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

Goodness never justified anyone. Faith does that.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 August
Galatians 3.7-9 KWL
7 So know this: Those who act out of faith?
These people are Abraham’s “children.”
8 The scripture foresees how God deems righteous
the gentile peoples who act out of faith:
He pre-evangelized Abraham, saying,
“All the peoples will be blessed through you.” Ge 12.3, 18.18, 22.18
9 So those who act out of faith
are blessed alongside Abraham’s faith.
Previously:
  • “By Law we’re good as dead—so live for Jesus!” Ga 2.17-21
  • “How’d you get from grace to legalism?” Ga 3.1-4
  • Abraham’s faith. Ga 3.5-6
  • Too many Christians believe in some form of dispensationalism—where God has multiple systems for how to be saved. I’ve lost count of how many times people have told me, “God saves us by his grace now, but in Old Testament times, you had to obey the Law.”

    No you didn’t. Because that’s not why the LORD saved the Hebrews from Egypt. It’s not why God appeared to Moses—years before he ever gave Moses the Law to follow; years before Moses even knew there was a Law. It’s not why he gave dreams to Joseph, why he gave visions to Jacob, why he straight-up appeared to Abraham and had lunch with him. Nor even why he rescued Noah and (probably) raptured Enoch.

    It was always grace. It was always God’s attitude towards the people with whom he had loving interactive relationships. It was the whole reason Paul and other apostles kept quoting the Genesis passage where the LORD justified Abraham by his faith—he wasn’t justified by being a Law-abiding Jew, because there was no Law yet. Nor Jews.

    Yet thanks to dispensationalists, I still hear people insisting grace is a New Testament thing, not an Old Testament thing. Every so often I’ll talk about where we see grace in the Old Testament, and somebody pipes up, “But grace came through Jesus Christ.” Jn 1.17 They don’t mean (as John did in that reference) Jesus makes grace possible throughout human history, including Old Testament times; they mean there was no such thing as grace before Jesus came around. That the people of the OT never experienced grace. Obviously they missed the entire point of the Exodus.

    Nor have they read and understood Paul. He never taught dispensationalism. Doesn’t matter how many proof texts dispys will use from Paul’s letters to back their ideas: They’re not using a single one in context. Paul taught salvation came by grace. Always had. Always will. Came by grace to Abraham; came by grace to the Hebrews; came by grace to the Jews; comes by grace to the gentiles.

    And to prove his case to the Pharisees in Galatia who claimed the new gentile Christians had to first follow the Law before they could be saved, Paul didn’t even have to quote Jesus; he quoted the very same Law which dispensationalists claim is about justification by works. The Old Testament scriptures “testify of me,” Jesus said, Jn 5.39 KJV so why shouldn’t we quote ’em for evidence? As Paul did repeatedly.

    If dispensationalists are right, and the Law had ever been a legitimate means to salvation, Paul would’ve gone an entirely different tack. He’d have used the very same line dispys try to use on me: “That’s old covenant. We live under the new covenant.” (Oh, and don’t forget the condescending tone.)

    But you’ve been reading my Galatians posts, right? (Hope so.) So you know Paul used no such argument; not even close. It’s “How’d you switch gospels?” Ga 1.6-7 It’s that if anyone teaches salvation comes any other way than God’s grace, ban them. Ga 1.8-9 Quit letting ’em teach!

    Abraham’s faith.

    by K.W. Leslie, 04 August
    Galatians 3.5-6 KWL
    5 The one who provides the Spirit to all of you,
    who works acts of power among you—
    does he do this out of you working the Law,
    or out of hearing and trusting?
    6 Likewise Abraham “trusted God,
    and God credited him with righteousness.” Ge 15.6
    Previously:
  • “By Law we’re good as dead—so live for Jesus!” Ga 2.17-21
  • “How’d you get from grace to legalism?” Ga 3.1-4
  • Figured I should also throw in the relevant passage Paul quoted. It’s specifically about the LORD promising Avram ben Terah a land and descendants. Thing is, Avram was more than 75 years old, his wife was only a year younger than he, and though he was quite wealthy by ancient standards, he had no biological nor adoptive children. His patriarchy would have to pass down to one of his slaves.

    Genesis 15.1-8 KWL
    1 After these words,
    the LORD’s Word was given to Avram in a vision,
    to say, “No fear, Avram. I’m your shield.
    Your compensation will be great.”
    2 Avram said, “Master LORD, what did you give me?
    I’ve gone childless.
    The ‘son’ who will someday possess my house
    is this Damascene, Eliezer.”
    3 Avram said, “Look at me!
    You don’t give seed, and look:
    The ‘son’ of my house is my heir.”
    4 Look, the LORD’s Word to Abram said,
    “This is not your heir.
    For one who comes out of your own guts—
    he is your heir.”
    5 The LORD brought Abram outside,
    and said, “Now look at the skies.
    Tally the stars—if you are able to tally them.
    The LORD told him, “Your seed is like this.”
    6 Avram trusted in the LORD,
    and the LORD credited him with righteousness.

    The apostles point to this proof text more than once. Because they knew—because everybody in ancient Israel knew—it’s foundational to the LORD’s covenantal relationship with Avram. As you likely know, this man was later renamed Abraham, and is the ancestor of pretty much the entire middle east. And of course the Abrahamic religions of Hebraism/Pharisaism/Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

    How’d you get from grace to legalism?

    by K.W. Leslie, 03 August
    Galatians 3.1-4 KWL
    1 Oh you unthinking Galatians.
    Who mixed up your heads [to not believe truth]?
    It was written Christ Jesus had been crucified.
    Didn’t you read this with your own eyes?
    2 I want to learn only this from you:
    Do you receive the Spirit by working the Law,
    or by hearing and trusting?
    3 So you’re not thinking:
    Beginning with the Spirit,
    do you now perfect yourselves by the flesh?
    4 Have you suffered so much for nothing?
    —if it really is nothing.
    Previously:
  • “By Law we’re good as dead—so live for Jesus!” Ga 2.17-21
  • This passage is notorious for beginning, “O foolish Galatians,” Ga 3.1 KJV as if Paul has had it with them; these stupid whites are totally botching the gospel! But let’s not project our own impatient attitudes upon Paul. The word Paul used is ἀνόητοι/anóhiti, “not [using one’s] mind” or “not thinking.” Yeah, it regularly gets translated as “foolish” or “stupid,” since those things are obvious opposites of wisdom. But Paul didn’t use the usual words for stupidity because he’s emphasizing how they’ve not thought things through. There’s a step missing in their thought process, and it’s the usual step missing in all legalistic thinking.

    When the LORD first made contact with Abraham or saved the Hebrews from Egypt, or when Jesus first chose students by the Galilee or stopped Paul enroute to Damascus, did he do any of these things because these were such good people? Had they achieved a certain level of righteousness through carefully observing the Law?—one which our Lord was obligated to respond to, because they had so many heavenly Brownie points? Is good karma how God determines worthiness?

    Nope; the entry point into God’s kingdom begins by God doing something incredibly gracious, and us seeing or hearing the good news of it, and trusting him to save us the rest of the way. Salvation comes by God, not our own righteousness. And this righteousness comes by faith, not works—it’s only faith.

    So how on earth could such people become Christian by grace through faith… and then backslide into the pagan belief we retain our standing with God through good works?

    Same way everybody else backslides into legalism: Karma-based thinking is everywhere. Simply everywhere. Humanity’s collectively got it into our heads that we’re saved by doing more good deeds than bad, and made this a central teaching of just about all our religions and philosophies. It’s a belief we’re very comfortable with—and regularly judge other people by. And even though Christianity teaches otherwise, it’s so easy to fall back on that core belief: I’m a good person because I do good deeds, and good people go to heaven.

    And we insert that idea right back into the gospel. Where it absolutely doesn’t belong.

    How the “elders” of Crete did behave.

    by K.W. Leslie, 21 July

    Titus 1.10-16.

    Epimenides of Cnossos was a shepherd, living on Crete. He claimed one day he wandered into a cave that had been dedicated to Zeus, took a nap, and woke up 57 years later with the gift of prophecy. Meh; I figure he was just an old guy who decided to finally publish his youthful poetry. Next to none of it has survived to our present day, but in Paul and Titus’s time it was pretty famous. Paul even quotes a line from his ode to Zeus, called the Cretica:

    …having built you [Zeus] a tomb, holy one, great one.
    Cretans always lie, the evil beasts. Lazy stomachs.
    But you aren’t dead! For you live, and live forever!
    For in you we live, move, and have our being.

    Yep, Paul also quoted it in Acts 17.28. Epimenides meant Zeus, but Paul repurposed it to mean the LORD. It more accurately describes the LORD anyway.

    I don’t know whether the Cretica prejudiced Paul against the people of Crete when he finally met them in person. Acts doesn’t tell of him spending a lot of time there; at most a week, ’cause his ship was anchored there due to foul weather. Ac 27.7-13 Maybe he visited again at another time. In any case he encountered many people among the Christians who were just awful, and the very last thing he wanted Titus to do was put such people in positions of authority. It’d ruin the church.

    Titus 1.10-16 KWL
    10 For many people do refuse to submit to others.
    They’re all talk, and misleading.
    Particularly those of the circumcision faction.
    11 It’s necessary to muzzle them—
    whatever teachings knock down whole houses,
    which they ought not teach,
    but do to gain an immoral advantage.
    12 A certain one of their own—a prophet!—says,
    “Cretans always lie, the evil beasts. Lazy stomachs.”
    13 This witness is true.
    For this reason rebuke them quickly,
    so they might have a healthy faith,
    14 paying no attention to Jewish myths,
    and human commands which turn away from truth.
    15 Everything is ritually clean to clean people.
    To contaminated people, and unbelievers,
    nothing is clean—
    instead it contaminated them, the mind, and the conscience.
    16 They claim they know God,
    and their works deny it—
    being disgusting and disobedient,
    and worthless in every good work.

    Don’t mince words Paul; how d’you really feel about Cretans?

    How the elders of Crete oughta behave.

    by K.W. Leslie, 20 July

    Titus 1.5-9.

    Paul of Tarsus had left Titus on the mountainous Greek island of Crete. Possibly because Titus himself was Cretan; there were Cretans at the first Pentecost Ac 2.11 and for all we know Titus was one of ’em. All we really know about Titus’s backstory is he’s Greek, Ga 2.3 but so was Crete. Still is.

    Titus was left there because Crete’s church had a leadership vacuum. I mean, there might’ve been people the Christians imagined were leaders, but Paul considered them inadequate. They lacked spiritual maturity. Titus didn’t. And here, Paul reminds Titus maturity—good fruit and good character—defines a person who’s considered an elder of the church. You’re not an elder without it, and ought not be a leader without it.

    Titus 1.5-9 KWL
    5 I leave you in Crete for this purpose:
    You can straighten out what’s missing.
    You can designate “elders” in every city—like I appointed you.
    6 If anyone is blameless,
    a one-woman man, has children of faith;
    has no complaints about his immoral behavior,
    nor his refusal to submit to others;
    7 for a supervisor has to be blameless,
    being like God’s butler.
    Not arrogant, not quickly angered, not drunk,
    not picking fights, not greedy for “prosperity.”
    8 Instead loves strangers, loves goodness,
    thoughtful, fair, devout, self-controlled.
    9 Holds tight to the faithful word as it was taught,
    so he can be capable and helpful with sound teaching,
    and in exposing those who object to it.

    A number of Christians claim this passage is only describing pastors, ’cause Paul mentioned an ἐπίσκοπον/epískopon in verse 7 (KJV “bishop,” NIV “overseer,” my translation “supervisor”) —and bishops are typically people who supervise a church or multiple churches, like the head pastors in Evangelical churches today. So, they claim, it’s not about just any elder, but the sort of elder who runs a church. But the elders of a church supervise all sorts of things in a church, whether they have the title “pastor” or not, so everybody in church leadership should meet these ground-floor qualifications, no matter what title they have. Got it?

    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. Ga 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.