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

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.”

10 January 2017

When two or three gather in Jesus’s name.

Christians assume all sorts of magic happens when we group up. Nope.

Matthew 18.20

Matthew 18.20 KJV
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

We Christians quote that verse for all sorts of reasons.

  • To point out the importance of group prayer: When two or three of us pray together, Jesus is there, so he must therefore hear our prayers. (Though getting him to answer “Yes” is another thing.)
  • To point out the importance of small groups. Same reason: Two or three of us are together, so Jesus is there, and supposedly his presence blesses our meeting.
  • To avoid church. “You don’t have to go to Sunday morning worship; you just have to gather with two or three fellow Christians and talk Jesus for a few minutes. That counts.” It doesn’t, but I’ll get to that.

But in context it refers to church discipline.

Matthew 18.15-20 KWL
15 “When your fellow Christian sins against you,
take them aside and reprove them—just you and them alone.
When they hear you, you’ve helped your fellow Christian.
16 When they don’t hear you: Take one or two others with you.
Thus ‘by the mouth of two witnesses or three, every word can stand.’ Dt 19.15
17 When they refuse to hear you, tell the church.
When they also refuse to hear the church: To you, they’re like a pagan and taxman.
18 Amen, I promise you whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven.
Whatever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven.
19 Amen again, I tell you when two of you agree amongst yourselves on earth about any activity,
when you ask your heavenly Father about it, it’ll happen to it.
20 For I’m there in the middle of it wherever two or three come together in my name.”

It’s not about when we come together for any old reason, like prayer or worship. It’s when we’re trying to deal with a serious matter, where relationships may have to be suspended or end. It’s about the direction of the church; not about whether our little prayer breakfasts counts the same as Sunday morning worship.

27 October 2016

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

2 Chronicles 7.14.

Today’s out-of-context verse is really popular with civic idolaters, those folks who assume when Jesus returns, he won’t overthrow the United States: It’s the one exception to the kingdoms of this world which must become part of Christ’s one-world government. To them, it already is his kingdom, and Americans already are God’s chosen people. It’s just we’re heavily mismanaging things. But once we call upon God… well, lemme quote their beloved bible verse.

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.

Right. If our Christian nation returns to God, and returns to proper Christian values (as defined by popular Christian culture), and makes big shows of repentance like public prayer and voting for the prolife political party (and never mind what the party’s candidates think about the needy, the stranger, the widows and orphans—heck, women in general): God will heal our land. Turn it into his kingdom on earth. 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, and material success, 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 fear’ll do that to people.

Anyway, 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: It definitely ain’t like they do. I love the United States like God loves the world—and wants to save it. Jn 3.16 I want as many Americans as possible to turn to God. I don’t assume they already have. Polls prove we think we have, but crime and abortion rates prove we haven’t. So 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 the kingdom are opposed, I’m siding with the kingdom. Every time. As should every Christian—instead of bending the truth till we can play both sides.

27 September 2016

Needing not that any man teach you.

The verse the go-it-alone Christian uses to evade accountability.

1 John 2.27

Ever heard of a “life verse”? It’s a Christianese saying. Means a bible verse which isn’t just a Christian’s favorite verse; it’s one they kinda consider their own personal mission statement. It’s one they base their life, or lifestyle, upon. Heck, there are a few of these “life verses” found in the very same chapter of 1 Thessalonians.

  • People who are big on joy: “Always rejoice.” 1Th 5.16
  • People who are big on prayer: “Pray without slacking.” 1Th 5.17
  • Big on prophecy: “Don’t dismiss prophecy.” 1Th 5.20
  • Big skeptics: “Put everything to the test.” 1Th 5.21

Anyway, I once worked with this woman… and Random Name Generator is gonna call her Svanhildr. Okay, why not. (Doesn’t that mean “swineherd”? Probably not.) Anyway, Svanhildr’s “life verse” was obviously “I need not that any man teach me.” Not just because she quoted it all the time: Nobody could teach her anything. Nobody was allowed to. She wouldn’t let ’em.

The whole verse, in the King James Version, goes like yea:

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

“The anointing,” Svanhildr figured, is the Holy Spirit, who comes to live in us when we turn to Jesus. John called this anointing “it” instead of “he,” but she figured John was using a metaphor; it’s the Spirit. You know, the Spirit who “shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” Jn 14.26 KJV Since the Spirit teaches us all things, what need is there for any other teachers? They’re all just fallible human beings anyway.

Bluntly, this is the favorite bible verse of the go-it-alone Christian. We’ve got loads of them in Christendom. Some of them won’t even go to church, ’cause the pastor and elders insist on trying to teach ’em stuff. The rest do go—’cause you gotta, ’cause it’s all part of being a good Christian, ’cause it’s in their bibles somewhere—but try their darnedest to keep people from telling them anything.

Since I teach, I regularly run into this type. Paradoxically enough, they’ve even attended my classes. But the instant I tell ’em something they don’t wanna hear, up comes this verse like it’s their shield.

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

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

And while we’re at it: Logic, reason, context, and fruit of the Spirit.

07 September 2016

Lukewarm Christians.

It’s not about being emotionally be excited. That’d be a way easier problem to solve, right?

Revelation 3.15-16.

I give youth pastors a bad rap sometimes. Okay, often. Because I believe a lot of them fundamentally misunderstand their job. As did most of the youth pastors I’ve had to deal with, both decades ago as a teenager, and in the years since as I’ve worked with kids and young adults. Their job is to minister to the young people of the church, and share Jesus with the young people of their communities. You know, like any other pastor. Only with youth.

Problem is, many of the YPs I’ve run into, don’t think that way at all. Sometimes because their churches don’t think that way. My church, growing up, thought of the YPs as our babysitters. They were to make sure the church’s members’ kids behaved ourselves, and stayed Christian—at least till college. Once we graduated high school, we weren’t the YP’s responsibility anymore. My YPs made this fact quite clear to me when, shortly after my 18th birthday, they asked me to leave the high school group. Just like those parents who tell their offspring, “You’re 18; you’re outa here.”

Others of ’em think of the YP job as an internship, or “paying their dues” before they get their real ministry working with adults. Meanwhile they get to practice on us kids, and hopefully not screw us up too much. My first youth pastor was one of these. He really did make an effort with us kids… till that senior pastor job opened up in Colorado, and off he went.

Anyway, he was the one who first introduced me to the concept of out-of-context scriptures. He quoted the following Jesus statement from Revelation, then talked about how his fellow YPs typically misinterpreted it.

Revelation 3.15-16 KJV
15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

Y’see, this is a verse which comes up in youth ministry a lot. It’s because a lot of us kids are identified as “lukewarm.” Because the term, it’s believed, describes our lack of zeal.

And let’s be honest: Kids aren’t always all that zealous about God. See, the bulk of us had grown up Christian. We were led to Jesus when we were little kids—which is great; never stop sharing Jesus with your kids!—but children tend to believe most of the things adults tell ’em. Then they become teenagers, and learn to doubt. Which is fine: Let’s get those doubts out into the open, and deal with ’em! But babysitter YPs don’t deal with them. They tamp down the doubts with platitudes and quick fixes. After all, their job is only to keep the kids Christian till college. Then, in college, like so many other kids who grew up Christian… they can unthinkingly embrace those doubts and become pagan. Or even atheist.

Our YP, at the time, addressed some of those doubts. Good on him. And he made sure we’re aware of the existence of out-of-context scriptures, by correcting a few of the misinterpretations. Like what it means to be “lukewarm.”

02 August 2016

“God makes all things work together for our good.”

Wouldn’t that be awesome. Too bad God never promised any such thing.

Romans 8.28

“You make all things work together for my good,” goes the bridge of the 2008 Jesus Culture song “Your Love Never Fails.” (Or are you more familiar with the 2013 Newsboys version? No? Doesn’t matter.) It’s a common variation of a popular idea, borrowed from Paul in Romans, which goes like so:

Romans 8.28 KJV
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Frequently people drop a “the” in quoting it, and end it, “to them who are the called according to his purpose.” More like the ESV has it. But however we remember it, the problem is why we remember it; and this being a “Context” article you can bet it’s about wrongly remembering it.

Together with “Everything happens for a reason!” this is a myth we Christians use to comfort ourselves, and one another. When we’re going through a rough time, we like to imagine God’s permitting or allowing or even causing these trials, because he has a greater good in mind. We just gotta trust God, and ride it out.

But this is an idea Calvinism teaches. Not the scriptures. It’s based on the Calvinist belief God sovereignly micromanages everything in the cosmos. They say he’s actually behind all things—even evil things—so of course he’ll work ’em out for our good. But we gotta stretch the scriptures beyond their breaking point before they state any such thing.

You do realize there’s an entire book of the bible dedicated to the existence of meaningless things, right? Not everything happens for a reason! It’s why Qohelét, the author of Ecclesiastes, started his book with “Vapor of vapors. It’s all vapor.” Ec 1.2 KWL

I won’t go as hardcore as Qohelét did, and claim we can’t find meaning in anything. Certain things definitely have meaning. Sometimes we grant the meaning to them; sometimes God does. But Qohelét was dealing with a culture which—like our own—tries to find meaning in everything. A random accident upends our lives, and we go out of our minds playing mental connect-the-dots, trying to find anything deep or truthful or profound in it. So to give his culture a solid slap in the face, Qohelét pulled out the stops: Nothing has meaning. Nothing makes sense. All sorts of stuff that’s “supposed” to happen, doesn’t. Stuff that should be fair, isn’t. Life sucks.

For these people, Ecclesiastes is a bummer, so they avoid it. We don’t wanna believe it. We way prefer the idea God has a grand plan, and these random accidents are secretly part of the plan. We imagine every irrelevant, minor thing triggers a butterfly effect, with great, life-altering consequences. Every decision matters. Every action counts. Every time we talk about God, we plant a seed which never returns void. You know, the usual hyper-optimistic crap.

You know, the usual hyper-optimistic crap. And don’t get me wrong; Christians ought to be optimistic. Jm 1.2 But not delusionally so. We live by faith, not wishful thinking.

27 June 2016

The proof text.

If we’re gonna refer to the bible, let’s be sure we’re doing it right.

Proof text /'pruf tɛkst/ n. A scriptural verse or passage, used (or misused) as evidence to support the idea one wishes to teach.
2. v. Using (or misusing) the scriptures as a reference.

Y’know how sometimes I’ll mention a biblical idea, like God saving us by his grace, Ep 2.8 and do exactly what I just did there: Tack on a link to a bible verse which proves my point. It’s called proof-texting. If you weren’t sure whether that idea was backed by the bible, I pointed you to the bit of bible which confirms it.

I know; the word texting can confuse people. Especially if you’ve always thought of texting as sending a Short Message Service file from your phones. (Didn’t know that’s what SMS meant, didja?) I made the mistake of not clarifying that when I was instructing kids in how to proof-text properly. Some poor lad thought every time he referred to the scriptures, he had to send a text message—and wasn’t sure where to send it. To me? (No.)

And I also know: There are Christians who use the term “proof-texting” only when they mean wrongly referencing the bible. To them, “bible references” are proper quotes, always in context, and therefore good; “proof texts” are always misquoted, therefore bad. First time I ever heard of proof-texting, the term was introduced to me by a youth pastor who warned us kids to never proof-text. Which really alarmed me when a visiting speaker taught us we should always proof-text. For a while there I worried my church had invited the Antichrist over to mislead us all.

See, a lot of people proof-text wrong. Did it myself: When I was a kid, my youth pastors actually used to let me lead bible study groups, or even preach, from time to time. (I knew a lot of bible trivia, and they confused this with maturity.) To prepare, I’d bust out my handy Nave’s Topical Bible, which lists all the verses which touch upon almost any given Christian topic. Problem is, unless you’ve got a computer version (and sometimes even then), Nave’s verses are provided without context. And I didn’t care about context: I had my own opinion on the subject, and arrogantly assumed God felt the same way. I just wanted verses which proved me right. If they obviously didn’t, I might change my tune. But this wasn’t always obvious.

Since my youth pastors kept letting me preach, I assume I didn’t go too far afield with my out-of-context proof texts. Then again, most of the youth pastors likely did the very same thing with their own sermons. To this day I catch preachers doing it. They’ll download sermon outlines, won’t double-check the references, and misquote bible like crazy. The reason I catch ’em is because I was taught in seminary to always check references. And this bit of wisdom, I pass along to you: Always check references. Always always always.

Even when you think you already know that reference—’cause you might be wrong. As we usually are.

14 June 2016

“Woman, be silent!”

One of the verses sexists misquote so they can keep women down.

1 Timothy 2.12

Years ago I taught the bible classes at a Christian junior high. It was overseen by an Assemblies of God church, and if you know the denomination, you’ll know we have women pastors. Haven’t always, but have way longer than most denominations.

I should also mention the school accepted students, and hired teachers, from just about any denomination. Frequently half my students were Catholic, which used to weird out the Protestant parents whenever I taught on purgatory.

Anyway, one morning one of my kids informed me, “Mrs. Gopinatha” (name randomly picked; actual name withheld to protect the guilty) “says women can’t be pastors.”

This came as no surprise to me. Mrs. Gopinatha was a member of one of those independent Baptist churches. You know the sort. Most of the reason they’re independent is ’cause they figure everybody else is wrong.

“Oh does she,” I said.

“Because she says the bible says women can’t be pastors.”

Well, I was raised Fundamentalist too, and knew my King James better’n she did.

“She’s got that part wrong,” I said; “it says women can’t be teachers. Show her 1 Timothy 2.12 the next time she tries to teach you anything biblical.” Here’s that verse, by the way:

1 Timothy 2.12 KJV
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

Sexists love this verse. Love love love. Quote it every time a woman dares try to correct ’em—whether it’s an unrelated woman in their church, up to and including the pastor’s wife; whether it’s a relative, like a mother, aunt, or sister; but especially when it’s a relative they think they’re in charge of, like a wife or daughter. Absolutely no woman is qualified to teach, rebuke, or correct them. And if they dare try, it’s usurping his divinely-granted patriarchal authority as a man.

What’re the chances they’re quoting it out of context? Hundred percent.

What’re the chances they don’t care, so long that their misquotation keeps them in power? Hundred percent.

10 June 2016

The first time Jesus cured anyone.

Somebody figured if he can turn water to wine, he can cure sick boys.

John 4.43-54

Jesus spent two days with the Samaritans of Sykhár, proclaiming God’s kingdom. Now he needed a break, so he went back to his homeland, the western side of the Roman province of the Galilee. More precisely Cana (today’s Kfar Kanna), 4 kilometers north of Nazareth, where he’d done the water-to-wine thingy.

Or I could just quote the gospel…

John 4.43-46 KWL
43 After the two days, Jesus left Samaria for the Galilee,
44 for Jesus himself testified that in their own homeland, prophets have no value.
45 So when Jesus came to the Galilee, the Galileans received him.
They’d seen all he did in Jerusalem at the festival, for they also went to the festival.
46A He went to Cana, Galilee, where he made the water wine, again.

Now the part which tends to throw Christians is Jesus’s comment “that in their own homeland, prophets have no value.” Because in the other gospels, Jesus says it like it’s a bad thing:

Mark 6.4 KWL
Jesus told them this: “A prophet isn’t worthless—
unless he’s in his homeland, among his relatives, and in his house.”
Matthew 13.57 KWL
They were offended by him, and Jesus told them, “A prophet isn’t worthless—
unless he’s in his homeland, and in his house.”
Luke 4.24 KWL
Jesus said, “Amen! I promise you: No prophet is tolerated in his homeland.”

In that context, it was. In each of these gospels, Jesus was teaching in the Nazareth synagogue, Lk 4.16 but his neighbors couldn’t handle the things coming out of his mouth, ’cause they presumed they knew all about him—and who was he? What’s the handyman Mk 6.1 (or handyman’s son Mt 13.55) doing claiming to be a rabbi, a miracle-worker, a prophet? In Luke, they even tried to push him off a cliff. Lk 4.29

I don’t know whether that event took place before this John passage. It might have. I don’t think so, ’cause one of the Nazarenes’ objections was they wanted Jesus to repeat some of the miracles he’d done in Kfar Nahum (D-R Capharnaum) Lk 4.23 and in John he’d done no such miracles yet. Jn 4.54 But it seems he had already made the quip that prophets are worthless in their homeland.

Christians, who aren’t always aware of how a saying can change meaning depending on its context, assume since the saying is negative in the other gospels, it must also be negative here. So their interpretations of this passage get all loopy. Since John says they went to the Galilee gar/“for indeed” Jesus said prophets have no value, some folks preach Jesus went there because they were hostile to him. Because Jesus wanted to start something. Maybe pick a fight.

02 June 2016

The fivefold ministry. Or is it fourfold? Sevenfold?

The ministries God puts in our churches… versus the people who covet leadership roles.

FIVEFOLD MINISTRY /'faɪv.foʊld 'mɪn.ɪs.tri/ n. The belief the five gifts Christ granted to build up his body Ep 4.11 are best held by individual church leaders.

There are several different ways we Christians have chosen to run our churches. Some of ’em are run by archbishops, some by pastors, some by elders, some by democratic vote, and some are anarchist: Supposedly no one leads but the Holy Spirit. (I used to attend such a church, and discovered in practice, certain folks just happen to “hear the Spirit” far more often than others, and wind up leading by default. Sometimes they legitimately do hear the Spirit; sometimes not so much.)

Some of these leadership models are based on the bible. Some not. Is there a particular way God wants Christians to run his churches? I would definitely say so—but I’m not hard-and-fast on it. ’Cause regardless of your church leadership structure, the most important factor is whether your leaders and people follow Jesus. If they do, regardless of the leadership structure, the church is gonna work. If they don’t, again regardless of the leadership structure, the church is gonna go wrong.

At some other point I’ll list all the different models, but today I’m obviously gonna rant write about the fivefold ministry model.

It’s a relatively new leadership structure. Invented in the 1970s, a lot of churches in the charismatic “apostolic movement” have adopted it. It’s where the church is run either by five elders, or five teams of elders. (Since each of these teams tends to have a supervisor… functionally, five elders.) Each of these elders holds a different office, or job title, which corresponds to one of Christ Jesus’s five ministry gifts, listed by Paul in Ephesians.

Ephesians 4.11-12 KWL
11 Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
12 They’re for the purpose of setting up holy people for good works;
for building up Christ’s body till we’ve all arrived at a unified faith and knowledge of God’s Son;
for producing a mature, measured-up, complete Christian.

Now. Historically Christians haven’t taught these are five jobs, but five gifts: Different abilities to minister. Different aptitudes. One Christian has a knack for prophecy, another for evangelism. But in practice the Holy Spirit grants all these gifts—not one and only one—to various church leaders on an ad hoc basis.

Jesus is an obvious example of someone who simultaneously had all five gifts.

  • APOSTLE: Jesus was sent by God. He 3.1
  • PROPHET: Jesus shares God’s word. Mt 21.11
  • EVANGELIST: Jesus shares the good news of the kingdom. Mk 1.14
  • PASTOR: Jesus is our good shepherd, Jn 10.11 our leader.
  • TEACHER: Jesus is a rabbi, Jn 13.13 and our only rabbi. Mt 23.10

“Well of course Jesus could do ’em all,” various Christians reply, ”because he’s Jesus.” You know everybody’s favorite excuse for not doing as Jesus did: He exceptional. And he is, in a whole lot of ways. But not this one, ’cause loads of his apostles also simultaneously had all five gifts. Peter, John, Philip, Paul, James; and you’ll notice most churches expect their head pastor to have these abilities where necessary. Apostles in that God called ’em into ministry, prophets in that they can recognize God’s voice and share his will, evangelists ’cause they lead people to Jesus, pastors ’cause they shepherd the people of their churches, and teachers ’cause they gotta teach us everything Jesus taught.

Fivefold ministry advocates point out this is a whole lot of work to put upon just one person. They’re quite right; it’s why the mature Christians of a church need to step up and aid their pastor. But the fivefold folks claim the list in Ephesians is a jobs list: The Holy Spirit divvied up these gifts, just like he scattered his supernatural gifts among different Christians. 1Co 12.7 Therefore each church shouldn’t only have a pastor leading it, but have five leaders in charge. A pastor of course. And also an apostle, prophet, evangelist, and teacher.

10 May 2016

Elisha’s double portion.

No, it’s not about getting twice as much as your predecessor. Just your fellow heirs.

2 Kings 2.9-10

The first time I heard of the idea of “the double portion,” it was in Sunday school, in a lesson our overeager youth pastor taught us about the eighth-century BC prophet Elijah of Tishbe, and his apprentice Elisha. On the day Elijah got raptured, he and Elisha had this conversation:

2 Kings 2.9-10 KWL
9 This happened when they crossed the river:
Elijah told Elisha, “Ask me to do for you, before I’m taken from you.”
Elisha said, “Please assign the double portion of your spirit to me.”
10 Elijah said, “You ask for a serious burden.
If you see me get taken from you, it’s yours.
If not, it’s not.”

Elisha, our youth pastor explained, requested twice the spirit of Elijah. Double 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, and I heard the charismatic spin on this interpretation: Elijah didn’t just get twice Elijah’s spirit, but twice the Holy Spirit. ’Cause the Spirit inspired 1Pe 1.21 and empowered 1Co 12.11 the prophets. No, this doesn’t mean there were two Holy Spirits knocking around inside Elisha. It means the Spirit empowered him to be twice as mighty as Elijah. Twice as miraculous. Twice as prophetic.

And y’know, had one of Elisha’s students made this same request of him, theoretically this guy 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 on a third guy, that guy could’ve done 56 miracles. And his successor, 112 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 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.

12 April 2016

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

Since the bible doesn’t include an origin story for the devil, Christians just made one up.

Isaiah 14.12-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 March 2016

When the heavens are brass?

When it feels like God isn’t listening. But it’s just us.

Deuteronomy 28.23

When Christians start talking about how “the heavens are brass”—or bronze, depending on whether they grew up with the King James Version or the New International Version—they’re talking about unanswered prayer. The phrase comes from this verse:

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 context of this verse isn’t actually about unanswered prayer at all. It’s about the sort of blight the Hebrews are gonna experience when they dismiss their relationship with God. Moses went into a bit of detail about it, too.

Deuteronomy 28.1-24 KWL
1 “If you happen to listen to your LORD God’s voice,
so as to observe and do every command I instructing you about today,
your LORD God will give you power over every country on earth:
2 All these blessings will come to you and overwhelm you,
for you listened to your LORD God’s voice.
3 You’ll be blessed in city, field, 4 the fruit of your belly, the fruit of the ground,
and the fruit of your animals—what your cattle drops, or your flocks produce.
5 You’ll be blessed in breadbasket, in yeast;
6 when you enter, when you leave.
7 The LORD will have your enemies which rise against you be struck down in front of you.
They’ll come at you from one direction, and run away from you in seven.
8 The LORD will teach you about blessing in your storehouses, in everything you undertake.
He’ll bless you in the land your LORD God gives you.
9 The LORD will raise you to himself: A holy people, as he swore you’d become.
So observe your LORD God’s commands. Walk in his ways.
10 All the earth’s peoples will see you call upon the LORD’s name, and fear you.
11 The LORD will give you a good surplus, fruit of your belly, beasts, and your ground,
in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors.
12 The LORD will open his good, heavenly treasury for you:
He’ll give rain to your land in its season. He’ll hand over every deed.
Many nations will owe you, and you’ll never borrow.
13 The LORD makes you the head, not the tail. You’ll go upward, not downward.
So listen to your LORD God’s commands.
Observe and do what I’m instructing you today.
Don’t dismiss any words I command you today.
Don’t go right or left, to follow or serve other gods.
 
15 “If it happens you don’t listen to your LORD God’s voice,
to observe and do all his commands and orders which I command you today,
these hardships will come upon you, and overtake you.
16 You’ll be screwed in city, field, 17 breadbasket, and yeast,
18 in the fruit of your belly, the fruit of the ground, what your cattle drops, or your flocks produce.
19 You’ll be screwed when you enter, when you leave.
20 The LORD will send you curses, frustration, and opposition in everything you undertake to do.
Till you’re wiped out, till you quickly die,
because of the evil actions you abandoned me to pursue.
21 The LORD will make plague stick to you till it wipes you from the land you’re entering to live in.
22 The LORD will smite you with illness, fever, hot flashes, high temperature, drought,
forest fires, mildew—all of which will chase you to death.
23 The skies over your head will be copper. The land beneath you, iron.
24 The LORD will rain dust and dirt from the sky. He’ll pour it on you till you’re exterminated.”

When Moses spoke of the heavens being brass, or nekhošét/“copper” (brass is made of copper, y’know) he was speaking of a sky which produces no rain. And the iron ground produces no crops.

So yeah: If you’re gonna talk about the skies being brass, and really mean unanswered prayer, don’t make the mistake of saying, “You know, like when the bible talks about when the skies are brass.” It’s not like when the bible talks about any such thing. It’s about when popular Christian culture talks about it. The bible does have passages about unanswered prayer. It’s just this ain’t one of them. Capice?

01 March 2016

God knows the plans he has for you.

When inspirational quotes are shown in historical context.

Jeremiah 29.11

Jeremiah 29.11 NIV
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Whenever English-speaking Christians quote this verse, I tend to hear the New International Version translation most often. Oddly, not the been-around-way-longer King James:

Jeremiah 29.11 KJV
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

I suspect it’s ’cause the words “prosper” and “hope” and “future” are in the NIV, so it comes across as way more optimistic and inspiring. It’s why Christians quote it like crazy.

’Cause we do. Like the evangelists told us, “God has a wonderful plan for your life,” and this verse brilliantly affirms it: God thinks warm, wonderful things about us. He has a good, fine plan, with a good future.

Some of us figure that future is heaven, and some of us figure it’s all the worldly success the American Dream can offer. But Christianized. That way we’re comfortably wealthy, but our comfort and wealth somehow hasn’t turned us into out-of-touch, self-entitled jerks. Instead we’re “good stewards” of that wealth… but I gotta tell ya, in practice stewardship tends to look a little out-of-touch, and a tends to hoard on the basis of “God gave these riches to me, not the needy, so I must deserve it more than they.” But I digress.

Like many out-of-context scriptures, this isn’t a mistranslation. My own translation isn’t far different from the NIV and KJV.

Jeremiah 29.11 KWL
“Because I know the intentions I plan over you,” the LORD states.
“Intentions of peace, not evil. To give you a happy ending, and hope.”

The verse is about what God has in store for his people. He plans good, not evil. (Especially not secret, behind-the-scenes evil stuff, like natural disasters and wars; whereas in public he maintains moral superiority. I know certain Christians claim otherwise, but God’s no hypocrite.) God wants his people to have good lives. Not bad.

Thing is: The people God addressed in this prophecy are the Hebrews of southern Israel, the separate tribes which the writers of the Old Testament call “Judah.” (Really the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Simeon; plus Levites and various members of other tribes in the cities. Collectively, “Jews.”) Jeremiah prophesied it between the years 586 and 581BCE, after King Jeconiah, his family and court, and Jerusalem’s officials had been taken captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar’s troops. Jr 29.2 In fact the prophecy was a message to these very captives. Not all the Jews in the sixth century before the Christian Era; certainly not 21st-century gentiles. Nor even all us Christians.

But we’d sure like it to be us, wouldn’t we?

02 February 2016

Judge not. Or judge. Depends on the context.

Don’t weasel out of your responsibilities by misquoting Jesus.

Matthew 7.1

People, Christians and pagans alike, 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 the best of 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 a fruit of the Spirit it makes sense to remind people to be kind and compassionate towards the weird or the sinful. 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 means we did judge them as either sinning or trespassing against us—but 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.

12 January 2016

Can God’s word “return void”?

Depends. Are we really talking God’s word, or our excuse to preach at hardened people?

Isaiah 55.11

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

That’s how we wasted the next 15 minutes. Yes, wasted. Because the vagrant was: Either he was drunk, or had some condition which made him incoherent. Jason’d ask him questions to determine whether he understood the gospel, and the guy would start rambling about how he believed men and women should be together. In which context I don’t know. (Hey, this article is about context; I had to bring it up at some point.)

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

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

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

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

The saying comes from this verse:

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

Here’s what Jason, and plenty of Christians like him, believes: Say we’re sharing Jesus with someone, and the someone won’t believe what we tell them, no matter what. Well, take comfort in the fact God’s word—which is what we shared with them, ’cause it’s either based on bible, or contains a whole lot of bible quotes—doesn’t return void. It works on them. Even when it doesn’t appear to, for years, it does. It just does.

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