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

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

by K.W. Leslie, 13 September

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 reality itself.

Nearly every Fundamentalist insists the bible has no such contradictions. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “Have these guys ever read the bible?” Tried to line up the resurrection stories, or Jesus’s aforementioned genealogies?

Plus several orthodox Christian teachings—based on bible, I remind you—are kinda contradictory as well. Like how God’s kingdom is here, yet not yet here; like how God is one yet three. Fundies know all this stuff, but regardless: One of their fundamentals, one of their non-negotiable beliefs, is that the bible has no errors. Contradictions would be errors; therefore no contradictions.

Hence Fundamentalists have written big giant books about bible difficulties. In which they try to explain away any discrepancies, plus any other problem scriptures, as best they can. Sometimes reasonably, ’cause these passages only look like discrepancies but aren’t really. Other times Fundies really stretch reality in order to defend their doctrine.

Our error-free, perfect bible?

by K.W. Leslie, 12 September
INERRANCY ɪn'ɛr.ən.si noun. Belief the bible contains no errors of any kind.
[Inerrantist ɪn'ɛr.ən.tɪst noun.]

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 3.16

Inerrantists 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 define perfect. Errors would make it imperfect. Therefore it can’t have any. And anything which appears to be an error or discrepancy in the scriptures, simply isn’t. Can’t be. There’s gotta be a reasonable explanation for it, and with a little investigation they’ll find it. But it doesn’t matter how much it may look like an error: There are none.

Why do they believe this? Mostly because humans are creatures of extremes. “You believe the bible’s trustworthy? I believe the bible’s absolutely error-free. Hah. In your face. You don’t have faith. I have faith.” Of course that’s not faith. That’s dick-measuring.

But that’s not the only reason Christians insist the bible’s inerrant. Really it’s because they’re putting a lot of trust in the bible… which really, properly, oughta be put in the Holy Spirit instead. See, when we read bible, if we’re reading it with wrong or ulterior motives, we’re gonna lead ourselves astray, despite having the bible’s fully accurate testimony of who God is and how salvation works. Doesn’t matter how perfect the bible might be; in the wrong hands we’ll go so wrong, as heretics and cults demonstrate all the time.

Whereas when we’re following the guidance of the Holy Spirit—the same Holy Spirit who inspired the authors of the bible—he’s gonna steer us right. And even if the bible were full of errors and factual inaccuracies (and it’s not), the Spirit can steer us right around every landmine and lead us to truth. If you’re gonna put your faith in anything, put it in him.

Well, inerrantists don’t. They put it in bible. Then they fight anyone who says, “Waitaminnit.”

Prophets in the bible: Read their books!

by K.W. Leslie, 06 September
THE PROPHETS ðə 'prɑf.əts noun, 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 of Revelation, and others throw in the apocryphal book of Baruch.

And for too many of these Christians, these are flyover books.

Yep. Just like snobs on the east and west coasts assume the middle of the United States consists of irrelevant “flyover states” which one needn’t bother to visit, many Christians figure these books needn’t be read. ’Cause they were written to the ancient Hebrews, not us. And they’re too confusing. Too filled with hard-to-interpret visions. Too weird. Not relevant.

They figure the Prophets have only two functions; only two reasons why we bother to publish bibles including them. First of all, they’re full of predictions Messiah was coming, so they point to Jesus. So we keep ’em for the Messianic prophecies, in case anybody isn’t sure the Prophets did foretell Jesus’s first coming.

The other is because they also foretell Jesus’s second coming. They foretell the End Times. So “prophecy scholars” mine ’em for their End Times prognostications, for anything which might fill in the blank parts of their timelines.

Otherwise, these books are considered a hard read. So Christians don’t read ’em. We read the books we consider relevant: The New Testament. The Old Testament origin stories, or tales of great biblical heroes. The psalms, for the poetry. Proverbs, for the wisdom. Song of Songs, for the smut.

But not the Prophets. Otherwise you’d have to learn about the historical context these prophets were talking about, and that’s way too much homework for your typical Christian’s taste. Plus they’re a bummer, ’cause they’re full of condemnation and God’s wrath. So, as I said, they’re skipped. Mine ’em for proof texts in case there’s a “biblical principle” you’re pushing. But otherwise skip ’em.

This attitude is incredibly short-sighted for those of us who wanna hear from God.

Because these prophets likewise heard God. You wanna know what God sounds like? Read the Prophets. You need to hear what God’s legitimate messengers sound like.

The books in your bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 August

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 Testament till the 1400s. Still are, in Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican churches.

And the New Testament is the collection put together by the ancient Christians. They’re written in Koine ki'ni, commonly 'kɔɪ.neɪ, a first-century form of “common” Greek spoken outside Greece.

Christians should know the books of our bible. Partly so we don’t get confused when people bring ’em up; partly so we can find them in a print bible (or “analog bible,” as I like to call ’em). Unfortunately the book order is neither alphabetical nor chronological. The Old Testament was bunched in order of when they were written, and still is in Jewish bibles, but the Septuagint re-sorted them into genres (law, history, poetry, prophets) and that’s the order Christians still follow. The New Testament is likewise sorted into genres (gospels; apostles, sorted by book length; apocalypse). So you’re just gonna have to memorize the order. Sorry.

Put some bible in your brain!

by K.W. Leslie, 31 July

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.

1. Read your bible.

Because you are reading your bible, right? If not, don’t feel bad; just start.

So as you go through the bible, likely you’re gonna find a sentence or saying which really stands out to you. Something you think is especially profound. Something you’d want to quote later. Something you’d share with other people; you might even think right away of certain people to share it with. You might want to tweet it or otherwise put it on social media.

Well, there’s your memory verse. If it’s worth remembering, it’s worth memorizing.

And yeah, there’s a ton of bible worth memorizing. If you’re on the lookout for memory verses, you’ll find plenty. Dozens every day. Sometimes you’ll think, “Holy shnikes, I should memorize this entire chapter!

Okay, calm down little buckaroo. Don’t drive yourself crazy. If you’re on the lookout for memory verses, chances are you’re gonna overexaggerate the importance of every verse you find. Not that these verses aren’t important; they were important enough for the authors of the bible to write down, and for later believers to include in the bible. But maybe it’s better to not read the bible so you can specifically mine for memory verses. Just let ’em come to you naturally. If a statement strikes you as really significant, keep that one.

Don’t use a highlighter; that doesn’t help you memorize anything. (And somebody tell this to college students.) Write it down someplace. Write it a few times.

Yeah, you might only find one significant verse a day. Sometimes none. Sometimes ten, on a really good day. But you shouldn’t have to try very hard. So don’t try very hard.

Remember: If it’s something you’ll want to quote later, or share with others, that’s the one you keep.

Did Paul write all his letters in the bible?

by K.W. Leslie, 13 June

Most figure yes. A minority say no. Here’s why.

There’s a type of ancient literature called pseudepigrapha su.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 might change their beliefs accordingly. After all if an archaeologist dug up a book which Christ Jesus himself appears to have written, and you believed Jesus literally wrote it, you’d follow it, right? If I believed it, I certainly would. (But I’m pretty sure he never did.)

So when the ancient Christians determined which books they consider scripture—which books are now part of our New Testament—some of their favorite books were actually pseudepigraphal books. Like the Gospel of Peter. Yep, there’s a gospel of Simon Peter! Egyptian Christians knew of it, which is why both Origen of Alexandria and Titus Flavius Clemens wrote of it. But Peter didn’t write it, and once the ancient Christians figured this out, they stopped treating it as scripture.

Anyway because such books exist, sometimes we get bible scholars who wonder whether some of the books which are in our New Testament… aren’t actually pseudepigrapha. Maybe some of Paul’s letters aren’t really Paul’s letters, but written by some overzealous Christian who wanted people to think these were Paul’s letters, and get Christians to take their ideas more seriously because they were “Paul’s.”

Of course it’s just as likely we got a bible scholar who wants to make a name for themselves by questioning the authenticity of a book of the New Testament.

Who wrote “the books of Moses”?

by K.W. Leslie, 12 June

The first five books of the bible 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 πέντε τεῦχος/pente téfhos, “five tools.” (I know; people regularly claim “Pentateuch” means “five books”—and they don’t know Greek, so of course they get that wrong. “Book/scroll” in Greek is βίβλος/vívlos, the word we got “bible” from.) I tend to call these books Torah, as I will throughout this article. They are:

ENGLISH NAMEWHICH MEANSHEBREW NAMEWHICH MEANS
GenesisbeginningBerešítat the beginning
Exodusmass departureŠemótnames
Leviticusof the LevitesVayiqráand he called
Numbersnumbers; duhBamidbárin the wilderness
Deuteronomysecond lawDevarímwords

Hebrew names tend to come from the first word of a book or psalm, and the Torah’s book titles come from verse 1 of each book. The English names are translations of the Septuagint’s Greek names.

They’re called the books of Moses despite Moses not being 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 rescued ’em, how God covenanted with them and gave them his Law and the Levantine coast/Canaan/Palestine/the land of Israel. They’re the oldest books in the bible (weird young-earth creationist theories about Job aside), and predate the rest of the books by at least four centuries.

And we don’t know who wrote ’em.

Well we don’t. In this article, for convenience, I refer to Torah’s author as “Moe.”

Moe is not Moshe ben Amram, the prophet and judge who led the Hebrews out of Egypt, whose English-language name is Moses. We know Moses wrote parts of Torah. Big huge parts. More than once the LORD ordered Moses to write down his commands and rulings, so Moses obviously wrote those parts. Ex 24.4, 34.27, Nu 33.2 And Deuteronomy is almost entirely a first-person speech given by Moses to the Hebrews—so he composed that part, though realistically someone else wrote it down; possibly as a transcript, possibly from memory. (Yeah, some people have that good a memory.) But since Deuteronomy ends with Moses dying, Dt 34 he can’t have written that part.

But Moses isn’t the person who put Torah into its current form. And most scholars, regardless of how they think Torah was assembled, agree at least one person ultimately did this. So I call him “Moe.”

The Deuteronomistic history.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 June

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 scholar Martin Noth theorized the books which Jews call the “former prophets”—Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings—and more than likely the book of Deuteronomy along with them, are all part of one large history, edited together by one person. Or one group of people. Noth named it “the Deuteronomistic history,” named of course after Deuteronomy.

It was a very short period of time before a lot of bible scholars signed on to Noth’s theory. It makes perfect sense. Though many conservative scholars (myself included) don’t agree Deuteronomy oughta be included in the Deuteronomistic history. Even though Deuteronomy does repeat a lot of commands found in the previous three books. There are good reasons Deuteronomy is bundled together with the Law, not the Prophets; and good reasons the Deuteronomistic history is inspired by that book, and not just prefaced by it.

People tend to refer to its author (or group of authors) as “the Deuteronomist.” Since—for no good reason—Christians have traditionally assumed Samuel wrote Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, if not half 1 Samuel, I’ll call the Deuteronomist “Sam” for short.

Who wrote the bible?

by K.W. Leslie, 10 June

A lot of times, we don’t know. And that’s okay.

No, the answer’s not “God.”

The bible was written by prophets, people who heard from God and shared what they heard. Out of humility, some of ’em didn’t necessarily describe themselves as prophets, but all the same, that’s what they are: Their God-experiences inspired them to write about him, and thus we have the books and letters which make up our bible.

“God wrote it” is the short answer people give when we’ve no clue how God works. We assume God did with his prophets the same as he did with Moses: He stated a bunch of things, and the prophets took dictation like a secretary. Or they assume how the Holy Spirit “inspired” the authors was to work the prophets’ hands like a puppeteer with a marionette, and made them write the bible.

Generally they’ve got micromanagerial ideas about how God works, and figure had to take absolute physical control of the circumstances to guarantee we have the bible he wanted… ’cause he didn’t trust his followers enough to describe him accurately. Really they don’t trust God’s followers enough. Which I get; we suck. But there are such creatures as trustworthy believers, and the Spirit did trust ’em enough to get him right.

So yeah, whenever some skeptic states, “The bible was written by men”—okay it was. And so what? The dictionary was likewise written by women and men, and I don’t see ’em dismissing the dictionary as unauthoritative. Those who wrote the dictionary, know what they’re talking about. Same deal with the prophets who wrote the bible: They knew God. They wrote what they knew. Their testimonies are trustworthy, solid stuff. We should be able to easily defer to their knowledge: The God they describe is the very same God we know.

God didn’t have to write the bible in order for it to accurately, infallibly describe him.

Okay. As for which prophets wrote the bible: We know the names of a number of its authors. The New Testament letters have their authors’ names on ’em. The prophetic books likewise. But a lot of the books actually have no name on them at all… so we don’t know.

Praying the scriptures.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 November

Why Christians put a lot of bible in their prayers.

It’s a popular Christian practice to drop little bits of bible into our prayers. Kinda like so.

Father, we come to you because you tell us “if my people, who are called by my name, seek my face, I will hear from heaven,” and we recognize “your word won’t return void,” so we call upon you today, Lord. Hear our prayers, meet our needs, heed our cries. “Give us today our daily bread.” Amen.

Yeah, we can pray full passages. We pray the Lord’s Prayer of course; sometimes we pray the psalms. Many of the more famous rote prayers consist of lines lifted straight from the bible and arranged to sound like a prayer.

We do this for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes not-so-legitimate ones: We want our prayers to sound more bible-y. That’s why we’ll trot out the King James Version English with its “thee” and “thou” and old-timey verbs. If it’s old-fashioned we figure it’s more solemn and serious and holy. It’s not really—but people think so, which is why they do it.

Or we covet the bible’s power. We quote bible because the bible is God’s word… and since God’s word is mighty and powerful, maybe quoting it is also mighty and powerful. Maybe those words can make our prayers mighty and powerful… and we can get what we want because we’ve tapped that power.

Or we’re padding the prayers. Short prayers are fine, but too many Christians think long prayers are, again, more solemn and serious and holy. So if our prayers are too short, maybe we can make ’em longer by throwing in a few dozen bible verses. Plus they’ll sound more bible-y, plus tap a little of the bible’s power. Yep, we can do this for all three inappropriate reasons.

But don’t get me wrong; there are appropriate reasons to include bible verses in our prayers. Really good reasons too.

Ditching the Old Testament?

by K.W. Leslie, 30 October

Yep, you should memorize certain verses.

NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTIAN /'nu tɛs.tə.mənt 'krɪs.tʃən/ n. One who professes to live by the teachings of the New Testament [instead of the Old].
2. One who holds to the invalidity of the Old Testament, and the validity of the New.

Whenever I talk about what we Christians think, believe, and behave, I quote bible. I’m trying to show how these views are based on, or at least jibe with, the scriptures. ’Cause Evangelicals uphold the bible (or at least claim to), so they wanna know there’s a valid proof text for what I’m talking about.

And every so often, one of ’em will say, “I don’t think that’s what that verse means.” Which is fair; let’s take a closer look at it. I’ve been wrong before, so there’s nothing wrong with wanting to double-check a proof text. Really, Christians oughta do it more often, because you simply can’t trust popular Christian culture’s interpretations of the scriptures. Too much bias; not enough bible.

When the scriptures agree with me to their satisfaction, so will they. Sometimes grudgingly, but still. Frequently they’ll relapse to their old beliefs, because the Holy Spirit has to further convict them; I can’t give their consciences a squeeze like he can.

But every so often not even the bible works on ’em. Because they don’t respect the bible.

No, I’m not talking about hypocrites who pretend to respect the bible but don’t really. They’re a whole other problem. I’m talking about Christians who believe huge portions of the bible don’t apply to them. Some of ’em believe the entirety of the Old Testament no longer has any bearing on Christians. Some believe certain sections of the New Testament are only for Jews or Jewish Christians, and since they’re gentiles, these instructions don’t apply to them. Cessationists claim the teachings on miracles are no longer relevant ’cause God stopped doing miracles.

It gets scary when these folks include Jesus’s teachings among the parts of the bible they consider void. How do they claim such things? Simple: They figure since we’re saved by grace, we needn’t follow commands. Including Jesus’s. So they don’t. Which is really gonna bite ’em in the behind on Judgment Day, but try telling them that: Jesus’s Sheep and Goats story Mt 25.31-46 is one of the teachings they consider void, y’know.

It’s a little hard to consider them Christian when they can’t be bothered to follow Christ. It’s why those who nullify bible tend to be called heretics by the rest of us. Well, depending on how much we nullify bible.

The bible is a way different book.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 September

Christian apologists—especially when they kinda lean towards biblolatry—make a great big deal about how unique the bible is. To them, it’s a powerful argument why people ought not dismiss it as just another ancient book by dead white brown guys. The bible’s a distinctly, profoundly different book. It’s very unique. Only the most ignorant of skeptics would claim otherwise.

And then they go listing all the ways it’s totally unique. I’ll list a few in this article. But the big pile of ways the bible’s different, is meant to really impress someone that the bible is important and valid.

Which is a basic logical flaw: Unique doesn’t automatically mean important and valid.

Fr’instance let’s say a space alien came to earth, and presented us with his book of the best recipes for blergsperken. What’s blergsperken? I dunno. And none of the ingredients match anything we know about; what on earth is “raw sperkburf?” For all we know, the alien could be its planet‘s very worst cook. But his cookbook is definitely unique.

So the bible’s uniqueness doesn’t make it valid. Doesn’t make it invalid either! Uniqueness just happens to be one of the bible’s characteristics.

Popular apologist Josh McDowell confessed as much in the conclusion of Evidence That Demands a Verdict’s chapter on the bible’s uniqueness. Maybe as a disclaimer, or maybe because somebody pointed out the logical inconsistency—but he didn’t wanna throw out an entire heavily-sourced chapter.

The above does not prove the Bible is the Word of God, but to me it proves that it is unique (“different from all others; having no like or equal”). McDowell 1.24

And then McDowell went right back to dropping interesting trivia about the bible’s uniqueness.

Anyway I wanted to begin with this disclaimer, ’cause I want it clear the bible’s uniqueness only proves the bible is unique. Doesn’t prove anything more. But because Christian apologists insist it totally does imply something, you oughta be aware that’s just their biases talking: They love the bible, and isn’t it just the best book in the world? It must be inspired!

Well anyway. Let’s get into the ways the bible is different.

“The bible says…” and people who have their doubts about the bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 July

The written word is not authoritative.

I realize that’s an ironic thing to write. S’true though. People don’t believe everything they read. There’s this myth they did once; centuries ago, when the only stuff committed to print was important stuff, and therefore everybody figured people should believe everything they read. But of course it’s not true, because writers back then felt entirely free to challenge, critique, or refute the written word. Always have.

For the most part it’s non-readers, or people who only read their bibles, who think the written word has some sort of special value. The rest of us read the internet, and know full well there’s a lot of rubbish out there.

And when it comes to sharing Jesus, Christian apologists will regularly make the mistake of forgetting: We consider the bible authoritative. Pagans do not. To them it’s another religious book among thousands. To them it’s another centuries-old book written by dead white men. (Certain liberals are slightly more impressed when I inform ’em it was written by dead brown men… but not by much. They don’t respect the Bhagavad-Gita either.)

This is why apologists feel it’s very important to establish the bible’s credentials as an authoritative book. This way when anybody responds, “Oh ‘the bible says’—well who cares what the bible says?” we have an arsenal of arguments as to why the naysayer has to take the scriptures seriously.

Personally I’ve found I don’t need an arsenal. Whenever a former pastor of mine was challenged with “What’s the big deal with the bible?” he’d respond with, “Have you ever read the bible?” Few to none have. “Well perhaps you oughta read it before you dismiss it.” So either they’d read it, and the Holy Spirit would work on ’em thataway; or they were never gonna read it, but rather than say so, they just quit trying to put down the bible.

I just presume pagans have their doubts about the bible, and how valid it is. So I don’t bother to point to it. I point to Jesus.

Wait, but where’d I get all my Jesus stuff from? Oh I fully admit for the most part it comes from the bible. But pagans never really ask where I got my Jesus stuff from. They assume I learned it in church. (I kinda did.) If they want to know where in the bible I got this stuff from, I can point ’em to the book and chapter, and sometimes the specific verse. They don‘t ask, though. They just take my word for it… until they don‘t wanna take my word for it anymore. Same as they would with the bible.

Referring to the book and chapter only impresses Christians, anyway. Doesn’t impress a single pagan. In fact, peppering my conversation with bible addresses leads them to believe I’m not really speaking from the heart; I’m quoting a script, ’cause only somebody who wrote all this stuff out as a lecture would include footnotes. And they don’t wanna hear a canned spiel. They want something “more real” than that. Or what feels more real.

So ditch the bible references.

I know; it outrages certain Christians when I recommend this. And not just the bibliolaters. They assume I’m telling people to ditch bible. I am not. By all means, base every declaration you make on the scriptures. But do you need to regularly interrupt your speech with “John 3.16” and “Romans 3.23” and “Ephesians 2.8” and all the addresses which they’re never gonna remember to look up later anyway? Like I said, this only impresses Christians, and they’re the only people we do this for. But they don’t need to hear the gospel; pagans do. So quit pandering to them and consider your audience. The references aren’t actually helping. Ditch ’em.

Slavery: How God mitigated and abolished it.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 April

Back in bible times, people had slaves. Slavery was legal.

This is a weird and troubling idea for a lot of Christians. In the United States, slavery is illegal, and we consider it immoral. So it’s troubling to read about slavery in the bible as if it’s normal or okay.

Especially considering our history with slavery. We fought a whole war over it, y’know. Many southerners are in denial about that, and claim the War Between the States was really about states’ rights and local sovereignty… but history doesn’t bear ’em out at all. Confederate politicians and generals proudly declared they were fighting to retain their peculiar institution of slavery—because unlike southerners today, they didn’t consider slavery to be immoral. Hey, it’s in the bible!

Thing is, American slavery wasn’t at all like biblical slavery. What Americans practiced was chattel slavery, in which slaves were considered cattle—a word which evolved from chattel. What the folks in the bible practiced, for the most part, was penal slavery, in which people were enslaved because they broke the law, got themselves deep into debt, or lost a war. What Americans did was try to find excuses to claim what we were doing, was what they had done—then claim the bible permitted, even endorsed, their behavior. They pretended there was no huge difference.

But there was, and Americans were in fact guilty of violating a biblical command:

Exodus 21.16 KWL
“Anyone who steals a man and sells him, anyone found with the victim in their hands:
They’re dead. Put them to death.”

Slave traders, slave buyers, slave owners, their descendants, and every northerner who looked the other way and permitted the southerners to do their thing: All of them were complicit in the divinely-condemned capital crime of kidnapping. As Abraham Lincoln speculated time and again, our Civil War was likely God’s judgment upon us. Southerners who pretend the war wasn’t about slavery and racism, who claim it was really about heritage and self-governance and a noble lost cause: Their pride and willful blindness is just risking more judgment upon them and their people.

Because chattel slavery is kidnapping. It’s entirely immoral. God said so. Had American slaveowners properly interpreted their bibles, they’d discover every last one of them deserved to die. The Civil War is still the bloodiest, deadliest war in American history—and we got off light.

So yeah, keep in mind American slavery isn’t at all what the bible’s depicted. It’s far closer to what we do with our prisons—’cause convicts aren’t free either, and sentenced to various forms of forced labor. Well, in bible times they didn’t have anything close to our prison system. How did convicts serve their time after they committed a crime? Slavery.

The meaningless virtue of literal bible versions.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 April

Only monolingual people think a literal translation of the bible is valuable. The rest of us know better.

There’s a discussion group I belong to. Every so often, one of the newer members of the group will ask us our favorite bible translations. Happens every other month. Y’see, the newbies don’t know we already had this discussion, so they bring it up again. And again and again and again.

Predictably some of us are ESV fans, NIV fans, NKJV fans, NASB fans, and so forth. I like to announce I’m a KJV fan, ’cause KJV fans should represent—but I feel obligated to include the disclaimer I’m not a KJV-only kind of fan. ’Cause those people are awful. And every so often one of the KJV-only folks see this, object, and wind up proving my point about them being awful.

Oh, speaking of awful: We also get a few people who wanna mock the bible versions they don’t like. Somebody’ll disparage The Message, loudly denounce The Voice, or mock the NLT. Won’t just be the KJV-only folks either.

My advocacy for the KJV aside, the new members who bring up the what’s-your-favorite-translation question don’t really care about, nor care to use, the KJV. They’re only interested in recent translations. They wanna know which of them the group considers good and reliable. Especially if they already have a favorite translation, and many of ’em totally do, and are hoping we’ll justify their selection.

Plenty of the group’s members don’t just state their favorites, but defend and advocate for their favorites as the best bible translation. I run into this behavior particularly among NASB fans. They love the NASB. Because it’s so literal.

How do they know it’s so literal? Did they learn Greek and Hebrew in seminary, compare the original languages to the NASB, and come away impressed by its literalness? Not even close. Somebody told ’em the NASB was the most literal. Usually that “somebody” is the person at Thomas Nelson Publishers who wrote that on the book jacket. And hey, the NASB is frequently so wooden and stiff, it has to be because it’s a literal translation, right?—it can’t simply be because the translators at the Lockman Foundation, the NASB’s sponsors, suck at English.

In any case they’ve swallowed the marketing spiel whole, and love to burp it up for anyone who’ll listen.

And for those of us who know multiple languages, it makes ’em sound naive and ridiculous.

Mistakes we might make in our word studies.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 March

You saw what I did there, right?

Last month I wrote about how to do a word study, and in that piece 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 are overlay a definition upon the bible, they’re 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 it so it fits their new definition.

Fr’instance a fellow teacher of mine was trying to tell his kids about making plans 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 khazón as “revelation.” See, khazón means revelatory vision, i.e. something 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 didn’t give a sloppy crap about what “vision” properly means; he wanted to correct his kids who had no goals, and wanted to use the bible to help him smack ’em on the head. Context shmontext.

The same thing happens when Christians fixate on the dictionary in our word studies. We start with a word 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.

If Christians take the bible out of context in their regular, day-to-day bible reading, better than average chance they’re gonna take it out of context in their word studies. They’re just trying to cruise through their word study; they 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 there’s any mistake in our minds. Lk 10.25-37 But when we skip context there’ll be plenty of mistakes in our minds. How many people presume “neighbor” only means the people in our immediate neighborhoods? Is that how Jesus defined it? Not even close.

Why the Dead Sea Scrolls are such a big deal.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 March

Other than being our oldest copies of the Old Testament.

Round 1947—most likely some years earlier—Muhammad edh Dhib, a Bedouin goatherd, was chasing a stray goat through Khirbet Qumran, ruins near the Dead Sea. Checking the nearby caves in case the goat was hiding in there, he threw rocks into the blackness to scare out the goat. Instead he heard a pot break. So he went in to check that out. He found pottery which contained scrolls written in first-century Hebrew.

Figuring they were worth a sheqel or two, he sold them to an antiquities dealer. In November 1947, the dealer sold ’em to Eliezer Sukenik of Hebrew University. Word spread. Hundreds of Qumran caves were searched. Eleven were found to contain tens of thousands of scroll fragments, which altogether make up about 875 books.

Popularly they’re called the Dead Sea Scrolls. Sometimes they’re called the Qumran scrolls. They’re the writings of an ancient religious commune in Qumran, Jews from Jesus’s day who considered themselves neither Sadducee nor Pharisee. (In fact they had a lot of condemnation for the Judean leadership.) Other ancient writers never mentioned this group, but since Flavius Josephus and Pliny the Elder mentioned a denomination called the Essenes, various people claim the Qumrani sect was Essene. But there’s zero evidence for this theory. (Same with the theory John the baptist was Essene—or Qumrani.)

The Dead Sea Scrolls are significant ’cause among them are the oldest known copies of the Old Testament. Before they were found, the oldest known copy was a Greek-language Septuagint (originally copied between 250–100BC). Then a Latin-language Vulgate (from 385–420). Then a Hebrew-language copy of the Old Testament (from the 900s). It’s not good when your translations are older than your original-language texts; you’re always tempted to take the translations more seriously than maybe you oughta.

Well, now scholars have a Hebrew Old Testament that’s 10 centuries older than the previous version, ’cause some of the Dead Sea Scrolls date to 100BC. Arguably it’s the very same Old Testament read by the Pharisees, Jesus, and his students.

So they’re kinda important. For even more reasons than their age.

The bible: An inspired anthology.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 November

God got people to write ’em. And God gets people to understand ’em.

Inspire /ɪn.spaɪ(.ə)r/ v. Breathe in (air); 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/ n.]

Whenever we Christians talk about inspiration—inspired prophets, teachings, and writings—it’s assumed God did the inspiring. He’s the one who breathed into us. One word we regularly translate “inspired” is theó-pnefstos/“God-breathed,” which is how the NIV prefers to treat “God-inspired” in this verse:

2 Timothy 3.16 KWL
Every God-inspired scripture is also useful for teaching,
for disproving, for correcting, for instruction in rightness.

It’s more than just “I was so excited about my thoughts of God, I decided to create this for him.” It’s God involved with, and behind, this creation process. The Holy Spirit, living within the teacher, prophet, or author, pointed ’em God-ward. Got ’em 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 of us believe it’s not true of anything else: God inspired the bible, but he’s not inspired anything or anyone since. Which is bunk; of course he has. But Christians aren’t universally agreed about anything other than the bible. (And not all that universally on the bible.) God inspired the bible… but whether he inspired anyone since, is kinda left up to our best judgment… which ain’t all that consistent.

In any event, those who think the bible is inspired, but nothing and no one else is, tend to wander into bibliolatry, which is a whole ’nother problem. And it’s downright weird to hear continuationists, Christians who believe God still speaks to his people directly or through prophets, unthinkingly repeat the claim nothing but the bible is inspired. It stuns ’em when I point out how their beliefs contradict one another. (People aren’t always aware of how much bad theology they have floating around in ’em.)

Fact is, if human beings can’t or couldn’t be inspired, we wouldn’t even have a bible. ’Cause inspired people wrote it, inspired Christians compiled it, and inspired Christians uphold it. True, these 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, and make mistakes, and fall right back into fallibility. But the stuff done by the Spirit’s power is still good. The writings in the bible are still authoritative. So we kept ’em.

Bibliolatry: When Christians straight-up worship the bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 November

Christianity is based on the person and work of Christ Jesus.

I hope you knew this already. Most of us do. But you’re gonna find a strain of Protestants, particularly Evangelicals, who consider Christianity to be based on the bible. As a result they’ve exalted the bible to a really high position in their belief system. Nearly as high as God. Sometimes even higher, and we call that bibliolatry. They call it all sorts of other things—a “high view of scripture,” or love and respect for God’s holy word, or Christian apologetics in which they argue for the bible’s centrality and preeminence. But Jesus is meant to be center and preeminent, and if you put anything else there, it’s idolatry. Even when it’s the bible.

In my experience, bible-worship tends to happen most often among cessationists. No, they’re hardly the only ones who do it. But once you insist God turned off the miracles, and won’t talk to us anymore, what’re you left with? Well, your bibles. And this is why they exalt their bibles: It’s the only thing they have left of God. It’s like if your mother abandoned you as a child, but left you a note saying she loves you: You’re gonna cling to that note, and make it the most precious thing you own. (Or you’re gonna bitterly throw it out, but I’m not discussing apostasy today.) It tends to become a substitute for your mother—and for cessationists, the bible’s become the substitute for their Father.

Or the Holy Spirit, ’cause they imagine his only job nowadays is to give ’em a warm fuzzy “inspired” feeling whenever they’ve correctly understood the scriptures. Or Jesus, ’cause they argue the only way to have a relationship with him is to read about him—as opposed to talking with him, obeying him, getting empowered by him, and all the stuff which constitute the actual Christian life. Nope, if they reject such experiences ’cause they imagine they don’t happen anymore, they won’t know him. Just about him.

So insult the bible, or show it what they consider a lack of respect, and they figure we’ve committed blasphemy. They’ll even call it that; as if we could slander a bible. It must be treated with nothing but the greatest reverence. Never set your bible on the floor. Never doodle in it. Never toss it onto a table. Protect it in the biggest, thickest bible covers. To treat it as an ordinary book, is as if we treated God with anything other than majesty.

Heck, some of ’em aren’t even hiding their idolatry. They’ll actually say God and the bible are equivalent.

The gender-inclusive bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 October

Because the scriptures weren’t only written to men.

Psalm 8.4 KJV
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Psalm 8.4 NLT
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?

If you grew up with a King James Version, as I did, you’ll notice lots of verses refer to “man,” “men,” “sons,” “fathers,” “husbands.” They address men. Talk about what men do and what men oughta do. Refer to the promises God made to men—curses upon evildoing men, blessings upon God-fearing men. Men men men.

With some exceptions (and I’ll get to them in a bit) most of us Christians are agreed these verses don’t only refer to men. They refer to anyone who follows or seeks God; anyone whom he interacts with. Or not.

Unless a verse refers to specific men, like Abraham or Moses or David or Simon Peter, or unless a verse refers to the specific male-only duties of husbands and fathers, it should rightly be interpreted as gender-inclusive: These commands, proverbs, promises, and instructions apply to both men and women.

So when the LORD commanded, as is phrased in the KJV

Leviticus 19.3 KJV
Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.

—this doesn’t mean, even though it clearly says ish/“man,” we gotta assume it only applies to men… and women are exempt from this command. And if a woman so chooses, she can dismiss her parents and skip Sabbath.

Properly, ish refers to any human being, whether ish/“man” or ishá/“woman.” God expects the same of women as he does men.

Well if that’s what it properly means, why not just translate it “person,” and clear up any doubt? And in fact this is what most bible translations do.

Amplified: “Each of you shall respect his mother and his father, and you shall keep My Sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.”
CSB: “Each of you is to respect his mother and father. You are to keep my Sabbaths; I am the Lord your God.”
ESB: “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”
ISV: “Each of you is to fear his mother and father. “Observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
MEV: “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you will keep My Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”
NASB: “Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.”
NET: “Each of you must respect his mother and his father, and you must keep my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
NIV: “Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
NLT: “Each of you must show great respect for your mother and father, and you must always observe my Sabbath days of rest. I am the LORD your God.”
NRSV: “You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”

Believe it or don’t, a lot of these translations do not consider themselves gender-inclusive. You can tell: They still insist on using the masculine pronoun “his” to describe “every one of you,” figuring it’s more accurate than “their”—and generic enough. Yet even so, y’notice all of ’em translated ish as “everyone,” instead of the literal “man”—because the verse does apply to everyone. Not just men.

The gender-inclusive translations want to make this crystal clear, so they drop the pronoun “his” in favor of gender-neutral ones. They swapped singular for plural: “They” instead of “he.”

Psalm 1.1 KJV
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
Psalm 1.1 NLT
Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.

Or “you” instead of “he.”

Leviticus 5.5 KJV
And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing:
Psalm 1.1 NLT
When you become aware of your guilt in any of these ways, you must confess your sin.

Whatever makes it most obvious that the scriptures are addressed to all.