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

“No weapon formed against you shall prosper.”

by K.W. Leslie, 21 September

Isaiah 54.16.

I’ve lost count of how many times Christians have cited this verse and claimed it for themselves. Or for others, to encourage them. “It says in the bible no weapon formed against me shall prosper. And I believe that, and it won’t!

The verse in question would be this one. I quoted the translation which sounds the most like the way people quote it.

Isaiah 54.16 NKJV
“No weapon formed against you shall prosper,
And every tongue which rises against you in judgment
You shall condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD,
And their righteousness is from Me,”
Says the LORD.

The original saying comes from the KJV’s, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper,” but of course people prefer “you” instead of the out-of-date “thee”—and most other translations like to go with other words than “formed” and “prosper.”

Anyway. Since I can be a smartass y’know, I have tested just what people mean when they quote this verse. “You’re saying no weapon formed against you will prosper. Well I can take this perfectly harmless hair tie” (I have long hair, and I usually have elastic bands on me so I can tie it back) “and form it into a weapon against you.” Here’s where I put it over the tip of my finger and pull back. “If I flick this hair tie at you, are you saying God will miraculously keep it from hitting you?”

Most of them, especially when they’re younger, immediately flinch. Or hold their hands up to block the hair tie. Because confronted with a literal weapon—even though I’m not pointing it at their face; it’s harmless—it turns out no they didn’t mean that.

Well again, depending on how young they are. Little kids sometimes are thinking of literal weapons. Sometimes toy weapons, like sticks and squirt guns and plastic swords. Sometimes not. In the United States, we have school shootings on far too regular a basis; and in nonwhite neighborhoods, too often the police are far more antagonistic than helpful. So sometimes little kids are naïvely thinking maybe, maybe, if they pray really hard, God’ll keep the scary men with guns away.

But for most of us: No they didn’t mean literal weapons. They don’t imagine God’ll stop the fists of an abusive spouse, or the assault rifles of the gun nut next door. Not that he can’t, but that’s not what they had in mind when they were talking about how no weapon formed against ’em would prosper.

So… what, were they saying this for no reason? Not at all. They’re thinking of spiritual weapons. They’re thinking of spiritual warfare. They think God’ll make it so none of those weapons formed against us will prosper. Whereas if Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson, Remington, or Lewis Machine and Tool makes ’em… yeah they’ll most definitely put holes through us. But they aren’t thinking of AR-15s. They’re thinking of the devil’s fiery darts. Ep 6.16

Okay. So if all we’re talking about are the weapons of spiritual warfare, is this verse then valid?

Of course not. You think I’d write an article about its context if it were?

Yahweh-Yireh: God sees us. (And provides… but that’s a different idea.)

by K.W. Leslie, 28 July

Genesis 22.12.

My church’s musicians finally got round to learning “Jireh,” an Elevation Worship song which mixes together the ideas of God being “Jehovah Jireh” and “my grace is sufficient for thee.”

Kinda like the Don Moen’s old song “Jehovah Jireh” did. Here’s the Moen song:

Jehovah Jireh, my provider
His grace is sufficient for me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh, my provider
His grace is sufficient for me
 
My God shall supply all my needs
According to his riches in glory
He will give his angels charge over me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me

And he does! Anyway, y’notice Moen stitched together a couple different things from the scriptures: There’s the name “Jehovah Jireh.” There’s the “grace is sufficient” concept, which comes from when Paul complained to God about something he suffered from, and God’s response was, “I’m not curing that. I want you weak; it reveals my strength. So you’re just gonna have to settle for my grace.” That’s an extremely loose translation of 2 Corinthians 12.9, a verse that’s also heavily quoted out of context, but I’m not discussing that one today.

Oh, and the “supply all my needs” bit comes from Paul and Timothy’s statement to the Philippians at the close of their letter:

Philippians 4.19 KJV
But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

Buncha provision scriptures. Moen’s trying to remind us of a biblical principle which Jesus expressed better in his Sermon on the Mount: Stop worrying. God provides way better than, thus far, you’ve been expecting him to… so stop underestimating your loving Father, stop stressing out, and let him provide.

Matthew 6.25-34 KJV
25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

God provides. And a lot of Christians like to remember that—and love the Moen song—so they’ll call him “Jehovah Jireh.”

But here’s the problem: “My provider” is not what Jireh means. It means “seer.” God sees us.

When the heavens are brass?

by K.W. Leslie, 05 July

Deuteronomy 28.23.

Depending on whether a Christian grew up with the King James Version or the New International Version, we’re sometimes gonna talk about how sometimes “the heavens are brass,” or “the heavens are bronze.” No we don’t mean the sky’s looking kinda gold or yellowish, like a nice sunset or a looming dust cloud. We’re talking about when we talk to God… and we feel like we’re getting back nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Deuteronomy 28.23 KJV
And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron.

But the actual context of this verse isn’t even about prayer. It’s part of a curse Moses spelled out for the Hebrews who were about to enter their promised land: If you dismiss what the LORD tells you, and do evil instead, he’s gonna withdraw his blessings and things are gonna suck. Hard.

Deuteronomy 28.20-24 NLT
20 “The LORD himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed for doing evil and abandoning me. 21 The LORD will afflict you with diseases until none of you are left in the land you are about to enter and occupy. 22 The LORD will strike you with wasting diseases, fever, and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, and with blight and mildew. These disasters will pursue you until you die. 23 The skies above will be as unyielding as bronze, and the earth beneath will be as hard as iron. 24 The LORD will change the rain that falls on your land into powder, and dust will pour down from the sky until you are destroyed.”

Sound familiar? Pandemics, climate change and freaky weather, massive drought? No? Well, this was a warning to Hebrews not Americans. But it wouldn’t hurt to shape up a little.

Anyway when Moses spoke of the “skies above will be as unyielding as bronze,” he meant a sky which produces no rain. In his day, the ancients believed the sky, or firmament, was a solid wall holding back the waters of heaven—but it was porous, so occasionally rain would get through. Well, a bronze shield isn’t porous… unless your opponents have iron arrowheads. But if you were hoping to dig wells in the ground, and get water thataway, guess what that’s gonna be like. Yep, iron.

So yeah, whenever you talk about not hearing back from God, do not make the mistake of saying, “Like when the bible says about heavens like brass.” The bible does refer to that, but it’s about literal drought, not a spiritual one.

Now if you wanna talk about unanswered prayer, the bible does actually have passages on the topic. Quote them. Not the “heavens are brass” part; this ain’t one of them. Capice?

“The least of these my brethren”—as we define brethren.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 June

Matthew 25.40.

There’s some debate as to where out-of-context interpretations of the bible come from. Goes from the extremes of “Every single last one of them comes from the devil,” to “They’re honest mistakes—perpetuated by laziness, ’cause people should bother to double-check the context, and don’t.”

I would say the reality, most of the time, is somewhere in between the two. I seldom think these mistaken interpretations are honest mistakes. Though certainly honest mistakes can happen: You’ll get someone who’s trying to talk about an old biblical concept in a new and different way—which is fine, if you really are teaching the old concept, and not trying to claim the scriptures are saying something which no other Christian has ever noticed. But sometimes a listener will misunderstand you, repeat it to others but get it wrong, and wind up spreading a new, wrong concept. That’s an honest mistake. I’ve done that. (Sorry.)

Thing is, there are people who want the scriptures to say something entirely new. Something which might make their teaching ministry stand out—“Hey, come and listen to this guy who teaches stuff you’ve never heard before!” Something which gets ’em a little notoriety. It’s not about spreading God’s kingdom, but spreading their brand.

And a lot of these new ideas are designed to appeal to people. Specifically, to our flesh. It’s an interpretation which supports their own ideas and prejudices about power, sexual activity, propriety, money, greed, envy, anger, partisanship, separatism, addiction, personal preferences, and self-justification. ’Cause more often not, they were looking for a proof text to help ’em rationalize any of these bad fruits, and this one oughta do the trick.

“Okay,” you might say, “but doesn’t that fleshliness kinda come from the devil?” Perhaps. I tend to say if you’ve flipped the meaning of a verse a full 180 degrees from what the Holy Spirit intends it to mean, that’s a pretty good sign Satan’s mixed up in it. But some of us are plenty evil ourselves. We can go 180 degrees in the wrong direction without any help or temptation from the devil at all. We’re just that depraved.

Today’s article about context gives an example of that kind of depravity. It takes the point of Jesus’s Lambs and Kids Story, and flips it so we don’t have to do for “the least of these.” Well, certainly a lot fewer of them.

To recap: The Son of Man sends his holy angels to sort out humanity like a shepherd sorts lambs from kids (hence the story’s title) and addresses his lambs, “Enter the kingdom, because you did all this compassionate stuff to me.” They respond (because for some reason they’ve never heard this story before), “Wait, what? When’d we ever do for you?” Jesus continues—

Matthew 25.40 KJV
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Let’s pause the story, ’cause you might already know the rest; and if not, go ahead and read it. The point certain Christians wanna make is found in the three words τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου/ton adelfón mu, which the King James Version turns into two words, “my brethren.” We Christians talk about doing compassionate charity work for “the least of these,” but these other Christians point out, “It’s not just ‘the least of these,’ but ‘the least of these my brethren.’ Jesus is talking about charity for his brethren. Not just anyone.”

This is an attitude you’ll find in an awful lot of churches. Not just Jehovah’s Witnesses either; I’ve seen it in way too many Baptist churches, particularly the independent, culty kind. I’ve heard people preach this on the radio, on both Christian stations during preacher shows, and on conservative talk stations. It’s pretty much wherever people wanna justify non-compassionate conservatism. Maybe slip a little Objectivism into the mix. “Don’t give to them: They’re not worthy.”

The prayer of faith will raise him up.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 March

James 5.15.

I once had a classmate who had to use a wheelchair. I don’t know all the details as to why he was in that chair—whether his legs didn’t work, or he couldn’t stay upright. Doesn’t matter. The point is he was in that chair… and it was really hard to talk about Jesus with him, ’cause he was really annoyed with Christians.

Y’see, those of us who believe God still cures people, tried to get God to cure him. “Can I pray for you?” is how it usually starts—although too often they never bothered to ask, and just started praying. And touched his legs uninvited. And exhibited other demonstrative, uncomfortable behaviors; uncomfortable for him, though they certainly didn’t hold back.

He was still in that chair though. The prayers didn’t work.

Of course when things don’t turn out the way we expect, people wanna know why, and some of these wannabe faith-healers claimed to know why: He lacked faith. He didn’t believe God would heal him. He was the problem. Blame the victim.

You can kinda see why he was really annoyed with Christians. I get annoyed by such Christians. They make my job harder. Now I gotta be twice as gracious, twice as nice, just to make up for their dick moves. (And back at this point in my life I wasn’t all that nice.)

“Which goes to show these guys don’t know their bible,” I told my classmate, “because the bible actually says it’s their fault you weren’t healed.”

“How’s that now?” he said. I didn’t have a bible on me, so I loosely told him this story. One day Jesus walks in on a debate his students are having with some scribes, Mk 9.14 and wants to know what’s up. I’ll continue with Matthew’s version of events.

Mark 9.17-19 NLT
14 At the foot of the mountain, a large crowd was waiting for them. A man came and knelt before Jesus and said, 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 So I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”
17 Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon in the boy, and it left him. From that moment the boy was well.
19 Afterward the disciples asked Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we cast out that demon?”
20 “You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”

“The boy didn’t need to have faith,” I pointed out; “I don’t know if he had any idea what was going on; if he was in any position to even have faith. His faith didn’t matter. Your faith didn’t matter. The faith-healer’s faith is what matters, and Jesus’s disciples didn’t have it. So that’s why nothing happened.”

“So those people praying for me are the problem,” he said. “Well I already knew that.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but now you know why. And the next time they wanna blame you for lacking faith, remind ’em of when Jesus raised people from the dead, and ask them how much faith those dead people needed to have.”

Now yeah, there are gonna be Christians who insist the victims do need to have faith before God can heal them; that even Jesus himself can be hindered when people refuse to have it. Mk 6.5, Mt 13.58 I agree people’s faithlessness can get in the way… but I still think the burden is 99.9999 percent on the faith-healer. We mustn’t offer to cure the sick and unwell and infirm, unless we’ve first asked the Holy Spirit, and he’s told us to pray for them. If we’re stepping out ahead of the Spirit, we have no guarantee he’s gonna do a thing. He might! And he might not.

Christians who don’t understand this, regularly have the bad habit of blaming the victim—and quoting today’s out-of-context verse to defend themselves. Not that the verse says what they claim it does. I’ll switch to the KJV to quote it, since that’s the version Christians quote most:

James 5.15 KJV
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

“The prayer of faith shall save the sick,” and their argument is that if the prayer doesn’t save the sick person, it’s because somebody lacked faith. It’s kinda obvious from the text that James means the prayer has to be of faith; the person doing the praying has to have faith; it’s not the sick person!

But wannabe faith healers are gonna insist they totally do have faith, so they can’t be to blame. So it’s gotta be someone else. The sick person, likely.

Receiving not our witness.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 March

John 3.11.

Sometimes you share the gospel with someone… and they’re not interested.

To be fair, sometimes they didn’t ask you to share the gospel: You just kinda imposed it on them. “Lemme tell you about Jesus,” and before they could agree or say “No thank you,” off you went. Or you presented the gospel as, “If you were to die this very minute, do you know whether you’d be in heaven?”—as if that’s the only thing the gospel is: Afterlife insurance.

Whether you did it right, or did it intrusively, or emphasized popular dark Christian fears instead of good news: They’re not interested. You offer to lead ’em in the sinner’s prayer; they don’t care to pray that. You invite ’em to church; they’re not coming. No thank you. Pass. I’m happy with how things are.

Some Christians take this rejection kinda hard. Especially when, for various reasons, they were sure they were gonna lead this person to Jesus. Or really wanted to. Or thought they heard the Holy Spirit tell them to share Jesus. Others of them take every rejection hard, as if every no is a personal defeat in spiritual hand-to-hand combat with Satan itself.

And when they take it hard, they tend to get petty about it. And quote today’s out-of-context scripture to justify themselves: “We shared the gospel, but they didn’t wanna hear it. They wouldn’t receive our witness.” Sometimes they straight-up quote the entire verse.

John 3.11 KJV
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.

The verse isn’t about evangelism. It’s about Jesus teaching the Galileans and Judeans about himself and God, but the Judeans—particularly the Judean leadership—didn’t care to hear him, because they had their own ideas about how Messiah and God work. There was one Judean senator who wanted to hear him out, and he’s the guy to whom Jesus said this. The rest weren’t receptive.

True, when we talk about Jesus with other people, a number of ’em likewise have their own ideas about who Jesus is, and don’t wanna hear our views because they “don’t follow organized religion.” They prefer how they organized things. Only in these cases are we even approaching the same thing Jesus is speaking of in John 3.11.

The rest of the time, it’s just people who dismissed the gospel. And in quoting this scripture, we’re being such drama queens about it. Calm down, little snowflake. You need to learn to deal with rejection better.

Lifting Jesus up—in worship, or in crucifixion?

by K.W. Leslie, 23 March

John 12.32.

When I first wrote about out-of-context scriptures, I dealt with the misquotes I heard most often. Like taking the Lord’s name in vain, or God’s word not returning void, or when two or three gather in Jesus’s name, or God making all things work for our good. There are dozens.

I don’t hear any of them misquoting today’s verse.

I have no reason to believe people don’t do it; people will misquote anything. It’s just I haven’t caught ’em doing it. I got the verse from an internet search I did years ago for “Most common verses Christians take out of context.” It turned up a bunch of listicles, and John 12.32 shows up in a number of them. (I kinda wonder whether the people who write these listicles aren’t just swiping ideas from one another. “Um… I can only think of nine out-of-context scriptures; what’s a tenth? Better Google it.”)

But it’s not been on my radar. Here it is though.

John 12.32 KJV
And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

Okay. I have heard plenty of Christians, including myself, talk about “lifting up the name of Jesus.” We’re talking about exalting Jesus—giving him honor, worshiping him, praising him, spreading the good news about him, treating him with respect, and so forth. Exalting Jesus is what we Christians do. We praise him ’cause he’s awesome. We hope our praises—multiplied by our good deeds—might get pagans to give Jesus a second look, and maybe come to exalt him themselves.

But we don’t use John 12.32 as our proof text. Well I don’t, anyway.

Here’s what I suspect: People assume that’s our proof text, because our “lifting up” language sounds an awful lot like a reference John 12.32. So every time someone speaks of lifting up the name of Jesus, we’re indirectly quoting that verse.

Nope. I’m not. I don’t have that verse in mind at all. Pretty sure no one does.

But let’s not rule out the possibility. Maybe someone, when they read John 12.32, think the scripture is about praising Jesus: If we lift him up—in praise—it’ll draw people to Jesus. I’ve never heard anyone preach this, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if someone did preach this. It’s not at all what the verse is about, but since when has that stopped anyone?

If you know of anyone misquoting the verse to mean something else, by all means let me know. The listicles were no help.

“The Lord will fight for you.” Or not.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 February

Exodus 14.14.

From time to time you’ll hear a Christian claim, “I was reading my bible this morning, and after I read this verse, I just felt this verse resonate with my spirit. Like God telling me, ‘This verse is for you.’ I know; it means something else in context. But this verse is also for me.”

Yep. It’s how people totally acknowledge that a proof text does not mean what they claim it means—but that doesn’t matter. They were granted a special dispensation from the Holy Spirit to cancel its original meaning, and change it to something they like much better.

Imagine a preacher who told you this before he presented a sermon or bible lesson. “I realize some of you are gonna say, ‘Pastor, I looked in my bible and that verse doesn’t mean what you say it means.’ Well no, it’s not gonna look like it does. But the Holy Spirit within me declares it does mean what I say it means, and you need to trust his wisdom instead of man’s wisdom.” I guarantee you the Holy Spirit is telling him no such thing. And this preacher’s church, unless they ditch him for better teachers, is gonna turn into a cult. Wherever preachers regularly get away with nullifying God’s word in favor of their own ideas, you get cults.

But the reason Christians let their preachers get away with stuff like this, is because they do it themselves. We find a verse in the bible, realize once you pry it away of its settings it suits us just right, and make that our “life verse”—and claim it does apply to us, because we want it to apply to us.

Today’s out-of-context scripture is just such a “life verse.”

Exodus 14.14 NIV
“The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

In context it’s Moses and the Hebrews, who’d just left Egyptian slavery and were headed for Palestine; but at this point they were standing at the edge of the Red Sea, and the Egyptian pharaoh and his army are headed their way. They were understandably terrified. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” complained some of the more sarcastic types to Moses. Ex 14.11 ’Cause yeah, it looked like there was gonna be a slaughter.

Moses’s response was the LORD was gonna save them, and the LORD’s response to Moses was to tell him to stretch his staff over the sea, which would part. You know the story. If you don’t, read your bible. And of course there are movies.

So is verse 14 about the LORD fighting for me? Nope. Fighting for you? Nope. Even if you really, really want him to? Still nope.

What about if the Spirit within you tells you he’s gonna make that verse apply to you? That the LORD is gonna fight for you, and you need only be still?

Well first I would say make sure that’s the Spirit telling you so. Confirm it with another Christian who hears the Spirit. Because until you successfully do so, for all we know you’re just having a sock-puppet “conversation with God,” in which “he” tells you everything you wish to hear—but it was never God.

“God is within her; she shall not fall.”

by K.W. Leslie, 09 February

Psalm 46.5.

I hadn’t heard of this out-of-context verse before, ’cause it appears to mainly be misquoted by fans of the New International Version. I grew up among King James Version fans (and some of ’em were KJV-Only, which is a whole other problem) and while we might misinterpret the verse too, we’re not gonna misinterpret it quite like this.

One of TXAB’s loyal readers informed me of the problem. Seems a woman in her bible study group has adopted the belief that once we become Christian, once the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us, we gain an infallible ability to understand and interpret scripture.

Okay. Seeing as there are thousands of denominations of Christian, some of whom really don’t get along (even though we should) because we have such very different understandings of scripture, it’s pretty obvious the Spirit grants us no such power. There’s an old Pharisees joke that when you put two Pharisees together, you wind up with three different opinions. No, that’s not a typo: Three. And the very same thing can be said about Christians. But if there was such a thing as Spirit-empowered infallibility, we’d all be in absolute sync with Jesus, right? It’d be so monolithic, it’d scare people. Although if it’s Jesus’s thinking, there’s actually nothing to fear. He’s Jesus, remember? We wouldn’t be evil jerks. We’d be good!—like Jesus.

But nope, we’re usually wrong. We gotta make an effort to correct our ways of thinking, and get in sync with Jesus—and some of us are gonna make loads of errors along the way, because popular Christian culture has a lot of horsepucky mixed in with the chocolate pudding. We’re gonna think, “But everybody thinks Jesus means this,” and it turns out “everybody” really means “all the Christians I know,” which is a long long way from everybody.

Given all this evidence, it’s hard to fathom anybody can make the claim of Spirit-empowered infallibility. Unless of course you think you’re the only one with this gift: You’re the only human on earth (or one of the very, very few) granted the power to always know how the Spirit thinks, what the bible means, and what to do. You’re like the best prophet ever. You’re the Christian version of Muhammad, or Joseph Smith.

Well, more accurately you’re a giant narcissist. What we should see in Christians is humility, not claims of infallibility.

The woman who claims infallibility, points to this scripture to back up her claim:

Psalm 46.5 NIV
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

And of course it’s not talking about her. As is made obvious by the verse right before it.

Psalm 46.4-5 NIV
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

“Her” refers to “the city of God, the holy place,” by which the sons of Korah mean Jerusalem and its temple. Yes, the pronoun in the original Hebrew is the suffix הּ/-ah, “her,” but that’s because ancient Hebrew’s nouns have masculine and feminine genders, and עִיר/iyr, “city” is a feminine noun. Still kinda is in English, because a lot of people refer to their cities, states, and nations as “her.” Jerusalem is the “her” the psalmists mean.

Not the individual Christian.

“The truth will set you free.”

by K.W. Leslie, 08 February

John 8.32.

After I got my journalism degree, I went to a bible college to get a biblical and theological studies degree. People are sometimes surprised by this, as if it’s a huge shift in studies. Nah. They’re both pursuits of truth, y’know.

Anyway, at that bible college I became editor of the school newspaper (’cause I did have a journalism degree, y’know). When I redesigned the nameplate, I knocked around the idea of tacking a bible verse onto it… and originally went with John 8.32.

John 8.32 NIV
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Which is not at all a verse about journalism. Yep, I took it out of context. Bad biblical studies major.

I’m hardly the first Christian to do it. People love to quote that verse whenever the subject of truth comes up. Sometimes they quote the entire verse, but most of the time they shorten it to “Truth will set you free.” Hey, it’s from the bible; the bible says truth will set you free! And sometimes they notice it’s written in the bible in red letters: Hey, Jesus says truth will set you free!

And y’know what else: Often the truth does set you free. Especially if you’ve been lying your head off, trying to keep secrets, and the stresses of juggling so many lies is wearing you down. Or if you’ve been lied to, and don’t know why problem after problem keeps cropping up, because you don’t realize these problems are the effect of the lies you’ve been told. Like a husband who cheated on his wife, gave her a social disease, and she doesn’t know why she’s now sick all the time. Truth would be freeing in a lot of ways, for the both of them.

But not every truth is freeing. In an oppressive society, under a totalitarian government, truth is not freeing; truth gets you jailed and killed. The government doesn’t want its citizens to know truth; it wants them to know only what it figures will make them productive and comfortable.

And even in a free society, people really do love their comfortable lies. Back to that problematic couple: Once the wife finds out her husband is a rotten cheater, it’s probably the end of her marriage. It’s gonna take a lot for her to ever trust him again. Especially if he’s got a number of other secrets he’s keeping from her, like how deeply in debt they are, how little he’s actually working, and of course the grandfather clock in the study is the secret entrance to the Batcave. True, before she learned the truth, her life was based on a lot of lies, but they were comfortable lies. And in fact she might prefer those comfortable lies; so much, she’s willing to pretend they’re true. There are a lot of people who deliberately turn a blind eye to reality because they actually feel more free under lies. It’s nuts, but true.

But back to my point: Jesus is not talking about truth in general. Not talking about any and every kind of truth. The passage is about a very specific truth, and that truth will make us free. Applying this verse willy-nilly to any and every kind of truth, means we’re gonna miss Jesus’s point. Truth is important, but his truth takes far greater precedence. And truth may often be freeing, but his truth makes people free.

Elisha’s double portion.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 February

2 Kings 2.9-10.

The first time I heard of a “double portion” had to do with food. You’re dividing up the pizza; you want two slices instead of just one; how come Dad gets two slices and you don’t? But no, that’s not what it refers to in the bible.

The first time I heard of double portions in the bible, was in Sunday school. It was a lesson our overeager youth pastor taught us about the eighth-century BC prophet Elijah of Tishbe, the guy who stopped the rain for three years, and made a gentile widow’s food last way longer then it shoulda, and called down fire on both altars and men. And when it was time for Elijah to get raptured, he handed off his job to his apprentice Elisha ben Shaphat, and they had this conversation:

2 Kings 2.9-10 KJV
9 And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. 10 And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.

Elisha, explained our excited youth pastor, asked for twice the spirit of Elijah. Twice the anointing. Double the power!

And after he watched Elisha ascend to heaven, he got it! As proven by the fact Elijah performed seven miracles in the bible, but Elijah performed twice that number, a whopping 14. (True, one of ’em took place after Elisha died, when a corpse came back to life after touching his bones. 2Ki 13.21 But it totally counts.)

Some years later I became Pentecostal. Unlike my previous church, Pentecostals correctly understand the spirit who empowered Elijah is the Holy Spirit; that every time a human being does miracles they’re doing it in the Holy Spirit’s power, ’cause he’s the one who inspired 1Pe 1.21 and empowered 1Co 12.11 prophets. So their spin on “the double portion” isn’t that Elisha was granted twice Elijah’s spirit, but twice the Holy Spirit.

No, this doesn’t mean there were two Holy Spirits knocking around inside Elisha. There’s only one God. It only means the Spirit empowered him twice as much as he did Elijah. Elisha became twice as miraculous. Twice as prophetic.

For fun, let’s say one of Elisha’s students made this same request of him. Theoretically this student could’ve received twice Elisha’s anointing. Elisha did 14 miracles; Elisha’s successor could’ve performed 28 of them. And if this successor passed a double-portion anointing along to a third guy, that guy could’ve done 56 miracles. His successor, 112 miracles. The next successor, 224 miracles. And so on, and so on.

A thousand generations later, devout descendants of Elijah’s anointing and Elisha’s double anointing, could potentially perform so many miracles, they’d do ’em by accident. Sneeze in an elevator, and everybody steps out totally cured of their allergies. Fart and everyone’s gastroenteric problems are gone. And so forth.

How sad, this Pentecostal lamented, that people didn’t have the faith to keep pursuing this “double portion anointing.” They could’ve doubled the miracles in the world with every successive generation.

How sad, I’ve learned since, that people keep repeating this old, and stupid, Christian cliché. ’Cause it proves they’ve clearly not read the other parts of the bible, which clear up precisely what a “double portion” is. Heck, they’ve probably heard it explained before, but some mental disconnect keeps ’em from applying it to the Elijah/Elisha story.

The appearance of evil.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 February

1 Thessalonians 5.22.

I’ve said many times before: The King James Version is a very good bible translation. Problem is, it’s a 407-year-old bible translation. Therefore it uses the English of William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson… and arguably William Tyndale, who first started translating the New Testament for English-speaking commoners in 1522. A lot of the KJV is still phrased exactly the same as Tyndale’s version.

Five-century-old English is not the American English we use today. ’Cause language evolves. If you have kids of your own, you’ve heard it happen with your very ears: People redefine words to suit themselves, and if their redefinition catches on, that’s the new definition. Oh, you might hate it—like when literally grew to mean “well, not literally.” But it doesn’t matter how much you rail against it: Language is defined by popular vote, and if you’re in the minority, you lose. Sorry.

So, many of the words in the Tyndale’s bible no longer mean what they did in 1522. Heck, they no longer meant that in 1611, when the KJV was published. Like this verse.

1 Thessalonians 5.22 Tyndale
Abstain from all suspicious thing.

How would you define a “suspicious thing”? Well in the early days of the English Reformation, when Anglicans under Henry 8 were murdering Catholics, Catholics under Mary 1 were murdering Anglicans, and Anglicans under Elizabeth 1 went back to murdering Catholics, all sorts of behavior was “suspicious”—including the legitimate worship of Christ Jesus by either church. If you didn’t do it Catholic-style when the Catholics were in power, they’d kill you; if you didn’t do it Anglican-style when the Anglicans were in power, they’d kill you. It’s a problematic translation, so by the time of James 6, the verse was updated to this:

1 Thessalonians 5.22 KJV
Abstain from all appearance of evil.

And now that has become a problematic translation. When the KJV used it, it meant the act of becoming visible: When you make an appearance at a social function, you’ve shown up and people can see you. Well, in this verse the apostles instruct the Thessalonians that whenever evil shows up and people can see it, stay away. But in our present day appearance has another, more common definition… and that’s the one people assume the KJV was using. It means the act of looking like something else. Of seeming.

And that’s why plenty of Christians read this verse, and claim, “Stay away from anything which seems evil.” It might not actually be evil; it might be benign; it might even be good—but because it looks evil, because the public believes it to be evil, stay away. Have nothing to do with it. Keep your reputation intact.

One is holiness. The other hypocrisy.

“If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

by K.W. Leslie, 07 October

2 Thessalonians 3.10.

Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this verse quoted by people who don’t wanna give to the needy:

2 Thessalonians 3.10 KJV
For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

Years ago, beggars used to sit at the entrance to every grocery store parking lot, with a sign saying “Help me” or “Looking for work” or some sad story which might get people to give ’em their spare change. That’s not hyperbole: Every grocery store parking lot. They were everywhere. So the city council passed an ordinance: Can’t beg within 40 feet of a driveway or intersection.

Not every beggar knows this, of course. A few weeks ago I walked past a woman begging at the edge of a driveway. I tried to warn her what she was doing was illegal, but she didn’t listen. Pretty sure she listened to the cops which later came by and ticketed her. I’ve seen ’em do it to other beggars.

I don’t know how much they get from sitting there. I know someone who tried to do the math: “If five people give them five dollars every hour, that’s $25 an hour, so $200 a day…” Assuming they’re willing to sit there eight full hours, and assuming people give ’em any more than spare change or a dollar. I once watched a beggar outside a church parking lot, and only two people gave her anything; and one gave her blankets not money.

Regardless, their existence really irritates people. Not because these people are outraged by the plight of the poor in this country. They’re really not. They’ve swallowed the party line that if you’re poor, it’s somehow your own fault. Time and chance didn’t happen to you; you merit your poverty by being lazy, or not fighting off your addictions, or refusing every legitimate agency’s efforts to help you. If you appear to be able-bodied, it really bugs ’em. God forbid you carry an iPhone (even if somebody gave it to you): “What’re they doing with an iPhone? Don’t give to them. They’re just scamming you.”

The general consensus is if you don’t have a job, it’s only because you refused to get one. Or refused to be a reliable employee, so you were fired; or you’re mentally ill but refused your meds. You’ve no excuse for your poverty, and your poverty is simply an obvious display of karmic justice. You’re poor because you’re not worthy. If you were worthy, you’d go get help!

Plus isn’t this principle in the bible somewhere? “If any would not work, neither should he eat.” Because the LORD God did declare back in Genesis,

Genesis 3.19 KJV
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Work is mandatory. It’s part of the curse upon Adam and all humanity for sin. These beggars clearly weren’t sweating for their bread. (Although to be fair, neither are those of us with white-collar jobs.) So how dare we interfere with God’s decree? We sweat for our bread; they should sweat for their bread. And if you’re one of those bleeding-hearts who give to beggars, you realize you’re just undermining God’s decree. You think you’re being kind and generous, but you’re encouraging laziness and dependency. Bad Christian.

These are just two of the many passages of the bible, misappropriated so we can justify our lack of compassion.

Can God’s word “return void”?

by K.W. Leslie, 17 March

Isaiah 55.11.

So one night I and my friend Jason (not his real name, and you’ll soon see why) were walking from the car to the coffeehouse. Enroute some vagrant asked us for spare change. Jason got it into his head this was a “divine opportunity”: It’s time to proclaim the gospel to this person! It’s time to get him saved.

That’s how we wasted the next 15 minutes. Yep, wasted. Because the vagrant was. Either he was drunk, or off his meds, or had recently suffered a head injury, or otherwise had some condition which made him incoherent. Jason asked him questions to determine whether he understood the gospel… and the guy would start rambling about how he believed men and women should be together. In which context I don’t know. (Hey, this article is about context, so I had to bring it up at some point.)

Jason kinda had this poor guy cornered in a doorway, pressuring him for some sorta confession of faith. Finally, after he extracted something he considered satisfactory, we went and got that coffee. And debated whether the interaction did the poor vagrant any good.

“He’s not gonna remember any of that in the morning,” I commented.

“He will so!” Jason insisted. “That’s the word of God in him now. It won’t return void.”

If you’re not familiar with Christianese you may not understand the “return void“ bit. I once had a pastor try to explain it this way: “It’s like you send someone a check, but they don’t cash it and send it back to you with ‘void’ written on the front of it.” Why anyone would do this, I don’t know. But no, it’s not what the verse means. Here’s the verse:

Isaiah 55.11 KJV
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

Here’s what Jason, and plenty of Christians like him, believes: Let’s say we share Jesus with someone, but the someone won’t believe what we tell them, no matter what. Well, take comfort in the fact God’s word—which is what we shared with them, ’cause it’s either based on bible, or contains a whole lot of bible quotes—doesn’t “return void.” It does exactly what it’s meant to, and puts the gospel in ’em. Even though it totally doesn’t appear to, ’cause the person resists it for years, it eventually worms into their soul and does something to ’em. It just does.

Why’s this? ’Cause it’s God’s word. So it’s been infused with supernatural divine power.

Lucifer: The myth the devil used to be a big deal.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 March

Isaiah 14.12-15.

Where’d the devil come from? Bible doesn’t say.

No it doesn’t. I know; popular Christian culture insists the devil’s origins are totally spelled out in the bible. When I ask ’em to point me to chapter and verse, they gotta track it down—really, they gotta Google the word “Lucifer”—but that’s where they invariably point me. Here, they insist, is where the devil went wrong.

Isaiah 14.12-15 KJV
12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!
how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God:
I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell,
to the sides of the pit.

You gotta quote it in King James Version, because most other translations don’t bother to keep it “Lucifer.” They insist on translating it as other things: “Morning star” (NIV, The Voice), “bright morning star” (GNT), “Day Star” (ISV, ESV, NRSV, NJB, The Message), “star of the morning,” (NASB), “shining star” (NLT), “shining morning star” (HCSB), “shining one” (NET), and so forth.

Y’ever wonder why these bibles insist on translating it other ways? Not, like KJV-worshipers claim, because they’re trying to conceal the devil. ’Cause if that was the plan, it failed. People quote this passage at me in plenty of other translations, and still claim it’s about Satan.

The reason other bibles render it differently is ’cause it’s not a proper name. It looks like a proper name: הֵילֵ֣ל בֶּן שָׁ֑חַר/Heylél ben Šakhár, or “Heylel son of Sakhar.” But neither Heylel nor Sakhar are names. It means “shining one, son of dawn.” It’s poetry—and it refers to the morning star, the planet Venus when it’s visible around sunrise. Heylél was what the ancient Hebrews called it.

In the Septuagint it’s translated eosfóros/“morning-bringer,” another word for fosfóros/“light-bringer,” the morning star. And in the Vulgate it’s translated lucifer/“light-bringer,” which is what Latin-speakers called it.

But like I said, it’s poetry. It’s not directly addressed to the morning star. It’s addressed to the guy Isaiah was calling the morning star in this prophecy, which he prefaced with the following statement:

Isaiah 14.3-4 KWL
3 On the day the LORD gives you rest from your pain, dread, the hard service you worked,
4A take up this saying to the king of Babylon.

This king didn’t exist yet. Isaiah’s instructions were for future generations of Hebrews, who were gonna grow up in Babylon after Nabú-kudúrri-usúr (NIV “Nebuchadnezzar”) dragged their ancestors there. But once the Neo-Babylonian Empire fell to the Persians in 539BC, it’d be whichever king was still in charge. Possibly Nabú-naïd (Latin Nabonidus), but really this prophecy applies to the arrogance of just about all Babylon’s kings. Nebuchadnezzar as well.

So yeah, “lucifer” is meant to describe the king of Babylon. As some translations make it obvious:

Isaiah 14.12 GNT
King of Babylon, bright morning star, you have fallen from heaven! In the past you conquered nations, but now you have been thrown to the ground.

But good luck telling that to some Christians. They grew up believing this verse is about Satan. They’re not giving up this idea without a fight.

“You have not because you ask not.”

by K.W. Leslie, 11 November

James 4.2.

Here’s a phenomenon I come across a little too often: Someone’s in need. They bring up their need to fellow Christians. And the fellow Christians respond, “Have you asked God to help you with that? ’Cause if you ask, he’ll help. You’re in need because you haven’t asked God about it. ‘You have not because you ask not.’ ”

Me, I’m pretty sure the needy person has asked God for help. Whenever I’m in need, he’s my go-to. I go to other people second. And no, not because other people suck: I wanna see if I can achieve it myself first, or I can achieve it with God’s help first. I guess it comes from the American ideal of self-sufficiency… although I admit it’s not always the wisest ideal. Some burdens ought to be shared.

And likewise some people try to avoid burdens whenever they can. That, more often than not, is the real motivation behind Christians telling the needy, “So have you asked God about it?” They don’t wanna help.

But let’s set them aside for a moment, and deal with the fact the quote they’ve used, “You have not because you ask not,” is only part of a bible verse. It’s missing the other part. The whole of the verse goes like yea:

James 4.2 KJV
Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

…Gee, that’s not all that encouraging of a bible verse.

Which is why people tend to skip the first part of the verse, if they know it. More often they don’t know it. They only know the “You have not because you ask not” part.

“Money is the root of all evil.”

by K.W. Leslie, 07 October

1 Timothy 6.10.

This is rather well-known out-of-context scripture. So well known in fact, your average Christian already knows it’s taken out of context, and many a pagan likewise knows better. It’s the common proverb “Money is the root of all evil,” and it’s a misquote of something Paul wrote to Timothy:

1 Timothy 6.10 KJV
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

It’s the love of money. Not money itself. Money is morally neutral. But loving money—especially when people love it more than God, their neighbors, their own lives and health and reputation and integrity—certainly produces evil.

Now yeah, many a Christian (especially when they’re really kinda Mammonist) read the King James Version and balk: “All evil? I don’t think every evil in the world is based on the love of money. I can think of a few evils which had nothing to do with money. Like adultery; that’s more about loving nooky.” So as a result we got other translations of the bible which don’t say all.

1 Timothy 6.10 NKJV
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

But notice the words “kind of” have to be in gray (or, in other editions, in italics) because they have to be added to the text. ’Cause the original Greek has ῥίζα γὰρ πάντων τῶν κακῶν ἐστιν ἡ φιλαργυρία/rhídza gar pánton ton kakón estin i filaryiría, “For the root of all the evil is money-love.”

So no, Paul didn’t say money-love is the root of many kinds of evil. He flat-out wrote it’s the root of all the evil.

But hold up: Neither did he say money-love is the root of all evil. It’s the root of all the evil. All which evil?

Um… all the evil he was just writing about in the previous verse. Which you probably didn’t read, ’cause we just pulled this verse straight out of its context. In context, you’ll see Paul was writing about people who wanna be rich—and the root of all their evil, is the love of money. Not the root of humanity’s evil. He didn’t write this verse to be universally applied to everybody. (Not even if you add the words “all kinds” to make it sound like it’s universally applicable. Bad translators! No doughnut for you.)

1 Timothy 6.9-10 KJV
9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

The pursuit of Mammon, the worship of Mammon, trips people into all sorts of failings and compromises and corruptions. And the root of all this evil is the love of Mammon. It’s not safe to love money!

Back to the bad interpretations, and bad bible translations. Poke around and you’ll find a lot of translations have compromised this verse by making it read, “all kinds of evil”—as if not every failing of a Mammonist stems from money-worship. Bible Gateway has a bigger list.

AMPLIFIED. For the love of money [that is, the greedy desire for it and the willingness to gain it unethically] is a root of all sorts of evil…
CSV, NRSV. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…
ESV. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.
GOOD NEWS. For the love of money is a source of all kinds of evil.
ISV, NIV, WEB For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
NASB. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil…
NLT For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

It blurs Paul’s obvious intent in writing what he did to Timothy. All so we don’t leap to the conclusion—based on an out-of-context reading of the verse—that every evil in humanity stems from money. Of course not every evil does. The serpent didn’t tempt Eve with the fruit’s cash value! But that’s not even what the verse is about.

“But Jesus was a jerk sometimes.”

by K.W. Leslie, 14 July

Probably the Christian jerk’s favorite excuse for their awful behavior is Jesus himself: He’s a bit of a jerk sometimes, they’ll argue. Therefore sometimes (although it’s way more often than sometimes) it’s all right if they get a little bit jerkish.

Since when is Jesus ever a jerk? Well, they got proof texts.

Let me preemptively say they really don’t. They’ve got Jesus stories where yes, he can be accused of rude, harsh, thoughtless, dickish behavior. But this interpretation is entirely based on the presumption Jesus had a bad attitude: People pissed him off, so he was clapping back at them. Despite having God’s very nature, he decided to act entirely unlike himself, and be fruitless instead of fruity.

Why do they presume Jesus had a bad attitude? ’Cause they have a bad attitude. ’Cause they’re projecting their own bad attitudes upon Jesus. The gospels don’t remind us of his motives and character in every single story; the authors figured we oughta know Jesus already, or at least we oughta hear the stories from someone who does. They didn’t take into account all the selfish people who spin Jesus wrong in order to justify their own fruitless behavior.

And that’s what we have in all the Jesus stories they use to defend themselves: Misinterpretations. Every last one of ’em.

If you truly follow Jesus, you know what he’s like. He’s loving, patient, kind, generous. He’s thoughtful, not reckless. He’s self-controlled, not impulsive; especially not angrily impulsive; he gets ahold of himself so that love, not anger, is his driving force. Really love’s his only driving force.

If your interpretation of Jesus has him acting with any other motives, you don’t know him. Get to know him.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”

Every Christian jerk’s favorite proof text is Matthew 23, where according to popular interpretation, Jesus has absolutely had it with the Pharisee and their scribes, and tears ’em a new one. This is the “woe to you” chapter, and the way people like to imagine Jesus, he’s just livid with rage and bile. Here’s a few pull quotes.

Matthew 23.13 NIV
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”
 
Matthew 23.27-28 NIV
27 ““Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
 
Matthew 23.33 NIV
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”

Pretty much every translation from the King James onward has thrown in a number of exclamation points, ’cause they wanna give you the idea Jesus was yelling his head off at them. That’s how popular Christian culture has chosen to interpret Matthew 23, and far be it from them to disagree. To most, Jesus is cursing the Pharisees, calling down woes upon them in condemnation of their hypocritical behavior.

That’s not accurate. The bit the NIV renders “Woe to you” is οὐαὶ ὑμῖν/ue ymín. The ue is actually a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word אוֹי/oy. We have that word in English, ’cause Yiddish-speakers used it so often: “Oy vey,” meaning “woe to me.” No, those who say “oy vey” aren’t cursing themselves; they’re expressing their own misery. Life is rough, and they’re lamenting this.

The Good News Translation puts it a little better:

Matthew 23.33 GNT
25 “How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You clean the outside of your cup and plate, while the inside is full of what you have gotten by violence and selfishness. 26 Blind Pharisee! Clean what is inside the cup first, and then the outside will be clean too!”

I mean it is terrible for them that their hypocrisy blinds ’em to the fact they’re not as good as they imagine. But again, Christians have traditionally read our own bad attitudes into Jesus’s statements, and assume he’s lecturing them. In reality he’s diagnosing them. This is what’s wrong with too many Pharisees: They focus on looking outwardly devout, but they’re not any more fruitful than before. Christian jerks are exactly the same.

Those who claim Jesus is raging at Pharisees, really don’t understand what he’s doing. He’s lamenting too. He’s weeping in dismay and frustration. As is obvious from how he ends his rant:

Matthew 23.37 GNT
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!”

He’s a spurned father, not an angry crank. Anybody who thinks otherwise is projecting.

And anyone who knows what Jesus is actually doing, but doesn’t care because it doesn’t let ’em get away with being a Christian jerk, is just as much a hypocrite.

Flipping tables, cursing trees, rude names, dead pigs, and the poor.

Moving along, we got Jesus flipping tables in temple. This one’s real popular with jerks who like to pick fights: Jesus got to whip people, so why not they? But double-check that story: Jesus doesn’t appear to whip anyone. Nor does anyone arrest him, or object that he shouldn’t do as he just did. They wanna know who gave him authority to act, Jn 2.18 but they never object and say he did wrong. Because those who ran the concessions legitimately weren’t supposed to be where Jesus found ’em. Jesus simply did the temple cops’ job for them.

There’s where Jesus was annoyed, so he killed a fig tree. Mk 11.12-14 Which strikes me as a little strange when people comment, “Aww, the poor tree.” Jesus used to be a carpenter; he had to get wood from somewhere, so this can’t possibly be the only tree he ever killed! But I think it’s the fact Jesus killed it with words alone which make people pay attention. Words can hurt as well as heal, and in this story Jesus demonstrates this profoundly—and that’s the point. Mk 11.20-24 People miss this point, assume Jesus killed the tree for petty reasons, figure that permits them to be petty… and no, that’s not the point either.

There’s the story of Jesus and the Syrian Greek woman who wanted Jesus to cure her daughter, and Jesus called her a dog. Mt 15.22-28 Most Christians realize Jesus wasn’t really being racist; he was testing whether her pride would get in her own way. It didn’t.

There’s Jesus calling Antipas Herod a fox, Lk 13.32 which is kinda like how we nowadays call somebody a weasel: It’s a sneaky, thieving, ignoble animal. Doesn’t show a lot of respect for his king. (To be fair, Jesus is the proper king, and Herod was a weasely, murderous politician.) I should point out “fox” is as bad as Jesus gets in his descriptions of others, whereas Christian jerks say far, far worse. And we often slander our political opponents, just ’cause they’re on the wrong team. Calling a weasel a weasel was at least honest of Jesus; jerks can’t even do that.

Lastly I’ll point out Jesus letting demons kill a few thousand pigs. This one, jerks tend to skip ’cause they never realize how useful it can be to justify serious property damage. It can’t have gone over well with the Syrian Greeks who owned those pigs; it implies some thoughtlessness on Jesus’s part, ’cause he should’ve known the evil spirits would’ve slaughtered them. But we actually don’t know whether the evil spirits killed themselves… or whether the pigs chose to kill themselves rather than be possessed. Bible doesn’t say. And Jesus might not have known what the consequence would be; all he cared about at the time was the poor demoniac in front of him, and people take priority. Putting people first, and wealth second, is the correct move y’know.

Lastly Jesus’s comment about “the poor you will always have with you,” which materialists like to use to justify doing nothing for the needy. That one’s clearly not Jesus being a jerk; it’s purely taken out of context. There are many verses where Jesus obviously isn’t being selfish or jerklike at all, but Christian jerks misuse ’em to defend their behavior, ’cause any excuse will do.

Jesus is nobody’s excuse.

But I hope I’ve made it clear Jesus is not at all a valid excuse for Christians to behave badly.

Oh, they’re still gonna use him. And think they’re entirely right to. The human mind is wonderfully creative, and can psyche itself into believing anything that’ll let it get away with anything. Nobody likes to think of themselves as evil (well, unless they wanna terrify others, or have totally sold themselves out to evil), so they’ll bend, fold, spindle, mutilate, and outright deny any facts which say otherwise. They wanna claim Jesus, so they’ll go out of their way to distort him first.

And in so doing, convince pagans maybe Jesus is a jerk too. That, in many ways, is a far greater problem than the predominance of Christian jerks.

Needing not that any man teach you.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 June

1 John 2.26-29.

Ever heard of a “life verse”? It’s an idea y’find in some Evangelical circles; it means there’s a bible verse which isn’t just a Christian’s favorite verse, but one they kinda consider their personal mission statement. They base their life on it.

Heck, a number of these “life verses” are all found in the very same chapter of 1 Thessalonians:

  • “Always rejoice” 1Th 5.16 for people who are big on joy.
  • “Pray without ceasing” 1Th 5.17 for people who are big on prayer.
  • “Give thanks for everything” 1Th 5.18 for those who definitely do.
  • “Don’t quench the Spirit” 1Th 5.19 for those who love to listen to the Spirit.
  • “Don’t dismiss prophecy” 1Th 5.20 for prophecy (or prophecy scholar) fans.
  • “Test everything” 1Th 5.21 for big skeptics.
  • “Abstain from every form of evil” 1Th 5.22 for big legalists.

Anyway. I once worked with this woman whom I’m gonna call Eustacia. Her “life verse” was clearly this one:

1 John 2.27 KJV
But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

Not just ’cause Eustacia quoted the “ye need not that any man teach you” part all the time. Really, nobody could teach her anything. She wouldn’t let ’em. She had “the anointing,” the Holy Spirit abiding in her, teaching her. So we weren’t allowed to.

Eustacia isn’t alone in this interpretation. 1 John 2.27 is the favorite proof text of the go-it-alone Christian. They’re all over Christendom; they’re the folks who won’t go to church lest the pastor and elders try to teach ’em. And since I teach, I run into this type all the time. Paradoxically enough, they even attend my classes. But the instant I tell ’em something they don’t wanna hear, or never heard before and really don’t like, up comes this verse like it’s their shield.

Eustacia did go to church; not mine. She picked one of those fiercely independent anti-denominational types, ’cause if she didn’t answer to anyone, why should her church? But if her pastor dared cross her, expect her to immediately find another church and take her family with her. She didn’t really need a pastor anyway. She had Jesus.

Didn’t read bible commentaries; don’t need bible scholars when it’s just you ’n Jesus. Didn’t read books by other Christians; can’t trust men, and all she needed was a good King James bible. Whenever she read it, and came to conclusions about it: Didn’t need anyone’s contributions, insights, and especially corrections. She had license to interpret her bible any old way she liked. If someone asked Eustacia, “How’d you come up with that?” she’d tell ’em. If someone objected, “But the context says otherwise,” she’d point to 1 John 2.27 and proudly proclaim her independence—from any tradition, any preachers, any scholars, any denomination, any fellow Christians.

And while we’re at it: Independence from logic, reason, context, and the Spirit’s fruit.

When iron can’t sharpen iron.

Nearly every time I hear someone quote 1 John 2.27, it’s to declare their absolute authority to make the bible say whatever they want, and declare we’re not allowed to correct ’em; we have zero authority. “I don’t need a teacher. Certainly not you. I’m anointed by the same Holy Spirit as the holy apostles. The same anointing teaches me all things. That’s why I’m right… and you’re wrong.

Back to Eustacia. I knew better than to try to teach her anything. I saw others try, and watched her blast her “life verse” at ’em like buckshot. She wouldn’t be corrected; she knew best. I always kinda wondered what was gonna happen when one of her kids realized their mom’s “life verse” might be useful as their life verse, spun the bible in a way she objected to, and quoted her favorite verse right back at her. Never did find out. Had to happen eventually. Bet it was epic.

This is the core problem with this “I don’t need any teacher” jazz: Works both ways. Ironically, some go-it-alone Christians never notice this, and try to become everybody else’s teacher. But like I said, misinterpreting 1 John 2.27 means you can sling their false interpretation right back at ’em: You won’t listen to me? Fine, I needn’t listen to you either. You have your wacky theories about what the bible means, and I have mine. One of us is right and the other wrong, and each of us think it’s the other. You can go to your church and I can go to mine, and both of us can think the other’s church is heretic. Twas ever thus.

Remember how we Christians are supposed to build one another up? 1Th 5.11 (Why’s that never anyone’s favorite “life verse”?) Remember we’re to encourage one another to do good, discourage one another from going astray, and love one another like Jesus loves us? Jn 13.34 Kinda impossible to do when we’re not permitted to teach one another.

If it’s just me ’n Jesus, and nobody’s permitted to instruct me but the Holy Spirit, it sorta makes all the scriptures’ instructions to teach one another impossible. And yeah I got a list:

  • Teach your kids the Law. Dt 11.19
  • Teaching the Law makes one great in God’s kingdom. Mt 5.19
  • Teach new believers to do everything Jesus commands. Mt 28.20
  • God’s appointed teachers in his church. 1Co 12.28, Ep 4.11
  • Share good things with your teacher. Ga 6.6
  • Teach in wisdom. Cl 3.16
  • Church supervisors must teach. 1Ti 3.2, Tt 1.9
  • Church elders ought to teach. 1Ti 5.17, 2Ti 2.24
  • Scripture is useful for teaching. 2Ti 3.16
  • Teach good behavior to the people of your church. Tt 2.3
  • There are false teachers, sure. 1Jn 2.1 This verse also implies there are valid teachers.

But if nobody can teach us but the Holy Spirit, there are no teachers.

Thankfully, God hasn’t designed his church, and his Christians, to be this level of stupid. We’re to submit to one another, Ep 5.21 which means I need to listen to what the Spirit told you, and you oughta listen to what the Spirit told me. This is how iron can sharpen iron. Pr 27.17 Which isn’t gonna happen when one iron tells the other, “You don’t sharpen me. Only the Spirit gets to sharpen me. You stand back.”

What are we to do with such people? Just as Jesus taught.

Matthew 15.13-14 KWL
13 Answering, Jesus said, “Every plant my heavenly Father never planted will be uprooted.
14 Leave them be; they’re blind guides for blind people.
When a blind person guides a blind person, both will fall in a hole.”

Don’t fret about go-it-alone Christians. They’ve chosen to learn the hard way—through harsh, unforgiving experience instead of godly wisdom. Through trial and lots of error, instead of learning from others’ mistakes. So let ’em fall into a few holes till they learn to finally ask for help.

But whatever you do, don’t put such people in leadership. Eustacia was a schoolteacher, and that’s one of the worst places to put an unteachable person. Thankfully she didn’t stay in that job long.

The context.

Now if you’re actually willing to be taught, here’s what John actually meant by this scritpure.

John’s church was beset by gnostics, religions which claimed they know all the answers to all the universe’s secrets. Yep, gnostics and gnostic religions totally still exist: Y’know how people come up with theories about how God works, turn those theories into Pinterest memes, and spread ’em all over the internet? Very same thing. Especially how they try to make a profit off their “spiritual wellness” by starting a lifestyle blog, selling tchotchkes, writing books, hosting seminars, and so forth. They wanna sell you their “secrets”—because who doesn’t wanna hear a secret?

Problem was, some of these “secrets” were leaking into Christianity and fuddling the Christians. So 1 John was written to reject these false ideas, and remind the Christians they did know God. They did have valid information. The gnostics didn’t have any dark secrets which God had withheld from Christianity—God doesn’t even do darkness.

1 John 2.26-29 KWL
26 I write you these things about those who mislead you.
27 As for you, the anointing you received remains on you.
You have no need for a certain new instructor who might teach you about everything;
instead it’s like the anointing itself teaches you about everything.
It’s true, isn’t false, and just as it teaches you, remain in it.
28 Now children, remain in the anointing so when it’s made known,
you can have enthusiasm and not be ashamed of it, at its coming.
29 When you recognize it’s righteous, you also know
everything it does is begotten by God and is also righteous.

John wasn’t rejecting teachers. At all. He was a teacher, remember? This letter is all about teaching his church. Teaching them they aren’t wrong about Jesus, they do know him, they do have the Holy Spirit within them, and they don’t need to listen to some antichrist teaching ’em otherwise.

True, the go-it-alone crowd will claim John really wasn’t saying this. They point to his bits about not writing new commands, 1Jn 2.7 or how fathers already know God, 1Jn 2.13 or how everybody has knowledge. 1Jn 2.20 They cherry-pick the heck out of 1 John 2 to defend their independent lifestyle. Doesn’t come from a pursuit of real knowledge; doesn’t come from a desire to know God better. It’s all about escaping accountability. They don’t wanna answer to anyone. They don’t wanna love one another.

Yes we already do have the Holy Spirit within us, steering us right. He anointed us when we first became Christian; no he didn’t literally pour ointment on us, but he did what anointing represents in the bible, i.e. gave us a mission. We’re to follow Jesus, and share him with the world. And not get sidetracked by weird gnostic bulls---… as far too many Christians will.

There are various Christians who confound the anointing with the Spirit. After all he teaches and reminds us of everything Jesus teaches. Jn 14.26 So when John wrote “the anointing itself teaches you about everything,” people leap to the conclusion the anointing is the Spirit and the Spirit is the anointing… and that’s not correct. If you’re in the military and your sergeant sends you an email with your mission spelled out in it, the email and your sergeant are two different things. Your sergeant might even misunderstand the mission and unintentionally mislead you—which is why you gotta keep referring back to the mission. The Spirit won’t ever make mistakes like that, but the same idea applies: He and his anointing are still two different things. They’re on the same page, same as Jesus and the Father, but we’d never say Jesus is the Father; same principle here.

Jesus’s church doesn’t have a shortage of teachers. (Some Christians claim it does, but that’s only because these particular Christians have trust issues.) Gnostics will claim otherwise: “They can’t teach you; they don’t know everything; we do, so follow us.” Gnostics aren’t the only people who do this; a number of churches and religions likewise try to grab our attention and lead sheep away from the flock.

One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs—assuming we listen to him—is to guide us away from them, and towards truth. Jn 16.13 When we’re wrong, or go wrong, he corrects us. Sometimes personally. Often through fellow Christians, ’cause we aren’t the only people who can hear him. He’s trying to foster community and teamwork, which means sometimes he’s gonna divvy up the knowledge, same as he does his gifts. And we’re to dig through it, dismiss the bias and bad information, get to the truth, and follow it.

Not arrogantly dismiss every teacher but him. That’s the fastest way to go weird. As we regularly see among go-it-alone Christians.

So we need teachers. Even those of us who are teachers, need teachers. We need one another. We need our fellow teachers to fact-check us: Test our statements to make sure they hold up. Keep us honest. Correct us when we’re off course. Ask tougher questions than we’ve thought of ourselves. You know, the whole iron-sharpening-iron idea.

Woe to Christians who think they’re beyond teaching. The time’s coming, and is already here, when they won’t listen to the Holy Spirit either.

Christian perfectionism and “Be perfect.”

by K.W. Leslie, 28 May

Matthew 5.48.

God doesn’t want us to sin. You knew that already. We’re meant to be good, to do the good works the Father spelled out for us, plus anything else which comes to mind.

The scriptures constantly warn people against sin. It alienated the first humans from the LORD, which is why he had to boot ’em from paradise lest they live forever in their sin. It obligated the LORD to inform Moses and the Hebrews what he expected of them. It’s why the prophets warned Israel time and again: There are consequences for all this evil. It’s why Jesus died: Sinful humans killed him, and he let ’em because he knew his innocent death could plaster over humanity’s sins and restore our relationships with God.

So we’re told by parents and pastors: Stop sinning! Start acting like God’s children, instead of devils who sin like they’re trying to piss him off. Be better. Be perfect, if possible—and it is possible, ’cause the Holy Spirit can make it so.

In preaching against sin, Christians will trot out this particular proof text:

Matthew 5.48 KJV
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Can’t get any clearer than that, can we? God wants us to not just be sin-free, but perfect. Jesus says so. Be perfect.

Christian perfection.

Christians have written volumes about Christian perfection, the idea we can live sin-free lives through the Holy Spirit’s power. (’Cause it’s gotta be done through the Holy Spirit’s power. Otherwise we’re just talking Pelagianism, and there are plenty enough Pelagians in Christendom as it is.)

Perfectionists are really fond of this proof text. To them it’s proof we can be perfect: Jesus ordered it of his followers, and what kind of depraved Christian is gonna insist Jesus didn’t really tell us to be good? In fact he said we must be perfect, so clearly perfection is within the realm of possibility. Hey, the Holy Spirit does impossible things all the time.

Naturally there are Christians who object to perfectionism. Some of their reasons are kinda valid, and some are really obvious examples of people who don’t wanna be good and are looking for any excuse to practice cheap grace. I could easily rant about libertine Christians all day long, and you’d probably agree with most of it (unless I’m hitting way too close to home), but they’re easy targets, and the ones I really oughta bring up are the people whose arguments sound… actually kinda plausible.

First is the fact this proof text isn’t interpreted in context. (What, you thought I was gonna save that point for last? Nah; let’s knock it out now.) When Jesus spoke about being τέλειός/teleiós, KJV “perfect,” he meant consistency. He was talking about treating everyone the same, just as our heavenly Father treats everyone the same.

Matthew 5.46-48 KWL
46 “When you love those who love you, why should you be rewarded?
Don’t taxmen also do so themselves?
47 When you greet only your family, what did you do that was so great?
Don’t the foreigners also do so themselves?
48 Therefore you will be egalitarian,
like your heavenly Father is egalitarian.”

If we expect the Father to be pleased with us for reciprocity, Jesus waves it away: Taxmen do that. Pagans do that. God loves everybody, including people who don’t love him back, and have no intention of doing for him. That’s grace. We gotta be gracious like God is gracious. Our love for everyone has to be without exception, i.e. perfect.

So if you were hanging your hat on verse 48, whoops!… your hat’s on the floor.

But as I like to point out to the libertines, it’s not like Jesus never taught us to be good. In fact let’s quote their least favorite Jesus-teaching, shall we?

Matthew 5.17-20 KWL
17 “Don’t assume I came to dissolve the Law or the Prophets.
I didn’t come to dissolve but complete:
18 Amen! I promise you, the heavens and earth may pass away,
but one yodh, one penstroke of the Law, will never pass away; not till everything’s done.
19 So whoever relaxes one of these commands—the smallest—and thus teaches people,
they’ll be called smallest in the heavenly kingdom.
Whoever does and teaches them,
they’ll be called great in the heavenly kingdom:
20 I tell you, unless morality abounds in you, more than in scribes and Pharisees,
you may never enter the heavenly kingdom.”

Jesus doesn’t expect us to let up on God’s commands. Grace isn’t his substitute for obedience; it’s an aid to help us be obedient, and not give up in despair whenever we slip up. (And we will slip up.) Grace is God’s favorable attitude towards his people: It means he’s not rooting for our failure, but our success. He’s not here to condemn, but help. Nor is he here to dismiss all our sins as irrelevant; they’re totally relevant, and he hates ’em. He’s here to mitigate them, restore our relationships with him and one another, and fix creation. And either we’re gonna get with his program… or we’re gonna run our own program, one which goes totally contrary to his, and pretend we’re on board like the hypocrites we are.

“But what about legalism?”

A valid concern about perfectionism is of course legalism. It’s a valid worry. When we’re trying to be good, we’re gonna make mistakes; everybody does. But grace means we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about it: If we slip up, we have Jesus, who took care of our sins already. 1Jn 2.1-2

But grace doesn’t just mean we needn’t beat ourselves up about it. It means if we do beat ourselves up, we don’t really trust the Holy Spirit to help us stop sinning: We trust our own punishments. We trust behavioral psychology. We trust negative reinforcement. We trust pain and suffering. You see the problem? (If not, yikes.)

We’re gonna stumble. Some of us, a lot. We may find perfection to be very, very elusive. It’s not easy to follow God in a sin-damaged world, especially when we’re used to doing our own thing instead of living in the light. But let’s not lie to ourselves and others: True followers of Christ try. Hypocrites don’t bother, invent excuses for their rotten behavior, and bend scriptures in self-defense. (Or they pretend to try, and hide all their sins in the dark.)

True Christians recognize sin has messed us up and makes perfection a real struggle. Hypocrites claim it’s messed us up so much, not even the Holy Spirit himself can make us any better. They correctly point out everyone sins, Ro 3.23 presume it means even we Christians will inevitably keep sinning, and preemptively give up. We can’t be perfect till we’re resurrected, and in heaven.

Nope, the scriptures don’t teach this idea at all. On the contrary.

1 John 2.3-11 GNT
3 If we obey God's commands, then we are sure that we know him. 4 If we say that we know him, but do not obey his commands, we are liars and there is no truth in us. 5 But if we obey his word, we are the ones whose love for God has really been made perfect. This is how we can be sure that we are in union with God: 6 if we say that we remain in union with God, we should live just as Jesus Christ did.
7 My dear friends, this command I am writing you is not new; it is the old command, the one you have had from the very beginning. The old command is the message you have already heard. 8 However, the command I now write you is new, because its truth is seen in Christ and also in you. For the darkness is passing away, and the real light is already shining.
9 If we say that we are in the light, yet hate others, we are in the darkness to this very hour. 10 If we love others, we live in the light, and so there is nothing in us that will cause someone else to sin. 11 But if we hate others, we are in the darkness; we walk in it and do not know where we are going, because the darkness has made us blind.

I could quote more of 1 John. And Galatians 5, and Romans 6, and huge swaths of New Testament which condemn people who think grace gives us license to sin ourselves sticky. Jesus came to defeat sin. Not free us up to sin some more.

The fact so many Christians think grace empowers us to sin boldly, isn’t just an amusing little irony. It’s a symptom of someone who doesn’t know Jesus at all. Who’s going through the motions of Christianity, but has no relationship with Jesus, no fruit of the Spirit, who’s not saved. It’s not something to dismiss, but condemn: They need to wake up and realize being so unlike Christ Jesus suggests they’re not in his kingdom—and they need to come in!