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

21 May 2024

To whom are the scriptures written? It’s kinda important.

Some months ago I visited another church. (So if my pastors are worried this article’s about them: Relax! I figure you know better than to do this.)

The passage was from the New Testament; Paul of Tarsus was, as usual, correcting Christians. I won’t say which of Paul’s letters was quoted; I don’t actually need to. In his sermon, Pastor Berwyn (not his name, but it’s what I’m calling him) expounded on what Paul had to say to all the sinners in our wicked world.

Except… was Paul writing to all the sinners of our wicked world? Or all the sinners of his wicked world?—namely the Roman Empire and its pagan practices. And maybe I should use the word “Pagan” with a capital P, because we’re not talking about today’s pagans, who lean monotheist thanks to the influence of Abrahamic religions: I’m talking old-school pagans, who believed in many gods, few of whom were good or moral or cared about humanity.

If you’ve read your bible, you’re fully aware every single one of Paul’s letters, whether written solo or with co-writers, was addressed to the Christians of various Roman Empire cities. And you’re fully aware every letter—the ones by James, Peter, John, Jude, and Luke—and all the gospels, were likewise written to Christians. The recipients and audience of the entire New Testament? Ancient Christians. And their posterity, which includes today’s Christians.

Not pagans. Not pagans then; not pagans now. Yep, even though we’ll give free bibles and gospels of John to pagans, in the hopes they’ll find Jesus in there: It wasn’t written to them.

Now, since the New Testament was written to ancient Christians, it stands to reason there are gonna be some things in it which dealt specifically with ancient Christian issues and problems. And for that, we gotta do a little historical research, and make sure we’re not borrowing the instructions about an ancient problem, and wrongly turning ’em into a current problem. (Like telling women they can’t speak in church.) Historical context is just as important.

Otherwise, the New Testament was written to Christians. Not pagans. And Paul’s instructions—and rebukes—are to Christians. Not the cold cruel world of the Roman Empire, nor the cold cruel world of the United States. He’s doing housekeeping. He’s trying to clean up the people who claim to follow Jesus. The people who make no such claims: They’re on their own. Ro 1.28-32 Till they repent.

If you ever hear a preacher angrily condemning the world… well, that’s gonna happen. Shouldn’t be done in anger, ’cause sinners aren’t gonna listen to an angry person; such preachers are speaking without love. (And don’t give me any rubbish about “tough love.” That’s just more anger.) But they’re gonna figure, “The Old Testament prophets did it; why can’t I?” and rant about it as much as they please, and maybe there’ll be some truth in it.

But if you’re claiming or implying the apostles did the same thing in the New Testament, you’d be wrong. You’re pulling the scriptures out of their context, and teaching your own bile instead of godly wisdom.

28 January 2024

“All scripture is God-breathed and useful for…”

2 Timothy 3.16.

In pretty much every sermon and lesson I’ve heard about why we have a bible, and what the bible is for, preachers and teachers quote this verse. Which I’m gonna quote in the New International Version, because of the unique and very popular way they translate it.

2 Timothy 3.16-17 NIV
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The NIV describes the scriptures as God-breathed, and people really like describing it that way. It’s a very literal, perhaps too literal, translation of the word θεόπνευστος/theónefstos, “divinely inspired”—or as the KJV puts it, “by inspiration of God.” But the reason Christians like quoting this part, is to remind us the Holy Spirit inspired the books of the bible, so they’re not just any books. God’s behind them.

And sometimes these folks take this idea too far, and claim God’s in them, and they’re worthy of the same reverence God is. That’s idolatry, so let’s not go there. Don’t go replacing the Holy Spirit with the Holy Bible, like too many cessationists do. The Spirit doesn’t imbue the bible with divine powers, so all we now need to do is recite its verses like magic incantations and it’ll do stuff. That’s not its purpose. Reject those teachers who tell you otherwise.

But as for what its purpose actually is—well that’s the other reason people quote 1 Timothy 3.16. It’s so they can list these four things:

  • TEACHING (Greek διδασκαλίαν/didaskalían, “instruction”; KJV “doctrine”). Informing Christians what we should know about God, and how to follow Jesus.
  • REBUKING (ἐλεγμόν/elegmón; in the Textus Receptus ἔλεγχον/élenhon; both mean “disprove, reprimand, convince otherwise”). Challenging Christians who get God wrong, go too far, or sin.
  • CORRECTING (ἐπανόρθωσιν/epanórthosin, “correcting.”) Correcting Christians who lose focus, get off track, or forget what’s important. “Rebuking” deals with Christians who are seriously wrong; “correcting” with Christians who are just a bit off course.
  • TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS (παιδείαν τὴν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ/pedeían tin en dikeosýni, “training about the right [way]”). Not just classroom instruction, but hands-on demonstration about how to fairly and morally treat others and behave.

They won’t always interpret these words the same way I have. I’ve been to churches where the main focus is correction. You don’t know the proper bible doctrines?—well, here they are; learn ’em and be orthodox like us. And when people object to our doctrines, learn some Christian apologetics so you can argue with them and win. As for behavior… well, don’t worry about actively following Jesus, for somehow that’s legalism; just don’t sin, for somehow that’s not.

But okay, those four things sound like really good reasons to study a bible. Thing is, they’re missing the most important one. Because they’re not reading the bible in context. You knew I was gonna get to context eventually, right?

23 October 2023

Zechariah’s prophecy “about the Israel-Hamas War.”

Zechariah 12.

After the Israel-Hamas War began on 7 October 2023, this highlighted bit of Zechariah started making the rounds on social media, usually captioned, “This is going to happen very soon. Watch.”

Zechariah 12.2-5, Living Bible.
From the 1971 edition of The Living Bible.

Memes like this are very popular with people who worry about the End Times, who want to know when it’s time to start buying the food buckets and guns for their bunkers.

The way Darbyist “prophecy scholars” interpret the End Times, every time they come across a passage of scripture which appears to be about anything in their End Times Timeline, they immediately declare that’s precisely what it is. God said it, and his prophets recorded it, not for the people of their day; not for the ancient Israelis of millennia ago. Oh they might’ve thought it was for them, but they were just illiterate foreigners who lived in mud huts without electricity and science, and didn’t even speak English—it’s for us, for the people of our day, for God’s actual chosen people.

The actual context of the scripture doesn’t matter. It only means what we want it to mean. It shall accomplish that which we please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto we sent it. As for what God meant by it?… well surely he thinks like we do.

Yeah, it’s pretty darned arrogant of these interpreters. But they’re so desperate to find End Times puzzle pieces in the bible which fit into their timelines—however awkwardly—they’re often not even aware what they’re doing. It’s like a child who’s so intent on drawing the perfect picture of a unicorn… she doesn’t realize she’s using permanent markers on the penboard. Or, really, care. Rebuke her for it, and she’ll wonder what all the fuss is about—it’s such a good picture! Why should you want to erase it?

So, Zechariah 12. What’s it historically about? Glad you asked. Let’s take a look at it.

08 August 2023

“If my people pray, I’ll heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7.14.

Today’s out-of-context verse is really popular with patriots.

Every country has its problems, right? Limited resources. Suffering people who need social services and healthcare. Ecological crises, like pollution, floods, drought, and pests. Rich people, corporations, and criminals who think the laws don’t need to apply to them. Corrupt government officials who enrich themselves instead of serving others. Racists and nationalists who want social supremacy for their group. Fascists who want to undermine or overthrow democracy and run things their way. Foreign countries who want to oppress and exploit the country, or at least keep it powerless and out of their way.

Who’s gonna solve all those problems? Well, they need to, but it’s mighty hard! They’re gonna need God’s help—if not Jesus’s direct intervention when he returns to take over the world. So they pray.

As we should! What’s wrong with praying for our country? For the wisdom of our country’s leadership to rule us properly? For supernatural solutions, if that’s what it’ll take? Plenty of kings in the bible did it; even pagan ones. Often to the wrong gods, but still: They realized they were gonna need divine aid, so they sought it.

Hence most churches pray for their countries. Sometimes as a regular part of the liturgy, sometimes not—but the church members are really agitated about something in the news, so Pastor decides it’s time to pray for the country again. Some prayer groups make sure to include the country and its leaders, even specific politicians, every time they meet.

And a lot of ’em like to invoke today’s out-of-context verse. ’Cause to them, it looks like a promise from God: If they pray for their country, he’ll fix it!

2 Chronicles 7.14 KJV
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

And of course they get really annoyed with me whenever I tell them they’re quoting this verse wrong. ’Cause what’s wrong with praying for our country? And why wouldn’t God fix it if we earnestly seek him?

Civic idolaters in particular. These’d be the folks who believe when Jesus returns, he actually won’t overthrow their country. In the United States, they figure the USA is the one exception to the kingdoms of this world which must become part of Christ’s one-world government. They figure already is his kingdom. Americans already are God’s chosen people. It’s just certain other unpatriotic factions are heavily mismanaging things. So we gotta outvote them. Or, failing that, overthrow them. You know, cheat.

And once our Christian nation returns to God, returns to proper Christian values (as they define them), stamps out the wicked, and makes a big show of repentance like public prayer and voting for the prolife political party (nevermind the various godless things that party’s candidates also believe): We’ve unlocked the magic spell laid out in that verse, and God has to heal our land. ’Cause it’ll really be his kingdom on earth. He’ll make it paradise. Maybe even hold back on the End Times for a few more years, so we can finally accomplish all our personal goals for wealth, romance, material success, and personal prosperity—all without that pesky rapture messing up our schedule. Yet at the same time, in our church services, claiming we’re getting the church ready to meet her groom. Rv 21.2

Yeah, it’s a wholly inconsistent theology. But politics and fear will do that to people.

Whenever I object to them ripping 2 Chronicles 7.14 out of its historical context, I regularly get accused of not loving the United States like they do. And they’re right: I love it, but definitely not like they do. I love it like God loves the world—and wants to save it! Jn 3.16 I want as many Americans as possible to turn to God. Not by political might nor personal power, but by the Spirit of Christ Jesus himself.

I remain mindful my citizenship is in God’s kingdom. And every time the Holy Spirit wakes me up to the fact the United States and his kingdom are opposed, I side with the kingdom every time. As should every Christian—instead of bending the truth till we can play both sides.

24 July 2023

Judge not. Or judge. Depends on the context.

Matthew 7.1-5.

Christians and pagans alike love to fling around the following Jesus quote a lot.

Matthew 7.1 KJV
Judge not, that ye be not judged.

Usually for one of two reasons. Both incorrect—though sometimes with good intentions.

  1. Be kind to other people. When they offend you personally—when they’re clumsy or awkward, boorish or rude, look and smell and dress funny, have horrible taste in music and movies and comedy, or even sin in ways which really bug you—remember God still loves them, and so should we. Besides, it’s not like we don’t sin either. Or have our own offensive flaws.
  2. Hey, don’t you judge me. “Judge not,” right?

Since kindness is one of the Spirit’s fruit, it makes sense to remind people to be kind and compassionate towards the weird or the sinful. When he was on earth, Jesus didn’t drive such people away; he ministered to them and befriended them.

Thing is, he didn’t just tolerate them: He forgave them. And forgiveness means they did do something wrong; otherwise there’d be nothing to forgive. Forgiveness indicates we do judge them—as either sinning or trespassing against us. But forgiveness means we’re gonna overlook it, and pay God’s grace forward. It’s not mere tolerance, which ignores their behavior, pretends they didn’t sin, pretends we’re not bothered… and festers within us like a sour tumor.

As for those folks who quote that verse in order to use our religion to their advantage, so they can evade judgment and consequences… well, they’re just being jerks.

10 July 2023

“Seek ye first”: Pursuing wealth via pursuing God’s kingdom.

Matthew 6.33.

In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, he said the following:

Matthew 6.31-33 Peshitta
31 ܠܳܐ ܗܳܟ݂ܺܝܠ ܬ݁ܺܐܨܦ݁ܽܘܢ ܐܰܘ ܬ݁ܺܐܡܪܽܘܢ ܡܳܢܳܐ ܢܶܐܟ݂ܽܘܠ ܐܰܘ ܡܳܢܳܐ ܢܶܫܬ݁ܶܐ ܐܰܘ ܡܳܢܳܐ ܢܶܬ݂ܟ݁ܰܣܶܐ 32 ܟ݁ܽܠܗܶܝܢ ܓ݁ܶܝܪ ܗܳܠܶܝܢ ܥܰܡ݈ܡܶܐ ܗ݈ܘ ܒ݁ܳܥܶܝܢ ܠܗܶܝܢ ܐܰܒ݂ܽܘܟ݂ܽܘܢ ܕ݁ܶܝܢ ܕ݁ܒ݂ܰܫܡܰܝܳܐ ܝܳܕ݂ܰܥ ܕ݁ܳܐܦ݂ ܠܟ݂ܽܘܢ ܡܶܬ݂ܒ݁ܰܥܝܳܢ ܗܳܠܶܝܢ ܟ݁ܽܠܗܶܝܢ 33 ܒ݁ܥܰܘ ܕ݁ܶܝܢ ܠܽܘܩܕ݂ܰܡ ܡܰܠܟ݁ܽܘܬ݂ܶܗ ܕ݁ܰܐܠܳܗܳܐ ܘܙܰܕ݁ܺܝܩܽܘܬ݂ܶܗ ܘܟ݂ܽܠܗܶܝܢ ܗܳܠܶܝܢ ܡܶܬ݁ܬ݁ܰܘܣܦ݂ܳܢ ܠܟ݂ܽܘܢ

What, you thought he said it in English? But okay, lemme stop messing with you and go with English instead of Aramaic.

Matthew 6.31-33 GNT
31 “So do not start worrying: ‘Where will my food come from? or my drink? or my clothes?’ 32 (These are the things the pagans are always concerned about.) Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. 33 Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things.”

Or as the King James Version has verse 33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Mt 6.33 KJV That’s the way I memorized it back in Sunday school. It’s a good verse to put in your brain. God first; let the worries of this world sort themselves out.

Problem is, when people only have that one specific verse in your brain, and aren’t wholly aware of the verses which come before it, nor what Jesus is even talking about… we’re gonna fill in the gaps in our knowledge with what we imagine Jesus meant by it. And some of those imaginations aren’t all that righteous.

One of the more frequent ways I’ve heard Christians misuse verse 33 over the years, is by not knowing what Jesus means by “all these other things.” By guessing at what Jesus means by “all these other things.” As if it’s all that hard to crack open a bible, read the Sermon on the Mount, and know what Jesus means; but yeah, they’d rather guess, and guess badly.

So among the Prosperity Gospel crowd, “all these other things” tends to mean wealth. If we “seek ye first the kingdom of God,” if we concentrate on growing Christianity and the church and its ministries and outreaches, if we put our resources towards all that first… then God will grant us “all these other things.” He’ll give us wealth. Riches. Health. Stable families. A state with an ethical, efficient government. A growing—no, booming!—economy. Wages going up, prices going down. Every hurricane pushed away from our state and redirected towards Florida… ’cause they know what they did. Taco trucks on every corner, with every taco more delicious than the last.

Yep, if we seek the kingdom of God first, God’ll grant us our own personal paradises on earth. Streets of gold before New Earth gets created. So let’s concentrate on that kingdom of God!

01 February 2023

Context? Who needs context?

CONTEXT 'kɑn.tɛkst noun. Setting of an idea or event: The larger story they’re part of, the circumstances or history behind them, the people to whom they’re said. Without them, the idea is neither fully understood nor clear.
[Contextual kən'tɛks.tʃ(əw).əl adjective.]

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”

It doesn’t come from bible, though from time to time someone will claim it totally does, and therefore it’s a divine command. But nope, it’s not scripture at all. Comes from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, act 1, scene 3. Shakespeare’s no slouch, but it’s still not bible.

Why do people quote it? Typically because they literally mean it: Don’t borrow! Don’t lend! Because if you never borrow money, chances are you’ll never go into debt or bankruptcy. If you never lend money, you won’t have to fret when your friends can’t repay you. Simple, prudent advice. Words people think we oughta live by.

Okay, so why’d Shakespeare write this line?

Well… actually we don’t care why he wrote it. We’re only interested in what we mean by it: Don’t borrow! Don’t lend! We presume Shakespeare meant the very same thing. It’s straightforward enough, isn’t it?

But a Shakespeare scholar, or anyone who’s stayed awake through Hamlet, will recall exactly where it came from. The wily King Claudius’s not-as-wily adviser, Polonius, is giving advice to his son Laertes before he sends him off to university. If they watched any halfway decent performance of Hamlet, they’ll remember Polonius was kind of an idiot. All his other advice in the play turns out to be wrong, bad, foolish, and fatal.

“Well okay, Shakespeare put it in the mouth of a dunce. But it’s still sound advice.”

Is it? Look at the life stories of certain billionaires, and you’ll notice nearly all of them, in order to start the company which made ’em a billion dollars, borrowed money. (The few who didn’t borrow money, already had money, or had wealthy relatives.) You’ll also notice nearly all of them lent money, and made a bunch of money that way too. As for lending, should I not buy treasury bills? Should I not put my money in long-term certificate of deposit accounts? Should I not invest in businesses and people I believe in?

Really, I find the only people who quote it are self-serving or stingy people. And if they claim it’s godly advice, it’s really not. Bible doesn’t back up Polonius at all.

You see the problem. Context is important. We should care where our quotes come from. We might be giving bad advice. Or, when quoting the bible, we might make a divine command out of something which was never meant to be one.

21 September 2022

“No weapon formed against you shall prosper.”

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?

28 July 2022

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

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.

05 July 2022

When the heavens are brass?

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?

20 June 2022

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

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.”

25 March 2022

The prayer of faith will raise him up.

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.

24 March 2022

Receiving not our witness.

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.

23 March 2022

Lifting Jesus up—in worship, or in crucifixion?

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.

10 February 2022

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

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.

09 February 2022

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

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.

08 February 2022

“The truth will set you free.”

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.

07 February 2022

Elisha’s double portion.

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.

02 February 2022

The appearance of evil.

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.

07 October 2021

“If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

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.