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

By Law we’re good as dead—so live for Jesus!

by K.W. Leslie, 11 May
Galatians 2.17-21 KWL
17 “While looking to be justified by Christ,
if we’re found to be sinners ourselves,
then isn’t Christ a servant of sin?”
This ought not be said!
18 For if I rebuild the things I destroy,
I stand up for my own transgressive behavior.
19 For I, through the Law,
die to the Law so I can live for God.
I was crucified with Christ.
20 I no longer live. Christ lives—
in me. He now lives in flesh.
I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me
and hands himself over for me.
21 I don’t reject God’s grace,
for if rightness comes by Law,
then Christ died for nothing.
Previously:
  • “Paul and the apostles of note.” Ga 2.6-10
  • “Paul challenges Simon Peter.” Ga 2.11-14
  • “Being good justifies nobody. Nobody.” Ga 2.15-16
  • Paul’s academy trained him in Greco-Roman rhetoric, the art of speech and debate. Most of us don’t know how the Romans practiced rhetoric, so sometimes we struggle to follow Paul’s arguments, and come to some very different conclusions than he was trying to make. This is nothing new; few things are. Peter rebuked ancient Christians for doing the very same thing. 2Pe 3.14-15

    Anyway it’s why I translated verse 14 with quotes. Paul’s doing a rhetoric thing: He’s quoting what other Christians have said, and responding μὴ γένοιτο/mi ghénito, “This ought not [be said]!” Most bibles translate it some variant of the KJV’s “By no means”—this is an idea we oughta strongly oppose. It’s heresy.

    So apparently this is what certain early Christians were teaching, particularly the legalists in Antioch. “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? He even endorses your sinful lifestyle? (Because certainly we would never say this.) You need to stop; Jesus can’t save a willful sinner.”

    To some degree we still hear this from today’s legalists. Yes, of course we’re to resist temptation and quit sinning—but they turn it into something we have to do lest we lose salvation. Lest we undo everything Jesus did for us. Lest Jesus himself reject us, because sin offends him so much, and he simply can’t work with people like us. It’s a mindset which entirely goes against Jesus’s stated practices in the scriptures, and of course grace. But that’s kinda to be expected of legalists.

    So Paul preemptively deals with this one: No it’s not okay to sin. Jesus doesn’t say that; Paul didn’t write that. Sin is still evil and wrong. But the fact Jesus works with and through sinful humans, does not mean he endorses sin, nor overlooks sin, nor did some behind-the-scenes jiggery-pokery which nullifies the Law and means nothing’s a sin anymore.

    What he did do, is kill our sin. Killed it on the cross with himself. Killed us on the cross with himself. Our penalties are paid for. Our debts are paid. Now follow Jesus.

    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.

    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.

    The former persecutor turned evangelist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Christ Jesus’s apostle to this present age.

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

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

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

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

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

    Tongues build up the individual.

    by K.W. Leslie, 01 October

    1 Corinthians 14.1-4.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    they gotta insert a “but” between those sentences,

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

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

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

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

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

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

    When supernatural gifts will no longer be needed.

    by K.W. Leslie, 23 September

    1 Corinthians 13.7-13.

    I grew up among Christians who loved to use this passage of 1 Corinthians to make the claim God turned off the miracles. He never did, but a number of Christians claim he did, because they’re entirely sure they never saw a miracle, and consider their experiences the norm. Plus they subscribe to certain End Times theories which kinda require the miracles to be deactivated till the tribulation hits.

    So when Paul and Sosthenes wrote the following, they put a cessationist spin on it. Here, I’ll quote it in their favorite translation (and, often, mine) the King James Version.

    1 Corinthians 13.8-10 KJV
    8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

    The passage is about love (Greek ἀγάπη/agápi, KJV “charity”) and how we oughta see it in supernatural gifts. That when it’s not there, the gifts are undermined. Pulling a verse from this passage and claiming there are no such gifts anymore, doesn’t just take the verse out of context, but flips its meaning 180 degrees. Just the sort of thing the devil might do, but I don’t blame Satan for cessationism; I blame Christianism. I blame people who claim to believe in God, and love the trappings of church and faith, but don’t know him at all, and think he’s far away instead of near.

    When the apostles refer to “that which is perfect” in verse 10, these cessationists claim they mean the bible. Even though this passage is in no way talking about bible; it’s about love. It’s about how love exists forever, but certain supernatural gifts come to an end—at the End, when we interact with Jesus face to face, 1Co 13.12 and there’ll be no reason to receive these things supernaturally when Jesus can just tell us this stuff naturally.

    But cessationists insist they came to an end already, once the bible was complete. In the 50s when Paul wrote his letters, the New Testament was still under construction, and wouldn’t be complete till John wrote Revelation decades later—so the apostles still needed prophecy and supernatural knowledge, ’cause they couldn’t write bible without it. But once the NT was complete, and God decided it was “that which is perfect,” the supernatural abilities would fail, cease, and vanish away. Gone till the End Times, ’cause Revelation describes a world where miracles happen (duh), so cessationists figure God’ll have to bring ’em back at that time. But not till then.

    The love we oughta see in supernatural gifts.

    by K.W. Leslie, 22 September

    1 Corinthians 13.4-8.

    When Christians write the about the bit from 1 Corinthians 13 which defines love, we almost universally take it out of context.

    Myself included. ’Tain’t necessarily a bad thing: We quote it when we’re defining love. It states what love is, as opposed to what popular culture, and sometimes even popular Christian culture, claims it is. The apostles defined it properly, and we need to adjust our concept of ἀγάπη/agápi (KJV “charity”) accordingly.

    But in context, the apostles defined it because they were correcting the Corinthians’ misperceptions about the supernatural. If you’re gonna strive for greater gifts, the only valid way to pursue them and do them is in love. If you’re not doing ’em in love, you’re doing ’em wrong.

    And if you’re not entirely certain what the apostles meant by this “love” concept, permit ’em to straighten you out a bit.

    1 Corinthians 13.4-8 KWL
    4 Love has patience. Love behaves kindly. It doesn’t act with uncontrolled emotion.
    It doesn’t draw attention to how great it is. It doesn’t exaggerate.
    5 It doesn’t ignore others’ considerations. It doesn’t look out for itself. It doesn’t provoke behavior.
    It doesn’t plot evil. 6 It doesn’t delight in doing wrong: It delights in truth.
    7 It puts up with everything, puts trust in everything,
    puts hope in everything, survives everything. 8A Love never falls down.

    This is the mindset we must have when we act in, or strive for, supernatural gifts. With love. Like this. Know any prophets, faith-healers, tongues-speakers, and teachers who act in love? I surely hope so. I do.

    Now, d’you know any wonder-workers who act the opposite of all this? Likely you do. I sure do. Let’s play an irritating little game of “Spot the loveless”:

    • Impatient. If you aren’t healed immediately, or can’t accept their prophecy or teaching, you’re to blame. Not the (supposedly) spiritually mature miracle-worker.
    • Unkind. Rude, dismissive, condescending, needlessly harsh.
    • Do act with out-of-control emotion. In other words, not gentle.
    • Do draw attention to their greatness. They do love those titles.
    • Exaggerate all the time. They only tell the big success stories… even though not even the bible tells only the big success stories. Some of our failures are teachable moments; some of our little successes can be more profound than the big ones. But for them, everything’s gotta be huge.
    • Ignores others’ considerations. Are you offended by something they said? Tough.
    • Looks out for themselves. It’s about their convenience; they’re busy people.
    • Provokes behavior. And is actually quite proud of doing so. Sometimes teaches the Holy Spirit wants to be provocative… not restorative.
    • Plots evil; delights in wrongdoing. And we’re not just talking about extreme cases of hypocrisy. Some hypocrites never commit big sins, but their lives are full of little trespasses. White lies, petty thefts, small cheats, sins of omission. They do add up though.
    • Doesn’t delight in truth. If truth is embarrassing or inconvenient, phooey on truth.
    • Puts up with nothing. Trusts no one. Hopes for little. Falls apart easily.

    Fleshly supernatural.

    by K.W. Leslie, 21 September

    1 Corinthians 13.1-3.

    When Paul and Sosthenes wrote 1 Corinthians, specifically the parts about the supernatural, y’might notice they didn’t write about fake supernatural. They didn’t write about frauds, like people who pretend to be faith healers but actually do nothing, or “miracle workers” who are only doing impressive stage magic tricks, or “prophets” who are really practicing mentalism. Certainly they could’ve written about such people, because there have always been such people. Just about every religion in the Roman Empire had one—because their worshipers expected the supernatural, so the priests had to show ’em something. There are two particularly famous stories of frauds in the apocrypha’s extra chapters of Daniel, and you can read it here.

    But the apostles didn’t write about the fake stuff. They only wrote about the real stuff. Their main concern was the Corinthians were doing ’em wrong. Because that’s what we Christians do: The real stuff, wrong.

    And the main way we do ’em wrong is by being the sort of people who produce bad fruit—the works of the flesh. Yep, there are such creatures as fleshly Christians. Either they’re new to Jesus and still have a lot of growing up to do, or they’re longtime Christians who never did grow up, ’cause they think other things are more important. Or ’cause they learned how to make all their fleshly behavior sound like it’s really fruit.

    Christians naïvely assume if God’s gonna empower us with gifts of the Spirit, he’s only gonna do it when we’re good. We imagine the supernatural gifts are like the hammer Mjölnir in the Thor movies, and if we’re not worthy like Thor, the gifts won’t come when summoned. But that’s not even how grace works. God grants us supernatural gifts because we need them, not because we’re worthy. If somebody needs to be cured of a dire illness, God empowers the miracle regardless of how good or evil the petitioner, and the recipient, might be. The supernatural is not God’s endorsement. It’s his grace.

    But like I said, Christians naïvely assume otherwise. We think it’s all about karma. If we’ve racked up enough points in God’s great big MMORPG of life, we get a power upgrade! So if Christians can exhibit supernatural powers, it must mean God highly favors them, ’cause they’re good people… or when they’re clearly not good people, ’cause they’ve gained his favor in some other way. Learned a lot of bible trivia, maybe. Worked in ministry for 10 years with low pay, so God owes them one and gave ’em the power to prophesy. Something like that.

    And it’s nothing like that. Sometimes the Holy Spirit empowers fleshly Christians.

    Seriously? He trusts fleshly Christians with that kind of power? Well no he doesn’t, because he always controls the power, and always will. But yes, he’ll actually work with and through fleshly Christians. Like I said, that’s the whole point of Paul and Sosthenes writing these 1 Corinthians passages: Fleshly Christians were doing supernatural things, and doing ’em wrong, and the apostles had to set them straight!

    So right after the bit about striving for greater supernatural gifts, 1Co 12.31 the apostles mention an outstanding way to do it, and then started talking about love. Because it’s the preeminent fruit of the Spirit. It’s the fruit which arguably generates all the other fruit. God is love, so it’s a character trait God’s kids absolutely should exhibit. And if we don’t, we gotta wonder whether these are even God’s kids at all; for anyone who doesn’t love, doesn’t know God. 1Jn 4.8

    Many Christians, cessationists in particular, tend to pull “the love chapter” out of context and only focus on how it defines love. We forget it’s all about supernaturla gifts, and how love has to be part of their practice. Has to. It’s how the whole chapter begins.

    1 Corinthians 13.1-3 KWL
    1 When I speak in human and angelic tongues:
    When I have no love, I’ve become the sound of a gong, a clanging symbol.
    2 When I have a prophecy—“I knew the whole mystery! I know everything!”—
    when I have all the faith necessary to move mountains:
    When I have no love, I’m nobody.
    3 Might I give away everything I possess?
    Perhaps submit my body so I could be praised for my sacrifice?
    When I have no love, I benefit nobody.

    When I have supernatural abilities—tongues, prophecy, enough wonder-working power to shove literal mountains around with a word—but there’s no love in it, there’s no love in me, I’m doing it for the power, authority, prestige, acclaim, and maybe donors will send a whole lot of cash my way. But really I’m a noise. I’m nobody. I benefit nobody.

    And while Christians might pay particular attention to the “I’m nobody” parts—“See, you gotta minister in love!”—we too often forget this hypothetical loveless apostle… is still doing the supernatural acts. ’Cause the Holy Spirit still lets ’em do it.

    Strive for greater supernatural gifts!

    by K.W. Leslie, 17 September

    1 Corinthians 12.28-31.

    Part of the reason Paul and Sosthenes raised the subject of supernatural gifts was so we Christians wouldn’t be ignorant of ’em. 1Co 12.1 Too many are—both those who recognize God still empowers them, and those who insist he doesn’t. I, like the apostles, am only addressing that first group. That second group can just ignore me, same as they do the apostles.

    There are all sorts of gifts, empowered by one and the same Holy Spirit, 1Co 12.4 distributed among Christians so they can contribute to Christianity’s unity. But do we see all Christians using these gifts to energize their various ministries? Do we see all Christians seeking and practicing these supernatural gifts? Miracles breaking out everywhere, mighty acts of power convincing the world God is really among us, the weak and sick flocking to churches because they know God has the cure, the lost and confused seeking out Christians because they know God has answers?

    I wish. And I’m pretty sure Jesus, and plenty of my fellow Christians, wish so too.

    What we see instead, for the most part, are people who are far more interested in using the power of politics than the power of the Holy Spirit. Who look to what money can do, rather than what the Spirit can do. Whose vision is based on developing and capitalizing on their own natural talents, rather than trusting the Spirit to do the heavy lifting. And yeah, there are cessationists who think God turned off the miracles, but they aren’t the real problem; they’re just a loud but tiny minority. It’s Christians who do believe in miracles, but don’t act on this belief any.

    Same as the cessationists, they read this passage and reduce it to job titles. And sometimes adopt these titles, and remind everyone within earshot they hold these titles, so give respect where respect is due. Meanwhile they’re not growing God’s kingdom much. Mostly it’s just their own little fiefdoms. It’s a far cry from the Spirit’s intent.

    1 Corinthians 12.28-31 KWL
    28 This is who God put in the church:
    First apostles. Second prophets. Third teachers. Then powers.
    Then supernatural healing. Support. Leadership. Different kinds of tongues.
    29 Not everyone’s an apostle. Not everyone’s a prophet.
    Not everyone’s a teacher. Not everyone works acts of power.
    30 Not everyone has supernatural healing. Not everyone speaks in tongues.
    Not everyone interprets tongues. Right?
    31 Strive for greater supernatural gifts!
    And I’ll show you how—by an outstanding way.

    This is what we oughta see in our churches: Apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, the sick getting cured, the needy getting helped, the lost getting led, and loads of prayer. And if we don’t, we need to strive to see more: They need to become a greater part of our churches and Christian life.

    One Spirit for the one body of Christ.

    by K.W. Leslie, 16 September

    1 Corinthians 12.4-27.

    The way first-century pagans understood the supernatural, there were many supernatural abilities… but each of ’em was produced by a different spirit.

    • If you wanted healing power, you prayed to Apollo.
    • For wisdom, Athena.
    • For speaking in tongues, Dionysius.
    • For mighty acts of power, Zeus.

    The Greek pantheon included a lot of gods, so if Apollo got ’em nowhere, they could also pray to Asklipiós, Panákia, and Ygihía. And frequently Greeks didn’t limit themselves to only Greek gods: If they got word the Egyptian or Persian or Arabian or Norse gods actually got stuff done, they’d try ’em out. Or if they figured the big gods were too busy, they’d try out lesser gods, personal gods, helper gods, known as δαιμόνια/demónia, from which we get our word demon. But nope, they’re not capital-G gods. Just unclean spirits.

    Today’s pagans still think this way. If sick, they might try western medicine: They’ll grab some painkillers at the pharmacy, and maybe visit the doctor (unless they live in the United States and can’t afford it, so they Google their symptoms and try to diagnose themselves). If the doctor’s no help, they seek a second opinion. If no doctor can help, they look up researchers who are testing experimental cures—some legitimate, some very much not. Or they check out non-western medicine, like traditional Chinese or American Indian methods. Or psychic healers, medicine men, witch doctors. Whatever it takes to get well!

    But Christians properly understand regardless of the method, there’s only one source of our life and well-being: God.

    1 Corinthians 12.4-6 KWL
    4 There are a diversity of supernatural things, and the same Holy Spirit.
    5 A diversity of ministries, and the same Lord.
    6 A diversity of activities, and the same God activating all in all.

    The doctors at the hospital, the faith healers, the herbalists: They can only cure you if God grants ’em the knowledge to diagnose your ailment, the scientific technique to treat you, or the supernatural power to heal you. If they don’t depend on any of those things, you’re not getting cured. At best, you’ll heal up naturally and think your quack cured you. At worst, you’ll get tricked into thinking you were cured, and die anyway.

    Same with any other supernatural thing you encounter. It was all done by God. Otherwise it was a trick. Devilish trick or human trick; doesn’t matter. ’Cause there’s only one Holy Spirit who dispenses the power. There are no others.

    Some of the Spirit’s supernatural gifts.

    by K.W. Leslie, 15 September

    1 Corinthians 12.4-11.

    When the apostles Paul and Sosthenes corrected the church of Corinth regarding the supernatural—in particular about the gifts the Holy Spirit distributes to his church—the apostles listed a few of these gifts. Didn’t define ’em; just listed ’em.

    Nothing wrong with that. But the problem is cessationists, those Christians who believe God turned off the miracles once the New Testament was complete. So what do they do with Paul and Sosthenes’s list of supernatural gifts? They redefined every last one of them: They’re no longer supernatural, but natural. They’re the same sort of gifts any “gifted person,” any talented individual, any genius, might happen to have. Like perfect pitch, or instant recall, or the ability to do rapid math in your head, or amazing physical coordination. Hey, it’s not like the Creator doesn’t grant natural gifts!

    So in a cessationist’s mind, the 1 Corinthians passages aren’t at all about supernatural gifts empowered by the Holy Spirit, but how God’s blessed his church with really talented people. Great preachers, musicians, artists, handymen. You know, like when the LORD instructed Moses to build a tabernacle, and “gifted” this one particular craftsman to do it just the way the LORD wanted it.

    Exodus 31.1-5 KJV
    1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2 See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: 3 and I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, 4 to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, 5 and in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.

    Even gave Betsalél (KJV “Bezaleel”) a Spirit-empowered assistant, Oholiáv ben Akhisamákh. Ex 31.6 and together they could make anything. And did. Ex 38.22

    But no, 1 Corinthians isn’t about getting way-better-than-average earthly abilities from God. It’s about getting unearthly abilities. Stuff nobody can naturally do. Stuff which proves the Holy Spirit is living and active among us, ’cause skeptical pagans can’t just brush these things off as the talented acts of clever people. They’re forced into a dilemma: Either God’s really among us, or it’s deception or self-delusion. Either he’s real or fake.

    So here’s the list the apostles gave in 1 Corinthians—and the rubbish redefinitions which cessationists made up for ’em.

    1 Corinthians 12.4-11 KWL
    4 There are a diversity of supernatural things, and the same Holy Spirit.
    5 A diversity of ministries, and the same Lord.
    6 A diversity of activities, and the same God activating all in all.
    7 Each individual is given a different revelation of the Spirit—to bring us together.
    8 For by the Spirit, while a word of wisdom is given to one,
    by the same Spirit, a word of knowledge is given to another.
    9 By the same Spirit, to someone else, faith.
    By the one Spirit, to another, healing gifts.
    10 To another, powerful activity.
    To another, prophecy.
    To another, judgment of spiritual things.
    To someone else, families of tongues.
    To another, interpretation of tongues.
    11 One and the same Spirit acts in all these things,
    dividing them to each of his own people however he wants.

    It’s not a comprehensive list. It’s not meant to be; there are plenty of precedents for other supernatural behaviors elsewhere in the bible. But this’ll get us started.

    The Holy Spirit and the supernatural.

    by K.W. Leslie, 14 September

    1 Corinthians 12.1-7.

    SUPERNATURAL su.pər'nætʃ(.ə).rəl noun. Event caused by (or credited to) some force beyond scientific understanding, beyond natural laws.

    If you wanna get technical, whenever anyone interferes with the natural course of events, it’s more-than-natural. It’s supernatural.

    Fr’instance if I install plastic pink flamingos in my front yard. Clearly they aren’t the product of Mommy plastic flamingo and Daddy plastic flamingo loving one another very much, and giving one another a special kind of “hug.” Nor did they sprout up from the ground like mutant orchids. Somebody—really a whole bunch of somebodies—drilled for petroleum, extracted the plastic, colored it pink, molded it into a flamingo shape, and painted it to resemble a living flamingo. Somebody else—i.e. me—lost all sense of what’s appropriate for lawn ornaments, bought them, put ’em in the lawn, and got all the neighbors to seriously consider banding together in a homeowner’s association just to ban ’em. Other than the outrage, none of this happened naturally.

    But we tend to call this behavior unnatural, not supernatural. We save the term “supernatural” for stuff which, we suspect, wasn’t done by humans, nor done by our robots. If a sasquatch started leaving pink flamingos around town, or space aliens, or spirits, vampires, inexplicably hyper-intelligent raccoons… well we’d be weirded out by the very idea of non-human intelligences, and call ’em supernatural. ’Cause they’re not natural!

    But y’notice all these “supernatural” beings are creatures most people don’t believe in, or won’t admit to believing in, or insist no reasonable person would believe in. So “supernatural” tends to have a sense of ridiculousness attached to it. No sane person should believe in the supernatural, right? Those things aren’t real. Con artists claim to believe in them, but they’re just trying to dupe people into giving them money.

    And I get that; I don’t believe in sasquatches either. But just because frauds and the defrauded use a word, doesn’t mean it’s not a valid word. There’s real supernatural in the universe.

    Namely God.

    When God creates something from scratch, fixes what’s broken, cures the sick, shares unknowable things through his prophets, or otherwise does stuff we can’t adequately explain through science and physics, “supernatural” is the proper term for it. Miracles are supernatural.

    Now certainly God can, and does, use physics to do as he does. When he parted the Red Sea for Moses and the Hebrews, he didn’t do it as shown in The Ten Commandments; a wind blew all night and blew back the water. Ex 14.21 Skeptics like to point to this natural-sounding description in Exodus, and claim it suggests maybe God wasn’t involved, and like to “debunk” the bible’s miracles by trying to explain the physics behind ’em. But some miracles just plain defy explanation. Like when God made an axehead float, 2Ki 6.1-7 when Jesus and Peter walked on water, and certainly every time someone got raptured. Natural explanations or not, these events don’t have a natural cause. They’re supernatural.

    Quenching the Spirit.

    by K.W. Leslie, 24 May

    1 Thessalonians 5.19-21.

    More farewell stuff from the last chapter of 1 Thessalonians; general advice which can apply to Christians of any and every church. Each of these one-verse or one-line instructions have turned into entire sermons, lessons, and even doctrines. And in fact today I’m only gonna deal with three short verses, mainly because of what’s been taught about them… and of course what’s been mistaught.

    1 Thessalonians 5.19-21 KWL
    19 Don’t extinguish the Spirit: 20 Don’t void prophecies.
    21 Examine everything: Hold onto what’s good.

    In the King James Version this becomes “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” That’s the version I memorized as a child.

    Back in the 11th century, Margaret Atheling of Wessex (later, St. Margaret) was an English princess who grew up in exile in Hungary. She went to Scotland to marry King Malcolm Canmore, third of his name. The story has it she nearly drowned while crossing a river. One of the Hungarians who accompanied her, named Bartolf, saved her life by fishing her out, or carrying her across. The story varies, but all of them have him tell her to “grip fast” to him, or a rope, or his horse; whichever. Bartolf was given some land in reward, including a town called Lesselyn… which evolved into Bartolf’s family name, Leslie, and Clan Leslie’s motto is “grip fast.” This is, more or less, the story we Leslies tell of its origin. Maybe it’s true. Doubt it, ’cause it’s far more likely Bartolf and Margaret spoke Magyar with one another.

    I didn’t necessarily have this “grip fast” idea in mind when I first read verse 21 as a kid. It just so happens I’m a big fan of examining everything to see whether it’s so. But in context verse 21 isn’t about testing everything; it’s about testing prophecy. It’s just I happen to test everything else too. Just being careful.

    So verse 21 has kinda become a “life verse” for me… even though I don’t always stick to the proper context of the verse when testing everything. The more important thing is to hold onto what’s good. Hold tight to it. Abide in Jesus and what he teaches; let everything else go. But like I said, the context of this verse is to hold onto valid prophecies. And if they’re not valid, stop clinging to them as if we can wish them into being if we believe hard enough. That’s not how prophecy works; that’s how magic works, and magic’s not real.

    Okay, enough about me and misquoted life verses. Let’s step back to verse 19 and “Quench not the Spirit.”

    What does quenching mean?

    You might already know when the ancients first came up with the idea of elements—basic building blocks of the universe—they didn’t imagine ’em as atoms, nor as the 118 elements we currently have on our periodic table, from hydrogen to oganesson. They figured there were just the four: Air, earth, fire, and water.

    Sometimes the ancients speculated a quinta essentia/“fifth element,” or quintessence; something we don’t have on earth and therefore can’t study. (That’s why scientists have adopted the term to describe dark energy.) Various Christian philosophers have speculated spirits are made of this quintessence, and that’s why we can’t study spirits with our sciences. But the ancients were pretty sure spirits were made of the four basic elements. Oddly, not air, even though πνεῦμα/néfma literally means “wind.” But because spirits are dynamic and moving and powerful and mighty, they can’t be made from merely still, unmoving air. So, they deduced, spirits are made of fire.

    Yep. This is why we see so many fire metaphors for spirits in ancient literature. Especially ancient Christian and Muslim literature. And obviously there are fire metaphors for the Holy Spirit in our scriptures.

    Acts 2.2-4 KJV
    2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

    So when Christians talk about fire, we either mean God’s refining fire which purges evil out of us, Ml 3.2 or the fires of hell… or the fire of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we mix the metaphors, and talk about the Spirit’s fire as if it’s come to purge evil out of us. (And that’s not always a good thing!) But more often, especially among Pentecostals, we’re talking about the Spirit’s power. His fire’s gonna make us able to cure the sick and prophesy and otherwise perform miracles.

    So when Pentecostals talk about quenching the Spirit—and especially about not quenching the Spirit—we usually mean the Spirit wants to do something mighty and supernatural through us Christians. But we won’t let him.

    I know. This idea is dumbfounding to deterministic Christians. We won’t let God do something? How on earth can a clay pot tell the potter, “Nope, I’m not gonna hold oil like you intended; I wanna hold beer!” He made us, so we do as he wants. It’s ridiculous to imagine otherwise.

    And yeah, they’d have a point if we were simply inert pottery. We’re not. Paul’s pottery metaphor Ro 9.20-21 doesn’t apply to everything in our lives; its point is to explain God’s the creator and we’re the creation, and he knows best what we’re made for. Nonetheless he imbues his creation with free will, and while it’s unwise for “the thing formed to say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” the fact remains “the thing formed” can still ask this question. And sometimes rebel against the creator’s intentions. Humans sin, y’know.

    So yeah, if the Spirit wants to do something in his churches, but the people of his churches don’t wanna do that thing, we can resist him. We shouldn’t; it’s stupid. But we do.

    And there are gonna be consequences.

    Revelation 2.5 KJV
    Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

    If a church is resisting the Spirit, it’s not following Jesus; and if it’s defying Jesus, it’s not his church anymore. It’s heretic. It’s its own thing. That’s a scary place to be—and if you’ve visited such churches, they can be scary places to visit.

    But do not get the false idea that the ability to resist the Spirit and do our own thing, makes humanity sovereign, or in any way more mighty than God, or that the Spirit has in any way debased himself by letting us humans do our own thing. Insurgency doesn’t mean the insurgents are in charge now. It only means they think they’re in charge, for now. The hammer’s gonna come down later… when they don’t expect it.

    Quenching the Spirit, or quenching immature Christians?

    Whenever Christians talk about quenching the Spirit, we have a bad habit of presenting it as a worst-case scenario—a church that’s gone very, very wrong, and cut themselves off from God himself. We Pentecostals in particular have the bad habit of claiming any resistance to any spiritual thing whatsoever is “quenching.” Specifically, spiritual things we wanna do.

    Fr’instance a prophet who stands up in the middle of a service, even right in the middle of the sermon, to declare, “Thus says the LORD,” and give out a prophecy. There’s a time and place for this, but they’ve taken it upon themselves to do it right now, and interrupt others. Don’t get me wrong; it might be a legitimate message from the Holy Spirit. But by picking the wrong time to give the prophecy, the prophet’s being a dick, and fruitless prophecy tends to nullify the prophecy. People aren’t gonna remember what we prophesied so much as the interruption, disruption, and rudeness.

    If the Spirit gives us a message mid-sermon, the fact something else is going on which it’s rude to interrupt, should be our tipoff that we need to sit on this message for a bit. Meditate on it. Ask the Spirit questions: “What’d you mean by this?” And after the service, talk it over with a few other prophets for confirmation. Blurting it out in mid-sermon means you lack patience—or are more interested in getting attention than sharing God’s message, and prophets are supposed to be humble.

    So when someone disrupts a church service, and is told to sit down and shut up: No, nobody’s quenching the Spirit. They’re quenching a jerk. Hopefully kindly. Because when the Spirit disrupts stuff, he does it kindly. He’s being helpful and constructive, or preventing evil. Unkind prophets are doing it wrong. They’re being selfish, unloving, out-of-control, and fleshly.

    A lot of the things churches and Christian leaders are accused of “quenching,” are precisely this sort of behavior. Christians who wanna sing for the entire service, even though a preacher has spent all week listening to the Spirit and studying the scriptures to prepare a message: They don’t wanna hear a sermon. They wanna sing! They love that hook in their favorite worship song, and wanna sing it 50 times in a row. It makes ’em feel stuff, and since they don’t know the difference between emotion and the Spirit, they’re convinced it’s totally the Spirit—therefore stopping the music is “quenching the Spirit.” But no it’s not. Your euphoria isn’t producing fruit. Don’t kid yourself.

    Likewise Christians who wanna pray in loud tongues during a prayer service, and won’t hear it when people tell ’em to not be so noisy. Or Christians who wanna have a special time of prophecy, not because they wanna share God, but because they want people to listen to them for once, as they prophesy. Really, anybody who wants to hijack a church service and turn it into their thing—and claim it’s really the Spirit’s thing.

    Is it the Spirit’s thing? Look at the fruit. No fruit? Quench away.

    What if you’re not sure? Well first of all, relax: The Holy Spirit is gracious. If we ever mistakenly stop him from doing his thing, but we are still trying to follow and pursue him, he’s gonna inform us we were mistaken. “I really do want you to hold a healing service for the sick. Do it next Sunday.” And we’ll apologize to him for putting the brakes on him, and apologize to everybody else, and do as the Spirit wants. It’s never too late to repent and try again; don’t let any immature, impatient Christians tell you different. (Because they’ll definitely tell you different: “You’re quenching the Spirit! You’re ruining an opportunity! It has to be done right now!” Hogslop. If it really had to be done right now, the Spirit would’ve forewarned a lot more of the people in charge.)

    But pretty much every time we tell an angry, impatient person, “No no, we’re not doing that right now,” it’s not quenching the Spirit. If they produced better fruit, they might have a case to make. But they aren’t, so they don’t.

    Quenching the Spirit is not stopping a noisy Christian. Properly it’s intentionally, deliberately, consciously defying the Spirit. It’s deciding, “We don’t do prophecy.” It’s making our official church position a cessationist one: The Holy Spirit stopped talking in bible times, and we don’t recognize anything he has to say unless he only speaks in bible quotes. It’s putting him on mute, because now we get to interpret bible on our own, and promote our doctrines instead of God’s kingdom.

    Don’t void prophecies!

    The primary way God reveals himself to people, and speaks to us, is through prophecy.

    Yeah, even though we have a bible. The bible is prophecy too, y’know: Old prophecies, breathed by God for our benefit, 1Ti 3.16 which are still relevant ’cause it’s the same God, and humanity hasn’t changed any. Anything the Spirit tells us today, isn’t gonna contradict and nullify what he has in the bible, ’cause again: Same God.

    When we cut off God’s voice by claiming he doesn’t speak to anyone anymore, we’ve cut off the Holy Spirit. We’ve cut off the one Jesus sent us to make sure we stay true to him. Jn 16.13 We’ve cut off the one who builds up, directs, and explains things to the church, his followers. 1Co 14.3 We might claim, “Yeah, but we have bible”—but we’ve cut off the person who makes sure we interpret his bible correctly!

    When Christians claim prophecy’s not for the church anymore, y’notice they now have to rule their churches with an iron fist. Because if the Spirit doesn’t provide them direction and purpose, somebody’s gotta do it. Without the Spirit they’re gonna be fruitless, and get into dozens of disagreements about little, stupid, nitpicky stuff. The whole group is gonna be led astray—not by evil practices nor false doctrines, but simply by the fact nobody knows where they’re going. And nobody’s gonna admit it. And certainly not accept correction about it.

    This is what we see all the time in cessationist churches: They don’t follow God, and despise the Spirit’s prophecies. So they become little cults which follow a pastor who’s treated as inerrant. Or, on the other extreme, they turn into benign, powerless groups which squabble over trivia and get nothing done.

    Test everything.

    If we’re gonna embrace a lifestyle of prophecy, we have to test prophecies and prophets. There are a lot of fakes 1Jn 4.1 —either frauds who want to exploit us, or fools who don’t know what they’re doing; both of whom will lead us astray. We can’t accept just any self-anointed prophet who sounds inspiring, who appeals to our greed, our prejudices, our patriotism, our sense of propriety, or whatever floats our boat.

    Jesus warned us to watch out for phonies, so we gotta test prophets. Much as the con artists insist we test nothing, and just trust ’em, because shouldn’t we have faith? And yes we should—but faith in Jesus, not them, and Jesus tells us to test prophets! If their message legitimately comes from the Holy Spirit, it can stand the scrutiny, and if it’s not, it won’t. So test everything. EVERYTHING. Including all the stuff you’ve been taking for granted so far. You’ll be surprised how much of it turns out to be crap. I regularly am.

    And once it stands up to testing, you grip fast to it. It’s from God.