When our anger gets us into trouble.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 August

Matthew 5.21-26, Luke 12.57-59.

In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, after explaining he’s not come to do away with the Law, he proceeded to give his commentary on the Law. These are the bits which follow the pattern of “You heard this said… and I tell you.”

Typically bibles translate Jesus’s followup as “But I tell you.” (KJV, NIV, ESV, NLT, etc.) It’s because the ancient Greek conjunction δέ/de, which generically connects sentences to one another, gets translated…

  • “And” when the sentences connect similar ideas.
  • “But” when the sentences contrast dissimilar ideas.
  • “Or” when the sentences list options.
  • “Then” when it’s part of a sequence of ideas.

De can be translated whatever way the interpreter thinks would make the clearest English. But really it’s got no more meaning than a semicolon. (I’d even translate it that way… if it didn’t wind up producing giant run-on sentences.)

Here’s the problem: Interpreter bias. When we correctly recognize Jesus isn’t throwing out Old Testament commands and replacing (or significantly updating) them with his; when we realize he’s explaining the LORD’s (i.e. his) original intent when he handed ’em down, we’re gonna translate de generically. Sometimes “and,” sometimes a semicolon, sometimes we’ll drop it ’cause it’s redundant.

But. When we incorrectly think Jesus is inaugurating a new dispensation—or we at least think Jesus is trying to add to the Law, despite Moses telling the Hebrews they don’t get to do this Dt 4.2 —we’re gonna think Jesus is contrasting ideas, and wind up with “but.” True, interpreters may only mean Jesus is just expounding on the idea—“You oversimplified it this way, but here’s what this really means.” Still, dispensationalists will claim the “but” backs their bad theology.

So I went with the simplest option, and dropped de as redundant. On to Jesus’s lesson.

In Matthew he begins his brief commentary on the spirit of the Law with the “Don’t murder” command from the Ten Commandments.

Matthew 5.21-24 KWL
21 “You heard this said to the ancients: ‘You shall not murder.’ Ex 20.13, Dt 5.17
Whoever murders will be subject to judgment.
22 And I tell you this: Everybody angry with their sibling will be subject to judgment.
Whoever tells their sibling, ‘You dumbass,’ will be subject to the senate.
Whoever says, ‘You moron,’ will be subject to a trash-heap of fire.
23 So when you bring your gift to God’s altar,
when you remember your sibling has anything against you,
24 leave your gift there, in front of God’s altar.
First go make up with your sibling. Then come back and bring your gift.

Popularly, this passage is interpreted all kinds of wrong. Namely it’s explained, “Hating your fellow Christian” (or hating anyone) “is just as bad as murder. Because you’ve spiritually killed them.”

Jesus’s most misinterpreted teaching.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 August

Matthew 5.17-20, Luke 16.16-17.

Matthew 5.17-20 KWL
17 “Don’t assume I came to dissolve the Law or the Prophets.
I didn’t come to dissolve but complete:
18 Amen! I promise you, the heavens and earth may pass away,
but one yodh, one penstroke of the Law, will never pass away; not till everything’s done.
19 So whoever relaxes one of these commands—the smallest—and thus teaches people,
they’ll be called smallest in the heavenly kingdom.
Whoever does and teaches them,
they’ll be called great in the heavenly kingdom:
20 I tell you, unless morality abounds in you, more than in scribes and Pharisees,
you may never enter the heavenly kingdom.”

This connects to Jesus’s similar teaching in Luke.

Luke 16.16-17 KWL
16 “The Law, and the prophets up to John: From their time on,
God’s kingdom is proclaimed as good news, and all struggle to get into it.
17 It’s easier for heaven and earth to pass away
than for one penstroke of the Law to fall.”

Despite this very lesson, many Christians do in fact teach Jesus did come to dissolve “the Law and the Prophets”—the way people in his day referred to the bible, our Old Testament.

As in Luke 16.16-17, Jesus is not announcing the termination of the OT’s relevance and authority (else Luke 16.17 would be incomprehensible), but that “the period during which men were related to God under its terms ceased with John”; and the nature of its valid continuity is established only with reference to Jesus and the kingdom.

D.A. Carson, Expositor’s Bible Commentary at Mt 5.17

It’s still relevant, still authoritative; it’s why Christian bibles still include it. But it’s no longer valid. It no longer counts. Fun to read, useful for historical context, and we can even pull a few End Times prophecies out of it. But follow it? Nah.

Exactly how is that not dissolving it? See, καταλῦσαι/katalýsë, which I translated “to dissolve,” refers to breaking stuff apart, like in water. Pour water on a sugar cube to dissolve it, and it’s no longer solid. Can’t construct any sugar-cube buildings, like the ones we made in grade school: It’s useless for any function which requires it to be solid. That’s precisely what Jesus said he didn’t do: He didn’t turn the Law and Prophets into crumbling, insubstantial mush. Yet that’s precisely what we claim he did: Rendered it moot. Invalid. Not binding. And therefore, really, not relevant and authoritative.

This idea exposes a huge, huge error in the way Christians think about God, his commands, the Law, and legalism. Worse, this false idea worms into the rest of Jesus’s teachings. Really, every instruction we find in the bible. As a result, Christians use grace as a loophole, an excuse to ignore Jesus’s teaching—or misunderstand it, misapply it, even violate it.

Gonna be a lot of “smallest” Christians in his heavenly kingdom.

Kamala Harris and religious affiliation.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 August

Kamala Harris. Wikimedia

Kamala Harris is one of my state’s senators, and recently she’s become presidential nominee Joe Biden’s choice for his vice-president. No, this isn’t an endorsement. (Though I confess I’m totally voting for Biden, ’cause Donald Trump is awful.) Instead I’m gonna talk about how the press talks about her religion.

Harris is a regular at Third Baptist Church in San Francisco. She considers herself Baptist. Now, her mother’s from Chennai (formerly Madras), Tamil Madru, India. Her mom was born into the upper-class Brahmin caste, and Harris has been to India many times to visit the family, and go to temple with them. Various news articles claim she was raised Hindu and Christian.

Hence I’ve heard a number of people claim this means she’s both. I’ve heard it from people in both parties: From Democrats who think having multiple religions makes her broad-minded… and from Republicans who think it makes her pagan.

The way certain articles report it, she sounds both Christian and Hindu. But you gotta remember a lot of reporters, including religion reporters, aren’t religious. So they don’t know squat about religion… and presume you’re born into your religion. Just as they themselves were born into the religions they no longer practice.

So if Harris’s mom is Hindu and her dad is Christian, that makes her both. Right?

Following that logic, I should be both Christian and atheist. Except I’m totally not atheist. I picked a side. People can do that, y’know. Harris did.

What religion is Jesus?

by K.W. Leslie, 26 August

Most of the time we Christians simply take it for granted Christ Jesus is the same religion we are. After all he founded the religion. He taught us who the Father is, taught us his interpretation—the proper interpretation—of the Law of Moses, voluntarily died for our sins so we can have new life, and he’s the king of God’s kingdom. He’s vital and central to Christianity.

But whenever somebody says out loud, “Jesus is a Christian”… well it just sounds weird.

’Cause Christian (which literally means “a little Christ”) means a Christ-follower. And Christ doesn’t follow himself. He does his thing, and expects us disciples to follow him. So technically no, Jesus is not a Christian: He’s Christ.

Where people start to go screwy is when they say, “Well… I guess no, he’s not a Christian. What religion does that make him? Um… well… I guess that’d be Judaism.”

Incorrect. The religion Jesus practices is the one he preached: Christianity.

The “Judaism” people assume Jesus interacted with and was involved in, is not at all the Judaism of today. Largely it was Pharisaism, which over the centuries, with heavy influence from the second-century Mishna and the medieval Talmud, evolved into what we nowadays call “Judaism.” It’s not the same “Judaism” Jesus encountered in synagogue and temple.

Sorta like today’s churches don’t look a lot like the first apostles’ churches. The cultural Evangelical Christianity I grew up in, looks way different than first-century Jewish in-home gatherings. Sunday morning worship services, one-year bibles, Christian radio, crosses and fish as decorations, preachers with big hair and suits and ties, bible quotes from Paul and John posted on Facebook. Yeah, doesn’t much sound like the Didache.

Well, describing Pharisaism as “Judaism” is like describing the early Christians’ activities as “Fundamentalist.” Wrong culture. Wrong era. Doesn’t fit.

Though Jesus clearly interacted with Pharisees most, and taught Pharisee children in Pharisee synagogues, he’s his own thing. “You heard it said,” he preached, quoting the Pharisee elders at first… and then he’d set aside their ideas and proclaim, “And now I tell you.” Which astounded Pharisees: He wasn’t teaching what their scribes did. He had his own religion.

Many people get this wrong. They insist Jesus was so a Jew. And when they mean Jesus is an ethnic Jew—a descendant of Abraham, Jacob, and Judah—they’re entirely right. Though sometimes they wrongly assume Jesus was white, kinda like white Jews in the United States, and imagine all sorts of white culture in his experience which wasn’t there. Jesus is brown. It’s the Europeans—the Romans and Greeks who once occupied his homeland—who were white.

Likewise when people mean Jesus is a cultural Jew—that he stuck to the Law instead of adopting Greco-Roman culture and traditions—they’re also right. But when they mean Jesus followed the Jewish religion, they’re imagining today’s Judaism, and that’s quite wrong. Jesus didn’t do Judaism. Not just because it hadn’t been invented yet; really Jesus really didn’t do Pharisaism either.

Kings.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 August

So I wrote about how human government in the bible started with patriarchy. So where’d kings come from? Simple: One powerful patriarch got all the other families in the area to acknowledge his rule and his family’s rule. Maybe by bullying and conquering them. Maybe by doing them massive favors, like rescuing them from raiders, helping them survive famine, Ge 47.13-26 building a walled city and letting ’em live in it, being the priest of the local god; stuff like that. Hence we see kings all over the bible.

Properly defined, a king is simply a hereditary ruler. Nothing more. ’Cause every so often I hear some preacher claim the Hebrew word מֶ֑לֶךְ/melékh, “king,” means something more different or profound than Eurasian or African or Pacific kings. Sometimes ’cause they notice it’s a similar word to מַלְאָךְ/malákh, “angel,” and think there’s a connection there. There’s not. There is no deeper meaning to melékh; it means “king” whether it’s describing Israeli kings, Canaanite city-state kings, Moabite and Edomite client kings or puppet kings, Egyptian pharaohs, Babylonian empire-builders, or even the LORD himself. It’s a hereditary ruler. The only differences between one king or another are any constitutions which limit their power, the size of their kingdoms, and their own character and attitude about governance.

Other than the first king in the family, kings didn’t earn their position, didn’t merit it… or, bluntly, steal it through conquest or coups. They inherited it, ’cause their dads were the previous kings, designated them as successor, and the kingdom became their birthright. They could be utterly unfit to govern others… as is usually true throughout human history. Designated successors (or as we nowadays call them, crown princes) had the awful habit of not thinking of the kingdom and its people as their duty, and their leadership as service, but as possessions and slaves. It’s 180 degrees different from God’s attitude in his kingdom.

The world’s light.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 August

Mark 4.21, Matthew 5.14-16, Luke 8.16, 11.33, John 8.12.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his students they’re the light of the world. And multiple times in John, Jesus is declared the light of the world. Here, I’ve got one of those passages lined up for you.

Matthew 5.14 KWL
“You’re the world’s light.
A city can’t be hidden when it lies on a hill.”
 
John 8.12 KWL
So Jesus spoke again, saying, “I’m the world’s light.
My followers should never walk in the dark, but will have light and life.”

So which is it?

Both, obviously. It’s not a contradiction. Jesus is the true light who entered the world; Jn 1.9 as long as he’s in the world he enlightens it; Jn 9.5 whoever believes in him needn’t live in the dark; Jn 12.46 he reflects the fact that God is light. 1Jn 1.5 And we’re the light of the world when we follow his example, and reveal to the world God’s kingdom is near, same as Jesus did. Once we were darkness, but now light, Ep 5.8 for since God’s now our Father, we are light’s children, 1Th 5.5 shining as lights in this dark world. Pp 2.15

Yep, this light metaphor is all over the bible. Wouldn’t hurt us to read up on it, and see all the different ways God wants us to carry his light. 2Co 4.6

Starting with the city-on-a-hill idea. Nowadays we don’t create cities on hills. When developers create a town, they place them somewhere convenient: Outside bigger cities, near main roads, a place easy to access. Hills aren’t so easy, plus there’s all the hassle of building on a hill. Put a city on a hill, and it’ll nearly always be an expensive city. But back in ancient times, rulers worried about invasion, and figured a hill was easier to defend than a plain. Plus they could see their enemies coming. The downside was their cities were very visible-especially at night, with all their torches burning.

That’s the trait Jesus wants his followers to have: We oughta be nice and obvious. (True, it makes us more visible to enemies, but let’s not hang up on the negative.) If Christianity is a city on a hill, we Christians need to be visible. No hiding our faith. No concealing who it is we follow.

The earth’s salt.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 August

Mark 9.43-50, Matthew 5.13, Luke 14.34-35.

If you’ve ever heard someone called “the salt of the earth,” usually they mean a decent person—but kinda ordinary. And no, that’s not what Jesus meant when he coined the phrase “salt of the earth.” Or as I translated it, “the earth’s salt.” I’ve no idea how it evolved from a remarkable person to an unremarkable person.

But when Jesus uses it, he means remarkable. He means a flavor enhancer. Be the salt of the earth: Enhance it. Make it taste better.

Mark 9.49-50 KWL
49 “Everything for the fire will be salted. Lv 2.13 50 Salt is good.
When salt becomes saltless, in what way will it season things?
Have salt in yourselves. Have peace with one another.”
 
Matthew 5.13 KWL
“You’re the earth’s salt.
When salt is tasteless, in what way will it salt things?
It’s of no use—well, unless it’s thrown outside, to be walked upon by people.”
 
Luke 14.34-35 KWL
34 “So salt is good.
When salt is also tasteless, in what way will it salt things?
35 It’s neither useful for the ground nor the dungheap.
They throw it outside. Hear me, you who have ears to hear.”

The spin Mark took on it is a little bit different than the ideas we find in Matthew. I’ll get to it momentarily. First the Sermon on the Mount idea.

Awesome and awful.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 August

Matthew 5.3-12, Luke 6.20-26.

A lot of Jesus’s teachings are bunched together as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke. They overlap a bunch, so I’m going through ’em together. And both of them begin with beatitudes.

Beatitude is an old-timey word for “blessing.” Most translations follow the King James Version’s lead and begins each line with “Blessed are the…” as Jesus lists the sucky, not-so-great situation which these folks are groaning under. They’re poor. Mourning. Humble. Starving for justice. Merciful in a world without mercy. Pure-hearted in a dirty culture. Striving for peace where there’s nothing but rage and fear. Getting hunted down, mocked, slandered, driven out. These things sure don’t sound like blessings.

Let’s be blunt: They’re not. We’re not blessed with poverty, misery, no justice, no peace, and persecution.

I’ll explain. But first let’s get to the beatitudes in these two gospels.

Matthew 5.3-12 KWL
3 “The spiritually poor: How awesome!—the heavenly kingdom is theirs.
4 Those mourning: How awesome!—they’ll be comforted.
5 The gentle: How awesome!—they’ll inherit the land.
6 Those hungry and thirsty for justice: How awesome!—they’ll be filled.
7 The merciful: How awesome!—they’ll be shown mercy.
8 Those of clean mind: How awesome!—they’ll see God.
9 Those making peace: How awesome!—they’ll be called God’s children.
10 Those hunted down because of justice: How awesome!—the heavenly kingdom is theirs.
11 When people condemn you, hunt you down, say everything evil against you, lie,
all because of me: How awesome you are!
12 Rejoice and celebrate for your great reward in heaven!
For they persecuted the prophets before you this way.”
 
Luke 6.20-23 KWL
20 Jesus, lifting his eyes to his students, said:
“The poor: How awesome!—God’s kingdom is yours.
21 Those hungry now: How awesome!—you’ll be filled.
Those crying now: How awesome!—you’ll laugh.
22 When the people hate you, segregate you, condemn and throw out your names as if evil,
because of me: How awesome you are!
23 Rejoice on that day! Skip! Look at your great reward in heaven!
Their ancestors did likewise to the prophets.”

Yeah, you likely noticed I went with a much different translation of μακάριοι/makárihi than the traditional “blessed.”

The Sermon on the Plain.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 August

My translation of the Sermon on the Plain.

I don’t know whether Jesus preached this as a whole other sermon from the Sermon on the Mount, or whether Luke heard a short version of that sermon… or whether Matthew heard a long version of this sermon. My guess is Jesus gave the same sermon lots of times; shorter or longer versions depending on the location and audience. So this is kinda the short version.

Same as the Sermon on the Mount, I translated it so I could study the original text in greater depth. Feel free to read it in other translations. Compare them to one another so you can see the translators’ consensus—and that gives you a better idea of what Jesus means, than simply reading one “best” translation. Then follow him; not us translators.

Luke 6.12-49 KWL
12 It happened in those days Jesus himself came out to the hill to pray, and he was spending the night in prayer with God. 13 When day came, Jesus called his students and chose 12 of them, whom he named apostles.
14 Simon who was also named Peter, and Andrew his brother.
James. John. Philip. Bartholemew.
15 Matthew. Thomas. James bar Alpheus. Simon who was called a zealot.
16 Judas bar James. And Judas the Kerioti, who became a traitor.
17 Coming down with the apostles, Jesus stood on level ground, with many crowds of his students, a plethora of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, the coastline of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They came to hear Jesus—and be cured from their diseases. Those tormented by unclean spirits were dealt with, 19 and all the crowd sought to touch Jesus, for his power came out and cured everyone. 20 Jesus, lifting his eyes to his students, said:
 
“The poor: How awesome!—God’s kingdom is yours.
21 Those hungry now: How awesome!—you’ll be filled.
Those crying now: How awesome!—you’ll laugh.
22 When the people hate you, segregate you, condemn and throw out your names as if evil,
because of me: How awesome you are!
23 Rejoice on that day! Skip! Look at your great reward in heaven!
Their ancestors did likewise to the prophets.
24 But the wealthy: How awful for you—you’ve been encouraged long enough.
25 Those who’ve been full now: How awful for you—you’ll be hungry.
Those laughing now: How awful for you—you’ll cry.
26 When the people say everything good about you: How awful.
Their ancestors did likewise to the fake prophets.
 

The text of the Sermon on the Mount.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 August

My translation of the Sermon on the Mount.

No, not so I can have my own spin on it, or an “authoritative text” to work from; that’s not how translation works. I translate so I can study the original text in greater depth. If you translate so you can frame it to suit yourself, stop it.

Feel free to read it in other translations. Compare them to one another so you can see the translators’ consensus—and that gives you a better idea of what Jesus means, than simply reading one “best” translation. Then follow him; not us translators.

And the best way to follow him is to follow his sermon, as he himself taught in verses 7.24-27.

Matthew 4.24 - 7.29 KWL
4.24 The rumor of Jesus went out to all Syria. People brought him everyone who had all sorts of evil diseases, crushed by torments, demoniacs, lunatics, the paralyzed—and he cured them. 25 Many crowds followed Jesus: People from the Galilee, Dekapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond-Jordan. 5.1 Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up a hill. As he seated himself, his students came to him. 2 Opening his mouth, Jesus taught them, saying:
 
5.3 “The spiritually poor: How awesome!—the heavenly kingdom is theirs.
4 Those mourning: How awesome!—they’ll be comforted.
5 The gentle: How awesome!—they’ll inherit the land.
6 Those hungry and thirsty for justice: How awesome!—they’ll be filled.
7 The merciful: How awesome!—they’ll be shown mercy.
8 Those of clean mind: How awesome!—they’ll see God.
9 Those making peace: How awesome!—they’ll be called God’s children.
10 Those hunted down because of justice: How awesome!—the heavenly kingdom is theirs.
11 When people condemn you, hunt you down, say everything evil against you, lie,
all because of me: How awesome you are!
12 Rejoice and celebrate for your great reward in heaven!
For they persecuted the prophets before you this way.