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

26 April 2019

Jesus takes out the Law’s curse.

The Law curses those who don’t follow it perfectly. That’s how we know we can’t depend on it to save us; gotta look to God.

Galatians 3.10-20.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22 March 2019

Being good never justified anyone. Only faith does that.

Contrary to dispensationalists, this isn’t a new system introduced by Jesus. This has always been how God saved the world.

Galatians 3.5-12.

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

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

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

As he does in today’s text.

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

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

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

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

20 March 2019

How’d you go from grace to legalism?

It’s not just a question for the Galatians. Loads of Christians repeat their mistake.

Galatians 3.1-4.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 March 2019

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

Being freed from the Law’s consequences doesn’t mean we ignore it. It still defines goodness.

Galatians 2.14-21.

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

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

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

Paul goes on, so let’s go on.

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

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

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

18 March 2019

Paul challenges Simon Peter.

Because it’s so easy to fall into hypocrisy.

Galatians 2.11-16.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28 February 2019

How Paul remembered the Council of Jerusalem.

Where the problems with the legalists came to a head.

Galatians 2.1-10.

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

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

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

And here’s how Paul remembered it.

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

After the apostles had sent Paul home to Tarsus, Ac 9.30 he spent an undetermined length of time there until Joseph Barnabas, the man who’d first brought him to the apostles, Ac 9.27 came to get him. Barnabas had been sent by the apostles to check out a church in Antioch, Syria, where Syrian Greeks—who were of course non-Israelis, or gentiles—had been led to Jesus. Enthused, Barnabas went to Tarsus and got Paul to join him. Antioch became where the followers of Jesus were first called Χριστιανούς/Hristianús, Christians. Ac 11.19-25 (I deduced the year Paul moved to Antioch as anywhere between 38 and 41, ’cause a later prophecy about a famine didn’t come to pass till Claudius became emperor, Ac 11.28 and he wasn’t till 41. As for Barnabas and Paul’s first missions trip, that didn’t take place till Agrippa Herod 1 died in 44. Like I said, loose guesses.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 February 2019

The former persecutor turned evangelist.

Where Paul first declares he got the gospel straight from Jesus.

Galatians 1.11-24.

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

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

Paul described his backstory to the Galatians thisaway:

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

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

But their rewrite of history disregards Paul’s own writings. Every reference to Paul’s conversion points out no evangelist won him over, no logical explanation got him to change his mind. Paul was absolutely convinced Christianity was heresy, and Christians like Stephen needed to be dead lest they outrage God and trigger the cycle again—this time with the Romans destroying Jerusalem instead of the Babylonians. As the Romans did, y'notice—less than 20 years after Paul wrote Galatians.

Paul was certain he was doing right by God to purge the world of Jesus’s followers, and nobody but nobody could tell him different. This is decidedly not the behavior of someone who wanted to adopt, nor create, another religion. This is what a περισσοτέρως ζηλωτὴς/perissotéros zilotís, “superabundant zealot,” does. It’s typical cage-stage behavior. But, y'know, more murdery—’cause if the overzealous “defenders of faith” could, you know they would. Historically, they always do.

25 February 2019

The alternative gospel of good karma.

Introducing Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches.

Galatians 1.1-10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08 October 2018

Pray for everyone—and pray for Paul.

Final statements to the Ephesians (among others).

Ephesians 6.18-24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01 October 2018

The armor of God.

It’s not just for costume parties, but to help us resist temptation.

Ephesians 6.10-17.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 September 2018

The parent, master, or boss’s obligations.

How we reflect Christ in the way we treat those we supervise.

Ephesians 6.1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 September 2018

Men and women, equal in Jesus’s church.

Again, stop living like pagans; start living like Jesus.

Ephesians 5.21-33

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

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

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

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

Well let’s get to those scriptures.

03 September 2018

Awake, sleepers!

Again, stop living like pagans; start living like Jesus.

Ephesians 5.1-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

27 August 2018

Be excellent to each other.

Stop living like pagans; start living like Jesus.

Ephesians 4.17-32

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

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

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

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

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

13 August 2018

Stick together.

If we could only grasp how much of them there are.

Ephesians 4.1-16

Now that God’s provided his adoptive kids with his superabundant riches, it’s time for us to live like his kids. So here’s the part of Ephesians where Paul moves away from the salvation theology, and gets into how we Christians are supposed to behave towards one another. We’ve been predestined for God’s kingdom; now let’s walk like inheritors of his kingdom.

Paul especially emphasized the unity we oughta see among Christians, who are after all sharing the same Master.

Ephesians 4.1-6 KWL
1 So I, the captive in the Master, encourage you to walk the calling you were called to,
appropriately: 2 With all humility and gentleness.
With patience, putting up with one another in love.
3 Eager to defend the Spirit’s unity, in peace’s joint captivity: 4 One body. One Spirit.
Just as you were also called in one hope of your calling.
5 One Master. One faith. One baptism. 6 One God,
and Father of everyone, over everyone, and in everyone.

Most of the time preachers apply this to Christians who are members, or regulars, of the same church. We’re supposed to love our fellow church members, be patient with them, live in unity with them. Which is true; we should. But that’s not at all the idea Paul had in mind.

Multiple denominations of Christians wouldn’t exist for another two centuries or so, and it’s likely Paul never expected them to ever exist. Even though multiple denominations in the Hebrew religion existed—Pharisees and Sadducees and Samaritans—the early Christians didn’t expect the body of Christ to be likewise fragmented. It’s a violation of Jesus’s will, y’know. Jn 17.20-23

So when Paul wrote this, it applied not just to Christians who shared a church body, but every Christian everywhere: We’re to put up with any and every fellow Christian, no matter what their stripe, whether we fellowship in the same congregation or not. Every denomination and theology. We’re to encourage unity with all of them, because that’s what Jesus wants. Because all of us do have one body, one Spirit, one Master, one faith, one baptism, and one God.

True, you get certain Christians who insist we can’t interact with certain churches. Because they insist they get to define orthodoxy, and if you’re not orthodox enough for them you’re not a true Christian. I would say otherwise: Only Jesus gets to define who’s his and who’s not, and when Jesus told us how to identify true followers, true teachers, and true prophets, he didn’t tell us to look for orthodoxy; he told us to look for fruit. Fruity Christians have the Holy Spirit in them, so they belong to Jesus. Fruitless Christians, no matter how orthodox their beliefs, aren’t obeying Jesus, and aren’t really his.

And y’notice Paul mentioned a few of the Spirit’s fruits in the above passage: Humility. Gentleness. Patience. Love. Peace. If you can’t be bothered to try these things, of course your church isn’t gonna hold together. Or interact with other churches. Or interact with anybody; you’ll turn into one of those isolationist cults who only come out in public to wave “God Hates Fags” signs. You’ll think you’re the only ones going to heaven, ’cause the rest of “Christendom” can’t possibly. And it’s gonna suck to be you when you finally stand before Jesus.

06 August 2018

God’s superabundant riches.

If we could only grasp how much of them there are.

Ephesians 3.13-21

God’s great mystery, now revealed to the world through Paul, was God’s kingdom now includes gentiles. Previous generations didn’t realize this, despite plenty of hints in the Old Testament; it’s why Pharisees were regularly so dismissive of gentiles. But God now wants his church to make it crystal clear: The good news is for everyone. No exceptions. Jesus is Lord of all.

This was why he was in chains, Paul explained. Ep 3.1 In Acts he proclaimed Jesus had sent him to the gentiles—in temple, of all places. Ac 22.21 The resulting riot got the Romans to arrest him, Ac 22.22-24 originally to flog him and silence him, but Paul’s citizenship meant it quickly turned into protective custody, as the Judean leadership sought to get him killed. At the time he wrote Ephesians, we figure he was awaiting trial in Rome. His legal woes were entirely provoked by the very idea of including gentiles in God’s kingdom. But Paul wasn’t so petty as to blame gentiles for his situation. Wasn’t their fault.

On the contrary: The gentiles drove him to rejoice.

Ephesians 3.13-17 KWL
13 So I request you don’t despair over my suffering for you—which is in your honor.
14 It’s why I bend my knees to the Father, 15 for whom every “fatherland” in heaven and on earth is named.
16 So he could give you power from his glorious riches, make you strong in his Spirit in the person within,
17 and settle Christ in your hearts, planted and established through faith in love.

When Paul wrote of bending his knees to the Father, Ep 3.14 Christians miss the importance of this, ’cause it’s an old Christian custom to kneel to pray. But first-century Judeans (and Christians) didn’t pray like that. They prayed standing up, facing the sky, arms outstretched. Mk 11.25, Lk 18.13 You didn’t kneel unless you were begging God to answer your petition—like when Jesus begged not to suffer, Lk 22.41 or Simon Peter begged God to raise a dead woman. Ac 9.40 Paul was begging God for his prayer requests. Begging the Ephesians would get “power from his glorious riches,” would be “strong in his Spirit,” that God’d “settle Christ in [their] hearts.” He wanted the Ephesians to become solid Christians. (’Cause they were good Christians, Ep 1.15 but could always be better!)

Every “fatherland,” Paul pointed out, is named for the Father. This is a bit of Greek wordplay, so it’s a little tricky to translate. Paul compared patír/“father” and patriá/“homeland.” He correctly pointed out the word patriá comes from patír. Originally patriá meant “family,” and the KJV translated it that way: “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Ep 3.15 KJV But a patriá wasn’t just one small little family, but a national family—the ethnic identity of an entire nation. Back then, nations figured a significant part of their national identity was in being descendants of a common ancestor. You know, like Judeans all figured they were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah: They were “the children of Israel.”

Nowadays we consider that idea racist… ’cause it is. Especially in empires like the Roman Empire, which were multinational; or nations like the United States, which are based on shared ideals and rights instead of culture and ancestry. And God’s kingdom is both of those things: It’s an empire where everyone’s adopted, Ep 1.5 where our common allegiance to Jesus and his teachings mean race should make no difference. And lest anyone forget this, Paul pointed out how every ethnic identity has its origin in God the Father. He put people-groups where he wants ’em, Ac 17.26 and now he wants ’em in his kingdom, the patriá of heaven. A one-world government, under God, indivisible.

30 July 2018

No longer a mystery: Gentiles inherit God’s kingdom.

And how dispensationalists get this so mixed up.

Ephesians 3.1-12

Paul was under house arrest when he wrote Ephesians, either before the first or second time he stood before Nero Caesar. Paul optimistically thought of these circumstances as his opportunity to share Jesus with Roman officials, with himself as Jesus’s official ambassador. Ep 6.20

But y’know, much of the reason he got in so much trouble, was because he insisted on sharing Jesus with gentiles—who were and always had been part of God’s plan, but Pharisees had blinders on about it, so this information was new to them. Because Paul was notorious for hanging out with gentiles, it’s arguably why he was arrested in the first place. Ac 22.21-29 Not that he didn’t totally take advantage of it to meet Agrippa Herod and Nero Ceasar.

This, Paul recognized, was the real reason he was in chains:

Ephesians 3.1-6 KWL
1 Here’s the reason I, Paul, became Christ Jesus’s bondservant for you gentiles—
2 unless you already heard God’s system of grace he gave me for you.
3 He made the mystery known to me through special revelation—as I previously, briefly wrote you.
4 Its readers can see my meaning about “Christ’s mystery.”
5 It wasn’t made known to previous generations of the sons of men.
He now revealed this mystery to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
6 Through the gospel, the gentiles are to be
co-inheritors, co-body-parts, co-sharers in Christ Jesus’s promise.

This was outrageous news to bigoted Judeans who were certain God would wipe gentiles off the face of the earth, and populate his kingdom with only them.

Where’d they get such a genocidal idea? A rather sick interpretation of the bible. Taking the book of Joshua global. But it didn’t take into account the rest of the scriptures. Messiah isn’t gonna wipe out the world’s kings; they’re gonna kneel before him. Ps 2.10-12 “King of kings and lord of lords” means other kings and lords are gonna exist in his administration, under him. And not all these kings are gonna be Hebrew! Messiah—we gentiles call him Christ—was always gonna be gentiles’ king of kings. Everybody’s king.

The Pharisees kinda knew this, but like everyone who wears blinders when it comes to the bible, they didn’t wanna know this. They liked their wrath-filled idea way better. Had grudges against gentiles. Some of those grudges were centuries old; some of ’em were still pissed at the Egyptians for enslaving them 1,500 years (now 3,500 years) before. They didn’t care for the Romans at all, nor their Greek, Syrian, Nabatean, and Samaritan neighbors. So they indulged their prejudices, spun the scriptures to imply God’s gonna decimate the gentiles, and though they couldn’t build physical walls like the Israelis today, built all sorts of cultural and mental blocks.

The idea the gentiles would share their inheritance from God, share their Messiah? In synagogue after synagogue, Paul discovered this gospel pissed them off. It’s like telling an Arizonan, “The feds wanna give the Mexicans free healthcare.” If they had guns back then, they’d open fire on Paul, Barnabas, Silas, and any Christian who suggested such a thing. They did try to kill Paul in temple, y’know.

23 July 2018

Racism has no place in God’s kingdom.

That’s the whole point of including gentiles.

Ephesians 2.11-22

To remind you: Paul didn’t write Ephesians to his fellow Jews. He wrote it to éthnoi/“ethnics,” goyím/“nations”—words we usually translate with the Latin-derived word gentile, meaning “people of another nation.” Jews use the word to describe non-Jews. (And Mormons use it to describe non-Mormons.)

Ancient Jews tended to highlight the primary physical difference between Jews and gentiles. Wasn’t skin color, ’cause Jews, then and now, came in every color. It was whether or not you had a foreskin. Following God’s instructions, Jews cut the foreskin off every 8-day-old male. Lv 12.3 Jews were therefore “the circumcised,” and gentiles obviously weren’t. In fact the popular Jewish term for a gentile, which we even find in the New Testament, was akrovystía/“foreskin.” Most bibles tend to be more polite, and translate this word as “the uncircumcised.” They really shouldn’t. The crudeness of referring to people as “foreskins” gives us a better idea of just how ancient Jews thought of gentiles.

’Cause to their minds, gentiles were unclean. Ritually unclean, ’cause when would they ever get the chance to hear God’s expectations for ritual cleanliness? But literally unclean too, ’cause for the most part, gentiles didn’t wash. Didn’t always bathe regularly. They’d eat anything. (The Romans even prided themselves on the weirdness of what they’d eat.) Touch anything, wear anything (or nothing), have sex with anything or anyone, worship a lot of icky gods whose priests demanded icky forms of worship. And they still had their dirty foreskins.

Hence Pharisee custom was to never, ever touch a gentile. After all, you don’t know where they’ve been.

We gentile Christians would like to imagine we’re not that offensive. But that’s because we weren’t raised with Pharisee prejudices. Instead we were raised with our own—and if we were raised by racists, some of our prejudices are pretty similar. People have it drummed into their heads from an early age: Foreigners are gross and dirty. Touch not the unclean thing.

And then Christ Jesus goes and turns these filthy pagans into family.

Ephesians 2.11-15 KWL
11 Therefore remember: Previously you, gentiles in the flesh,
called “foreskins” by those called circumcised (which was done in the flesh by hand);
12 you, at that time, were Christless. Alienated from Israeli citizenship.
Foreigners to covenants of promise. Having no hope. Godless in the world.
13 Now, in Christ Jesus, you who were once far away, became near through Christ’s blood,
14 for Christ is our peace, making both sides one,
destroying the barrier fence—our fleshly racism. 15 Clearing the field of doctrinal commands.
Thus he can build the two into one new person in him, making peace.

This wasn’t a radical new idea to the ancient world. The Persians, Greeks, Romans, Huns, Rashiduns, and Ummayyads didn’t consider ethnicity to be a barrier to citizenship. But the Jews did—which is why Israel never became an empire, and Pharisaism struggled to spread. Thing is, since God created everyone, loves everyone, and wants to save everyone, racism is unnatural and has to go.

19 July 2018

From the lowest place to the highest heavens.

He doesn’t want us to live in ignorance. He wants us to follow Jesus.

Ephesians 2.1-10

Gotta confess: I grew up Christian. I said the sinner’s prayer at age 4. I have no real memories of being pre-Christian. So when the scriptures, particularly Ephesians, brings up one’s wayward pre-Christian life before God got hold of us, it’s not so easy to relate. I didn’t live that way.

Oh yeah, I had my hypocrisy phase in high school and college. But it wasn’t an apostasy phase; I didn’t quit Christianity and go pagan in rebellion, doubt, or apathy. I was just a sucky Christian. More Christianist than Christ-following; I held to religiosity when it suited me, and clung to cheap grace when that suited me. Like I said, hypocrisy.

So when Paul wrote about the Ephesians’ pre-Christian lifestyle, I understand what he’s talking about; I know plenty of pagans who live this way. My trouble is I don’t have a shared experience with them, so I don’t relate as well as someone who did have those experiences.

But y’know, that’s one of the great things about Christian diversity: Plenty of us have. And it’s those former pagans who can speak best to current pagans, and point ’em to Jesus. (Although I should point out I strive to be kind to them, so that tends to take me pretty far with them as well.)

And I do have the experience of being a lousy Christian, yet God didn’t give up on me and straightened me out. So there’s that.

But for ex-pagan Christians, this is more what they experienced:

Ephesians 2.1-3 KWL
1 You who were dead in your missteps and the sins 2 you previously walked in,
following this world’s age, following the head air-power—the spirit now working on apathy’s children.
3 We all used to walk backwards like that in our bodily desires, doing the will of our body and minds.
We were natural, raging children, same as everyone else.
4 God, being rich in mercy, loves us out of his great love. 5 Us, being dead in our missteps.
God makes us all alive in Christ: You’re saved by his grace.

Previously following our desires, our culture (“the world’s age”), and various idols (“the head air-power”), we were as good as dead, ’cause sin kills. Ro 6.23 But God loves us despite that, rescues us from all that, and grants us eternal life for no other reason than pure grace. He’s entirely justified in leaving us to our own destruction, but he’s predestined far better for us.

18 July 2018

“To follow thee more nearly.”

He doesn’t want us to live in ignorance. He wants us to follow Jesus.

Ephesians 1.15-23.

Humans are creatures of extremes. It’s why American churches are likewise creatures of extremes. Either we pursue God with all our might, and strive to make sure our teachings are accurate and solid… and ready to pound into the heads of newbies, skeptics, people of other church traditions which aren’t as up-to-speed as we. Or we pursue godly behavior with all our might, strive to behave ourselves and help the needy… and feel incredibly guilty when we don‘t.

I know; why can’t we get this stuff right? Why can’t we pursue accurate teaching without turning into insufferable know-it-alls? Why can’t we pursue good works without turning into legalists? Why can’t we do both bible study and charitable works—why do we have to pit these behaviors against one another? More than that, why must we insist on pretending to do one or the other, yet use compromise, loopholes, and excuses to do neither? What, are there just too many chainsaws to juggle?

Well. Paul, upon hearing of the Ephesians’ good behavior and faith, prayed God’d grant ’em more wisdom, revelation, knowledge, and power. Partly because knowledge is power; partly because God gives us access to supernatural power, and we oughta learn how to tap that, and minister more mightily.

Ephesians 1.15-19 KWL
15 For this reason I too—hearing the about your trust in Master Jesus and the acts of love towards all the saints—
16 I don’t stop giving thanks for you, working my memories of you into my prayers
17 so the God of our Master, Christ Jesus, the Father of glory,
might give you the spiritual wisdom and revelation to understand him—
18 flooding your hearts’ eyes with light, so you’d understand.
It’s the hope of your calling. It’s the saints’ glorious inherited riches.
19 It’s the over-and-above greatness of God’s power for us believers, through the energy of his powerful strength.

Ephesians is the rare letter where Paul doesn’t have to spend a lot of time correcting the church for its misbehavior. To be fair, this may be because Ephesians is a form letter (as I explained previously) so Paul couldn’t offer customized correction to any one particular church. Not that this hasn’t stopped commentators from leaping to the conclusion Ephesus was the one church in ancient Christendom which was following God properly. I expect they made the same mistakes as every Christian does. But I also expect they were getting a lot right—otherwise Paul would’ve felt the urgent need to write ’em something custom. But he didn’t. He wrote this.

And in it, he prayed the church and its Christians would grow. He made a regular practice of such prayers. He knew from experience they’d need the help. Ephesus especially: They lived in a city which manufactured new religions on a daily basis. (Some of which featured really bizarre versions of Jesus.) They needed to know the truth and hew to it, lest someone lead them astray with some strange but appealing novelty. You know… like nowadays. ’Cause Americans are so easily led astray by churches which claim God promises us a safe, comfortable, unchallenging, prosperous life.