Being good justifies nobody. Nobody.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 March
Galatians 2.15-16 KWL
15 We’re biological Jews, not sinners from the gentiles.
16 We’ve known people aren’t justified by working the Law
—unless we work it because of faith in Christ Jesus;
we trust in Christ Jesus.
Thus we can be justified by faith in Christ,
and not by working the Law,
since working the Law won’t justify any flesh.
Previously:
  • “How Paul remembered the Council of Jerusalem.” Ga 2.1-5
  • “Paul and the apostles of note.” Ga 2.6-10
  • “Paul challenges Simon Peter.” Ga 2.11-14
  • This passage is part of a bigger paragraph and context, but I still wanna zoom in on just this.

    The bigger context, just so you know: Simon Peter was treating gentile Christians as second-class Christians, so Paul had to stand up to him. Peter totally knew better, ’cause he did after all defend gentile Christians at the Council of Jerusalem. But certain visiting legalists got him to backslide on that issue, and Paul challenged him: “If you, a Jew, act like a gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the gentiles to be like Jews?” Ga 2.14 KWL

    Some translations take these verses and make ’em part of what Paul told Peter. I don’t know that Paul presented this entire argument, in this way, in these words, to Peter at that time. Pretty sure he didn’t. But he did remind Peter of what Christ Jesus teaches the both of them, and us: We’re not saved by being Jews, nor becoming Jews. We’re saved by following Jesus. The gentile Christians did not need to first become Jews so they could be saved; and treating them like they did is heresy. It’s not just a minor error; it’s a whole other false gospel.

    Thing is, legalistic Christians still teach this heresy. As do dispensationalists, some of whom teach that Jews can be saved simply by being Jews. (I mean, it’d be nice if they became Christian, but these dispensationalists claim they don’t actually need to. Considering Peter and the apostles went to so much trouble to preach the gospel to their fellow Jews, this idea isn’t biblical in the slightest. Sounds more like a trick of the devil to keep Jews from hearing the gospel.)

    Paul challenges Simon Peter.

    by K.W. Leslie, 30 March
    Galatians 2.11-14 KWL
    11 When Peter came to Antioch, I personally stood against him,
    because he was being in the wrong.
    12 For before the coming of certain people from James,
    Peter was eating with gentiles.
    When they came, Peter was withdrawing,
    and separating himself—afraid of the circumcised.
    13 The other Jews acted like hypocrites along with Peter,
    so even Barnabas himself was led astray by their hypocrisy.
    14 But when I saw they aren’t consistent with the gospel’s truth,
    I told Peter in front of everyone,
    “If you, a Jew, act like a gentile and not like a Jew,
    how can you force the gentiles to be like Jews?”
    Previously:
  • “How Paul remembered the Council of Jerusalem.” Ga 2.1-5
  • “Paul and the apostles of note.” Ga 2.6-10
  • Simon Peter is an apostle of note. He’s the first in every list of the Twelve because he’s Jesus’s best student—the first to declare Jesus as Messiah, the only one who tried walking on water, the first to realize there’s no one else worth following, the one who renounced him yet came back to him. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Peter’s also the guy who spoke at the first Christian Pentecost and led thousands to Jesus; he cured the sick, raised the dead, and brought the gospel to gentiles. Two of Peter’s letters are in our bible, and the gospel of Mark is likely based on his personal recollections. Not for nothing do Roman Catholics consider him the head apostle, and are eager to claim their pope now sits in Peter’s seat. (Pope Francis would more humbly claim he certainly tries to.)

    But if you’ve read the gospels, you know Peter wasn’t infallible. None of us are.

    Paul wasn’t either, and would be the first to say so. 1Co 15.9, Ep 3.8 But here Paul tells of the time he had to stand up to Peter… because Peter was getting mixed up with the hypocrite faction in his church.

    In this passage Paul refers to Peter as Κηφᾶς/Kifás, a Greek form of the Aramaic nickname Jesus gave to Simon bar John: כיפא/kifá, “stone” or “rock.” Jn 1.42 The KJV renders Kifás as “Cephas,” and some Christians have either got the idea Cephas is some other apostle, or try to read something into Paul’s switch from Πέτρος/Pétros, “Peter,” in Galatians 2.7-8, to Kifás in verse 9 and afterwards. Why the switch? Some speculate Peter somehow fell from grace. But that’s rubbish: Pétros is Greek for “stone,” same as kifá is Aramaic for “stone.” It’s just Simon’s nickname in different translations, and Paul’s audience knew both translations. They’re interchangeable names. That’s why I translate ’em both as Peter.

    Peter didn’t fall from grace, because God doesn’t work like that. Peter only stumbled. He behaved one way when he first came to Antioch, Syria; then as soon as certain legalists showed up, Peter behaved another way. Paul correctly identifies this as hypocrisy. And it can happen to anyone. Sometimes because we have no backbone, and bend with every passing fart. Sometimes because we never learned how to resist peer pressure, or can’t withstand how much of it we’ve encountered. Sometimes because we heard some really clever, but really deceptive, arguments. My guess is it’s this last one—but regardless of the reason, Peter fell into hypocrisy. And Paul had to tell him so.

    Paul and the apostles of note.

    by K.W. Leslie, 29 March
    Galatians 2.6-10 KWL
    6 As for the apostles of note:
    Being “someone,” whatever one might be, doesn’t matter to me.
    God doesn’t regard a person’s appearance.
    The apostles of note contribute nothing to me—
    7 on the contrary.
    They were merely observing I had been entrusted
    with the gospel to “foreskins,”
    just as Simon Peter to the circumcised.
    7 For the power granted to Peter
    as apostle to the circumcised
    empowers me as well towards the gentiles.
    8 Recognizing the grace given to me,
    James, Peter, and John, the “pillars” of note,
    placed their hands on me and Barnabas in fellowship,
    so we would go to the gentiles,
    and they to the circumcised.
    9 They only asked that we remember the poor,
    which I myself also do my best to do.
    Previously:
  • “The Council of Jerusalem.” Ac 15.1-12
  • “The former persecutor turned evangelist.” Ga 1.13-24
  • “How Paul remembered the Council of Jerusalem.” Ga 2.1-5
  • At the time of the Council of Jerusalem, the Jerusalem church was no longer being run by the Twelve. (Nor, as Roman Catholics like to imagine, Simon Peter.) It was run by Jesus’s brother James, and apparently the apostles Peter and John were still there; Peter hadn’t yet gone to Rome, and John hadn’t yet gone to Ephesus. John’s brother James had died, and the other nine guys in the Twelve had moved on to other parts of the world—to start churches and spread the gospel.

    These were “the apostles of note” Paul referred to in Galatians 2.2. Different translations render the phrase different ways: “Them which were of reputation” in the KJV, “those esteemed as leaders” in the NIV, “the acknowledged leaders” in the NRSV, “those who seemed influential” in the ESV, “the influential people” in the NET. All of these are ways of translating τοῖς δοκοῦσιν/tis dokúsin, “to the thought-of.” In other words, if someone said “the apostles,” these would be the apostles you first thought of. The top apostles. The guys who personally knew Jesus best: His brother, his cousin, and his best student.

    And Paul shrugged at them: “Being ‘someone,’ whatever one might be, doesn’t matter to me. God doesn’t regard a person’s appearance.”

    Which is entirely true. It’s exactly what the LORD told Samuel when the prophet was picking kings.

    1 Samuel 16.7 KJV
    But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.

    Not that the LORD rejected his apostles! Too many Christians, projecting their own anti-authoritarian attitudes, interpret Paul’s statement as if he’s trying to slap down the other apostles, or knock ’em down a few notches. He’s not. He is trying to knock down the unhealthy attitude, all too common among Christians, of turning our leaders into idols, and treating them as if they’re infallible holy beings. To be fair, all these guys did write infallible books of the New Testament. But apart from that, these were just men. Human beings, same as us—who had the privilege of knowing Jesus in the flesh, but otherwise same as us.

    This, Paul recognized. They were apostles… but he and Barnabas were also apostles, personally selected by the Holy Spirit for a mission to preach the gospel. Ac 13.2 They weren’t made apostles by the other apostles; they were made apostles by God Himself. The notable apostles only recognized their appointment by God. When they laid hands on them, it wasn’t to pass along God’s commission, nor empower them themselves; that’s not what laying hands is about, even though plenty of Christians certainly treat it that way. Laying hands is only to acknowledge something God has already done, and show our support of it.

    So yeah, if you’re reading any level of sarcasm into Paul’s description of these notable apostles (“whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me,” as one might read the KJV) you’re doing it wrong. Hero-worship among Christians is wholly inappropriate. We have one hero, Christ. Everybody else is just trying to follow him… and sometimes makes mistakes. Peter’s gonna make a doozy later in this very chapter.

    How Paul remembered the Council of Jerusalem.

    by K.W. Leslie, 28 March
    Galatians 2.1-5 KWL
    1 Afterwards, after 14 years,
    I went to Jerusalem again with Joseph Barnabas,
    taking along Titus as well.
    2 I went, according to a revelation.
    I presented to them the gospel which I preach to the gentiles
    —in private, and to those apostles of note—
    lest somehow I might run, or was running, in vain.
    3 But neither Titus, nor the Greeks with me,
    were forced to be circumcised
    4 because of the infiltrating fake “fellow Christians
    who snuck in amongst us to spy on our freedom we have in Christ Jesus,
    so they would enslave us.
    5 We don’t yield to their position for even an hour,
    so that the gospel’s truth might continue among you all.
    Previously:
  • “The Council of Jerusalem.” Ac 15.1-12
  • “The former persecutor turned evangelist.” Ga 1.13-24
  • I gave kind of a timeline of Paul’s life in my first article on Galatians. After Jesus appeared to him round the year 35, he visited the apostles three years later (38CE), and soon after they sent him home to Cilicia. Ac 9.30 But a few years later Barnabas, the man who’d first brought him to the apostles, Ac 9.27 came to get him.

    Barnabas had been sent by the apostles to check out a church in Antioch, Syria, where Syrian Greeks—who were gentiles, i.e. non-Israelis—had been led to Jesus. Enthused, Barnabas went to Tarsus and got Paul to join him. Antioch became where Jesus’s followers were first called Χριστιανούς/Hristianús, Christians. Ac 11.19-25

    I figure the year Paul moved to Antioch was anywhere between 38 and 41. See, at some point while they ministered in Antioch, the prophet Agabus said there’d be a famine, Ac 11.28 and Barnabas and Paul were sent to Jerusalem with money. The famine didn’t take place till Claudius became emperor in 41CE, so naturally these events had to happen before 41. As for Barnabas and Paul’s missionary trip, Luke referred to the death of Agrippa Herod 1 in 44CE before he got to their trip… so there, loosely, is when these events took place.

    Okay. So after their missionary trip, Luke told of the events which triggered the Council of Jerusalem:

    Acts 15.1-2 KJV
    1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.

    The apostles did try to sort it out themselves, but the visitors from Judea weren’t at all willing to accept Barnabas and Paul’s view, nor authority. So the church leadership decided they’d better hear it from the Jerusalem church. We Christians recognize this as the first of the ancient church councils, where major theological issues were hashed out between all the leading Christians in the world… and of course after the Orthodox and Roman Catholics split, we can’t do these councils anymore. (Not that Catholics don’t claim their councils still count for all Christendom—but nope; they’re only internal church councils now.)

    In today’s passage, Paul only loosely refers to this. This text mainly refers to four things:

    1. He, Barnabas, Titus, and some other “Greeks” (really Greek-speaking Syrians) went to Jerusalem.
    2. He went “according to a revelation,” meaning the Holy Spirit told him to go. (He probably didn’t wanna!)
    3. He privately confirmed the gospel he was preaching with the top apostles, lest he was getting it wrong. (And he’s not. Ga 1.8)
    4. Those apostles never required Titus and the Greeks to be circumcised.

    So basically Paul’s in the right. He made sure of it.

    The prayer of faith will raise him up.

    by K.W. Leslie, 25 March

    James 5.15.

    I once had a classmate who had to use a wheelchair. I don’t know all the details as to why he was in that chair—whether his legs didn’t work, or he couldn’t stay upright. Doesn’t matter. The point is he was in that chair… and it was really hard to talk about Jesus with him, ’cause he was really annoyed with Christians.

    Y’see, those of us who believe God still cures people, tried to get God to cure him. “Can I pray for you?” is how it usually starts—although too often they never bothered to ask, and just started praying. And touched his legs uninvited. And exhibited other demonstrative, uncomfortable behaviors; uncomfortable for him, though they certainly didn’t hold back.

    He was still in that chair though. The prayers didn’t work.

    Of course when things don’t turn out the way we expect, people wanna know why, and some of these wannabe faith-healers claimed to know why: He lacked faith. He didn’t believe God would heal him. He was the problem. Blame the victim.

    You can kinda see why he was really annoyed with Christians. I get annoyed by such Christians. They make my job harder. Now I gotta be twice as gracious, twice as nice, just to make up for their dick moves. (And back at this point in my life I wasn’t all that nice.)

    “Which goes to show these guys don’t know their bible,” I told my classmate, “because the bible actually says it’s their fault you weren’t healed.”

    “How’s that now?” he said. I didn’t have a bible on me, so I loosely told him this story. One day Jesus walks in on a debate his students are having with some scribes, Mk 9.14 and wants to know what’s up. I’ll continue with Matthew’s version of events.

    Mark 9.17-19 NLT
    14 At the foot of the mountain, a large crowd was waiting for them. A man came and knelt before Jesus and said, 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 So I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”
    17 Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon in the boy, and it left him. From that moment the boy was well.
    19 Afterward the disciples asked Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we cast out that demon?”
    20 “You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”

    “The boy didn’t need to have faith,” I pointed out; “I don’t know if he had any idea what was going on; if he was in any position to even have faith. His faith didn’t matter. Your faith didn’t matter. The faith-healer’s faith is what matters, and Jesus’s disciples didn’t have it. So that’s why nothing happened.”

    “So those people praying for me are the problem,” he said. “Well I already knew that.”

    “Yeah,” I said, “but now you know why. And the next time they wanna blame you for lacking faith, remind ’em of when Jesus raised people from the dead, and ask them how much faith those dead people needed to have.”

    Now yeah, there are gonna be Christians who insist the victims do need to have faith before God can heal them; that even Jesus himself can be hindered when people refuse to have it. Mk 6.5, Mt 13.58 I agree people’s faithlessness can get in the way… but I still think the burden is 99.9999 percent on the faith-healer. We mustn’t offer to cure the sick and unwell and infirm, unless we’ve first asked the Holy Spirit, and he’s told us to pray for them. If we’re stepping out ahead of the Spirit, we have no guarantee he’s gonna do a thing. He might! And he might not.

    Christians who don’t understand this, regularly have the bad habit of blaming the victim—and quoting today’s out-of-context verse to defend themselves. Not that the verse says what they claim it does. I’ll switch to the KJV to quote it, since that’s the version Christians quote most:

    James 5.15 KJV
    And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

    “The prayer of faith shall save the sick,” and their argument is that if the prayer doesn’t save the sick person, it’s because somebody lacked faith. It’s kinda obvious from the text that James means the prayer has to be of faith; the person doing the praying has to have faith; it’s not the sick person!

    But wannabe faith healers are gonna insist they totally do have faith, so they can’t be to blame. So it’s gotta be someone else. The sick person, likely.

    Receiving not our witness.

    by K.W. Leslie, 24 March

    John 3.11.

    Sometimes you share the gospel with someone… and they’re not interested.

    To be fair, sometimes they didn’t ask you to share the gospel: You just kinda imposed it on them. “Lemme tell you about Jesus,” and before they could agree or say “No thank you,” off you went. Or you presented the gospel as, “If you were to die this very minute, do you know whether you’d be in heaven?”—as if that’s the only thing the gospel is: Afterlife insurance.

    Whether you did it right, or did it intrusively, or emphasized popular dark Christian fears instead of good news: They’re not interested. You offer to lead ’em in the sinner’s prayer; they don’t care to pray that. You invite ’em to church; they’re not coming. No thank you. Pass. I’m happy with how things are.

    Some Christians take this rejection kinda hard. Especially when, for various reasons, they were sure they were gonna lead this person to Jesus. Or really wanted to. Or thought they heard the Holy Spirit tell them to share Jesus. Others of them take every rejection hard, as if every no is a personal defeat in spiritual hand-to-hand combat with Satan itself.

    And when they take it hard, they tend to get petty about it. And quote today’s out-of-context scripture to justify themselves: “We shared the gospel, but they didn’t wanna hear it. They wouldn’t receive our witness.” Sometimes they straight-up quote the entire verse.

    John 3.11 KJV
    Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.

    The verse isn’t about evangelism. It’s about Jesus teaching the Galileans and Judeans about himself and God, but the Judeans—particularly the Judean leadership—didn’t care to hear him, because they had their own ideas about how Messiah and God work. There was one Judean senator who wanted to hear him out, and he’s the guy to whom Jesus said this. The rest weren’t receptive.

    True, when we talk about Jesus with other people, a number of ’em likewise have their own ideas about who Jesus is, and don’t wanna hear our views because they “don’t follow organized religion.” They prefer how they organized things. Only in these cases are we even approaching the same thing Jesus is speaking of in John 3.11.

    The rest of the time, it’s just people who dismissed the gospel. And in quoting this scripture, we’re being such drama queens about it. Calm down, little snowflake. You need to learn to deal with rejection better.

    Lifting Jesus up—in worship, or in crucifixion?

    by K.W. Leslie, 23 March

    John 12.32.

    When I first wrote about out-of-context scriptures, I dealt with the misquotes I heard most often. Like taking the Lord’s name in vain, or God’s word not returning void, or when two or three gather in Jesus’s name, or God making all things work for our good. There are dozens.

    I don’t hear any of them misquoting today’s verse.

    I have no reason to believe people don’t do it; people will misquote anything. It’s just I haven’t caught ’em doing it. I got the verse from an internet search I did years ago for “Most common verses Christians take out of context.” It turned up a bunch of listicles, and John 12.32 shows up in a number of them. (I kinda wonder whether the people who write these listicles aren’t just swiping ideas from one another. “Um… I can only think of nine out-of-context scriptures; what’s a tenth? Better Google it.”)

    But it’s not been on my radar. Here it is though.

    John 12.32 KJV
    And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

    Okay. I have heard plenty of Christians, including myself, talk about “lifting up the name of Jesus.” We’re talking about exalting Jesus—giving him honor, worshiping him, praising him, spreading the good news about him, treating him with respect, and so forth. Exalting Jesus is what we Christians do. We praise him ’cause he’s awesome. We hope our praises—multiplied by our good deeds—might get pagans to give Jesus a second look, and maybe come to exalt him themselves.

    But we don’t use John 12.32 as our proof text. Well I don’t, anyway.

    Here’s what I suspect: People assume that’s our proof text, because our “lifting up” language sounds an awful lot like a reference John 12.32. So every time someone speaks of lifting up the name of Jesus, we’re indirectly quoting that verse.

    Nope. I’m not. I don’t have that verse in mind at all. Pretty sure no one does.

    But let’s not rule out the possibility. Maybe someone, when they read John 12.32, think the scripture is about praising Jesus: If we lift him up—in praise—it’ll draw people to Jesus. I’ve never heard anyone preach this, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if someone did preach this. It’s not at all what the verse is about, but since when has that stopped anyone?

    If you know of anyone misquoting the verse to mean something else, by all means let me know. The listicles were no help.

    James’s ruling at the Council of Jerusalem.

    by K.W. Leslie, 22 March
    Acts 15.12-21 KWL
    12 All the crowd was silent.
    They’d heard Barnabas and Paul explain all the miracles God did,
    and wonders among the gentiles because of them.
    13 After their silence James answered, saying,
    “Men, fellow Christians, hear me.
    14 Simon Peter explained just how God first chose
    to take a people for his name out of the gentiles.
    15 The prophets’ words harmonize with this,
    just as it’s written:
    16 ‘After this, I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
    I will rebuild its ruins. I will lift it up.
    17 Thus whenever the remnant of the Lord’s people might earnestly search,
    and all the gentiles who had been called by my name…
    says the Lord who does these things,’ Am 9.11-12
    18 well-known in that age.
    19 So I judge to not further trouble
    those of the gentiles who repent to God.
    20 Instead we’re to write them about abstaining
    from the contamination of idolatry—
    porn, strangled idolatrous sacrifices, and blood.
    21 From the earliest generations, the Law of Moses
    has been read in synagogue every Sabbath
    in the cities which proclaim him.”
    Previously:
  • “The Council of Jerusalem.” Ac 15.1-12
  • To recap: Certain Christians from Jerusalem had gone to Syria, to Barnabas and Paul’s church in Antioch, and were teaching gentile Christians they needed to first become Jews before they could be saved. This was after all what Jews believed and taught: Messiah is king of Israel, king of the Jews—not the world. So if any non-Jews wanna be included in his kingdom, they needed Jewish citizenship. They had to become Jews. Starting with ritual circumcision. Whip it out; we’re gonna cut you!

    Barnabas and Paul objected: Messiah is king of Israel and king of the world. Becoming Jews isn’t necessary. And in fact, requiring it has the side effect of telling people our works save us; not God’s grace. We’re not saved by jumping through hoops. We’re saved only by turning to Jesus.

    Simon Peter pointed out God himself confirmed this by granting the Holy Spirit to Cornelius and the first gentiles he ever preached the gospel to. If God didn’t require ritual circumcision before gentiles could become Christian, why should Christians? What business do we have in adding any prerequisites to salvation?

    As I said before, Roman Catholics like to imagine Peter led the church back then, as its first pope; later as the first bishop of Rome (notwithstanding the leaders of any other churches in the city of Rome before Peter eventually moved there). But by this point he had stepped back from leading the Jerusalem church, to concentrate on other ministry. So Jesus’s brother James had stepped up, and in his capacity as the Jerusalem church’s supervisor (Greek ἐπίσκοπος/epískopos, “bishop”) presided over this council. As president, same as the president of a synagogue, his job was to moderate: Recognize the speakers, stop discussion when it turned into bickering, and make the final ruling. It’s exactly like being a judge.

    The Council of Jerusalem.

    by K.W. Leslie, 21 March
    Acts 15.1-12 KWL
    1 Certain people, coming down from Judea to Antioch,
    were teaching the fellow Christians this:
    “Unless you’ve been circumcised in the manner of Moses,
    you are not able to be saved.”
    2 It became no small standing controversy and debate
    between Paul and Barnabas and them.
    Paul and Barnabas arranged to go up to Judea
    with some others of them,
    to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem,
    to talk about their debate.
    3 (By the way, while being sent off by the church,
    they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria,
    telling the Christians there about converting gentiles in detail,
    causing great joy among all their fellow Christians.)
    4 Appearing in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were received
    by the churches, the apostles, and the elders.
    5 They brought up certain things
    about the heresy the Pharisee believers were speaking of—
    that “It is necessary to circumcise yourselves
    to keep the command of the Mosaic law.”
    6 The apostles and elders gathered together to look at this word.
    7 Many debates were coming out of it.
    Rising up, Simon Peter told them, “Men, fellow Christians,
    you know that in the olden days,
    God chose from among you, through my mouth,
    for gentiles to hear the word of the good news, and believe.
    8 God, the heart-knower, witnessed to them,
    giving the Holy Spirit just as he did to us as well.
    9 The Spirit never discriminated between us and them,
    cleansing their hearts by faith.
    10 So why do you now challenge God
    to put a yoke on the students’ necks
    which neither our parents nor we have to carry?
    11 Instead, because of our Master Jesus’s grace,
    we trust him to save them in the same way as us.”
    12 All the crowd was silent.
    They’d heard Barnabas and Paul explain all the miracles God did,
    and wonders among the gentiles because of them.
    Next:
  • “James’s ruling at the Council of Jerusalem.” Ac 15.12-21
  • Whenever I talk about Christian orthodoxy, and whether a Christian doctrine is debatable or not, I define the debatable ones by the ancient Christian councils. If the ancient Christians hashed this out during the first 700 years of Christianity—back before the one church split into the separate Orthodox and Catholic camps—then it’s decided. That’s the orthodox position.

    No we don’t get to second-guess the ancient councils and decide they were wrong. We recognize they were still listening to the Holy Spirit at that time, and he led ’em to their theological conclusions. The only reason—the only reason—today’s Christians argue the ancients were wrong (or push the popular conspiracy theory that Emperor Constantine, or “the popes”—which didn’t even exist yet!—hijacked ancient Christianity and turned it heretic), is because those naysaying Christians wanna claim they get to decide these things, and they’re right. And they don’t, and they’re not. (Their bad attitudes and bad fruit kinda give ’em away, too.)

    The precedent for these ancient councils is found in the bible, in the very first church council, which we call the Council of Jerusalem. It was presided by Jesus’s brother James, who was the head apostle in Jerusalem at the time. (Roman Catholics like to claim Simon Peter was still in charge, ’cause he’s their favorite. But Peter had stepped down some years before, during one of the persecutions—although you notice in today’s passage he was definitely active among them.) As president, James got the last word, in which he expressed the consensus of the apostles—which appears to be their unanimous conclusion. Later councils also tried for a unanimous conclusion—after all, if they’re all listening to the same Holy Spirit, shouldn’t the conclusion be unanimous?

    Because today’s Christians are fragmented into denominations, and some of our denominations refuse to talk to one another, much less come to agreements with one another, we can’t do church councils anymore. We can do denominational councils, and do: Certain church networks can get together and hash out all the divisive debates within their churches. And while they might claim they speak for all Christians everywhere (like the Roman Catholics try to do), they really only speak for themselves. Their regular inability to see outside their own boxes, makes it kinda impossible for the Holy Spirit to speak to every Christian. Hence he frequently doesn’t even try; he just speaks to that denomination. But every so often these denominational councils come up with declarations which every Christian oughta listen to—because they are actually heeding the Spirit. So it’s not a bad idea for the rest of us to pay some attention to what the Spirit’s doing among our fellow Christians. It might profit us.

    Anyway, back to this council.

    “Why is God silent?”

    by K.W. Leslie, 18 March

    One of the more common questions—really, more of a complaint—I hear from pagans is, “Why is God so invisible? Why’s he so impossible to detect? Why’s he so hidden? How come, when I pray, I never hear him talk back? How come, whenever I call on him, I get nothing—no answers, no signs, no miracles, no prophets, no audible voice, no burning bush nor pillar of fire, no thunder and lightning, nothing? Why’s he gotta be so impossible? Why’s he gotta be… well, not there?

    Which is an excellent question.

    It’s one more Christians oughta ask. Because for a number of us, we have the very same question. We likewise think God’s playing a cosmic game of hide-and-seek with us, and wanna know why he’s so silent, invisible, and missing.

    In fact some of those Christians even teach God chooses to be absent: He turned off his miracles, stopped talking to his kids, withdrew himself as much as possible from the universe, and only answers prayers through natural processes and coincidence. He’s made himself impossible to find.

    Why would he do such a thing? Well these cessationists claim it’s ’cause he’s trying to grow our faith. See, if he were visible, and we could see for ourselves he exists… we wouldn’t have to trust him, or the bible, or fellow Christians, when they tell us he exists. We wouldn’t need faith. So we wouldn’t practice it, wouldn’t grow it; it’d be tiny and anemic.

    I grew up hearing this explanation. I still think it’s stupid.

    And inconsistent with the bible. God wants to be found. 1Ch 28.9, Jr 29.13 Jesus taught us to ask, seek, knock, Mt 7.7 and make our requests known to our Father, who isn’t far away. Nor is he hiding.

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

    by K.W. Leslie, 17 March

    Pádraig of Ireland, whom we know as St. Patrick or St. Paddy, died 17 March 493. Old custom is to celebrate saints’ days not on their birthday (which sometimes even they didn’t know), but on the day they went to paradise. So, happy St. Patrick’s Day.

    In the United States, Irish Americans (and pretty much everyone else, ’cause the more the merrier) tend to treat the day as a celebration of Irish culture. Thing is, Americans know little to nothing about actual Irish culture. We barely know the difference between an Irish accent, a Scots accent, and a Yorkshire accent. What we do know is Guinness, though we’ll settle for anything alcoholic, including beer filled with green food coloring. Me, I used to love McDonald’s “shamrock shakes,” though the last time I had one I found it way too sweet for my liking. It’s because they take an already-sugary vanilla shake, then add sugary green mint stuff. I much prefer adding vanilla and mint to a Starbucks Frappuccino.

    Most American customs consist of drinking, eating stereotypical Irish food like corned beef and potatoes, parades in which the religious participants express varying degrees of outrage at all the irreligious participants, and all sorts of Irish distortions—some of ’em unknowingly offensive. British Americans used to treat Irish Americans like crap, bringing over their prejudices from the old country. Believe it or don’t, some of that hatred is still around. I have a few Irish ancestors myself (although way more of ’em are German, Dutch, and Scots), so I’ve not experienced that prejudice firsthand. But I have witnessed it.

    Oh, and wearing green. American custom is to wear green, lest someone pinch you. But the color actually comes from the political struggle between the predominantly Protestant monarchists, and the predominantly Catholic socialists. Much like Americans use red and blue to signify party affiliation, the Irish use green and orange. When we Americans wear green, we unwittingly declare we’re in favor of socialism and Catholicism. Now, I have no affiliations within Irish politics. (Though as an American I’m no monarchist whatsoever; I recognize only Jesus as king, and Christians have no business backing any kingdom but his.) But if I gotta pick a color, I’m Protestant—with nothing against my Roman Catholic sisters and brothers; like I said it’s if I gotta pick a color. I risk getting pinched over it, but I still prefer an informed choice over unthinkingly following the crowd.

    Errors in the bible.

    by K.W. Leslie, 16 March

    Years ago I was asked whether I believe in biblical inerrancy, the idea the bible contains no errors. Nope, I said. It’s got errors. We learned about ’em in bible college.

    He was outraged. I learned about them in bible college? What kind of godless so-called “bible college” did I attend? Well it was an Assemblies of God school, which outraged him all the more because that’s his denomination, and he had presumed Assemblies professors would never, ever teach such a thing. (Actually that particular professor was Presbyterian, but I didn’t tell him that.)

    I pointed out, same as my professor pointed out, that if he hadn’t told us about the errors, plenty of nonchristian apologists will gleefully tell us about ’em, just to freak us out. Better we learn about them and deal with them, than never learn about them… then have a massive faith crisis when we stumble across them. (Or when some antichrist forces us to look at them for fun.)

    It’s for this same reason I’m writing about them here. They exist. Deal with ’em.

    ’Cause as you know, plenty of Christians refuse to deal with them. In fact this is part of the reason the New International Version is so popular: Its editors have deliberately edited out most of the errors. I’m not kidding. They straight-up changed the text… and now they can claim the NIV is error-free. And anyone who carries an NIV can claim, “I don’t know what you mean about errors in the bible; my bible doesn’t have any such errors.” Well of course.

    How can they defend this behavior? Meh; they don’t even try. They just figure it’s their duty as good Christian inerrantists to delete the discrepancies, lest antichrists use the discrepancies against them. How they did it—yet can claim any degree whatsoever of intellectual honesty—is by moving ’em to the footnotes. When 2 Kings 8.26 says Ahaziah ben Jehoshaphat became king at 22 years old, but 2 Chronicles 22.2 says he was 42, the NIV makes ’em both say 22, and include this footnote in 2 Chronicles:

    Some Septuagint manuscripts and Syriac (see also 2 Kings 8:26); Hebrew forty-two

    My copy of the Septuagint says he was 20, not 22; so that’s an inconsistency as well.

    But to be fair it’s not just the NIV which translated this verse this way. The Amplified Bible (current edition), CSB, ESV, ISV, Message, NASB, NET, NLT, and Voice have decided to ignore the original text, and go with a translation consistent with their personal beliefs. I leave it to you as whether it’s truly inerrantist of them to alter it this way. Because changing the verse to read “22” instead of the original text’s אַרְבָּעִ֨ים וּשְׁתַּ֤יִם/arbayím u-settím, “forty and two,” is actually a clear declaration the original text is wrong—and a clear attempt to hide this fact.

    And what’s to say 42 is the wrong number, not 22? Maybe Ahaziah was actually 42 years old. You don’t know.

    Versions, translations, paraphrases, and padded texts.

    by K.W. Leslie, 15 March

    Most English-language bibles have the word version in their title: The King James Version, the Revised Version, the American Standard Version, the New International Version, the English Standard Version, and so on.

    It’s a popular way to indicate your bible is different from other bibles: You got a different version. Just like the fifth edition of a textbook might be a little different from the fourth edition: Still the same book, but a little different. It doesn’t tell a different story from other bibles, nor communicates different ideas. There should be exactly the same stories and ideas. But the way one bible puts it into English, isn’t gonna phrase it the same way as another bible will. The KJV will use 16th century English, and the NKJV won’t.

    More recently, bibles are starting to be titled translations—like the Good News Translation, the New Living Translation, the New English Translation, the God’s Word Translation. It’s a more precise word than version, ’cause “version” can suggest a different point of view, and bible versions had better not present a different point of view from one another. All should be accurate translations of the original text. And all bibles are translations.

    Well… unless they’re not. Sometimes they’re paraphrases.

    Blaming the devil for our drama.

    by K.W. Leslie, 14 March

    Back in college I was one of the organizers for an evangelism project: We were gonna go to downtown Santa Cruz and hand out bibles to passersby.

    Yes I know; The Gideons International already do this. Why weren’t we doing this with them? Several reasons:

    • They won’t let you hand out bibles with them, or hand out their bibles for them, unless you’re a member—“a Gideon.”
    • They won’t let you even be a Gideon unless you’re a man, and have a white-collar job. Seriously. The ministry was founded by businessmen for businessmen, and it’s still kind of a big deal to them that only businessmen be Gideons. (Emphasis on business men.) So, no college students.
    • At the time they only handed out KJV New Testaments, and we wanted to give out entire bibles—in an easier-to-understand translation.

    I’m not knocking the Gideons; they do good work. Those bibles they put in hotel rooms have been immeasurably useful. But their exclusivity can be a problem. So we did our own thing.

    This was a Christian school, so students had to be involved in one ministry a year, and I picked the bible-handout thingy because, honestly, it was gonna be a cakewalk. All you had to do was order bibles, hand them out one Saturday, and you were done. For the year. You could spend all your other Saturdays on intramural sports. Which I did.

    My job on this team—my entire job—was ordering the bibles. I told them I could find bibles for cheaper than their usual sources. I did. It took a bit of work (Google wasn’t invented yet; yeah, I know, I’m old) but I found a place which sold NIV bibles for 50 cents each, and bought 200. They were thick, ’cause they were printed in tiny text on newsprint-quality paper, but they were bibles. They took several weeks to deliver, because two-day shipping wasn’t a thing yet, but they arrived when expected, and on time. My role went off without a hitch.

    Everybody else’s role? Load the five boxes into a van, take ’em to Pacific Avenue, and hand ’em out. We set up an undecorated plastic table as our home base, carried a handful to different places on the street, and accosted people with, “Would you like a free bible?” Maybe one in five did. But we gave ’em all away. We figured we’d be there for 4 hours, or until all the bibles were gone; they were gone in about an hour, so we went out for coffee.

    All in all this was a really easy ministry. Did it have any impact on the people who were given bibles? I hope so; I liked to think so back then. Unless the Holy Spirit tells me any impact it had, I really have no way of knowing.

    Okay, now to the point of this story.

    Right after we set up the table, our group leader asked to pray for us. So we gathered round the table, joined hands, and he prayed something along the lines of, “Thank you God for letting us do this ministry. Man did Satan come against us. Hard. But thank you for holding him back. Now let people be touched by your word. In Jesus name amen.” And off we went, bibles in hand.

    Of course when he prayed this, none of this felt at all hard to me. Like I said, it was a cakewalk. The bibles arrived on schedule, the weather was nice, turnout was decent (slightly lower than expected, but that always happened), and my personal life was running smoothly. Satan came against us hard? When?

    Later I found out the details. Satan wasn’t coming after our project all that hard at all, if at all. It’s just our group leader was going through some really intense stuff with his girlfriend. He personally felt like he was under attack by the devil. So he presumed everyone was likewise under some devilish attack; probably because of the massive effect our bible handout might have on the neighborhood, the city, the county, the state, the world.

    Yep, projection.

    Nation will rise up against nation.

    by K.W. Leslie, 11 March
    Mark 13.8 KWL
    8 “For ethnic group will rise up against ethnic group.
    Kingdom against kingdom.
    Earthquakes will happen various places. Scarcity will happen.
    These things are early birth-pains.”
    Matthew 24.7-8 KWL
    7 “For ethnic group will rise up against ethnic group.
    Kingdom against kingdom.
    Scarcity will happen, and earthquakes in various places.
    8 All these things are early birth-pains.”
    Luke 21.10-11 KWL
    10 Then Jesus told them, “Ethnic group will rise up against ethnic group.
    Kingdom against kingdom.
    11 Great earthquakes will happen various places.
    Scarcity and plague will happen.
    Terrors and great signs from heaven will happen.”

    (Previously:

    • “The Olivet Discourse: The temple’s coming down.” Mk 13.1-4, Mt 24.1-3, Lk 21.5-7
    • “Look out! Fake Messiahs!” Mk 13.3-6, Mt 24.3-5, Lk 21.7-8)
    • “Wars and rumors of war.” Mk 13.7-8, Mt 24.6-8, Lk 21.9-11

    You notice the title of this piece is “Nation will rise up against nation,” yet when I translated the gospel passages which usually get interpreted that way, I rendered ἔθνος/éthnos as “ethnic group.”

    Because that’s what an éthnos is. For that matter, it’s what a nation is. If you live in a multiethnic country like the United States, I can understand if you’re not aware of this, and think “nation” and “country” mean the very same thing. Not in this case.

    Let me assure you: Racists are fully aware of this definition. So whenever they talk about “this nation,” their nation, they’re talking about their race. They wanna purge the country of other races, or at the very least make ’em second-class citizens. It’s not natural, they insist, for a country to be made up of, or led by, multiple races.

    This kind of tribalism has been with humanity a very, very long time. Because tribes and races originally began with families. Supposedly you could trust your family; not so much other families. So you kept things within your group. Over time the groups got large, and turned into whole countries, but the prejudice persisted: Trust your countrymen. Not so much foreigners.

    Even when the foreigners were the very same ethnicity as you. Ancient Israelites and Edomites were the very same ethnicity: They were descended, respectively, from Jacob and Esau. Twin brothers. But for the longest time they were two nations—two different ethnic groups—which didn’t trust one another.

    Ancient Israelites, Moabites, and Ammonites were also the very same ethnicity: Jacob, and the brothers Moab and Benammi, were second cousins, all great-grandsons of Terah ben Nahor. Ancient Israelites and Midianites were also the same ethnicity: Midian was Abraham’s sixth son. Ge 25.1-2 Yep, all these ancient middle eastern nations in the bible were Hebrews. Yet they considered one another foreigners. And fought one another all the time.

    Most westerners are fully aware Europeans have done this too. They’re ethnically, genetically, even culturally the same. Russia and Ukraine, obviously. Yet they fight.

    Why? Human depravity, of course. People think it’s in their personal best interests to dominate one another, so they try. Sometimes succeed. Sometimes not.

    Anyway. The reason Jesus said nations would fight nations, then kingdoms fight kingdoms, isn’t just because he’s practicing a little Hebrew poetry. These aren’t really synonyms. He’s talking about ethnic groups fighting one another—then political groups fighting one another.

    And sometimes the ethnic groups are part of the same kingdom. The United States, obviously. Ancient empires especially, whether Roman, Greek, Persian, Neo-Babylonian, Assyrian, Mongol, Chinese, and so forth; simply by virtue of conquering lots of people. But also Jesus’s homeland, the Galilee—which had both Judean settlements in it, like Nazareth; and Syrian Greek cities in it, like Sepphoris, which was only 6km away from Nazareth and predated it by half a century.

    Jesus does away with any discriminations between Jew and gentile, and likewise gentile and gentile. But racists ignore this, and wanna keep demarcating which nation—which ethnic group—they are. And wanna fight. And try to fight. Nope, this doesn’t mean it’s the End; it means humans are just being human, and not following Jesus.

    Wars and rumors of war.

    by K.W. Leslie, 10 March
    Mark 13.7-8 KWL
    7 “Whenever you might personally hear war,
    and war news, don’t freak out.
    These things happen, but the End is yet to come!
    8 For ethnic group will rise up against ethnic group.
    Kingdom against kingdom.
    Earthquakes will happen various places. Scarcity will happen.
    These things are early birth-pains.”
    Matthew 24.6-8 KWL
    6 “You will personally hear war
    and war news. See that you don’t freak out!
    These things happen, but it’s not the End yet!
    7 For ethnic group will rise up against ethnic group.
    Kingdom against kingdom.
    Scarcity will happen, and earthquakes in various places.
    8 All these things are early birth-pains.”
    Luke 21.9-11 KWL
    9 “You will personally hear war
    and chaos. Don’t be terrified!
    These things happen first, but the End doesn’t immediately follow!”
    10 Then Jesus told them, “Ethnic group will rise up against ethnic group.
    Kingdom against kingdom.
    11 Great earthquakes will happen various places.
    Scarcity and plague will happen.
    Terrors and great signs from heaven will happen.”
    Previously:
  • “The Olivet Discourse: The temple’s coming down.” Mk 13.1-4, Mt 24.1-3, Lk 21.5-7
  • “Look out! Fake Messiahs!” Mk 13.3-6, Mt 24.3-5, Lk 21.7-8
  • If you’ve read the Sermon on the Mount, as I hope you have (you are Christian, right? It’s kinda mandatory), you know Jesus orders us followers not to worry.

    Matthew 6.31-34 KJV
    31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

    But when we’ve not surrendered our lives, our entire lives, to Jesus, we’re gonna suck at obeying this teaching. We’re gonna worry.

    If we’re poor, we’re gonna worry about survival. Like food, drink, clothing, rent, crime, health, petty expenses, massive unexpected bills. Other things too, but these will take up the bulk of our worries.

    If we’re comfortable or wealthy, we’re gonna about keeping those comforts and wealth. And the things which influence or threaten them, like markets, politics, laws, agitators, possible revolutions. You know, oligarch stuff.

    Most of the professional End Times prognosticators especially want us to worry about comfort and stability. Not just because they wanna sell us food buckets for our End Times bunkers. Most of ’em are preaching out of their very own paranoia. They worry even more than you do about the stuff they agitate about. Their own End Times bunkers are very well-stocked.

    All of ’em ignore today’s passage. Or in some cases flip its meaning over entirely.

    Yes, I translated Mark 13.7 and Matthew 24.6 as “don’t freak out.” It’s a legitimate interpretation of μὴ θροεῖσθε/mi throeísthe, “don’t wail aloud in terror.” Then as now, people would hear about violence, earthquakes, signs from heaven, and immediately think, “What does it mean?” Then spend a whole lot of time speculating what it might mean. Is it a sign from the gods, like the superstitious Greeks insisted?

    Clearly they never read Ecclesiastes—or if they had, they ignore everything it teaches. Most of the time it doesn’t mean anything. But the human brain wants to make connections—and even in the absence of evidence, it’ll go haywire and make connections anyway. Everything’s a conspiracy to such people. Everything’s a “sign of the times.”

    But I just showed you three different Jesus-quotes in the bible which say no it’s not. And if you don’t trust my translation, fine; read others. They’re all gonna mean the same thing though. Stop prematurely freaking out about the End!

    Look out! Fake Messiahs!

    by K.W. Leslie, 09 March
    Mark 13.3-6 KWL
    3 As Jesus was sitting on Olivet Hill, opposite the temple,
    Simon Peter, James, John, and Andrew were asking him privately,
    4 “Tell us when these things happen,”
    and “What sign appears when all these things are about to end?”
    5 [In reply] Jesus begins to tell them, “Watch out.
    Anyone ought not lead you astray:
    6 Many will come in my name, saying this: ‘I’m somebody.’
    And many will be led astray.”
    Matthew 24.3-5 KWL
    3 As Jesus was sitting upon Olivet Hill, the students came to him privately,
    saying, “Tell us when these things happen,”
    and “What sign appears of your coming, and of the end of the age?”
    4 In reply Jesus tells them, “Watch out.
    Anyone ought not lead you astray:
    5 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m Messiah.’
    And many will be led astray.”
    Luke 21.7-8 KWL
    7 His students asked Jesus, saying, “Teacher,
    so when do these things happen,
    and what sign appears when these things are about to happen?”
    8 Jesus said, “Watch out.
    You ought not be led astray:
    Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m somebody, and the time has come near.’
    You ought not go after them.”
    Previously:
  • “The Olivet Discourse: The temple’s coming down.” Mk 13.1-4, Mt 24.1-3, Lk 21.5-7
  • God reveals future events for three reasons:

    1. To warn us something’s coming, so get ready.
    2. To give us hope. Either with good news, or with the fact he’ll be right there with us despite some bad stuff.
    3. To confirm prophecy. This is when he gets specific about future events; otherwise he prefers to keep things vague, lest we try to influence, control, or fake these future events.

    The Olivet Discourse is definitely a “Get ready” prophecy, and those of us who know history will immediately recognize it’s about the Jewish War, when the Romans destroyed the temple in the year 70.

    Those of us who don’t know history, regularly presume it’s yet to come—probably as part of what “prophecy scholars” call “the great tribulation,” which takes place right before Jesus’s second coming. And if it hasn’t happened yet, it means the second coming isn’t happening yet… which means they’re not getting ready for Jesus’s return; they’re getting ready for tribulation. Build those bunkers and get those guns.

    Jesus presented the Olivet Discourse round the year 30. Hence the Jewish War would take place in these students’ lifetime; not long at all after the gospels were first written down in the 50s and 60s. Probably what helped these gospels spread widely was the fact all this was happening, right then, just as Jesus foretold.

    And it began with false Messiahs. Wannabe revolutionaries showed up, claimed they were Messiah, the true king of Israel, divinely empowered to overthrow the mighty Roman Empire and reestablish the nation to the heights it reached in Solomon ben David’s day. “Make Israel Great Again,” as it were. Hold conventions and rallies, whip the patriots into a frenzy, and get ’em to actually try to overthrow the occupying Roman army. ’Cause God was on their side, wasn’t he?

    Instead the Romans sent reinforcements. Then more. Then their best general, Titus Flavius Vespasianus (whom historians call Vespasian), who grew to believe Israel needed to be crushed entirely. The Judean people decided the End had come, and decided to go all in with the false Messiahs. The rest was a bloodbath, as the Romans slaughtered half the Jews on the planet. That’s not hyperbole: There were 4 million Jews in the world at the time, and the Romans killed 2 million.

    And conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and left Israel without a homeland for 19 centuries.

    If you know nothing about this history, it’s because the “prophecy scholars” downplay it as much as possible. “Oh, that wasn’t the great tribulation; what’s coming in our timeline is far worse.” “Oh, the Holocaust during World War 2 was even worse.” (Yeah, as far as numbers of people murdered; of course. But Romans tried to eliminate Jews just as vigorously as Nazis did.) They don’t want the Olivet Discourse to be about the Jewish War; it’s gotta describe a future event.

    Why? Because the coming great tribulation has to be near, right around the corner when you least expect it; and it has to be terrifying. The better to convince pagans to become Christian—“you don’t want to be left behind, and undergo tribulation!” The better to keep Christians in line. If hell doesn’t scare people, tribulation might. It’s become an extremely valuable tool for dark Christians. Fear is a powerful motivator.

    When such people read history books and realize Jesus is really speaking of the Jewish War, their knee-jerk response is denial. “No, Jesus was speaking of the End Times. I always heard it was about the End Times. The Jewish War can’t have been the great tribulation! Everything I believe—all my favorite End Times prophecy scholars—would be wrong!”

    Well it is. They are. But all the time and money they’ve invested in their rubbish needs to be justified in their minds. Our mental self-defense mechanisms demand it. So these folks dismiss reality and history, embrace their dark Christian fantasies… and never notice all the really bad fruit it produces in them, their churches, their converts, and our nation.

    The Olivet Discourse: The temple’s coming down.

    by K.W. Leslie, 08 March
    Mark 13.1-4 KWL
    1 As Jesus was coming out of temple, one of his students told him,
    “Teacher, look at the stones; look at the buildings!”
    2 Jesus told him, “You see these great buildings?
    You might never find a single stone here left in its ruin.”
    3 As Jesus was sitting on Olivet Hill, opposite the temple,
    Simon Peter, James, John, and Andrew were asking him privately,
    4 “Tell us when these things happen,”
    and “What sign appears when all these things are about to end?”
    Matthew 24.1-3 KWL
    1 Jesus was coming out of temple,
    and his students came to him to show him the temple buildings.
    2 Jesus told them in reply, “Don’t you see everything?
    Amen, I promise you:
    You might never find a single stone here left in its ruin.”
    3 As Jesus was sitting upon Olivet Hill, the students came to him privately,
    saying, “Tell us when these things happen,”
    and “What sign appears of your coming, and of the end of the age?”
    Luke 21.5-7 KWL
    5 Someone was saying in temple how beautiful the stones and gifts on display were.
    Jesus said, 6 “These things you see:
    The days will come when not a single stone will be left in its ruin.”
    7 His students asked Jesus, saying, “Teacher,
    so when do these things happen,
    and what sign appears when these things are about to happen?”

    These are the passages which introduce what Christians now call “the Olivet Discourse,” Jesus’s explanation to four of his students about the near future and the second coming. It took place on Olivet Hill (KJV “the mount of Olives”), hence the name.

    It begins with people praising the temple. Mark says it’s a student; Matthew says multiple students; Luke keeps it vaguely “someone.” Jesus’s response was it was all coming down. And four of his kids later privately came to him and said, “When?” Understandably so. You’d wanna know when such a thing might happen—same as Christians today always wanna know when Jesus is returning, or when the End will come.

    Jesus’s answer in Acts doesn’t satisfy such people whatsoever:

    Acts 1.6-7 KJV
    6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.

    To them, “It’s not for you to know” is unacceptable. They insist on knowing. They’ve even created timelines. Really complicated timelines.

    Jesus told his students some stuff, and today I’m gonna start digging through this stuff. Bear in mind I’m gonna interpret it in its historical context, so it might sound a little different than what you’re used to. That’s because the “prophecy scholars” who usually quote the Olivet Discourse, don’t care about historical context, don’t care how Peter, James, John, and Andrew would understand this passage, and especially don’t care that parts of it were fulfilled about 40 years after Jesus said it. Because they insist every bit of it happens in the future. They got it in their timelines. Tribulation is coming!

    Yeah, I’m no fan of fear-based Christianity. It’s all a scam to get you to stop thinking, buy their books, vote for their candidates, and grant them power over you. Let’s submit to Jesus instead, shall we?

    Aren’t we living in the last days?

    by K.W. Leslie, 07 March

    Yes.

    But you may not realize what that answer means. Usually because most people don’t realize what the question means.

    In the scriptures, “the last days” does not mean the End Times, the world right before Jesus returns, the reign of Jesus which follows, and the end of the world which comes right after that. But that’s what most people think it means; pagans and Christians alike. So when they ask, “Aren’t we living in the last days?” what they really mean is “Aren’t we living in the End Times?” Do the current events we see on the news, correspond with John’s end-time visions in Revelation?

    The answer to that question is no. We’re not living in the End Times. Because the End Times actually don’t start till Jesus returns. It doesn’t consist of any pretrib rapture and one-world government and great tribulation. It starts and ends with Christ Jesus.

    When we’re living in the End Times, you’ll know it. Everybody’s gonna see that second coming. Whether they believe it, or insist it’s fake news ’cause they have an entirely different-looking second coming in mind—one which better aligns with their terrifying, vengeful views—is another thing.

    So if the last days aren’t the End Times, what are they?

    Well y’know how the western calendar divides human history into BCE and CE? (Or the older terms, BC and AD?) The Common Era, or Christian Era, is the division we live in; the Before-Christian Era is the division which came before. In the BCE humanity looked forward to Messiah’s first coming; in the CE we look forward to his second. And before these eras were formally made part of the calendar, Christians thought of these periods as the “first days” and the “last days”—and in these last days, God sent us his son. He 1.2

    The guys who put the western calendar together got the year of Messiah’s birth wrong; it’s six years off. The last days actually began 2,028 years ago.

    And yeah, when you tell people this, they freak out a little. Because they thought the last days are the End Times. And the longer people believe something that’s not true—especially when we’ve made it a core belief!—the bigger the upheaval when someone finally corrects us. In fact, as you might’ve seen, some people refuse the correction, and insist they were right all along. You’re the one who’s wrong. You’ve been misled by evildoers. Maybe you’re an evildoer. And so on, right down the paranoid rabbit hole.

    Usually when someone asks me “Are we living in the last days?” they want or expect me to answer “Oh obviously we are,” and confirm all their fearful beliefs about how all the current events have perfectly lined up with their End Times Timeline. In fact they’re kinda hoping I know some other connections between current events and the Timeline. Anything which supports their views.

    They don’t want me to correct ’em with, “Actually the last days began when Jesus was born.” In fact I’ve found some of them already know this—“Yeah, yeah, I know the ‘last days’ began when Jesus was born; I mean End Times.” They don’t care that they’re using the wrong term; they’re just using the same term everyone else does. It doesn’t even matter to them. The only thing which matters is there’s evil out there. The Beast is putting together his evil, evil schemes. But they’re on the righteous side—and ready and eager to fight everyone who’s not.

    Yeah, they wanna fight. Are we fighting alongside them? Or are they gonna fight us too? ’Cause honestly, they could go either way. We’re either a source of ammunition, or conflict.

    Sundays in Lent.

    by K.W. Leslie, 04 March

    If you’re observing Lent, and fasting in some form during that time, you actually get Sundays off.

    Really. I know; most people aren’t aware of this, and think we have to fast every day of Lent; all 40 days. But Ash Wednesday is actually 46 days before Easter Sunday—which means there are six extra days. Days which aren’t part of the 40 days. Those are the Sundays. We don’t fast on feast days. For most Christians Sunday is our Sabbath, and Sabbath is always a feast day.

    So you get little holidays from your Lenten fast. Gave up cocaine? This Sunday, do a few rails.

    Kidding. But if you’ve given up something which hasn’t enslaved you (and be honest with yourself and others about this!), go ahead and partake this Sunday. If you’ve given up desserts, feel free to have a little something with your dinner. Try not to overcompensate though!

    Since all these Sundays are little breaks from fasting, they can feel a little extra special during Lent. Over the centuries Christians have treated ’em as extra-special days. Even given them special names. And when I, or other Christians, refer to these names, sometimes curious Christians wanna know what that’s all about. Is there anything important we’re meant to do or remember about these Sundays? Nah, not really.

    The names come from the first words of the prayer book or missal, used in liturgical churches as part of their services. They’re the first word of the first prayer in the order of service. The traditional names of the Sundays in Lent come from the first words of the German Lutheran prayer book read on that day. Generally it comes from the Latin translation of the psalms they’re reading.

    1. INVOCABIT SUNDAY is the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday. The name comes from the Psalm 91.15: Invocabit ad me, et ego exaudiam eum, “He will call upon me, and I will answer him.” (The Nova Vulgata, Roman Catholics’ official bible, uses the synonym clamabit, but the prayer books quote one of the previous Vulgate editions.)
    2. REMINISCERE SUNDAY is the second. Comes from Psalm 24.6: Reminiscere miserationum tuarum, Domine, “Remember your mercy, LORD.”
    3. OCULI SUNDAY comes from Psalm 24.15: Oculi mei semper ad Dominum, “My eyes are always on the LORD.”
    4. LAETARE SUNDAY is also called Rose Sunday or Mothering Sunday, and is a day for Christians to remember their moms—both the women who raised them, and the elders in their churches who encourage them. Comes from Isaiah 66.10, Laetare cum Jerusalem, “Rejoice with Jerusalem.”
    5. There’s some controversy about what to do on the fifth Sunday of Lent. Historically it’s been PASSION SUNDAY, as Christians used to spend two weeks, not just Holy Week, in remembering Jesus’s suffering. So there’d be Passion Sunday one week, Palm Sunday the next. But more recently churches combine the two into Palm Sunday, and the fifth Sunday is simply another Sunday, sometimes called JUDICA SUNDAY from Psalm 42:1, Judica me, Deus, “Judge me, God.”
    6. PALM SUNDAY begins Holy Week or Passion Week; it’s the week Jesus died, so there are special memorial days throughout.
    7. EASTER SUNDAY isn’t really the last Sunday of Lent; it’s the day after. Lent ended on Holy Saturday. Now it’s Easter for 49 days till Pentecost.

    As you can see, there’s not a lot of uniquely Eastery things about the Sundays in Lent; just unique names. Churches vary about how they’re gonna observe them. Some liturgial churches don’t even bring up the particular names for them; they’re just another of the Sundays in Lent. And of course if you don’t go to a liturgical church, it’s just another Sunday… till Palm Sunday.

    Read the bible over Lent.

    by K.W. Leslie, 03 March

    So it’s Lent. And during this time, some of us Christians either

    • do a little fasting or other forms of self-deprivation, and spend some time meditate about what Jesus suffered on our behalf;
    • contemplate nothing, but fast anyway ’cause it’s tradition; or
    • contemplate nothing, fast nothing, feel smug because our religious customs don’t obligate us to do a thing, and mock those who do.

    Hopefully you’ve chosen the first thing. And if you’re gonna meditate on something, why not read the bible? The whole bible? ’Cause you can. You can actually read it, in its entirety, within a month. So there’s certainly no reason it can’t be done with 10 extra days. You can easily take the time you’d ordinarily spend watching reality TV shows, and read the scriptures. And have time left over. Easy-peasy.

    Even if you don’t plan to give up anything for Lent, (’cause you’re American and self-deprivation isn’t your thing), you can still carve out a bit of time each day to read some bible, and make up for the fact you didn’t read the whole thing back in January. Or maybe you did start, but dropped the ball. Or that you’re doing the six-month or year-long bible track, and dropped the ball on that. Either way, it’s catchup time.

    So there’s your Lenten challenge: Read your bible. You know you oughta.

    One possible schedule.

    If you’re gonna tackle the bible this Lent, here’s one possible schedule you can follow. Gets you through the Old Testament (in roughly the order it was composed), then the New (generally bunching authors together).

    Lent has five Sundays, so if you skip a day… you have an entire extra week to catch up.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, other reading programs carve the bible into equal portions for the day. If you wanna do that, you can: Get one of those yearly bible-reading programs, and read nine to 10 days’ worth of material each day. That’ll get you finished in 40 days. But ideally I like to read a book all the way through, so I didn’t slice and dice the books when I could avoid it. (Psalms technically consists of five individual books of psalms, so I actually didn’t divide those books when I spread ’em out on the schedule.)

    Of course, you don’t have to follow this program. You can use TXAB’s bible-reading plan and read it in whatever order, at whatever speed, and get ’er done in 30 or even 20 days. (Or if you’re just crazy enough, 10 days.) Whatever works for you.

    Ready to take the challenge? Let’s get to it.

    Ash Wednesday: Lent begins.

    by K.W. Leslie, 02 March

    Ash Wednesday gets its name from the western custom of putting ashes on our heads to mark the first day of the Easter-season Lenten fast. What’s with the ashes? It comes from bible: When ancient middle easterners grieved, they put ashes on their heads. 2Sa 13.19, Jb 2.8 Ashes were also used to ritually purify sinners. Nu 19.9 So it’s to repeat that custom.

    Lenten fasting. (It’s optional, you know.)

    by K.W. Leslie, 01 March

    Lent is the English term for the 40-day period before Easter in which Christians fast, abstain, and otherwise practice self-control. (Assuming we practice such things at all.) In Latin it’s called quadragesima and in Greek it’s σαρακοστή/sarakostí, short for τεσσαρκοστή/tessarkostí—both of which mean “fortieth,” ’cause 40 days.

    It starts Ash Wednesday, which isn’t 40 precise days before Easter; it’s 46. That’s because the six Sundays before Easter aren’t included. You don’t fast on feast days, and Sabbath is a feast day; it’s when we take a weekly break from our Lenten fasts. Many Christians don’t realize this, and wind up fasting Sundays too—since they’ve got that abstention momentum going anyway.

    And for eastern Christians, Lent begins the week before Ash Wednesday, on Clean Monday. Partly because they don’t skip Sundays, and fast that day too; and partly ’cause their Lenten fast consists of the 40 days before Holy Week. Then they have a whole different fast for that week.

    But no matter how you arrange it, all the fasting is finished by Easter.

    Just as Jesus went without food 40 days in the wilderness, we go without… well, something. The first Christians who practiced Lent likely went all hardcore, and went without food and water. And after this practice gravely injured or killed enough of ’em, the early Christians decided maybe it’s wiser to stick to bread and water, or a vegan diet. Or, as American Catholics practice it nowadays, go without meat on Friday and Saturday. (Though for various iffy reasons, fish is considered an exception.)

    Protestant custom is usually to cut back to two meals a day, then give up one extra something. Abstaining from the one thing has leaked back into popular culture and Catholicism, so now most pagans and many Christians think Lent only consists of giving up the one thing. Preferably something difficult: Giving up coffee or alcohol, chocolate or carbs, watching sports or playing video games, or anything we originally tried to give up for New Year and failed at.

    Whenever I’m asked what I’m doing without for Lent, I tend to joke, “I’m giving up fruits and vegetables. Nothing but coffee and Goldfish crackers till Easter.” The kids like to joke, “I’ll give up smoking,” since they already don’t smoke. (They might vape though.)

    But all joking aside, abstaining from one thing isn’t a bad custom. And we’re not giving it up for Lent; properly we’re giving it up for Jesus.

    So once we recognize this, we need to ask ourselves: Exactly how does this benefit Jesus? How will it grow our relationship with him? Does it grow our relationship with him?—are we abstaining because this is something we want, or he wants? Didja bother to ask him what he actually wants us to do without?

    That’s most of the reason Christians pick something difficult to abstain from. It’s a reminder Jesus is infinitely more important than our favorite things. Really he should be our favorite thing, and during Lent that’s what he oughta become, in a far more obvious way than usual. And after Lent, oughta remain.

    For this reason we shouldn’t just pick something we oughta give up anyway. If you figure, “I really oughta give up adultery for Lent”: Well duh. And you oughta give up adultery period. Don’t figure you’ll quit shoplifting, or verbally abusing people, or smacking your kids around… but only till Easter. Don’t save obeying God till Lent. Nor start sinning again once it’s Easter! Just stop.

    Put some wisdom into your choice. The first time I abstained for Lent, I picked coffee. I love coffee. Makes sense to pick something which might have enough of a hold on me to tempt me. Problem is, when I have my coffee first thing in the morning, the first words out of my mouth are, “Thank you Jesus for coffee”—I’m in a thanksgiving mood. From there, I can go on to prayer, devotions, and other ways of honoring him. But when I don’t have that coffee, it takes longer to get into that mood. No, I’m not saying I need coffee to worship Jesus; that’s stupid. But dropping coffee doesn’t help. (And lest you’re worried about my caffeine addiction, I usually drink decaf. Not just for Lent.)

    Don’t pick a Lenten fast which’ll irritate others, or cause them hardship. I unthinkingly did this myself one year: I went without meat. In itself it’s not a bad thing… but I attended a party, was given the duty of ordering pizza, and selfishly only thought of my fast: I ordered nothing but vegetable and cheese pizzas. The other folks in the party of course wanted meat. They didn’t appreciate how I’d convenienced myself but inconvenienced them: I was behaving exactly like one of those self-righteous vegans who impose their consciences on everyone else. Lots of fasting Christians do likewise: If the friends wanna go out to eat, they respond, “Not that restaurant; I’m fasting,” and demand all their friends accommodate their devotion. That’s actually selfishness disguised as devotion. Don’t do that.

    My students used to joke, “I’ll give up bathing.” (Of course. They’re kids.) But they really, really needed to bathe. They smelled enough like foot cheese as it was. And lest you get any ideas, don’t you give up bathing. Fasting is supposed to be invisible. Mt 6.16-18 Plus it’s common courtesy to not outrage our neighbor’s noses for no good reason.

    Putting something down… and taking something up.

    Most people talk about giving something up for Lent. Not enough of us talk about practicing something new for Lent. ’Cause when we fast, we’re meant to pray instead of eat. So when you give up, say, caffeine for Lent, you’re meant to pray instead of drink. Do a little something extra for Jesus.

    Do what? Up to you. Y’might block off a little extra time for prayer or bible-reading. Might join a prayer or study group. Might volunteer for charity work, or some other kind of regular Christian activity. Sometimes Christians have the goal of making this a regular practice in their lives, even beyond Lent. More often it’s just till Easter: If you gave up reading novels to read the bible, you oughta be finished with the bible by Easter, so back to the novels. Nothing wrong with that. Well, depending on the novels.

    I’ve done special bible studies during Lent in previous years. Or extra prayer meetings, extra offerings and charitable donations, extra work directly with the needy; more so than usual. Some churches do something special during this time; get involved in it. If Lent is about extra focus on Jesus, we need to do more than passively focus on him by not doing something. We should act.

    Opting out.

    Yes, like all fasting, Lent is optional. God never mandated fasting in the scriptures: They’re human traditions and practices, invented by us Christians, like Christmas and Easter. We have plenty of freedom when it comes to how we observe ’em. That’s why customs vary from nation to nation, church to church, house to house.

    True, some churches won’t leave it up to you. They’re definitely doing Lent, and expect you to join in. Roman Catholics, fr’instance: They’re really big on worshiping God together, corporately, in unity, as a group. Local bishops can determine exceptions, but in general if you’re a member of their church, you’re gonna do as your church does. If not, why are you even Catholic?

    This is where Lent can turn into a sin: If anyone promises to do something, God holds us to our promises, especially when we swear to him we’ll do it. So if I join a church, I’ve obligated myself to participate in the life of that church. If I can’t do that, they need to be okay with it… or I need to find another church.

    So when Catholics claim they’re observing Lent, but insist on doing it their own way instead of in a way their church approves of, they’re harming their relationship with their church. They’re violating any promises they made to their church. They’re often hiding their non-participation from others, yet pretending they’re fasting right along with everyone else. Yep, it’s hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is fraud, and fraud is sin.

    You might have totally valid objections to the way your church does Lent. They might be too legalistic. Or you have health problems. Or your job gets in the way. Or, like every other Catholic-in-name-only on St. Patrick’s Day, you wanna get plowed on green Guinness. But you need to work these issues out with your church. Don’t just break their rules and your promises, and claim it’s freedom in Christ. Freedom in Christ isn’t freedom to sin. Ju 4

    Are they too legalistic? Maybe they don’t realize it. Someone got overzealous, and didn’t know they were creating hardship. Hey, it’s not always because someone’s on a power trip. But even if it is a tinhorn dictator of a pastor trying to make everyone confirm, work this out. ’Cause if that’s the case, you really shouldn’t be at that church. And if it’s you, that needs to be dealt with too.

    As for those Christians who don’t just skip Lent, but openly dismiss fasting in general, object to Christians who fast, and mock Lent in particular: This is exactly the sort of thing Paul wrote the Romans about.

    Romans 14.5-13 NLT
    5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6 Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 7 For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. 8 If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead.
    10 So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For the Scriptures say,
    “‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD,
    ‘every knee will bend to me,
    and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.’” Is 45.23
    12 Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. 13 So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

    Lent, practiced correctly, helps us Christians grow closer to Jesus. Ridicule (unless it’s to point out a legitimate flaw in our thinking) doesn’t help. Either do it or don’t, but don’t slam the people who are making an honest effort. Yeah, there are people who are only going through the motions to look good, and that’s all the reward they’ll get, Mt 6.1-6 because that’s really all the reward they want. But a lot of us are trying to grow our relationships with God by putting aside irrelevant things like food, drink, and entertainment.

    And it just makes sense to do it before Easter, the day Jesus rose from the dead and revealed to us he really has defeated sin and death. That’s why, when Easter comes and we stop fasting, we can celebrate his victory all the more.