The comic book End Times.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 August

I grew up Christian. And Fundamentalist, so one of the things they frequently told us was Jesus is returning. Awesome!

Except… well, kinda not. Because while it was gonna be great for us Christians, who’d get raptured away before the world began to suck—okay, it already sucks, but the idea is it’s gonna suck way, way, WAY worse—things are gonna get way, way, WAY worse. If any of us don’t qualify for getting raptured, we’ll have to live through it. If anyone becomes Christian after the rapture takes place, they’ll have to live through it too. That’s the whole premise of the Left Behind novels, y’know—people who got “left behind,” and now have to suffer through campy villains and the worst kind of melodrama. Oh yeah, and great tribulation.

Kids get really anxious about this sort of thing. Adults too, which is why my church went on and on about it. Some churches preach about little else. I got a coworker who constantly asks me what I think about the End Times. He’s got fears. ’Cause his church has fears, and put ’em into him. Tons of Christians have fears… and you realize it drives their politics. It’s why so many Americans are desperately afraid of anything which might trigger the End Times.

Wait, but the rapture and the second coming are part of it, right? Don’t we look forward to that? Again yes… and well, kinda not. The way dark Christians get about the End Times, people’s fears about it outweigh any potential joy they’d have in Jesus’s return. Even as their preachers try to say, “No no no; the second coming’s gonna be amazing!” they still spend more time, more emphasis, on the terrors and suffering to come, and lay on the stick so hard you forget there’s any carrot. It’s messed up, but that’s dark Christianity for ya.

So I had lots of questions about the End Times. ’Cause I read Revelation, which is all about the End, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. (’Twas a combination of the apocalypses and the obscure vocabulary of the King James Version. They made things nice and cloudy.) I went to Mom, but she was a relatively new Christian and didn’t have any answers either.

But then she found me a comic book which claimed to spell out everything.

Al Hartley’s There’s a New World Coming, based on the book by Hal Lindsey.

And now I’m gonna inflict share this comic book with you. It’s Al Hartley’s comic book adaptation of Hal Lindsey’s 1973 book There’s a New World Coming: An In-Depth Analysis of the Book of Revelation. Which itself is his update to his 1970 bestseller The Late, Great Planet Earth. (’Cause he had to update it, ’cause some of his predictions in the previous book weren’t happening the way he claimed they would. But I’ll talk about Lindsey another time.)

Between this comic book, and an in-depth Sunday school class on the End Times which I later took as a teenager, I was thoroughly introduced to the Darbyist spin on the End Times. I call it Darbyism after John Nelson Darby, the guy who came up with his particular system of dispensationalism.

Darbyists tend to call themselves “premillennial dispensationalists.” They believe in Darby’s view of dispensationalism—that God used different systems of salvation throughout human history, and that during Old Testament times people were no-fooling saved by their works. Not anymore; we’re saved by grace now. This distinction is the only thing keeping Darbyism from being full-on heresy—although you’ll find a number of Darbyists now think they’re saved by believing all the correct things, and those of us who don’t believe in Darbyism might wind up getting left behind. Yikes.

Anyway Darbyists are the ones who write the bulk of the End Times books in the Christian bookstores. They’ve spent a lot of time “discerning the news” and deducing which of it lines up with End Times prophecy, then publishing their findings. There’s good money in it! But no I’m not claiming they’re trying to make a quick buck off paranoid people: They themselves are paranoid, so they think they’re doing Christendom a service by warning us what’s coming. Even though, time and again, they’re proven wrong. But maybe, just maybe, this time they’re right… and so they write another book. And we let ’em, instead of stoning them to death. ’Cause grace.

Let’s dive into the book already, shall we?

The comic book begins with three kids from the 1970s, who weren’t at all fiddling around with LSD. Really. They just opened up their bible and were suddenly sucked into a psychedelic vortex. For totally innocent reasons. Promise.

This is why you don’t lick Revelation’s pages, kids. TNWC 1

Wonder whether Superbook pays Hartley’s estate any residuals for swiping his idea. They’d better.

The kids never get named. So for convenience I’ll call ’em Archie, Jughead, and Betty.

ARCHIE would be the blond boy, who looks kinda like Freddy from Scooby-Doo. He’s the know-it-all of the book.
JUGHEAD is the stock dumb guy, the fearful character who doesn’t know a thing, so the know-it-all has to explain everything to him. Comes in handy for those readers who don’t know anything either.
BETTY is the token girl. We get the idea she probably knows as much as Archie—maybe even more!—but since she’s a girl she’s gotta stay silent. Fundies, y’know.

The kids aren’t alone in the vortex. The guy who wrote Revelation is in there with them.

Hey look, it’s Gimli from Lord of the Rings. TNWC 2

For some reason he’s ruddy as a Scotsman; not at all as middle eastern as one should expect. And he’s writing Revelation in English, not ancient Greek. But it’s not even King James Version English, which’d be the mandatory translation of most every Darbyist. Betcha most of them found that the most bothersome thing in this comic book.

Betty comments, “When you see the mess the world is in… it’s hard to believe that Christ is in control of things!” Archie reassures her, “…But history is moving precisely as he predicted!”—and then we’re introduced to how Darbyists claim Jesus predicted things: The End Times Timeline.

Let me make this perfectly clear: To a Darbyist, the End Times Timeline is canon. Do not mess with it.

What Darbyists figure is the divinely-inspired End Times Timeline. TNWC 2

It’s even more sacred than bible, because it’s the lens through which they interpret it. But despite what they claim, it’s not actually based on the bible. It’s based on dispensationalism.

The End Times Timeline posits a future seven-year period, based on various scriptures which refer to various seven-day, seven-week, or seven-year stretches. In it, every single End Times prophecy gets fulfilled in a bloody frenzy. Lots of chaos, war, disaster, destruction. Tribulation, they call it. Those who trust Christ before tribulation, are spared it all. Anyone who misses the pretrib rapture, who realizes “Aw crap; the Christians were right!” and repents, is nonetheless just as screwed as the pagans. Now they gotta ride out tribulation, and be part of all the End Times prophecies about Christians getting persecuted. Meanwhile the other 2 billion of us lounge around in heaven.

Well… Darbyists are pretty sure it’ll be substantially less than 2 billion. Like the scripture says, “Two in a field—one taken, one left.” So it’ll be more like 1 billion. Or fewer. But let’s not get into that today.

God has HAD IT with these motherf---ing pagans. TNWC 3

For those who can’t fathom why a loving, patient, gracious God would suddenly get all medieval on humanity’s ass, Darbyists usually claim it’s because he is loving and patient. The tribulation is just tough love. Really tough love. Big bowls of angry, violent, genocidal love.

They spin it as one very last chance for everybody to repent before Jesus officially returns. ’Cause once he returns, he’s sending the wicked straight to hell. He’s not gonna let them experience his kingdom, where he rules the world and they get to experience his love and grace firsthand. He’s gonna have them experience his wrath, and that has to win them over. Kindness and gentleness didn’t work, so let’s try rage.

No, it’s not consistent with God’s character whatsoever. But Darbyists are dispensationalists, remember? They believe God practiced multiple methods of salvation, and didn’t always save by grace. In Old Testament times, people had to follow the Law or they’d go to hell. And in each different dispensation, God actually demonstrates a different character. It’s why God comes across all pissed off and smitey in the OT, but mushy and forgiving in our dispensation of grace. And during the End Times, it’s kinda like God goes back to rage, Old Testament style. Not towards us Christians; we’re up in heaven with him. But the pagans? They’re royally screwed.

The Darbyist philosophy of the End.

John Nelson Darby’s three other philosophies get jumbled together with his worldview, and therefore his interpretation of the End: Futurism, cessationism, and escapism.

FUTURISM is the belief every End Times prophecy takes place in future. Not just the future of Jesus and the bible’s authors: Our future too. Jesus’s prediction of the temple’s destruction Mk 13.2, Mt 24.2, Lk 21.6 was fulfilled in the year 70, when the Romans invaded and razed Jerusalem. But Darbyists claim no it wasn’t. It’s yet to come. Because immediately after Jesus foretold Jerusalem’s demolition, he said this:

Mark 13.24-27 KWL
24 “But in its time, after that tribulation:
‘The sun will go dark. The moon won’t give its light.’ Is 13.10
25 The stars will fall down from the sky.
The powers in the skies will be shaken.
26 Then the Son of Man will be seen, arriving in the clouds with great power and glory.
27 Then he’ll send out the angels.
They’ll gather together his chosen people from the four winds,
from the edge of the world to the edge of the sky.”

And if Jesus’s second coming is part of the great tribulation prophecy—as they insist it is—then it can’t’ve happened in 70. It must therefore happen during the End Times.

This is how they treat every prophecy about the End. Or every prophecy which might be about the End. They figure if a prophecy, whether in the Old Testament or New, hasn’t yet been fulfilled as far as they can tell, it will be—at the End. Since few of them know squat about the ancient Middle East, they believe a lot of prophecies aren’t yet fulfilled. So they find a way to shoehorn ’em into the End Times Timeline. And this is why they believe a lot of things will happen at the End, which are nowhere to be found in Revelation.

Why can’t these prophecies have been fulfilled during the past 20 centuries? Mainly ’cause cessationism.

CESSATIONISM is the belief God stopped doing miracles once the bible was completed. No, not every Darbyist is cessationist. But John Nelson Darby absolutely was, and the reason he came up with his system was so he could explain why miracles happened in bible times but, supposedly, not today.

And the reason Darbyism is futurist, is because in order for every prophecy to happen, God has to turn the miracles back on. And he won’t till the End. So they can’t have happened in the past 20 centuries of Christian history. It’s physically impossible.

I’m Pentecostal, and know plenty of Pentecostals and continuationists who recognize God never did turn off his miracles. Yet they totally believe in Darbyist versions of the End Times. It’s because they don’t know the underlying, faithless philosophy behind the system. It’s because they grew up in churches which assumed the Darybists were right. Or, when they had questions about the End Times, they were given Darbyist literature, same as I was, and assumed these guys know what they’re talking about. They never investigated further; never even thought to. They have no idea its futurism is based on unbelief—heck, in a deliberate rejection of God’s present-day power.

Anyway, if all the End Times prophecies can’t be fulfilled yet, they’re in our future. Which means Jesus can’t return till they happen. Which means Jesus’s return is constantly pushed forward in time. They don’t believe he can return till specific events first happen. In reality absolutely nothing can prevent Jesus from returning. It’s why he’s told us to stay awake—he can return at any time! Mk 13.33-37 Stop figuring he can’t come back till the Darbyist checklist of End Times events gets marked off. The only thing hindering Christ is he wants to save everybody he can before he returns. 2Pe 3.9 That’s all.

ESCAPISM, last of all, is the idea we Christians get to escape all the bad stuff. Jesus is gonna rapture out us Christians before we might really suffer. Darbyists claim it’s why Jesus taught “Two in a field—one taken, one left.” Mt 24.40 It’s not about the Romans killing half the Jews in the world; it’s about Jesus abandoning half the people who assume they’re Christian, ’cause half of us don’t really believe in him. So the left-behind half get smited along with the wicked.

Are these views taught in the bible? Nah. They first have to be overlaid upon the bible. That’s why when you read Revelation you’re not gonna see any of this. It’s why you first have to buy Darbyist books, so they can explain how to read Revelation and the rest of the bible through their lenses. And once they put these lenses on, a lot of Darbyists seriously struggle to take ’em off. I’ve pointed out more than once how 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17 clearly describe the rapture and the second coming as one and the same event, and Darbyists read these verses and simply can’t see it. Their End Times Timeline takes priority over bible, and their lenses have turned into blinders.

The pretrib rapture.

The End Times Timeline always begins with the rapture, so that’s where the book goes next.

The great what now? TNWC 3

I had never, ever, never ever heard of the rapture referred to as “the Great Snatch.” Never before this comic book. Rarely since—and only because people keep referring to this illustration, and making fun of it. I’ve definitely heard the term “great snatch” before, but it means something entirely different. Go ahead and Google it, though the results may horrify you.

Why’s it used here? Bear with me; I got a theory.

Back in the 1950s and ’60s, the Comics Code Authority censored all the comic books to a G-rated level. But comic book artists would occasionally try to slip a naughty joke past the censors. Like when Batman and Robin would talk about having a “gay old time” beating up criminals. Like when the Joker tricked Batman into making a mistake, and wouldn’t stop calling it Batman’s “boner”… way too often. So much, you had to wonder, “Don’t the writers realize 12-year-old boys read this stuff? How do you think their adolescent minds are gonna handle this material” Um… the writers totally knew. That’s why they slipped those jokes in the books. They shared that adolescent sense of humor.

So did Hartley, or one of the folks at Spire Comics, slip a naughty joke into a Christian comic book? Yes. Yes they did.

Why? Probably because one of ’em didn’t entirely buy Hal Lindsey’s worldview.

Many’s the time I, while working for one Christian ministry or another, was obligated to publicize some Christian nutjob. Still happens. Might be some conspiracy theorist, some preacher who never quoted the bible in context, some dangerously undereducated youth pastor, some false prophets who were trying to spread their fame instead of the gospel. I don’t agree with these loons, but my job isn’t to publicly correct their rotten theology. It’s to do as my boss or pastor instructs, and make the publicity packet, design the ads, or introduce the cranks to the audience. I gotta resist my strong temptation to voice my disapproval—or undermine ’em by picking the least-flattering publicity photo. (Although some of them do that job for me by submitting some of the cheesiest, vainest, Glamour Shots style pics. Creates a little halo effect around the comb-over.) I must resist the temptation to give ’em backhanded compliments, or kick the legs out from under their sermon by pre-correcting their out-of-context verses or inaccurate teachings in my introduction. You know, the usual passive-aggressive tricks.

So somebody at Spire Comics must’ve believed Lindsey’s version of the rapture is all wet, and therefore titled it “the Great Snatch.” Or tricked Hartley into calling it that. And if you poke around the internet, you’ll find a lot of people, pagans and Christians alike, find this description hilarious. It’s the fastest way to mock the rapture as too stupid to take seriously.

How Darbyists imagine the rapture varies. In Left Behind, Tim LaHaye described the Christians as simply vanishing, leaving behind absolutely everything: Clothes, jewelry, artificial hips and knees, pacemakers—as if God wants nothing non-biological. Off they went, to appear in heaven before God… buck naked, missing prosthetic limbs, suffering giant heart attacks.

Now, read about Jesus’s rapture in Acts, which the two men in white (probably angels) said would resemble his second coming. Ac 1.11 And oughta resemble our rapture. Jesus didn’t vanish and leave his clothes behind. He bodily, visibly went up into the air. It’s not gonna be a secret rapture, like some Darbyists describe it. The comic book version is much closer to what might look like—minus the ’70s fashions.

When God turns on the heavenly vacuum cleaner. TNWC 4

In Hartley’s version, at least we’re clothed. But the one thing Darbyists are consistent on is the rapture is unexpected. There’s no parting clouds, no trumpet, no falling stars, no sky going black, nothing. The planet’s Christians whoosh away without warning. Drivers disappear from their cars, which’ll then slam into things, like pedestrians and puppies. Hence the popular “In case of rapture” bumper stickers.

It’s not what either Jesus or the the apostles told us. Here’s how Paul, Silas, and Timothy described Jesus’s second coming to the Thessalonians.

1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 KWL
13 Christians, we don’t want you to know nothing about those who are “sleeping”:
You ought not grieve like all the others who have no hope,
14 for if we believe Jesus died and rose,
likewise God, through Jesus, will bring our “sleepers” with him.
15 We tell you this message from the Master.
We who are still alive at the Master’s second coming don’t go ahead of those who’ve died.
16 With a commanding shout, with the head angel’s voice, with God’s trumpet,
the Master himself will come down from heaven.
The Christian dead will be resurrected first.
17 Then, we who are left, who are still alive,
will be raptured together with them into the clouds,
to meet the Master in the air.
Thus, we’ll be with the Master—always.
18 So encourage one another with these words!

Now, compare this with the End Times Timeline:

Green arrow: Rapture. Yellow arrow: Jesus’s return. TNWC 2

The apostles described the rapture as the Master’s coming. 1Th 4.15 They didn’t do so ambiguously. It’s right there in the text, plain as day. But Darbyists claim the second coming and the rapture are years apart. They’re not simultaneous. There’s a seven-year tribulation in between.

What basis do they have for saying so? ’Tain’t bible. There are no other passages in the bible about the rapture. Jesus’s return comes up plenty of times, but Christians going to meet him in the air: 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 is all we got. (It’s why some Christians wonder whether there’ll even be a rapture: They want at least two proof-texts before they’ll declare a doctrine solid. Otherwise they say it’s debatable. I don’t agree, but that’s me.)

Most Darbyists figure in order for evil to run rampant on the earth, the Holy Spirit, who’s holding back the evil, has to be “taken out of the way.” 2Th 2.7 And since the Holy Spirit lives inside every Christian, he’s not leaving without us. So he takes us with him to heaven. Then evil can run amok. More so than usual.

What about the Christians who’ll be persecuted during the End?—the protagonists of Darbyist novels and movies, whom they imagine will be left-behind pagans who repent after the rapture. If there’s no Holy Spirit, how can anyone become Christian? It’s impossible. Well, Darbyists have explained to me, the “Christians leave because the Spirit leaves” idea is just a theory. A guess as to why there’s a pretrib rapture. We don’t really know the Spirit will leave, ’cause he’s gotta stick around to make tribulation saints. But just the same, there is a pretrib rapture. Bible says so.

No it doesn’t, but good luck cutting through that thick fog of illogic and denial. You can’t eat your cake and have it—or in this case, rapture your Spirit, then have him sneak back to make new Christians for your End Times novel.

There’s no biblical precedent for escapism either. Noah may not have drowned in the great flood, but he did have to build an ark and ride it out. The Hebrews weren’t smited by the Egyptian plagues, but they were still in Egypt, watching. Passed over, when the LORD’s angel killed the Egyptians’ kids, but still there. When foes came to destroy Israel, and God destroyed the foes first, the Israelis were there, all ready for battle, but sitting it out as God worked. He didn’t rapture them away to a place of safety. He’s their safety. As he is ours.

The point of the rapture isn’t escape, but to join the invasion on our Lord Jesus’s side. He’s coming down. He’s not going back up for another seven years, then coming back for a third coming. Think of it like an ordinary military invasion: When the invading army rolls into town, all the agents in-country, the people who’ve been laying the groundwork for the invasion, quickly come out of their hidey-holes and join the troops. That’s what we’re doing at the rapture: We’re falling in behind the general. We don’t go into the air to stay in the air. We join him in the air—so when he touches down on earth, it’s with his full complement of 2 billion immortal Christians. Picture that.

Gotta admit: I really like the idea of getting taken away before the bad stuff happens. Martyrdom’s gonna suck. But if that’s so, what was the point of Jesus warning us that life is suffering? That he’s gonna reward those of us who hold out till the very end? He promises this in Revelation, of all places. Rv 2.25-26, 3.11 But most Darbyists insist the rapture takes place before anything in Revelation happens. Doesn’t matter that St. John’s depicted in the vortex with the kids—as Hartley reminds us—

You think he dyes his hair? I think he dyes his hair. TNWC 5

—still writing the introduction, for we’re not even in his book yet.

In fact, since I’ll stop here, we’re not even gonna get to the book of Revelation. That’s just how screwy the End Times Timeline is.

The kairos moment.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 August
KAIROS MOMENT 'kaɪ.rɑs 'moʊ.mənt noun. Propitious time for decision or action.

Every so often there’s a window of time when something profound happens.

You make a life-changing decision. You don’t always realize it’s life-changing at the time; sometimes it occurs to you much later. But sometimes you’re in the moment and recognize this is a major turning point: You pick a university. Pick a job. Pick a spouse. Choose to follow Jesus. Choose to have kids. All sorts of things.

Might’ve been a split-second decision. Might’ve been a long, well-thought-out decision. Or you might’ve agonized over it for weeks, racked with indecision; maybe procrastinating the actual decision; maybe giving up and leaving it in the hands of others. (Or worse, coin flips. Or even worse, your horoscope.) In any event you stopped weighing your options and chose one of ’em.

For Christians, whenever we wanna Christianize the decision-making process—whenever we wanna make it sound like God’s heavily involved, even when he’s not—Christians tend to call this “a kairos moment.”

Yeah, it’s redundant. Καιρός/kerós is ancient Greek for “moment.” Sometimes it’s translated “an opportune moment,” because people are reading that whole kairos-moment mindset back into the bible. But do a word study on it sometime and you’ll find most instances of kerós really just describe ordinary moments. Jesus walking past wheat. Mt 12.1 Jesus noticing a fig tree’s not ready for figs. Mk 11.13 People believing a message for a while. Lk 8.13 Servants getting their groceries. Lk 12.42 Sometimes kerós isn’t even a moment; it’s just a general time-period. Ac 12.1, 19.13, Ro 8.18, 11.5, 13.11, 1Co 7.5, 2Co 8.14

And in one instance, observing those special kerós times gets rebuked:

Galatians 4.9-11 KJV

9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? 10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. 11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

Still, you’ll find most people don’t understand how words have multiple definitions. Or even care. “No, it always means opportune moment.”

Meh. Greeks today use kerós to talk about weather. Πώς είναι o καιρός;/Pos eine o kerós? “How’s the weather?” Yep, kéros could mean an entire season. A long season.

Basically the ancients used it to refer to time. And just as English-speakers sometimes use “time” to refer to a critical or important time, like “Time’s up” or “It’s time” or “You’re running out of time,” sometimes kerós referred to a critical time. Sometimes not so critical. Remember, the ancients didn’t have our timekeeping methods. No coordinated universal time, no time servers, no phones connected to those servers which tell us—down to the second—what time it is. For the ancients, sunrise to noon was six hours… even though the summer sun rose seven of our hours before noon, and the winter sun rose five hours before. Mighty flexible hours. Our hours? We use atomic clocks to measure ’em to the nanosecond.

Hence our culture is far more fast-paced than the ancients. The times we consider opportune are way shorter. Blink and they’re gone. Hence our attitude about every kairos moment: You don’t wanna miss it!

Again, meh.

“Losing your salvation.”

by K.W. Leslie, 11 August

When the subject of apostasy, of quitting Jesus, comes up, people tend to phrase it thisaway: “So you’re saying you can lose your salvation?”

Well I wouldn’t use the word lose. Because it suggests we can accidentally disconnect from Jesus.

Fr’instance pick any otherwise ordinary day. Let’s say I’m going through the Starbucks drive-thru, picking up another outrageously sugary mixture of coffee, milk, and ice. Let’s say I’m using cash, and the cashier gives me my change, and instead of a dollar bill she unintentionally gives me a hundred-dollar bill. Let’s say, instead of how I’d say, “Whoops, you don’t wanna make that mistake,” I say nothing and pocket the Benjamin and figure Starbucks is a big enough company to take the loss. And as a result of this hypothetical scenario, the Holy Spirit says, “Okay, I’ve had all I can stand of this jerk,” and unseals himself from me—and I haven’t been listening to him anyway, so I never notice his absence. So when a few minutes later I’m distracted by the straw wrapper and T-boned by a Mini Cooper, I die… and find myself burning in torment, and screaming, “Wait! Wait! I gave my life to Jesus 45 years ago! What happened?!

Well, y’know. Straw. Camel’s back. Whoops.

Are Christian jerks even Christian?

by K.W. Leslie, 10 August

Bouncing back to the question my pagan friend had in my first article on Christian jerks: “So you’re the real Christians, and they aren’t?” My response is “Kinda.”

Other Christians will respond “No.” Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, and if we’re not producing fruit as Jesus expects, these folks will point out there’s no evidence of the Spirit within us, so he may not even be within us. No fruit, no Spirit, not Christian.

And that’s a valid point.

No seriously: That’s a valid point. If we’re truly following Jesus, fruit’s gonna grow! In part because we’re gonna mimic his compassionate, kind, loving character: We see how Jesus treats people, and we treat ’em the same way. We’re not gonna project our bad attitudes on him so we can justify ourselves; we’re gonna choose to adopt his good attitude. And the other part is when the Holy Spirit pokes us in the conscience—“Hey, quit being a dick”—we’re gonna listen, instead of pretending the devil’s tempting us to stop being so zealous.

If we’re truly following Jesus, our character’s gonna transform into his. If we’re not, particularly if we’ve been self-identifying as Christians for decades, we might not even be Christian. Gotta repent and be saved.

But the reason I don’t just say Christian jerks aren’t real Christians, is because I’ve been one of ’em. And I was legitimately Christian. A sucky Christian, but still Christian. Fruit took a long time to develop, in part because instead of adopting Jesus’s character, I embraced the idea of cheap grace and took my salvation for granted: I did as I pleased, and didn’t bother growing fruit. Some grew, ’cause some always will, ’cause it’s how the Spirit marks his people. But it grew in spite of me, regardless of my poor efforts or lack of effort altogether. (I did grow in my knowledge of bible trivia, which was all the “fruit” my fellow Christian jerks cared about.) When the Spirit corrected me, or sent others to correct me, too often I’d blow him off: Didn’t God save me by his grace? He did? Well then I’m good… right?

Only good enough to be the lowest in God’s kingdom. Mt 5.19 But you realize Jesus expects more of us than that. Which is why the Spirit didn’t stop going after me till I got the point and worked on the fruit. Took me years. Takes others decades.

Some of Jesus’s first students committed some pretty serious dick moves, y’know. James and John wanting to rain fire on Samaritans. Lk 9.54 Simon Peter straight-up denied Jesus. Yet these things didn’t unsave them. I know; you mighta heard sermons which claimed otherwise. There’s a popular misinterpretation going round which claims Jesus had to restore his relationship with Peter by asking him “Do you love me?” thrice, Jn 21.15-19 to make up for Peter's three denials. Almost as if Jesus had to restore Peter’s karmic balance—which is how we know this interpretation is crap. Jesus totally foreknew Peter would fail him, Jn 13.38 and loved him anyway. Likewise he foreknew we’d fail him, as we regularly do. And no, there are no restorative incantations necessary. We won’t have to spend a thousand years in purgatory answering “Do you love me?” to make up for every boneheaded act we’ve committed.

Yes, Jesus saves jerks. Jerks like me. They’re not fake Christians, false Christians, phony Christians, lapsed Christians, heretic Christians. If they are, it’s because other things put ’em into those categories: Jerkish behavior isn’t what does it. You could totally be both a Christian and a jerk.

But please don’t.

White Jesus… and those who insist he stay that way.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 August

This is the only physical description of Jesus in the bible.

Revelation 1.12-16 KWL
12 I turned round to see the voice speaking with me,
and in so doing I saw seven gold lampstands.
13 In the middle of the lampstands: One like the Son of Man,
clad in a full-length robe with a gold belt wrapped round his chest.
14 His head and hair: White, like white wool, like snow. His eyes like fiery flames.
15 His feet the same: White bronze, refined in a furnace. His voice: Like the sound of many waters.
16 He had seven stars in his right hand. From his mouth came a sharp, double-edged saber.
His face: Like the sun, shining in its power.

Since it’s in Revelation, a book which largely consists of apocalyptic visions, people don’t take it literally. I find this to be true of even the nutjobs who take everything literally in that book. A Jesus with bronze skin and white hair? Gotta be a representative vision. ’Cause Jesus, as everybody knows, is white.

Been white since medieval times—’cause that’s how artists painted him.
Warner Sallman’s 1941 painting Head of Christ, the one many an American Protestant church has on the wall somewhere. Wikipedia
Arguably been white even longer than that: You know that picture of Jesus I use on the TXAB banner? Comes from Khristós Pantokrátor, one of the oldest ikons of Jesus we have, dating from the sixth century. Painted by Byzantine Greeks… so, no surprise, Jesus looks Greek. ’Cause when people try to produce an image of God, we have the bad habit of rendering him in our own image.

So that’s what we see in every European painting of Christ Jesus: He’s European. Artists wanted to identify with him, or make him more familiar-looking to local audiences, or portray him in church pageants without wearing brownface. Northern European paintings tend to make him look northern European; southern European paintings tend to make him look southern European. Italian artists made him look Italian, French artists made him look French, Dutch artists made him look Dutch, and American artists made him look… well, whatever ethnic background they have. Usually white.

So when I was growing up, just about every picture of Jesus to be found in Protestant and Catholic churches, depicted him as white. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the most diverse parts of the country, and even so: White Jesus was everywhere.

Most popular was Werner Sallman’s Head of Christ, which you’ll still see all over the Christian subculture. Even in predominantly nonwhite churches: Black, Latino, Chinese, everywhere. They frame and display it the same way government offices display the President’s portrait. And of course white Jesus was all over our stained-glass windows, paintings, statues, Sunday school materials, Nativity crèches… stands to reason you’d get that idea fixed in your mind.

Plus, all the Jews I knew where white.

Yes, this is an excuse for being ignorant. You see, we were never taught otherwise. No pastor ever gestured at the portraits of white Jesus and pointed out, “Of course, you know he’s not really white.” This was the image of Jesus, and we unthinkingly accepted it.

More or less. Different artists might render the beard a slightly different color. Conservative churches might insist on pictures of Jesus with hair which doesn’t go past the neck. Movies might depict him with a fringed cloak and tunic—you know, like an actual first-century Jew. But for most Americans, that image from the Sallman painting would kick in: The real Jesus had brown hair, a white tunic, and either a red or blue toga. No fringes. Fringes look raggedy.

We’re meant to outgrow this worldview. But not everyone does.

Misadventures with the dictionary.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 August

When I wrote about how to do a word study, I pointed out gotta use the dictionary last, for confirmation. Not first, as people tend to do.

’Cause several mistakes in interpretation are precisely the result of reading the dictionary first. When we were kids, most of us were taught if you wanna know what a word means, look it up in the dictionary! So we came to think of the dictionary as a primary source of information. But when we’re doing word study, the dictionary’s not primary. The bible is.

And for that matter, when a dictionary’s editors put it together, they did word studies. They don’t look up their words in a different dictionary. (The first guys to make dictionaries didn’t have dictionaries to go to.) They looked at literature. How’d previous writers use these words? How did John Milton, William Shakespeare, Alexander Pope, or John Wycliffe use the words? For an American English dictionary, they particularly look at how American writers use these words, ’cause we’re gonna use ’em differently than a British, Indian, Australian, Canadian, or Irish writer would. They look at the general consensus of the population, then put that into their dictionary.

So… what if they deduced the consensus wrong? Or what if you, as the reader, misunderstand what they did, or are trying to do, with their dictionary? Either way, you get errors.

When we go to the dictionary first, we wind up with the following problems. Instead of studying our word, we study…

The translation of the word.

This’d be those folks whose word studies never involve an original-language dictionary. When they look up peace, they never look up the Hebrew שָׁלֹם/šalóm or Greek εἰρήνη/eiríni; they’re using a Webster’s Dictionary, which has no foreign-language words in it. They look at what our culture means by peace. Not what the writers of the bible meant by it.

If your word study never involves the original languages, you’re doing it wrong. Period.

A variation of this is when people do look up the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek words… then read our current English words into them. I wrote on when people find out the Greek word for “power” is δύναμις/dýnamis, then claim God’s power is an explosive power, ’cause they connected the dots between dýnamis and dynamite. But if you’ve ever truly experienced God’s power, you know it’s not a flash in the pan; it’s a continual source of unending strength. But that “dynamite” interpretation still gets around. ’Cause it’s a flash in the pan.

The word’s history.

Words evolve. The English and French word table comes from the Saxon word tabule, which in turn from the Latin word tabula. Historians, especially word historians, find it interesting to see how words moved from one language to another, and this is why dictionaries frequently include these word histories. But here’s the problem: Our English word table, same as in French, means a piece of furniture with a flat work surface. The Latin word tabula properly means a tablet: It’s a flat board which you write on. (Yep, we got tablet from it.) A table and a tabula aren’t the same thing. They’re similar; they’re both flat work surfaces. Still.

Now we understand this, ’cause we speak English and know what a table is. But when we don’t know ancient Hebrew or first-century Greek—and most of us don’t—when people come across the word-histories in our Hebrew or Greek dictionaries, they think these are insights.

Homer, who wrote the Iliad and Odyssey, wrote in ancient Greek. So did the playwright Aristophanes and the philosopher Aristotle. Sometimes dictionaries will tell us what Homer meant when he used the word ἄγγελος/ángelos, ’cause it’s interesting. But what dictionaries won’t always remind us, is Homer wrote his poems 800 years before the New Testament. He wrote ’em before Isaiah was born.

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales about 630 years ago. Ever tried to read Chaucer in the original middle English? You’ll immediately notice English has changed a lot in the past six centuries. Many of the words no longer mean what they did in Chaucer’s day. So… is ancient Greek any different? Nope.

Aristophanes wrote 400 years before the New Testament. (So, closer to Nehemiah’s time.) Aristotle wrote 350 years before. Both these guys wrote in a form of ancient Greek we call Ἀττικός/Attikós, or “Attic” (it really means “Athenian, ’cause these guys are of course from Athens). In contrast the New Testament was written in κοινός/kinós, or “common” ancient Greek—changed by three centuries of interaction with Persians, Syrians, Egyptians, Asians, and Romans. Loanwords were added. Other words changed meaning and form. What it meant to Homer isn’t necessarily what it meant to John, Luke, Matthew, Paul, or Jesus.

Scholars are pretty sure Paul invented a few words. ’Cause we can’t find these words anywhere else in first-century Greek writings before Paul used ’em. Likewise Paul felt free to come up with his own definitions of certain common words: When he wrote on ἀγάπη/aghápi and defined love for the Corinthians, 1Co 13.4-8 he actually went against the popular Corinthian definition of love. For ancient Greeks, aghápi isn’t patient, kind, and selfless: It’s relentless, and stops at nothing till it gets what it pursues. Paul flipped its meaning over entirely—because he was thinking of the Old Testament concept of love, as defined by God’s faithful, merciful, kind חֶסֶד/khecéd.

Paul used aghápi different from everybody else in his culture. Bluntly, he used it wrong. And yet, for us Christians, it’s entirely right. Among us, his “wrong” definition became the right one. After Paul redefined aghápi, you’re never gonna hear a preacher talk about what it originally meant.

Not so true of other Greek words. Fr’instance the word ἁμαρτία/amartía, “sin.” It comes from ἁμαρτάνω/amartáno, “not hit [one’s target],” like when you’re throwing a spear and hit the charioteer instead of the archer. Homer used it to also describe moral failures, so over time it evolved into our concept of sin… but Christians keep insisting “sin” really means missing the mark. You likely know from personal experience: Many sinners aren’t even trying to hit the mark. Some trespassers stumble into the wrong space accidentally, but more of them deliberately ignore those boundaries ’cause they don’t care about ’em at all, and that’s more the nature of sin than trying and failing and “missing the mark.”

The word-roots.

Since I’ve already stumbled upon the issue of word-roots…

The Greek word for patience is μακροθυμία/makrothymía It’s a compound word (made up of two words, like “windbag” or “forklift”) from μακρός/makrós “long” and θυμός/thymós “anger.” But it doesn’t mean “long anger,” any more than blackmail refers to black chainmail or black envelopes. Splitting it apart doesn’t give you a better idea of what it means; it gives you the wrong idea. You’ll assume it means bitterness, not patience.

A more common mistake is the Greek word for church, ἐκκλησία/ekklisía, which literally means a council or congress. But it’s a compound of ἐκ/ek “from” and καλέω/kaléo “call.” Hence many a Christian claims the church consists of “a called-out people.” After all, Jesus calls his followers away from the evil and sin in the world, and calls us unto himself. It still doesn’t make this a proper definition of ekklisía: The ancient Greeks used it to describe groups. Politicians, philosophers, students, convicts, soldiers—any and every group. And the church is Jesus’s group.

Plenty of folks nonetheless go ga-ga for root words, and whenever you hear a preacher start talking about the root words, watch out. More than likely, they did a sloppy job of word study, and you’re about to hear “the real meaning of the word”—which really isn’t.

The other definitions.

You’ll notice dictionaries have multiple definitions of many words. Fr’instance the English word “house”:

  1. A building people live in.
  2. A family. (Usually a noble family.)
  3. A building where people gather for other activities, like a house of prayer or a steakhouse.
  4. A legislature.
  5. A style of dance music.

But it’s fair to say when people usually say “house,” they mean a building people live in. Definition #1.

And too often a preacher tries to discover something “profound” by using anything but definition #1. Definition #1 is the proper one, but it doesn’t make the lesson unique; doesn’t make people sit up and say, “Wow, I’ve never heard anyone say that before; it really speaks to me.” So they go with definition #2, or #3, or whatever wows the listeners most.

I’ve heard many, many preachers do this. Whenever preachers try to translate the bible themselves, and their translations go way off the beaten path, watch out. It’s the wrong path, with the potential to lead us astray.

Years ago I heard a sermon where the preacher’s entire point hinged on whether οὶκος/íkos means “sphere of influence.” It actually means “house.” (Although you might be more familiar with it as Dannon/Danone’s brand of Greek-style yogurt.) The preacher pointed out how the first Christians met in one another’s houses, Ac 2.46 and since he interpreted íkos as “sphere of influence,” he was trying to get his listeners to consider how we affect our respective spheres of influence. Now, let’s be honest: Christians should think about how we affect the people around us. It’s not a bad idea. It is, however, a bad interpretation. It’s not what Luke meant in Acts 2. If you really wanna preach that idea, I’ll bet you can find better verses in the bible to back it up. You don’t have to twist Acts 2, and force it into the text.

For whenever we find ourselves shoehorning our meaning into the text, no matter how good our idea may be, we’re still dishonestly warping the scriptures. We’re trying to disguise our message as bible, in order to swipe a bit of the bible’s authority. We’re false teachers.

To be fair, preachers don’t always go with definition #2 or #3 or #4 because they’re trying to deceive. Most of the time, it’s because they’ve fallen into the temptation of novelty: They wanna preach something new! They know their audience will appreciate something they’ve never heard before. It’s boring to say the same thing all the time. They’re out of idea on how to say it in new ways. They wanna preach something truly new; our culture loves new things. And what better way to appease other people, and our own bored selves, than to come up with a novel interpretation of the bible?

But we’re not allowed to preach anything new. The gospel hasn’t changed since Jesus first proclaimed it. It’s not gonna change—and that’s kinda awesome, ’cause it’s such good news! There might be nuances about it we’ve missed, or never noticed. We might introduce it, or reintroduce it, in multiple ways, same as Jesus did with his parables. But we have no right to change it simply to shake things up. That’s how people stumble away from Jesus. That’s how cults get started. Don’t try to invent new teachings and new interpretations! Rediscover the right ones.

All the definitions.

Just as often, preachers try to make something profound out of the scriptures by going through every alternate definition in their dictionary.

Fr’instance the Hebrew word יָד/yad. It literally means “hand.” But Hebrew uses idioms, just like English, so a hand might instead refer to something strong and helpful. Like God’s hands. “The hand of God” is mighty and powerful. Being in his hands doesn’t mean he literally picked us up; either he’s helping us out… or he’s gonna give us a spanking. Context should tell you whether it’s good news or bad. Likewise Jesus, who sits at God’s right hand, Ep 1.20 which means he wields God’s power, not that he’s literally next to God’s literal right hand; he is God y’know.

And yad also means five or six other things. Like one’s possession. One’s presence. One’s personal access. A sign. A support. A portion. A side. And yes, Isaiah actually used it as a euphemism for a penis. Is 57.8 (The KJV left it untranslated; the ESV went with “nakedness.”) How do we know which definition to use? Context. If “hand” best fits the verse, yad means hand. If “power” is better, go with that instead. If “portion” then portion. And so on.

Yet some folks will take, fr’instance, “Neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand,” Dt 32.39 KJV and claim, “So today I’m gonna speak about how

  1. Nobody can take God’s power away from us.
  2. Nobody can take God’s support away from us.
  3. Nobody can take God’s portion away from us.
  4. Nobody can take God’s presence away from us.
  5. Nobody can take God’s access away from us.”

And so on. I’d better stop before he gets to God’s penis.

But y’see what he did, and both Christians and Jews have done this sort of thing throughout history. If you need to preach a three-point sermon, look up a word with three possible definitions, and preach the dictionary. Some Christian writers are notorious for it. They compare it to a jeweler looking at a cut gem, and looking at every facet of the gem, and seeing something new in it every time. So that’s what they claim they were doing with the scriptures.

A much better comparison would be a kid looking at anything through a kaleidoscope. A kaleidoscope isn’t a tool; it’s a bit of harmless fun. It shows a bit of something, then reflects it a whole bunch of times and makes it look grander—and pretty, in a way. Does it reveal anything new, or truthful, or hidden? Nah. It’s a fun way to kill time.

That’s what rifling through every definition will do for a word study. You won’t learn anything new or deep. You’ll just feel like you have, because you spent time on it. In the end, only one of these definitions is valid, and matters. And I hope to goodness you remember which one that is, because it’s the only one you can count on. The rest is useless wordplay.

The sort of poetry which doesn’t rhyme.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 August

When children are first exposed to books, they’re exposed to poetry. (What, you didn’t realize Green Eggs and Ham rhymed?) Starting with children’s books, all the way up to Shakespeare.

And what’s the one thing English-speakers are all agreed upon about poetry? I’m not gonna wait for your answer: It rhymes.

Except it doesn’t always.

We were introduced to Walt Whitman in high school. To his stuff other than “O Captain! My Captain!”, which does rhyme; usually “Song of Myself” or “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d.” And a bunch of us objected, as do high schoolers across America: “This isn’t poetry. It doesn’t rhyme!” ’Cause we knew from Green Eggs and Ham on up: Poetry rhymes. That’s what makes it poetry.

Well, no. Poetry’s about using wordplay to evoke emotion. It’s why it works so well with small children. But it doesn’t have to rhyme, or have a metrical rhythm, or any of the things we frequently find in traditional English-language poetry. True, lots of languages do rhythm and rhyme. Even Hebrew poetry can rhyme, as y’might notice in Israeli hip hop. (What, you haven’t listened to Israeli hip hop? Lemme fix that.)

But the ancient Hebrew stuff focuses on rhyming in a different way. English rhymes sounds. Done and won, red and head, still and will, butterfly and flutter by. Sometimes you’ll find rhymes in Hebrew writings too; they’ll use them to make puns. But for rhyming, ancient Hebrew focuses on rhyming ideas: Same concept, said again in different words.


Psalm 19.1 NRSV
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

Note what lines up with what.

“are telling”“proclaims”
“the glory of God”“his handiwork”

Same ideas. Different lines. (Or sentences, or clauses. Hebrew sentences typically start with וְ/ve- or וָ/va- or וּ/u-, all of which mean “and.” So translators have the option of making a new sentence, new clause, or a new line. In theory an entire Old Testament book is just one big run-on sentence. But anyway.) And yes, you don’t usually think of “God’s glory” and “God’s handiwork” as the same thing… but now you do, ’cause you’re meant to.

This, and passages which practice this very same sort of parallelism, is how we know we’re dealing with Hebrew poetry. And it’s all over the bible, Old Testament and New. It doesn’t matter that the NT was written in Greek, because its writers all knew their Old Testament, and how to write Hebrew-style poetry, so they did. The psalms are nothing but poetry. The prophets are almost entirely poetry. Even the historical books and Law are loaded with poetry. Jesus uses poetry all the time to make his teachings memorable. Seriously, it’s everywhere.

It’s so common, whenever someone starts repeating ideas we immediately recognize this as “bible language.” (Assuming people are familiar with bible. Not so many of us are anymore.) People pray in Hebrew poetry, teach in it, give speeches in it, write songs in it. It’s all over English-speaking culture too. ’Cause our literature has been so heavily influenced by the King James Version and those who read it.

Because English poetry is primarily about rhyme and rhythm, it’s often tricky to translate our poems into other languages. You can’t always keep the poetic structure. But when Hebrew poetry is rendered into every other language… the parallelism is still there.

Almost as if God planned it that way, huh?

Why Hebrew poetry matters.

Hebrew poetry helps us interpret the bible. The scriptures’ authors used it to reiterate their points, and hammer ’em home with repetition. (Hey, check that out; I just did a little Hebrew poetry there myself.)

Which is really useful when we’re not sure what the authors meant. If any verse is difficult to interpret—we aren’t sure what the words mean, or we are sure but aren’t sure what the author meant by them—frequently the authors were writing in a poetic style, so we can simply look for the parallel ideas. ’Cause most of the time, there they are. The context of the parallels can help us interpret the proper meaning.

In fact you’ll notice a lot of the bible’s misinterpretations are usually the result of someone not bothering to check the context. Sometimes they don’t realize parallelism is going on, and try to interpret the parallel idea as if it’s an entirely separate, different idea. One famous example is this’un:

Genesis 1.26 NRSV
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

Notice the parallels, and you’ll realize the author of Genesis is totally writing in poetry. Here, I’ll put it in lines, since the translators of the NRSV didn’t bother:

Genesis 1.26 NRSV
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image,
according to our likeness;
and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,
and over the birds of the air,
and over the cattle,
and over all the wild animals of the earth,
and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

“Fish of the sea” gets contrasted with “birds of the air.” Domestic animals get contrasted with wild animals, and with every creeping thing on the earth.

And of course “in our image” is a basic parallel of “according to our likeness.” But it seems St. Irenaeus of Lyons wasn’t up to speed on his Hebrew poetry. (He knew his Greek poetry; not so much the Hebrew stuff.) He took the two words he saw in his Septuagint as two individual ideas, and stretched ’em so he could talk about what he wanted to talk about: Free will. Irenaeus claimed having his image means we likewise have free will; having his likeness means we likewise can do good. Well, till Adam and Eve sinned. Humanity actually lost God’s likeness, Irenaeus claimed. But we still have “his image,” the free will… which we now use to pick which sin sounds more fun.

Meh. If I wanted to claim humans are depraved, it’s not hard to do. It says so in the New Testament. It’s so easy to put together a basic theology on it. I don’t have to twist Old Testament passages till they do as I want. But before I rant further about bad interpretation, I’ll just remind you: Hebrew poetry. These are parallel ideas, not separate ones. If you know this, you’re not gonna repeat Irenaeus’s mistake. Okay?

Types of parallels.

Yep, grammar nerds came up with a few categories for all the different kinds of parallels we find in Hebrew poetry. Don’t worry; I’m not giving a test later. Just realize there are lots of ways ancient Hebrew authors played with words.

SYNONYMOUS. The usual, most common type of poetry in the bible is basic synonymous parallelism. Ideas get repeated. Like yea.

Amos 2.14-15 NRSV
14 Flight shall perish from the swift,
and the strong shall not retain their strength,
nor shall the mighty save their lives;
15 those who handle the bow shall not stand,
and those who are swift of foot shall not save themselves,
nor shall those who ride horses save their lives;

Yeah, that army was screwed. Every line just describes more defeat for its soldiers.

Sometimes poets liked to take the clauses in one line, and flip ’em over for the next line. Notice the first two lines of this Jeremiah verse.

Jeremiah 25.34 NRSV
Wail, you shepherds, and cry out;
roll in ashes, you lords of the flock,
for the days of your slaughter have come—and your dispersions,
and you shall fall like a choice vessel.

Notice “you shepherds” is in the first part of line 1, but “you lords of the flock” is in the second part of line 2. “Cry out” is in the second part of line 1, but “roll in ashes” is in the first part of line 2. Grammar nerds love to give names to this kind of behavior, so this one’s called a chiasm, ’cause the ideas in the clauses get flipped. You can draw a diagram connecting them… and it’ll look like an X, which is also the Greek letter chi, hence chi-asm. Nerds.

Thing is, y’might notice fewer chiasms in some bible translations, ’cause in order to make parallels more obvious, the translators unflipped the clauses:

Jeremiah 25.34 NLT
Weep and moan, you evil shepherds!
Roll in the dust, you leaders of the flock!
The time of your slaughter has arrived;
you will fall and shatter like a fragile vase.

It’s not a big deal, but it’s why I’m not using the NLT for my examples.

Another term grammar nerds like to fling around is emblematic parallelism. All that means is the poet’s using similes and metaphors. As poets do.

Hosea 4.16 NRSV
“Like a stubborn heifer,
Israel is stubborn;
can the LORD now feed them
like a lamb in a broad pasture?”

ANTITHETICAL. When we compare opposites, contrast ideas, or use antonyms, we got antithetical parallelism. The proverb-writers love kind of poetry. Love love love. Proverbs is riddled with this type of poetry.

Proverbs 1.7 NRSV
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 10.1 NRSV
A wise child makes a glad father,
but a foolish child is a mother’s grief.

The godly experience this; the wicked experience that. God gives this bunch good, that bunch evil. Wisdom does one thing, stupidity does the reverse. Truth produces blessing, lies produce evil. And so forth.

SYNTHETIC. One of the meanings of synthesize is “to build.” So in synthetic parallelism, the poet starts an idea in line 1, then builds ideas onto it in the lines which follow.

Psalm 147.7-11 NRSV
7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.
8 He covers the heavens with clouds,
prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills.
9 He gives to the animals their food,
and to the young ravens when they cry.
10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
11 but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.

There’s a whole logical chain to this psalm, which we see when we analyze the poetry:

  1. (a) Sing to God. (b) And make melody.
  2. (a) God sends clouds. (b) And rain. (c) And grass.
  3. (a) God feeds animals. (b) Specifically ravens.
  4. (a) God doesn’t care about horsepower. (b) Nor human power.
  5. (a) God is pleased with our respect. (b) And our patience.

The most common kind of synthetic parallelism is where line 1 starts an idea, and line 2 finishes it. We also see this all over Proverbs—either with comparisons, or explanations.

Proverbs 26.1 NRSV
Like snow in summer or rain in harvest,
so honor is not fitting for a fool.
Proverbs 19.20 NRSV
Listen to advice and accept instruction,
that you may gain wisdom for the future.

CLIMACTIC. A climax is the end of something. In climactic parallelism you simply have loads of repetition… but all the endings are different.

Psalm 29.1-2 NRSV
1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,[a]
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name;
worship the LORD in holy splendor.
Matthew 5.3-9 NRSV
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Notice Jesus’s poetry in Matthew 5: He has all the repetition of climactic poetry. And for those people who consider the stuff after “for they/theirs” to be separate lines, he’s using synthetic poetry—explaining why they’re blessed. (Kingdom is theirs, inheriting the land, getting filled and satisfied, etc.) Yeah, you can mix up all sorts of parallelism.

Bonus: Metrical psalms!

Because some English-speakers simply have to have all their poetry rhyme, various Christians have created metrical psalms—translations of Psalms which gave ’em English-style rhymes and rhythm. The Scottish Psalter is one example. I’ve dabbled in it myself.

Psalm 8 KWL
Arranged for lyre. A David psalm.
1 Our master LORD: What noble name!
You have, in all the earth, great fame
which sets your splendor in the skies.
2 And in the kids’ and infants’ cries
you build your strength against your foes,
the vengeful; stop all who oppose.
3 I see the skies—your fingers’ act:
The moon, fixed stars—and I react:
4 So what are humans, to your mind?—
You care for Adam’s sons so kind.
5 A little less than gods, we’re made
with glory, honor, crowns you’ve laid.
6 The things your hands made, you ordain
beneath our feet; you have us reign.
7 All sheep and cows at our command,
rule over animals on land,
8 birds of the air, fish of the sea,
whatever swims there: All we see.
9 Our master LORD: What noble name!
You have, in all the earth, great fame.

If you notice the gray text, you’ll notice I had to pad the translation a bit so it’d rhyme. That’s the catch with metrical translations: The more you try to make it fit English poetry, the less precise and exact of a translation it becomes. You can do it, but you sacrifice accuracy for esthetics. And if you’re not careful, all the original poetry—all the Hebrew parallelism placed there by David and the other authors—gets hidden, or even gets deleted. It’s why metrical psalms are great for memorization, but not so great for bible study.

The Puritans made ’em metrical because in a lot of their churches, they wouldn’t allow you to sing anything which didn’t come from bible. (Lest you unintentionally wind up singing heresy.) So once the psalms were thus adjusted, and you could find some music to match, you could sing all 150 of ’em.

When I taught English, I had my students take a stab at adapting the psalms into poetry. One boy objected to “tampering with scripture,” but I pointed out he was only making something based on scripture. Nobody was gonna consider his poem a replacement for scripture. (Certainly hope not.) Still, y’might try your hand at it yourself. I find it to be a fun devotional practice.

Atonement: God wants to save everybody!

by K.W. Leslie, 04 August
ATONEMENT ə'toʊn.mənt noun. Action which fixes a broken relationship, such as paying a penalty, replacing a damaged item, or painting over defacement.
2. The atonement: Jesus’s payment for humanity’s sins through his death.
[Atone ə'toʊn verb, atoning ə'toʊn.ɪŋ adjective.]

Sin significantly ruined our relationship with God. Not irreparably; God can fix anything. And he did.

Occasionally some preacher will break down the word atonement thisaway: “At-one-ment. God makes himself and us one.” It’s pretty close to the right idea. There used to be a word in English, onement, which means unity. Christian preachers started adding the at- prefix to describe our relationship with God: We’re unified now. What was broken is now fixed.

The word English-speakers used to use to describe this was propitiation, one which still appears thrice in the King James Version Ro 3.25, 1Jn 2.2, 4.10 to translate ἱλασμός/ilasmós. But like most old-timey words, people don’t understand what it means, and most dictionaries define propitiation as “something which appeases a person or god.” Like an offering, a good deed, a ritual sacrifice. Something karmic—and God does grace, not karma.

Good karma can’t do it anyway. You can’t undo a sin. You can undo its consequences, but you can’t undo the initial act of selfish rebellion. You could try to be so good, your good deeds outweigh your evil ones, but here’s the catch: We’re already supposed to be that good. We’re supposed to have no evil deeds in the balance. It’s like putting a single drop of snake venom into a glass of drinking water: You wanna drink it now? Better have epinephrine handy; and you still might die.

So propitiation is an inaccurate way to describe how God fixed things. But far too many Christians still totally describe it that way: “We outraged God, but we temporarily appeased him with ritual sacrifices… till Jesus permanently appeased him with his self-sacrifice.” Makes God sound all bloodthirsty. Well, we get bloodthirsty when we’re outraged, so we totally project that upon God. But that’s not who he is.

Ilasmós is the Greek translation of כִּפֻּר/khippúr, a Hebrew word y’might actually know because of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. It comes from another word, כֹּפֶר/khippúr, “plaster.” When there’s a crack or hole in the wall, you put some plaster or putty or spackle on it, paint over it, and you’re good as new. And that’s the word God used in Exodus to describe what the ancient Hebrews’ sacrifices represented to him. Their sins poked holes in God’s relationship with them. The holes needed plastering. It’s a really simple metaphor: Sin breaks stuff, and plaster patches it good as new.

No, not entirely new. And God doesn’t actually want entirely new. Entirely new, means entirely new people: Instead of sorting us out, God’d just kill us, then replace us with exact replicas. But these replicas wouldn’t be us; they’d be twins, clones, copies. God doesn’t want copies. He wants us—repaired.

Plaster makes a wall as good as new. Yeah, if you want to nitpick, a repaired wall won’t necessarily have the same strength as a new wall. But this depends on what you patch it with. If you poke holes in drywall, then patch it with concrete, the patch is far stronger and heavier than the rest of the wall. In fact the rest of the wall will have trouble supporting the concrete… unless you gradually replace everything with concrete. (Which is a whole other metaphor to play with. Have fun with it.)

Christ Jesus sacrificed himself for us, and since Jesus is God it makes God himself our plaster. We have him embedded in us, in much the same way the Holy Spirit was sealed to us when we first turned to God. But don’t play with that metaphor too much, lest you get the idea it’s okay to poke holes in your life so God can putty them with more of himself. We’re not meant to keep on sinning so we can get more grace. Ro 6.1-2 Instead look at your life as a wall full of holes—patched over by God. We might imagine it as flawed; we can’t get past the idea of all those holes beneath the paint. But God considers it a perfectly good wall. It serves its purpose: It keeps out the wind and rain. It keeps prying eyes from looking through it. It keeps listening ears from hearing better through it. It provides shelter. We can hang pictures on it. And so on, till the metaphor breaks down and we just get silly. But you get the idea.

God wants us, and our relationship with him, repaired, back to the way he originally meant things. He doesn’t want to knock us down and start again from scratch.

Atonement for everyone.

Humanity can’t save itself, ’cause we’re too corrupt. We’re hopeless… unless someone else intervenes. And it’s kinda obvious where I’m going with this: God intervened, became the man Jesus, died for our sins, 2Co 14-15, He 2.9 paid our fines, 1Ti 2.6 and reconciled the whole world to himself. 2Co 5.19 He plastered over our sin-damaged lives, and declared us forgiven.

By “whole world” I mean what the authors of scripture meant: The whole world. Everybody.

Seriously, everybody. Every human, past and future, near and far, vastly wicked or relatively “good”: We’re forgiven. God didn’t wait till we repented first; it feels like that’s when he first acts in our lives, but that’s only because we don’t see the big picture and our place in it. (Turns out he’s been nudging us towards salvation all along.) He doesn’t wait till we’re worthy, ’cause we never will be. He doesn’t wait till we feel he should respond, ’cause we feel all sorry for our sins and want him to forgive us. He simply decided to forgive the whole world, and did.

No, not just Christians. Not just monotheists. Not just “good people.” Definitely not just Americans. Everybody.

John 3.17 NIV
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
1 John 2.2 NIV
He [Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 4.14 NIV
And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
1 Timothy 2.3-6 NIV
3 This [prayer for all] is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.
2 Peter 3.9 NIV
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise [to return], as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

If we want God, we never have to worry, “Well maybe he doesn’t want me.” He absolutely does. Jesus atoned for everybody because God wants everybody. He made you; he wants you. We’re not so filthy and nasty and offensive to God’s infinite goodness, he shuns us. He doesn’t turn his back when we call to him. He never says, “Well first you gotta get clean” before his Spirit comes to live within us. Yeah we’ll have to clean up afterward, but cleanliness isn’t a prerequisite. Nothing is a prerequisite but faith: We gotta trust God to save us. And he will!

And when Jesus returns to take over the world, it’ll be the whole world. Not part, Rv 11.15 not just Israel, not just the countries which claim they’re Christian nations. Jesus is Lord of all. ’Cause he died for all.

Seriously, everyone.

Yeah, there are those who say it can’t be all. It’s because they misunderstand how God’s sovereignty works.

Those who believe in limited atonement assume if Jesus saved the world, his salvation is so mighty, so overpowering and overruling (and kinda rapey), we can’t help but be saved. Even if we don’t wanna. Even if we want nothing to do with God: God’s will conquers our will and reprograms us so we will become Christian, just as he’s predetermined. It’s a pretty messed-up idea of God… once again, based on how they’d do things if they were God, and backed up by a lot of out-of-context scriptures which make it look like God only saved Christians… and the rest, he passed over. (Or worse: Created just so he could destroy them, as a sick ’n twisted object lesson for the rest of us.)

So let’s look at the scriptures. Remember when the LORD rescued the Hebrews from Egypt? Fed ’em manna in the wilderness, accepted their sacrifices, forgave their idolatry, let Aaron do that scapegoat thing to represent their atonement? No? Read Exodus through Deuteronomy again.

God rescued the Hebrews. All of them. He didn’t leave any of ’em in Egypt, and pick a select worthy few to take to Canaan. He elected the entire nation, freed them all from their bondage, made them a free people who lived under his grace, and offered every single one of them a promised paradise—“a land of milk and honey,” as they called it, ’cause they really liked milk and honey back then.

That’s what unlimited atonement looks like. That’s what he repeated when Jesus died for our sins. The Hebrews became his children, and he their God. Ex 6.7, Lv 26.12 They could have a relationship with him. He wanted a relationship with them. It’s all he’s ever wanted.

Did all of them accept this relationship with him? Sadly, no. Only a handful finally made it to Canaan. Joshua and Caleb most notably, but there were a few others, like the head priest Eleazar. Js 14.1, 17.4 The rest balked at entering Canaan, and as a result died without ever entering it.

’Cause while God offers us infinite, unlimited grace, we can foolishly, rebelliously reject it. That’s a whole other subject, which I wrote about elsewhere. Jesus came to save the world, but some of the world prefers darkness to light, and won’t come to the light and be saved. Jn 3.19-20

Meanwhile, because Jesus atoned for them, those who resist his grace still get to be the recipients of what we Christians call common grace, the blessings God gives to all humanity, and not just Christians. Like life. Health. Decent weather… when we get decent weather. The good works of his Christians spill over into the rest of society, resulting in more charity, freer governments, improvements in society’s infrastructure, technological advancement, better medicine, literacy, social equality and justice, and so forth.

But God wants to give humanity so much more—and Jesus’s atonement makes it possible. For all.

On trusting the bible—but first trusting God.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 August

Whenever Christian apologists write a book on their favorite subject, they either begin by explaining how they know God exists, or why the bible is absolutely trustworthy. It kinda depends on which of the two they consider the higher authority: God, because he inspired the bible; or bible, because it informs us about God.

Custom dictates God should come first, so he does come first in most apologetics books. But not all of ’em, ’cause not every apologist hews to custom. And to be blunt, a number of apologists are total bibliolaters, so they insist it’s vital we establish the bible as an absolute before we can even quote it as an authority.

Thing is, how do we prove the bible’s absolutely trustworthy? Well, here are the answers one apologist offers.

  • Look how many ancient copies of the bible there are! Way more than other books, or contemporary books. That’s gotta mean something.
  • Lookit all the statements the scriptures say about themselves, or other scriptures.
  • Lookit all the contemporary ancient accounts which jibe with the bible. Or all the archeological discoveries which also jibe with the bible. That makes it historical, doesn’t it?
  • Lookit the precise, careful processes the Masoretic Jews and Christian monk copyists used to make sure our copies of the bible are precise duplicates.
  • Lookit how closely the first-century Dead Sea Scrolls line up with the medieval Masoretic texts: Man those Masoretes did a good job of bible preservation.
  • Lookit all the ancient Christians who quote bible—proving not just that there were bibles back then, but since their quotes match the copies of the bible we have, it’s clearly survived down to us intact.

But in these “proofs,” apologists kinda miss the forest for the trees.

Why do skeptics doubt bible? Because they doubt Christians. They doubt Christianity. They doubt our form of Christianity. They doubt God. They doubt all the things which point to bible; stands to reason they’re gonna doubt bible too. Especially since they’ve largely never even read the bible, haven’t a clue what it says, and don’t care enough to bother finding out.

So while apologists are busy trying to explain how the Masoretes invented checksums so they could make sure they precisely copied bible line-for-line, skeptics are busy not caring. So the Old Testament isn’t full of scribal errors. Big whoop. They still think the Old Testament is irrelevant, because they don’t believe the God it describes is even real.

Get it? So, first things first. Before you start discussing the bible’s trustworthiness with anyone, make sure you’re not boring someone who already has their mind made up in the opposite direction.

Which ranks higher: Bible or God?

Like I said, Christian apologists are gonna base a lot of their arguments on bible. Specifically proof texts which defend their points. It’s gonna be the foundation for a lot of their reasoning—so when you build on a foundation, you’d better confirm the foundation is stable. There’d better be some rebar in that concrete, or it’s gonna crack a lot, and pretty much turn into gravel.

But honestly, I don’t focus on the foundation. I focus on the retaining wall. As architects will tell you, the way you make a building earthquake-proof is to not put all your trust in a foundation, ’cause an earthquake’s gonna shake it. You put it in your building’s framework. In smaller buildings like a house, you put a lot of it in the one wall which supports all the other walls. In masonry, you usually put it in your cornerstone.

Not for nothing did the scriptures allude to Jesus as “the head stone of the corner,” Ps 118.22 KJV “the head of the corner,” Mk 12.10 KJV or as Paul put it,

Ephesians 2.19-22 KJV
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: 22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

Yeah the apostles and prophets who wrote the bible are our foundation, but Jesus himself keeps the building up.

So when I talk to skeptics, I base as many propositions as I can upon my personal experiences with the living God. On what I’ve seen with my eyes, what I’ve heard with my ears and heart, what my hands have handled. 1Jn 1.1 Y’know, like the apostles did. I use the scriptures to confirm these experiences are valid, same as the ancient Christians did… but I still keep referring to my God-experiences.

Other apologists do it the other way round. They were taught to trust bible more than their God-experiences. Problem is, prioritizing bible over personal experience makes no sense to pagans. They think it means we’re denying reality. And to a degree, they’re not wrong. When we reject God-experiences because we think the bible tells us otherwise, you do realize we’re not following God anymore. We’ve gone another way. The wrong way.

Once I started pointing to my God-experiences, I found certain skeptics really grow irritated with me. Y’see, antichrists have learned all these tactics for debunking the bible, specifically so they can win debates with Christians. We Christians foolishly assume we’re better-prepared than they, walk right into their traps, and instead of sharing Jesus we spend the next three hours defending bible. Whereas in sharing my God-experiences instead, I don’t spring any of their traps. It utterly confounds them; it’s like I’m not playing their game properly. Well I’m not. I’m not here to debate abstractions; I’m here to testify.

Proving the bible is reliable helps convince us Christians to trust it more. That’s why we learn why the bible’s reliable. That’s the only reason why. Learning this stuff so we can convince naysayers it’s reliable? Waste of time. Even if you convince them the bible is well-copied and ancient and historically accurate, they’ll only believe it’s a reliable myth.

Like Homer’s poetry. Ever read the Iliad and Odyssey? Now let’s say these epics were reliably copied, and historically accurate—there really was an Achilles and Odysseus and Hector and Priam, and Troy did get destroyed, and Odysseus did take years to get home. You gonna believe in Zeus now, and worship him? Heck no. Same with pagans who doubt the bible: Its reliability doesn’t do what you’re hoping it will.

So first things first. Show ’em God is real. Show ’em Christ Jesus is the only true way to God. Then they might acknowledge bible.

So the bible has a lot of ancient copies.

Christian apologists love to point out how many ancient manuscripts there are of the bible. ’Cause there are tens of thousands. The New Testament is the most-copied book in antiquity. There are way more ancient copies of the NT than any other ancient book; way more by far. Josh McDowell loves to point out less than 700 ancient copies of the Iliad exist, compared with 24,000 ancient copies of the NT. Evidence That Demands a Verdict vol. 1, c. 4

How does this prove the bible’s reliable? It doesn’t really.

It does prove the bible was popular. As it would be, with Christians. There were a lot of us, and any Christian who could afford to get the bible copied, did. After all, it’s foundational to our religion. Whereas the Iliad is an old pagan poem about a religion which, for centuries, competed with Christianity for followers and power… so it stands to reason Christians wouldn’t be so keen on preserving it. Wasn’t till Greco-Roman paganism was extinct that Christians finally felt the Iliad was safe to read, and wouldn’t convert anyone to Zeusism.

Likewise the billions of bibles published today, in every language we can find, only proves the bible’s popular. Not reliable.

Yet I’ve heard apologists claim this volume implies reliability—and that’s a logical fallacy, an argument which sounds profound but really isn’t. Don’t we keep trying to teach our teenagers that popular doesn’t mean true?

So the bible has very few textual variants.

Christian apologists also love to point out how few textual variants we find in the ancient manuscripts of both Old and New Testaments. Certainly fewer than most ancient books… considering how few copies of ancient books there are.

Certainly fewer than even more recent books. The three earliest copies of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet are extremely different from one another. There’s the First Quarto (published 1603), the Second Quarto (1604), and the First Folio (1623), and they line up for the most part… but they also have some really big differences between them. You may not know this, ’cause if you’ve ever read Hamlet or seen it performed, what you read or saw was a version of the play edited together by textual scholars. Sometimes the scholars were trying to figure out what Shakespeare originally had in the play… and just as often, like the Textus Receptus, they just wanted to make sure all the variants got included. Especially their favorites.

Textual scholars are way more responsible when it comes to today’s original-language editions of the bible. But the most ancient bibles aren’t anywhere near as different from one another as the earliest copies of Hamlet. Take the two oldest copies of the bible there are and compare them: You’ll find very little difference between them. Heck, take copies from the Middle Ages—the result of centuries of making copies of copies of copies of copies of copies—and you’ll find less than 15 percent difference between them. That’s better than the two quartos of Hamlet, both of which were published during Shakespeare’s lifetime.

For that, the Masoretes and monks deserve a lot of credit for making sure so very few errors crept into their copies. (And we Christians will also give the Holy Spirit a lot of credit for getting ’em to preserve his bible.)

But here’s the thing: Of course there were very few variants in ancient bibles. They were made by devout Jews and Christians, who considered these texts the very word of God, and put supreme importance on making sure these were exact copies. Hence they went to so much trouble to make sure no mistakes slipped in. As opposed to someone who was just reprinting Hamlet, which—though a brilliant play—ain’t holy scripture.

Despite how few textual variants there were, any textual variant makes people doubt the bible’s reliability. And no, we can’t just pretend they don’t exist, like KJV-worshipers will. We know better. Antichrists definitely know better. So even though the bible is remarkably well-preserved, how do we know which verses oughta be in there, and which verses oughta be tucked into the footnotes?

Real simple: Look at the oldest ancient manuscripts.

  • If words or verses are missing in all those copies, they weren’t in the originals; they don’t belong in the bible.
  • If they’re missing in most of those copies, put ’em in brackets or the footnotes.
  • If they’re missing in few of those copies, put ’em in the text, but include a footnote saying they’re not in every ancient copy.
  • And if they’re not missing anywhere, it’s all good.

Again: This doesn’t prove the bible’s the authentic word of God. It only makes reasonably sure our original-language bibles are as close to the original texts as possible. Textual criticism isn’t that difficult a science. It only seems impressive and hard ’cause the scholars are dealing with ancient manuscripts and languages. But relax; they know what they’re doing.

So historians and scholars like it.

Christian apologists also love to point out how historians and scholars consider the bible to be a valid, authoritative, useful historical document. After all, it does contain the history of the ancient Hebrews and Christians, and is confirmed many times over by archaeology.

But there’s two problems with making a fuss over this. Yes, historians and scholars consider the bible historical. Now, does it mean they’ve taken its claims about God seriously, and became Christians? For a number of ’em no. They’re still pagans and skeptics. (Or devout Jews and Muslims.) They may take the bible’s history seriously, and use the bible to find archeological sites. But if they don’t wanna believe in Jesus, they’re not gonna. They’re gonna consider the God parts mythology, and the rest useful. Same as we do the Iliad.

Secondly, “Well historians and scholars consider it valid” doesn’t work on skeptical pagans. They don’t care what historians, scholars, scientists, linguists, researchers, and theologians think. They don’t believe in it; that’s all they care about.

Y’notice I keep coming back to the same conclusion: The bible’s a really impressive, very unique book. It has a long, interesting history. Does this prove it true and reliable? No. Does this convince pagans to trust it? No. When they say, “I don’t even believe in the bible,” we’re not gonna win them over by pointing to how neat it is. We gotta introduce them to Jesus. Only then will the bible become anything relevant to them.

Save the stats for us bible nerds who already like the bible.