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

29 August 2018

“No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”

In what situation should we expect this verse to apply?

Isaiah 54.17

You hear people quote this one when they’re claiming God promised them invulnerability.

Against what? Well it depends on the Christian. Very few are gonna claim this verse is about bullets; when a gunman busts into a school and opens fire, the few who stand up and declare, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper!” are gonna quickly discover this verse doesn’t apply to their situation at all.

Most of the time we figure this has to do with spiritual warfare. Which is about resisting temptation, Ep 6.10-13 although a number of Christians think it’s about believing so hard that they’ll get what they ask for, that they do. So the “weapons,” they imagine, are unbelief, discouragement, and the usual inconveniences of life which might shake our determination. Not desires and fleshly impulses, the actual wiles of the devil. If we don’t know what we’re actually meant to resist, turns out every weapon formed against us shall prosper.

So when people desire to be #blessed (with or without the hashtag), they’re naming-and-claiming the idea, “No weapon formed against me will prosper! I will get my blessing!” And believing so hard, blessings will just materialize out of thin air like a genie’s granted wishes.

Of course that’s not what the original verse means. Duh.

The verse comes from Isaiah, and the first thing you’ll notice is people have personalized it when they quote it. They phrase it “No weapon formed against me,” whereas the King James Version went with thee, which is old-timey English for “you.” No weapon formed against the person the LORD is speaking to through this prophecy. Wanna bet he’s not speaking directly to you or me personally? I would; it’s a solid bet.

Isaiah 54.17 KJV
No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.

There are those folks who will insist the second sentence of this verse, “This [is] the heritage of the servants of the LORD,” means it totally does apply to them, ’cause they’re a servant of the LORD. And they might have a better case for themselves if they actually acted like God’s servants, instead of presuming he owes them #blessings even though they suck at obeying Jesus, and produce no more spiritual fruit than any pagan.

But even if we Christians are obedient and fruitful, is the LORD still speaking to us in this prophecy? Well, let’s take a good hard look at it.

07 August 2018

Where there’s no vision. (It’s not your vision.)

It’s not your motivational-speech verse either.

Years ago I taught at a Christian junior high. We had a chapel service, and one of my fellow teachers was gonna preach a nice motivational mini-sermon, and came to me for help: He was trying to find this verse in his bible, and couldn’t:

Proverbs 29.18 KJV
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

It’s because the school’s official translation was the New International Version, but he had the verse memorized in the King James Version, and the NIV had updated the vocabulary so much, he couldn’t recognize it anymore. The 1984 edition of the NIV put it thisaway:

Proverbs 29.18 NIV (1984)
Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint;
but blessed is he who keeps the law.

The current edition updated it even further. Plus made it gender-inclusive.

Proverbs 29.18 NIV (2011)
Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint;
but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.

“Wisdom’s instruction” isn’t that precise a translation of torah/“Law,” but whatever.

My coworker was confused by the update. Because he already had a specific reason for wanting to use this verse as his proof text: He wanted to talk to the kids about why it’s important for each of us to have a vision for our future in mind.

It’s not about that, I explained to him. It’s about revelation. It’s about God’s vision for our future. Which is why he gave us his Law. It’s not about making our own plans.

He nodded, and I thought he had heard me. But when it came time to speak to the kids, first he quoted the NIV, then said, “But in the King James Version it says, ‘Where there’s no vision, the people perish.’ And that’s what I wanna talk to you about today. You gotta make plans for your future. You gotta have a vision. Otherwise you’ll perish.”

And so on. Context be damned; he had kids to motivate. Stupid translators and their insistence on accuracy were only getting in his way.

So that was disappointing, and I lost a lot of respect for him as a Christian and an educator. But it’s hardly the first time I’ve tried to correct a fellow Christian, only to have it fall on deaf ears. Still happens all the time. Hopefully you haven’t come to this blog, or this article, with this know-it-all mindset.

12 July 2018

“Before I formed you in the womb…”

So you’re prolife. Doesn’t mean you get a free pass to misappropriate bible.

Jeremiah 1.5

May as well state my biases up front: I’m prolife.

In the United States we use this term to describe a person who doesn’t approve of aborting a pregnancy. Depending on the person, we either want the practice discouraged, banned outright, made a crime, or even made a capital crime with death penalties all around. Which goes way too far for me, because I’m prolife in the proper sense of the word: I don’t want anybody to die. Not just fetuses.

The real problem with abortion is a society which claims they care about women and motherhood, but they only care about self-supporting women and mothers. When women get pregnant, hadn’t planned on it, and don‘t know how they’re gonna have the time or money to raise a child, society’s response isn’t, “How can I help? Whatever you need, just ask; I’m there.” It’s usually condemnation: “You should’ve expected this.”

No moral support, no financial support, no personal support; God forbid we suggest government support. So the pregnancy is turned into a massive burden… and the easiest way out of the burden appears to be abortion. Social Darwinism turns into actual Darwinism.

You honestly want abortion to be gone, or at least rare? Start supporting women. Start caring for the needy. Love your neighbor. Don’t be one of those hypocrites who only care about fetuses, but not about women struggling to raise kids. Rant over.

So. In conservative Evangelical churches, it’s kinda taken for granted we’re prolife. Most of us are. But not all; you can kinda tell who’s not, by how much they squirm in their seats whenever the speaker starts to condemn abortion.

Me, I start to squirm whenever they misquote bible in support of their cause. I’m pretty sure “Thou shalt not kill” Ex 20.13, Dt 5.17, Mt 5.21 does the job just fine. But prolifers feel we gotta quote other verses to defend our worldview. Any verses which suggest “a person’s a person, no matter how small” Horton Hears a Who! and actually references a fetus, is trotted out as “proof” God considers them people.

This bit from the first chapter of Jeremiah in particular. For some reason, I hear people quote it in the NIV more so than the KJV. I suspect it’s because the KJV uses the word “belly,” which isn’t clinical enough for ’em.

Jeremiah 1.5 NIV
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“See?” prolifers will point out, “God knew us before we were born.”

Um yes, but y’all need to read that verse again. It says Beterem echorkha vebeten/“At [a time] before I formed you in [the] womb.” Not when God formed Jeremiah in the womb; before.

The verse is about foreknowledge, not fetuses. God knew Jeremiah before God created Jeremiah.

19 June 2018

Dem bones.

It’s not about God bringing your dreams back to life.

Ezekiel 37.1-10.

Your average Christian knows very little about the prophetic book of Ezekiel. Most of ’em know only three things about it:

  1. At the beginning of the book, Ezekiel gets this vision of God’s throne which includes four freaky creatures with four heads, and what sound like living gyroscopes beside each of them. Ek 1 And for some looney reason, people who are into UFOs insist that’s what Ezekiel saw; it strikes ’em as more mechanical than miraculous.
  2. Apparently there’s such a thing as “Ezekiel bread.” Ek 4.9 Every once in a while, some overzealous Christian will bake a loaf and inflict it upon the people of their church. Here’s the deal: Ezekiel bread was meant to be awful, to make a point about suffering. But Christians’ll try to fix it up somehow: Add lots of yeast, sugar, disproportionate amounts of flour, and even butter. Most of the time it’s still awful. People, the bible isn’t a recipe book!
  3. And the bit I’m getting to today: The Valley of Dry Bones story. In it, God demonstrates his power to Ezekiel by taking long-dead bones, turning ’em back into humans, and bringing them to life.

The title of this article comes from the gospel song, “Dem Bones,” which most people don’t know is a spiritual, ’cause all they know is, “Ankle bone connected to the shin bone, shin bone connected to the knee bone…” They think it’s about anatomy. Or skeletons. Well anyway.

Ezekiel wrote his visions from Tel Aviv, Iraq. Not Tel Aviv, Israel; Iraq. (The city in Israel is named after Ezekiel’s village.) He lived in Iraq because Israel didn’t exist anymore. The Babylonians invaded and destroyed it, then scattered him and all his loved ones to the four winds. Now he lived in Iraq, figuring he’d never see Israel again.

So, in both straight-up messages, weird demonstrations, and apocalyptic visions, the LORD was trying to tell Ezekiel and his neighbors how Israel wasn’t permanently destroyed. Its restoration might be impossible for them to imagine, like dry bones turned into living bones. But God was gonna bring his nation back.

But you know how humans are: We always gotta make everything about us. And generations of Christians have misappropriated this story, claiming it’s about them, about restoring their lives—or their career, their church, their broken family, their nation, what they’ll see in the End Times, you name it. I still hear sermons where preachers swipe the idea and claim it for themselves.

Still just as invalid.

26 April 2018

The appearance of evil.

Don’t worry about how things look. Worry about obeying God.

1 Thessalonians 5.22.

1 Thessalonians 5.22 KJV
Abstain from all appearance of evil.

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 translated the first popular English bible translation 482 years ago, and whose version was still fairly well-known.

Four-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 that’s a recent one. Plenty of other transformations happened long before you had any say about it.

Hence many of the words in the KJV have the same meaning as they did in 1536, when Tyndale first used ’em. But many don’t.

Appearance is one of them. 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.

Simple, right? But in the 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.

02 April 2018

“God will never give you more than you can handle.”

Tell that to Moses sometime.

1 Corinthians 10.13.

This verse gets misused often. And just as often, underused and ignored.

1 Corinthians 10.13 KJV
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

Since this is part of a series on context, let’s first deal with the out-of-context way Christians quote it: They use it to proof-text the old platitude, “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

You can kinda see how it devolved into that. “God… will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able” somehow lost the word “tempted,” which is the entire point of this verse. It’s about temptation. God doesn’t allow us to be overcome by temptation. God always provides a way out of temptation. Anybody who claims, “I had no choice but to give in”—that’s rubbish, because God always provides a way out, and they simply didn’t wanna take it.

Without “tempted,” it’s simply, “God won’t give you above that ye are able,” or “what you can handle,” or however we care to phrase it: Times may be tough, but relax! You can do this. God may challenge you, but he’ll never, ever push you beyond your breaking point.

That’s where the misinterpretation goes all wrong. ’Cause every Christian gets pushed past our respective breaking points. It’s called “the crisis of faith,” and if you’ve been avoiding yours, you’ve been avoiding God. Some of us, he’s gotta break like a piñata. ’Cause the stuff in us, which he’s trying to get out of us? It ain’t candy.

There is a time to build up, and a time to break down. Ec 3.3 And sometimes God’s behind the breakdown.

11 January 2018

Sock-puppet theology: Meditation gone bad.

Or as I call it, sock-puppet meditation.

Beginning with the frequently-misunderstood passage:

Hebrews 12.1-2 KWL
1 Consequently we, having a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us,
putting aside every weight and easily-distracting sin—
we run the contest set before us through patient endurance,
looking to the start and finish of faith: Jesus.
2 He endured in joy, instead of on what was set before him—
despising the dishonorable cross—and sits at the right of God’s throne.

It’s a sports metaphor, and since we do track and field events a little differently than they did in the Roman Empire, stands to reason Christians will miss, and misinterpret, some of the ideas.

The “cloud of witnesses” among them. Nefós/“cloud” is an odd wording, and Christian tradition has borrowed the pagan idea of dead relatives looking down from the heavens upon the living, and interpreted it to mean departed saints who once witnessed about Jesus, who watch present-day saints as spectators. Cheering us on, we hope. (Cringing at how we repeat all their old mistakes, more likely.)

It’s not at all what the author of Hebrews meant. She meant fellow runners.

See, the ancients didn’t run on the rubber or polyurethane surface we put on our running tracks today: They ran on dirt. And what do you get when a bunch of runners are racing through dirt? Clouds. That’s your cloud of witnesses: Fellow runners. Active co-participants. Not spectators, who usually can’t see through the clouds, which is why we switched to asphalt tracks, and eventually the stuff we use now. Modern technology made it so we can’t recognize the context anymore, and now the CEV, GNB, and NLT strait-up translate nefós as “crowd.” Meaning, most of us imagine, the crowd of spectators.

I bring this up ’cause the interpretation of a passage makes a really big difference when we meditate upon it. As we do; as we should. But if our mental image of a “cloud of witnesses” consists of spectators instead of co-laborers, we’re gonna get a very different mental image. One which can go all kinds of wrong.

14 December 2017

“Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.”

Of course we have some iffy ideas about what “waiting on the Lord” entails.

Isaiah 40.31

Whenever I visit fellow Christians at their homes, a large number of ’em have a painting or sculpture of an eagle somewhere. Often it’s an American bald eagle, meant to express their patriotism. Others were purchased at the local Family Christian Stores before it went bankrupt and shut down. Patriotic or not, if it was produced by Christians, it’s gonna be captioned with the following Isaiah verse:

Isaiah 40.31 KJV
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

The sentiment which really appeals to Christians, whether it’s blended with patriotism or not, is the idea the LORD, our creator, has inexhaustible strength, Is 40.28 and empowers the weak. Is 40.29 Even though the strongest of us may fail, Is 40.30 God can indefinitely renew our strength. Is 40.31

Well, if we trust in the LORD. Hopefully we do.

So it’s meant as encouragement for those of us whose batteries run low, thanks to working hard, playing hard, and otherwise doing a crappy job of resting. When we’re exhausted, God can recharge us. When our resources are taxed, God can replenish ’em. Many’s the time I’ve told my students, “I ran out of patience with you a long time ago; I’m tapping God’s patience now.” Tapping God’s dyamis power,” his dynamo of endless cosmic supply, is possible for every Christian.

Right? Well… now we get to the bit where Christians take this verse out of context.

06 November 2017

“Be still and know that I am God.”

It’s not about being quiet.

Psalm 46.10

Most people shorten this verse to simply, “Be still and know that I am God.” But sometimes they actually do know the entire verse:

Psalm 46.10 KJV
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

When people do remember the rest of this verse, they tend to recall (and prefer) a translation without that bothersome word “heathen” in it. The word goyím properly means “foreigners,” which we also translate “foreigners” or “nations”—the Amplified Bible, ESV, NASB, and NIV went with “I will be exalted among the nations,” which works better for them. Be still, know God is God, and if everybody can just chill out and meditate for a bit, God can be exalted by all the nations, round the world.

Yeah, this tends to be considered a meditation verse. I’ve been in prayer groups where Christians have talked about meditation, and they misquote Psalm 46.10 all the time. “Remember, we’re just trying to be still and know God is God.”

Other times Christians wanna encourage one another to relax. People get agitated, emotional, panicky, flustered, and once again Psalm 46.10 pops up: “You need to just be still and know God is God. God’s on the throne. He can solve every problem.” Or less patiently, “Can you be still for a minute, and know God is God?”

Actually, this less-than-patient last example, though still wrong, is closest to what Korah’s sons were talking about in this particular psalm.

23 October 2017

“Train up a child…”

It’s not about evangelism. It’s about taking Jesus for granted.

Proverbs 22.6

This particular proverb, best known in the King James version—

Proverbs 22.6 KJV
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

—has brought a lot of comfort to a lot of Christians whose kids don’t appear to be going anywhere close to the way they should go.

After high school, a lot of the kids from my church youth group didn’t stay in church. Some of us did, and some of us went away to school… and the rest decided since they were adults now, they could choose to go to church or not. So they chose not. To the great consternation of their parents, who thought they raised their kids better than that. They really didn’t.

In despair, the parents turned to this proverb. The way they chose to interpret it: Yeah, the kids had quit Jesus, but the parents had trained ’em up in the way they should go. They’d raised ’em Christian. Took ’em to church. Made ’em pray before meals. Sent ’em to church camps and youth groups and youth pastors who’d tell them about Jesus. Voiced their political opinions, and they’re pretty sure Jesus feels exactly the same way they do. It wasn’t disciplined, focused, intentional, or systematic, but they did kinda lay the groundwork for the kids to come back.

So if the proverb is a promise—and that’s precisely how they cling to it—the kids will one day see the error of their ways, repent, and return to the values they were raised with. The kids’ll go through a brief period of rebellion, their own personal rumspringa, but when they’re old—hopefully not that old—they’ll be back.

The “out of context” header might’ve tipped you off to the fact this view is entirely incorrect. Lot of blind optimism behind it. Lot of wishful thinking. But doesn’t usually happen. I still know quite a few of those youth group kids, now in their 40s, same as me. Still not Christian. Some of ’em think they are, but really they’re just Christianist. Others are “spiritual, not religious,” or joined another religion like Buddhism, or went nontheist.

There are a lot of non-practicing Christians who slide back into Christianity as soon as they have kids: They realize they’ve gotta pass down their morals to their children, and since they have none, they go with Jesus’s… and realize they don’t know his morals as well as they thought, so they go to church to rectify that. Which is great, ’cause it’s what gets young families into the church, and young families help keep a church stable. But my youth group’s former kids? If that was gonna gonna get ’em back into church, it’d’ve happened when they were in their 20s and 30s. It didn’t. They’re still out.

Their parents are likely clinging to the fact the proverb says, “When he is old,” but let’s get real: It’s not happening at this rate. Only way it would, is if the Holy Spirit intervenes with a major course correction. Which he can always do, so never rule out the possibility. It’s just a lot of these drastic actions still don’t convince people to return to Jesus. When a major life trauma (i.e. loss of a job, death of a relative, health crisis, natural or artificial disaster) impacts our lives, people either take a hard left towards God, or a hard right away from him. And since away is the path of least resistance, that’s usually the route they choose.

Does this mean the proverb isn’t true then? Nope, that’s not the problem. The real problem is people are using it completely wrong.

05 October 2017

“I stand at the door and knock.”

It’s not about evangelism. It’s about taking Jesus for granted.

Revelation 3.20

Revelation 3.20 KJV
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

This’d be Jesus speaking.

When I was a little kid, I was told Jesus lives in my heart.

I didn’t then understand the difference between one’s physical heart, the blood-pumping muscle/organ in one’s chest; and the spiritual heart, the center of one’s soul. That “Jesus lives in my heart” means Jesus takes priority over all. Arguably the spiritual heart is a metaphor, and Jesus living in it is definitely a metaphor. You wanna talk persons of the trinity who live in you, look to the Holy Spirit.

But you know how literal-minded a kid can be. Tell ’em “Jesus lives in your heart,” and they’ll wonder whether there’s a little tiny Jesus, physically inside their chests. And of course that’s not what they meant. Or at least I surely hope that’s not what they meant; you never know about some adults.

I was told Jesus lives in my heart because I let him in there. ’Cause for those who don’t have Jesus in their hearts, he’s standing at the door of these hearts, knocking. (Unless you’re Calvinist, in which case you believe Jesus already has the key, and comes in whenever he darn well feels like it. Yet some of ’em still talk about Jesus knocking on our hearts’ doors.) Anyway, won’t you let him in?

And of course kids would let him in. Who’s gonna leave Jesus outside, all alone, forced to live in our pancreas instead? Why, he might get attacked by our antibodies. Or get digested; won’t that be embarrassing.

Silliness aside, anyone who’s read Revelation 3 knows this passage isn’t about evangelism. It’s not an invitation to pagans, but Christians.

03 October 2017

These godless kids these days.

Little bit of griping about the younger generation… and now it’s in the bible.

Psalm 14

Amár navál belibó/“The fool said at heart” (Latin Dixit insipiens) is by David, and we number it at 14.

Commentators figure it’s a lament: David, or Wisdom (i.e. the Holy Spirit) mourns the fact kids these days don’t follow God anymore. Not like “our righteous group,” Ps 14.5 the dor/“age group” (KJV “generation”) David’s in, which he deems more devout than the younger set. Back in his day people followed God, took his side, knew where their help came from, and expected God to rescue ’em yet again. In comparison, this generation is hopeless, nihilistic, cynical, faithless, and godless.

Basically, the same lament every generation has about the next one. Well, with one exception: The people from this generation, who gang up with the previous generation about their peers and successors. That’s a phenomena I’ve seen quite often lately. My parents are “baby boomers,” I’m in what marketers call “generation X,” and those coming of age right now are called “millennials”—and way too many of the preachers my age are wringing their hands over the younger generation. They’ve believed the myth that things used to be better when they were kids. Used to be better in their parents’ day.

Nope, they haven’t read Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes 7.10 KWL
Don’t say, “Why were the old days better than these days?”
You don’t ask this question out of wisdom.

It’s a really good book for deflating know-it-alls.

Anyway, Psalm 14 kinda wanders in the direction of this false nostalgia. I remind you the psalms don’t actually rhyme. Just the same, let’s put a little iambic tetrameter on it.

Psalm 14 KWL
0 To the director. By David.
1 The foolish think God isn’t here.
They wreck. They do no good. They sneer.
2 From heaven, the LORD looks to see
if any child of Adam be
astute enough to seek God out.
3 But all of them are turned about.
They’re twisted. They do nothing good.
Not one of them 4 knows what they should.
Their every act is sin; when all
eat bread, it’s not the LORD they call.
5 There’s no respect; no holy dread.
God’s with our righteous group instead.
6 Ashamed to help the poor, are you?
Because the LORD’s their refuge, true?
7 Was rescue sent from Zion’s hill?
Who got this aid for Israel?
The LORD will set his people free.
May Jacob—Israel—have glee.

19 September 2017

Submission. It’s not domination.

It has two definitions, and evil people are promoting the wrong one.

Submit /səb'mɪt/ v. Yield to or accept a superior force, authority, or will. Consent to their conditions.
2. Present one’s will to another for their consideration or judgment.
[Submission /səb'mɪs.ʃən/ n.]

Notice there are two popular definitions of submit in use. The more popular of the two has to do with acceptance, obedience, and blind capitulation. To turn off our brains, do as we’re told. And most sermons instruct Christians to do precisely that. Submit to one another, as Paul ordered.

Ephesians 5.21 NIV
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

’Cause we kinda have to. If we can’t submit to God—if we insist on our own way, our own standards, our own values, our own lifestyles—it’s a pretty good bet we’re outside his kingdom.

Romans 8.5-8 KWL
5 Carnal people think carnal things. Spirit-led people, Spirit-led things.
6 A flesh-led mind produces death. A Spirit-led mind, life and peace.
7 For a flesh-led mind is God’s enemy. It doesn’t submit to God’s law. It can’t.
8 Those who live by flesh can’t please God.

So we especially submit to God. Jm 4.7 And to Christian leaders; 1Pe 5.5 we follow the doctrines they proclaim from the pulpit. And wives, submit to your husbands. Ep 5.22 When he says “Jump,” you ask “How high?”

Then there’s the other definition of submit: The one where it’s not typical of a relationship between a benevolent (or not-so-benevolent) despot and their subjects, but between partners, friends, or coworkers. One where we instead bounce ideas off one another. Find out whether they help or inconvenience one another—and of course try to help as best we can.

One which sounds appropriate for a paráklitos/“helper” Jn 14.16, 14.26, 15.26, 16.7 and the people he’s trying to help. For a teacher and his pupils. For a loving God and his kids.

So… which definition d’you think fits what the authors of the scriptures were talking about?

Oh, the benevolent despot thingy? Well it does work for cult leaders and wannabe patriarchs. But in God’s kingdom, where the king calls us his friends, Jn 15.15 where love doesn’t demand its own way, 1Co 13.5 it’s pretty obvious that definition is entirely incorrect. In many ways it’s kinda the opposite of God’s intent. Almost as if the devil got Christians to flip it 180 degrees, n’est-ce pas?

20 July 2017

Touch not the Lord’s anointed.

When leaders try to evade accountability by the very verse which makes ’em accountable.

1 Chronicles 16.22, Psalm 105.15

Today’s out-of-context scripture is found in two places in the bible, ’cause either Chronicles is quoting Psalms or vice-versa. (Hard to tell, since they were written round the same time.) To get the full effect, you gotta quote it in the King James Version.

1 Chronicles 16.22, Psalm 105.15 KJV
Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.

The way it’s typically quoted is in the third-person form of “Touch not the LORD’s anointed!” But it doesn’t take that form in the bible.

I’ve seldom heard preachers quote it. More often I’ve heard it from people in church leadership, or people who are defending church leadership. Usually it’s to discourage us from questioning, critiquing, condemning, or otherwise interfering with those leaders. ’Cause they were anointed by the LORD—and look, it says right there in the bible you’re not to touch the LORD’s anointed.

It was written by King David ben Jesse, and you remember how he could’ve totally killed the insane King Saul ben Kish time and again? But he wouldn’t dare, ’cause Saul was the LORD’s anointed?

I should remind you the word which gets translated “anointed” is mešíakh/“Messiah”—one of the king’s titles, so I translated it appropriately. (I would hope you’re not using the title Messiah for anyone in your church leadership but Jesus.)

1 Samuel 24.4-7 KWL
4 David’s men told him, “Look, it’s the day the LORD told you of!—
‘Look, I put your enemy into your hand. Do whatever pleases your eye.’ ”
So David rose up and secretly cut the corner of Saul’s robe off.
5 Afterward, David’s heart struck him over this—that he cut off a corner of something of Saul.
6 He told his men, “By the LORD, I should never have done this thing to my master, the LORD’s Messiah;
to raise my hand to him, because he’s the LORD’s Messiah.”
7 David persuaded his men with such words and didn’t let them confront Saul.
Saul rose from the cave and walked to the road.

Yeah, it’s totally weird thinking of Saul as a Messiah, huh? Just goes to show you how much Jesus has redeemed that title.

David wouldn’t dare another time:

1 Samuel 26.8-9 KWL
8 Avišai told David, “God placed your enemy in your fist today! Now please—
I can smite him to the ground with a spear in one heartbeat. I needn’t repeat it.”
9 David told Avišai, “Don’t destroy him.
Who can raise their hand to the LORD’s Messiah and be clean?”

Get the point? Even though Saul was an absolute beast of a man towards the innocent David, he was still God’s anointed king. David had no business killing him—or even overthrowing him, or doing anything other than remaining in exile to await his king’s death. Beast or not, Saul was still Messiah, and David was never gonna depose God’s anointed king. (Now, Saul’s successor Ishbaal was another deal; David never recognized him as Messiah.)

But once we incorrectly apply the idea of an anointed king to Christian leaders, you might notice it gives ’em a free pass to be just as bad as Saul. ’Cause “touch not the LORD’s anointed.”

Now way before I ever get to the proper context, I should point out how absolutely insane it is to use Saul as an example. For Saul was insane.

The scriptures describe Saul as plagued by evil spirits. We’d nowadays call the guy demonized. The critters were only driven away when other anointed ministers worked on him, like David with his music. 1Sa 16.23 So “Touch not the LORD’s anointed, ’cause Saul,” is effectively saying, “Even if Pastor’s possessed by Satan itself, he’s anointed, so leave him be!” It’s probably the stupidest defense in Christendom.

14 July 2017

The bible’s genres.

It’s not all written in just one style of literature.

Genre /'ʒɑ(n).rə/ n. Type or category of literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, and subject matter.

Our word genre originates from the Old French word gendre/“gender.” ’Cause while men and women are both human, we’ve still got some important, distinctive differences. (Not as many as our culture dictates, but still.)

There are many types of literature. Stop by the local public library, and you’ll notice how the books tend to be lumped into categories so we can find them easier. Whether your library uses the Dewey system or the Library of Congress system, you’ll notice the gardening books are on one shelf, the photography books on another, the legal books on another, the biographies on another.

Now when the average person picks up a bible, they assume they’re picking up one category of literature: Non-fiction religious instruction. After all, that’s where we’ll find bibles in the library.

Thing is, the bible’s an anthology, a book collection. Yes, it’s religious. Yes, it’s mostly non-fiction. (You know the parables never literally took place, right? Jesus was just making ’em up to illustrate his lessons? Hope you knew this.) But within its pages are several books and letters of several different types: Commands and instructions. Logical arguments. Wisdom. Parables. Histories. Creation stories. Gospels. Poetry. Prophecy. Apocalypses.

Christians who figure it’s all one genre, and try to interpret the whole of it literally, are gonna get the bible wrong.

Problem is, even though many Christians know there are multiple genres in the bible, they figure these differences really aren’t that great, and don’t entirely matter. One part’s prose, one part’s poetry; this bit is prophecy, that part is history. But all they really care about is religious instruction, and figure they can be instructed by all parts equally.

After all, didn’t Paul say so?

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

Every inspired scripture. All the bible. Every bit of it can be used for instruction in rightness, so they’re gonna try to pull that instruction right out of it. After all, the bible’s our “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” our guidebook for life, with all the answers to all our questions—if we analyze it just right.

So to them, genre doesn’t matter. We can find instructions in the wisdom writings or the gospels; doesn’t matter whether we quote the apostles or Moses. It’s all bible. It’s all inspired. All good. Right?

Well, let’s take apart these claims a tad.

19 April 2017

“The gates of hell”: Just how won’t they prevail?

Lots of weird pop culture interpretations of this one. Typically they’re wrong.

Matthew 16.18

Jesus once asked his students who they thought he was. Simon Peter, his best student, correctly identified Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. Mt 16.16

(Since we Christians recognize Jesus is the Father’s only-begotten son, Jn 1.18 we tend to read that into it, rather than recognize “Son of God” as one of Messiah’s titles. In historical context it’s not what Peter meant. But I digress.)

In response Jesus pointed out how awesome this was (KJV “blessed”) because Peter hadn't just deduced it; this was a case of supernatural discernment, or special revelation. The Father had personally revealed this to Peter. Mt 16.17 Which is kinda awesome.

Then Jesus said this:

Matthew 16.18 KJV
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The words Jesus used were pýlai ádu/“hades’s gates.” Latin turned this into portae inferi/“inferno’s gates.”—inferno being their word for the underworld, but in the day’s popular culture, this’d be hell. So that’s how Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, the Geneva Bible, and the King James interpreted it; and the ESV, ISV, Message, and NLT follow their lead.

But as I explained in my article on the four hells, that’s not what hades means. Hades is the grave. The afterlife. The place of the dead. That’s why other translations went with “the powers of death” (Expanded Bible, J.B. Phillips, NCV, RSV) —although that interpretation also has its problems.

13 March 2017

The poor you will always have with you. So screw ’em.

The materialist’s favorite verse for justifying their lack of generosity.

Matthew 26.11

It’s kinda obvious when people quote the following verse out of context: They always drop the second part of the sentence. ’Cause the context is found in that part.

Matthew 26.11 KJV
For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.

Although I have often heard plenty of Christianists quote this verse in its entirety, just to make it look like they’re quoting it in context… then quickly say, “And the part I wanna focus on are those words ‘Ye have the poor always with you,’ and never mention the other clause again. It’ll only get in their way.

The point they wanna make with it? They wanna justify doing nothing for the poor.

Because there are poor people in the world. Somebody wants to help them. Give to them. Create jobs for them. Create charities to help them. Create social programs to take care of them. Enlist their aid, whether through private donations or tax dollars… and they don’t wanna help.

Now how does a Christian, the recipient of God’s infinite grace, who’s been warned by Jesus to not be stingy towards others because of how much grace we’ve been given, Mt 18.21-35 justify refusing the needy? Simple: This out-of-context verse. “Jesus said, ‘Ye have the poor always with you.’ This means we’re never gonna successfully get rid of poverty. There are always gonna be needy people. It’s a fool’s errand to fight it. Do you believe Jesus or don’t you?”

Oho, so it’s a matter of whether we believe Jesus, is it?

As if Jesus’s words were meant to condemn the poor to stay in their caste and never leave it. Because wealth must be some kind of signifier as to whether God deems them worthy, deserving, or righteous. Some lazy people sorta need to stuffer from poverty. Hence they’ve been perpetually condemned with it. And don’t you do anything for ’em. They gotta learn to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps; you’ll teach ’em to be dependent on you and they’ll never stop begging you for help; they’ll interpret your generosity as weakness and take you for granted; they’ll drain the fruits of your labor and give nothing back, like parasites. “If you give a mouse a cookie” and all that.

I don’t need to go on. You can get more of that hateful thinking from any Ayn Rand novel. Certainly not from Christ Jesus.

28 February 2017

Tithing: Enjoying one’s firstfruits with God.

How an ancient Hebrew harvest celebration got turned into giving a tenth of our income to our churches.

Tithe /taɪð/ n., adj. One-tenth.
2. v. Set aside, or give, a tenth.
3. v. Donate [a tenth of one’s income] to one’s church.

Most Christians define tithe as a donation to one’s church. Usually money, but sometimes our time, and sometimes various other items. The amount doesn’t necessarily equal a tenth of anything, which is why Christian preachers so often feel they should remind us “tithe” comes from the Saxon teóða/“tenth”: If you’re giving less than an actual tenth, it’s not really tithing.

This is because they insist it’s important we bring our whole tithe to church. ’Cause it says to in the bible.

Malachi 3.8-12 KWL
8 “Does any human cheat God like all of you cheat me?
You say, ‘How do we cheat you?’ In tithes. In offerings.
9 You’ve cursed yourselves. The whole nation is cheating me.
10 Bring your whole tithe to my treasury: There’s unclean food in my house!
Please test me in this,” says the LORD of War.
See if I don’t open heaven’s floodgates and pour down blessing till you overflow.
11 I rebuke the blight for you: It won’t ruin your crops.
It won’t kill the vines in your field,” says the LORD of War.
12 “Every nation will call you happy,
and consider you a land of delight,” says the LORD of War.

Most of ’em only quote verses 8–10. They don’t bother with verses 11–12. They should; those verses reveal the context of what the LORD actually meant by mahašér/“tithe.” He wasn’t talking about Christians who don’t contribute enough to our churches. He was talking about Hebrews who didn’t contribute enough to their community food closets. There was teréf/“spoil[ed food]” in his house. A fact most bibles tend to mistranslate “that there may be meat in mine house,” as the KJV has it: Teréf or the modern Yiddish word treyf, means unclean food—and God wasn’t asking for unclean food! But he did want food. ’Cause tithing was about food.

I know: You might never have heard this idea before. You’d be surprised how many Christian pastors are totally clueless about this fact. I grew up Christian, yet hadn’t heard any of this stuff till my thirties. But it’s all in your bible, hiding in plain sight.

23 February 2017

God’s grace is sufficient: What we mean, what Paul meant.

We use “sufficient” to mean God’s salvation or provision. Paul meant neither of those things.

2 Corinthians 12.9

One really good example of an out-of-context bible phrase is the idea God’s grace is sufficient. Sometimes phrased, “Your grace is enough for me,” or “His grace is sufficient” or if you wanna put the words in God’s mouth, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” People don’t even quote the entire verse; just the “grace is sufficient” bit.

And when we quote it, we mean one of two things.

Most of the time it’s used to state God’s grace is sufficient for salvation. It’s a reminder we humans can’t save ourselves from sin and death, no matter how many good deeds we do; and that’s fine ’cause God does all the saving. He applies Jesus’s atonement to our sins, takes care of it, forgives us utterly; all we need is God’s grace. It’s sufficient. It does the job.

Great is your faithfulness oh God
You wrestle with the sinner’s heart
You lead us by still waters into mercy
And nothing can keep us apart
So remember your people
Remember your children
Remember your promise, oh God
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough for me
—Matt Maher, “Your Grace Is Enough,” 2008

Is this what Paul meant by “grace is sufficient”? Not even close. While the idea we’re entirely saved by God’s grace is entirely true, the basis for this idea isn’t at all the verse where we find the words “grace is sufficient.” It comes from other verses, like “By grace you have been saved,” Ep 2.4, 8 NIV —not good works. There’s more to say about that, but I’ll do that later.

The rest of the time, “grace is sufficient” is used to say God will provide all our needs. ’Cause he’s gracious, generous, watches over us, answers prayers, cures our illnesses, guides our steps: We figure when we have God, we don’t need anything else. A self-sufficient person doesn’t need help, and neither does a God-sufficient person, ’cause God has us covered. Different worship 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
—Don Moen, “Jehovah Jireh,” 1986

Horrible pronunciation of YHWH-yiréh aside, which I remind you isn’t one of God’s names but a name of an altar, Ge 22.14 the problem is this also has nothing to do with what Paul meant by “grace is sufficient.”

But you know how songs are. Once a catchy one gets in your head, it’s hard to shake the song away… much less the inaccurate bible interpretations which come along with it.

25 January 2017

Prophetic interpretation: “God told me it means this!”

Sometimes the Spirit explains his scriptures. Other times prophets just don’t wanna do their homework.

I’m writing this article under the Prophecy category, but I should warn you: It’s not just prophets, wannabe prophets, and fake prophets who try to pull this stunt. Y’know where I first encountered it? Among cessationists, of all people.

Yep. All of ’em figure they have the very same Holy Spirit as the authors of scripture. Which they should, if they’re Christians. Since the Spirit inspired the scriptures, the Spirit should also be able to clue us in on what the scriptures mean.

Cessationists claim God doesn’t prophetically talk to people anymore. So what’s the point of ’em having the Holy Spirit? Well, they think he’s here for only two reasons:

  1. Confirm we’re going to heaven. Ep 1.13-14
  2. Illuminate the scriptures.

Illuminate means “light up,” and depending on how much the cessationist will permit the Holy Spirit to do, they figure either he lights them up so they can understand the scriptures, or lights the scriptures up so they can be understood. In essence they figure the only reason God the Holy Spirit is in their lives, is so he can make their bibles work. But they absolutely won’t refer to this process as prophecy… even though it totally is. Hey, if God’s speaking to us, and giving us stuff to tell others, that’s prophecy.

Anyway, they’re not wrong. One of the many things the Spirit does is inform us what he meant when he inspired the prophets and apostles who wrote the bible. That’s cool. You won’t find too many Christians who have a problem with the concept. That’s because I haven’t yet got to the actual problem.

And here it is: They take this idea of theirs about what the bible means, don’t bother to confirm it really did come from the Spirit, nor confirm it to be true, get up in front of other Christians, and proclaim, “This is what it means. And I know, ’cause I got it from God.”

Yes, it skipped a step. We’re supposed to confirm prophecies, folks. That means when we get an idea about how scripture oughta be interpreted, we bounce it off other Christians. Ever heard of a bible commentary? Totally counts as confirming it with other Christians. So do bible handbooks, bible dictionaries, and sending emails or making phone calls to real live bible scholars. If you got it in your head “This means that,” go find out whether this means that. Otherwise the devil’s gonna realize, “Hey, this dude never double-checks,” and is gonna have a lot of fun steering you wrong. How else d’you think cults start?

The problem is when a presumptive preacher or prophet figures they never need to double-check. They’ve been following God long enough to know what he sounds like. (A month’s all you need, right?) They have the Holy Spirit, so they need not that any man teach them. The Spirit teaches everything, Jn 14.26 and fallible fellow Christians will just mix ’em up anyway. Thus they get up in front of everyone and proclaim, “Thus saith the LORD”… and the LORD said no such thing.

Sometimes they even teach this as a legitimate way to interpret scripture. They call it “divine interpretation”—or instead of “divine,” they’ll go with “prophetic,” “spiritual,” “supernatural,” “revelatory,” or some other supernatural-sounding name. Shorthand for “Pretty sure I heard God, but I didn’t confirm jack.”