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

Nation will rise up against nation.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 August

Mark 13.8, Matthew 24.7-8, Luke 21.10-11.

You notice the title of this piece is “Nation will rise up against nation,” yet when I translate the gospel passages which usually get interpreted that way, you’ll notice I render ἔθνος/éthnos as “ethnic group.” Because that’s what an éthnos is.

Mark 13.8 KWL
“For ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
Quakes will happen various places.
Scarcity will happen.
These are first birth pangs.”
 
Matthew 24.7-8 KWL
7 “For ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
Quakes and scarcity will happen various places.
8 All these are first birth pangs.”
 
Luke 21.10-11 KWL
10 Then Jesus told them,
“Ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
11 Both great quakes and scarcity in various places,
and plagues will happen.
Both terrifying events
and signs from heaven will happen.”

Éthnos tends to be translated “nation” because for the longest time, people presumed a nation was a country consisting of a homogenous people-group. Ancient Israel consisted only of the descendants of Israel ben Isaac, and ancient Edom of the descendants of Esau ben Isaac, and Moab of the descendants of Moab ben Lot, and so forth. They all had the same ethnic background and race.

Racists especially liked this theory. Even though it’s not wholly true. The LORD let people immigrate, y’know, and become Israeli. Like Ruth the Moabite, or Uriah the Hittite. Like Moses’s Cushite wife. Nu 12.1 (This isn’t the same woman as Zipporah the Midianite, Ex 2.21 even though many Jews insist she is; this is someone from Cush, which is south of Egypt.) Like any of the various Hebrews and Canaanites with whom Israelis intermarried till Ezra ben Seraiah cracked down on the practice in the fifth century BC. Every culture has had intermarriage with neighboring countries and foreigners—and sometimes it was a scandal, and sometimes not. Pretending it never happened, of course implies it’s scandalous.

But racists still think of nation as meaning the very same thing as ethnic group. So whenever they talk about “this nation,” their nation, that’s what they believe it oughta be: A country which only consists of people like them. They wanna purge the country of other races—or at least make ’em second-class citizens. It’s not natural, they insist, for a country to be made up of, or led by, multiple races.

“Watch out. Don’t be misled.”

by K.W. Leslie, 14 August

Mark 13.3-6, Matthew 24.3-5, Luke 21.7-8.

Nope, not talking about Christian nationalism today. Although good gracious, it surely feels like American Christianity has been utterly misled by power-hungry Sadducees who don’t know the Holy Spirit, and don’t know how to do anything with bible other than misquote and mangle it. But I suspect it mostly feels this way because of the company I keep.

Anyway, enough ranting about that. Today’s passage isn’t about our present-day drama anyway. The Olivet Discourse is almost entirely about the first century, and very little touches upon the second coming. Primarily it’s about what that generation of Christians would experience within four decades of Jesus saying this.

It began during Holy Week in the year 33, when Jesus was in temple and people commented on how nicely the fourth temple’s construction was coming along. Jesus’s reply was there “won’t be stone upon stone which won’t be pulled down.” Lk 21.6 KWL

Which stunned Jesus’s hearers. This isn’t at all part of the popular first-century Pharisee teachings about the End Times. In most of the rabbis’ timelines, Messiah came to Jerusalem, worshiped God at temple, then turn round and conquer the world. (Most Darbyists have pretty much duplicated the general Pharisee scenario—but swapped out Messiah for the Beast, who they claim will pettily desecrate a still-has-yet-to-be-built sixth temple instead of worshiping there. Where’s this warped idea come from? Well, we’ll get to that.)

Okay. So pulling the temple down is a big, big deal. It’s as if someone blew up the world trade center of a Mammonist country. You wanna cut the heart out of every devout Judean, no matter their denomination? This’d be how.

Understandably Jesus’s students wanted to know where on earth this falls within the End Times timeline. ’Cause they unthinkingly expected things to play out the way Pharisees taught. Since Messiah himself says it’s not gonna be the way, okay; how does it work? Luke makes it sound like they questioned Jesus right there, but Mark and Matthew say it was on Olivet Hill east of the temple. Mark also says only four of ’em asked, while the other eight were… I dunno, off playing soccer or something.

Mark 13.3-6 KWL
3 While sitting himself at Olivet Hill opposite the temple,
Simon Peter, James, John, and Andrew
are asking Jesus privately,
4 “Tell us when these things will be.
What’s the sign when all these things should end?”
5 Jesus begins to tell them,
“Watch out lest someone mislead you all:
6 Many will come in my name saying, ‘I’m Messiah,’
and will mislead many.”
 
Matthew 24.3-5 KWL
3 While sitting himself upon Olivet Hill,
the students came to Jesus on their own,
saying, “Tell us when these things will be.
What’s the sign of your second coming,
and the end of this age?
4 In reply, Jesus tells them,
“Watch out lest someone mislead you all:
5 Many will come in my name saying, ‘I’m Messiah,’
and will mislead many.”
 
Luke 21.7-8 KWL
7 They inquired of Jesus, saying, “Teacher,
so when will these things be?
What’s the sign when all these things should happen?”
8 Jesus says,
“Watch out. Don’t be misled:
People will come in my name saying, ‘I’m Messiah,’
and ‘The time has come.’
You ought not follow them.”

Okay. The most obvious sign the Olivet Discourse is about the first century, and neither our present nor the time before a future great tribulation, is right here in Jesus’s first warning of the discourse. “Don’t be misled; people are gonna come in my name and claim they’re Messiah.”

The Satan Versus Satan Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 July

Mark 3.23-26, Matthew 12.24-30, Luke 11.17-18.

Jesus was in the habit of ignoring Pharisee customs. In part because they aren’t biblical and therefore aren’t necessary (and aren’t sin when you break ’em). In part because too many Pharisees pointed to their customs as proof they were devout… and hoped the customs distracted people from the fact they were breaking the Law just as much as any gentile. It was all hypocrisy—the one thing which really pisses Jesus off.

Pharisees who legitimately tried to follow God, easily recognized Jesus is from God. Pharisees who were only interested in looking devout had the darnedest time trying to prove Jesus isn’t from God: It’s kinda impossible to make such a case when Jesus so obviously has God’s power to cure the sick and throw evil spirits out of people. When Pharisees tried to cure people and do exorcisms, they had such a low success rate, lots of Jews turned to witch doctors instead. In comparison, Jesus looks like he put hardly any effort into it. Sometimes he had to pray real hard, or lay hands on someone more than once, or had to give up because people were so faithless. But most of the time he’d say, “You’re cured,” and they were; or “Get out,” and the critters would scream and flee. He had the Holy Spirit without limit, Jn 3.34 and this almightiness showed.

So Pharisees had nothing. But it looks like the Galilean Pharisees decided to pick the brains of Judean Pharisees, who came up with the explanation, “He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.” Mk 3.22 I explained the backstory of “Beelzebub,” properly Baal Zevúl, in another article. It’s pretty much a euphemism for Satan. Like many a cessationist nowadays, these Judeans claimed Jesus did his thing through the power of the devil. ’Cause God would never work through such people.

In response, Jesus told this parable.

Mark 3.23-26 KWL
23 Jesus, summoning them,
is telling them in parables,
“How can Satan throw out Satan?
24 When a kingdom is divided against itself,
that kingdom can’t stand.
25 When a house is divided against itself,
that house can’t stand.
26 And if Satan rises up against itself and is divided,
it can’t stand. Instead it’s the End.”

The Lost Sheep Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 July

Matthew 18.12-14.

Since I was already discussing parables where Jesus compares his followers to sheep, and portrays himself as the good shepherd, I figured I’d do the Lost Sheep Story. I kinda did already, but I bunched Luke’s version together with the Lost Coin Story, and focused on God seeking and saving the lost. Matthew’s version is a bit different, ’cause it has a different punchline.

Jesus begins this parable with a question which is typically translated like the KJV’s, “What think ye?” Except the verb is singular and third-person, not plural and second-person: Ye is not the subject, but the Greek word τί/ti is. It can be translated “what” or “who,” so that’s what I went with. He’s not really asking for his audience’s thoughts; he wants to see who among them has the sense to realize what he means. If Jesus were only fishing for consensus, his parables wouldn’t mean anything. He’s got a point to them—now see if you can spot it.

Even if he already totally spells out his own point. Hey, sometimes the crowd is just that dense—as you’ll see in a moment.

Matthew 18.12-14 KWL
12 “Who among you thinks?
When a hundred sheep belong to a certain person,
and one of them might wander off,
won’t the person leave the 99 on the hills,
and go to seek the wanderer?
13 When he happens to find it,
amen, I promise you, he rejoices over it—
more so than the 99 who hadn’t wandered.
14 Likewise it’s not the will
laid out by your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be destroyed.”

In Jesus’s day, people didn’t keep their wealth in money, which was harder to come by; but in land and livestock. So how wealthy does that make a person with 100 sheep? Well… not poor. Certainly not rich. Think of an individual lamb like 100 dollars. That’d make his flock worth 10,000 dollars. It’s a decent pile, but it’s not disposable income: You can’t just trade all your sheep for luxuries and comforts. You need to keep those sheep, and keep ’em well-fed and in good health so they’ll make more sheep, and produce good milk and good wool, and you can sell that… if you’re patient and work hard.

And with only 100 sheep, you can’t really afford to lose a lamb or two. A rich person could lose a lamb here and there easily. This guy was gonna have to go look for it himself.

The Good Shepherd Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 July

John 10.11-21.

In the previous bit, Jesus says he’s the sheepfold gate. In this bit, Jesus says he’s the good shepherd.

These passages don’t confuse a lot of people, because most of us have plenty enough brainpower to keep up with the idea of Jesus switching metaphors. “I’m the gate; you don’t go in around me. And I’m the shepherd—a good shepherd, who defends his sheep, unlike people who only start up a church for the power and money and fame, and the instant things get serious or rough, they bail on their church in Seattle, Washington and move to Scottsdale, Arizona, and con another flock into following them.”

…Okay yeah, I’m sounding a tad specific there, like I have a particular guy in mind. Maybe I do. But you could swap in any two cities in the United States—or the planet—and you’ll probably find a bad shepherd fleeing from town to town, hoping to evade accountability so he can get away with yet more evil. There have been bad shepherds throughout history. The people of Jesus’s day no doubt knew a few; maybe some rabbi who stole all his synagogue’s money, or one who slept around, or one who touched the children. Human nature doesn’t change, and ravenous wolves still try to feast on the faithful. So these things still happen.

But Jesus is the good shepherd. Kinda like the LORD is in Psalm 23… and since Jesus is the LORD, it’s totally okay to apply that psalm to him. But let’s deal with today’s passage first.

John 10.11-21 KWL
11 “I’m the good shepherd.
The good shepherd puts down his soul for the sheep.
12 The hireling, being no shepherd—
who isn’t the sheep’s own shepherd
he sees the wolf coming,
and he abandons the sheep and flees.
The wolf snatches and scatters them.
13 Because he’s a hireling!
He doesn’t care about anything about the sheep.
 
14 “I’m the good shepherd.
I know who’s mine,
and who’s mine know me.
15 Just as the Father knows me,
and I know the Father.
16 I have other sheep,
which aren’t from this sheepfold.
It’s necessary for me to lead them as well:
They’ll hear my voice,
and they’ll become one flock, one shepherd.
 
17 “This is why the Father loves me:
I put down my soul,
so I can pick it up again.
18 No one takes it away from me;
instead I put it down by myself.
I have the power to put it down,
and I have the power to pick it up again.
I receive this command from my Father.”
 
19 Again, there became a split among the Judeans
about these words.
20 Many were saying about him, “He has a demon,”
and “He’s raving mad; do you hear him?”
21 Others were saying, “These sayings aren’t demonic;
a demon isn’t able to open blind eyes!”

Jesus says a lot of profound things here, and of course the Judeans’ response was to either say, “Well of course he’s the good shepherd,” or if you’re a bit more closed-minded, “Oh he’s just babbling complete nonsense. Who does he think he is, God or something?”

As you might remember, parables tend to go right over the heads of the closed-minded—not necessarily because they can’t follow what Jesus means by them, but because they have no faith in Jesus. They might totally agree with the metaphor of Jesus’s followers being sheep—but they’re gonna dismiss and ignore the rest. It’s childish rubbish, meant for weak-minded sheeple.

The Sheepfold Gate Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 July

John 10.1-10.

A lot of reference materials claim Jesus only shares parables in the synoptic gospels, and that there are no parables in the gospel of John. Seriously, a lot of them. I grew up hearing it all my life. And it turns out it’s rubbish, because John straight-up states,

John 10.6 KJV
This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.

It’s not a mistranslation either. True, John didn’t use the word παραβολή/paravolí, the word from which we literally get our word “parable.” He used παροιμίαν/parimían, which literally means “nearly like it.” But that’s what a parable is: It’s an analogy. A comparison. Something which is nearly like something else, so you can slip people some wisdom in a memorable format.

Other bibles have rendered parimían as “figure of speech” (ESV, NASB, NIV, NRSV) or “illustration” (NKJV, NLT). But again: Parables are figures of speech and illustrations. This is a parable. I suspect the translators were hesitant to use “parable” because it’s so widely believed and taught that John contains no parables. I still call rubbish. This is obviously a parable, and you gotta go through some weird logical gymnastics in order to claim it’s not.

It comes up in John 10, right after Jesus cured a blind man in John 9—whereupon the local Pharisees put the newly-cured guy on trial for heresy and excommunicate him. Jesus calls ’em blind. That’s a figure of speech; this next bit is a parable.

John 10.1-10 KWL
1 “Amen amen! I promise you,
one who won’t enter through the sheepfold gate,
but goes over it some other way:
That one is a thief, a looter.
2 One who enters through the gate is the sheep’s shepherd.
3 The gatekeeper opens up for this shepherd.
The sheep hear the shepherd’s voice.
He calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out.
4 Whenever the shepherd drives out his own sheep,
they go in front of him, and the sheep follow him,
because they’ve known his voice.
5 The sheep won’t follow a stranger,
but will flee from him:
They’ve not known the stranger’s voice.”
 
6 Jesus tells them this parable,
and they don’t know what he’s telling them,
7 so again Jesus says, “Amen amen! I promise you,
I’m the sheepfold gate.
8 Everybody who goes over me is a thief and looter.
But the sheep don’t heed them.
9 I’m the gate. When anyone goes through me, they’ll be saved.
They’ll enter and exit, and they’ll find pasture.
10 A thief won’t come in—
unless it’s to steal, murder, and destroy.
I come so they might have life,
and might have superabundance.”

So. At the end of chapter 9 he was speaking of blindness; now he speaks of sheep? But it’s not a total non-sequitur. Blind or not, people oughta be able to identify their master by voice. The sheep don’t need to identify their shepherd by sight: They can hear. And strangers aren’t gonna sound right.

And yeah, Jesus is also the shepherd, and a good shepherd. But that’s actually another analogy, in the next few verses. We’ll get to it; it’s another of the parables in John. Yep, there are a few of ’em. I’ll get to them all. Meanwhile, in today’s passage, Jesus is the sheepfold gate.

The Persistent Widow Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 June

Luke 18.1-8.

Last time I wrote about parables, I brought up the Midnight Friend Story. Well… same gospel, same idea, but whole different story. Comes in chapter 18 instead of 11. It’s also called the Unjust Judge, the Importunate Widow, the Persistent Woman, and the Unjust Judge and the Widow. All depends on which of them you wanna emphasize, but since the widow is meant to be our role model, I think the story oughta be named for her.

Luke 18.1-8 KWL
1 Jesus is speaking parabolically to his students
on the necessity of them always praying
and not becoming discouraged,
2 saying, “There’s some judge in some city
with no respect for God, no regard for people.
3 There’s a widow in that city;
she’s coming to him, saying,
‘Prosecute my opponent for me!’
4 For a time, he doesn’t want to.
Afterward, he said to himself,
‘Though I don’t respect God, nor have regard for the people,
5 because this widow keeps bugging me,
I’ll prosecute her opponent for her.
In the end, she may come give me a black eye!’ ”
6 The Master says, “Listen to what this unjust judge says.
7 Might God not prosecute on behalf of his elect,
who cry out to him day and night,
and have patience with them?
8 I tell you he will prosecute for them, quickly.
But at the Son of Man’s coming,
will he then find any faith on the earth?”

Some notes about my translation. The term the widow is using is ἐκδίκησόν με/ekdíkisón me, which the KJV translates “Avenge me.” That’s perhaps too literal of a translation. Ekdikéo means to carry out a punishment, and the word isn’t particular about whether it’s a judge sentencing a criminal, a vigilante murdering a criminal, or someone with a grudge taking out petty revenge upon a neighbor. Since Jesus is talking about a judge, he is talking about some level of due process.

Problem is, Jesus isn’t talking about a righteous judge. In his culture there were two kinds of judges:

  • Jewish judges followed and interpreted the Law, the commands the LORD handed down in the 15th century BC.
  • Roman judges followed and interpreted the laws decreed by the senate and people of Rome.

So when Jesus describes this judge as caring neither about God nor people, he describes a person who ignores the standards for both Jewish and Roman judges. He doesn’t base his rulings on law and legal precedent; he follows his conscience. He’s what we’d call an “activist judge”—the kind of judge people love when he shares their politics, ’cause he’ll rule their way, no matter what the law says! But they soon discover a lawless judge creates a lot of instability in society, no matter how moral these judges might imagine they are.

The long ending of Mark.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 May
Mark 16.9-20 KWL
9 [Rising at dawn on the first of the week,
Jesus first appears to Mary the Magdalene,
out of whom he had thrown seven demons.
10 Leaving, this woman reports
to the others who were continuing with Jesus,
to those mourning and weeping,
11 and they’re hearing that Jesus lives—
and was seen by Mary!—and don’t believe it.
12 After this, as two of them are walking,
Jesus is revealed in another form, going with them,
13 and leaving, they report to the rest.
The rest don’t believe them either.
14 Later, as the Eleven are reclining at table,
Jesus appears, and rants against
their unbelief and hard-heartedness,
for people had seen him risen up,
and they don’t believe it.
 
15 [Jesus told them, “Go into the world
and proclaim the gospel everywhere to every creature.
16 Those who believe and are baptized will be saved.
Those who don’t believe will be judged.
 
17 [“Miracles will accompany the believers:
In my name, people will throw out demons.
People will speak in tongues.
18 People will pick up snakes in their hands,
and if anyone drinks poison, it won’t injure them.
People will lay hands on the sick,
and they will be well.”
 
19 [So after Master Jesus’s speech to them,
he’s raptured into heaven and sits at God’s right.
20 Leaving, these apostles proclaim everywhere
about the Master they work with and his message,
confirming it through the accompanying signs. Amen.]

This passage—often found in brackets in our bibles—is called the Long Ending of Mark. I already wrote about the Short Ending. Mark wrote neither of these endings. Some eager Christian, unsatisfied with the abrupt way Mark ended—or unhappy with the brevity of the Short Ending—tacked it onto Mark in the 300s or 400s. Speaking as someone who’s translated all of Mark, I can definitely say he doesn’t write like Mark.

However. Even though Mark didn’t write it, it’s still valid, inspired scripture. Still bible. No, not because of the King James Only folks; they have their own reasons for insisting it’s still bible, namely bibliolatry. Nope; it’s bible because it was in the ancient Christians’ copies of Mark when they determined Mark is bible. It’s bible because it’s confirmed by what Jesus’s apostles did in Acts and afterward. It’s bible because it’s true.

Those who insist it’s not bible, are usually Christians who insist it’s not true. And like the KJV Only folks, they have their own ulterior motives.

Simon the Cyrenian, the man who carried Jesus’s cross.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 April

Mark 15.21, Matthew 27.32, Luke 23.26.

Enroute to Golgotha, leading Jesus to the place they’d crucify him, the Romans decided he was inadequate to carry his crossbeam.

Movies and art, following St. Francis’s lists of the stations of the cross, depict Jesus falling over a bunch of times. The gospels don’t, but who knows?—maybe he did. He had been up all night and flogged half to death. Between sleep deprivation and blood loss, carrying a hundred-pound crossbeam would’ve been too much for anyone. (No, not the 300-pound full cross we see in paintings, such as the El Greco painting in my “Stations of the Cross” image. Even healthy convicts would’ve found that unmanageable.)

The Roman senate made it legal for soldiers to draft conquered peoples—basically anyone in the Roman Empire who lacked citizenship—into temporary service. Jesus referred to this law when he taught us to go the extra mile. Mt 5.41 So the Romans grabbed an able-bodied passerby to carry Jesus’s crossbeam. And since he later became Christian and his sons became bishops, the writers of the gospels mentioned him by name: Simon the Cyrenian (or “of Cyrene”).

Mark 15.21 KWL
The Romans draft a passerby,
a certain Simon the Cyrenian who’s coming from the fields,
the father of Alexander and Rufus,
so he’d carry Jesus’s crossbeam.
 
Matthew 27.32 KWL
Coming out, the Romans find a Cyrenian person named Simon.
This man, they compel
to take up Jesus’s crossbeam.
 
Luke 23.26 KWL
While the Romans lead Jesus away,
taking hold of Simon, a certain Cyrenian coming from the fields,
they lay the crossbeam upon him
to carry behind Jesus.

Jesus given a robe and crowned with thorns.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 April

Mark 15.16-20, Matthew 27.27-31, Luke 23.11, John 19.2-3, 5-6.

People became Roman soldiers for all sorts of reasons. Some because the Roman army was a path to Roman citizenship. Some as punishment: It was either military service, or slavery and prison. Some for the adventure, or to get rich, or because they couldn’t imagine any other job options. Some because how else are you gonna get to crucify barbarians?

So it’s safe to figure the soldiers under Pontius Pilatus weren’t there to make friends with Judeans. On the contrary: Over time they likely grew more and more tired of Judeans. Especially those Judeans who were bigoted against gentiles, or were outraged over the Roman occupation. The Romans gave ’em legitimate reasons for not liking them: Soldiers tended to abuse their power so they could steal and extort. Lk 3.14 And bullies look for any excuse to justify themselves, so they were happy to return the hostility.

Given the opportunity to abuse a Judean and have some evil fun at his expense, the soldiers took advantage of it. That’s why they beat the crap out of Jesus. Crucifying him wasn’t enough for them: First they had to play a little game they called “the king’s game.”

Mark 15.16-20 KWL
16 The soldiers lead Jesus inside the courtyard,
which is the Prætorium.
They summon the whole unit.
17 They dress Jesus in “purple,”
and place a braided garland on him—of thorny acacia.
18 They begin to salute Jesus: “Hail, king of Judeans!”
19 They strike Jesus’s head with a staff,
and spit on him,
and bending the knee, they’re “worshiping” him.
20 While they mock Jesus, they strip the “purple” off him,
dress him in his own robe,
and send him away to crucify him.
 
Matthew 27.27-31 KWL
27 The leader’s soldiers then, taking Jesus into the Prætorium,
called the whole unit to him.
28 Undressing Jesus,
they drape him in a crimson coat.
29 Weaving a garland of thorny acacia,
they put it on Jesus’s head,
and a reed in his right hand.
Kneeling before him, they ridicule him,
saying, “Hail, king of Judeans!”
30 Spitting on him, they take the reed
and strike Jesus on the head.
31 While they mock Jesus, they take the coat off him,
dress him in his own clothes,
and lead him away to crucifixion.
 
Luke 23.11 KWL
Considering Jesus worthless,
Herod with his soldiers mockingly dressing him in campy clothing,
send him back to Pilate.
 
John 19.2-3 KWL
2 The soldiers, braiding a crown of thorny acacia,
force it on Jesus’s head.
They put a “purple” robe on him.
3 They’re coming to Jesus and saying, “Hail, king of Judeans!”
—as they give him punches.

Jesus confuses Pontius Pilate.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 April

Mark 15.1-5, Matthew 27.1-2, 11-14, Luke 23.1-4, John 18.28-38.

So I already wrote about Pontius Pilate, the ἡγεμών/igemón, “ruler” of Judea when Jesus was killed—the Roman military governor, or præfectus, “prefect.” After the Judean senate held their perfectly legal trial and sentenced Jesus to death, according to the Law they were to take Jesus outside the city, throw him off a cliff, then throw stones down on his body. But because of the Roman occupation they weren’t allowed to execute anyone. The Romans had to kill Jesus for them.

But first the Judean leaders needed to convince Pontius it was in Rome’s best interests to execute Jesus. The prefect wasn’t just gonna execute anybody the Judean senate recommended. Especially over stuff the Romans didn’t consider capital crimes, like blasphemy against a god the Romans didn’t respect. So what’d the Judeans have on Jesus?

Simple: He declared himself Messiah. Did it right in front of everybody.

Mark 14.61-64 KJV
61 But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? 62 And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. 63 Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? 64 Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death.

Messiah (i.e. Christ) means “the anointed,” and since you only anointed kings, it straight-up means king. Jesus publicly declared himself Israel’s king. That, the Romans would consider treason: The king of Judea was Caesar Tiberius Divi Augusti, princeps (“first citizen”) of Rome. Caesar would have a vested interest in putting any antikings to death. So that was the charge the senate brought with them, and Jesus, to the Roman prefect.

The senators hauled Jesus to Antonia, a fort Herod 1 had built next to the temple (and named for his patron, Marcus Antonius) so soldiers could watch the Judeans worship… just in case any riots broke out. There, they presented their unrecognized true king to Pontius.

Mark 15.1 KWL
Next, in the morning, the head priests,
consulting with the elders, scribes, and the whole senate,
carry and deliver the bound Jesus
to Pontius Pilatus.
 
Matthew 27.1-2 KWL
1 As it became morning, all the head priests and people’s elders
gathered in council regarding Jesus,
and how they’d put him to death./dd>
2 Binding him, they led Jesus away
and handed him off to Pontius Pilatus, the leader.
 
Luke 23.1-2 KWL
1 Getting up, the crowd leads him to Pontius Pilatus.
2 They begin to accuse Jesus,
saying, “We find this man twisting our nation,
preventing taxes to be given to Caesar,
calling himself ‘Christ’—which means king.”

In all the gospels, Pontius questioned Jesus… and came away unconvinced this man was any threat to Rome whatsoever. In Luke and John, he didn’t even believe Jesus was guilty of anything. But the Judean senate wanted Jesus dead, and got plenty of the locals to say so too. In the end, Pontius pragmatically gave ’em what they wanted.

“Why’s this guy not defending himself?”

Getting convicted of treason back then meant execution. (Still often does.) For non-Romans like Jesus, execution meant crucifixion, one of the most painful, disgusting ways to die humans have ever invented. So the fact Jesus didn’t fight his charges, and said nothing, made Pontius wonder what on earth was going on here. Everybody else he ever interrogated would either fight the charges or justify them. Not simply accept crucifixion as their inevitable lot.

Yet in the synoptic gospels, Jesus responded to his charges with two words and nothing more: Σὺ λέγεις/su légheis, “[If] you say so.”

Mark 15.2 KWL
Pilatus interrogated Jesus: “You’re the king of Judea?”
In reply Jesus told him, If you say so.”
 
Matthew 27.11 KWL
Jesus was stood before the leader,
and the leader interrogated him, saying, “You’re the king of Judea?”
Jesus was saying, If you say so.”
 
Luke 23.3 KWL
Pilatus questioned Jesus, saying, “You’re the king of Judea?”
In reply Jesus told him, If you say so.”

Some interpreters like to turn Jesus’s words into more of an affirmative declaration; more like “You said it, buddy!” Others figure it was more contrary: In one of these verses The Message goes with, “Your words, not mine.” Lk 23.3 MSG In John’s telling of the trial, Jesus’s response sorta sounds more like the “Your words, not mine” idea—because his response was more of a “I am a king, but not the sort you’re thinking of.”

Yep, John tells a very different version of events. Jesus interacts with Pontius way more. I’ll start at the beginning.

John 18.28-38 KWL
28 So the senators bring Jesus
from Joseph bar Caiaphas to the prætorium.
It’s morning. They don’t enter the prætorium,
lest they be defiled instead of eating Passover.
29 So Pontius Pilatus comes outside to them,
and says, “You bring me a certain accusation against this person.”
30 In reply they tell him, “We’d never hand him over to you
unless he were an evildoer.”
31 Pilatus tells them, “Take him yourself. Judge him by your Law.”
The Judeans tell him, “We’re not allowed to kill anyone.”
32 Thus Jesus’s word could be fulfilled—
which he said to signify which kind of death he was about to die.
 
33 Pilate enters the prætorium again, calls Jesus,
and tells him, “You’re the king of Judea?”
34 Jesus replies, “You say this on your own?
Or do others tell you about me?”
35 Pilate replies, “Am I Judean?
Your ethnic group and head priests turn you over to me.
What do you do?”
36 Jesus replies, “My kingdom’s not from this world.
If my kingdom’s from this world, my servants should fight
lest I be turned over to the Judeans.
My kingdom doesn’t yet exist now.”
37 So Pilate tells him, “Therefore you’re not a king.”
Jesus replies this: “I am a king.
I had been born into it. I came into the world into it.
Thus I might testify to truth.
All who are of the truth, hear my voice.”
38 Pilate tells him, “What’s ‘truth’?”
 
That said, Pilate goes out again to the Judeans
and tells them, “I find nothing in him of cause.”

Note in John, Jesus didn’t just answer Pontius with “If you say so,” but a statement of exactly what he means by “kingdom.” Clearly he’s not talking about a political government, but a moral one. We follow King Jesus, not because we’ll get into serious legal trouble if we don’t, not because (as dark Christians gleefully claim) we’ll go to hell when we don’t. We follow Jesus ’cause he’s truth. Jn 14.6 ’Cause we love the Father and want access to him. And we can’t get to the Father any other way than via Jesus.

Yeah, such a kingdom would totally overturn the Roman Empire. And within the next three centuries, that’s exactly what it did. But Caesar had nothing political to fear from such a kingdom. Which is why Pontius didn’t see anything wrong with it.

Not that Pontius necessarily understood Jesus. “What’s truth?” exposes this fact. Pontius had no time for abstract philosophy: He just wanted to know whether Jesus was worth crucifying. Would Caesar want this guy dead or not? Once Pontius had his mind made up—“So you’re not a king” Jn 18.37 —he didn’t really care what else Jesus had to say. “What’s truth” is a very important question, but notice Pontius didn’t stick around to get Jesus’s answer. Phooey on truth; he didn’t come to Judea to get an education from some obscure Galilean rabbi about epistemology. (He came there to get rich, if anything.) So in John, Pontius isn’t confused; just unconvinced Jesus is worth killing.

In Luke he likewise made up his mind right away.

Luke 23.4 KWL
Pilate tells the head priests and the crowd,
“I find nothing of cause in this person.”

Whereas in the other gospels, Jesus said nothing, and Pontius couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t fight harder to avoid a gory death on the cross.

Mark 15.3-5 KWL
3 The head priests are accusing Jesus of many things.
4 Pilate is questioning Jesus again,
saying, “You answer nothing! Look at all they accuse you of!”
5 Jesus no longer answers anything.
So Pilate is amazed.
 
Matthew 27.12-14 KWL
12 Jesus answers nothing
in the accusation against him by the head priests and elders.
13 Then Pilate tells Jesus, “Don’t you hear
how much they testify against you?”
14 Jesus doesn’t answer him for even one word.
So the leader was greatly amazed.

It was just strange enough for Pontius’s B.S. detector to go off: “Doesn’t seem to wanna die, but isn’t fighting it. What’s going on here? Why’s he acting this way? Why isn’t he fighting the charges? What, does he wanna get crucified?… Nah; he can’t; that’s nuts.”

Justice wouldn’t be done today.

For Jesus, the suffering came from the fact he knew he wasn’t gonna get justice that day.

It was sunrise when the senate brought him to Pontius. It was noon when he was finally led out to be crucified. Six hours of waiting. In between, getting mocked and flogged. He knew the end was coming, but the wheels of bureaucracy were turning mighty slow that morning.

But he knew Pontius believed him innocent. Knew Pontius recognized him as no threat to Rome. Knew regardless, Pontius would be of no help. The proper purpose of government is to establish justice, but corrupt governments and parties everywhere, presume it’s to seize and hold power. Pontius was just this kind of corrupt. He figured he was only in Judea to make sure Rome (and he) got their money. He’d kill anyone who got in Rome’s way. Jesus might be innocent, but if Pontius didn’t kill Jesus, he might spark a war and lose his job—which he desired more than justice. So much for justice.

The fact Pontius had Jesus executed regardless, with full knowledge he was executing someone he considered innocent—his whole hand-washing demonstration Mt 27.24 was all for show and we know it—makes Pontius just as guilty of Jesus’s death as the senate. Any antisemite who wants to blame the Jews alone for Jesus’s death is an idiot. Pontius, a gentile, could easily have saved him… and didn’t care enough to make any more than a token effort.

So this was how Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilatus: Knowing he’d get no proper hearing, no justice, because the powerful didn’t care. Nobody did. He had no advocate. He was alone.

It’s all the more reason Jesus takes the position of our advocate before his Father. 1Jn 2.1 It’s why he sent the Holy Spirit to help us when we’re not sure how to defend ourselves. Mk 13.11 He’s not gonna abandon us. He never promised us we’d never suffer; on the contrary, we will. Jn 16.33 But he’ll be with us through the suffering, providing us all the help and comfort he never got when he suffered.

Jesus’s pre-trial trial.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 April
John 18.12-14 KWL
12 The mob, the chief, and Judean police
then arrest Jesus and bind him.
13 They first bring Jesus to Annas,
for he’s the father-in-law of Joseph bar Caiaphas,
who’s head priest that year.
14 Bar Caiaphas is the one who recommended to the Judeans
for one person to die, rather than all the people.
 
John 18.19-24 KWL
19 The head priest then asks Jesus about his students,
and about his instruction.
20 Jesus answers him, “I’ve freely spoken to the world.
I always teach in synagogue and in temple,
where all the Judeans come together.
I never spoke in private.
21 Why do you ask me this?
Ask those who’ve listened to what I speak to them.
Look, they’ve known what I say.”
22 Once he says this, one of the police standing by
gives Jesus a slap, saying, “This you answer the head priest?”
23 Jesus answers him, “If I speak evil, testify about the evil.
If good, why beat me?”
24 So Annas sends Jesus away,
having bound him for Bar Caiaphas the head priest.

In the synoptic gospels, right after Jesus’s arrest, the Judean police and their posse took Jesus to the head priest’s house. But in John they didn’t. John’s the only gospel where they took a little side trip first… to the former head priest’s house. That’d be Khánan bar Seth, whom historical records call Ananus, and whom the KJV calls Annas. John relates it’s in the courtyard of Annas’s house where Simon Peter denounced Jesus.

Backstory time. Ever since the time of the Maccabees, the head priests had also been the kings of Judea. (Or, using the title Israelis had used for their kings, the Messiah. Yep, that title.) Their dynasty ended with Herod 1, who overthrew his father-in-law Antigonus Mattathias in 37BC, and took the throne. Herod became king, but because he was Edomite not Aaronite, he couldn’t be head priest; only descendants of Aaron could be head priest, y’know. Lv 6.22 But Herod claimed the right to appoint the head priest—and did. In fact he appointed a bunch of head priests. He kept firing them when they wouldn’t do as he wished.

And once the Romans took Judea from the Herods, they did the same thing. Annas became the 11th appointed head priest since Herod took over. (He’s actually the ninth guy to hold the job. Some of the previous head priests had non-consecutive terms.) Annas was appointed by the Syrian legate Publius Sulpicius Quirinius in the year 6, and stayed in office till the year 15. He’s a descendant of King John Hyrcanus, so while he was still in the royal family, he wasn’t a contender for the throne.

Bible commentators aren’t always aware that Herod and the Romans kept swapping out head priests, and assume Annas was the hereditary head priest, like all the head priests before Herod’s time. So they aren’t so surprised when Annas’s five sons, son-in-law, and grandson become the head priest after him: Isn’t it supposed to be a hereditary job? And yeah, originally it was… but now it wasn’t, and hadn’t been for decades, and the fact Annas managed to keep his family in power for nearly sixty years is pretty darned impressive.

Annas’s successors include:

  • Eleazar, his son (16-17CE)
  • Joseph bar Caiaphas, his son-in-law (18-36)
  • Jonathan, his son (36-37)
  • Theophilus, his son (37-41)
  • Matthias, his son (43)
  • Jonathan again (44)
  • Annas 2, his son (63)
  • Mattathias, his grandson (65-66)

He wasn’t the only guy with a political dynasty though. Four sons and a grandson of Boethus, another descendant of Aaron, were also head priest. Including Joazar bar Boethus, Annas’s direct predecessor.

Nope, Jesus didn’t sweat blood.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 April
Luke 22.39-46 KWL
39 Coming out, Jesus goes to Olivet Hill as usual.
The students also follow him.
40 Once they’re in the place, Jesus tells them,
“Pray not to enter into temptation!”
41 Jesus withdraws from them about a stone’s throw away,
and taking to his knees, he’s praying,
42 saying, “Father, if you want, take this cup away from me!
Only not my will but yours be done.”
43 [A heavenly angel appears to Jesus, strengthening him.
44 Being in agony, Jesus is praying more fervently.
His sweat becomes like drops of blood,
falling down to the ground.]
45 Rising up from the prayer, coming to the students,
Jesus finds them sleeping from the grief.
46 Jesus tells them, “Why do you sleep?
Get up and pray, so you might not enter into temptation!”

Before his arrest, Jesus went to Gethsemane and spent some time in intense prayer. ’Cause he didn’t wanna get beaten and tortured to death. Who would?

In Mark, Jesus only has three of his students come along with him to pray, and has to go back and awaken them thrice. In Luke it appears to be all of them, and he only comes back to chide them once. Yeah they’re tired; they just had a big Passover meal and a lot of wine, plus a walk uphill, plus it’s late. But Jesus warned them his time was coming, and they needed to pray—not for him, but themselves. They’d be tempted to do a lot of dumb stuff as a result. (In fact that’s exactly what we see them do. Shoulda prayed.)

Certain preachers love to quote the Luke version of the story, because they love to point out how Jesus was so incredibly stressed out by his soon-coming passion, he was sweating blood. You saw that in verse 44. Here it is again in the KJV:

Luke 22.44 KJV
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Turns out this is an actual medical condition. It’s called hematidrosis (from the Greek for “bloody sweat”) or hematohidrosis (“bloody water”). It’s rare, but possible. Blood vessels under your skin break from stress, and blood comes out your pores. It looks creepy. But not a lot of blood comes out of you this way, so it’s largely harmless. Might cause a little dehydration, so drink some Gatorade; you’ll be fine.

Preachers find this fascinating. And they love to point out how Luke, the traditional author of this gospel, was a physician! Cl 4.14 So he’d know all about such medical conditions, right? Including this one.

Though more than once, I’ve heard a preacher claim hematidrosis actually isn’t a harmless condition: They insist it’s life-threatening. That’s why Jesus needed an angel to strengthen him in verse 43: He was on the verge of bleeding out. After all the verse says great drops of blood. Jesus was already dying, and he hadn’t even been arrested yet! You don’t want him dying before the Romans killed him; for some reason that might bungle the atonement. I’m not sure how, but they’re pretty sure it woulda.

Okay. As you can tell from the title of this article, they’re wrong. Not just about how dangerous hematidrosis is or isn’t. They’re wrong about Jesus sweating blood in the first place. The verse doesn’t say that.

Jesus prays at Gethsemane.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 April
Mark 14.32-41 KWL
32 Jesus and his students came to a field
which was named Gat Semaním/“oil press.”
Jesus tells his students, “Sit in this spot while I can pray.”
33 Jesus takes with him Simon Peter, James, and John.
He begins to be surprised—and greatly troubled.
34 Jesus tells them, “My soul is deathly sad.
Stay here, and stay awake.”
35 Going a little ahead, Jesus is falling to the ground,
and is praying that, if it’s possible, can this hour pass him by?
36 Jesus was saying, Abba! Father! Almighty you!
Take this cup away from me!
But not what I want. What you want.”
37 Jesus returns and finds his students sleeping,
and tells Peter, “Simon, you sleep? You can’t stay awake one hour?
38 Stay awake and pray!—lest you might come to temptation.
A truly eager spirit—and weak flesh.”
39 Jesus goes away to pray again,
praying the same words.
40 Returning again, Jesus finds his students sleeping,
for their eyes are very heavy.
They had not known what to answer him.
41 Jesus returns a third time and tells his students,
“You sleep now and rest. It’s enough.
The hour comes—look!
The Son of Man is handed over to sinful hands.”

The first of St. Francis’s stations of the cross was when Jesus was given his cross. (Duh.) But Jesus’s suffering began earlier that day, so St. John Paul’s list also began earlier—with Gethsemane, the olive garden on Mt. Olivet, where Jesus prayed he might not go through the crucifixion.

It comes up in the synoptic gospels. It’s not in John, whose author had to do things his own way:

John 18.1 KWL
When he said this, Jesus with his students went over the Kidron ravine,
where there was a garden. He and his students entered it.

John Paul recognized this is the beginning of Jesus’s passion, not when he was sentened to death later that night. ’Cause that’s what the gospels depict: He went into the garden to pray, and suddenly he was blindsided with emotion. It freaked him out a little. He wanted to pray; he wanted his kids to pray for him. But as people do when they’re up past their bedtime praying (and not just kids; don’t just blame this on their spiritual immaturity), they fell asleep on him. Three times.

Still, Jesus was really agitated, and John Paul recognized it’s this psychological trauma that marks where Jesus’s passion began. Not just when he was taken away to die.

A gospels synopsis.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 February

Our word “synopsis” usually means a brief summary or overview, but when we get into biblical studies a synopsis is a comparison of two different parts of the bible which overlap. Like Psalms 14 and 53. Or David and the census in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21. Or the story of Ahab and Micaiah in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18. Or Hezekiah and the sundial in 1 Kings 20 and Isaiah 38.

Or, naturally, to compare the gospels.

Christians have been comparing ’em ever since they were first written. Sometimes to see if we can fit them all together, like Tatian of Assyria did with his Diatessaron, or A.T. Robertson’s Harmony of the Gospels. Thing is, when you combine then into one narrative, you gotta remove parts of the other gospels—and change their order, their structure, and various things which their authors deliberately put in there. You also lose a bit of the three-dimensional picture of Jesus they provide.

It’s why I prefer a gospel synopsis: We compare the stories, but don’t remove anything. We look at what each of ’em have, and compare. We deal with the difficulties they might produce. But we get a better, fuller picture of Jesus. That’s the point.

Obviously in my posts on Christ Jesus, I’ve been comparing similar texts. It’s sort of my own gospel synopsis. You can follow it if you want, but today I’m actually providing someone else’s. Basically it’s the table of contents from bible scholar Kurt Aland’s Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum (called Synopsis of the Four Gospels in the English edition). His synopsis compares the texts line by line from his Greek New Testament, 26th edition (the current edition is the 28th), or from the RSV in the English edition. But if you prefer another translation, the links below will take you to Bible Gateway, where you can read ’em in any translation they have. Sound good?

Do you know what Christ Jesus really teaches?

by K.W. Leslie, 04 January

Ask anybody what Jesus of Nazareth did for a living, and nearly all of us will say, “Oh, he was a carpenter.”

More precisely Jesus was a τέκτων/tékton, a “craftsman, artisan”—someone who made stuff. Sometimes in wood… and sometimes in stone. Nowadays Israel has a lot of trees, but that’s because of a serious reforestation campaign the nation started decades ago. Thousands of years before that, the trees had been cleared to turn most of the land into farmland, so by Jesus’s day, not a lot of wood. Lots of stones though—good thing for archaeologists. So Jesus worked with wood, stone, whatever; in general he made stuff. Makes sense; he’s the Creator y’know. Jn 1.3

So he was what we’d nowadays call a contractor. Mk 6.3 Family business, apparently; he did it because his dad did it. Mt 13.55 But by the time we read his teachings in the gospels, that was Jesus’s previous job. He left that job and took up a new one: Jesus was a rabbi. A teacher. Jn 1.38

Yeah, most of you already knew Jesus was a rabbi. Even those of who who responded, “He’s a carpenter.”

So why is everyone’s first response typically, “Ooh! Ooh! Carpenter!” Because it’s kinda obvious he’s a teacher, but “carpenter” feels like more of a trivia question—“Okay, what was Jesus of Nazareth’s little-known vocation? What’d he do for a living? ’Cause the teaching didn’t pay.” Actually it did pay: Rabbis took donations. Usually of food; sometimes of money, sometimes free labor. Some of Jesus’s followers included the women who financially contributed to his teaching, Lk 8.2-3 and also did stuff for him… and got to stick around and listen to what he taught. They were functionally his students, same as his Twelve. (Or at least that’s how Jesus sees them. Lk 10.38-42 Sexists, not so much.)

But “Jesus was a carpenter” actually comes from the statement the folks of his hometown made to belittle him: “Hey, why’re we even listening to this guy? Isn’t he just the handyman?” It’s exactly the same as if the pastor of your church invites a guest speaker to preach, and instead of it being some famous bible scholar it’s the janitor… and the janitor presents you with a truth so challenging, so contrary to your beliefs (yet entirely biblical!), your knee-jerk response is to find any excuse at all to demean him, so you pick on his blue-collar job. “Who’s this guy? Who does he think he is?”

Subtly, a lot of antichrists still maintain this bad attitude about Jesus: He‘s “just” a carpenter. He wasn’t really Christ; that’s some hype his followers made up.

Regardless, “rabbi” is maybe the second thing we list on Jesus’s résumé. Sometimes we remember “king”—when we’ve not presumed that’s merely his future job, and doesn’t apply yet.

Well. I use this example of “Jesus was a carpenter” to point out how frequently we get Jesus wrong. Even on as something as simple as his job description. We think we know him. But we make lots of little slip-ups on very basic data, and repeat the common clichés instead of quoting bible. We trusted what other Christians told us, parrot it, and never bother to double-check it: “Wait, where does it say that in the bible?” Or “Is that what this verse means?”

Ironically this is exactly what a rabbi does for a living: Train students to ask such questions. And we, Jesus’s present-day students, need to ask these questions.

Word!

by K.W. Leslie, 22 December

John 1.1-5.

Many Christians are fascinated by the word “word.” Mostly ’cause of the following passage. It tends to get translated into past-tense verbs, but the aorist verb tense has no time; it’s neither past, present, nor future, but just is. So without other past-tense verbs to set that context for it, I just go with present tense.

John 1.1-5 KWL
1 The word’s in the beginning.
The word’s with God.
The word is God.
2 He’s in the beginning with God.
3 Everything came to be through the word.
Nothing that exists came to be without him.
4 What came to be through him, is life.
Life’s the light of humanity.
5 Light shines in darkness,
and darkness can’t get hold of it.

“The word” John speaks of, existed in the very beginning, is with God, and is God. And around 7BC became the man we know as Christ Jesus of Nazareth.

Why’d the author of John (whom, for tradition’s sake, let’s call St. John) use “word” to describe the pre-incarnate Jesus? For centuries, the assumption was λόγος/lógos came from Greek philosophy. Blame the gentiles: The early church’s writers didn’t know what the Pharisees taught, but they did know Greek philosophy, and insisted on interpreting bible through the lens of their own culture. Christians still do the very same thing today… but that’s a whole other rant. Let’s get back to criticizing ancient Christian gentiles.

Just our luck, ancient Greek philosophers had written a whole bunch of navel-gazing gibberish about the word lógos. ’Cause they were exploring the nature of truth: What is it, how do we find it, how do we prove it, how do we recognize logical fallacies, and what’s the deal with words which can mean more than one thing? For that matter, what’s a “word” anyway? Is it just a label for a thing, or a substantial thing on its own? Maybe that’s why God can create things by merely saying a word. Ge 1.3

And so on. Follow their intellectual rabbit trails, and you’ll go all sorts of weird, gnostic directions. Which is exactly what gentile Christians did.

Now let’s practice some actual logic, and look for once at John’s culture. What’d Pharisees teach about what “word” means? Apparently they had their own interesting ideas behind it.

Jesus’s list of works of the flesh.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 July

Mark 7.17-23, Matthew 15.15-20.

Every so often I bring up a fruit of the Spirit like grace, or a work of the flesh like gracelessness. And no, these aren’t among the fruits and fleshly works Paul listed in Galatians 5. Because, in I said in my article on the topic, it’s not a comprehensive list. Wasn’t meant to be.

Because it’s not in Paul’s list, I’ll get pushback from time to time from a Christian who has the Galatians lists memorized, and has it in their head the lists are comprehensive. “Waitaminnit, that’s not one of the fruits.” And then I have to explain how this particular attitude and behavior has its clear origin in a Spirit-led lifestyle, or Spirit-defying human depravity. Grace should be one of the more obvious ones, ’cause grace is obviously a God thing. But you know how literalists can be. The scriptures gotta literally say it’s a fruit, and if they don’t it’s not.

Sometimes it’s not even about literalism: It’s because they want it to be a comprehensive list. Because they’re doing fleshly stuff, and wanna get away with it. Because there are good behaviors they really oughta develop in their lives, and they don’t wanna. Turning Galatians 5 into a comprehensive list is their loophole, and they’ll fight to the spiritual death to defend it.

Funny; the context of Galatians 5 is the Pharisees and their loopholes. Paul objected to how certain Christians figured grace means we can get away with stuff, ’cause no it doesn’t. And right after Jesus critiqued the Pharisees for the very same attitude, he explained to both his students and the crowd how evil comes from within, not without. It’s not what goes into us which makes us ritually unclean; it’s what comes out. Evil attitudes, intentions, and behaviors defile us. And all of ’em come from the id, from the selfish impulses, from the יֵצֶר הַרַע/yechér ha-ra, from the flesh.

’Cause the Pharisees of Jesus’s day claimed evil comes from the outside in. Entirely wrong. Humans are inherently selfish, but we wanna justify our selfishness so we can (selfishly) feel good about ourselves despite all the destruction we wreak by our self-serving behavior. The result is pretty much all the evil in the world. (The rest comes from natural disasters—some of which human behavior also produces.)

First problem Jesus ran into was his students telling him his lesson had offended the Pharisees. Well, Jesus explained, they’re blind guides. They think they understand God; they really don’t; there’s no telling them anything; forgive it as best you can. Pity the fools.

Second was the students not getting it.

Mark 7.17-18 KWL
17 From the crowd, once Jesus entered the house, his students were asking him what “the parable” meant.
18A Jesus told them, “Don’t you understand this either?”
 
Matthew 15.15-16 KWL
15 In reply Simon Peter told Jesus, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 Jesus said, “Don’t you yet understand either?”

Peter makes it clear they thought this is a parable. It’s not. Jesus’s parables are about his kingdom, and this teaching is about the stuff which keeps people away from his kingdom. So Jesus got blunt: He wants us to understand him, and not weasel out of it by claiming he’s being hyperbolic. He’s not.

Food goes in. Evil comes out.

The Pharisees objected that Jesus didn’t ritually wash his hands. Which is admittedly unsanitary, but they weren’t trying to be sanitary (and since they all dipped their forearms and feet in the same jars, it really wasn’t all that sanitary); it was all about being ritually clean.

The word Pharisees used to describe Jesus and his kids was κοινοῖ/kiní, “common,” which isn’t really an insult unless you have a caste system where Pharisees are nobles in the top rank, and non-Pharisees are commoners in the lowest rank. To them, Jesus was acting like a dirty peasant pagan.

Whereas to Jesus, their ritual washing was all for show anyway. Skipping it didn’t make you “common.” Thinking like a dirty pagan peasant, with a heart full of selfish and depraved ideas, is what did it to you. The show covers up the fact your heart might be full of that selfishness and depravity—but you look good, so nobody can call you on your evil.

Mark 7.18-20 KWL
18B “You know how everything from outside, which goes into the person, can’t make them ‘common’?
19 Because it doesn’t enter their heart, but into the bowels, and goes out into the latrine.
All the food gets cleaned out.”
20 Jesus said this: “What comes out of the person? That makes the person ‘common’.
 
Matthew 15.17-18 KWL
17 “You know how everything which goes in the mouth, enters the bowels and goes down the latrine?
18 What comes out of the mouth, comes out of the heart—and that makes the person ‘common.’ ”

Food passes through your alimentary canal. It doesn’t get to your heart… although if you eat too much of certain types of foods, you’re gonna clog your arteries with plaque. But Jesus isn’t speaking of one’s literal heart, but one’s mind. Your food isn’t gonna make you think and do evil. Your mind will. Your food’s just gonna come out in your poo.

Evil’s far more deeply embedded than that.

Mark 7.21-23 KWL
21 “For evil reasoning comes out from within the person’s heart:
Porn. Theft. Murder. 22 Adultery. Covetousness. Depravity.
Deception. Immorality. Stinginess. Slander. Conceit. Stupidity.
23 All these inner evils come out and make the person ‘common’.”
 
Matthew 15.19-20 KWL
17 “For evil reasoning comes out of the heart:
Murder. Adultery. Porn. Theft. False witness. Slander.
20 These make the person ‘common’. Not washing one’s hands to eat doesn’t make the person ‘common’.”

Like Paul’s list, Jesus’s isn’t comprehensive either. But these are traits we should never see among Christians. When we see the Spirit’s fruit in our lives, we’re clean, kosher, Christian. When we see no evidence of any influence of the Holy Spirit—unchanged, unregenerated, unrepentant, unfruitful people—we’re unclean, treyf, pagan.

Evil reasoning (διαλογισμοὶ πονηροί/dialoyismé poniré, KJV “evil thoughts”) tends to get listed with the others, but really all these things are evil thoughts. And notice how a number of ’em violate the Ten Commandments.

PORN (πορνεῖαι/porneíe, “sex-minded,” KJV “fornications”). Porn refers to any inappropriate sexual activity: People who regularly have sex on the brain, and won’t limit it to monogamy, fidelity, and the considerations of their partner.

Lots of Christians figure sex isn’t an issue once you’re married: Have all the sex you want with your spouse! But you can still be inordinately interested in sex. Some years ago a few famous pastors raised eyebrows by declaring Christian couples need to have sex daily… despite what either partner, usually the under-appreciated wife who now has to submit to her husband’s objectifying lusts, is comfortable with. Look, if the wife doesn’t wanna have sex every day, usually there’s good reason! Her husband probably sucks at ministering to her needs. (And not just her sexual needs; get your mind out of there.) The demand for daily sex is still selfish. Still lacks self-control. Still porn.

Bad Christians dismiss their promiscuity by claiming it’s a form of love. I once met a guy who called himself a “love addict”—by which he meant he couldn’t keep himself from bedding women, despite his marital vows. What he was really addicted to was the thrill of adulterous fornication.

THEFT (κλοπαί/klopé, KJV “thefts”). Refers to whether you’re outright stealing things, or secretly trying to get away with stuff. Getting an unfair advantage over everyone else, getting ahead by misusing other people’s trust. To them, life is war and competition and profit, and if you’re not playing the game you’re a fool.

This looks nothing like the humility, transparency, love, and service Christians oughta see in one another. Yet I’ve been in a few Christian organizations where theft is everywhere: People brought their “business sense” from the “real world” into the environment and corrupted it. But then again they didn’t really bring it in from outside. They justified it on the outside. It was already within them.

MURDER (φόνοι/fónë, KJV “murders”). Thankfully we don’t see a lot of murder among Christians. (Well, not after they turned to Jesus.) There are exceptions, but by and large Christians know better.

Where we don’t know better is when we wish others were dead. We Christians do this all the time. I know from experience: I still know a lot of people who are really interested in politics, and really, really hate the opposition party. And anyone who supports it. And enemies of the United States, both real and imaginary. And so forth.

Jesus equates this hatred with murder. Mt 5.22 If you hate a person enough to wish they were dead, you murder them in your heart, and people with this level of hatred in ’em are unfit for God’s kingdom. Supposed to love our neighbors and enemies, remember?

ADULTERY (μοιχεῖαι/mikheíë, KJV “adulteries”). Our culture’s definition of adultery, and the bible’s, are very different. It was a patriarchal culture, where men were culturally permitted to have sex with anyone they were personally responsible for. God forbade ’em to have sex with relatives and slaves, but they still had polygamy and “concubines”—an old-timey word for “girlfriend.” (I don’t care if your favorite bible dictionary claims it means “secondary wife.” It did not. It meant an unmarried woman with whom a man had sex.)

Adultery in that culture meant having sex with someone who wasn’t yours to have sex with. Someone else’s spouse. Someone else’s significant other. A minor. A relative. A stranger in the pornography you consume (and they’re all strangers, aren’t they?). Rape would also fall into this category. Sexual harassment as well.

There’s a fair amount of overlap between porn and adultery, but Jesus was covering the bases.

COVETOUSNESS (πλεονεξίαι/pleonexíë, KJV “covetousness”). Coveting is simply wanting stuff. Which isn’t in itself a sin, but when you want what you can’t or ought not have, that’s sin. But notice Jesus doesn’t specifically single out the sinful stuff: He lists coveting in general. Simply wanting stuff.

’Cause there are a lot of people who aren’t at all satisfied with what they have. They gotta have more. Could be money, position, authority, honor, special treatment, perqs, benefits, and so forth. Unlike the humble, who are fine with where and who they are, these folks demand whatever they can get. And y’know, certain churches teach we should demand whatever we can get, ’cause we’re God’s kids Mt 7.11, Lk 6.38 and deserve the best of everything.

But in so doing we violate Jesus’s example. Part of the devil’s temptations to Jesus included goading him to demand all the stuff Jesus was due by being God’s son. And Jesus wouldn’t. There’s nothing wrong with asking for daily bread, Mt 6.11 but the self-entitled ask not for a day’s worth, but a pantry’s worth. They justify their greed by pointing out how God has more than enough. He does—but the kingdom’s resources are meant to further the kingdom, not line our pockets.

DEPRAVITY (πονηρίαι/poniríë, KJV “wickedness”). Habitual evil behavior. You know the sort who can’t or won’t quit their vices? They’re not addicted; they just don’t wanna quit. Won’t stop drinking, gambling, red meat, sarcasm, holding grudges, or other bad behavior. They’d rather be destroyed than give it up. It’s freedom! It’s who they are! But it’s wrecking ’em and their relationships—including the relationship with God.

DECEPTION (δόλος/thólos, KJV “deceit”). You know, liars and hypocrites.

IMMORALITY (ἀσέλγεια/asélyeia, KJV “lasciviousness”). People who do as they wish and don’t care who it offends, what biblical commands it violates, who gets offended, whether it’s false or evil: Their heart wants what it wants, so they’ll do as they please.

Sometimes it takes the form of “the greater good” argument, or the ends justifying the means—and in this form it regularly works on Christians. “Yeah, we gotta hide our ministers’ sins—but only so the name of Jesus isn’t dragged through the mud.” It’s never really his name they’re concerned about.

STINGINESS (ὀφθαλμὸς πονηρός/ofthalmós ponirós, KJV “an evil eye”). Yeah, literally it says “evil eye.” A “good eye” and “evil eye” are Hebrew idioms which refer to generosity and stinginess. Hopefully we have good eyes: We give when we can.

The stingy don’t give when they can. Or they give the minimum amount necessary to appear benevolent, like when a billionaire gives a thousand dollars to a charity—a millionth of their money, which they’ll never miss, and can deduct from taxes. They don’t think of money as something God gave them to bless others; if they’re not already worshiping it, they figure money’s something God gave them to bless themselves.

SLANDER (βλασφημία/vlasfimía, KJV “blasphemies”). Slander’s when you falsely accuse anyone. It applies to everyone, not just God. And Christians commit it all the time… usually in the form of gossip.

FALSE WITNESS (ψευδομαρτυρίαι/sevtho-martyríë, KJV “false witness”). Claiming you know something when you don’t. Not necessarily slander, although slander is definitely a form of false witness. Like I said, Jesus was covering his bases.

A pretty common way Christians bear false witness is by spreading internet rumors. We’re really lazy about checking facts, and wind up spreading fake news instead of stopping it in its tracks. But there are people who live for this sort of thing, and will never tell an honest story when a juicy one will do. So this’d be them.

CONCEIT (ὑπερηφανία/yper-ifanía, KJV “pride”). Taking pleasure in our achievements, i.e. pride, isn’t necessarily evil. It’s only when we make too much of ourselves that we’ve crossed the line into conceit: Pride gone too far.

Naturally conceit’s the opposite of humility—of recognizing our true value, which is a fruit of the Spirit. Jesus is humble, Mt 11.29 for he knows precisely who he is. We must remember who we are in his kingdom, and never claim otherwise.

STUPIDITY (ἀφροσύνη/afrosýni, KJV “foolishness”). People who don’t think things through—or don’t think at all. They react. Their lives are reduced to knee-jerk reactions: Either “I like that” or “I don’t like that,” yet they can’t always tell you why they like or dislike things. Or, when they do, it’s usually their favorite talk-radio host’s explanation instead of their own thinking.

God gave us brains, and God grants us wisdom when we ask him for it. Jm 1.5 He expects us to think and reason, and get ourselves out of trouble preventatively, not after the fact. He doesn’t want us to react on instinct; certainly not the selfish instincts we were born with. He wants us to think on what’s good and right and God-pleasing, and thoughtfully respond to the world around us. There are far too many irrational Christians among us, whose first response is based on instinct, and whose second response is to cover up the misbehavior by giving it Christianese names: “That just grieved my spirit, so that’s why I said what I did.” Hogwash: You didn’t think. Confess. Repent. And next time, think.

These things make us unclean.

A Christian is defined by our relationship with God through Christ Jesus. If we have such a relationship, we’re Christians. How do we know, how do we prove, we have such a relationship? We’re fruity. We have the Holy Spirit within us; we follow his guidance and leading; we produce his fruit. Fleshliness suggests, at best, we’re sucky Christians; at worst we’re not Christian at all.

So. If we have any fleshly works in our lives—and every Christian, to some degree, has some—we gotta be rid of them. We gotta make the effort. Which God recognizes, and honors: We’re saved by his grace, and God’s grace is for those who make this effort. But for those who make no effort—who figure baptism, the sinner’s prayer, or good karma is getting them into heaven—they’re betting on the wrong horse. Work the relationship. Fight the works of the flesh. God will help you win.