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Showing posts with the label #Bible

On trusting the bible—but first trusting God.

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Whenever Christian apologists write a book on their favorite subject, they either begin by explaining how they know God exists, or why the bible is absolutely trustworthy. It kinda depends on which of the two they consider the higher authority: God, because he inspired the bible; or bible, because it informs us about God.Custom dictates God should come first, so he does come first in most apologetics books. But not all of ’em, ’cause not every apologist hews to custom. And to be blunt, a number of apologists are total bibliolaters, so they insist it’s vital we establish the bible as an absolute before we can even quote it as an authority.Thing is, how do we prove the bible’s absolutely trustworthy? Well, here are the answers one apologist offers.Look how many ancient copies of the bible there are! Way more than other books, or contemporary books. That’s gotta mean something.Lookit all the statements the scriptures say about themselves, or other scriptures.Lookit all the contemporary a…

Passover: When God saved the Hebrews.

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“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…

The Judean senate.

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The Judean senate. Something Americans need to be reminded of, from time to time: Ancient Israel was never a democracy.Originally it was a patriarchy, run by the male heads of the Hebrew families: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and their descendants. That is, till the Egyptians took over and enslaved ’em.Then the LORD rescued Israel’s descendants from Egypt. So Israel became a theocracy, where God and his commands ruled Israel… with Moses and the judges serving as the LORD’s deputies.Of course, since the judges weren’t proper kings, Israelis fell back on patriarchy, ruled as they pleased, didn’t obey God, and triggered the cycle time and again. Read Judges. It’s a mess.Then monarchy, the rule of kings. The people wanted the stability of human kings (such as it is), so the LORD gave ’em kings. In theory these kings were to function the same as judges, with the LORDreally in charge. In practice they ruled as they pleased, same as the patriarchs.Then foreign kings: The Babylonian empero…

Read the bible over Lent.

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So it’s Lent. And during this time, some of us Christians eitherdo 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; orcontemplate 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 y…

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

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January’s coming. With it, a lot of people make new-year resolutions. “This year’s gonna be different, ’cause this year I’m gonna do [bucket-list item].” Some of these goals are realistic. Some not.One of the more common goals Christians have is to read 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.) We should read the whole bible. So Christians get on some kind of bible-reading plan to make sure we methodically go through every book, chapter, and verse. ’Cause when we don’t, we wind up reading only 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 …

Bible “difficulties”: The passages which won’t do as we want.

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Whenever you hear Christians refer to “bible difficulties,” you’d think we meant scriptures which’re hard to translate, hard to interpret, hard to understand, or hard to follow. Often we do. Certainly I do.But why do Christians consider these scriptures difficult? Three reasons.We believe the bible contains no errors—but these passages appear to be in error, or appear to contradict other scriptures. Like Jesus’s two different genealogies.We have certain beliefs, doctrines, traditions, or assumptions—and these passages appear to violate them. Like Christians who don’t wash feet, Jn 13.14 or Christian men who don’t kiss one another hello. Ro 16.16 We don’t wanna say these passages don’t apply anymore… but honestly, we don’t wanna follow ’em either.These passages actually are obscure, and Christians throughout history (and Jews too) have found ’em hard to interpret.The most common reason would be the first one: Discrepancies. Scriptures which appear to contradict other scriptures… or rea…

Our error-free, perfect bible?

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INERRANCYɪn'ɛr.ən.sinoun. Belief the bible contains no errors of any kind.[Inerrantist ɪn'ɛr.ən.tɪstnoun.]We Christians put a lot of trust in the scriptures. We trust their authors to steer us right when it comes to God, to Christ Jesus, to salvation, to eternal life. We use them as confirmation the stuff God tells us personally, the stuff he reveals to Christians as we follow him, is valid. We’re basing an awful lot of our beliefs on the bible. It had better be up to the task.I believe it is. As far as God and Jesus and salvation is concerned, the bible’s infallible: It’s an accurate, trustworthy, truthful description of the stuff we need to know to connect with God, and corrects us when we go astray. That’s why God inspired it, why Christians kept it, and why we read it. 2Ti 3.16Inerrantists claim this isn’t good enough. They insist the bible has no errors. At all. Period.In order for the bible to be truly authoritative, inerrantists figure it has to be perfect—as they defin…

Prophets in the bible: Read their books!

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THE PROPHETSðə 'prɑf.ətsnoun, plural. Biblical writings by and about God’s Spirit-inspired messengers.2. [In Christian bibles and book order] Books in the Old Testament primarily consisting of prophecies. Usually Isaiah through Malachi.3. [In Jewish bibles and book order] The second major grouping of the Hebrew scriptures: Books written between 1000 and 400BC; Joshua through Malachi.Sometimes I refer to “the Prophets,” and I admit this can be confusing to Christians who grew up Jewish. To Jews, “the Prophets” are the middle part of their bible—Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the 12 minor prophets.But to Christians, “the Prophets” are the books with prophets’ names on them, specifically written by them, specifically full of their prophecies. Isaiah, Jeremiah (and Jeremiah’s book Lamentations), Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Some of us throw in the New Testament book…

The books in your bible.

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The bible’s an anthology, a collection of books and letters about God. (We tend to call ’em “books” either way.) There are two major divisions: The Old Testament, and the New Testament.The Old Testament is the book collection assembled by the ancient Hebrews. For the most part they were written in two variants of ancient Hebrew: Early Biblical Hebrew, which is what the “books of Moses” and the Deuteronomistic history and the Prophets was written in; and Late Biblical Hebrew, which much of the rest was written in. Late Biblical Hebrew has some heavy influences from Aramaic, the language which had replaced Hebrew by 500BC, which was around the time the last of the OT was written.The apocrypha isn’t actually one of those major divisions. They’re the books which were added to the OT when it was translated into Greek in the 400s BC. These Greek bibles, which get called the Septuagint, were considered the bible by the early Christians, so the additional books were part of their Old Testamen…

Put some bible in your brain!

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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…

Which bible translation’s the best?

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HE. “So lemme ask: Which version of the bible do you use? Which one’s the best?”ME. “None of ’em. Learn Hebrew and Greek.”As soon as someone finds out I know the bible’s original languages, that’s nearly always the question they ask me. Sometimes because they earnestly wanna know, and figure I’m more an expert than they are. Sometimes because they already have a favorite, and want some affirmation; sometimes because they already think their favorite is best, so they’re testing me.Well, that question has a long answer. It’s the rest of this article! But I found when you being with the long answer, their eyes roll back in their heads; they don’t wanna deal with the complexities of bible translations. They only wanted a quick ’n dirty answer. Tell ’em the best bible version, so they can go get that version and use it forevermore. (Or judge you. Whatever.)So I start with my joke answer: “None. Learn original languages.”Sometimes, but rarely, they get that it’s a joke. The rest of the time…

Did Paul write all his letters in the bible?

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Most figure yes. A minority say no. Here’s why.There’s a type of ancient literature called pseudepigraphasu.də'pɪ.ɡrə.fə which means “fake writings.” Basically it’s stuff which claims it’s written by someone, namely someone from the bible… and it’s not; it’s Jewish or Christian fanfiction. It’s like the book of 1 Enoch, which was supposedly written by Enoch ben Methuselah, and obviously wasn’t. (Couldn’t have been. Dude didn’t speak Hebrew!) And yet people knew of the book; Jesus’s brother Jude straight-up quoted it. In the bible. In our bible.Why did people write such things? Well like I said, fanfiction. They wanted to teach their ideas, and figured the best way to do it was with a book supposedly written by an Old Testament or New Testament saint. Sometimes they wanted people to really believe it was written by that saint, so they’d take the book seriously. Sometimes they were okay with people knowing better. Problem is, people would believe that saint wrote that book… and migh…

Who wrote “the books of Moses”?

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The composition of the first five books of the bible.The first five books of the bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (or as Hebrew-speakers call ’em, Berešít, Šemót, Vayiqrá, Bamidbár, and Devarím) are commonly called the books of Moses. They’re also called תּוֹרָ֣ה/Toráh, meaning “Law,” because the Law’s in them; Greek and English speakers also call them Pentateuch, which comes from πέντετεῦχος/pente téfhos, “five tools.” (I know; people regularly claim “Pentateuch” means “five books”—and they don’t know Greek, so of course they do. The Greek for “book” is βίβλος/vívlos, the word we got “bible” from.) I tend to call these books Torah, as I will throughout this article.They’re called the books of Moses even though Moses isn’t in Genesis at all… but his ancestors were, so there’s that. Largely they tell us the creation of the Hebrew people: How they got into Egypt in the first place, how they became Egyptian slaves, how the LORD saved ’em, how God covenanted with…

The Deuteronomistic history.

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How some of the books of the Old Testament share a theme—and likely an author.When I was growing up, I was a little curious about who wrote the books of the bible. Supposedly Matthew wrote Matthew and John wrote John and the three letters named for him (plus Revelation) …but Timothy didn’t write Timothy, and since Samuel was dead way before the end of 1 Samuel, it stands to reason he didn’t write 2 Samuel. Naturally I wanted to know who did write the books, but none of my Sunday school teachers knew. One of ’em speculated it was Solomon.Fact is, people back then people didn’t put their names on their writings. Even David didn’t put his name on his psalms: Whoever compiled the psalms together, added his name to the psalms which had traditionally been ascribed to him. It’s a safe bet David did write ’em. But the other anonymous books of the bible: We don’t know who put them together. The authors felt the story, and God, was way more important than their own names.Anyway. In 1981, bible …