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Showing posts with label #Apostles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Apostles. Show all posts

01 October 2019

The Law is part of the gospel.

Galatians 3.21-29.

Legalists and libertines alike miss the point of the Law. For legalists, it’s rules we have to follow lest we compromise our salvation. For libertines, it’s rules we no longer follow because grace nullifies them—and in fact following them compromises our salvation. Follow them, don’t follow them; either way we get accused of heresy.

Both groups have a bad habit of misquoting Paul, James, Hebrews, and Jesus himself to support their positions and justify their behaviors. It might help if we actually read the bible, right? So let’s.

Galatians 3.21-29 KWL
21 So “the Law versus God’s promises”—never say that!
If the Law gave living power, righteousness might come from the Law.
22 Instead the scripture locks everyone up under sin—
so the promise of faith in Christ Jesus can be given to believers.
23 Before faith came, we were guarded by the Law,
locked up till the revelation of this faith.
24 Thus the Law became our introduction to Christ, so we could be justified by this faith.
25 After faith came, we’re no longer in need of an introduction.
26 By this faith in Christ Jesus, you’re all God’s children;
27 whoever among you was baptized in Christ, now wear Christ.
28 There’s no such thing as Judean nor Grecian, no such thing as slave nor free,
no such thing as masculine nor feminine: All of you are one in Christ Jesus.
29 If you’re of Christ, you’re Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

Whenever Paul used the term μὴ γένοιτο/mi ghéneto, “it ought never be” (KJV “God forbid”), he was usually quoting something false he’d heard Christians say, and saying Christians ought never say such things. Get this idea out of your heads! But since translators usually don’t know how Roman-style rhetoric was practiced, they don’t realize Paul was quoting bad theology, and phrase it as if Paul was posing rhetorical questions, then rejecting them:

Galatians 3.21 NIV
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.

It also informs us this is a bad idea, but not quite in the way Paul did it. Close enough though.

So we’re meant to reject this idea the Law isn’t part of God’s plan. Or is, as dispensationalists describe it, the old plan—which God ditched and replaced with a new plan, namely salvation by grace instead of works. Salvation has always been by grace, as Paul taught earlier in this chapter. We trust him; he saves us. It’s how things have always been. It’s why Paul kept using the Old Testament for his proof texts.

But the Law was never the basis for salvation. It’s how a saved people are meant to live after they’ve been saved. It’s how the Hebrews were to live once they were no longer Egyptian slaves; it’s how Christians oughta live now that we’re no longer sin’s slaves. And what it also did, as Paul explained here, was prepare us for Christ Jesus’s first coming. Because it teaches us what God expects of his people, it exposes us as sinners—and shows us why we need salvation. Why we need to trust God to save us—because we can’t possibly save ourselves!

27 September 2019

Listening to our God, not our gut.

Jude 1.19-25.

Years ago, I had to deal with an unteachable co-worker. We’ll call him Ulises. Nice guy, but nobody could tell him a thing: He knew what he already knew, and figured he already knew best. This attitude eventually got him fired. Our boss discovered repeated warnings just weren’t working, and sent him home.

Ulises followed his gut. Most people do. They encourage us to. We’re supposed to listen to that deep inner voice which tells us what we really oughta do. What we really want, what’s really best for us, what’s the right thing to do: The inner voice knows all. Don’t starve it.

Sometimes we call it following your instincts, following your hunches, following your gut; following the core of our being which knows the difference between wise and dumb, true and false, right and wrong, good and evil. Christians imagine it was put there by God. And it’s not a new idea, believe it or don’t; it’s always been around. Every generation dusts it off and repackages it.

The ancient Greeks called it the πνεῦμα ψυχικόν/néfma syhikón, “psychic spirit,” the essence of life. First God creates the life-giving air, we breathe it, and in our lungs it’s turned into the πνεῦμα ζωτικόν/néfma zotikón, “vital spirit,” and then it works our way into our minds and becomes psychic spirit. This psychic spirit travels down our nerves, moves our limbs, and makes us alive. Oh, and as a handy side effect it also imparts divine wisdom.

Your average person who follows their inner voice, has never heard of this and may even think it’s rubbish. But Plato, Erasistratus, Galen, and plenty of ancient Greeks sure did. And of course these beliefs trickled into the church, and warped a few teachers. And that’s where we get to Jude.

Jude 1.19-20 KWL
19 They’re the ones making distinctions based on a “psychic spirit” they don’t have.
20 You, beloved: Build each other up in your most holy faith. Pray by the Holy Spirit.

We Christians aren’t to follow any “psychic spirit,” inner voice, id, instinct, inner child, or whatever you wanna call it. Because the scriptures actually call this our flesh. It’s our carnal human impulses, our self-preservation instinct gone wrong, our sin nature. I often joke my inner child is really an inner brat: He’s whiny and selfish, and needs to be “put in time out” forever. Brats need discipline.

In contrast, Jude told his readers to pray by the Holy Spirit. We’re not to follow our own spirits, but our Lord. The inner voice is the wrong voice—and the devil does a mighty good job of hijacking it, making evil look good or pragmatic, and getting us to do evil instead. So listen for God. The Spirit knows the right way to go.

And confirm him. One of the ways we do that is with our “most holy faith”—the religion taught by Jesus, confirmed by his prophets and apostles in the bible, handed down and encouraged in by the Christians of our churches. You know who you believe in; keep believing in him. Join hands with his fellow servants and follow him together. Not on our own, where we can go horribly wrong: Together.

26 September 2019

When Christians have no respect for leadership.

Jude 1.14-18.

I previously explained when Jude referred to the mythology of his day, it doesn’t mean Jude considered these books historical or authoritative. I bring this up again ’cause Jude quoted a bit from 1 Enoch, a fictional firsthand account of heaven as shown to Noah’s great-grandfather Enoch. (Who went there y’know. Ge 5.24)

Jude 1.14-15 KWL
14 Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them,
saying “Look, the Lord comes with myriads of his saints, 15 making judgment upon all,
examining every life against all their irreverent work, irreverently done;
concerning every harsh thing the irreverent sinners said against him.”

No, 1 Enoch wasn’t actually written by Enoch. It was written in Aramaic, a language which didn’t even exist in whatever century Enoch lived in. It claims to be by him, so we call it pseudepigrapha, which means “fake writings.” But it’s fanfiction. Well-known fanfiction; Paul even took the idea of the “third heaven” from it, 2Co 12.2 ’cause that’s where paradise is figured to be. There’s even a copy of it among the Dead Sea scrolls.

The bit Jude quoted comes from this passage—I’m quoting a Greek translation found in the Codex Panopolitanus.

…that he comes with his myriads and his saints, making judgment upon all. He will destroy all the irreverent, and examine all flesh against all their irreverent work, irreverently done; and harsh words which the irreverent said, and everything which the irreverent sinners said together about him. 1 Enoch 1.9 KWL

Obviously Jude wasn’t making an exact quote; he may have been quoting it from memory.

Think of it this way. Say I’m talking about Jesus’s second coming. Say, in order to make a point, I quote Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”:

There’s no time to change your mind;
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind.

Norman was hardly an infallible prophet. But hey, he rhymes; and as we learned from The Lego Movie, that ain’t nothing. Some people will believe anything put to poetry.

Why do people quote other people? Usually it’s to criticize, but often it’s to prove we’re hardly the only people who believe as we do. Jude was far from the only apostle to teach Jesus is returning and’ll judge the wicked. But when Jude wrote his letter, he didn’t have their writings to quote from. So he quoted what he did have, off the top of his head: 1 Enoch. It’s not bible, but it’s something. Something his audience knew.

Still true, too. Jesus is returning and’ll judge the wicked. And go-it-alone Christians who presume they’re righteous when they reject Jesus’s church, who slam church leaders and presume their rebellion is righteousness, are gonna find themselves on the wrong side of salvation history.

25 September 2019

Rebellion against God’s authorities. Not his angels.

Jude 1.8-13.

Previously I brought up the people with whom Jude disputed in his letter: The folks who were going their own way, embracing their favorite myths instead of Christianity, going astray, and leading others with them.

And I suspect the reason Jude kept referring to Pharisee mythology throughout his letter, was because these ancient Christianists were likely also referring to Pharisee myths. Christians still do it too, y’know. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard non-biblical stories about Satan, used as proof how it behaves or what it’s up to. Preachers like to claim these stories give us insight into devilish behavior. More like insight into how little homework people do before they get behind the pulpit and claim to teach God’s word.

In my experience, when a person’s quoting myths instead of bible, not only do they take bible out of context, but usually take the myths out of context too. So what I believe Jude did here (and yeah, I admit I’m biased in favor of this interpretation ’cause it’s what I’d do—isn’t that how bias usually works?) was find out what the myths really taught, then turn ’em around on the heretics. Like so.

Jude 1.8-10 KWL
8 Of course these people who dream of flesh stain themselves.
They reject authority. They slander the well-thought-of.
9 When the head angel Michael was debating with the devil over Moses’s body,
it didn’t dare bring a charge of slander, but said, “Lord rebuke you.”
10 These people don’t understand such things, and slander them.

Nope, we don’t have a copy of where the Michael-debating-Satan story comes from. The early church father Origen believed it’s from a book called The Ascension of Moses. De Principiis 3.2.1 We think we have a copy of that book, but our copy doesn’t include that story. Maybe Origen was wrong; maybe we have the wrong book; maybe our copy of the book is missing a chapter; doesn’t matter. Plenty of Pharisee myths include heavenly courtroom cases, with Satan as adversary and other popular angels as defenders. Some of our own, too: Stephen Vincent Benét’s 1936 short story “The Devil and Daniel Webster” has a lot of parodies in popular culture.

So when these ancient misbehaving Christians claimed, “It’s okay to tear Christian leaders a new one when they’re wrong… after all, Michael ripped Satan a new one in The Ascension of Moses,” Jude came right back at ’em with, “Nope; you read that story wrong. Michael didn’t ‘rip Satan a new one.’ Satan fought dirty, but Michael behaved itself, and resisted the temptation to act like an ass. Not so much you.”

A lesson plenty of Christians nowadays have definitely not followed.

24 September 2019

Lessons from Jewish (and Christian) mythology.

Jude 1.5-8.

Jude 1.5-6 KWL
5 I want to remind you—though you knew all this already:
First the Lord rescued his people out of Egypt. Second, he destroyed those who didn’t trust him.
6 Including the angels!—who didn’t keep their original authority, but abandoned their own dwelling.
For their judgment on the Great Day: Kept in indestructible chains, in the dark.

Jude isn’t the only apostle who finds it fascinating that God judges angels. (And apparently we Christians judge ’em too. 1Co 6.3) Simon Peter brought ’em up, 2Pe 2.4 and Christ Jesus himself taught the everlasting fire was constructed for them. Mt 24.41 The apostles liked to point out God doesn’t spare angels when they sin, and he’s mighty close to them… so why do we presume he’ll spare us humans when we sin? Grace is awesome, but it’s still not a free pass.

Irritatingly, popular Christian theology has made the apostles’ idea meaningless. How? Because we teach angels don’t get judged the same way as humans. Different species, different rules.

We point out the bible says nothing about atonement for angels. ’Cause it doesn’t. Jesus died to make humanity right with God. Not angels. Jesus became human to die for us. He didn’t become angel. He came to save the world, Jn 3.17 not the heavens. Angels can go take a flying leap.

“Jesus didn’t die for angels” gets repeated in pulpits, in seminaries, everywhere. Humans get grace; angels don’t. Humans sin and get forgiven; angels sin and never, ever do. Because, it’s explained (and this explanation doesn’t come from bible), angels see God. Up close. So when they sin it’s a billion times worse: They of all people should know better than sin. Consequently when they sin, it’s one strike and you’re out: They fall from grace and go to hell. Do not pass the cross; do not collect atonement.

This strikes me as entirely inconsistent with God. He’s love, remember? 1Jn 4.8, 16 So how would his love evaporate when an angel sins? Why are humans of such value he gave us his Son, but angels are as disposable as a ripped ketchup packet? Even if God loves us humans way more than he does angels, it’s still really contrary to grace to imagine God has none for them.

And inconsistent with what the apostles taught. They were trying to make a logical comparison between angels and us: If angels get in trouble, so do we.

23 September 2019

All right, let’s plow through Jude.

Jude 1.1-5.

On my previous blog I was midway through Jude, and then I stopped doing that blog and started TXAB. So some people were wondering whether I’d ever go back to it… and others didn’t care, ’cause Jude’s an obscure little letter which makes no sense to them, and they’d rather I analyze other books. And cut out that whole debunking popular Christian myths thingy I do, and just reconfirm all the things they already believe.

My mini-rant aside, yeah I dropped the ball, but here I pick it back up.

Jude 1.1-2 KWL
1 Judah, slave of Christ Jesus, Jacob’s brother, to those in God the Father—
those whom Christ Jesus loves, those whom he watched over, those whom he called.
2 May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you all.

“Judah” would be Judah of Nazareth, brother of Ἰακώβου/Yakóvu, i.e. Jacob of Nazareth, who’s better known to us as James. (That’s what happened after medieval English-speakers mixed up the Latin names Iacobus and Iacomus.) This’d be the James who was bishop of Jerusalem, who wrote the letter we call James, who’s therefore Christ Jesus’s brother. Mk 6.3 Which means Judah, who’s better known to us as Jude, is also Christ Jesus’s brother.

Protestants and some Orthodox figure Jude’s the biological son of Mary and Joseph, Jesus’s mom and adoptive dad. But according to Roman Catholics Jesus’s mom stayed a virgin, so she’s either Jude’s stepmom, or the word ἀδελφοὶ/adelfé, “siblings,” used to describe James and Jude and their brothers Joses and Simon, Mt 13.55 actually meant “cousins.” (As it gradually came to mean, once Catholics insisted long and hard enough it could mean that too.)

Now Jesus did have a cousin named Judah, “Judas of James,” whom he made one of his Twelve. Lk 6.16, Ac 1.13 In other gospels, Judas of James got swapped with Thaddaeus, Mk 3.18, Mt 10.3 which is why Catholics often call him “Jude Thaddaeus.” They figure the Jude who wrote this book is that Jude.

I figure he’s Jesus’s brother, but brother or cousin, either way Jude is family.

Jesus’s brothers didn’t really believe in Jesus Jn 7.5 till he was resurrected. Then they joined his followers Ac 1.14 and led some of his churches. He’s called Jude instead of Judah ’cause “Jude” was how you spelled Judah back when English-speakers still pronounced those silent E’s.

We don’t know where Jude wrote from, or to, or precisely when, ’cause he didn’t say. Considering all the references Jude made to Pharisee myths, it’s a good bet he wrote to Pharisees. Just as James wrote his letter to Jews scattered all over the Roman Empire, Jude likely had the same audience in mind. (As James’s brother, if you’re gonna listen to the one, you’ll likely listen to the other.) So same as James, Jude’s letter applies to us Christians today when we go through the same scenarios. It’s why the ancient Christians kept it.

So let’s get to it.

26 April 2019

Jesus takes out the Law’s curse.

Galatians 3.10-20.

So the legalists among the Galatians (and legalists today) thought of the Law as how we get right with God: We obey his commands, and because we’ve racked up all that good karma, we’re righteous and God owes us heaven. Problem is, God works by grace, and if we were hoping to be justified by merit, the Law indicates we have no such merit. We’ve broken the Law repeatedly. We got nothing. We’re cursed.

But we weren’t meant to be righteous by obeying the Law. Righteousness comes through faith in God. Through trusting Jesus’s self-sacrifice. Through the good news that God’s kingdom has come near.

God promised Abraham he’d bless the world—both Abraham’s “seed,” his descendants; and the gentiles, all the non-Hebrews not descended from Abraham—through Abraham. Ge 12.3, 18.18, 22.18, Ga 3.8 Pharisees presumed God’s 613 commandments was this blessing: If only the world would follow the Law, they could be blessed! But Paul recognized this makes no logical sense. Because Abraham was blessed—yet he didn’t have the Law. The LORD hadn’t yet handed it down. Wouldn’t even be a Law for another four centuries.

Now Paul wasn’t the first Pharisee to notice this problem. Plenty of Pharisees had. So they invented stories where the LORD actually did hand down the Law prior to Moses. Pharisee fanfiction took that weird little story about the Nefilim and claimed the “sons of God” Ge 6.2 were heavenly watchers, sent to the Adamites to teach ‘em Law. They claimed Noah somehow had a copy of the Law, somehow handed it down through his descendants to Abraham, so Abraham knew it. And Abraham’s descendants lost it in Egypt, which is why the LORD had to give it to Moses—again, apparently.

If Paul believed any of these stories he wouldn’t bother with this line of reasoning. But he knew better. Abraham’s relationship with God wasn’t defined by any Law, but entirely by Abraham trusting God. Abraham didn’t know the Law, couldn’t possibly be justified by the Law, and God promised him blessings regardless. Abraham’s trust in God is what justified him. And Abraham’s spiritual descendants are likewise those who trust God—and are likewise justified by our faith.

Whereas not only does the Law not justify us, nor anyone; it actually curses us. And kinda hinders any promise God made to Abraham, because it exposes deficiencies in our relationship with God. Deficiencies our trust in Jesus can overcome—if only we’d trust him.

Galatians 3.10-12 KWL
10 Whoever works the Law is under its curse, for this is written:
“Everyone who doesn’t persevere in doing all this book of the Law’s writings, is cursed.” Dt 27.26
11 Clearly no one’s justified under the Law: “The righteous will live by faith.” Ha 2.4
12 And the Law isn’t based on faith, but “One who does them must live by them.” Lv 18.5
13 Christ Jesus frees us from the Law’s curse by becoming a curse for us,
for it’s written that anyone who’s been hanged from wood is cursed. Dt 21.23
14 Thus Abraham’s blessings might come through Christ Jesus to the gentiles;
thus the Spirit’s promise might be received through faith in Christ.

Verse 12 tends to get translated like the KJV’s “Cursed [is] every one that hangeth on a tree,” though ξύλου/sýlu properly means “wood.” It’s because the Deuteronomy passage Paul was thinking of, refers to a tree.

Deuteronomy 21.22-23 KWL
22 When it happens that a person’s sin is judged worthy of death, and you hang them to death on a tree,
23 don’t leave their corpse on the tree overnight, but bury, bury them that day. For God’s curse is on the hanged.
Don’t defile your ground which your LORD God gave you as an inheritance.

A cross isn’t a literal tree, but when the Persians first invented crucifixion they used trees—and crosses became a substitute ’cause there weren’t always enough trees. Applying the Deuteronomy passage to Jesus is a little bit of a stretch—isn’t God’s curse more about the convict’s sins than the hanging itself? But Jesus, who had no sins of his own, He 4.15 took away our sins like a sacrificial ram, Jn 1.29 so that’s how he freed us from the Law’s curse.

And in so doing, also give us free access to Abraham’s promise. Legalism is wholly unnecessary: We don’t have to be good to inherit Abraham’s promise. We’re good. Jesus took care of it.

22 March 2019

Being good never justified anyone. Only faith does that.

Galatians 3.5-12.

Dispensationalism—the belief God saved people one way (or various ways) in the Old Testament, but saves us by grace in the current era—is far too common in Christendom. Pretty deeply embedded, too: Every so often I’ll talk about where we see grace in the Old Testament, and somebody will pipe up, “But grace came through Jesus Christ.” Jn 1.17 They won’t mean, as John did in that reference, that Jesus is the one who made grace possible throughout all of human history. They mean grace didn’t even begin till Jesus came around. That people in the OT never experienced grace. Obviously they missed the entire point of the Exodus.

Nor have the really read Paul. He never taught dispensationalism. Doesn’t matter how many proof texts dispys use from Paul’s letters to back their ideas: They’re not using a one of them in context. Paul taught salvation always came by grace. Comes by grace today; came by grace in Old Testament times. True, how salvation works was a mystery before Jesus—meaning we didn’t yet have the details of how God saved people. But Jesus came to earth and revealed it, so now we do. And grace was always the center of the plan.

As proven by the fact whenever Paul used proof texts, he didn’t quote Jesus: He quoted the Old Testament. Yep, the part of the bible dispys claim is entirely out-of-date old-covenant stuff. In fact a whole lot of Paul’s quotes actually come from the Law. The Old Testament scriptures “testify of me,” Jesus said, Jn 5.39 KJV so why shouldn’t we quote ’em for evidence? Hence Paul made reference to them repeatedly.

As he does in today’s text.

Galatians 3.5-11 KWL
5 So is giving you the Spirit, working power among you
by working the Law, or by hearing and trusting?
6 Like Abraham “trusted God and was deemed righteous by it.” Ge 15.6
7 So understand this: These “children of faith” are like Abraham.
8 The scripture, foreseeing how God justifies gentiles by their faith,
fore-presented the gospel through Abraham—that “all gentiles will be blessed through you.” Ge 12.3, 18.18, 22.18
9 Hence those who act by faith are blessed with Abraham’s faith.
10 Whoever works the Law is under its curse, for this is written:
“Everyone who doesn’t persevere in doing all this book of the Law’s writings, is cursed.” Dt 27.26
11 Clearly no one’s justified under the Law: “The righteous will live by faith.” Ha 2.4
12 And the Law isn’t based on faith, but “One who does them must live by them.” Lv 18.5

Y’see, legalists were trying to teach the Galatians they had to follow the Law to be saved. You know, exactly like dispensationalists claim people in Old Testament times were saved. But if that were true—if the Law actually had been the way to salvation in the time before Christ Jesus—Paul would’ve presented an entirely different argument. He’d have used the very same line “New Testament Christians” regularly try to use on me: “That’s the old covenant. We live under the new covenant.” (Oh, and don’t forget the condescending tone. I may have been a Christian decades longer than these “New Testament Christian” folks, but somehow they know it all.)

Y'see, the legalists had told the Galatians they had to follow the Law. And if the Law had legitimately been the way to salvation under some previous dispensation, Paul would've presented an entirely different argument. Namely the one “New Testament Christians” try to use on me: “That's the old covenant. We're under the new covenant.” (Don't forget the condescending tone, 'cause even though I've been Christian decades longer than they, somehow they know it all.)

But you’ve been reading my Galatians posts, right? (Hope so.) So you know Paul didn’t take that tack whatsoever. Not even close. He didn’t tell the Galatians, “Those guys are operating out of the old dispensation; Christ inaugurated a new one; get with the program.” It’s “I’m wondering at how you so quickly switched from your calling in Christ’s grace to another “gospel”—which isn’t another gospel.” Ga 1.6-7 KWL It’s the order that whenever anyone teaches other than grace, ban them. Quit letting ’em teach! Ga 1.8-9

20 March 2019

How’d you go from grace to legalism?

Galatians 3.1-4.

Because humans are selfish, we’d honestly prefer the world work to our satisfaction: We get maximum output with minimal effort, or get freebies and special favor, and who cares whether everybody else does; and if others wrong us, we take it out of ’em sevenfold. But on humanity’s better days, we’re willing to accept reciprocity and karma. In fact we look at karma as an ideal: It’s fair. It’s just. Everybody gets what they deserve. It’s considered right and moral, and it’s even upheld in many a religion. Even ours. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, and all that.Ex 21.24 God forbade satisfaction and revenge, ’cause we always go way too far. But reciprocity’s acceptable.

Of course I remind you God’s personal practice, his ideal for his followers, is grace. Is for us to not be fair, but generous and forgiving in other people’s favor. He’s gracious to us, so we need to be gracious to others. ’Cause if we don’t pay it forward, he’ll actually stop.

Problem is, humanity uplifts karma so much, we dismiss grace in its favor. Radical forgiveness is “unrealistic”—is idealism, is bleeding-heart liberalism, is coddling people who will just take advantage of your generosity. (You know, exactly like Christians who take advantage of God’s grace.) It’s why we have Christians who actually teach against grace. In its place, we get the Christianist idea that God only gives us a nice afterlife. But in this life, you gotta work for whatever you get; God’s freebies are limited to eternal life and New Jerusalem, and that’s it.

This is why legalism slips into Christianity so very easily. Once God initially saves us, that’s as much as he does on his end. Everything else is stuff we earn, on our own steam. You want Jesus to grant you a fancier crown when he returns? You gotta work for the baubles. Do good deeds. Do some ministries. Share the gospel with pagans; you get a jewel for every new soul you bring to Jesus. And if those new converts share Jesus with still others, you get a little bit of credit for them too. It’s God’s multi-level marketing program.

In this way, the gospel begins with God coming near to us to save us… and devolves into us chasing God lest our relationships with him evaporate. They turn into legalism. Happens all the time; even in churches which denounce legalism. Because karma is so embedded in human culture, we fall back on it by default, and wind up teaching it instead of grace.

That’s the answer to Paul’s rhetorical question, “What put a spell on you?” The Galatians had missed the point of good works. They‘re how people live now that we’re saved. Not how we stay in God’s good graces. Not how we guard our salvation, keep our salvation, even earn extra salvation in one of heaven’s higher levels. These ideas are mighty common in Christendom, but run wholly contrary to Jesus’s self-sacrifice, in which he paid for everything. Seriously, everything.

Galatians 3.1-3 KWL
1 Unthinking Galatians. What put a spell on you?
Before your very eyes, Christ Jesus was presented as crucified.
2 I only want to know this from you: Is the Spirit given to you
by working the Law, or by hearing and trusting?
3 This is why you’re unthinking: You started in the Spirit, and now you finish in the flesh.
4 Did you suffer so much for nothing? (Because if you’re right, it’s really for nothing.)

Yeah, a lot of translations like to render verse 1, “You stupid Galatians” or “Oh foolish Galatians.” ’Cause yes, the opposite of wisdom is stupidity, and if the Galatians weren’t being wise, they were of course acting like morons. But these terms come across more harsh than the word Paul used, ἀνόητοι/anóhiti, “not [using one’s] mind” or “not thinking.” The Galatians had skipped a few steps in their reasoning. Their life in God’s kingdom began by hearing the gospel and believing it. So how had they since come to the conclusion their salvation was in any way based on the commands of the Law?

Well, like I said: Humanity thinks reciprocity is important, so humans insert reciprocity into our religion. Exactly where it doesn’t belong.

19 March 2019

By Law we’re good as dead. So live for Jesus.

Galatians 2.14-21.

To recap: Simon Peter (whom Paul calls Κηφᾶς/Kifás in this passage, ’cause that’s his Aramaic name כיפא/Kifá Jn 1.42), in a lapse of judgment, was segregating himself from gentiles. Paul objected ’cause Peter’s motivation wasn’t based on the gospel, but on legalism: We’re not right with God, nor saved, because we obey the Law. We’re right by trusting God, and only by trusting God.

Galatians 2.14-16 KWL
14 But when I saw they weren’t orthodox with the gospel’s truth, I spoke to Kifa in front of everyone:
“If you Jews live gentile, not ‘Jewish,’ why do you obligate gentiles to live ‘Jewish’?
15 We’re naturally Jews, not gentile sinners:
16 We know people aren’t right with God by working the Law. It’s through trusting Christ Jesus.
We put our trust in Christ Jesus so we can be right with God through a faith in Christ.
Not in working the Law: No flesh is right with God by working the Law.”

Peter knew this stuff already, but that’s the thing about legalism: We’ll get so fixated on being good, we’ll forget it’s the cart, not the horse. Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit, but how’d we get the Spirit? By being good? No; by trusting God, who in response sealed us with his Spirit. Goodness doesn’t come first; humanity is too messed up for that. We gotta begin with faith. We gotta trust God to save us. Which he graciously will, not as a reward for goodness, but as a response to our trust in him.

Paul goes on, so let’s go on.

Galatians 2.17-21 KWL
17 If we who strive to be right with God in Christ, are also found to be sinners ourselves,
does Christ justify the sin? Absolutely not!
18 For if I destroy something, then build it again, I demonstrate I myself was wrong.
19 For because of Law, by Law I’m good as dead… so I can live for God!
I’ve been crucified with Christ. 20 I no longer live. Christ lives!—in me.
The life I now live in flesh, I live by trusting God’s Son, who loves me and handed himself over for me.
21 But I don’t set aside God’s grace!
For if being right with God came through Law, Christ died for nothing.

Paul’s academy trained him in rhetoric, so he knew how to give speeches and how to debate. Whenever Paul states “Absolutely not” (Greek μὴ γένοιτο/mi ghénito, “it ought not be”), it’s in response to the sort of counter-argument someone might raise against him. Possibly he heard this argument from the legalists in the Antioch church: “You claim you’re following Jesus. But you sin. Everybody sins. You shouldn’t, but you do. So are you saying Jesus is okay with your sins? It’s fine with him if you sin? (Because certainly we would never say this.)”

So Paul preemptively deals with that one: No it’s not okay to sin. No Jesus doesn’t nullify the Law so that our sins are no longer sins. Paul’s not saying that. Nobody’s saying that. Just because we’re anti-legalism doesn’t mean we’re anti-Law. That’s a common mixup; one both legalists and Law-breakers use to their advantage. Legalists use it to accuse us of being unrepentant sinners; libertarians use it to be unrepentant sinners and call it “anti-legalism.” And Christians tend to skip Paul’s answer, or claim it means something entirely different, and use it to defend legalism or libertarianism, depending on their biases. They’re both wrong. Paul upheld the Law, Ro 3.31 but understood its proper place: It’s the cart, not the horse. Grace is the cart.

18 March 2019

Paul challenges Simon Peter.

Galatians 2.11-16.

Today’s passage is, as the title says, about Paul challenging Simon Peter. Because he had to: Peter had behaved one way when he first came to visit Antioch, but as soon as the legalists showed up, Peter was behaving another way. Paul identified it as hypocrisy—hey, anybody can fall into it with the right kind of peer pressure—although maybe Peter was legitimately swayed by the legalists’ arguments. But either way Peter was profoundly wrong, and Paul had to tell him so.

(And I remind you Paul frequently refers to Peter as Κηφᾶς/Kifás, a transliteration of כיפא/Kifá, Aramaic for “rock”—the original nickname Jesus gave him. Jn 1.42)

Galatians 2.11-16 KWL
11 When Simon Kifa came to Antioch, I personally stood against him, because he was wrong.
12 For before certain people came from James, Kifa was eating with gentiles.
Once they came, he withdrew and segregated himself, afraid of the circumcision party.
13 The other Jews were hypocrites with Kifa; so much so, Barnabas was led into hypocrisy with them!
14 But when I saw they weren’t orthodox with the gospel’s truth, I spoke to Kifa in front of everyone:
“If you Jews live gentile, not ‘Jewish,’ why do you obligate gentiles to live ‘Jewish’?
15 We’re naturally Jews, not gentile sinners:
16 We know people aren’t right with God by working the Law. It’s through trusting Christ Jesus.
We put our trust in Christ Jesus so we can be right with God through a faith in Christ.
Not in working the Law: No flesh is right with God by working the Law.”

I’ll dig into Paul’s reasoning in a moment, but first I gotta tackle a few things. First, how this passage is really, really popular with Christian know-it-alls.

Y’see, they use it to defend their practice of criticizing Christian leaders. ’Cause Peter, they figure, was a significant Christian leader. He’s St. Peter. The guy whom Roman Catholics treat like Jesus’s vice-president. The guy we imagine as heaven’s doorman, letting people in or keeping ’em out, loosely based on Jesus telling Peter he was getting the kingdom’s keys. Mt 16.19 He was Jesus’s best student, the guy with two letters in the New Testament, the guy who preached on the first Christian Pentecost; the guy who first brought the gospel to gentiles, the guy who raised the dead and cured the sick and got miraculously freed from prison. That Simon Peter.

Yeah, after reading the gospels and seeing how Jesus had to correct Peter so frequently, we know the guy wasn’t infallible. It’s why Jesus didn’t designate one vice-president, but 12 apostles. Leaders need an accountability structure. But that structure should consist of mature Christians of good character… and know-it-alls lack good character. They’re proud, impatient, argumentative, and otherwise produce bad fruit. But they justify themselves by pointing to Paul: “He had to correct Peter, and in the same way I have to take leaders down a few notches when they go wrong.”

So what they enjoy about this passage is Paul sticking it to Peter. But “sticking it to him” is not what was going on here.

28 February 2019

How Paul remembered the Council of Jerusalem.

Galatians 2.1-10.

In Acts its author, Luke, provided no dates, no timeline. Exact dates weren’t relevant to historians back then, and it’s not like average people kept track. So when Paul provides something of a timeline in Galatians, it’s a little rough. All dates, other than the year the Holy Spirit started the church, are loose guesses:

  1. The Holy Spirit started the church.
  2. Stephen got killed; Paul started persecuting the church.
  3. Jesus got hold of Paul and flipped him.
  4. Paul’s trip to Jerusalem to see Simon Peter, “after three years.” Ga 1.18
  5. Barnabas gets Paul to join him in Antioch.
  6. Barnabas and Paul’s missions trip begins.
  7. Barnabas and Paul’s trip to Jerusalem for the Council, “after 14 years.” Ga 2.1

Give or take the possibility Paul’s persecution began later, or lasted longer… or maybe all those events happened in the very same year, 33. Also bear in mind these might be rough estimates in Paul’s mind: Stating “14 years” isn’t a sign of accuracy and precision, but a sign Paul remembered two shmitas (or “Sabbath years” Ex 23.10-11) had taken place between one event and the other. Regardless, most scholars agree the Council of Jerusalem happened around 50CE or so.

And here’s how Paul remembered it.

Galatians 2.1-10 KWL
1 After 14 years I went up to Jerusalem again with Joseph Barnabas, taking Titus along.
2 I went up because of a revelation. I submitted to them—to those of us we think highly of—
the gospel I preach to gentiles, in case we were running, or might run, off track.
3 But Titus who was with me, being Greek, wasn’t ordered to be circumcised 4 because of fake “fellow Christians.”
They slip in to check out the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so they will enslave us.
5 We don’t even grant them an hour to explain their view—so the gospel’s truth can survive within you.
6 Those thought to be Christian: Possibly once they were. Makes no difference to me.
God doesn’t accept people as they appear, 7 but on the contrary.
Once they saw I was entrusted with the gospel to “foreskins,” just like Simon Peter to the circumcised
8 —for the one who empowered Peter to be an apostle for the circumcised also empowered me for the gentiles—
9 and once they knew the grace granted me… James, Simon Kifa, and John, those thought to be pillars,
gave me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; we for the gentiles, they for the circumcised.
10 Only we should remember the poor, which I also earnestly do.

After the apostles had sent Paul home to Tarsus, Ac 9.30 he spent an undetermined length of time there until Joseph 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 of course non-Israelis, or gentiles—had been led to Jesus. Enthused, Barnabas went to Tarsus and got Paul to join him. Antioch became where the followers of Jesus were first called Χριστιανούς/Hristianús, Christians. Ac 11.19-25 (I deduced the year Paul moved to Antioch as anywhere between 38 and 41, ’cause a later prophecy about a famine didn’t come to pass till Claudius became emperor, Ac 11.28 and he wasn’t till 41. As for Barnabas and Paul’s first missions trip, that didn’t take place till Agrippa Herod 1 died in 44. Like I said, loose guesses.)

The Council of Jerusalem was set into motion to sort out a growing problem in Barnabas and Paul’s church:

Acts 15.1-2 KWL
1 Certain people who’d come down from Judea were teaching the fellow Christians this:
“When you’re not circumcised, following Moses’s manner, you can’t be saved.”
2 Creating an uproar, and not a little debate between Paul and Barnabas and them,
the church decided Paul, Barnabas, and certain others of them
were to go to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem regarding this controversy.

They did try to sort it out themselves, but the visitors from Judea weren’t at all willing to accept Barnabas and Paul’s view, so the church decided they’d better hear it from the Twelve—or the Three, as the case was, plus all the mature Christians among them. Christians consider this to be the first of the early church councils, where major theological issues were hashed out between all the leading Christians in the world… and of course once the Roman Catholics and Orthodox split, we can’t do these councils anymore. (Not that Catholics don’t try to claim their councils still count for all of Christendom. But nope; they’re only internal councils now, for the rest of us don‘t feel constrained whatsoever by them.)

The issue is of course what we have to do before we become Christian. Legalists figured gentiles had to convert the very same way they would to Pharisaism. Which began with ritual cleanliness… and for men, this also included ritual circumcision. The LORD had made it mandatory for Abraham and his descendants:

Genesis 17.9-14 KWL
9 God told Abraham, “You. You keep my covenant. You and your seed after you, for generations.
10 This is my covenant, which you keep between me, you, and your seed after you: Circumcise all males.
11 Trim off the flesh of your foreskins. It’s to signify covenant between me and you.
12 An 8-day-old son is to be circumcised by you. Every male in your generations.
Born to a house, and sons of foreigners bought with silver which aren’t your seed:
13 Circumcise, circumcise those born to your house, and bought with your silver.
My covenant in your flesh is a permanent covenant.
14 An uncircumcised male, whose foreskin flesh isn’t trimmed off:
Cut off this soul from his people. He broke my covenant.”

It’s physical, permanent, and hurt like crazy. Not that opium wasn’t around back then, but the only anesthetic Pharisees ever mentioned was wine! Which doesn’t dull pain so much as keep you from seriously resisting that guy who’s coming at your penis with a knife. It definitely meant commitment, ’cause that’s your penis—a part of a man’s body with a whole lot of nerve endings, which means it’s only to be treated nicely—and you’re cutting it.

For Pharisees, circumcision was simply what you did if you’re gonna follow God. Wasn’t debated, wasn’t optional. That nasty foreskin had to go! And Pharisees frequently referred to an uncircumcised gentile—even in this Galatians passage here—as an ἀκροβυστία/akrovystía, “foreskin.” No I’m not kidding. The KJV, and most bibles, tone this down to “uncircumcision,” but akrovystía is a compound of ἄκρον/ákron (“tip”) and πόσθη/pósthi (“penis”), so… yeah, that’s in the bible now. Sorry. Hey, I didn’t write it.

26 February 2019

The former persecutor turned evangelist.

Galatians 1.11-24.

So I did the bit where Paul wrote there’s no other gospel than the one he got from Jesus, and preached—and if anyone teaches otherwise, ban them from teaching, if not from our churches altogether. The Galatians were being peer-pressured, as Paul’s letter further makes clear, into the common pagan “gospel” of good karma: Be good, and in so doing earn God’s favor. Which sounds fair and commonsense, but isn’t at all how God’s kingdom works.

As to how Paul got the proper gospel—i.e. God’s kingdom has come near, for Jesus’s self-sacrifice makes it available to all—most every Christian hears Paul’s story at some point. (Heck, it’s told three whole times in Acts.) Saul, a Benjamite Pp 3.5 from Tarsus, Cilicia, born a citizen of the Roman Empire, had moved to Jerusalem to study under rabbi and senator Gamaliel Ac 22.3 in a Pharisee academy. It was there he first encountered Christianity in the person of Stephen the deacon… and decided he personally needed to stamp it out. But enroute to doing a little persecuting in Syria, Jesus stopped him, blinded him, and turned him 180 degrees in his direction. Saul was Christian ever after, proclaimed Jesus all over the empire, and was ultimately beheaded because the empire demanded its citizens and subjects worship not just their own gods, but their emperor. (Kind of a problem for us monotheists whose LORD God forbade that.)

Paul described his backstory to the Galatians thisaway:

Galatians 1.11-24 KWL
11 Family, I want you to know the gospel shared by me isn’t from other people,
12 for I never got it from people, nor was it taught me by them.
It came instead by a revelation from Christ Jesus.
13 For you heard of my former lifestyle in Judaism:
I excessively persecuted God’s church, and was destroying it.
14 I was advancing in Judaism over many in my class, in my family,
becoming a superabundant zealot in my ancestors’ traditions.
15 When God, who appointed me in my mother’s womb and called me by his grace,
thought it best 16 to reveal his Son to me, so I might share Jesus with the gentiles,
I didn’t quickly go to flesh and blood for advice, 17 nor go up to Jerusalem to the apostles preceding me.
Instead I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
18 After three years, then I went to Jerusalem to examine Kifa (i.e. Simon Peter) and stayed with him 15 days.
19 I didn’t see other apostles, except James the brother of Master Jesus.
20 Look, what I write you—I promise before God I’m not lying.
21 Then I came to the foothills of Syria and Cilicia.
22 I was unknown—well, my face was—by the Judean Christian churches.
23 The churches were only hearing this: “Our former persecutor now shares the faith he was formerly destroying.”
24 The churches glorified God because of me.

Various people, much as they have with Historical Jesus, have invented a Historical Paul—the guy they blame for anything in Real Jesus they don’t like. To them Historical Paul was an ancient Pharisee rabbi who ditched Pharisaism, adopted the teachings of the recently-dead Jesus the Nazarene, and shaped it into a new religion about grace instead of religious rules. Historical Paul, they claim, invented Christianity; not Jesus.

But 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, and Christians like Stephen needed to be dead lest they outrage God and trigger the cycle again—this time with the Romans destroying Jerusalem instead of the Babylonians. As the Romans did, y'notice—less than 20 years after Paul wrote Galatians.

Paul was certain he was doing right by God to purge the world of Jesus’s followers, and nobody but nobody could tell him different. This 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—’cause if the overzealous “defenders of faith” could, you know they would. Historically, they always do.

25 February 2019

The alternative gospel of good karma.

Galatians 1.1-10.

Probably the first epistle Paul of Tarsus ever wrote was Galatians, his letter to the churches of central Asia Minor (now Turkey), called “Galatia” because it was settled by Celts (whom Romans called “Gauls”). The Celts invaded Bulgaria in 279BC, moved into the Turkish highlands later that century, and took that over too. Yep, there were a whole bunch of white people living in the ancient middle east. History’s full of odd stuff like that.

The New Testament epistles aren’t in order of date, but length: Paul wrote the most of them, and Romans is his longest letter; the sermon of Hebrews is the next-longest writing, James the longest after that, 1 Peter the longest (well, not all that long) after that, then 1 John, then Jude. All were written in the years 40 to 70, so the ancient Christians didn’t think their date of authorship was all that relevant. Present-day historians care way more about that sort of thing, and a number think 1 Thessalonians was written first, ’cause Paul wrote it with Silas and Timothy, 1Th 1.1 so they speculate it was written in the middle of one of their missions, and Galatians after that mission was over. Me, I figure Paul introduces himself to Christendom in this letter: Many followers of Jesus knew who of him, but hadn’t yet heard from the man himself. And some—as this letter points out—weren’t so sure he was really Jesus’s apostle.

See, then as now, people assume you can’t be an apostle unless Jesus personally appoints and sends you, like he did the Twelve. But once Jesus was raptured, he supposedly stopped making apostles. (Christians nowadays make an exception for Paul, ’cause of Jesus’s special appearance to him… ignoring the fact Jesus still appears to people and sends ’em on missions.) So here, as he did in other letters, Paul explained how he’s an apostle same as the Twelve. Maybe with a slightly different mission, but still.

But the core of his mission is the same as that of the Twelve: Share the gospel. God’s kingdom has come near, Mk 1.15 and if you wanna live in it forever, Jesus made it possible. Trust that he did it; repent and follow him. Popular pagan belief presumes any way we earnestly approach God, with or without Jesus, is totally fine with him, ’cause he’s flexible like that. But this profoundly confuses theological apathy with grace. If it was all the same to God, he’d never haave bothered to send us Jesus!

Hence the only way to get to the Father is via the door, the road, the truth—that is, Jesus. He’s the king, and holds the keys, of God’s kingdom. There’s no getting into the kingdom around him. And there’s no alternative to the kingdom but weeping and gnashing of teeth. There is no other gospel. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Problem was, people were totally telling the Galatians different. And it was working on them. Hence Paul’s letter… which I oughta start quoting, huh?

Galatians 1.1-10 KWL
1 Paul—not sent by humans nor though humans as an apostle,
but by Christ Jesus, and Father God who raised him from the dead—
2 and all the Christian family with me, to the Galatian churches.
3 Grace to you, and peace from Father God and our Master, Christ Jesus.
4 Jesus, who gave himself for our sins to take us out of the current evil age,
by our Father God’s will— 5 glory to God in the age of ages! Amen.
6 I’m wondering at how you so quickly switched from your calling in Christ’s grace
to another “gospel”— 7 which isn’t another gospel.
Is it that someone’s bothering you, and wants to twist Christ’s gospel?
8 But even when we, or an angel from heaven, “evangelizes” you away
from what we evangelized you, you’re to ban them.
9 Like we said before, and I say again now: If anyone “evangelizes” you away
from what you received, you’re to ban them.
10 For do I rely now on people, or on God? Or do I seek to please people?
If I were still pleasing people, I’d never have become Christ’s slave.

Three things to unpack here. First is how humans didn’t make Paul an apostle… which I’ll get to in another article, ’cause Paul really delves into it there. Second, there ain’t no other gospel. And third, banning anyone who says otherwise—which tends to get interpreted as cursing them. And since nobody needs to be told twice to curse others (as Paul seems to have), this interpretation has been awfully popular throughout Christian history—even though it’s wholly inappropriate for Christians to curse anybody.

08 October 2018

Pray for everyone—and pray for Paul.

Ephesians 6.18-24.

As I said in the piece on God’s armor, we’re wearing God’s gear to fight the devil and its temptations. And while we’re at it, we’re praying prayers and requests at every moment in the Spirit. You know, like Paul wrote in the next verse:

Ephesians 6.18-20 KWL
18 Through it all, as you’re praying prayers and requests at every moment in the Spirit,
as you’re staying alert about it, always staying on it and making requests for all saints—
19 and pray for me, so a word would be given to open my mouth,
to boldly make known the mystery of the gospel.
20 Because of the gospel I’m “the elder in chains,”
but it’s so I can boldly speak of it, like I have to talk.

’Cause in this fight, we gotta stay in contact with our commander. We gotta stay alert, ask for support, ask for aid for our fellow Christians in the battle… and ask help for Paul too, while we’re at it.

Yeah, I know Paul‘s been dead for nearly 20 centuries now. But Paul wrote this letter in part so all the churches this letter went out to (Ephesus among them) would pray for him. He was wearing God’s armor too, and resisting the temptation to keep his mouth shut. He needed to boldly preach the gospel; he needed to not keep his mouth shut. It was for the sake of the gospel Paul was in house arrest, awaiting a hearing before the emperor: It was so Paul could share Jesus with Nero Caesar, plus everyone else in that court, and win some of ’em into the kingdom.

Though Paul has since passed on, there are plenty of other Christians in dire circumstances, who also need our prayers as they resist the temptation to keep their mouths shut. Not so they can be bold Christian jerks; hopefully they’re way more fruitful than that. No; it’s so they can share Jesus like he deserves to be shared—with conviction, with faith, without hesitation, without fear, with love.

And to boldly make known the mystery of the gospel—but Paul already gave away that mystery in Ephesians 3: Gentiles inherit the kingdom too. It’s not just for Israel anymore. It’s for Romans, for Europeans, for Africans, for Asians and Australians and Pacific Islanders, for North and South Americans, for everyone. God wants to save the world, and that’s good news.

“I’m ‘the elder in chains’ ” is how I translated presvéfo en alýsei, which the KJV renders “I am an ambassador in bonds.” The verb presvéfo/“I’m old” can be interpreted “I’m an elder” or “I’m your elder”—implying you gotta listen to such a person, ’cause he’s seen some stuff, and presumably gained some wisdom. Herodotus wrote of the ancient Greeks using elders as ambassadors and peace negotiators, so the KJV’s translators went with that. But I went with a more literal translation mainly because I expect Paul, having been in and out of house arrest so often, had a reputation—which he used to his advantage. Who’s the old guy in chains? Well, let him share his testimony; it’ll blow your mind.

01 October 2018

The armor of God.

Ephesians 6.10-17.

Christians are fascinated by the armor-of-God metaphor which Paul used in Ephesians 6. Sometimes a little too fascinated.

Jesus teaches us to foster and encourage peace. Mt 5.9 Of course, our sinful human nature would much rather fight, and kick ass for Jesus if we can. So the idea we get to wear armor and play soldier really fires up certain Christians, who’d love to engage in a little testosterone-fueled warfare, and find this passage an excuse to indulge their blood-soaked he-man fantasies a little. If only metaphorically.

For such people, God’s armor is never for defense, Ep 6.11 only offense. Those who fancy themselves prayer warriors love to talk about how to attack with the armor. Christians even make plastic armor for children to play with—including a sword of the Spirit, Ep 6.17 which kids can use to smite one another. In so doing they learn—wrongly—the word of God is about hurting people.

But just because God’s word is sharper than a sword He 4.12 doesn’t mean we’re to wield it in any such way. Using it surgically is the Holy Spirit’s job. When we use it, we’re not so expert; without his guidance it’s a blunt instrument, used to maim our foes, not cure them.

But as part of Paul’s inventory of God’s armor, properly it’s used for defense—to parry our opponents’ swords, just as Jesus did with Satan. Our Lord quoted Deuteronomy in order to defeat the devil’s, not to sin, but to promote himself. And sometimes we gotta do likewise: We know what God’s told us—assuming we do, and aren’t just projecting our own will upon him. So it doesn’t matter what devils and nay-sayers suggest: God’s will and motives win.

Paul actually borrowed the idea of God’s armor from Isaiah 59.17, and expanded it a little:

Ephesians 6.10-17 KWL
10 Lastly: Get powerful in the Master, in the authority his strength gives you.
11 Wear all God’s gear, so you’ll be able to stand fast against the devil’s tactics,
12 because we aren’t in a battle against blood and muscle:
We’re against types of authority, power, things which govern the dark places in this world,
types of supernatural evil in the high heavens.
13 This is why you put on all God’s gear,
so you’ll have a fighting chance on the evil day. You’ll be entirely ready to stand fast.
14 Stand: Belt your waist with truth. Wear a vest of righteousness.
15 Lace your shoes in preparation for the good news of peace.
16 Carry at all times the shield of trust in God,
which you’ll use to put out every flaming arrow of evil.
17 Accept the helmet of your salvation
and the machete of the Spirit—which is God’s spoken word.

And pray at all times in the Spirit Ep 6.18 —but I’ll discuss that another time.

24 September 2018

The parent, master, or boss’s obligations.

Ephesians 6.1-9.

Properly, the command ypakúete! means “super-listen”—pay very close attention. So why do so many bibles render it “obey”? Cultural bias.

Parents want our kids to obey us. Isn’t that what honoring your parents Ex 20.12 means? Isn’t that therefore what Paul meant? And we assume slavedrivers also wanted their slaves to obey them too—and if they didn’t, they’d whip ’em to death. Heck, some parents beat the tar out of their kids when they won’t obey. Kids and slaves: Same boat.

But remember: Paul was comparing relationships between parents and kids, and slaveholders and slaves, to that of Jesus and his kingdom, or God and his adopted children. How does God treat his children? Or slaves?—’cause you do realize we’re both.

Yeah, I’ve heard various preachers claim we’re not slaves anymore; that we stopped being slaves as soon as God adopted us, or that our relationship with God changed in the New Testament era. That too is cultural bias: These preachers grew up in free countries, and don’t care to think of themselves as slaves, so they don’t. But note the apostles didn’t share their hangup, and called themselves God’s and Jesus’s dúloi/“slaves” or “servants” anyway. Ro 1.1, Pp 1.1, Jm 1.1, 2Pe 1.1 Referred to us disciples as that too. 1Co 7.22, 1Pe 2.16 God’s our LORD, and didn’t stop being our master just because he’s also our Father.

Cultural bias means when we think of slaves, we think of American slavery: Slaves were treated as property, as cattle, instead of as human beings. Which wasn’t how the ancients thought of their slaves: Slaves were a lower caste, and people are generally awful to members of lower castes. Slaves had few to no rights. But they were still human beings, and some masters were benevolent instead of despotic.

God in particular. Yes he’s the LORD; yes we subjects are expected to follow God’s will. Yet at the same time God wants our relationship to be closer—infinitely more benevolent and loving than you’ll see between a sovereign and those under his thumb.

Christians who didn’t grow up in free countries—like the early Protestants, who lived in nations with slaves, who themselves lived under absolute monarchs—seem to have lost sight of this. That’s why some of their views of God’s sovereignty are so distorted. Subjects were expected to “love” their king in a patriotic way; not actually love him in any way like agápi. Certainly their kings didn’t love ’em back. But God isn’t like that at all. He has nothing but agápi/“charitable love” in him, and for us. It’s his sole motivation.

And if parents had this sort of love for their children, and slaveholders for their slaves, what ought those relationships look like? Keep that in mind when you read Paul’s instructions regarding kids and slaves.

I should point out: Since Paul didn’t actually tell kids to obey their parents, and slaves to obey their masters, it seems wholly inappropriate for Christians to teach wives to obey their husbands. Just saying.

10 September 2018

Men and women, equal in Jesus’s church.

Ephesians 5.21-33.

At this point in Ephesians Paul gets into male/female relationships, which in ancient times were unhealthy and domineering, and—no big surprise—they’re just the same way today.

We got a lot of relationships which are structured as unequal partnerships, where the man’s bossing the woman around and thinks he’s entitled to because he’s the man; or where the woman’s bossing the man around and thinks she’s entitled to because she’s smarter. Or whatever excuse works for the domineering spouse: They make all the money, they do all the work, they’re tougher, they’re bolder, they’re stronger, they deserve to be the alpha. It’s entirely Darwinian, which means it’s entirely unChristian.

What Paul taught instead is mutual submission: If you really do love one another, you don’t boss each other around! You take one another’s needs and wants into consideration. You help each other out. You care for one another. Like when you pamper yourself at a nice restaurant or a day spa. And not in some warped passive-aggressive tough love kind of way, where you claim you’re doing what’s best for one another, but really you’re manipulating them into doing what you prefer. Their will, their wishes, don’t come into consideration.

But—again, no big surprise—centuries of Christians have taken this passage, pushed aside what Paul meant by it, and try to overlay their own domineering or sexist impulses. “Love my wife like Christ loves the church? Sure! After all, he’s the church’s boss. So I get to be her boss.” Utterly missing the point, and back we go to the same problems the Ephesians had before Paul wrote this letter. ’Cause selfishness regularly undermines the scriptures.

Well let’s get to those scriptures.

03 September 2018

Awake, sleepers!

Ephesians 5.1-20.

Too many Christians have this unhealthy attitude of once we’re saved—once we’ve said the sinner’s prayer and decided we’re Christian now—there’s nothing more we need to do. The entire work of salvation was achieved by Jesus, so all we gotta do is sit back and let heaven come to us. ’Cause if we do try to act Christian… well, it’s a sign we don’t really trust that Jesus did all the work, but a sign we still think we’re saved by our own good karma. So such people won’t even bother to act Christian. Functionally they’ll have the same pagan lifestyle they always had—but the difference, they insist, is they believe in Jesus. That makes ’em Christian.

Rubbish, wrote Paul. If you’re Christian, you act like your Father. If you act like pagans, you’re clearly not God’s kids, and won’t inherit his kingdom.

Ephesians 5.1-5 KWL
1 So, like beloved children, become mimics of God.
2 Walk in love, same as Christ also loves us,
and gave himself as an offering for us, a sacrifice to God with a pleasing aroma. Lv 3.5
3 Porn, everything unclean or greedy—don’t even bring it up among you; it’s inappropriate for saints.
4 Obscenity, stupid talk, hurtful humor: They’re not for you. Thanksgiving instead.
5 If you know anything, know this:
No porn, uncleanness, nor greed—in other words idolatry—
none of these things have an inheritance in Christ and God’s kingdom.

Because Christians get nervous about these items which disqualify us from the kingdom, sometimes we define them broadly, and don’t allow ourselves to do anything which remotely sounds like them… and sometimes we define them really narrowly, and grant ourselves plenty of loopholes. Both extremes are foolish, so let’s not indulge them. Here’s how I define those words.

  • PORN (Greek porneía, KJV “fornication”). Any inappropriate sexual activity—namely promiscuity, or anything going on between you and someone you shouldn’t be having sex with. Like someone else’s spouse, someone under someone else’s authority, prostitutes and slaves (and I should mention they’re frequently the same thing), family members, and anyone the state bans you from having sex with. And since monogamy is a requirement for Christian leadership, polygamy’s also out.
  • EVERYTHING UNCLEAN (pása akatharsía, KJV “all uncleanness”). Few Christians nowadays bother to pay attention to ritual uncleanness, and many will insist Paul totally didn’t mean that in this passage; he meant sin. Wrong. If Paul meant sin, he’d’ve wrote “sin.” He meant cleanliness. Paying no attention to the cleanliness of yourself, your surroundings, nor your food, is a sign you don’t care about the sensibilities of others, including God. Christians are supposed to give a rip.
  • GREEDY (pleonexía, KJV “covetousness”). The desire to have more; frequently the desire to have more than anyone else. Anybody who won’t control their urges, especially when it’s at the expense of others.

And I should pause in this list to mention there are those Christians who interpret verse 5 to mean only greediness is idolatry. Nah. Anything we prioritize over God becomes an idol, and if you’re fixated on your sex life—even if it’s marital sex!—it can easily become an idol. As can an unclean lifestyle. Mammonism and avarice are really obvious cases of idolatry, but there are plenty others.

27 August 2018

Be excellent to each other.

Ephesians 4.17-32.

In Romans Paul pointed out the reason pagans sin is because while they totally know better, they still don’t care to have anything to do with God, so he lets ’em live with their own self-deception. And lets ’em get worse and worse. Ro 1.21-32 But once a pagan becomes Christian, we should snap out of that behavior and follow God. Right?

Right. But we don’t always. Because some of that self-deception is pretty strong. Loads of Christians imagine it’s the sinner’s prayer, not the Spirit’s fruit, which confirms our salvation and proves he’s in us. Loads of us imagine we needn’t do any good works, because since we’re not saved by them, so what’s the point? Or we imagine the good works solely consist of believing all the right things, and not so much doing the right things.

Hogwash, but popular hogwash. And old hogwash; people were washing hogs with it back in ancient times too. Plenty of ancient Christians figured all they had to do was confess Jesus, believe what the apostles taught, and they were ready for heaven. It’s why the apostles regularly included a bit in their letters where they instructed Christians to behave themselves. Like this bit here.

Ephesians 4.17-30 KWL
17 So I say this, and testify in the Master:
You’re no longer to live like the other gentiles.
They walk in the meaninglessness of their minds, 18 being darkened in their thinking.
Alienated from God’s life by their ignorant existence, by their hardened minds,
19 they don’t care any more, and give themselves up to immorality,
into the practice of every dirty thing, of pure greed.
20 So you don’t do likewise, you learn Christ!
21 Truth is in Jesus!—if you listen to him, and are taught goodness by him.
22 Learn for yourselves to be rid of following the previous lifestyle,
the old humanity, corrupted by lusts and lies.
23 Have your mind made new by the Spirit,
24 putting on the new humanity, like God created—righteous and truly holy.
25 So, putting aside fraud, speak truth—each one to their neighbor:
We’re body parts of one another.
26 Be angry and sinless: The sun mustn’t set on your anger,
27 nor should anger give space for the devil.
28 Thieves: Stop stealing. Get a job instead, using your hands for good work
so you can give generously to those who have needs.
29 Don’t let any corrupt word come from your mouth,
but speak only if it’s good to build up the needy, so it can give grace to its hearers.
30 Don’t make God’s Holy Spirit sad—
you’re marked for the day of redemption by him!
31 Every kind of bitterness, outrage, rage, whining, slander:
Get it, with every kind of evil, away from you.
32 Become kind and compassionate to one another,
forgiving one another same as God forgave you in Christ.

In a nutshell: Stop acting like the pagans you used to be. Be good. And be good to each other. Because if you truly are following Jesus, you’re gonna do better than you currently are!