs out to the fields near town and herds sheep. Nor is he literally a sheep gate, Jn 10.7 light, Jn 9.1 bread, Jn 6.35 resurrection, Jn 11.25 nor a grapevine. Jn 15.1 We should know better than to figure Jesus is literally various inanimate objects, plants, or a man with alternate vocations.

And yet… about a billion Christians think Jesus actually transforms the molecules of his body into communion bread and wine every time they gather for worship.

Yeah, literalism regularly comes up in Christianity. So let’s sort out the definition, recognize whether we’re meant to take something literally or seriously, and either way stick to a serious understanding of what the scriptures mean—and how we’re to follow them. Okay?

The four hells.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 October

C.S. Lewis famously wrote a book called The Four Loves, about four of the five Greek words which tend to be translated “love.” Two, ἀγάπη/agápi and φίλος/fílos, are in the New Testament; two, ἔρος/éros and στοργή/storyí, are in the Septuagint; and Lewis skipped ξενία/xenía, which is also in the Septuagint. Lewis wanted to highlight the first four, talk about the slight differences in meaning, and riff on them about how people love in different ways.

People hear of this book and assume, “Wow, Greek is so precise and exact. It’s got four different words for love!” Yeah but so do we. These five words can just as easily be translated charity, friendship, romance, affection, and courtesy. Check out any thesaurus and you’ll find we have way more than five words for love. English is just as precise as we want it be.

I say this by way of introduction: There are three ancient Greek words we tend to translate “hell.” Problem is, same as with love, translators don’t always bother to distinguish between them. Some bibles do, and good on ’em. But whether our bible translations do or don’t, it’s important Christians know there’s a difference, lest we continue to misinform people about what hell is, and who goes there.

I said three words, right? Why’d I title this piece “The four hells”? Well first I gotta deal with popular culture’s wildly inaccurate idea of hell.

The Dives and Lazarus Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 October

Luke 16.19-31.

This story is often called the story of the rich man and Lazarus—or Lazarus and the rich man, depending on who oughta come first, and since it’s not really about Lazarus, stands to reason the rich man should come fist. Traditionally this man’s been called Dives (usually pronounced 'daɪ.viz instead of like the verb) ’cause that’s what he’s called in verse 19 in the Vulgate; dives is Latin for “rich.” So I’m gonna call him Dives; it saves time.

Every once in a while some literalist insists this isn’t actually a parable. This is the only story where Jesus gives someone a name, so they figure it must mean something. So they claim Jesus was straight-up talking about an actual pauper named Lazarus. Some of ’em even claim this Lazarus is Jesus’s friend Lazarus of Bethany, whom Jesus later raised from the dead Jn 11.1-44 —and this is how Lazarus died. It’s a theory which makes no sense, because Lazarus’s family asked Jesus to come cure him; they didn’t just dump Lazarus at the door of the local idle rich guy, hoping he might uncharacteristically do something.

On the other extreme, we have people who insist this story is entirely fiction. Primarily because they have very different beliefs about the afterlife. This, they insist, is not what happens after people die: We go to heaven. Or hell. We’re immediately resurrected and live in New Jerusalem from now on, or we live in some glorified spiritual form while we wait for our resurrection, or we get to become angels like Mormons believe, or we otherwise become powerful guardian spirits like Daoists believe.

In some cases they’re dispensationalists who claim maybe this used to be the way the afterlife worked, but not anymore. There’s a popular Christian myth called “the harrowing of hell”: Before Jesus died to atone for our sins, it seems God saved nobody by his grace, and therefore nobody but the very best people could get into paradise. (Just Abraham, and a few others who were as good as Lazarus.) Nobody else had good enough karma, so they were forced to wait in hell till Jesus died. Once he died, he went to hell—but with keys, to unlock the place. He stepped on the devil Belial’s neck, freed all the Old Testament saints, and took ’em with him to heaven. And now, nobody experiences anything like Jesus describes in this story. We go to heaven.

Considering that God isn’t limited by time whatsoever, it makes no sense that he can’t apply Jesus’s then-future atonement to the ancients’ sins. Especially since their sins didn’t hinder him with having relationships with them before they died. Nah; both the literalists and the myth-believers have it wrong. This is a parable. Lazarus isn’t a literal guy. But this is, loosely, what the afterlife looks like. Then, and now.

And it’s a warning to those of us who are wealthy, but don’t bother to use our wealth to further God’s kingdom. If all we care about is our own comforts, we may not experience any such comfort in the afterlife. Billionaires beware.

Luke 16.19-31 KWL
19 “Somebody is wealthy.
He’s wearing purple and white linen, partying daily, in luxury.
20 Some pauper named Lazarus was thrown out by his gate,
covered in open sores, 21 desiring to be fed
with whatever fell from the plutocrat’s table,
but the dogs which came are licking his sores.
22 The pauper comes to die,
to be carried off by the angels to Abraham’s fold.
The plutocrat also dies and is entombed.
23 In the afterlife, the plutocrat lifts up his eyes—
he’s getting tortured in the pit—and sees Abraham far away,
and Lazarus in his folds.
24 Calling out, the plutocrat says, ‘Father Abraham!
Have mercy on me, and send Lazarus,
so he might dip his fingertip in water, and might cool my tongue,
because I suffer great pain in these flames!’
25 Abraham says, ‘Child, remember: You received your good things in your life,
and Lazarus likewise received evil.
Now, here, he is assisted—and you suffer.
26 In all this space between us and you,
a large gap was fixed so those who want to come to you from here, can’t.
Nor can they pass from there to us.’
27 The plutocrat says, ‘Then I ask you, father,
might you send Lazarus to my father’s house?
28 For I have five siblings—so Lazarus might urge them,
lest they also come to this place in the pit.’
29 Abraham says, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. Heed them.’
30 The plutocrat says, ‘No, father Abraham!
But if anyone comes back from the dead to them, they’ll repent!’
31 Abraham tells him, ‘If they don’t heed Moses and the Prophets,
neither will they be convinced when someone rises from the dead.’ ”

The gospel of Thomas.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 October

There are four gospels in the New Testament. That fact was pretty much established in the first century: The gospels which ancient Christians assumed were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are considered the canonical gospels. They’re the valid ones. Others, not so much.

For good reason. If you’ve ever read those other gospels, they read like obvious Christian fanfiction. They get Jesus all wrong. He’s less patient, more angry or judgey, more legalistic or more libertarian, or the author puts words in his mouth which are just plain heretic. It’s kinda obvious why the ancient Christians didn’t put ’em in their bibles.

The Gospel of Thomas is much less obvious. Yeah, but it’s because we don’t understand them that we can’t just definitively say, “Oh, it’s heretic.” It might be heretic, and some of the ancient Christians, like Eusebius of Caesarea and Origen of Alexandria, were entirely sure it was. There are some sayings in there which are kinda weird, which we don’t entirely understand, possibly because the gospel was composed by gnostics. (No, the apostle Thomas didn’t write it. That, we’re sure of.) Gnostic writings weren’t meant to be understood, unless you paid gnostic teachers to decode ’em for you. Whereas the canonical gospels are meant for everybody to understand.

Thomas is what scholars call a logia, a list of sayings. It’s what we suspect Matthew and Luke used as one of their sources for their gospels: One or more logias, plus Mark. As a logia, it only consists of Jesus’s sayings—not his acts, miracles, birth, death, resurrection, nor any of the longer and more complex teachings. Thomas doesn’t include the context of these sayings either, which makes them a lot harder to interpret if this is the only gospel you have. It definitely has its deficiencies. That’s why Christian scholars might read it, but none of us but the crackpots seriously think about adding it to the bible.

Thing is, Thomas overlaps the canonical gospels an awful lot. Read it for yourself: Most of the sayings are also found in the New Testament. And in some cases, with an extra sentence or word, which puts a whole new spin on their interpretation. But no, this doesn’t mean Thomas explains what the bible really means. Let’s not go the crackpot route, okay?

Our current copy was missing for centuries till 13 books, written in Coptic, were discovered in a sealed jar near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945. (They’re now at the Coptic Museum in Cairo.) Thomas was included in Codex 2. After their discovery, scholars soon realized three of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (discovered in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and now in museums round the world) were parts of Thomas written in Greek.

My translation below comes from the Coptic text. Some scholars split Thomas into chapters and verses. I didn’t do that; each saying (or logion) has a number, and each “verse” is a letter if you wanna refer to that specific part of the saying. And no, I’m not providing commentary; it’s not bible.

So if you wanna read it for yourself, here you go.

God, the unmovable first mover.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 October

When Christian apologists try to argue in favor of God’s existence, one of the more popular arguments is the “first cause” idea. If you’re not familiar with that name, it’s because all sorts of people refer to it by all sorts of terms. “Prime mover,” “unmoved mover,” “unmovable mover,” or “first mover”; “first cause,” “final cause,” “uncaused cause,” “universal cause,” or “universal causation”; “causal argument,” “argument from motion,” or “cosmological argument”; or simply “nothing comes from nothing.” Formally it’s the cosmological argument.

Sometimes it’s called “the Kalam,” which is short for “the kalam cosmological argument.” Which is a lousy abbreviation for the idea: Kalam is short for عِلْم الكَلام/‘ilm al-kalām, “the science of words,” i.e. Muslim apologetics. The kalam cosmological argument is simply the way Muslims phrase the first cause idea. It’s grown popular because apologist William Lane Craig likes to use it. Hey, truth is truth, whether we get it from Muslims or ancient Greek pagans. But properly, kalam refers to any Muslim apologetics… and you do realize they defend very different ideas about who Jesus is.

As for ancient Greek pagans, they had very different ideas about who God is too. They believed in gods many and lords many. While they did allow it was possible to argue the existence of a One God above all their other gods, local patriotism kinda required you to worship the city’s god, and if you worshiped that god it was expected you’d worship Zeus, the king of gods; so you weren’t really allowed to be a monotheist. Whenever Christians rejected all gods but the One, they’d call us atheist, and sometimes kill us in nasty ways.

But you could still talk about the One God, and many of the ancient Greek philosophers did. Socrates of Athens (ca. 470BC–399BC), Plato of Athens (428BC–347BC), and Aristotle of Athens (384BC–322BC) all did. Aristotle was the guy who posited, in his Metaphysics, the idea there’s a first cause in the universe; a force which started all movement in the cosmos, while it itself does not move, for movement would imply something else moved it. It’s the one fixed point in the universe, an eternal substance which can’t be material, for material things decay. It is, functionally, the One God.

I tend to describe it like yea: Everything in the universe was invented or started or changed by something else. Someone invented and built the computer you’re reading. Some power plant generated the electricity running through it. (And workers built the plant, someone designed the plant, Michael Faraday invented the dynamo, Benjamin Franklin figured out how electricity works, yada yada.) Everything can be traced to a cause. This cause can be traced to a previous cause. And so on.

All the way back, that is, to a point. At some point in the remote past, all these chains of cause and effect work back to one thing. One event which started the process. One event which started everything. Aristotle of Athens called it the “unmoved mover.” Scientists call it the Big Bang—but even that doesn’t take us far enough, ’cause why’d the Big Bang go bang? Did something cause that?

Yes, Christians say; and that’d be God.

God’s existence. In case you don’t consider it a given.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 October

The existence of God, and proving it, isn’t really a theology subject. It’s a Christian apologetics subject. Theology is the study of God—and it takes God’s existence as a given. Of course he exists. Duh. Otherwise what’s there to study?

The bible likewise takes God’s existence as a given.

Genesis 1.1 KJV
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
 
John 1.1 KJV
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The authors of the scriptures had to explain Jesus’s existence, but they never do explain God’s. Because he’s just there. Existing. Creating. Not battling the universe, nor Titans and other gods, so he could reign over them and control the elements: He created the universe. Humans and devils might stand against him from time to time, but it’s no contest as to who’s right, and who’s gonna win.

So we don’t have to argue God’s existence to fellow Christians. Should have to, either. If a Christian doesn’t believe in God they can’t very well follow Jesus, who is God and comes from God. It makes no logical sense to follow someone who claims, “I was sent by space aliens” when you don’t believe in space aliens—unless of course you’re a con artist who’s using other people’s beliefs to get money or sex out of them.

But Christian apologists insist we should start every theology discussion, every theology class, every theology textbook, with an obligatory lesson on what a God is, and how we know he exists. The better-written books likewise point out the scriptures take God’s existence for granted, with no preliminary explanation: “See, a ‘god’ is an almighty cosmic being, and here’s how we know only one of ’em exists…” God’s just there. Always has been.

The better-written books also point how we know there’s a God: Special revelation. People throughout history, including today, have God-experiences. God continually talks to people. And performs the occasional miracle, and many of us have witnessed one. He may be invisible, but his presence among believing Christians is so blatantly obvious, we don’t have to deduce him from nature or logic. In fact, if we have to resort to logical deduction to prove God… we need to seriously question our obedience, devotion, trust, and belief systems. ’Cause if God’s not living and active in our lives, ain’t his fault. We’re the ones who aren’t honestly seeking him.

So why do apologists persist on using logical deduction to prove God’s existence? Well… they’ve been convinced they really oughta learn how to. By whom? By the sucky Christians I just described. A lot of cessationists don’t depend on personal testimony of what they’ve seen and heard from God, like the scriptures demonstrate; 1Jn 1.1-3 they depend on reason. They’re replaced an interactive relationship with God, with belief systems which justify an absent God—so really, logical deduction is all they have left.

You wanna prove God’s existence? It’s super easy when you can point to God-experiences. And I still find it bonkers when I meet a Christian who claims they’ve had God-experiences… yet when they encounter skeptics, the first thing they resort to are apologetics arguments based on logical deduction. Dude, you could simply give them a word of knowledge, like Jesus did to Nathanael!

John 1.47-50 KJV
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! 48 Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. 49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. 50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.

Didn’t take Jesus three hours in a coffeehouse to at least convince Nathanael he was somebody to reckon with. It took Jesus two statements which peered directly into Nathanael’s soul, and the lad believed. Beat that with a stick.

But I digress. You wanna know about the logical arguments for God’s existence? Fine. Let’s talk.

You realize other religions have their own apologetics, right?

by K.W. Leslie, 12 October

About three years ago, on a Friday, I was walking to work when I was stopped by a street preacher. He wanted to say hi, strike up a conversation, find out a little about me… and invite me to synagogue that night. Yeah, synagogue. He’s Jewish. I was just walking past his synagogue.

He’s hardly the first evangelist from another religion I’ve encountered. I meet Mormons all the time; I walk a lot, and they bike past me, and sometimes they stop and chat. When I lived in Sacramento, the Muslims were mighty active in my neighborhood, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses came calling every Saturday morning. I had a Buddhist roommate for a few years, and picked his brain about Buddhism. (Then led him to Jesus, ’cause I do that.) I have a Buddhist coworker and pick his brain now. I’ve had Wiccan coworkers; same deal.

I would’ve had a long interesting discussion with the Jew, but I hate to be late to work, so maybe some other time.

I realize certain Christians are gonna be outraged I dared let work get in the way of this “opportunity.” But with all due respect, there was no opportunity. In the two minutes we spoke—in which I told him I’m Christian, and he started going off on how we Christians typically (and often inappropriately) set aside the Law—it was made quite clear he wasn’t open to correction. Certainly not from a gentile; he’s one of God’s chosen people and he doesn’t care that Paul said we Christians are included in God’s choice. To him I’m not, we’re wrong, and that’s that.

I’m a naturally curious guy, so I listen to these folks when I can. Which freaks some Christians out, ’cause they’re afraid they might convince me to turn heretic or apostate. No they won’t; I know Jesus better than that. But I went to journalism school, where we were trained to always go to the original sources, ’cause anything else is hearsay. Fellow Christians haven’t received such training at all, regularly believe the hearsay, and regularly bear false witness.

So I learned—the hard way—it’s a huge mistake to ask fellow Christians about other religions. Or even other denominations within Christianity: Ask a Fundamentalist about Roman Catholics, and he’s never gonna quote a Catholic, unless it’s out of context; he’ll quote other Fundies. Ask a Calvinist about Arminianism, and she’ll just quote other Calvinists. Most Baptists can’t describe Anglicans, nor Methodists describe Presbyterians—nor vice versa—without criticizing their respective theologies. We easily bite and devour one another. Ga 5.15 Stands to reason we’re gonna suck even worse at describing other religions.

There’s nothing wrong with being biased in favor of your own religion. But too many people think the way you uplift one thing is to knock down all the competition, and Christians are far too willing and eager to slander other religions. So you can’t trust us. Which is shameful; Christians should seek truth no matter what. But that’s just the way things are.

So when I wanna understand Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and heretic Christians, I find there’s simply no substitute for going to people of those religions and hearing it from them directly. Yes, they confuse my curiosity for wanting to convert, which is why I gotta tell them upfront I’m not converting; I just want facts. Usually they’re fine with that… but I can hardly blame ’em for trying to nudge me in their religion’s direction just the same. I would.

First time I tried this was with a Muslim in Sacramento, decades ago. I listened to his testimony… and could totally relate. He grew up in church (same as me) and was put off by the fact his church was full of hypocrites (same as me). They praised Jesus in church, said Amen to everything Pastor shouted at ’em, but it wasn’t even Sunday afternoon before they relapsed to the same pagan lifestyle as their neighbors. Whereas the Muslims he knew, whose mosque he eventually joined, were no hypocrites: They were Muslim all week long. I couldn’t argue with that argument whatsoever. (Though I’ve met plenty of Muslim hypocrites since.)

I spoke with that Muslim for hours. But I should point out: At no point in our conversation was I remotely tempted to quit Christianity and give Islam a try. Never crossed my mind.

The Shrewd Butler Story. And mammon.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 October

Luke 16.1-9.

As you know, Jesus said you can’t be a slave to both God and Mammon, Mt 6.24 and as a result people tend to think of Mammon as a person. It’s not really. Whenever Jesus and the Pharisees spoke about mammon, they meant money, and they were speaking of it negatively. Exactly like we do whenever we describe money as “lucre.” Nobody ever talks about clean lucre; it’s always filthy lucre; it’s always money used wrong, used for evil.

Same deal with mammon, which is why I translated τῷ ἀδίκῳ μαμωνᾷ/to adíko mamoná (KJV “the unrighteous mammon”) as “filthy lucre.” You come across lucre in this story, it means mammon. Got it? Good.

Jesus tells this story right after the Prodigal Son Story, Lk 15.11-32 if that context helps: A man squandered all his money, and when he came home his father threw him an expensive party; and his brother objected to the wastefulness (or to use old-timey English, the prodigality) of both the wasteful man and his extravagant father. And since we’re on the topic of wastefulness…

Luke 16.1-9 KWL
1 Jesus also told his students, “There’s a certain plutocrat who had a butler.
This plutocrat accused him of wasting his possessions.
2 Calling the butler, the plutocrat told him, ‘Why do I hear this about you?
Turn over your books, for you can’t run the house.’
3 The butler told himself, ‘What can I do?—my boss is taking the house-running from me.
I’m not strong enough to dig; I’m ashamed to beg.
4 I know what I’ll do—so when I’m fired from being butler,
other plutocrats will take me into their houses.’
5 Calling each one of his boss’s debtors, the butler told the first, ‘How much do you owe my boss?’
6 The debtor said, ‘A hundred jars olive oil.’
The butler told him, ‘Take the receipt, sit, and quickly write fifty.’
7 Then the butler told another, ‘And you: How much do you owe?’
The debtor said, ‘A hundred cors [37,000 liters] grain.’
The butler said, ‘Take the receipt and write eighty.’
8 The butler’s boss praised the impropriety, for the butler acted shrewdly,
for the children of this age are more shrewd than the children of light of the same generation.
9 I tell you, make yourselves friends with your filthy lucre,
so when it runs out, they might take you into their great houses.”

This story really weirds out Christians, because most of us cannot for the life of us understand how Jesus could make the butler the hero of this story, and point to his example as one to follow. Didn’t the guy just totally rip off his boss? He was gonna get fired for squandering money; he turns right around and squanders more money in order to suck up to his boss’s creditors; and his boss is actually pleased with this behavior. What the what?

It makes more sense once it finally sinks in Jesus isn’t a Mammonist… and we largely kinda are.

What’s the proper place of money?

What’s money for? Duh; it’s so you can buy things. Money can be traded for goods and services. This isn’t just Economics 101; kids learn this as soon as they watch their parents buy stuff. “So that’s what those shiny discs are for; no wonder Mom gets upset when I swallow ’em.”

Money’s a resource. Need stuff? Money helps you buy it. Need food, clothes, shelter, transportation, electricity, internet? Money. Does the government need to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare? Money; your money, ’cause the rich always seem to create loopholes so it’s never their money. Everything runs on money.

So we need money. How much? Enough to cover the bills, really. A little extra so we can afford to be generous and help the needy, and a little extra to sock away in case of unexpected problems.

But that’s not a mindset our culture encourages. We’re told we oughta have enough money so we can afford anything we want. So we can buy anything our hearts desire. So we can live in comfort, if not luxury. So we need never work for money again. We’re told we ought to want to be rich… and if we don’t want that, there’s gotta be something dangerously wrong with us. If you don’t wanna be rich, you must be a Marxist or something.

Why this sudden pivot to a fearful extreme? Duh; spiritual warfare. Tempters don’t want you to think. They want you to freak out at anything which threatens their grip on you. Right now they got us by our desires for wealth, comfort, and power. Take those desires away, and they got nothing.

Hence Paul’s warning about the love of money. 1Ti 6.10 The worship of money, materialism and Mammonism, gets people to lose all sense of money’s proper place. It becomes their meaning of life: Get money, and get more. Then blow most of it on luxuries—at the expense of your bills, your emergency funds, and especially the needy. Heck, the needy should be earning their own money. How dare they ask for mine?

Does God’s kingdom run on money? Nope; that’d be grace. Although you’d never know it to hear some churches, ’cause they’re constantly begging for money. But either that’s because their members aren’t generous, or because their leaders are greedy. In other words, they’ve been infested with Mammonism. It’s when money takes priority over grace.

And our interpretations of the bible likewise get infested with Mammonism. It’s why people read this story and don’t understand what Jesus is teaching. So they skip it, and teach on his other stories. Or they tackle it, and come up with gobbledygook.

We gotta begin by understanding the proper place of money in Jesus’s mind. It’s a resource. Is it the only resource we have? Of course not; we have the Holy Spirit’s power, which is how Jesus could make bread out of nothing. Having him cure you is way cheaper than American healthcare. Money is finite, but God’s power is infinite; it’s the dynamo of the universe. He wants us to depend on that, on the Spirit, not money. If anything money’s a workaround; a way to respond to the Spirit’s “No” with “Fine; I’ll buy it myself.”

Gotta wonder how many churches are following the money instead of the Spirit… but I expect that’d take another article.

Nope, this isn’t embezzlement.

When a πλούσιος/plúsios (plutocrat; KJV “rich man”) put an οἰκονόμος/ikonómos (house-runner, or butler; KJV “steward”) in charge of his estate, the butler really was in charge of the estate. He didn’t have to run anything past his boss; he effectively was the boss. He had the boss’s signet ring. He could order anything in his boss’s name. His boss’s money was his money; his boss’s property was his property; they were totally interchangeable.

Well, so long that the boss was pleased with his administration. At the top of this story, the boss had decided to fire his butler, ’cause he felt his estate had been squandered. Jesus doesn’t say why and how, and we needn’t speculate because it doesn’t matter. What matters is how the butler decided to act.

While the butler was still in charge, before he handed over the paperwork, he quickly had his boss’s debtors come over, and he forgave part of their debts. Many interpreters claim this was theft or embezzlement on the butler’s part; how dare he change the receipts? But the butler had the authority to do exactly as he did: He was in charge of his boss’s money, and he was authorized to forgive debts if he so chose. Really he could’ve forgiven the entire debt if he wanted… and if he had, maybe Mammonists wouldn’t struggle so much with this story. “Why, he forgave debts like God forgives debts. How generous.” Instead he only forgave the debtors in part… so people now get hung up on the financial loss.

Why’d the butler do this? He said it himself: “Other plutocrats will take me into their houses.” Lk 16.4 He did this to set himself up for a future job. He expected other wealthy families to hear of this, and hire him because he lowered the debtors’ bills. Hire him knowing he might do this with their money too.

If you’re fixated on money, this story makes less and less sense as we go. Forgiving his debtors pleased his boss? Forgiving debtors might please future bosses? Aren’t these plutocrats trying to make money?—how on earth is this butler of any value to them? How would this behavior curry favor? Why is the boss pleased with his behavior?

I’ve heard one interpretation which claimed the debtors couldn’t afford to pay that much oil and grain at that time, so the butler lowered the bills till they could pay it—and now the boss had oil and grain, whereas if the amounts remained as high as they were, the boss would never get paid back. Kinda like when banks forgive the interest on certain debts so they can get something instead of nothing. Yeah, that’s a clever spin on the idea, but if that were so, Jesus would’ve said so. He didn’t.

The reality is the boss was impressed with something more valuable than money: His butler’s shrewdness.

To Mammonists, nothing’s more valuable than money. If it’s not gonna make ’em money right away, or in the long run, it’s not a worthwhile investment. But the plutocrat in this story isn’t a Mammonist, and Jesus isn’t a Mammonist. They recognize wisdom’s more important than money—and no, not just because wisdom can make you money. Wisdom’s not just a means to an end.

But money is. The butler used money to make the debtors appreciate him. Wise plutocrats, who were used to the Roman Empire’s tendency to use money to grease the wheels of leaders, judges, officials, taxmen, everyone, would immediately realize here’s a man who knows when to make money, and when to buy favor. In an empire where there’s really no such thing as civil rights, favor make all the difference between life and death.

“The children of this age are more shrewd than the children of light of the same generation,” Jesus pointed out. Lk 16.8 Worldly people know how to work the system. Less-worldly people get so hung up on their principles, they sometimes lose sight of what’s really important. Like favor with others. If people like you, they’re less likely to line you up against the wall and shoot you when the revolution comes. If you have favor with pagans, it’s way easier to share Jesus with them.

Whereas if you’re a jerk about it, or prioritize your mammon over everything else… well, so much for God’s kingdom.

The Didache: How’d the earliest Christians behave?

by K.W. Leslie, 08 October

In the first century, Christian leaders wrote a “teaching” for their newbies: Stuff they felt new Christians oughta know and believe. Over time it’s become known as the didache, from its first line, Didahí Kyríu diá ton dódeka apostólon toís éthesin, “The Master’s teaching to the gentiles, from the 12 apostles.” Medieval western Christians lost their copies of it sometime in the 800s, and assumed it was gone forever, but Ethiopian Christians kept a version of it among their sacred literature, and an 11th-cenutry copy in the Codex Hierosolymitanus was rediscovered by Philotheos Bryennios in 1873.

Historians notice a lot of similarities between the Didache and what the Qumran community taught in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s considered a Jewish-Christian catechism, a lesson to be memorized, and eventually practiced. Whether it’s precisely as the Twelve taught, we’ve no idea. But it’s safe to say it’s what a lot of early Christians taught. In fact, many early Christians felt the Didache should be included in the New Testament.

So why wasn’t it? ’Cause for the longest time, Christians thought it was written in the second century, and nearly all of ’em limited the NT to first-century writings. I’m not saying we should add it now… but it’s interesting to look at the way ancient Christians expected their newbies to behave. It’s why I include the whole of it below.

The translation and chapter titles are mine. I took the text from the Codex Hierosolymitanus. Read it yourself, and notice how many of these ideas are still taught in your own church.

“If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

by K.W. Leslie, 07 October

2 Thessalonians 3.10.

Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this verse quoted by people who don’t wanna give to the needy:

2 Thessalonians 3.10 KJV
For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

Years ago, beggars used to sit at the entrance to every grocery store parking lot, with a sign saying “Help me” or “Looking for work” or some sad story which might get people to give ’em their spare change. That’s not hyperbole: Every grocery store parking lot. They were everywhere. So the city council passed an ordinance: Can’t beg within 40 feet of a driveway or intersection.

Not every beggar knows this, of course. A few weeks ago I walked past a woman begging at the edge of a driveway. I tried to warn her what she was doing was illegal, but she didn’t listen. Pretty sure she listened to the cops which later came by and ticketed her. I’ve seen ’em do it to other beggars.

I don’t know how much they get from sitting there. I know someone who tried to do the math: “If five people give them five dollars every hour, that’s $25 an hour, so $200 a day…” Assuming they’re willing to sit there eight full hours, and assuming people give ’em any more than spare change or a dollar. I once watched a beggar outside a church parking lot, and only two people gave her anything; and one gave her blankets not money.

Regardless, their existence really irritates people. Not because these people are outraged by the plight of the poor in this country. They’re really not. They’ve swallowed the party line that if you’re poor, it’s somehow your own fault. Time and chance didn’t happen to you; you merit your poverty by being lazy, or not fighting off your addictions, or refusing every legitimate agency’s efforts to help you. If you appear to be able-bodied, it really bugs ’em. God forbid you carry an iPhone (even if somebody gave it to you): “What’re they doing with an iPhone? Don’t give to them. They’re just scamming you.”

The general consensus is if you don’t have a job, it’s only because you refused to get one. Or refused to be a reliable employee, so you were fired; or you’re mentally ill but refused your meds. You’ve no excuse for your poverty, and your poverty is simply an obvious display of karmic justice. You’re poor because you’re not worthy. If you were worthy, you’d go get help!

Plus isn’t this principle in the bible somewhere? “If any would not work, neither should he eat.” Because the LORD God did declare back in Genesis,

Genesis 3.19 KJV
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Work is mandatory. It’s part of the curse upon Adam and all humanity for sin. These beggars clearly weren’t sweating for their bread. (Although to be fair, neither are those of us with white-collar jobs.) So how dare we interfere with God’s decree? We sweat for our bread; they should sweat for their bread. And if you’re one of those bleeding-hearts who give to beggars, you realize you’re just undermining God’s decree. You think you’re being kind and generous, but you’re encouraging laziness and dependency. Bad Christian.

These are just two of the many passages of the bible, misappropriated so we can justify our lack of compassion.

Ask prophets follow-up questions.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 October

Hypothetical situation here. Let’s say you’re having lunch with a friend, and the friend gets a phone call mid-lunch, and has to take it; it’s someone important. So you eat while your friend gabs on the phone a bit. Then your friend hangs up. “Sorry about that,” she says. “By the way he says hi, and wanted to tell you something.”

“Okay,” you say, “let’s hear it.”

“He says he knows you have a presentation coming up, and it’s gonna go really well, but he wants you to make sure you don’t wear something that’ll offend the client.”

“Like what?” you say. You already know better than to wear your “It’s not drinking alone if your dog is with you” T-shirt to such meetings.

“I dunno. Something offensive, I guess.”

“Can you call or text him back and get specifics?”

Now let’s change this story ever so slightly. ’Cause duh, it’s a parable. The friend is a prophet, and the important guy on the phone is the Holy Spirit. (You’re still you.) Unlike a phone, you never hang up; the Spirit’s still there, in the room, listening to this conversation, and knows what your question is. He can answer it, y’know. In my experience he usually will.

Yet what do we Christians usually do? Well, for whatever weird reason, we don’t ask follow-up questions. We just sit there and muddle through what the Spirit meant, confused. As if the Holy Spirit is the author of confusion.

Um… you can ask follow-up questions, y’know. God’s okay with questions. In many cases he’s trying to provoke questions. He wants a relationship with us, and relationships involve a little give-and-take. Not just him giving, us taking, and us figuring our relationship is unidirectional—in either direction.

Instead we treat God’s opening statement as if it’s a decree handed down, and the heavens have closed back up behind it. We figure, “Well I’m not entirely sure what to do with that; I guess I’ll pray on it…” and let it bug us for the next day or so, and generate anxiety instead of peace. Or, more commonly, we forget all about it, because vague statements don’t really make an impact on us… plus we’re not so sure it’s even God anyway.

Of course I’m saying we should stop doing this.

When you know Jesus, you know God.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 October

At the beginning of John’s gospel we read,

John 1.18 KJV
No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

God, being spirit, Jn 4.24 is invisible to us material creatures. So in order for the folks in the Old Testament to see him, he had to show them a visible representation of himself. It’s not literally himself; it can’t be, because he himself is invisible. So the Old Testament folks got to see a burning bush, a column of cloud, or a pillar of fire, which represented the LORD’s presence. (And notice how he kept deliberately choosing representations which had no solid form. Hope you can recognize why.)

But in Jesus the Nazarene, God presents something which is exactly himself. Visible, so we can see him. Easy to hear and understand—when we’re really listening. A fully accurate depiction of who God is. You wanna know God? Get to know Jesus.

John 14.8-11 KJV
8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? 10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.

Loads of preachers and theologians love to list any of God’s attributes which reflect his grandness and power. Like his omnis: Omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnivorous, and so forth. ’Cause we humans covet power, and rarely for the best of reasons. So we’re attracted to God’s might, and rejoice that we have a powerful God.

Again, rarely for the best of reasons. There’s this assumption that because we have a powerful God, it somehow makes us powerful and right, and our message and religion and influence oughta also be powerful. Or at least it would be powerful if we’d just grab hold of that power… and smack the world upside the head with it.

But power belongs in God’s hands, and no other. It’s not appropriate for humans. And Jesus demonstrates this: When he became human, he deliberately depowered himself. Pp 2.7 Yes he did miracles, but that’s because he tapped the Holy Spirit’s power. Ac 10.38 And the reason he told us we can do as he does, is ’cause we have the same Spirit. Jn 14.12

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and Jesus exhibits these fruits better than anyone. He puts limits on himself. Far more limits than we bother to put on ourselves. Which means all these “omni attributes” which preachers love to list, don’t apply to Jesus. He surrendered them, and his will, to his Father.

That’s why the people of Jesus’s day had the darnedest time recognizing him as God. Humans expect God to be almighty… but see Jesus and think, “Well he’s not almighty. People resist him, and he lets them. People insult him, and he doesn’t strike them down with lightning. He doesn’t enforce his will. Heck, he got himself killed. What kind of weak, ineffectual God is that?”

Not weak at all. Self-controlled.

The Bigger Barns Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 October

Luke 12.13-21.

People wanna be rich.

Which I get. I’ve never been rich. My parents are retired and comfortable, but that’s only because their investments paid off: They didn’t have that kind of money while I was growing up. So I experienced food stamps, school lunch subsidies, thrift stores, buses, and free-clinic healthcare. I’ve been poor as an adult too. Not homeless; I nearly got that far. But I definitely learned how to get by on $5 a month. If that.

Poverty sucks. And not just because, in a thousand little ways, American society is no help at getting people out of poverty. Really, you can only save money when you have money—when you can afford to buy in bulk, or get the higher-level plan which happens to offer deep discounts, or afford the $100 shoes which last two years instead of the $10 shoes which last a month. (Well, three months with duct tape.)

Our culture’s popular myth is “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,” but y’notice most of the people who say that, don’t have boots and have no idea this is an ironic saying. Tell them your financial woes and they just shrug, “Work harder.” Or “Work smarter, not harder.” As if that bit of advice solves all our problems. When I was poor, my problem was if I worked smarter, I’d’ve figured out how to finish my work in half the time… so my boss would’ve cut my hours. Yep, that’s why most people and businesses don’t work smarter: No incentive!

Anyway, between being poor, and not being poor, I absolutely prefer not being poor. It’s nice to be able to look at one’s checking account and be pleasantly surprised. It’s nice to be able to give to charity out of one’s abundance.

But too many people don’t wanna merely be comfortable; they wanna be rich.

They wanna have so much money, they can afford anything their hearts covet. And they covet a lot of ridiculously expensive things. Stuff I look at and go, “Seriously?”—but yeah, they seriously want that. I don’t get it… but then again if they saw how many books are on my Kindle, they’d probably look at me funny too. To each their own, I suppose.

In some cases it’s not even about the stuff they covet. They just want the wealth. They want the power to do whatever they please. They’ll figure out later what it is they please; they’ll waste a lot of money trying to find it. But the point of all the wealth is they can afford to waste money.

And not work. Or at least not work hard. They wanna stumble into tons of money by doing something easy. The older folks I know keep trying to play the lottery, or hope to get lucky at the casino. The younger folks largely realize that’s foolish… so they’re trying really hard to become YouTube celebrities and Instagram influencers. Hey, some folks make millions of dollars doing that, and it doesn’t look all that hard to do. It certainly seems easier than serving unruly customers or cleaning bathrooms.

Again, I get it. Coveting wealth is a pretty common phenomenon. Especially in a culture which doesn’t believe status is a fixed thing—where you’re born into a caste, and can’t help but stay in it forever. We know too many examples of people who were born poor and became rich. (And vice versa.) The potential exists—even though it’s mighty hard to stumble into the thing which makes one rich.

But Jesus warns us against coveting wealth like that.

For many reasons… though you’ll quickly notice today’s parable actually doesn’t get into Jesus’s reasons. It’s really just his reminder that life is more important than wealth. Here y’go.

Luke 12.13-21 KWL
13 Someone in the crowd tells Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me!”
14 Jesus tells him, “Mister, who appointed me to be judge or arbiter over you two?”
15 Jesus tells the crowd, “Watch and guard yourselves from every obsession with wealth:
One’s life doesn’t ‘begin’ once they have a superabundance.”
16 Jesus tells a parable to the crowd, saying,
“Some rich person’s land was very productive,
17 and he was musing to himself, saying, ‘What could I do?—
I don’t have anywhere to collect my produce.’
18 He says, ‘I’ll do this. I’ll tear down my silos, and build bigger.
I’ll gather all the grain there, and my goods.
19 I’ll tell my soul, “Soul, you have many goods stored up for many years.
Retire! Eat! Drink! Rejoice!” ’
20 God tells him, ‘Look dumbass, this night they’re demanding your soul from you!
What happens to what you prepare?’
21 This is the way of those who store up treasure for themselves,
and aren’t wealthy in God.”

Tongues build up the individual.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 October

1 Corinthians 14.1-4.

Most of the time when Christians quote this particular passage about speaking in tongues, they quote verse 4 thisaway.

1 Corinthians 14.4 NIV
Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.

Yeah, tongues are okay, but. But but but.

Except the word but isn’t in the original text of this verse. The word which gets translated but in nearly every English-language bible, is δέ/de. It’s a conjunction which indicates the speaker just started a new sentence, and the new sentence is logically connected to the old sentence. You can, as bibles do most of the time, just leave it untranslated. Or, if you really, really wanna connect it to the previous sentence ’cause they fit together just so well, a semicolon will work.

Thing is, whenever translators think there’s a contrast between the two sentences, they can’t just translate de as a new sentence, a semicolon, or even “and.” They gotta turn it into a “but.”

So instead of writing John 1.17 as it it should be,

John 1.17 NIV
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

they gotta insert a “but” between those sentences,

John 1.17 NLT
For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ.

and imply there’s a conflict between law, and grace and truth, where really there’s no such thing.

But the reason they gotta imply such a thing, has nothing to do with the text. It has to do with their pre-existing beliefs. If you’re dispensationalist, and think in the Old Testament times God saved people through his Law, but nowadays saves people through his grace, you’re gonna want that “but” in there, proving your point. You’re not gonna want people to realize God chose Abraham by his grace, rescued the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery by his grace, enriched their nation by his grace, sent them prophets to lead them aright by his grace, inspired the writing of the Old Testament by his grace, and so forth. You’re gonna want to minimize that Old Testament grace (and hide its occurrences in the Old Testament by translating it “favor”) as much as you can.

Then you’re gonna push grace, and encourage people to reject law. Because that’s what people tend to do with contrasts. They’re not presented as “There’s A, and there’s B, and they’re different,” but as “People do A, but they should do B.” Hence dispensationalists insist people do Law, but they should do grace. Not, as Jesus teaches, that we should do both.

So back to 1 Corinthians 14. Paul and Sosthenes did wanna present a contrast between tongues and prophecy. But again, it’s not so people would reject tongues and only do prophecy. It’s so people would recognize only one of the two activities is appropriate for church gatherings. Only one of the two is a group activity. Wanna guess which one?

1 Corinthians 14.1-4 KWL
1 Pursue love. Be zealous for the supernatural.
Most of all so you can prophesy:
2 Tongues-speakers speak to God, not people.
Nobody else understands them, and they speak secrets to the Spirit.
3 Prophesiers speak to people: They build up, help out, and advise.
4 Tongues-speakers build up themselves. Prophesiers build up a church.