Is it “debts” or “trespasses”?

by K.W. Leslie, 30 September

Matthew 6.12.

I used to be in a small group which consisted of Christians from various churches in town. So, different denominations and traditions. Most were Baptist, partly ’cause there are a lot of Baptists in town, partly ’cause we met at a nondenominational Baptist church, so their members came out to represent. And many weren’t Baptist; I’m not. But we all have the same Lord Jesus, so we tried to avoid the churches’ doctrinal hangups and focus on what unifies us in him.

Anyway one of the unifying things we did was, at the end of each meeting, we’d say the Lord’s Prayer together. We have that in common, right?

Except… well, translations. Most of us have it memorized in either the Book of Common Prayer version or the King James Version. A few know it best in the NIV or ESV, or whatever’s their favorite translation. (Or their pastor’s favorite.) But the majority know it in either the BCP or KJV.

Spot the differences.

Book of Common Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
Matthew 6.9-13 KJV
9B Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever. Amen.

Some of the differences go largely unnoticed: “Who art in heaven” and “Which art in heaven” is a minor difference in pronunciation, same as the “on earth” and “in earth.” There’s a bit of confusion at the end when the BCP has “for ever and ever” and the KJV only has “for ever.”

But the real hiccup is where the BCP has “trespasses” and the KJV has “debtors.”

At first you might think (’cause some have): “Well the Lord’s Prayer is also in Luke, so let’s see what word Luke used,” but that’ll just frustrate you: Luke has Jesus say,

Luke 11.4 KJV
And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.

So it’s half a vote for “debts,” because the second part of the verse describes debtors. But it doesn’t matter what people are voting: Those who say the Book of Common Prayer version have a really strong traditional bias in favor of “trespasses,” since it’s what they’ve been praying all their lives, every time they recite the Lord’s Prayer. And those who quote the King James Version have a likewise strong traditional bias in favor of “debts,” because it’s what they’ve been praying all their lives… and I’m not gonna even get into the type of KJV worshiper who thinks the KJV is the one true bible and every other variant is satanic.

Okay. Is this minor difference of wording a big deal? Of course not. But not every Christian has the maturity to recognize this, and they want to pick a fight. They wanna be the prayer leaders, largely so they can impose their favorite version of the Lord’s Prayer on everybody, and make everyone say “debts” or “trespasses” as they please.

And somehow they don’t notice everybody is pretty much saying whatever translation of the Lord’s Prayer they’re accustomed to saying anyway: For one second of cacophony, the BCP fans are saying “trespasses” and the KJV fans are saying “debts,” because nobody’s following the prayer leader: As usual, they’re reciting by memory.

And y’know what? That’s okay.

And y’know what else? If it’s not okay—if it’s making you nuts—go back and read the Lord’s Prayer again: “As we forgive those who trespass against us,” or “As we forgive our debtors,” or “As we forgive every one that is indebted to us.” We’re supposed to forgive the people who “say it wrong,” same as we’re supposed to forgive everyone. If you can’t do that, you’re doing it wrong.

Daily bread.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 September

Matthew 6.11, Luke 11.3.

Whenever we read Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, or any of his other teachings, they make way more sense when we remember his audience at the time consisted of poor people.

In the United States, “poor” usually means you don’t have a lot of money, and live within limited means. In ancient Israel, “poor” meant you had no money. Maybe you had stuff to barter; usually not. You lived from job to job, from harvest to harvest, doing the best you could with what few resources you had. Any time you did have money, taxmen would take it away, priests and Pharisees would demand you give it to temple, or rich people would con you out of it.

So when Jesus speaks on money, possessions, or economics: His audience seldom had those things. We do have these things. Even our “poor” have these things. We’re very blessed.

So. We recognize when Jesus, in the Lord’s Prayer tells us to pray for daily bread, he doesn’t literally mean bread; he means food in general. That interpretation is fine. But so many Americans expand it: “Oh he doesn’t necessarily mean food; he means spiritual food. He means we’re to do the will of his Father, Jn 4.34 so we’re to ask God for the strength and power to do that.” Or, if they’re more into Mammon and materialism, they claim it means financial food: Give us this day our weekly paycheck, that with it we might pay our bills and buy whatever we covet.

And yeah, we recognize we should go to God first when we want anything, and submit to his will when he tells us yes or no. But when Jesus told us to pray for daily bread, it’s not a metaphor for our every necessity or desire. It’s about sustaining our lives. We need food so we can live. We need to recognize our dependence on God for our lives. So when he says pray for daily bread, pray for daily bread.

Yeah, you can pray for spiritual growth too. You can pray for money. You can ask God for anything, and he’s not stingy. But don’t go reading your various other desires into the Lord’s Prayer, and pray for those things instead of what Jesus told us to pray for. Pray for bread.

And specifically, pray for tomorrow’s bread. Because that’s a better translation of what Jesus commanded.

Thy kingdom come.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 September

Matthew 6.10, Luke 11.2.

Matthew 6.10 KWL
“Make your kingdom come. Make your will happen both in heaven and on earth.”
Luke 11.2 KWL
Jesus told them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father!
Sanctify your name. Bring your kingdom.’ ”

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father ἐλθέτω βασιλεία σου/elthéto i vasileía su, “must come, the kingdom of yours.” The literal translation is a bit Yoda-like, which is why “Your kingdom come” is how the ESV put it, and of course we all know the Book of Common Prayer and KJV translation.

The arrival of God’s kingdom is the gospel. It’s not John 3.16, no matter how much we love that verse. Eternal life is part of it, but the more important thing is where we spend this eternal life, and John 3.16 says nothing about that. You know the verse; you know this already. It’s why when Christians interpret the verse for other people, we tend to explain “will have everlasting life in heaven, with Jesus.” But Jesus never said that: In his second coming, he’s coming to earth to take over. God’s kingdom’s gonna be here. We Christians have been laying the groundwork for it.

And doing a rotten job of it, but that stands to reason: Too many of us think the kingdom’s not here. We anticipate an otherworldly, cosmic heaven; we figure we leave this world behind to fall apart and be destroyed. The millennium isn’t part of our plans.

So why have we bothered to pray “Thy kingdom come”? Well, ’cause the words are there, so we recite them by rote, but never meditated on them any. We just presumed God’d make his kingdom come by blowing up the earth while we all watch safely from heaven, and that’s where his kingdom is. And since God’s gonna blow up the earth, why bother to care of it? This world is passing away, so it’s okay if we pollute and spoil it, ’cause God’ll make us another one.

But once we realize God’s kingdom is located here, on our planet; once we realize God’s kingdom is meant to fix everything that’s broken on our planet (’cause God’s in the business of fixing what’s broken); and once we realize the Holy Spirit’s been given to us so we can get started already on God’s plan to make all things new: It’s gonna radically transform our nihilistic attitudes towards our world. And towards the people on it, whose glimpses of the coming kingdom are gonna attract them to it far better than warnings of doom and gloom.

Hallowed be thy name.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 September

Matthew 6.9, Luke 11.2.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father to ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου/aghiasthíto to ónoma su, “sanctify” or “make holy” or “hallowify” (to coin a word) “the name of yours.” The Book of Common Prayer and KJV went with “Hallowed be thy name,” which means the same thing, but Christians commonly misinterpret it to mean “I sanctify your name,” or “I praise your name.” We think this is praise and worship on our part. It’s not. It’s a request for our Father to make his own name holy. For him to act.

Part of our presumption comes from a way-too-common Christian misbelief that our prayers aren’t really about asking God to do anything. Because, the attitude is, God doesn’t actually answer prayer. He sits on his heavenly arse, watches us humans stumble around, reminds us to read our bibles, but isn’t gonna intervene in human affairs till the End Times—if they even ever happen. Besides, he’s already planned out everything he’s gonna do, so all our after-the-fact prayers won’t change a whiff of it. So what’s the point of prayer then? Changing us—changing our attitudes about God by reciting various truths about him, like we do with our worship music, until these ideas finally sink in and transform us.

(As if this even works with worship music. Just look at all the Christian jerks whose favorite songs, so they claim, are hymns. But lemme stop here before I rant futher.)

Thanks to this mindset, Christians imagine “Hallowed be thy name” is just another reminder to think of God’s name as holy. To not take it in vain. To glorify and worship him, and tell other people how awesome and mighty he is. To remember God is holy—and because we so often misdefine holy as good, to also remember God is good. Or because we so often misdefine holy as solemn, to remember to treat God as formal.

We really do botch the meaning of what Jesus is trying to teach us in this prayer, don’t we? It’s why Christians can recite the Lord’s Prayer the world over, sometimes every single day, and still not behave any more like Jesus than before.

So to remind you: Holiness means something’s not like anyone or anything else, because it’s distinctly used for divine purposes. It’s weird. Good-weird, not weird for weirdness’ sake, not twisted, not evil-weird. When we pray for God to make his name holy, we want him to not be like any other higher power, any other mighty thing, any other force in the cosmos, any other god. We want him to stand out. He’s not like anything or anyone else. He’s infinitely better.

Now. Does recognizing the Lord’s Prayer is about actually asking God for stuff, and that it’s not merely about changing our own attitudes, mean our attitudes don’t need to change? Of course not. If we want God to make his name holy, part of that means we need to make his name holy too. Stop treating God as if he’s just anyone else. He’s not.

And no, I absolutely do not mean we should treat him more formally, more solemnly, with more ritual and ceremony and gravitas and all that crap we do to suck up to people in authority. God’s uniqueness is reflected by two things about him: He’s almighty, of course. And, more importantly, more relevantly to us, his character: He’s infinitely good. Infinitely gracious. He infinitely loves us. Has infinite patience with us. He’s infinitely kind. Infinitely faithful. He’s not like anyone else because, unlike everyone else, he’ll never, ever fail us.

So don’t put him on the same level!

Nontheism: When pagans don’t believe in God.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 September
NONTHEIST 'nɑn.θi.ɪst adjective. Believes no such thing as God, gods, a universal spirit, a universal intelligence, nor a supernatural higher power, exists. (A catchall term for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and others who are skeptical of God and religion.)
[Nontheism 'nɑn.θi.ɪz.əm noun.]

Y’know, for the first couple centuries of Christianity, we Christians were called atheist.

See, Greco-Roman pagans believed in gods. Lots of gods. Not just their own gods—and the titans, demigods, and daemons in the Greco-Roman pantheon. They also accepted the existence of the gods of other pantheons. They didn’t presume they knew them all. So whenever they encountered an unfamiliar god, they accepted it. Even added it to their pantheon, which is why they had multiple gods of the sun (Apollo, Helios, Hyperion) and war (Ares, Athena, Enyo, Polemos).

Sometimes they figured it was just one of their gods with a different name: The Latins worshiped a Deo Pater/“Father God” (which later got contracted to Jupiter), and the Greeks presumed this was just Zeus with a Latin alias… and over time this became what the Latins believed too. The Greeks did the same with the Egyptians’ Amun-Ra; they figured he was just what Egyptians called Helios. (The Seleucids tried to pull this with our LORD, claimed he was just the Jewish version of Zeus, and tried to put a Zeus statue in the temple. The Maccabees objected rather vigorously to that idea.)

So the Greco-Romans believed there were gods everywhere. Whereas Christians and Jews have only the One, and believe the beings pagans consider “gods” aren’t gods at all. Either they’re devils pretending to be divine, or they’re the made-up gods of scam-artist priests. You know, like atheists nowadays claim about our God. (But without devils in their explanations, ’cause they don’t believe in any spirits, including evil ones.) To the ancient pagans, rejecting all their gods felt kinda like Christians didn’t believe in any god.

So if you imagine Christians and nontheists are opposites: Not really. Because both Christians and nontheists don’t believe in Zeus, Odin, and Amun-Ra. We likewise reject the divinity of Krishna, Olodumare, the Horned God, and any other pagan deities. We think it’s wrong, unhealthy, silly, or dangerous, to follow and worship such beings—same as nontheists! In that, we’re on the same side.

Where we differ is we do worship YHWH/“Jehovah”/“the LORD,” the one true God and father of Christ Jesus. Nontheists simply lump him together with all the other gods, and reject him too.

Our Father who art in heaven.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 September

Matthew 6.9-10.

The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew begins with πάτερ ἡμῶν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς/páter imón o en toís uranoís, “our Father who’s [located] in the heavens,” Mt 6.9 ’cause we’re addressing—duh—our heavenly Father.

Matthew 6.9 KWL
“So pray like this: Our Father who’s in the heavens! Sanctify your name.”

Some Christians wanna make it particularly clear which god we’re praying to. Partly because some of ’em actually think they might accidentally invoke the wrong god (and y’know, if they’re Mammonists or some other type of idolater, they might). Sometimes because they’re showing off to pagans that they worship the Father of Jesus, or some other form of hypocrisy. But Jesus would have us keep it simple: Just address our heavenly Father. There’s no special formula for addressing him; no secret password we’ve gotta say; even “in Jesus’s name” isn’t a magic spell—and you notice “in Jesus’s name” isn’t in the Lord’s Prayer either. You know who he is; he knows who he is; he knows what our relationship consists of; that’s fine.

As I said in the Lord’s Prayer article, Jesus isn’t the first to teach people God is our Father. Many a Pharisee prayer, and many Jewish prayers nowadays, address God as אָבִינוּ/avínu, “our Father”—like Avínu Malkéinu (“our Father, our king”), recited during fasts and the high holidays. If we have a relationship with him, and we should through Jesus, we should have no hesitation to approach him boldly. He 4.16 He loves us; he wants to be gracious to us; let’s feel free to talk with him about anything and everything.

Short, potent, authentic prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 September

Matthew 6.7-8.

In his Sermon on the Mount, right after Jesus taught his followers to keep their prayers private, he added,

Matthew 6.7-8 KWL
7 “Petitioners shouldn’t be repetitive like the pagans:
They think they’ll be worth hearing because of their wordiness.
8 You shouldn’t compare yourselves with them:
Your Father has known what you have need of, before you asked him.”

The Pharisee view, one we Christians share, is our God is the living God. Whereas other religions’ gods aren’t. They’re blocks of wood, stone, and metal; they’re abstract ideas without any intelligence behind them; they’re devils tricking people into worshiping them. When we speak to our God, he speaks back. When they speak to their gods, they don’t. They can’t.

Yet instead of realizing, “Y’know, since our god never, ever responds to us, I wonder whether she’s real to begin with?” pagans just shove that idea right out of their minds as if it’s doubt or blasphemy, double down on their beliefs, and come up with a bunch of justifications for why their gods can’t talk. Humans are too insignificant or sinful; the gods are too mighty or busy or distant; the universe doesn’t express its will like that; crap like that.

Regardless of the reasons, pagans get no feedback from their gods, so when they pray, they feel the need to repeat themselves. A lot. Their gods might not’ve heard them, so they just need to make sure.

Does our God require such behavior? Absolutely not. As Jesus said, he knew our requests before we ever made ’em.

Lots of Christians interpret this as a statement of God’s omniscience, his all-knowingness. Which is indeed one of God’s powers; he knows all. But it isn’t what Jesus means by this lesson. He’s making a statement of God’s attentiveness. God’s not a distant, dispassionate, disinterested deity. He’s our Father. He cares enough about us to keep tabs on our needs. He cares about his kids.

Hal Lindsey and Al Hartley.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 September

Since I’m writing about the comic book version of Hal Lindsey’s There’s a New World Coming, I should introduce you to the authors. Starting with Hal Lindsey.

Hal Lindsey. IMDB

Harold Lee Lindsey, born 23 November 1929, is a former Coast Guard tugboat captain turned evangelist. He and his second wife Jan began working with Cru (then called Campus Crusade for Christ) in the 1960s, and he got his master’s degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. I’m not sure whether Lindsey got his theological outlook from DTS or brought it with him; not that it matters.

The school was founded in 1924 by Lewis Sperry Chafer, a Darbyist who authored an eight-volume Systematic Theology which taught God from a thoroughly dispensationalist point of view: God, he taught, used multiple systems of salvation throughout human history, and the system he uses in the Christian Era is grace. But the systems of previous era were largely based on karma—on obeying your conscience, obeying your patriarch, obeying the Law, and otherwise doing it yourself. In other words Pelagianism—but the only reason Darbyists aren’t Pelagian is because they don’t claim people are currently saved through their good works. (Although many of them seriously believe the Jews still are.)

If you don’t know DTS, you definitely know its alumni. They’ve run megachurches, seminaries, Christianity Today, and run for office. Like radio preachers Chuck Swindoll and J. Vernon McGee, Ryrie Study Bible author Charles C. Ryrie, The Living Bible author Kenneth N. Taylor, The Prayer of Jabez author Bruce Wilkinson, How to Be Rich author Andy Stanley, presidential apologist Robert Jeffress, and the authors of the Expositors Bible Commentary. The school has made a huge impact on Evangelical Christianity, and the rest of Christendom—and the rest of the world, ’cause Darbyist views on Israel largely drive American foreign policy regarding Israel.

So that’s the belief system Lindsey brought with him when he published The Late Great Planet Earth in 1970, based on his notes and edited together by Carole C. Carlson. It was a monster best-seller. Sold millions of copies when, even today, only a few thousand copies puts you on the Amazon and New York Times lists. This book introduced Americans to Darbyism, and its unique interpretation of the End Times in which Jesus secretly raptures his followers before his second coming. Before any great tribulation happens.

The Holy Spirit reminds us what Jesus taught… assuming we know what Jesus taught.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 September

John 14.25-26.

Most Christians figure Jesus’s students followed him three years. It might actually have been longer than that.

The idea of three years comes from the fact three Passovers get mentioned in John, Jn 2.13, 6.4, 11.55 the last one being the Passover for which he died. But just because John mentioned three particular Passovers doesn’t mean these were the only Passovers which took place during Jesus’s teaching time. Coulda been nine for all we know.

No I’m not kidding:

7 BC: Jesus was born.
24 CE: Jesus’s 30th birthday. Luke states he was ὡσεὶ/oseí, “like,” 30 when he started teaching. Lk 3.23 Didn’t say exactly 30, but let’s start from there.
33 CE: Jesus died. And woulda been about 39.

Time for some basic arithmetic. If Jesus started teaching in the year 24, and “like” just means he was a few months shy of 30, by the year 33 he’d’ve been teaching nine years. If “like” instead means he was already in his thirties; say 33… he’d’ve been teaching six years. (Still more than three.) And if “like” means he was coming up on 30, that he was actually younger than 30, like 27… he’d’ve been teaching twelve years.

Yeah. You thought Jesus was just giving these kids a two-year course in church planting. Nope. Pharisee rabbis provided young men a full secondary education. And as the best teacher ever, you know Jesus taught ’em so well they astounded the Senate, who assumed because they hadn’t been to their academies they were ἀγράμματοί/aghrámmatí, “unschooled” and ἰδιῶται/idióte, “idiots.” Ac 4.13

But one significant boost to their education—and really to every Christian’s education—is the Holy Spirit.

Yeah, Jesus’s students had listened to him speak in synagogue every Friday night. Yeah, they listened to him speak to crowds every other day of the week. Yeah, they sat in on his lessons as the people at dinner parties and every other social function decided to ask Jesus a question or two. And of course there were all those teaching moments as they hung out with him.

But how much of that stuff are you naturally gonna remember? Like really remember? Remember in detail? Remember in useful detail, like when you actually need it in real life? Well, a good teacher will help you memorize stuff by reinforcing it time and again. But for Christians we get another boost because the Holy Spirit remembers absolutely everything. And if we listen to him, as we should, he’ll remind us of everything Jesus taught us. Jesus said so.

John 14.25-26 KWL
25 While staying with you, I spoke these things to you.
26 The Assistant, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name:
This person will teach you everything, and remind you of everything I told you.”

There’s a catch though: What has Jesus told you?

The Holy Spirit of truth… and dense Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 September

John 14.15-17.

Christians take for granted that we receive the Holy Spirit by virtue of being Christian: When we say the sinner’s prayer and claim Jesus as our individual savior, we individually, automatically get the Holy Spirit to indwell us and guarantee us an eternal place in God’s kingdom. Right?

Right. But the assumption Jesus makes when he says as much to his students in John, is his students don’t just passively believe in him. Don’t just passively believe all the correct things about him, and have the proper “faith”, and that’s what saves us. And once we die after a lifetime of taking God’s grace for granted, we get to use the Holy Spirit as our entry fee to heaven.

The Holy Spirit’s been granted to us to help us continue to follow Jesus.

John 14.15-17 KWL
15 “When you love me you’ll keep my commands,
16 and I’ll make a request of the Father, and he’ll give you another Assistant,
because he’ll be with you in this age: 17 The truthful Holy Spirit.
The world can’t comprehend him, because it neither sees nor knows him.
You know him, because he dwells with you, and will be in you.”

The Spirit has an active purpose in our lives. Not just a passive one.