Shrovetide: Getting ready for Lent.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 February

Christmas definitely gets all the secular attention, but Easter is most definitely Christianity’s biggest holiday. ’Cause Christ is risen. Jesus is alive. His being alive confirms everything he teaches. So we Christians put a lot into it…

…and kinda go overboard. That’s what shrovetide is about. You may already know before Easter we have a fasting period which English-speakers call Lent. Well, before Lent there’s a whole other season called shrovetide in which Christians prepare for Lent.

Shrovetide actually starts the ninth Sunday before Easter—two weeks ago. That’s 63 days before, but western Christian custom is to round it up to 70 and call it Septuagesima Sunday (from the Latin for 70, of course). The Sunday after that is 56 days before, so round it up again and it’s Sexagesima Sunday (for 60); and this Sunday is 48 days before, so Quinquagesima Sunday (for 50). Although more Christians simply call this day Shrove Sunday, the Sunday before Lent starts. And the last day of shrovetide is Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Eastern Christians feel they always gotta outdo western Christians, so their customs start even earlier, with the 11th Sunday before Easter. It’s called Zacchaeus Sunday, ’cause it’s the week in their liturgy in which they read the Zacchaeus story. Lk 19.1-10 They don’t do anything extra-special for Zacchaeus Sunday; it’s just a reminder: “Uh-oh, it’s the Zacchaeus story; Lent is coming.” The 10th Sunday before, they read the Publican and Pharisee Story, Lk 18.9-14 and use it as a reminder to not get boastful about fasting—but they deliberately don’t fast this week. The ninth Sunday is the Prodigal Son Story; Lk 15.11-32 the eighth is Last Judgment Sunday, after which they stop eating meat; the seventh is Forgiveness Sunday, after which they stop eating dairy… and Forgiveness Sunday is today. What westerners call Shrove Sunday.

The English verb shrive is one we seldom use anymore, unless it’s shrovetide. It means to confess sins. Holy days are coming, so Christians wanna be ritually clean. Unlike the Hebrews, the way Christians traditionally clean up isn’t to get literally clean (which, eww, ’cause we should, but then again this isn’t the point): It’s to get spiritually clean. Stop sinning, and make sure there are no sins on our consciences. Exhibit some of that self-control the Spirit’s trying to develop in us.

Honestly we should be living this way all the time. But liturgical churches use shrovetide as a way of waking Christians up: Easter’s coming! Get your s--t together. And some of us do.

The rest… not so much.

The former persecutor turned evangelist.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 February
Galatians 1.13-24 KWL
13 For you heard the story of my behavior
when I was in Judaism—
that, in my extremism, I persecuted God’s church
and was laying waste to it.
14 In Judaism, I was advancing
beyond many of the peers in my class,
being extremely zealous
in my spiritual fathers’ “traditional” interpretations.
15 When God thought it best,
he separated me from the time I was in my mother’s womb,
and called me by his grace,
16 to reveal his Son to me
so I might evangelize of him to the gentiles,
I didn’t immediately confer with flesh and blood,
17 nor did I go to Jerusalem
to those who became apostles before me.
I went to Arabia instead.
Then I returned to Damascus again.
18 After three years, then I went up to Jerusalem
to interview Simon Peter.
I stayed with him 15 days.
19 I saw none of the other apostles except James, our Lord’s brother.
20 I write you all about this:
Look, I swear before God I’m not lying.
21 Then I went to the region of Syria and Cilicia,
22 and my face was unknown to the Jewish Christian churches.
23 They had only heard,
“Our former persecutor now evangelizes
the faith he was previously destroying,”
24 and they were glorifying God over me.
Previously:
  • “Christ Jesus’s apostle to this present age.” Ga 1.1-5
  • “The ‘gospel of grace’… with a little karma in it.” Ga 1.6-9)
  • “The gospel doesn’t come from anyone but Christ Jesus.” Ga 1.10-12)
  • Paul gives some of his testimony here. As you know (or oughta know) a conversion story is a testimony, but it’s hardly one’s only testimony. One’s testimony is a story of anything God has done through us, and since God had done a lot through Paul, he had a lot to testify. He’d seen some stuff.

    Various people, much as they have with Historical Jesus, have invented a Historical Paul—the guy they blame for anything in Christianity they don’t like. To them, Historical Paul was an ancient Pharisee rabbi who ditched Pharisaism, opportunistically adopted the teachings of the recently-dead Jesus the Nazarene, and shaped it into a new religion about grace instead of righteously obeying the Law (which they claim Jesus was really all about; not God’s kingdom). Historical Paul invented Christianity, they claim; not Jesus.

    Their rewrite of history disregards Paul’s own writings. Every reference to Paul’s conversion points out no evangelist won him over, no logical explanation got him to change his mind. Paul was absolutely convinced Christianity was heresy. Not just that, Christians like Stephen needed to be dead—lest they outrage God and trigger the cycle of history again. This time it wouldn’t be the Babylonians flattening Jerusalem; it’d be the Romans. (As, it turns out, the Romans did—less than 20 years after Paul wrote Galatians.)

    Paul was absolutely certain he was doing right by God to purge the world of Jesus’s followers, and nobody but nobody could tell him different; he had all the blind zeal of a religious extremist. It is decidedly not the behavior of someone who wanted to adopt, nor create, another religion. This is what a περισσοτέρως ζηλωτὴς/perissotéros zilotís, “superabundant zealot,” does. It’s typical cage-stage behavior. But, y'know, more murdery. There are a lot of overzealous “defenders of faith” who would totally murder everyone they considered heretic, and the only thing mitigating them is the government. Sometimes Jesus—but many of them ignore Jesus, figuring the destruction of “heretics” far outweighs everything Jesus teaches about loving one’s enemies. It’s why they wanna grab the reins of government so badly: This way, nothing can stop them from purging “sinners” and stopping the cycle.

    The gospel doesn’t come from anyone but Christ Jesus.

    by K.W. Leslie, 23 February
    Galatians 1.10-12 KWL
    10 For do I now put confidence in people, or God?
    Or do I seek to please people?
    If I was still trying to please people,
    I wouldn’t be a slave to Christ.
    11 For I want you all to understand, fellow Christians,
    the gospel I’m evangelizing to you:
    It isn’t according to people.
    12 For neither do I receive it from some person,
    nor am I taught it.
    Instead it’s through Christ Jesus’s revelation.
    Previously:
  • “Christ Jesus’s apostle to this present age.” Ga 1.1-5
  • “The ‘gospel of grace’… with a little karma in it.” Ga 1.6-9)
  • When Paul critiqued the Galatians for adopting an alternative “gospel,” which isn’t really a gospel, he wanted to make clear he’s not talking about his gospel. Even though he regularly refers to it in his letters as “my gospel” or “our gospel,” it’s not really his; it didn’t come from him. It came from Christ Jesus.

    We still have various contrarian scholars in Christendom who try to claim Paul’s gospel (i.e. the gospel, as Paul presents it) is not the same gospel as Jesus presents. Nor is it the same gospel as Peter, nor John, nor James, nor Luke. It’s “the Pauline gospel,” and they try to dig up proof texts to show exactly why it’s different than the “other gospels” in the New Testament. Fr’instance Jesus spent a lot of time talking about our good works, but Paul pointed out we’re not saved by good works… but James pointed out faith without works is dead. These scholars are trying to take all the subtle differences between the messages of our Lord and his apostles, blow ’em out of proportion, and claim they’re entirely different, and even opposed to one another. It gains ’em a little notoriety… and gives people all the ammunition they need when they don’t care to follow Jesus and his apostles at all. “Oh, Jesus and Paul preached two different gospels. So which one do you mean?” Meanwhile they recognize neither.

    But there is no alternative gospel; there’s just the one.

    Mark 1.14-15 KJV
    14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

    God’s kingdom has come near. So repent and believe!

    That’s the gospel. Any “Jesus gospel” which isn’t that gospel, isn’t the gospel, or didn’t come from Jesus. Any “Paul gospel” which isn’t that gospel, isn’t the gospel, and is just a twisted mishmash of Paul quotes which misses the whole point. Any “James gospel” or “John gospel” or “writer-of-Hebrews gospel” or “Old Testament gospel” which isn’t about God’s kingdom coming near, isn’t the gospel. These controversy-stirring scholars are simply cherry-picking verses so they can claim these writers had a different gospel, but they’re really just trying to sell books and get invited to talk shows. Stop taking them and their fans seriously.

    Paul didn’t have any “Paul gospel,” and he says as much in 1 Corinthians about his fellow evangelists Apollos and Cephas. (“Cephas” is a bad translation of Κηφᾶ/Kifá, the Aramaic nickname of Simon bar Yoannis Jn 1.42 which usually gets translated Πέτρος/Pétros, “Peter.”)

    1 Corinthians 1.12-13 KJV
    12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. 13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

    There’s one gospel, and one savior, and it’s not Paul’s gospel nor Paul’s salvation. Paul calls it “my gospel” only because Christ Jesus entrusted it to him. And if I ever refer to it as “my gospel” (I usually don’t; I tend to say it’s the gospel) it’d only be because I’m trying to distinguish what I say, as opposed to what someone else says—but both of us should defer to what Jesus says it is, ’cause really it’s his gospel.

    But unlike Paul, I don’t claim I got it directly from Jesus. I didn’t. I got it out of the bible. I got pointed to the bible by other Christians, who likewise got pointed to the bible by fellow Christians… and so on back to the original apostles. Although since Jesus still appears to people, it’s likely many of those forebears did hear the gospel directly from Jesus, same as Paul. Same Jesus; same gospel.

    And in this passage, we’re reminded we have to keep returning to what Jesus’s gospel is. ’Cause goodness knows there are myriads of alternate gospels. Or emphases on certain parts of the gospel (fr’instance all those evangelists who love to quote John 3.16) which tend to confuse people into thinking that favorite emphasis, and nothing else, is the gospel. Those are the gospels of other people, and Paul isn’t preaching those. Just what he got from Jesus himself.

    The “gospel of grace”… with a little karma in it.

    by K.W. Leslie, 22 February
    Galatians 1.6-9 KWL
    6 I wonder how you all switched so quickly
    from Christ’s gracious call to you,
    to “another gospel”
    7 —which isn’t another gospel
    unless it’s because someone is troubling you all,
    and wants to corrupt Christ’s gospel.
    8 But even if we,
    or an angel from heaven, might evangelize you
    away from what we evangelized you,
    consider them cursed.
    9 As we had foretold, and tell you again:
    If any one of you evangelizes
    away from what you received,
    consider them cursed.
    Previously:
  • “Christ Jesus’s apostle to this present age.” Ga 1.1-5
  • Which alternative “gospel” were Galatian Christians dabbling in? Well we sorta deduced it by the rest of Galatians: Certain people were trying to give them the idea they’re saved through works righteousness. Basically if you’re good people, and obey God’s Law, you’ll rack up so much good karma, God has to let you into his kingdom, ’cause you deserve it. Good people go to heaven. Bad people go to hell.

    People presume works-righteousness is a Pharisee idea. It’s actually not. It’s a pagan idea. Pharisees actually believed (as did all the Jewish denominations of the day) in corporate election. It’s the totally biblical idea (held by us Christians too) that God chose and already saved Israel.

    From Egypt, remember? He adopted them as his children, and made a kingdom of them. Exactly like God chose and already saved humanity, through Christ. Same as Israel, God’s already cleared the path to a relationship with him, if we want it. There's nothing we need do more than repent and follow him.

    Pharisees figured Jews like them—and Paul, Barnabas, Simon Peter, James, and all the earliest apostles—had birthright citizenship in God’s kingdom. Even if you weren’t Pharisee: Sadducees could be saved too. True, Jews should do good works; everyone should. But Pharisees recognized they weren’t saved by good works; they were saved because they were Jewish.

    Yeah, I know: Christians regularly claim Jews believed in works righteousness. (And still do!) But that’s not consistent with the scriptures. You might recall John the baptist critiqued them for presuming they were saved just by being Jewish—and for taking it for granted, and therefore not doing good works.

    Luke 3.7-9 KJV
    7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 9 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

    But. In every religion we’re gonna find a faction who can’t wrap their heads around grace, and keep insisting upon karma. Because karma is fair and grace is not. Karma means we either merit saving, or work our way into deserving it. Grace means we don’t deserve jack squat, but God saves us anyway, ’cause love.

    And karma had wormed its way into Pharisee teaching. Including the way Pharisee Christians were teaching the gospel. It turned the gospel into a false gospel, a heretic gospel, a damned gospel. That’s in part what Galatians is all about: The gospel of grace… but with just a little bit of works righteousness at its core.

    Christ Jesus’s apostle to this present age.

    by K.W. Leslie, 21 February
    Galatians 1.1-5 KWL
    1 The apostle Paul—
    not sent by people nor through people’s agency,
    but by Christ Jesus,
    and by God the Father
    who raised him from those who are dead—
    2 and all the Christian brethren with me,
    to the churches of Galatia.
    3 Grace to you all, and peace
    from God our Father,
    and from master Christ Jesus—
    4 Jesus who gave himself for our sins
    so he might pluck us from the present, evil age,
    consistent with the will of God our Father—
    5 glory to Jesus in the age of ages, amen!

    No doubt Paul of Tarsus wrote hundreds of letters over his lifetime, but we only have 13 of them in the New Testament. All of them were written within about 15 years:

    • Paul was still “a young man” Ac 7.58 —what we’d today call a teenager—when Stephen was killed, and became a Christian shortly after that. This happened within a year after Jesus’s death and rapture in 33, so figure around then.
    • After this he went to Arabia (probably Mt. Sinai) about three years; then went to Jerusalem to see the apostles. Ge 1.18 Figure the years 33 to 36.
    • Then to Syria and Cilicia for 14 years, Ga 2.1 during which time he got to know Barnabas, got involved in the Antioch church, and went on what’s popularly called his “first missionary journey.” Figure 36 to 50.
    • Then Barnabas, Paul, and Titus went to the Council of Jerusalem in the year 50.
    • Ultimately Paul was arrested, tried, and beheaded during the Neronian persecution—round the year 65.

    It’s a rough timeline, but you get the gist. Paul’s two earliest letters were both written after the Council of Jerusalem: Galatians makes reference to the council and its aftermath, and 1 Timothy was co-written by Timothy, 1Th 1.1 whom Paul and Silas met in the very next chapter of Acts after the council. Ac 16.1 Hence all his New Testament letters were written between the council and his death. Fifteen years. It’s not a long time; it’s not a lot of writing either. But man alive has it made an impact on human history.

    Anyway. Today I’m picking apart Galatians’s introduction, which was written Roman-style: Whom it’s from, whom it’s to, and salutations. Letters were written on papyrus (’cause parchment, i.e. sheepskin, is expensive!) and ink tends to bleed through, so rather than write the address on the outside of the scroll, Romans put it at the top and permitted people to unroll the scroll just enough to see the addressee. Paul, taking advantage of the fact just about anyone might read this, threw in a lot of Christian stuff. It’s never just “Paul to Timothy,” or “Paul to the church of Cilicia,” but “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus,” or “Paul, to the church of God the Father and our master Christ Jesus.” Evangelists gotta evangelize.

    There is no pretrib rapture.

    by K.W. Leslie, 18 February

    Years ago I was at a prayer meeting where we watched some video about the End Times… and I let slip I didn’t buy it. Yeah there’s a rapture; it’s in the bible; duh. Yeah there’s the second coming, when Jesus returns to take possession of his world, and we Christians join his procession. But the rapture takes place at the second coming. Not before any period of great tribulation, nor in the middle of it. That whole tribulation timeline? Not in the bible. At all.

    Some of these folks reacted as if I’d just grown a second head.

    It’s understandable. They grew up in churches which taught a pretrib rapture: Before the world is thrown into misery, with the Beast running amok and Christians getting persecuted and slaughtered, Jesus supposedly whisks us away so we needn’t live through any of it. We’re safe and sound in heaven with him, watching all the mayhem on earth, rooting for our left-behind family members to get saved… then somehow not get murdered by a world full of antichrists.

    I grew up in such churches too. I’d heard this bushwa all my life. Most Christians who have, never bother to ask, “Where’s this found in the bible?” We don’t look for it. We don’t read Revelation; we read books about it by “prophecy scholars“ who claim to know what it means. I guess they read it so we don’t have to.

    Hence Christians take the idea as a given. Love the idea. ’Cause they don’t have to suffer tribulation? Who’d want to? It’s like “going out the heavenly fire escape,” as my mom likes to put it: When the going gets tough, we Christians get to go.

    So when I suggest there’s no pretrib rapture, to them it’s like saying there’s no heaven.

    “You go right ahead and believe what you believe,” one of the prayer meeting members later told me. “You can stay here and ride out the tribulation. I’m gonna get raptured.”

    “So basically I can go to hell with all the unbelievers?” I said.

    “I didn’t mean that,” she backtracked.

    “I know. But here’s the thing: I don’t wanna ride out the tribulation. Who seriously wants to live through tribulation? I’m no masochist; I wanna get raptured! I love the idea. It’s just it’s not from the bible.”

    Jesus is returning. Sooner than you think.

    by K.W. Leslie, 17 February
    IMMEDIACY ɪ'mi.di.ə.si noun. Bringing one into direct, instant involvement with something. (Usually including a sense of urgency or excitement.)
    2. Christian doctrine that Christ Jesus may return at any time.
    [Immediacist ɪ'mi.di.ə.sɪst adjective.]

    I don’t know when Jesus will return.

    Neither do you. Neither does anyone. Neither did Jesus, Mk 13.32 although some Christians are mighty sure he found out once he ascended to heaven. And occasionally some nutjob will claim the Father told them when it’s gonna happen, and use the occasion to whip gullible Christians into a frenzy; maybe get ’em to join their death cult or something.

    All of them have been, and will be, lying. Because Jesus said that info is none of our business.

    Acts 1.6-7 NRSVue
    6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”

    We don’t need to know when. We only need to know it’s gonna happen. Jesus is coming back.

    It’s part of orthodox Christianity, y’know. Like the Apostles Creed has it, “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Any Christian who thinks Jesus isn’t coming back to us from heaven is heretic. Doesn’t mean they’re going to hell; just means they’ve gone horribly wrong.

    And a big part of knowing Jesus is coming back, is knowing he can return at any time. We’re even instructed to watch for it. If we’re not, he’ll return when we don’t expect him. Which is why he intentionally warned us to expect him. Stay awake and watch for it. Mk 13.37 Don’t let him take you by surprise!

    Luke 12.35-48 NRSVue
    35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night or near dawn and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
    39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
    41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 45 But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. 47 That slave who knew what his master wanted but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required, and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

    Much of the reason Jesus hasn’t yet returned, is because he’s giving the world many, many chances to repent before he returns. 2Pe 3.9 So take advantage of this time!Get right with God. Because once Jesus does return, time’s up. 2Pe 3.10

    Millennium: When Jesus rules the world.

    by K.W. Leslie, 16 February
    MILLENNIUM mə'lɛ.ni.əm noun. Thousand years.
    2. One of the thousand-year periods after Christ’s birth: The first millennium, the third millennium, etc.
    3. Where one thousand-year period ends and another begins.
    4. [theology] Christ Jesus’s reign on earth, represented in an apocalypse as a thousand-year age.
    [Millennial mɪ'lɛ.ni.əl adjective.]

    Whenever Christians talk about being “premillennial” or “amillenial,” no we’re not criticizing millennials, the kids born after the year 2000. We’re talking End Times theories. (We’ll use other terms to criticize millennials.)

    The idea comes from Revelation. In one of its visions of Jesus’s second coming (oh, you didn’t know there are multiple visions of the second coming in Revelation? Y’oughta read it sometime), Jesus returns, brings us Christians back from the dead, throws Satan into the abyss for 10 centuries, and rules the world. At the end of that time, Satan gets out, starts a fight, Jesus ends it, judges the world, and ends the world—to be replaced by New Heaven/Earth.

    Shall I quote the vision? Why not.

    Revelation 20.1-10 NRSVue
    1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years 3 and threw him into the pit and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.
    4 Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its brand on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years.
    7 When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, in order to gather them for battle; they are as numerous as the sands of the sea. 9 They marched up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from heaven and consumed them. 10 And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

    At face value, it looks like Jesus is literally gonna reign over earth, as the human king of a political kingdom, for a literal thousand years. If Jesus returned in 1988 (he didn’t; I'm just picking a not-all-that-random example) it means the actual end of the world will take place in the year 2988. Mighty long time from now. But as resurrected Christians, who’ll no longer die, we’ll be alive to see it.

    But bear in mind: This millennium is part of an apocalyptic vision. It’s not a literal millennium; apocalypses aren’t a literal anything. We honestly don’t know whether it represents a thousand-year stretch of time, a significantly long time-period, or just a significant time period of any length whatsoever.

    Hence Christians have come up with various ideas of what it looks like, and generally I’m going over the main three. Handy-dandy chart time:


    Three possible timelines of the future. That’ll make things clear as mud.

    Amillennials: Those who figure the second coming is the End.

    Since most Christians look at Revelation and throw up their hands in confusion, you’re gonna find most Christians are amillennial. That means they don‘t believe any such millennium is gonna happen. Christ Jesus is gonna rule the world… but it’s not gonna take the shape of a thousand-year earthly kingdom. He reigns over Christendom from heaven… and eventually we’re gonna die and go to him.

    For amillennials (or amillennialists), they go with the idea we find everywhere else in the bible: Once Jesus shows up, it’s judgment day.

    2 Peter 3.8-13 NRSVue
    8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be destroyed with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
    11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and destroyed and the elements will melt with fire? 13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

    Simon Peter sure made it look like the second coming and the end of the world take place simultaneously. So… was Peter wrong, or did John misunderstand the vision he saw? Is this a massive bible discrepancy?

    Amillennials point out it doesn’t need to be. Y’notice Peter said a millennium is like a day? (In context Peter’s trying to explain why it’s taking Jesus so very long to return to earth, 2Pe 3.3-7 but you realize nobody pays attention to context.) So since time’s all the same to God, the millennium doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to represent any time—and they’re pretty sure it doesn’t.

    Since there are more passages about how the Lord’s Day (or the LORD’s Day, which is how we tend to translate the Old Testament’s י֣וֹם לַיהוָ֧ה/yom la-YHWH) is about death and mayhem and destruction, plenty of Christians figure that is what Jesus’s second coming is gonna look like. Jesus isn’t coming to save the world; they figure he did that already. He’s coming to destroy it. When the Lord Jesus appears in the clouds, if you haven’t joined his team by now, you’re toast.

    To amillennals, Jesus doesn’t return to give humanity any last chances. There are none. This, the world we live in right now, is our last chance. That’s why Jesus is delaying his return. ’Cause once he returns it’s judgment day. There’s no thousand-year reign of grace and peace.

    As a bible scholar I gotta agree with the amillennials: The weight of the bible passages found throughout the bible, throughout the prophets who write about the LORD’s Day, is in favor of no millennium at all. That’s why I can’t utterly dismiss their view: It has merit!

    And it’s for this reason I’m never gonna suggest anyone take a “wait and see” approach when it comes to Jesus’s return: Pick your side now! After all, we never know when we’re gonna die. When it comes to death, I don’t see any second chances in the scriptures. Better be safe, than infinitely sorry.

    But the reason I’m not in the amillennial camp: I can’t bring myself to totally dismiss Revelation 20.

    Postmillennials: Those who figure we create the millennium.

    The postmillennial interpretation has been found here and there throughout Christianity. It got really popular among Protestants during the modern era; largely from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. It’s the idea this is the millennium; the church age. Well… if we make it the church age; if we get off our collective arses and start following Jesus.

    Once we Christians quit making excuses, quit sinning, revive the rest of humanity around us, fix society, fix the world, and make God’s kingdom out of the world: Then, then, Jesus will return to rule over us personally.

    The idea appeared here and there over the centuries, but it didn’t really take off till the modern era. Because it’s based on modernism. I know; the label “modernism” has been slapped on so many things, it’s hard to know what anybody means by it anymore. (Most people assume I mean “getting Christianity with the times,” because modernizing regularly gets mixed up with modernism. Nope.) Modernism is a worldview which believes humans can reshape our world into whatever we want. So once we realize this, we can fix the world! We can fix everything. We can solve all humanity’s problems with science and money and happy thoughts. Think Star Trek, which is entirely based on the idea—although it’s nontheist instead of Christian, because creator Gene Roddenberry believed religion was another problem for humanity to do away with. Guess only Klingons and Bajorans and Vulcans get to be religious.

    Since humanity is selfish, a nontheist utopia is an oxymoron, as Marxists kept discovering. The only way we could truly fix anything is through the Holy Spirit’s power. Thing is, Christians have tried to create utopias many times throughout history… and failed, because sin got into the works and gummed ’em up. And in some cases they were doomed from the beginning. The National Socialists’ idea of a thousand-year Reich (yep, they totally borrowed postmillennial ideas to sell their platform!) was fueled by nationalism, racism, and war, and are probably the best example of how much humanity can suck when we let the wrong people take charge. “Make Germany Great Again” made Germany suck.

    The world wars woke up Christians to these facts, which is why we don’t see a lot of postmillennials anymore. Or it takes the form of Christians who claim the Christian Era is the millennium—that Jesus rules the world, or at least the Christian world, right this very minute. (If so, he’s making a real mess of things!) But the view we’re already in the millennium, tends to look and function exactly like amillennialism: The world goes on till Jesus returns, and then it ends.

    Premillennials: Jesus returns, and brings his kingdom with him.

    Premillennials (like, admittedly, me) take our view from Revelation 20. After the second coming, Rv 19.11-16 after the Beast and false prophet are thrown into the fire, and their allies are killed and eaten by birds (yuck), Rv 19.17-21 Satan itself gets locked in the abyss (KJV “bottomless pit”), a sort of prison for devils. And this leaves a clear path for Messiah to rule the world unhindered.

    All those people who aren’t Christian, don’t know Jesus, don’t even think they wanna know Jesus? They finally get to meet him. The imaginary versions of Jesus in their heads will be irrelevant: Actual living, breathing Jesus will be walking around on earth again, interacting with people. Christians do a poor job of demonstrating what he’s like, but now Jesus will do that himself. Pagans get to see him as he really is. Skeptics have to deal with reality.

    Put into special positions of responsibility and authority are the martyrs, those who died for Jesus and resisted tribulation. Rv 20.4 Some preachers claim this includes every Christian who was resurrected at Jesus’s second coming. 1Th 4.15-17 Including them, they suppose. (They hope.) But it all depends on what they did for Jesus. If you call the average Christian’s life in the United States “suffering for Christ,” I think you’re seriously delusional. Jesus has in mind people who really did give up everything for him, Mk 10.29-31 not wannabes who assume pushback is persecution.

    These resurrected Christians will rule the world under Jesus. And finally the world will be led right. With justice and fairness. With grace, forgiveness, and mercy. By judges who share Jesus’s character, and rule like he does. No more do we have to worry about hypocrites and frauds in positions of power; Jesus’s officers won’t be anything like the politicians or pastors we’re used to. They’ll be good rulers. They’ll fix the world.

    Oh, it won’t be heaven. Not for another 10 centuries. But heaven’s kingdom will rule the world, and rule it properly. It’s something wonderful to look forward to.

    Wait, what about judgment and wrath and all that?

    There are both premillennials and amillennials whose ideas of the End have nothing to do with salvation, and everything to do with fire and bloodshed and vengeance and mayhem. It’s all their dark Christian fantasies come to life, as everything and everyone they don’t like gets torched.

    All the fruit of the Spirit which Jesus demonstrates, which the Spirit’s trying to grow in us? Irrelevant. God’s gonna smite the wicked, and we get to watch with vengeful glee.

    If you’re getting the idea I think this view of the End is twisted and sick, good. But it’s fairly common among twisted and sick Christians. They want evil people to suffer, not repent. They want sinners to die, not come to Jesus. Twisted amillennials imagine Jesus returning to kill all the wicked and destroy the world. Twisted postmillennials willingly offer to kill the wicked themselves. And twisted premillennials also imagine Jesus returning to kill the wicked, and pave his kingdom over their corpses.

    True, the prophets’ writings about the LORD’s Day make it sound dire. Like God’s totally gonna stomp on the wicked. Yet even in these passages, it sounds like… God’s coming to save the world. Save the oppressed from their oppressors. Save the needy from the wicked. Save Israel from its enemies.

    Now, God’s prophets never state the oppressed, the needy, the Israelis, are believers. Instead they point out God’s in favor of any needy people, Hebrew or not. God objects to other nations oppressing their needy. Any needy. He plays no favorites.

    When you really read these LORD’s Day passages, y’start to notice they generally sound like the Exodus—when God saved the Hebrews, then made them his people. Or like the Christians, when Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners. Ro 5.8 The LORD’s Day sounds like a day that’s awful for wicked oppressors… but also a day when God gives grace to the humble, makes right what’s wrong, and is the savior for people who don’t even realize they have a savior yet. (After all, we Christians have done a really lousy job of showing them so.)

    If God stays true to his character, even on Judgment Day, I can’t expect wrath and anger and destruction right away. Oh, those things’ll come eventually; they always do. But I’ve always recognized the millennium as a repeat of what God did in the Exodus—this time on a global scale. And better: This time with the king living among his people in person. This time with the priests not just limited to the Levites, and the prophets not just limited to the Seventy. God’s gonna show people what his kingdom was always meant to look like. Then present them the choice to accept or reject it.

    I expect for many, it’ll be just what they’ve always dreamt of. And for others, for the people who want nothing to do with Jesus, for the self-described Christians who really only pay Jesus lip service, it’ll be horrifying; it’s what they always feared. But there’ll be no more nebulous speculation… as there is these days about what the millennium might look like.

    The second coming of Christ Jesus.

    by K.W. Leslie, 15 February

    After the tribes of Israel were dragged off into exile by the Assyrians and Babylonians, they really started digging into and holding onto the prophecies of a coming messiah. Messiah is what they called their kings; it means “anointed person,” ’cause at his coronation they poured a hornful of oil over him to represent the Holy Spirit coming to empower their king. (Presuming the Holy Spirit did empower their king. Some of those kings, not so much.) Anyway, they figured God would restore the kingdom of Israel and give ’em a really good messiah. The best messiah. Better than King David ben Jesse; he’d rule them righteously and victoriously, and defeat all their enemies easily. Maybe even conquer the whole world, just like the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians were kinda trying to do.

    Jesus the Nazarene did not meet their expectations. But to be fair, the ancient Israelis overlaid a whole lot of their prejudices atop all the messianic prophecies: They wanted him to destroy their enemies with death and carnage. He wants to destroy his enemies by getting them to repent and become his friends. God is love; we humans most definitely aren’t.

    The first step in Jesus’s conquest of the world was defeating sin and death, which he achieved in the year 33. The second step is what he’s currently doing now: His followers, us Christians, are meant to apply that salvation, be the light of the world, love our neighbors, and win ’em to Jesus’s side.

    And the next step is when Jesus comes back to earth, personally, to continue that work in person.

    Yes of course he’s coming back. He made that clear in the beginning of Acts:

    Acts 1.1-11 NRSVue
    1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
    6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

    Based on this and other scriptures, we Christians expect—once God decides the time is right—Jesus will return to earth. In person. As the head of an invading army of angels and at least 2 billion newly-resurrected Christians. To personally supervise God’s kingdom on earth, which he will rule himself as king.

    We call this the second coming, or second advent, or in theologian-speak, parousia (Greek παρουσία/parusía, “coming”) of Christ. His first coming was when he was born, of course, and shared the good news of the kingdom with first-century Israel. We don’t count any of the many other times he visits people on earth, like he did with Paul, Ac 9.3-5 as formal “comings”—formal as they might feel to those people whose lives are significantly changed by seeing him.

    Jesus’s second coming is an orthodox Christian doctrine: It’s something all true Christians are expected to believe. Various Christians insist it’s really not, but it’s in the creeds—so if you claim he’s not returning, you’ve gone heretic. Doesn’t mean Jesus can’t and won’t save you regardless; it only means you’ve rejected something the scriptures plainly teach, ’cause your doubts won you over. There’s nothing wrong with doubting, but there’s everything wrong with not trusting Jesus. He said he’s coming back for us, and he is.

    John 14.1-3 NRSVue
    1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
     
    Revelation 22.12-13 NRSVue
    12 “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

    “The Lord will fight for you.” Or not.

    by K.W. Leslie, 10 February

    Exodus 14.14.

    From time to time you’ll hear a Christian claim, “I was reading my bible this morning, and after I read this verse, I just felt this verse resonate with my spirit. Like God telling me, ‘This verse is for you.’ I know; it means something else in context. But this verse is also for me.”

    Yep. It’s how people totally acknowledge that a proof text does not mean what they claim it means—but that doesn’t matter. They were granted a special dispensation from the Holy Spirit to cancel its original meaning, and change it to something they like much better.

    Imagine a preacher who told you this before he presented a sermon or bible lesson. “I realize some of you are gonna say, ‘Pastor, I looked in my bible and that verse doesn’t mean what you say it means.’ Well no, it’s not gonna look like it does. But the Holy Spirit within me declares it does mean what I say it means, and you need to trust his wisdom instead of man’s wisdom.” I guarantee you the Holy Spirit is telling him no such thing. And this preacher’s church, unless they ditch him for better teachers, is gonna turn into a cult. Wherever preachers regularly get away with nullifying God’s word in favor of their own ideas, you get cults.

    But the reason Christians let their preachers get away with stuff like this, is because they do it themselves. We find a verse in the bible, realize once you pry it away of its settings it suits us just right, and make that our “life verse”—and claim it does apply to us, because we want it to apply to us.

    Today’s out-of-context scripture is just such a “life verse.”

    Exodus 14.14 NIV
    “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

    In context it’s Moses and the Hebrews, who’d just left Egyptian slavery and were headed for Palestine; but at this point they were standing at the edge of the Red Sea, and the Egyptian pharaoh and his army are headed their way. They were understandably terrified. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” complained some of the more sarcastic types to Moses. Ex 14.11 ’Cause yeah, it looked like there was gonna be a slaughter.

    Moses’s response was the LORD was gonna save them, and the LORD’s response to Moses was to tell him to stretch his staff over the sea, which would part. You know the story. If you don’t, read your bible. And of course there are movies.

    So is verse 14 about the LORD fighting for me? Nope. Fighting for you? Nope. Even if you really, really want him to? Still nope.

    What about if the Spirit within you tells you he’s gonna make that verse apply to you? That the LORD is gonna fight for you, and you need only be still?

    Well first I would say make sure that’s the Spirit telling you so. Confirm it with another Christian who hears the Spirit. Because until you successfully do so, for all we know you’re just having a sock-puppet “conversation with God,” in which “he” tells you everything you wish to hear—but it was never God.

    “God is within her; she shall not fall.”

    by K.W. Leslie, 09 February

    Psalm 46.5.

    I hadn’t heard of this out-of-context verse before, ’cause it appears to mainly be misquoted by fans of the New International Version. I grew up among King James Version fans (and some of ’em were KJV-Only, which is a whole other problem) and while we might misinterpret the verse too, we’re not gonna misinterpret it quite like this.

    One of TXAB’s loyal readers informed me of the problem. Seems a woman in her bible study group has adopted the belief that once we become Christian, once the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us, we gain an infallible ability to understand and interpret scripture.

    Okay. Seeing as there are thousands of denominations of Christian, some of whom really don’t get along (even though we should) because we have such very different understandings of scripture, it’s pretty obvious the Spirit grants us no such power. There’s an old Pharisees joke that when you put two Pharisees together, you wind up with three different opinions. No, that’s not a typo: Three. And the very same thing can be said about Christians. But if there was such a thing as Spirit-empowered infallibility, we’d all be in absolute sync with Jesus, right? It’d be so monolithic, it’d scare people. Although if it’s Jesus’s thinking, there’s actually nothing to fear. He’s Jesus, remember? We wouldn’t be evil jerks. We’d be good!—like Jesus.

    But nope, we’re usually wrong. We gotta make an effort to correct our ways of thinking, and get in sync with Jesus—and some of us are gonna make loads of errors along the way, because popular Christian culture has a lot of horsepucky mixed in with the chocolate pudding. We’re gonna think, “But everybody thinks Jesus means this,” and it turns out “everybody” really means “all the Christians I know,” which is a long long way from everybody.

    Given all this evidence, it’s hard to fathom anybody can make the claim of Spirit-empowered infallibility. Unless of course you think you’re the only one with this gift: You’re the only human on earth (or one of the very, very few) granted the power to always know how the Spirit thinks, what the bible means, and what to do. You’re like the best prophet ever. You’re the Christian version of Muhammad, or Joseph Smith.

    Well, more accurately you’re a giant narcissist. What we should see in Christians is humility, not claims of infallibility.

    The woman who claims infallibility, points to this scripture to back up her claim:

    Psalm 46.5 NIV
    God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.

    And of course it’s not talking about her. As is made obvious by the verse right before it.

    Psalm 46.4-5 NIV
    4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
    5 God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.

    “Her” refers to “the city of God, the holy place,” by which the sons of Korah mean Jerusalem and its temple. Yes, the pronoun in the original Hebrew is the suffix הּ/-ah, “her,” but that’s because ancient Hebrew’s nouns have masculine and feminine genders, and עִיר/iyr, “city” is a feminine noun. Still kinda is in English, because a lot of people refer to their cities, states, and nations as “her.” Jerusalem is the “her” the psalmists mean.

    Not the individual Christian.

    “The truth will set you free.”

    by K.W. Leslie, 08 February

    John 8.32.

    After I got my journalism degree, I went to a bible college to get a biblical and theological studies degree. People are sometimes surprised by this, as if it’s a huge shift in studies. Nah. They’re both pursuits of truth, y’know.

    Anyway, at that bible college I became editor of the school newspaper (’cause I did have a journalism degree, y’know). When I redesigned the nameplate, I knocked around the idea of tacking a bible verse onto it… and originally went with John 8.32.

    John 8.32 NIV
    “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

    Which is not at all a verse about journalism. Yep, I took it out of context. Bad biblical studies major.

    I’m hardly the first Christian to do it. People love to quote that verse whenever the subject of truth comes up. Sometimes they quote the entire verse, but most of the time they shorten it to “Truth will set you free.” Hey, it’s from the bible; the bible says truth will set you free! And sometimes they notice it’s written in the bible in red letters: Hey, Jesus says truth will set you free!

    And y’know what else: Often the truth does set you free. Especially if you’ve been lying your head off, trying to keep secrets, and the stresses of juggling so many lies is wearing you down. Or if you’ve been lied to, and don’t know why problem after problem keeps cropping up, because you don’t realize these problems are the effect of the lies you’ve been told. Like a husband who cheated on his wife, gave her a social disease, and she doesn’t know why she’s now sick all the time. Truth would be freeing in a lot of ways, for the both of them.

    But not every truth is freeing. In an oppressive society, under a totalitarian government, truth is not freeing; truth gets you jailed and killed. The government doesn’t want its citizens to know truth; it wants them to know only what it figures will make them productive and comfortable.

    And even in a free society, people really do love their comfortable lies. Back to that problematic couple: Once the wife finds out her husband is a rotten cheater, it’s probably the end of her marriage. It’s gonna take a lot for her to ever trust him again. Especially if he’s got a number of other secrets he’s keeping from her, like how deeply in debt they are, how little he’s actually working, and of course the grandfather clock in the study is the secret entrance to the Batcave. True, before she learned the truth, her life was based on a lot of lies, but they were comfortable lies. And in fact she might prefer those comfortable lies; so much, she’s willing to pretend they’re true. There are a lot of people who deliberately turn a blind eye to reality because they actually feel more free under lies. It’s nuts, but true.

    But back to my point: Jesus is not talking about truth in general. Not talking about any and every kind of truth. The passage is about a very specific truth, and that truth will make us free. Applying this verse willy-nilly to any and every kind of truth, means we’re gonna miss Jesus’s point. Truth is important, but his truth takes far greater precedence. And truth may often be freeing, but his truth makes people free.

    Elisha’s double portion.

    by K.W. Leslie, 07 February

    2 Kings 2.9-10.

    The first time I heard of a “double portion” had to do with food. You’re dividing up the pizza; you want two slices instead of just one; how come Dad gets two slices and you don’t? But no, that’s not what it refers to in the bible.

    The first time I heard of double portions in the bible, was in Sunday school. It was a lesson our overeager youth pastor taught us about the eighth-century BC prophet Elijah of Tishbe, the guy who stopped the rain for three years, and made a gentile widow’s food last way longer then it shoulda, and called down fire on both altars and men. And when it was time for Elijah to get raptured, he handed off his job to his apprentice Elisha ben Shaphat, and they had this conversation:

    2 Kings 2.9-10 KJV
    9 And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. 10 And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.

    Elisha, explained our excited youth pastor, asked for twice the spirit of Elijah. Twice the anointing. Double the power!

    And after he watched Elisha ascend to heaven, he got it! As proven by the fact Elijah performed seven miracles in the bible, but Elijah performed twice that number, a whopping 14. (True, one of ’em took place after Elisha died, when a corpse came back to life after touching his bones. 2Ki 13.21 But it totally counts.)

    Some years later I became Pentecostal. Unlike my previous church, Pentecostals correctly understand the spirit who empowered Elijah is the Holy Spirit; that every time a human being does miracles they’re doing it in the Holy Spirit’s power, ’cause he’s the one who inspired 1Pe 1.21 and empowered 1Co 12.11 prophets. So their spin on “the double portion” isn’t that Elisha was granted twice Elijah’s spirit, but twice the Holy Spirit.

    No, this doesn’t mean there were two Holy Spirits knocking around inside Elisha. There’s only one God. It only means the Spirit empowered him twice as much as he did Elijah. Elisha became twice as miraculous. Twice as prophetic.

    For fun, let’s say one of Elisha’s students made this same request of him. Theoretically this student could’ve received twice Elisha’s anointing. Elisha did 14 miracles; Elisha’s successor could’ve performed 28 of them. And if this successor passed a double-portion anointing along to a third guy, that guy could’ve done 56 miracles. His successor, 112 miracles. The next successor, 224 miracles. And so on, and so on.

    A thousand generations later, devout descendants of Elijah’s anointing and Elisha’s double anointing, could potentially perform so many miracles, they’d do ’em by accident. Sneeze in an elevator, and everybody steps out totally cured of their allergies. Fart and everyone’s gastroenteric problems are gone. And so forth.

    How sad, this Pentecostal lamented, that people didn’t have the faith to keep pursuing this “double portion anointing.” They could’ve doubled the miracles in the world with every successive generation.

    How sad, I’ve learned since, that people keep repeating this old, and stupid, Christian cliché. ’Cause it proves they’ve clearly not read the other parts of the bible, which clear up precisely what a “double portion” is. Heck, they’ve probably heard it explained before, but some mental disconnect keeps ’em from applying it to the Elijah/Elisha story.

    A gospels synopsis.

    by K.W. Leslie, 04 February

    Our word “synopsis” usually means a brief summary or overview, but when we get into biblical studies a synopsis is a comparison of two different parts of the bible which overlap. Like Psalms 14 and 53. Or David and the census in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21. Or the story of Ahab and Micaiah in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18. Or Hezekiah and the sundial in 1 Kings 20 and Isaiah 38.

    Or, naturally, to compare the gospels.

    Christians have been comparing ’em ever since they were first written. Sometimes to see if we can fit them all together, like Tatian of Assyria did with his Diatessaron, or A.T. Robertson’s Harmony of the Gospels. Thing is, when you combine then into one narrative, you gotta remove parts of the other gospels—and change their order, their structure, and various things which their authors deliberately put in there. You also lose a bit of the three-dimensional picture of Jesus they provide.

    It’s why I prefer a gospel synopsis: We compare the stories, but don’t remove anything. We look at what each of ’em have, and compare. We deal with the difficulties they might produce. But we get a better, fuller picture of Jesus. That’s the point.

    Obviously in my posts on Christ Jesus, I’ve been comparing similar texts. It’s sort of my own gospel synopsis. You can follow it if you want, but today I’m actually providing someone else’s. Basically it’s the table of contents from bible scholar Kurt Aland’s Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum (called Synopsis of the Four Gospels in the English edition). His synopsis compares the texts line by line from his Greek New Testament, 26th edition (the current edition is the 28th), or from the RSV in the English edition. But if you prefer another translation, the links below will take you to Bible Gateway, where you can read ’em in any translation they have. Sound good?

    Easier to just sin.

    by K.W. Leslie, 03 February

    It’s way easier to just give in to temptation, and beg forgiveness afterward, than it is to resist.

    That’s the attitude most Christians have. That most people have: “Instead of asking permission, ask forgiveness.” You wanna do something, you know people are gonna be outraged if you do it, but rather than seek their approval (only to offend them even more when you defy them) it’s easier if you just do as you please, and deal with things after the fact. Assuming they ever find out!—and you’re kinda hoping they won’t.

    Yeah, it’s thoroughly selfish. And it shouldn’t surprise us when selfish humans behave this way. Pagans or Christians.

    But if we’re gonna grow as Christians, we have to resist this temptation too.

    Still, it’s a commonplace attitude. Even among “good Christians”: Plenty of ’em figure “God’s in the forgiving business; he forgives all, so he’ll forgive this.” Not with major sins or mortal sins, however they define ’em; but it’s okay to fight temptation when we’re dealing with small sins. Stuff which has few to no consequences. Like indulging the stray evil thought. Like telling a white lie. Don’t stress yourself over such minor piffle. Don’t worry about following God in every little thing. What, are you trying to earn salvation or something? You legalist.

    Yep, the line of thought in someone who’s trying to justify a sin, even a minor sin, is to immediately lunge towards, “Well it’d be a greater sin to resist temptation.” Which is stupid and irrational, but since when is it rational to dismiss and defy God in favor of our desires and convenience? Never has been. But if you wanna sin badly enough, any excuse will do.

    Still, I have heard it preached, in actual pulpits, that it’s okay to go ahead and commit that sin. That it’s better to sin and be forgiven, than burn with unfulfilled desire. That it’ll get that sin out of your system, and then you can go back to following Jesus with post-nut clarity. Go ahead and sin. “Be a sinner and sin boldly,” as Martin Luther once put it; “but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”

    Yeah, the Luther quote is taken out of context. He was writing Philip Melchanthon about how Christ can forgive any sinner; he wasn’t advocating sin. But y’know, people much prefer the idea Luther was telling Germans to sin their brains out ’cause grace. Again: It’s easier to just give in!

    But it’s evil. Let’s not pretend it’s not, nor pretend small sins aren’t that evil. Evil is evil. Jesus expects better of us than that.

    The appearance of evil.

    by K.W. Leslie, 02 February

    1 Thessalonians 5.22.

    I’ve said many times before: The King James Version is a very good bible translation. Problem is, it’s a 407-year-old bible translation. Therefore it uses the English of William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson… and arguably William Tyndale, who first started translating the New Testament for English-speaking commoners in 1522. A lot of the KJV is still phrased exactly the same as Tyndale’s version.

    Five-century-old English is not the American English we use today. ’Cause language evolves. If you have kids of your own, you’ve heard it happen with your very ears: People redefine words to suit themselves, and if their redefinition catches on, that’s the new definition. Oh, you might hate it—like when literally grew to mean “well, not literally.” But it doesn’t matter how much you rail against it: Language is defined by popular vote, and if you’re in the minority, you lose. Sorry.

    So, many of the words in the Tyndale’s bible no longer mean what they did in 1522. Heck, they no longer meant that in 1611, when the KJV was published. Like this verse.

    1 Thessalonians 5.22 Tyndale
    Abstain from all suspicious thing.

    How would you define a “suspicious thing”? Well in the early days of the English Reformation, when Anglicans under Henry 8 were murdering Catholics, Catholics under Mary 1 were murdering Anglicans, and Anglicans under Elizabeth 1 went back to murdering Catholics, all sorts of behavior was “suspicious”—including the legitimate worship of Christ Jesus by either church. If you didn’t do it Catholic-style when the Catholics were in power, they’d kill you; if you didn’t do it Anglican-style when the Anglicans were in power, they’d kill you. It’s a problematic translation, so by the time of James 6, the verse was updated to this:

    1 Thessalonians 5.22 KJV
    Abstain from all appearance of evil.

    And now that has become a problematic translation. When the KJV used it, it meant the act of becoming visible: When you make an appearance at a social function, you’ve shown up and people can see you. Well, in this verse the apostles instruct the Thessalonians that whenever evil shows up and people can see it, stay away. But in our present day appearance has another, more common definition… and that’s the one people assume the KJV was using. It means the act of looking like something else. Of seeming.

    And that’s why plenty of Christians read this verse, and claim, “Stay away from anything which seems evil.” It might not actually be evil; it might be benign; it might even be good—but because it looks evil, because the public believes it to be evil, stay away. Have nothing to do with it. Keep your reputation intact.

    One is holiness. The other hypocrisy.

    Lead us not into temptation.

    by K.W. Leslie, 01 February

    Matthew 6.13, Luke 11.4.

    This part of the Lord’s Prayer gets controversial, because it sounds like our Lord’s brother James totally contradicted it when he wrote,

    James 1.13-15 NRSVue
    13 No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14 But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15 then, when that desire has conceived, it engenders sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.

    So because James said God tempts nobody, people don’t know what to make of it when Jesus has us pray,

    Matthew 6.13 NRSVue
    “And do not bring us to the time of trial,
    but rescue us from the evil one.”
     
    Luke 11.4 NRSVue
    “And forgive us our sins,
    for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

    ’Cause praying that God not lead us into temptation, implies sometimes he might lead us into temptation.

    Okay. The word in the Lord’s Prayer which popularly gets translated “temptation” in both Matthew and Luke, is πειρασμόν/peirasmón, “temptation, trial, test.” Yep, the translators got it right. It’s the noun-form of the verb James used, πειράζω/peirádzo. Means the same thing.

    But while James said God tempts nobody, we got scriptures where it kinda looks like he does. Look up any Old Testament verses which include the word נָסָה/naçá, which means the same thing as peirádzo: Test. Try. Prove. Experiment. Tempt. Here, lemme quote just a few.

    Genesis 22.1-2 NRSVue
    1 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”
     
    Deuteronomy 8.3 NRSVue
    “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
     
    Deuteronomy 13.1-3 NRSVue
    1 “If prophets or those who divine by dreams appear among you and promise you omens or portents, 2 and the omens or the portents declared by them take place, and they say, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (whom you have not known) ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you must not heed the words of those prophets or those who divine by dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you indeed love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul.”

    Heck, David even told God to put him to the test:

    Psalm 26.2 NRSVue
    Prove me, O LORD, and try me;
    test my heart and mind.

    Not sure whether David passed that particular test; he was a horny fella. Definitely loved God though.

    Anyway. How do we deal with this particular bible difficulty? Real simple: We remember James is wisdom literature.