Power through prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 April

Humans covet power. So I fully expect by titling this article “Power through prayer,” I’m gonna get a few readers who think, “I’d like some power, and this fella claims I can get it through prayer; let’s see whether there’s anything I can use.” (More accurately, “Let’s see whether he tells me something I care to do.” If it takes too much effort, or takes us too far out of our comfort zones, people prefer alternative routes. True of medicine, politics, Christianity, and of course our prayers.)

Generally there are three types of Christians who wanna know about gaining power through prayer.

  1. “PRAYER WARRIORS.” These’d be the folks who think prayer is how we do spiritual warfare. Not resisting temptation, like the scriptures describe; they believe spiritual warfare consists of praying against all the evil in the world. They want everything they pray against to be vanquished.
  2. SIGN-SEEKERS. These Christians wanna see miracles. They wanna do miracles. They want the Holy Spirit to empower them to do every mighty act they can think of: Sick people get instantly cured, axheads float, sundials go backwards, fillings turn to gold, fire falls from the sky. Anything which demonstrates God’s really among us and endorses them.
  3. POWER SEEKERS. These people want temporal power. They wanna be in charge of a church, ministry, or nonprofit. Or they want to be financially successful—have a nice house, own a nice car, pay off their mortgage, take all the vacations missions trips they always wanted to…. Or they want political power. Whatever gives them the ability to direct their lives the way they wish.

So all these folks wanna be “strong in the Lord, and the power of his might,” Ep 6.10 KJV whether they’re thinking of God’s armor or not. They want their prayers regularly answered with yes. Their wishes are… well, not God’s commands, for they’d never put it that way. But essentially yeah: They want God to do as they ask.

The problem? These people covet power. Not God. God’s a means to an end, not the Beginning and the End. Learning how to have power through prayer, basically means learning to manipulate God, and have our way with the Almighty. It’s the exact opposite of how our relationship with God is meant to work.

And those who seek powerful prayers, have to watch out lest we share this motivation. Because it’s absolutely the wrong motivation. We follow him. Never the other way round.

Spiritual warfare: Resist temptation!

by K.W. Leslie, 01 April
SPIRITUAL WARFARE 'spɪr.ɪtʃ.(əw.)əl 'wɔr.fɛ(.ə)r noun. Actively opposing the activity of evil spirits by resisting temptation, exposing their hidden involvement, and exorcism.
2. Popularly (but inaccurately), vigorous prayer, singing, or other acts of worship.
[Spiritual warrior 'spɪr.ɪtʃ.(əw.)əl 'wɔr(.ri).ər noun.]

Spiritual warfare is fighting evil. Plain and simple.

Every human, Jesus obviously included, gets tempted to do the self-serving, self-satisfying thing, regardless of whether it’s wise or right or good. And usually if someone else is urging us to do it, it’s for their own self-serving, self-satisfying reasons. In the case of evil spirits, it’s so they can spread evil, chaos, and corruption—and of course ruin us. So when we realize there are evil motives mixed up in our decision-making process, we gotta fight those temptations, expose the evil, and maybe even exorcise the evil spirits.

It’s hardly a complicated idea. But you know humans. We complicate everything.

Usually with false definitions. Visit a lot of churches, and yeah, they’ll correctly describe spiritual warfare as opposing and fighting evil. Funny thing is… their way of opposing it isn’t always to resist temptation. Sometimes they never even talk about resisting temptation. That’s not the evil they worry about. What they’re worried about are other people. Namely pagans, their nonchristian lifestyles, and their godless politics. Namely their fears that pagan behavior is corrupting our nation and families, and threatening to start the cycle and trigger God’s wrath upon us. Or at least rob us of God’s blessings.

Eek! How are we to fight this evil? Well you won’t find such Christians talking about integrity, personal accountability, confession, and other activities which help us behave ourselves and develop the fruit of self-control. Instead we’re encouraged instead to pray really hard. Sing harder, and it’ll create a positive atmosphere where somehow evil can’t thrive. Pray harder, and really contort yourself in asking God for stuff. Go through all the motions of Christianity, and supposedly this is “spiritual warfare.”

It’s why people who pray a lot like to call themselves “prayer warriors,” and musicians like to claim, “Worship is warfare.” They’re not necessarily resisting temptation… but they’re certainly agitating themselves against evil.

But you do realize Jesus and his apostles describe neither prayer nor music as warfare. Because they’re not. Resisting temptation is.

Legalism versus grace.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 March
LEGALISM 'li.gəl.iz.əm noun. Excessive adherence to law or formula.
2. Dependence on law or merit, instead of grace and faith, for righteousness before God and salvation.
[Legalist 'li.gəl.ist noun.]

The absence of grace is legalism: Subtract the optimistic attitude, the forgiveness which should immediately follow when we slip up, the trust that God can take care of the details and manage our biggest messes. It’s when people figure yeah, God saves, but he only cares to save those who merit it with our good karma.

Most Christians are aware legalism is the wrong route to God. The evangelists drummed the idea into our heads pretty early: Salvation is through grace and nothing else. We can’t earn salvation; we shouldn’t try. If we try, we’re kinda trying to do an end-run around God and the system he set up, which is for Jesus to take out our sins. And the only reason we’d wanna do an end-run around God is pride, sin, delusion, or some other evil or self-centered motive. Don’t be that way. Embrace his grace.

So we do. Well, most of us do.

’Cause many Christians don’t fully trust God’s grace. It’s a faith deficiency. We might believe God lets us into his kingdom… but we’ll also believe in order to stay in the kingdom, or keep our place or rank in it, we gotta deserve it. So back to karma we go.

Hey, karma’s a hard mindset to give up. It’s deeply ingrained in human culture. Some of us grew up with it, and have been trained to live our lives by it. Because karma is fair: This for that, quid pro quo, equal rights, equal pay for equal work, I scratch your back if you scratch mine, and let the punishment fit the crime. It’s even in the bible: Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Ex 21.24 People should get what they deserve.

And that’s why we still find it all over Christendom—with people insisting if we Christians don’t behave ourselves, we might lose our salvation. With Christians who figure in order to get right with God, we gotta do bonus good deeds, or various acts of penance. With churches who demand, in order that we be right with them, that we first do various things for them… things which tend to make them look legalistic and cultlike. Heck, some of ’em are cults.

The ancient Galatians did this too, which is why Paul had to tell ’em to cut it out.

Galatians 3.1-11 KWL
1 Unthinking Galatians. What put a spell on you?
Before your very eyes, Christ Jesus was presented as crucified.
2 I only want to know this from you: Is the Spirit given to you
by working the Law, or by hearing and trusting?
3 This is why you’re unthinking: You started in the Spirit, and now you finish in the flesh.
4 Did you suffer so much for nothing? (Because if you’re right, it’s really for nothing.)
5 So is giving you the Spirit, working power among you
by working the Law, or by hearing and trusting?
6 Like Abraham “trusted God and was deemed righteous by it.” Ge 15.6
7 So understand this: These “children of faith” are like Abraham.
8 The scripture, foreseeing how God justifies gentiles by their faith,
fore-presented the gospel through Abraham—that “all gentiles will be blessed through you.“ Ge 12.3, 18.18, 22.18
9 Hence those who act by faith are blessed with Abraham’s faith.
10 Whoever works the Law is under its curse, for this is written:
“Everyone who doesn‘t persevere in doing all this book of the Law‘s writings, is cursed.” Dt 27.26
11 Clearly no one‘s justified under the Law:
“The righteous will live by faith.” Ha 2.4

The Galatians had been taught before they could become Christians, they first had to become Jews—and follow the Law. The ancient Christians had a whole council about this, and concluded no they don’t. But the alternative “gospel” of meriting our salvation had caught on—because it’s so easy to regress into karma. It’s what we’re used to.

And it’s not how God’s kingdom works. His kingdom runs on grace. Always has. The LORD didn’t save the Hebrews from Egypt because they deserved it; he saved ’em because he made friends with their ancestors. The LORD doesn’t save humanity from sin because we earned it—we so haven’t—but because he loves us regardless. God’s grace runs completely contrary to karmic principles. So much so, it outrages people who value karma.

Which is why they subtly try to slip Christianity back into those karmic principles, where they feel safe and comfortable. But in so doing, they harm and distort Christianity. And since humans are creatures of extremes, of course we take the rules and reciprocity too far, and wind up with legalism.

“The fool says there’s no God around.”

by K.W. Leslie, 25 March

Psalm 14.1, 53.1.

The New Living Translation renders Psalm 14.1 and 53.1 exactly the same:

Psalm 14.1, 53.1 NLT
Only fools say in their hearts,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
not one of them does good!

It’s because Psalms 14 and 53 are actually the same psalm. David ben Jesse wrote it five centuries before Psalms got put together—and Psalms is actually made of five different psalters. The first book Ps 1-41 had it, and so did the second Ps 42-72 —so yep, it’s in there twice. For fun, you can compare the two psalms for the differences which slipped into the psalm over time. It’s kinda like different hymnals which have alternate verses to your favorite hymns. (“Amazing Grace,” fr’instance, is a bit different from the way John Newton originally wrote it.)

Differences the NLT actually muted. ’Cause it translated two different words as “actions.” Psalm 14.1 has עֲלִילָ֗ה/alilá, “a doing,” and Psalm 53.1 has עָ֝֗וֶל/avél, “an immoral deed.” The NLT’s translators wanted to emphasize the verses’ similarities so much, they erased their differences. Which isn’t always the right route to take, but one the NLT and NIV translation committees prefer. This is why I tell people to study multiple bible translations: Y’never know what you might be missing because of the translators’ various agendas.

But I digress. Today I’m writing about the first part of the verse, which the KJV phrases thisaway:

Psalm 14.1, 53.1 KJV
1A The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.

It’s a verse I’ve heard quoted many, many times. Usually by Christians who wanna refer to nontheists as fools.

Frequently Christian apologists wanna use this verse as a proof text to argue in favor of God’s existence. As if quoting bible is how you prove God exists: “See, the bible says he’s real, so there.” That’s gonna work on a nontheist exactly the same as if I whipped out a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and said, “See, Oz is a real place!” You don‘t prove God exists with words; especially rude words. You prove he exists by giving ’em a God-experience. Anything else basically makes you the fool.

And I wanna back up even further and question whether this verse is even about nontheists at all. Y’might guess I would say it’s really not.

Being good never justified anyone. Only faith does that.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 March

Galatians 3.5-12.

Dispensationalism—the belief God saved people one way (or various ways) in the Old Testament, but saves us by grace in the current era—is far too common in Christendom. Pretty deeply embedded, too: Every so often I’ll talk about where we see grace in the Old Testament, and somebody will pipe up, “But grace came through Jesus Christ.” Jn 1.17 They won’t mean, as John did in that reference, that Jesus is the one who made grace possible throughout all of human history. They mean grace didn’t even begin till Jesus came around. That people in the OT never experienced grace. Obviously they missed the entire point of the Exodus.

Nor have the really read Paul. He never taught dispensationalism. Doesn’t matter how many proof texts dispys use from Paul’s letters to back their ideas: They’re not using a one of them in context. Paul taught salvation always came by grace. Comes by grace today; came by grace in Old Testament times. True, how salvation works was a mystery before Jesus—meaning we didn’t yet have the details of how God saved people. But Jesus came to earth and revealed it, so now we do. And grace was always the center of the plan.

As proven by the fact whenever Paul used proof texts, he didn’t quote Jesus: He quoted the Old Testament. Yep, the part of the bible dispys claim is entirely out-of-date old-covenant stuff. In fact a whole lot of Paul’s quotes actually come from the Law. The Old Testament scriptures “testify of me,” Jesus said, Jn 5.39 KJV so why shouldn’t we quote ’em for evidence? Hence Paul made reference to them repeatedly.

As he does in today’s text.

Galatians 3.5-11 KWL
5 So is giving you the Spirit, working power among you
by working the Law, or by hearing and trusting?
6 Like Abraham “trusted God and was deemed righteous by it.” Ge 15.6
7 So understand this: These “children of faith” are like Abraham.
8 The scripture, foreseeing how God justifies gentiles by their faith,
fore-presented the gospel through Abraham—that “all gentiles will be blessed through you.” Ge 12.3, 18.18, 22.18
9 Hence those who act by faith are blessed with Abraham’s faith.
10 Whoever works the Law is under its curse, for this is written:
“Everyone who doesn’t persevere in doing all this book of the Law’s writings, is cursed.” Dt 27.26
11 Clearly no one’s justified under the Law: “The righteous will live by faith.” Ha 2.4
12 And the Law isn’t based on faith, but “One who does them must live by them.” Lv 18.5

Y’see, legalists were trying to teach the Galatians they had to follow the Law to be saved. You know, exactly like dispensationalists claim people in Old Testament times were saved. But if that were true—if the Law actually had been the way to salvation in the time before Christ Jesus—Paul would’ve presented an entirely different argument. He’d have used the very same line “New Testament Christians” regularly try to use on me: “That’s the old covenant. We live under the new covenant.” (Oh, and don’t forget the condescending tone. I may have been a Christian decades longer than these “New Testament Christian” folks, but somehow they know it all.)

Y'see, the legalists had told the Galatians they had to follow the Law. And if the Law had legitimately been the way to salvation under some previous dispensation, Paul would've presented an entirely different argument. Namely the one “New Testament Christians” try to use on me: “That's the old covenant. We're under the new covenant.” (Don't forget the condescending tone, 'cause even though I've been Christian decades longer than they, somehow they know it all.)

But you’ve been reading my Galatians posts, right? (Hope so.) So you know Paul didn’t take that tack whatsoever. Not even close. He didn’t tell the Galatians, “Those guys are operating out of the old dispensation; Christ inaugurated a new one; get with the program.” It’s “I’m wondering at how you so quickly switched from your calling in Christ’s grace to another “gospel”—which isn’t another gospel.” Ga 1.6-7 KWL It’s the order that whenever anyone teaches other than grace, ban them. Quit letting ’em teach! Ga 1.8-9

How’d you go from grace to legalism?

by K.W. Leslie, 20 March

Galatians 3.1-4.

Because humans are selfish, we’d honestly prefer the world work to our satisfaction: We get maximum output with minimal effort, or get freebies and special favor, and who cares whether everybody else does; and if others wrong us, we take it out of ’em sevenfold. But on humanity’s better days, we’re willing to accept reciprocity and karma. In fact we look at karma as an ideal: It’s fair. It’s just. Everybody gets what they deserve. It’s considered right and moral, and it’s even upheld in many a religion. Even ours. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, and all that.Ex 21.24 God forbade satisfaction and revenge, ’cause we always go way too far. But reciprocity’s acceptable.

Of course I remind you God’s personal practice, his ideal for his followers, is grace. Is for us to not be fair, but generous and forgiving in other people’s favor. He’s gracious to us, so we need to be gracious to others. ’Cause if we don’t pay it forward, he’ll actually stop.

Problem is, humanity uplifts karma so much, we dismiss grace in its favor. Radical forgiveness is “unrealistic”—is idealism, is bleeding-heart liberalism, is coddling people who will just take advantage of your generosity. (You know, exactly like Christians who take advantage of God’s grace.) It’s why we have Christians who actually teach against grace. In its place, we get the Christianist idea that God only gives us a nice afterlife. But in this life, you gotta work for whatever you get; God’s freebies are limited to eternal life and New Jerusalem, and that’s it.

This is why legalism slips into Christianity so very easily. Once God initially saves us, that’s as much as he does on his end. Everything else is stuff we earn, on our own steam. You want Jesus to grant you a fancier crown when he returns? You gotta work for the baubles. Do good deeds. Do some ministries. Share the gospel with pagans; you get a jewel for every new soul you bring to Jesus. And if those new converts share Jesus with still others, you get a little bit of credit for them too. It’s God’s multi-level marketing program.

In this way, the gospel begins with God coming near to us to save us… and devolves into us chasing God lest our relationships with him evaporate. They turn into legalism. Happens all the time; even in churches which denounce legalism. Because karma is so embedded in human culture, we fall back on it by default, and wind up teaching it instead of grace.

That’s the answer to Paul’s rhetorical question, “What put a spell on you?” The Galatians had missed the point of good works. They‘re how people live now that we’re saved. Not how we stay in God’s good graces. Not how we guard our salvation, keep our salvation, even earn extra salvation in one of heaven’s higher levels. These ideas are mighty common in Christendom, but run wholly contrary to Jesus’s self-sacrifice, in which he paid for everything. Seriously, everything.

Galatians 3.1-3 KWL
1 Unthinking Galatians. What put a spell on you?
Before your very eyes, Christ Jesus was presented as crucified.
2 I only want to know this from you: Is the Spirit given to you
by working the Law, or by hearing and trusting?
3 This is why you’re unthinking: You started in the Spirit, and now you finish in the flesh.
4 Did you suffer so much for nothing? (Because if you’re right, it’s really for nothing.)

Yeah, a lot of translations like to render verse 1, “You stupid Galatians” or “Oh foolish Galatians.” ’Cause yes, the opposite of wisdom is stupidity, and if the Galatians weren’t being wise, they were of course acting like morons. But these terms come across more harsh than the word Paul used, ἀνόητοι/anóhiti, “not [using one’s] mind” or “not thinking.” The Galatians had skipped a few steps in their reasoning. Their life in God’s kingdom began by hearing the gospel and believing it. So how had they since come to the conclusion their salvation was in any way based on the commands of the Law?

Well, like I said: Humanity thinks reciprocity is important, so humans insert reciprocity into our religion. Exactly where it doesn’t belong.

Holy communion: Regularly eating and drinking Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 March

Holy communion, or “communion” for short, refers to the Christian ritual where we repeat what Jesus did during his last Passover with his students:

Mark 14.22-25 KWL
22 As they ate, Jesus took bread; blessed, broke, and gave it to the students,
and said, “Take it. This is my body.”
23 Taking a cup, giving a blessing, Jesus gave it to the students, and all drank from it.
24 Jesus told them, “This is the blood of my relationship, poured out for many.
25 Amen! I promise you I might never drink the product of the vineyard again
—till that day I drink it new in God’s kingdom.”

Roughly we do the same thing. There’s bread, wafers, matzo, saltines, oyster crackers, or those little Chiclet-size pills of flour you can buy by the case; there’s wine, non-alcoholic wine, grape juice, grape-flavored juice (made with 10 percent juice, which I like to call “10 percent Jesus”), or grape drink; Christians ritually eat it ’cause it represents Jesus’s self-sacrificial death. And we’re to do it till he officially comes back. 1Co 11.26

Holy communion is more of a Protestant term. Orthodox and Catholic Christians call it eucharist, from the Greek εὐχαριστέω/evharistéo, “to bless” or “to give thanks,” like Jesus did when he blessed the bread and wine. Christians also call it “the Lord’s supper,” “the Lord’s table,” “the divine service,” “the breaking of bread,” and for a lot of Catholics just “the sacrament”—the one they do all the time, as opposed to the other sacraments.

But communion emphasizes the fact we’re connected to Jesus. And to one another, through our relationship with him. For a lot of Christians, that’s why we do holy communion: It’s a reminder we’re Christ’s body, 1Co 12.27 which is why we just ate a little bit of him.

Well, not literally ate him.

Well… some Christians are entirely sure we do literally eat him. ’Cause they take the bible literally, so when Jesus said, “This is my body,” they figure he’s not kidding: It is his body. He turned it into his body. He still turns it into his body; as soon as the bread gets blessed for holy communion, hocus pocus (or in the original Latin, hoc est enim corpus meum, “this is my body,”) and now it’s Jesus. All the bread’s atoms got swapped with Jesus’s atoms.

The rest of us are pretty sure Jesus was using a metaphor, although Christians vary as to how far the metaphor goes. Martin Luther figured Jesus is spiritually (maybe sorta physically too?—but it’s debatable) with the bread and wine, but of course they don’t literally change into Jesus. But for most Protestants they’re just symbols which represent Jesus.

I gotta say, though: If your church is using stale bread and cheap juice to represent Jesus, you’re doing a pathetic job of representing him. Put some effort into it, Christians! Yeesh.

Gentiles.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 March
GENTILE 'dʒɛn.taɪl adjective. Not Jewish.
2. Not of our religious community.

Years ago a Mormon friend used the word “gentile” to describe non-Mormons. You know, like I use the word “pagan” to describe nonchristians. If you’re used to defining the word another way, it’s a little odd to hear it like that; and of course I had to ask him if he considered non-Mormon Jews to be “gentiles.” Apparently he does. That oughta be super weird for any Jews who hear that.

’Cause “gentile” originates from Jews trying to describe anyone who’s not a Jew. The Hebrew word is גּוֹי/goy, “people-group” or “nation”; and they translated this by the Greek word ἔθνος/éthnos, “ethnic.” It can refer to any people-group, including Israel. Ex 19.6 When St. Jerome translated it, he used the Latin word gentilis, “people-group,” and of course this evolved into the English “gentile.” (The Yiddish word, góyim, comes from the Hebrew plural for goy.)

In the context of the scriptures, it refers to foreigners. In the New Testament it’s frequently interchangeable with Ἕλληνές/Éllenes, “Greeks,” by which Jews meant Greek-speaking foreigners of any sort; anyone who lived outside their particular relationship with God. It wasn’t used as a slur—unlike βάρβαρος/várvaros, “barbarian,” or ἀκροβυστία/akrovystía, “foreskin” (KJV “uncircumcised”). It’s only meant to indicate a non-Jew.

But of course people can turn any term into a slur. If it’s seen as a negative that you’re not a Jew, “gentile” becomes negative. If being gentile implies you’re irreligious or unclean, as it clearly did to Pharisees, using “gentile” to mean such things turns it into an insult: “Wash your hands! What are you, a gentile?”

But whether “gentile” is meant as an insult or not, has to be deduced from context. Ordinarily it’s no slur. Paul certainly didn’t mean it as one when he wrote how God’s new covenant includes gentiles. As was always his plan: He’s not the god of only one nation, but every. Ro 3.29 He always intended to save Jews and gentiles alike, Ga 3.8 though the LORD’s special relationship with Israel can understandably lead Jews to believe he’s particularly their god.

The Textus Receptus: The first popular western Greek NT.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 March

The Greek New Testament of renaissance Christians… and conspiracy theorists.

TEXTUS RECEPTUS 'tɛks.təs rə'sɛp.təs, properly 'teɪk.stus reɪ'seɪp.tus, noun. The medieval western Greek New Testament, edited and first published by Desiderus Erasmus in 1516. (Latin for “received text.”)
2. Any of the Greek NTs published by Erasmus’s successors before 1831; most often Stephanus’s 1550 edition.

We don’t have the original Greek-language copies of the New Testament anymore. Wish we did; it’d be nice if Christians had preserved them. Then again Christians would wind up worshiping the books… about as much as we already do.

But ancient Christians, like most ancient peoples, figured if you made copies and spread ’em around, that was just as good. And that’s what they did. They made copies, didn’t worry about the originals, and when the originals wore to pieces, no problem—they had lots and lots of backups! There are still thousands of ancient copies of the NT; it wasn’t just a best-seller in the present day. Copies of individual books, copies of the whole NT, and let’s not forget all the bible quotes in ancient Christian writings. In fact if all the ancient bibles were to vanish, we could piece them back together with the ancient Christians’ bible quotes.

And so the originals wore out. The first-generation copies wore out. The second-generation copies wore out. The third-generation copies wore out. And so on, and so on. The New Testaments we see in Greek-speaking churches are commonly copies of copies of copies—times a hundred. Or more.

Meanwhile, in Latin-speaking western Europe, they stopped using Greek bibles. Once the Vulgate was translated, they now had the bible in a language they understood, and that became “the bible” to them. There were still Greek bibles around, ’cause libraries might get one from eastern Christians and stick it in their collections, but like most people, they gave more attention on the translations they understood: Latin bibles, and the occasional local-language bible.

And like the Greek-speaking churches, they didn’t keep St. Jerome’s originals of the Vulgate. They likewise made copies. Then copies of the copies. Then copies of the copies of copies. And so on.

As you can guess, this process of copying the bible is gonna introduce errors into the copies. Humans make mistakes, y’know. Textual variants creep in. And if you’re a serious bible scholar, you don’t want variants to lead you, nor any other Christian, astray. Nor would you want any omissions—any missing words, missing verses—to do so either.

Textual criticism is the science of trying to determine what the original text is. It’s done by looking at the very oldest copies of any text we have. If they all match up, it’s pretty likely this was what the original had in it. If they don’t—

  • One copy says “he.”
  • Another, “Christ.”
  • Another, “Jesus.”
  • Another puts the two variants together: “Christ Jesus.”
  • Another flips ’em: “Jesus Christ.”
  • And yet another has, “Larry.”

—you gotta reasonably determine which of these variants was what the apostles actually, originally wrote. Based on the oldest evidence, historical support, grammatical context, and commonsense. And just to keep your decision-making process transparent, you need to include all the variants in your apparatus, which is a fancy way of saying “extremely important footnotes of all the variants.”

Thing is, Christians didn’t invent this science for quite a few centuries. They did what your typical uneducated Christian does with English-language translations: They pick the variant they like best. The one which most supports what they wanna teach. Or the one which sounds like the way they have it memorized… regardless of how they memorized it. If one of their favorite Christian songs uses that verse as a lyric, and the song goes “Christ Jesus,” that’s the variant they pick. Doesn’t matter that this variant didn’t show up in any ancient bibles at all, and doesn’t appear till the 1980s: If you leave it up to them, they’ll “fix” the bible till it matches all their favorite songs.

That’s kinda what the Textus Receptus is. It’s the first attempt by a western bible scholar to put together a Greek New Testament for popular use. Problem is, it’s pre-scientific. And the other problem… is Christians who don’t believe in science. To these people the Textus is the original Greek New Testament, period. Any other Greek NT produced in the last 150 years—especially one which states their favorite verses are textual variants!—must be part of some devilish plot to undermine the bible.

Where your church meets, and where the needy are.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 March

My church (I’m not a pastor; just a longtime member) meets in a strip mall. We’re next to a Walmart Neighborhood Market. We moved in during the recession, before Walmart moved in and the building owners drove up the rental prices. The higher rent was part of the reason we had to give up our Fellowship Hall; there’s a carpet store there now. It’s next to a junior high school, next to a 7-Eleven, across the street from a health club. It’s not a good neighborhood. We got crime. We got homeless people. Which means it’s a really good place to put a church. Needy people and sinners need Jesus!

So occasionally homeless folks come into the building. Usually it’s because we have coffee in the hall. They see free coffee; they want free coffee; I don‘t blame ’em. Come in and have some coffee! Sometimes we also have pastries, doughnuts, muffins, or other baked goods; they’ll eat those too. The hope is they’ll also stick around for the worship service. And every once in a while they do.

We had the same situation at one of my previous churches. (Still wasn’t a pastor; just a board member.) We met in the city’s community center. The building used to be a Lutheran church, so it was a really suitable place for a church to meet. Because it was centrally located, and pretty close to a bus line, sometimes transients would wander in to use the bathroom. And they’d notice we had a table with coffee and bagels and pastries on it.

THEY. “Is this for anyone?”
ME. “Yes. Help yourself.”
THEY. “Thank you!”
ME. “You’re welcome to stick around for the service too, if you want.”
THEY. [some excuse to get out of that]
ME. [shrug; well I tried]

But every so often one of the church ladies would come to me, scandalized: “There’s a homeless person over there. Eating our pastries. What should we do?”

“Invite ’em to the service,” I said. Duh.

But you know how suburban Americans are: We want our churches to accommodate us, not the needy.