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

22 April 2024

Passover: When God saved the Hebrews.

“Why don’t we celebrate Passover?” asked one of my students, when I once taught on the topic.

“We do,” I said. “Christians call it Pascha or Pascua or Páques. But in languages with a lot of German words mixed in, we call it Easter. And obviously we do it way different than you see in the bible.”

So different, English-speaking people routinely assume Easter and Passover are two entirely different holidays. I can’t argue with this assumption. Christians don’t bother to purge our homes of yeast or leavening. Don’t cook lamb—nor do we practice the modern Jewish custom of not having lamb, ’cause there’s no temple in Jerusalem to ritually sacrifice a lamb in. Don’t put out the seder plate. Don’t tell the Exodus story. Don’t have the kids ask the Four Questions. Don’t hide the afikomen and have the kids search for it—although both holidays have eggs, and we do have the kids look for eggs.

Well, some Christians observe Passover as a separate holiday. Some of us even celebrate it Hebrew-style, as spelled out in the scriptures, as in Exodus and Deuteronomy. But more often, Christians do as Messianic Jews recommend—and Messianic Jews borrow their traditions less from the bible and more from the Conservative Judaism movement. (Which, contrary to their name, ain’t all that conservative.) Their haggadah—their order of service—is nearly always adapted from Orthodox or Conservative prayer books, which means it dates from the 10th century or later.

Yes, some Messianic Jewish customs come from the Mishna, so they do date back to the first century. Still, Mishnaic practices weren’t standard practices; not even in the 10th century. Just as Christians celebrate Christmas every which way, Jews then and now got to choose their own customs. Hence families have unique customs, and various synagogues emphasize various things. Medieval Jewish communities in eastern Europe, north Africa, Spain, and the middle east, all came up with their individual haggadahs. (As did Samaritans.)

The point of the haggadah is to teach the Exodus story to children. And remember, Jesus’s students weren’t children. Teenagers certainly, but still legal adults who already knew the Exodus story: If they hadn’t heard it at home, Jesus would’ve taught it to them personally, and they’d have celebrated several Passovers together by the time of his last supper. So, just as some families don’t tell the nativity story every Christmas once the kids get older, don’t be surprised if Jesus skipped the haggadah’s customary Four Questions (what’s with the matzot, why are bitter herbs part of the meal, why roasted meat in particular, and why does the food gets dipped twice) as redundant.

Christians don’t always realize this. Nor do Messianic Jews. So whenever they attend a Passover seder, or ritual dinner, and hear whatever haggadah the leader came up with, they routinely think it’s so profound how Jesus “practiced” and “brought such meaning and fulfillment” to these customs. Even though it’s highly unlikely he practiced any of the present-day customs. It’s pure coincidence his ministry “fulfilled” them. But y’know, not every Christian believes in coincidence.

28 January 2024

“All scripture is God-breathed and useful for…”

2 Timothy 3.16.

In pretty much every sermon and lesson I’ve heard about why we have a bible, and what the bible is for, preachers and teachers quote this verse. Which I’m gonna quote in the New International Version, because of the unique and very popular way they translate it.

2 Timothy 3.16-17 NIV
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The NIV describes the scriptures as God-breathed, and people really like describing it that way. It’s a very literal, perhaps too literal, translation of the word θεόπνευστος/theónefstos, “divinely inspired”—or as the KJV puts it, “by inspiration of God.” But the reason Christians like quoting this part, is to remind us the Holy Spirit inspired the books of the bible, so they’re not just any books. God’s behind them.

And sometimes these folks take this idea too far, and claim God’s in them, and they’re worthy of the same reverence God is. That’s idolatry, so let’s not go there. Don’t go replacing the Holy Spirit with the Holy Bible, like too many cessationists do. The Spirit doesn’t imbue the bible with divine powers, so all we now need to do is recite its verses like magic incantations and it’ll do stuff. That’s not its purpose. Reject those teachers who tell you otherwise.

But as for what its purpose actually is—well that’s the other reason people quote 1 Timothy 3.16. It’s so they can list these four things:

  • TEACHING (Greek διδασκαλίαν/didaskalían, “instruction”; KJV “doctrine”). Informing Christians what we should know about God, and how to follow Jesus.
  • REBUKING (ἐλεγμόν/elegmón; in the Textus Receptus ἔλεγχον/élenhon; both mean “disprove, reprimand, convince otherwise”). Challenging Christians who get God wrong, go too far, or sin.
  • CORRECTING (ἐπανόρθωσιν/epanórthosin, “correcting.”) Correcting Christians who lose focus, get off track, or forget what’s important. “Rebuking” deals with Christians who are seriously wrong; “correcting” with Christians who are just a bit off course.
  • TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS (παιδείαν τὴν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ/pedeían tin en dikeosýni, “training about the right [way]”). Not just classroom instruction, but hands-on demonstration about how to fairly and morally treat others and behave.

They won’t always interpret these words the same way I have. I’ve been to churches where the main focus is correction. You don’t know the proper bible doctrines?—well, here they are; learn ’em and be orthodox like us. And when people object to our doctrines, learn some Christian apologetics so you can argue with them and win. As for behavior… well, don’t worry about actively following Jesus, for somehow that’s legalism; just don’t sin, for somehow that’s not.

But okay, those four things sound like really good reasons to study a bible. Thing is, they’re missing the most important one. Because they’re not reading the bible in context. You knew I was gonna get to context eventually, right?

29 December 2023

Read the bible in a month. Yes, seriously. A month.

January’s coming; you’re making resolutions, and one of ’em is to read the bible. As you should! It’s gonna make you more familiar with God. Some people unrealistically expect a new, profound God-experience every day as the Holy Spirit shows ’em stuff, but hopefully you’re more realistic about it. Hopefully you’re realistic about all your resolutions. Not everyone is.

So you need to read through through the entire bible, Genesis to maps. (That’s an old Evangelical joke. ’Cause a lot of study bibles include maps in the back. Okay, it’s less amusing once I explain it.) Every year Christians get on some kind of bible-reading plan to make sure they methodically go through every book, chapter, and verse. ’Cause when we don’t, we wind up only reading the familiar bits, over and over and over again—and miss a lot of the parts we should read. The reason so many Christians misinterpret the New Testament is because they know so very little of its Old Testament context. Every time I quote just a little bit of the Law to explain Jesus’s teachings, way too many people respond, “I’ve never heard that before.” Sadly, I know exactly what they’re talking about.

But part of the reason they “never heard that before” is because they totally forgot they did hear it. Because their bible-in-a-year reading plan had ’em read the Law back in February… and when they finally got to the gospels in September, they’ve clean forgot what they read in February. And by next February when they’re reading the Law again, they’ve clean forgot what they read in September.

So why take a year to read the bible? ’Cause everybody else is doing the bible in a year.

Seriously. It’s a big market. Publishers sell one-year bibles, which chop the scriptures into short daily readings. Sometimes really short daily readings, ’cause they’ll give you three readings: A chapter of the Old Testament, half a chapter of the New Testament, and half a psalm or some other poetry for dessert. If you don’t buy their specially sliced-up bible, there are websites which do it for you, or modules to add to your bible software, or you can just get a list of somebody’s bible-in-a-year plan and follow it yourself. Stick to it and in a year—a year!—you’ll have read the bible.

Yes the bible is a big thick book collection. But come on. It’s not so thick it takes a year to go through.

The year-long program makes the bible sound like this huge, insurmountable mountain to climb. It’s no such thing. Why, you can read it in a month. And no, I’m not kidding. A month. I’ve read it several Januarys in a row. Takes me three weeks.

Yes, there are bible-reading programs which read the bible in three months. That’s a little more reasonable. In fact if you wanna really get familiar with your bible, and quickly, it’s a great idea to do this three-month plan and read the bible four times in a year. (Ideally in four different translations.) Read it every time the seasons change—in December, March, June, and September. Get a bible-in-three-months plan and go with their schedule, or get a bible-in-a-year plan and read four times as much.

If you struggle with reading, or reading comprehension, fine; there are six-month bible-reading plans. But when we’re talking a whole year to read the bible, this pace has serious drawbacks. And not just ’cause it makes the bible sound impossibly massive.

Imagine reading any other book a page a day.

Bible chapters are short. ’Cause when the ancients wrote books, their chapters were short! A chapter is what we’d consider a section of a chapter nowadays. They’re like four or five paragraphs. If you’ve ever read Les Miserables the chapters are even shorter. The sections in these TXAB articles I write are just as long. And bible chapters are often longer than the average chapter in ancient literature.

So imagine reading a “big thick volume” of a book in only a chapter a day. Like Les Miserables, or War and Peace, or The Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, over the course of a year. You’d never think to chop them up into 365 daily readings. But let’s say you did.

You’re gonna have the following troubles:

  • A narrative is gonna get sliced up. Several times. In several awkward places. Can you remember, day to day, where you are in the story? Hope so.
  • How well are you gonna remember a concept in one of the early chapters, when the concept comes up again three months later? And eight months later? And 11 months later?
  • When you can’t follow the storyline, you’re gonna get frustrated. Frustrated readers don’t usually go back and reread things in order to sort things out. They tend to stop reading altogether.

These are some of the many reasons why a year is much too slow. Three months is better. But if you want a serious overview of the bible with a fresh memory, read it in two months. And as I keep saying, you can read it in one. The entire bible, front to back, within the month of January. (Book order up to you, of course.)

Sixteen years ago I was listening to one of my audio bibles and noticed it was about 92 hours long. That’s listening to it at the relatively slow pace that a voice actor goes. I read much faster than that. I realized I could easily read it in half that time—which means it’s theoretically possible to read the bible in a week if motivated. You know, like zealous brand-new Christians tend to be. How often have you heard baby Christians claim they started reading their bibles and couldn’t put it down, and got through the whole volume in quicktime?

So in order to prove the bible-in-a-month deal was doable, I put the following limitations on myself. I think they’re reasonable and doable. I still follow ’em.

  • An hour (or so) per day. If I go over an hour, it’s only because I’m so close to finishing a book, it’d be nuts to stop with a chapter or two to go. Most days the reading takes less than an hour: Most of the bible’s books are short.
  • Only six days a week. I skip Saturdays—unless I miss some other day of the week; then I catch up Saturday. Still, only six days.
  • An unfamiliar bible translation, which oughta make me less likely to skim the verses I’m familiar with.

I read fast, which is why I’m usually done in three weeks. So you can totally do it in four.

Or listen to an entire audio bible.

Maybe you’re not much of a reader. Which is odd, considering you read TXAB and I write very few short pieces.

If that’s you, that’s fine. An audio bible might be more your speed. Get one. I have a page full of links. You can download one for free, or visit one of the many sites which stream the bible, like Bible Gateway. Or get an app (yes, Bible Gateway has one) and stick it on your phone. There are many available translations.

Like I said, one of my audio bibles takes 92 hours to listen to in its entirety. Divided into 24 days, I’d have to listen to about 3 hours 12 minutes a day. For some of us, the daily commute to work and back is longer than 3 hours (which is kinda nuts, but that’s life) and what d’you usually do in that time? Listen to other stuff? Curse at the other drivers? Load up on audio bible instead.

For those folks who live their lives with headphones on, you can listen to way more than three hours a day. Might finish the bible in two weeks, like one of those on-fire Christians who can’t put their bible down. Remember when you were like that? (Oh, you never were? Well, don’t worry. Statistically less than a third of us came to Jesus like that.)

Though the bible’s a big thick book collection, going through the whole of it in January is far from impossible.

“But I don’t wanna read it so fast.”

Ever since I first pitched this idea, a lot of people have been eager to tackle it for themselves. Bible in a month, baby! They drop everything else they’re reading, all the TV programs they’re usually watching, suspend their Netflix account, and cram bible for the month. And to their own great surprise, do it.

I get just as many people who really don’t wanna take the bible-in-the-month challenge. Which is fine. Nobody made this mandatory, y’know. I sure don’t. I just think it’s a good idea: Why take the snail’s-pace approach when you could be done already in January? Worse, lose track and drop the ball by mid-March, just like your gym membership?

For certain people, it’s not enough to say, “No thank you; not for me.” They gotta defend themselves. (Again, they really don’t.) And how do immature people defend themselves? By not just opting out: By slamming the practice, and condemning the person who promotes the practice. It’s not just “not for me,” but somehow evil. Reading the bible so quickly isn’t just a road not chosen; it’s a sin. Or so they tell me.

Here are the usual objections I get.

“IT’S DISRESPECTFUL TO MAKE A MARATHON OF READING THE BIBLE.” Disrespectful to whom? God? Did God decree we should only read his word in a slow, solemn pace, so that it takes a year? Or is he much more pleased when people are hungry for his word, and wanna read lots of it?

Slowness is neither respect nor reverence. It’s just slowness. True, some people are slow because they wanna be careful and methodical, and that’s good. But people are also slow because they’re lazy: If they’re slow about it, they don’t have to work too hard. Or they’re procrastinating: Put off the parts of the bible they don’t like, then whip through those passages quickly. When slowness is just an excuse to avoid reading the bible, it’s pure hypocrisy to claim speed is disrespect.

True, if we read the bible so fast we comprehend little to nothing, all so we can brag “I read it in one week; top that!”—yeah, it’s stupid. Too many people run marathons just so they can brag they ran marathons. So there are definitely people who speed-read bible so they can brag they sped-read bible. Don’t be one of those. If you’re struggling with reading comprehension ’cause a month is just too quick for you, take two or three, or however long it truly takes you. But 12 months, I still maintain, is impractically long. And foolish.

“THIS IS JUST A STUNT.” And so what if it is?

Most of the things our churches do in January are stunts. My church used to do a yearly 21-day diet fast. My neighbor’s church does a back-to-church deal so they can collect all the folks who resolved to do more church in the new year. Exactly what’s wrong with these stunts? Just because it’s wild and out of the ordinary, doesn’t mean you can’t profit by it.

If the bible-in-January stunt gets people to read their bibles for once, you should be all for it.

“HOW MUCH CAN YOU RETAIN FROM READING SO FAST?” Me? Quite a lot. I have a better-than-average ability at reading comprehension. You? I dunno. But it’ll be way more than you retain from reading so slow.

This is probably the most regular excuse I’ve heard for reading through the bible slowly: “We need the time to chew our spiritual food, and meditate on it better.” It’d be nice if that’s actually what people do with their daily bible readings, but let’s get real: They do no such thing. They only read ’em, maybe post a few bible memes on Instagram, then move on with their day. The whole “I need time to meditate” excuse? Yep, more hypocrisy.

The point of reading the entire bible isn’t actually retention, although some retention will happen. It’s to remind us what’s in the scriptures. Retention’s more likely when we read it more often, so when you do this bible-in-a-month thing every year, you’re really likely to retain stuff. But even if you just do it this once: There are parts we haven’t read in the longest time, and we need to be reminded they’re there. We need a refresher. Familiarity is something a lot of us Christians lack with the bible.

How much are we gonna retain? More than someone who never reads it. And while everyone on the three-month plan is a third of the way through, we even have time to go through the bible again. Twice.

“IT DOESN’T MAKE YOU A BETTER OR SUPERIOR CHRISTIAN.” Yeah it does. In a month I’ve read 12 times as much bible as those Christians on the yearly installment plan. That’s clearly superior.

Oh you mean morally superior? Well no; of course not. Not unless I actually follow God’s instructions in what I’ve read.

But like I said, I’ll have read 12 times as much bible. I got all God’s instructions down by the end of January, whereas the folks on the yearly plan won’t be half done till July. I have it fresh in my memory, and know where I need to go back and review; they don’t. Depending on how their plan is structured, they can go most of the year making the same mistakes, committing the same sins, because they haven’t yet been corrected—or because it’s been far too long since they read those corrections, and they forgot ’em already. I have a serious advantage over them.

No, I haven’t earned special heavenly Brownie points from God by reading the bible in a month. No, I’m not more righteous, more saved, more mature, more anything, unless I put what I read into practice. But I did get that bible read, and have a several-month jump on other Christians. That ain’t nothing.

“I CAN’T SPARE AN HOUR A DAY.” Fair enough. Many can’t. Some of us have crazy busy lives, and simply can’t take a free hour for ourselves and our spiritual lives. That’s a much bigger issue than reading the bible in a month. If you can only snatch a few minutes for yourself at a time, please spend it on prayer. When you get more time, then concentrate on bible study and mediation. If you want to plow through a bible within a month, you may have to resort to audio bibles.

But lots of people absolutely do have a spare hour. That is, after we part with some other leisure activity, like TV, video games, Facebook, or something they really don’t wanna put on hold.

“I’M NOT SURE I COULD BE THAT DISCIPLINED.” Also fair enough. But God’s calling you to be. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. When we lack self-control, it’s not because God hasn’t granted us the ability; it’s because we’ve not bothered to put this Spirit-granted ability into practice, and don’t exercise it. Compared to other forms of self-control—diets, quitting tobacco, going to the gym regularly, cutting back on luxuries—reading the bible in a month is rather easy. Unless we’re suffering from an addiction or medical condition, our lack of discipline isn’t a valid excuse.

Maybe you need an incentive: Once you finish the bible, reward yourself. Or read the bible with a partner, and if you finish the bible your partner can reward you, and vice-versa. Do it in a group and egg one another on. Ban all other reading material, all other forms of entertainment, from your life till you get that bible completely read. If you’re not disciplined, use this opportunity to grow your self-control.

One possible schedule.

Here’s one possible schedule you can follow. Gets you through the Old Testament (I listed it in roughly the order it was composed), then the New (generally bunching authors together).

January has 31 days, so there are plenty of extra days available.

And no, you don’t have to start on 1 January! Start anywhere. Start in mid-January and finish in mid-February. Start in February. Start on Wedesday instead of Sunday, and take your breaks on Sundays instead of Saturdays. Who says you have to sync up with any calendar?

I’ve seen other reading programs which divide the bible up into roughly equal amounts of reading each day. It means you gotta quit reading partway through a book. Ideally I like to read a book (any book, not just bible books) all the way through. So you’ll notice I didn’t bisect the books if I could help it. Psalms is an exception, ’cause Psalms is huge—and technically Psalms consists of five books of psalms, and I didn’t divide those five books.

If you wanna rearrange things for your own convenience—maybe you wanna read an Old Testament book, then a New Testament book, then the Old Testament again, and so on—go right ahead. Whatever gets you through the bible.

And if you wanna read equal amounts of bible each day, here’s the easiest way to do it: Go get one of those yearly bible-reading programs, and read 13 days’ worth of material each day. That’ll get you finished in 28 days.

Ready to take the challenge? Let’s start reading.

12 July 2023

Our inspired bible.

INSPIRE ɪn.spaɪ(.ə)r verb. Breathe (air) in; inhale.
2. Fill with a positive, creative feeling; encourage.
3. Fill with the urge or ability to do or feel something; provoke.
[Inspiration ɪn.spə'reɪ.ʃən noun.]

Whenever we Christians talk about inspiration, whether we refer to inspired prophets, inspired teachings, inspired writings, or even inspired music, we generally assume God did the inspiring. (Specifically God the Holy Spirit.) He’s the one who breathes brilliance into us.

One word we regularly translate “inspired” is θεόπνευστος/theónefstos, a word Paul probably coined. Literally it means “God-breathed,” which is how the NIV prefers to translate it in 2 Timothy 3.16.

2 Timothy 3.15-16 NIV
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God a may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

People tend to fling around the word “inspired” as if it only means we had a brainstorm. That’s not what theónefstos means at all. It’s God involved with, behind, this creation process. It’s the Holy Spirit, living within the teacher, prophet, author, or artist, pointing ’em towards Jesus, getting them to describe God with infallible accuracy.

This is what Christians tend to believe about the books and letters which make up the bible: It’s inspired. The Holy Spirit got its authors to describe God with infallible accuracy.

Some Christians believe this God-breathed inspiration isn’t true of anything else. God inspired the bible, and that’s all. When God inspired Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles, it was only so they’d write him some bible. Since the bible’s done, he’s inspired no one since. And of course this is bunk; God never stopped interacting with humanity, and still regularly inspires people. Not to write bible, ’cause it doesn’t need any more additions. But certainly the Spirit inspires all sorts of other things which point people towards Jesus.

And on the other extreme we have Christians who believe God inspires every act of human creativity. (Or even animal creativity; they’ll talk about bird nests and beaver dams as inspired.) Whereas I’m pretty sure if every time your kid builds something of Legos it makes you drop to your knees and praise Jesus for his gifts of creativity, you need a psychiatrist. Of course humans create; creativity is something God innately built into us. It’s not always inspired by God. Often it’s inspired by the hopes it’ll make us famous, or make us money. Yep, this is true of Christian artists too. I’ve seen the Jesus junk they sell at Hobby Lobby. Saying the Holy Spirit is behind all that crap? Dirty, dirty blasphemy.

But I digress; I’m trying to write about bible. And yes, the bible’s inspired. People had God-experiences, and wanted to record them for posterity. God dropped various ideas in people’s heads, and they wrote those down too. King David wrote poetry, and God nudged him to write really good poetry. Peter, John, James, Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Sosthenes had some good advice to give fellow Christians, and God nudged them to give profoundly useful advice. Inspired people wrote it, inspired Christians compiled it, and inspired Christians uphold it.

True, inspired people were and are fallible humans. But as people follow the Holy Spirit, he guides us to truth, Jn 16.13 and steers us clear of sin and error. In the moment, we can (and do) write and prophesy infallible stuff. Once done, we might (heck, do) slip up, sin, make mistakes, and fumble right back into fallibility. But the stuff done by the Spirit’s power is still good stuff. The writings in the bible are still authoritative. So we kept ’em.

26 June 2023

Put some bible in your brain!

There are certain bits of bible which need to be embedded in a Christian’s brain. Need to be.

No, this isn’t a requirement before God can save you. But it’s extremely useful to be able to quote various verses and passages which remind us of God’s love and grace and goodness, of Jesus’s teachings and commands, of the thinking behind God’s acts and our beliefs, and of promises, encouragements, and expectations. We need to put some verses into our memories.

So here’s how we get started.

Lots of Christians insist there are particular verses every one of us ought have memorized, like the Lord’s Prayer, or “the Lord’s my shepherd,” John 3.16, or Romans 6.23, or Romans 10.9. (People tend to refer to verses by their addresses. That’s sorta annoying for those of us who mix addresses up. I’m one of them, by the way.)

No, I’m not going to go through the entire list of Christians’ favorite memory verses right now. I’ll bring one or another up from time to time. If you’ve been praying the Lord’s Prayer, hopefully you’ve got it in your head by now anyway.

Me, I prefer this technique: It’s a little more natural.

12 May 2023

Christians who try to discourage you away from bible apps.

When I bought my first Macintosh, I also bought bible software. I’ve written a little about it elsewhere. I switched software a few times, finally settled on Accordance, spent a lot of money on modules, and now exclusively use it for bible study. I’ve got it on my phone too; I read it instead of my tiny bibles.

My print bibles? Getting dusty.

And I’ve met certain Christians whom this bugs to no end.

Most are bibliolaters, who worship the Holy Bible instead of the Holy Spirit. They may not be aware that somewhere, baked into the moldy filling of their over-elevation of the scriptures, they grew to also revere the printed word. To them, digital books aren’t real books… even though they absolutely are. They’re pretty snobbish about it.

It’s not the medium which makes a book. A book can exist in a stone tablet, a parchment scroll, a parchment codex, a strip of microfilm, a 30-pack of audio cassettes, a 12-pack of audio CDs, a floppy disk or CD-ROM, the solid-state hard drive of your iPhone or Kindle, or the solid-state hard drive of some internet-accessible server somewhere (which people like to call “the cloud,” but yeah, it’s physically somewhere).

Me, I prefer the hard drive. I don’t always have a wifi signal, so the cloud’s definitely my second choice.

So during the Sunday morning services, when these bibliolaters wave their big black pleather-clad KJV study bibles at the listeners and say, “Got your bibles?” what they want to see is a room full of big black pleather-clad KJV print bibles waving back at them, like foam fingers at a baseball game. When they see phones instead… well, a little bit of them dies inside, and not the idolatrous part which needs to die.

Because to them, these aren’t bibles. They’re just phones. And they’re pretty sure you don’t read bible on ’em.

And they’re also pretty sure you don’t actually have a bible on them. In that, they’d usually be correct. Many bible apps don’t actually install a bible on your phone, which you can read on the rare occasion you can’t access the internet. They’re entirely dependent on the internet; all their bible translations are on a server, not your phone.

I don’t really see that as a problem, but they certainly do: Bibliolaters tend to worry that at some point in the future, probably during the End Times, the Beast’s government is gonna ban bibles, and if you don’t have a print copy you’re boned. Me, I suspect most Beast-like autocrats are gonna be just fine with bible. Will even pretend they love the bible, and hold it up for photo opportunities, and even claim their favorite verse is somewhere in “two Corinthians”—because they know perfectly well that Christians don’t follow it, which is how they got elected in the first place. But that’s a whole other tangent. Back to bible apps!

Is it fair to say people don’t read bible on their phones? Well, kinda. But that’s just as true for bibles in print.

The argument that people won’t read an app.

Christians don’t read their bible because people don’t read. For every individual you know who loves to curl up with a good book, 50 don’t, and would rather do anything else.

And when people read, they don’t read much. They read short articles. The shorter the better. I’ve lost count of how many people have complained to me my articles are too long, and that’s why they don’t read this blog. “You oughta make it shorter!” Yeah, but plenty of other people tell me they appreciate my being comprehensive, because most of the stuff on the internet about Christianity tends to be too short and superficial for them. I wholly agree with them. You want light and fluffy Christianity? There’s no shortage out there.

So when people read their bible apps, they read the verse of the day. Seriously. One verse. I got into a discussion on a bus two days ago with someone who never, ever missed his bible app’s verse of the day. Memorized it, then shared it with everybody who asked. Which is a neat trick!—I’m not gonna knock the practice. But has he read more of the bible today than that one verse? Well… no, not really. He has read it. It’s just been a while.

You might, and bibliolaters have, point to that sort of behavior and say, “See? Proves my point about the bible apps. You need a print bible!” But I’m an old man; I’ve been Christian for five decades. I remember life in the olden days, before apps, when Christians did the very same thing. My church would have free copies of the popular devotional Our Daily Bread in the lobby (which is now on the internet as well as print) and every day’s one-page article began with a bible passage, and a verse from that passage. And I kid you not, plenty of people would only read that two-paragraph passage. Or only read the verse. And they were done. That’s their daily bread for the day: One saltine. Or none, if they think they remembered the passage already, so they didn’t bother to look it up to read, and double-check the context.

Doesn’t matter what form it comes in. People. Don’t. Read.

So yeah, some Christians might read their bible app, and even follow along with their church’s bible-in-a-year plan, and actually read more than a few paragraphs. And in many ways the bible app actually facilitates this: Christians don’t usually carry a print bible with them, or have one in the workplace, but they always carry a phone. If they read nothing else, they will read stuff on their phones… and if they’ve resolved to read more bible, they will read more bible. On their phones.

I read an article by this one pastor who claims the phone itself is a distracting problem: People might pick it up to read their bible apps… but there are so many other things on their phones! Like text messages. Videos. Games. Social media. Your Kindle app. So they’re anxious about that, they claim: You might intend to read bible, and instead you choose to read some popular novel, and so much for bible.

As if you’re not gonna have the very same temptation if you keep your bible on your bookshelf, or in any other place you stash books and magazines. The only thing that’s changed is the medium.

“It’s just… not a book!

Like I said, a lot of the arguments against reading bible on your phone have to do with the value they perceive in a physical print book. One I’ve actually read is, “Do you take pride in your bible app? Probably not. But does your family take pride in your old, beat-up, marked-up, wrinkled- and dogeared-pages, decades-old family bible you use every night at the dinner table?”

Um… no, I don’t remember ever taking pride in the physical book. Of any physical book. ’Cause my churches taught us we weren’t supposed to take pride in material possessions. Something about how Jesus doesn’t approve. And you don’t get to make an exception for big fancy bibles like the bibliolaters do.

Did I take pride in my print bibles? Not really. For a while there I took pride in my print-bible collection, ’cause I bought a bunch of different translations before I finally went all-in with digital. I felt it was really useful to have all these translations to compare. Of course, Bible Gateway does the job so much better and easier.

The writer went on and on about the personal connection he felt with his favorite print study bible—about how it’s so much more meaningful, more nostalgic, more beautiful, more sacred, than the non-existent connection he had with his bible app. He never thinks of the app as “my bible,” but he’s very much attached to his study bible. That’s his bible. It gives him all the feels.

And yeah, he gets into the feeling of using a print bible—he claims you don’t just learn a book by reading it, but by feeling the pages turn, flipping around it, carrying it, holding it, cuddling it like a teddy bear after he’s gone to bed… Okay he didn’t go there, but he comes mighty close.

Plus note-taking! He loves the fact he can use a highlighter on his print bible. Loves how he can jot notes in the margins. Loves how he can tuck church bulletins inbetween its pages. You can’t do that with a digital bible, now can you?

Except, um, I have. My Accordance app lets you highlight stuff. And, unlike a print bible, lets you erase those highlights when you find out you’ve mistakenly emphasized the wrong thing. The app lets you take notes, although I prefer and use Google Docs. If I want a copy of the church bulletin that I won’t lose, my phone has a camera, and easily convert photos to text. If I want cross-references, the app has ’em; if I want study-bible notes, the app has all the study bibles I’ve purchased.

And I can edit these notes if I wanna. And I can share these notes with others. And if I want to go further into depth, I don’t have to set down my print bible, go to my bookshelf, pluck out a book from one of my 66-volume commentary sets, look up this particular passage, then try to find the same passage in two other commentaries; the commentaries are right there on my computer or phone.

Print bibles are nice, and you might even be nostalgic for your childhood bible or family bible. But when it comes to bible study, whether serious or on-the-fly (and you probably know by now how often on-the-fly stuff gets serious!), apps are always gonna be superior.

Suspicious minds.

I once had a pastor who really got agitated about all the young people in church whipping out their phones whenever he started preaching. ’Cause he was entirely sure they were just playing games or texting friends the whole time. You know, like his own teenagers did, constantly. Would do it all through dinner if you let them—and he didn’t let them.

I wasn’t a young person then, but I definitely started using bible apps as soon as they were available. So I guess I was one of the people bugging him too.

He finally brought this up during a bible study, when he said “Let’s turn to the scriptures. Leslie, you have Leviticus 19.18…” and I pulled out my phone, and read the scripture off it.

HE. “You have the bible on your phone?
ME. “Yep. Bible software for your phone. In any translation you want, so if you have a specific translation in mind, I can switch to that. I can even read it in Hebrew.”
HE. “Oh! That’s kinda useful.”
ME. “Yeah, all the kids have them. That’s why they read their phones instead of carrying around a big ol’ bible.”
HE.That’s why they’re reading their phones.”
ME.And taking notes. Oh, you thought they were texting..”
HE. “I did! Oh good. I was worried I was losing them.”
ME. “Oh, you’re totally losing them. They can fact-check you now.”

But that’s another discussion.

Still, there are preachers who still get agitated whenever someone whips out a phone during the sermon, ’cause they’re pretty sure these people aren’t really listening. And to be fair, it’s possible they’re not; they’re watching a game, or reading the news. Or, when I was a kid and the preacher got super boring, reading the bible. I’d read the passage he was preaching on, then keep going. Or flip to another book; as he was preaching on Titus I’d entertain myself with Samson ben Manoah murdering random Philistines for their clothes in Judges. Jg 20.19 The phone might enable all sorts of extracurricular reading, but it’s always been possible.

That one writer who gushed about his favorite print bible, also wrote a bit about how we oughta carry print bibles just to give our preachers peace of mind; just in case they’re worried they’re not getting through to people, and worried the audience is playing Wordle (or the much superior Quordle) instead of listening to him try to preach Christ’s truth.

Me, I think any such preacher has a deficiency of peace, and that’s a fruit of the Spirit they really need to develop further. When Paul wrote “Be anxious for nothing,” Pp 4.6-7 he didn’t mean we should make exceptions for when we’re trying to get through to people. The Spirit can get through to anyone if he needs to—and if you’re trying to get through to anyone without the Holy Spirit’s prompting, because you’re preaching your agenda not his, you and the Spirit need to have a serious talk about this. You’re supposed to be following his lead, not hoping he’s empowering yours. And if you’re following his lead properly, there’s nothing to worry about!—he’s got this.

Missed opportunities?

Lastly, I’ve heard more than one person complain about how reading a bible in public will start a conversation, but reading a phone is no big deal. Everybody reads their phones.

This has not been my experience. People start conversations with me no matter what I’m reading. I could be on my laptop at the coffeehouse; I could by on my phone on the bus; people will say hello and ask what I’m reading, and if I’m reading or studying bible I’ll say so. And we might talk bible, if they care to. Sometimes they do; sometimes not. I don’t force ’em to talk about anything they don’t wanna.

In my experience, opportunities don’t happen because I’m carrying a conversation-starter. Opportunities happen because the Holy Spirit knows he can use me to point people to Jesus, no matter what I’m doing. Or reading. Or not reading. (But yeah, usually reading.)

Back when I was a hypocritical teenager, if I read a bible in public, nobody’d ask me anything. Because they were fully aware that if they got me talking about religion, I’d be an angry jerk about it. Same as I kinda was about everything. And there are some people who are obviously that type, who conspicuously read bibles in public places because they’re hoping people will ask ’em God-questions. Of course, the only people who choose to engage them are usually fellow Christians, or antichrists who want to bait ’em into a debate. No real opportunities. Lots of debates though.

Now? I could be anywhere, talking to anyone about anything, and religious stuff casually comes up ’cause it’s a big part of my life (“Yeah, I was talking with someone in church about that”) and suddenly they wanna talk religion. I don’t have to prompt anything; I don’t have to lead the conversation anywhere; they bring it up. “What church do you go to? What do you believe? Do you believe [HOT-BUTTON ISSUE]? I haven’t been to church in a while; I really should go.” Opportunities just happen, because the Spirit clearly thinks I’m ready to tackle ’em. And opportunities are likewise gonna happen to you if you make yourself ready for them. And by “ready” I do not mean you’re carrying a prop like a Christian hat, a Christian tattoo, or a big thick print bible.

My attitude has always been the best bible is the one you read. If you read your bible apps, great! If you prefer print, also great! But don’t bash the one you don’t use. Don’t fret that something might be watered down, or lost, or ruined because your favorite medium isn’t everyone’s favorite medium. It’s not about you. And really that’s what all the app-bashers are doing: Exalting their preferences over everything else. Claiming God can’t use what he clearly, obviously, regularly does use—and exposing just how out-of-touch with God they are.

09 March 2023

Those who don’t use bible as a source of revelation.

So I wrote about how the bible’s a source of revelation, and how it can be a useful tool as we Christians develop good theology. Problem is, not everybody who calls themselves Christian does this. Whether unintentionally or deliberately, way too many of us don’t bother with bible at all.

Whenever I bring up this fact with certain Evangelicals, thanks to certain prejudices they have, they immediately think of mainline churches. The assumption they typically have, is old-timey churches don’t bother with bible; their theology is based on feel-good junk. This assumption’s not based on anything valid, ’cause I’ve visited and studied the history of mainline churches, and know a few of their pastors. Their churches’ official doctrines are based on longtime traditions… and these traditions are regularly based on bible.

Don’t believe me? Look at their catechisms. A catechism is a list of a church’s official doctrines, frequently presented in the form of a list of frequently asked questions, ’cause it’s easier to memorize that way. They regularly encourage children and newbies to memorize ’em so they know exactly what Christianity—more accurately, their church—teaches.

  1. “What is the chief end [by which they mean purpose] of man?”
  2. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him for ever.”

Now, does that question-and-answer pair come from bible? Kinda.

1 Corinthians 10.31 KJV
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
 
Psalm 145.1-2 KJV
1 I will extol thee, my God, O king;
and I will bless thy name for ever and ever.
2 Every day will I bless thee;
and I will praise thy name for ever and ever.

That question and answer is based on bible. Most of the catechisms connect right back to bible. Or at least they claim to; every once in a while you’ll find a Q&A where you’ll balk: “Wait, is that what the bible meant?” and no, not really. Catechisms are the work of humans y’know, and humans make mistakes.

Hence every so often there’s gonna be an official teaching of that church where y’might wonder, “How’d they come up with that?”—and nope, it’s not from bible. The church’s founder, or one of its more famous preachers, or some significant author, coined it. The people of that church thought it sounded like godly wisdom—and hey, maybe it is! But maybe it’s not. And either way, since it’s not bible, it’d better be consistent with bible. At the very least it’d better not contradict it!

So that’s what you’ll find in mainline churches: People who are trying to be consistent with the scriptures. But also consistent with their traditions. Traditions are very important to them!—they help connect ’em with one another, and with the Christians of the past. Likewise they figure those traditions are ultimately, originally based on the apostles’ teachings, i.e. bible: We shouldn’t find any contradictions between them.

Yeah, those people with hangups about how biblical mainliners are, don’t really know any mainliners.

Me, I’m not necessarily even thinking of mainliners and catechisms. I’m thinking of heretics. ’Cause I know a few.

08 March 2023

The bible as a source of revelation.

Many Christians firmly believe the only way God reveals himself to humanity is through the bible. Which contradicts what we find in the bible.

When I talk about our sources of revelation, the’s bible most definitely one of them. Certainly a primary source. But in the scriptures themselves, God first reveals himself to humans with a God-appearance: He hangs out with Adam and Eve. Ge 3.8 The humans ruined those original regular visitations—but no, their sin didn’t drive God away; sin doesn’t do that. God still appeared to people from time to time in the scriptures, and of course he became Jesus.

And there’s the other forms of revelation—all of which we see in Genesis. We get miracles. We get God speaking back to people in prayer. We get dreams and prophets. And while Genesis doesn’t really talk about revelation from nature (despite what young-earth creationists claim) plenty of people claim it’s a legit form of revelation, and point to it often.

The bible is the product of all these sources of revelation. People saw God, or heard him when he spoke, or saw the miracles he empowered. If they didn’t see any of that, they at least heard his prophets speak for him. They recorded these things—and that’s our scriptures. That’s bible.

The difference between bible and other forms of revelation, is the bible’s been repeatedly confirmed as reliable. In its day, and many times since. Yes, even Revelation—even though the visions talk about the very end of history, plenty of it is about its present day, and that stuff came to pass. It’s why ancient Christians kept it. I can’t help it that “prophecy scholars” make tons of wild claims that everything has yet to happen—and y’all believe them. Don’t. They know not what they do.

The fact the bible’s been confirmed is why we kept its books: Why keep supposed “revelations from God” which haven’t been proven? And since they have been, we Christians consider the scriptures faithful and reliable revelations of God. If you want to fact-check it again, go right ahead; it can stand up to scrutiny, which is why we Christians have historically trusted it. Archaeologists still keep digging up stuff which confirms it—sometimes in ways they never expected, ’cause their discoveries put a whole new spin on the scriptures.

Now, with every other source of revelation, we still have to confirm them. We gotta watch miracles to see whether they produce the sort of good fruit we should see in God’s handiwork. We gotta confirm prophecy, prayer messages, and dreams, lest people were mistaken, or were tricked, or are lying. But with bible, not so much. From the time the very first books were written, all the way to today, God’s followers have confirmed and re-confirmed and re-re-confirmed the scriptures are valid. Solid. Trustworthy. Relevant. Consistent with who God is.

01 February 2023

Context? Who needs context?

CONTEXT 'kɑn.tɛkst noun. Setting of an idea or event: The larger story they’re part of, the circumstances or history behind them, the people to whom they’re said. Without them, the idea is neither fully understood nor clear.
[Contextual kən'tɛks.tʃ(əw).əl adjective.]

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”

It doesn’t come from bible, though from time to time someone will claim it totally does, and therefore it’s a divine command. But nope, it’s not scripture at all. Comes from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, act 1, scene 3. Shakespeare’s no slouch, but it’s still not bible.

Why do people quote it? Typically because they literally mean it: Don’t borrow! Don’t lend! Because if you never borrow money, chances are you’ll never go into debt or bankruptcy. If you never lend money, you won’t have to fret when your friends can’t repay you. Simple, prudent advice. Words people think we oughta live by.

Okay, so why’d Shakespeare write this line?

Well… actually we don’t care why he wrote it. We’re only interested in what we mean by it: Don’t borrow! Don’t lend! We presume Shakespeare meant the very same thing. It’s straightforward enough, isn’t it?

But a Shakespeare scholar, or anyone who’s stayed awake through Hamlet, will recall exactly where it came from. The wily King Claudius’s not-as-wily adviser, Polonius, is giving advice to his son Laertes before he sends him off to university. If they watched any halfway decent performance of Hamlet, they’ll remember Polonius was kind of an idiot. All his other advice in the play turns out to be wrong, bad, foolish, and fatal.

“Well okay, Shakespeare put it in the mouth of a dunce. But it’s still sound advice.”

Is it? Look at the life stories of certain billionaires, and you’ll notice nearly all of them, in order to start the company which made ’em a billion dollars, borrowed money. (The few who didn’t borrow money, already had money, or had wealthy relatives.) You’ll also notice nearly all of them lent money, and made a bunch of money that way too. As for lending, should I not buy treasury bills? Should I not put my money in long-term certificate of deposit accounts? Should I not invest in businesses and people I believe in?

Really, I find the only people who quote it are self-serving or stingy people. And if they claim it’s godly advice, it’s really not. Bible doesn’t back up Polonius at all.

You see the problem. Context is important. We should care where our quotes come from. We might be giving bad advice. Or, when quoting the bible, we might make a divine command out of something which was never meant to be one.

28 December 2022

TXAB’s bible-reading plan.

Whenever the new year approaches, Christians resolve to read the bible. The entire bible, not just the parts we like best: Genesis to maps, as the old joke goes. (See, when you buy a bible in print, most of them have maps of Israel and the Roman Empire in the back. Yes, explaining the joke makes it less funny. Yes, deliberately making the joke less funny is ironically funny. Yes, this is metahumor. I’ll stop now.)

Christians tend to pick up a bible-reading plan of some sort, and most of the time it goes through the scriptures in a year. Which, I insist, is far too long. I prefer you do it in a month. Yes it’s totally possible; the bible’s a big fat inspired book anthology, but it doesn’t take an entire year to read. What book do you take an entire year to read?—unless you chop it into bite-size bits so small you’re spiritually starving. No wonder so many Christians lose track and lose interest.

Now if a month seems too extreme for you (especially if you don’t read), y’know what you could do: Read the bible at your own speed. Read it till you’re done. However long it takes you to get it done. Might be three months. Maybe two. Then again you might surprise yourself and finish it in one.

That’s where TXAB’s bible-reading plan comes in. It’ll help you read it at whatever speed you’re going.

15 September 2022

Mistakes we might make in our word studies.

Yesterday I posted a piece about how to do a word study, and in it I largely emphasize how not to go to the dictionary first. ’Cause that’s how you do a word study wrong. Instead of drawing from the bible how its authors define a word, y’wind up overlaying the dictionary definition on top of the bible—whether it fits or not. (Or to use scholars’ words for it, y’wind up doing eisegesis instead of exegesis.)

When people overlay a definition upon the bible, they rarely looking at the context of the passage. (Yep, I’m gonna harp about context again. It’s important here too.) The few who do bother to look at context, often try to bend, fold, spindle, or mutilate the context as well till it fits their new definition.

Fr’instance. Years ago a fellow teacher was trying to teach his kids about planning for the future, for “where there is no vision, the people perish.” Pr 29.18 KJV Except he couldn’t find that verse in his NIV, because they translate חָזוֹן/khazón as “revelation.” See, khazón means revelatory vision, i.e. not just any vision, but something we get from God. Not our hopes and wishes for the future, but his. That’s why the second part of the verse—the part everybody forgets to quote—is “But he that keepeth the Law, happy is he.” Pr 29.18 KJV Context explains what “vision” means.

But my fellow teacher didn’t give a sloppy crap about what “vision” actually means. He just wanted to correct his kids who had no goals, and wanted to use the bible to help him smack ’em on the head. So he taught what he pleased. Context shmontext.

The same thing happens whenever Christians fixate on the dictionary in our word studies. We start with a word or concept we like; one which we already sorta know the definition of. We find a dictionary which gives us the definition we like. We dig out a bunch of verses and paste that definition over them, then try to interpret the scriptures by them, then marvel at all the new “revelation” we’re getting.

Hey, if Christians take the bible out of context in our regular, day-to-day bible reading, better than average chance we’re gonna take it out of context in our word studies. Such people don’t think context is important, and don’t care. But if we’re planning to live our lives based on these bible verses, context is always important. When Jesus said “Love your neighbor,” he proceeded to spell out in detail just who our neighbors are, lest we found a Webster’s Dictionary which suggests a neighbor is only someone we like. Lk 10.25-37 Such dictionaries aren’t all that hard to find. There are already plenty of mistakes in our minds; how many more will come out when we skip context?

31 May 2022

Can’t hear God? Read your bible!

Prayer is talking with God, and the emphasis is on with God: Yeah we talk to him, but it’s not a one way-monologue where he doesn’t speak back. We don’t presume, like pagans do, that God’ll tell us stuff like “the universe” does—with omens, signs, coincidences, and other superstitions which can easily be misinterpreted, same as all natural revelations. We talk, and God definitely talks back.

That is… till he doesn’t.

’Cause sometimes we can’t seem to hear him. Much as we try, we can’t detect what he’s telling us. Sometimes because we’re too stubborn or impatient to listen. Sometimes because haven’t listened to the last thing he told us to do, so he’s waiting for us to act on that before he tells us anything more. (Oho, didn’t think of that one, did you?) And sometimes because we’re listening to him instead of reading our bibles.

Y’see, too many of us Christians get into the bad habit of not reading the scriptures. And once we’ve learned to hear God, we figure, “Why bother?” God already tells us what we need to know! Why dig around some 2,000-year-old book for answers when we can just ask our Father, “Hey, what do I need to know rght now?” I mean, if it really is a need-to-know deal, God’ll come through, right?

Yeah, it’s immature behavior. It’s like a history student skipping the textbook, and asking Siri or Google for the answers to every line on the take-home exam.

God’s training us to be better than that. You think Jesus, just because he is God, has godly wisdom and character in abundance, figured it was okay to give the scriptures a pass? Nuh-uh. He made darned sure he knew ’em better than everyone. Jesus read his bible. We’re to be like Jesus, remember?

So from time to time, when he feels we need to crack our bibles and get back into ’em, God puts his side of the conversation on pause. Or he straight-up tells us (as he has me, many times), “I already answered that in the scriptures; read your bible.”

Hence that’s become my go-to response whenever somebody tells me, “I haven’t heard from God lately,” or otherwise complains God feels so distant, or the heavens feel like brass when they pray. Dt 28.23 My usual advice: “Read your bible.”

Okay, maybe you already do read your bible. Good. Keep it up.

16 March 2022

Errors in the bible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

03 March 2022

Read the bible over Lent.

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

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

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

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

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

One possible schedule.

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

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

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

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

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

13 January 2022

“The bible says…”

I grew up hearing preachers, pastors, and Sunday school teachers use this phrase: “The bible says…” before directly quoting a verse, loosely quoting an idea, or claiming to refer to an extapolated “biblical principle” as found in the scriptures.

It’s a common phrase among American Christians. I don’t know who coined it. I know evangelist Billy Graham used it constantly; whenever he’d visit the San Francisco Bay Area, local TV stations would broadcast his services, and his sermons would include more “The bible says” in ’em than Raisin Bran has raisins. “Your friends might tell you such-and-so, but the bible says…” and again, sometimes a direct quote, sometimes a general idea, sometimes what he considered a principle.

And sometimes, sometimes, an address. “John 3.16 says for God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son….” But it was rare.

In my experience the reason preachers say “The bible says” is because they don’t know those addresses. Or maybe they do, but it’d take ’em a minute to recall them, and they don’t wanna spend a minute on stage, or at the lectern or podium, trying to remember precisely where in the scriptures Jesus or Paul or Isaiah or David said that pull quote.

Or even whether it was Jesus or Paul or Isaiah or David. Plenty of statements of “The bible says” would be, more accurately, “Jesus says.” In fact wouldn’t it be better to state it’s what Jesus says? You realize there are people out there who don’t care what the bible says, but they do generally approve of Jesus, and if you told ’em Jesus said it, they’d perk up and listen.

And that’s most of the reason I’m writing this piece. Using “the bible says” instead of referring to the author, or to the specific scripture address, is generating a lot of missed opportunities. We now live in a world where most people don’t care what the bible says. (Or at least are willing to confess they don’t care; in previous generations they hypocritically pretended to care, but didn’t really.) But they may care about Jesus. Or the apostles and prophets. What they say holds more weight with people… even though the apostles and prophets did write the bible.

30 December 2021

Why you’re not gonna read the bible in a year.

So I wrote yesterday about how people choose to read the enitre bible as one of their new year’s resolutions, and how they really oughta skip the whole bible-in-a-year idea and read it in a month. Because it’s doable, and because you’re more apt to retain and understand it if you don’t stretch it out.

But some of you won’t. I know; I’ve heard the feedback. Many of you got it in your heads a month is impossible. Or unreasonable. Or that you need the extra time to process what you read. (And okay, I’ll take your word for it you actually do meditate on what you read, and aren’t just pretending to practice a real spiritual discipline just so you can weasel out of the challenge. ’Cause I know some of you legitimately do. The rest of you, I have my doubts… but fine; you meditate.)

Likewise I know plenty of Christians with plenty of self-control, but reading is a struggle. It’s never been something they enjoy, nor do for fun. For all we know, they have undiagnosed learning disbilities. (Some of ’em have been diagnosed.) So, for the life of ’em, they can’t manage to get through the bible. It really frustrates them because they know they really should read it, but, y’know, reading.

I should point out new believers regularly claim the bible has proven a giant exception to their reading difficulties. Zealous new believers will pick up a bible, find they can’t put it down, whip right through it… and soon after, seek something else to read. Reading the bible turned them into readers! But that’s not everyone, so let’s be fair.

For those folks who don’t struggle to read, I still point out the way bible-reading plans are commonly structured, they are poison to reading comprehension. To reading retention. To natural pacing. To context. To enjoyment! They turn what should be informative and inspiring, into a chore. And people hate chores, and are happy to find excuses to get out of ’em. “Whoops, missed two readings. Oh well; guess I’ll start over again next January.” Then they don’t.

Chopping the bible into 365 segments (or 366 in leap years, or 313 if they let you take Saturdays off) is a design feature of the yearlong reading plan. This is the very thing which makes the plans terrible.

24 November 2021

Read your bible!

Just about every Christian teacher—myself included—tell Christians we gotta read our bibles.

’Cause we gotta. We live in a biblically-illiterate culture, folks. Heck, it’s darn near illiterate in general, because Americans simply don’t read. They read snippets; they read social media posts, or paragraphs, or really short articles, or devotionals whose daily reading intentionally takes up less than a page. Give them a long article to read, and about six paragraphs in, they’ll complain, “How long is this thing?” and quit. They’re not gonna read a novel, much less bible.

So the bits they do know of bible are entirely out of context. They’re individual verses, quoted to prove a point in a sermon, or turned into a meme and posted on social media. They’re the memory verses we use to defend ourselves: “No I don’t give to beggars, because if you don’t work you shouldn’t eat. That’s biblical.” It is, but again, context.

The bible references people know, are often a lot like that old children’s game of “telephone”: One kid whispers a message to another kid, who whispers it to a second, who whispers it to a third, and so on round the room… till it gets back to the first kid, who discovers the message changed an awful lot in transmission. Our culture has done the very same thing with bible quotes.

  • “The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil” 1Ti 6.10 got turned into Money is the root of all evil,” and is used to bash the wealthy, the ambitious, capitalism, and pretty much everyone who has more than us.
  • “Judge not, that ye be not judged” Mt 7.1-3 got shortened to “Judge not,” and now we dismiss all sorts of behavior we’re supposed to critique, permit unrepentant sinners to take positions of authority… and miss Jesus’s real lesson, about inconsistent behavior. (Yep, Jesus said this. You’d be surprised how often people quote bible but don’t realize they’re directly quoting Jesus. You could be saying “Jesus says” instead of “The bible says”… although it’d have more impact if you knew what Jesus means.)
  • “The lion will lie down with the lamb” comes up from time to time when people talk about peace. But it’s a poorly-quoted bit of bible. In Isaiah 11.6 it speaks of a wolf and lamb, leopard and goat, and lion and calf respectively. Wild animals, and the domestic animals they usually attack.
  • “Pride goeth before a fall” is also a bit of bible that’s been abbreviated: “Pride [goeth] before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” Pr 16.18 These are parallel ideas, so at least it wasn’t bent into the wrong idea. For once.
  • “The eyes are the windows to the soul” resembles Jesus’s saying that the eye is the lamp of the body, Mt 6.22, Lk 11.34 but Jesus is talking about a Hebrew idiom, “evil eye,” which meant greedy. If a good eye means light gets into your body, an evil eye means your body is dark. There’s nothing in the teaching about souls… and not every Christian is entirely sure what a soul is anyway.
  • “Spare the rod, spoil the child” isn’t even in the bible. Not that it stops many a parent from quoting it in order to justify beating their kids. Yes, corporal punishment is found in the scriptures, Pr 13.24, 22.15, 23.13-14, 29.15 but so is the warning that if we don’t spare the rod, we’ll frustrate our kids by our lack of compassion. Cl 3.21 We’re meant to be merciful like our Father Lk 6.36 —something that’d sink in if we weren’t just cherry-picking scriptures to justify ourselves.

20 October 2021

Literally.

The word literally has two definitions. And they contradict one another.

Literally 'lɪd.ər.əl.li or ˈlɪt.rəl.li adjective. In a most basic and exact sense, without metaphor, allegory, exaggeration, nor distortion.
2. Used for emphasis or strong feeling, though not precisely true.

I know; plenty of people insist the second definition isn’t the proper definition, and anyone who uses the word this way is wrong. Problem is, words are not absolutes. I know; plenty of people wish they were, and insist they are. (It’s why people still buy the original edition of Noah Webster’s dictionary instead of something up-to-date, with current definitions.)

Words aren’t defined by historical precedent, like laws, treaties, or biblical doctrines. They’re defined, and regularly redefined, by popular use. By popular vote, so to speak. Once enough people use a word “wrong,” the wrong definition becomes a second definition. Case in point: Our word “awful.” Used to mean “full of awe.” Doesn’t anymore; it means terrible. Once the new definition is used far more often than the original definition—and sometimes exclusively; nobody uses the original definition anymore!—the new definition becomes the main definition, and the original definition becomes wrong. “God makes me feel awful,” unless you’re trying to say he struck you with the plague, is wrong.

Yep, this is why we need to keep re-translating the bible. And why, whenever we read the King James Version, we can’t assume it’s using the same definitions for its words that we are. ’Cause too often, and when we least expect it, it’s not.

Anyway. The reason I bring up the evolution of language, is because plenty of Christians insist they interpret the bible “literally.” By which they think they mean the first definition: In its most basic sense.

In reality they mean the second definition: They interpret it seriously. They take it seriously. The bible is full metaphor, allegory, exaggeration, and distortion, and they know this. They’re not such fools as to ignore the bible’s different genres, and insist no, we gotta take metaphorical genres (like, say, the visions in Revelation) as if that’s precisely what has to happen. Well, most of ’em aren’t such fools.

You know there are parts of the bible we don’t interpret literally. Like poetry. Similes. Apocalyptic visions. Prophetic visions. Parables. Teachings where Jesus says, “I’m the good shepherd,” Jn 10.11 and no he doesn’t mean when the students aren’t watching, he runs out to the fields near town and herds sheep. Nor is he literally a sheep gate, Jn 10.7 light, Jn 9.1 bread, Jn 6.35 resurrection, Jn 11.25 nor a grapevine. Jn 15.1 We should know better than to figure Jesus is literally various inanimate objects, plants, or a man with alternate vocations.

And yet… about a billion Christians think Jesus actually transforms the molecules of his body into communion bread and wine every time they gather for worship.

Yeah, literalism regularly comes up in Christianity. So let’s sort out the definition, recognize whether we’re meant to take something literally or seriously, and either way stick to a serious understanding of what the scriptures mean—and how we’re to follow them. Okay?

24 February 2021

“I don’t 𝘤𝘢𝘳𝘦 what the bible says.”

Lemme start by saying I do so care what the authors of the bible have written. Particularly about what Jesus teaches. But y’notice the title of this article is in quotes… because I’m referring to when other people don’t care about the bible. Because sometimes they don’t.

Back when I was 7 or 8 years old or so, my Sunday school class was doing some activity, and one of the other kids was interacting badly. Picking fights or swearing or some other less-than-Christian behavior, and our Sunday school teacher decided to correct him by quoting bible at him. “You know, Joonas, you ought not do that, because the bible says…”

“I don’t care what the bible says,” announced little Joonas.

And the rest of us backed away before the lightning struck him down. Except it didn’t, because we follow Jesus, not Zeus.

But the teacher was likewise taken aback: How, how could he not care what the bible says? Everybody cares. Or should.

Now yeah, when you’re a kid, especially when you’re sheltered kid, it’s entirely possible to grow up with no idea other people don’t respect bible. I was no such kid. I have an atheist dad, and obviously he doesn’t respect bible. I could tell him, “Because the bible says” till my tongue goes numb—I actually used to try this line of reasoning on him!—and it made no difference, because he thinks it’s poorly-written fiction which only children and retards believe. He preferred to believe Rush Limbaugh.

So that inoculated me from the idea everybody believes as I do. Other Christians don’t grow up that way at all. In the Bible Belt in particular, you can have absolutely everything in your culture suggest everybody, absolutely everybody, believes and respects and follows bible. Only ignorant heathens don’t; only depraved psychos won’t. And certainly there are none of those people in their communities… and if they can just ban immigration altogether, especially when it comes to Catholics and Muslims, they can guarantee there never will be. (Yep, that’s why they have those politics. It’s not racism so much as religious bigotry. Although often it’s also racism.)

I don’t live in the Bible Belt, but I do live in the United States, and even in non-Bible Belt states we have certain towns, certain communities, certain pods which share the very same Bible Belt mentality. Everyone they know, respects bible. (Or appears to; naturally there are hypocrites among ’em.) Nobody they know, doesn’t.

So when they find an exception, they freak out a little. Triggers the fight-or-flight instinct. Although for some of us it takes a few seconds to kick in… much like a deer surprised by an oncoming car, who hesitates, and dies. But freaking out is definitely the fight instinct.

And y’know, if we Christians are working on our self-control as we should, we shouldn’t run on instinct; we should be wise. Okay, we just discovered someone who doesn’t respect bible. So… do they know Jesus? If not, share! If so, find out why they don’t respect bible, and see whether you can steer them in a direction which does.

23 February 2021

The guy who tried to delete the Old Testament.

I’ve touched upon Marcion briefly before. Thought I’d discuss him in more detail today.

Marcion (Greek Μαρκίων/Markíon, though English-speakers keep pronouncing his name 'mɑr.ʃ(i.)ən) was born round the year 85 in Sinope, Pontus, a city south of the Black Sea which is today’s Sinop, Turkey. Back then Pontus was a Roman province, and Marcion’s dad was the bishop of its Christian church. Marcion himself was a shipbuilder and sailor, and we don’t know much about his Christian life till he got into his fifties.

At that point, in the late 130s, we hear of him trying to join the church of Rome, and offering them a big donation of 50,000 denarii. (Roughly $120,000 American.) And of course they take it; you can help a lot of needy people with that money! But within five years, they booted him from their church and gave him back his money, ’cause they concluded he was a dangerous heretic. He insisted Jesus only appeared to be human; he wasn’t really. Theologians call this docetism, and yep it’s heresy: Jesus isn’t faking his humanity. Really born, really died—and really rose again.

Rejected in Rome, Marcion went back to Sinope and taught his heretic ideas there. And managed to get a bit of a following. Some historians call him gnostic ’cause his whole “matter bad, spirit good” ideas are similar to what Greco-Roman pagans believed, and gnostics taught. But properly, gnostics are big on secret knowledge—and of course charging lots of money to give up the secrets they know. Marcion shared his wonky ideas with anyone and everyone.

The big one—the idea which wound up getting called Marcionism and still gets taught by various Christians from time to time—is that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who handed down the Law to Moses, the God of the Old Testament, the LORD… is not the same god as Jesus’s heavenly Father. Different god. Lesser god. A demiurge, meaning a god who creates stuff—but not, Marcion insisted, the highest God, the Almighty. The Father is the Almighty. The LORD is some other guy.

Marcion went through the entire Old Testament, listing all the ways he figured the LORD was unlike God, and published his findings in a book called Antitheses. We no longer have a copy of it, but Tertullian of Carthage wrote a critique of it, and Marcionism in general, in his five-book series Against Marcion. In general Marcion figured the LORD is an evil god, or at least not worthy of our worship.

Where’d he get such a cockamamie idea? From reading the Old Testament literally—or so Marcion claimed. In Genesis, you read of the LORD physically walking around Eden, calling to Adam and wondering where he’s wandered off too. Ge 4.8-9 Well that’s clearly a material god; not a powerful Spirit who’s unlimited by spacetime. How’s this LORD who can’t find Adam, the same as the Father who sees everything we do in private? Mt 6.6

Yeah, you might be throwing up your hands in exasperation: We’re not meant to read the creation stories with this level of literalism! (Although you try telling that to young-earth creationists. But I digress.) But bear in mind Marcion was deliberately looking for inconsistencies. He already had an axe to grind: He didn’t believe in a material Jesus, didn’t care to believe material creation is good, and didn’t want to think of the Almighty as its creator. The cosmos had some other creator; some agent of the Almighty who made it for him. Some demiurge.

Doesn’t John point-blank state Jesus is the creator? Jn 1.3 Well yes, but Marcion either didn’t have a copy of John, or didn’t consider it bible. And yeah, let’s finally get to what Marcion did consider bible.