Test every prophet.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 May 2023

Every Christian can hear God. (If we listen. Not all of us do, or know how to, or even know to. That’s another article.) And if God gives us something to share with another person, that’s prophecy. It’s not a complicated concept. Every Christian can potentially be a prophet.

No, not specially-anointed individuals who’ve been assigned that specific ministry office by the Holy Spirit. Those folks might be professional prophets, but that doesn’t mean other people can’t do prophecy. Same as monks, and people who run prayer ministries, might be professional petitioners, but every Christian should pray. God doesn’t put limits on who can do what in his church. We do—and shouldn’t.

That said, anybody—literally anybody—can come up to you and say, “God told me to tell you [SOMETHING THEY THINK IMPORTANT].” Or sometimes they’ll go full KJV hairy thunderer and start it with “Thus saith the LORD,” but it’s the same general idea: God told ’em to tell you something.

Well they think God told ’em to tell you something.

Or they don’t think God told ’em anything, because he didn’t, and they’re phonies. Anything real can be faked, especially for personal gain. So of course there are fake prophets, and Jesus tells us to watch out for them. They’ll lead us astray, for fun and profit.

In bible times you could drag them out of town, throw them off a cliff, and throw heavy rocks down on their bodies. And if we could still legally do that, we’d have way fewer televangelists. But we can’t, and that’s probably best. There are a lot of newbie prophets who are just getting the hang of their ability, and they’re making mistakes. Sometimes they’re just plain wrong. We need to be gracious to these people, and get ’em to stop playing prophet till their accuracy rate is the appropriate 100 percent.

And even when they have a 100 percent accuracy rate, they could always slip up. God told ’em one thing, but they put their own spin on his message and said way more than they should have, and bungled the prophecy. It happens. Especially when certain Christians get overconfident, or when politics gets involved. (That’s likewise another article.) That’s why Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets of the bible, tell us to watch out. Every Christian is wrong in one way or another, and we’re supposed to double-check one another anyway. True of prophecy as well.

So here’s how to watch out for fake prophets. And if you wanna dabble in prophecy yourself, you’d better make sure you share the traits of a legitimate prophet.

A very short dinner with Jesus in Emmaus.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 May 2023

Luke 24.28-35.

Last week I wrote about Jesus meeting two of his followers enroute to Emmaus; most likely Emmaus Nicopolis, and most likely the followers were Jesus’s uncle Cleopas and cousin Simon. They didn’t recognize him, partly ’cause they were almost certain he was dead, partly ’cause he was unrecognizable; either veiled, or resurrection had changed what he looked like. If he now had white hair Rv 1.14 instead of the more common black, he might look very different.

They told him they expected Jesus the Nazarene to be Israel’s redeemer, but he was arrested and crucified. Lk 24.19-21 He told them Messiah was supposed to go through these things, and explained how the scriptures said so. Lk 24.26-27 They had a nice long walk ahead of them, so he had a few hours to go into great detail, although Luke doesn’t get into that. But after they reached Emmaus, this happened.

Luke 24.28-35 KWL
28 They come near the village where they’re going,
and Jesus makes like he’s going to go on further.
29 The students force Jesus to come with them, saying,
“Stay with us, for it’s near evening and the day’s already over.”
So he goes into the village and stays with them.
30 It happens while Jesus reclines with the students at dinner:
Taking the bread, he blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them.
31 The students’ eyes are opened, and they recognize Jesus
—and he becomes invisible to them.
32 The students tell one another, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us
when he was speaking to us on the road?
when he was opening up the scriptures to us?”
33 Rising up that same hour, the students return to Jerusalem.
They find the Eleven and those with them, having gathered together,
34 and are saying this: “The Master is risen indeed,
and appeared to Simon!”
35 The students are telling the other students
what happened on the road,
and when they recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread.

Every once in a while, some Christian balks at when Jesus προσεποιήσατο πορρώτερον πορεύεσθαι/prosepiísato porróteron porévesthe, “makes like he’s going to go on further,” which also gets translated as “acted” or “pretended” or “gave the impression.” They don’t like the idea Jesus behaved as if he was gonna do one thing, when really he was gonna do another. It strikes them as deceptive.

First of all, why wasn’t Jesus gonna go further? You recall in Matthew the angels, and soon after Jesus himself, told the women, “Tell the boys I’ll see them in the Galilee”? Mt 28.7, 10 He might’ve been headed for the Galilee right then for all we know.

But circumstances change. The students παρεβιάσαντο αὐτὸν/pareviásanto aftón, “force him” (or “urge him,” or “compel him”) to come home with them, and he changed his mind. You do realize Jesus can change his mind, right? He doesn’t have a foreordained cosmic plan which he’s obligated to rigidly, deterministically follow. If he did… then yeah, making like he’s going on without them when he really predestined they’d invite him to stay with them, is pure deception on his part. And every single other instance in the bible in which God changes his mind—in which Moses, David, Hezekiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and dozens of other folks talk him out of doing what he totally just said he was gonna do—is playacting. Pretense. Or to use the ancient Greek word for it, ὑπόκρισις/ypókrisis, from which we get our word hypocrisy.

I should also add Jesus has every right to test his followers; to tell them he’s gonna do one thing, but what he’s hoping is they’ll talk him out of it so he doesn’t have to do that. Just like when the LORD told the Hebrews that if they didn’t follow his Law, they’d be cursed. He didn’t wanna curse them! He didn’t wanna do any of that stuff to them. He wanted ’em to repent! But they failed his test. And if Jesus was just testing his students, to see whether they’d invite him into town, they passed—but he wasn’t kidding about going onwards. If they didn’t invite him into town, he’d just go somewhere else. (In fact, when he vanishes on them in verse 31, that might be where he vanished to; either way, that’s where he was going.)

Being an influencer.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 May 2023

No, I’m not writing about me being an influencer. I don’t wanna be. I know that sounds weird coming from a blogger, ’cause isn’t that why people blog? To get followers, and maybe nudge ’em in the direction of your thinking? (Or in the direction of your advertisers?)

And yeah, I’ve been writing op/ed pieces ever since high school, so I do frequently write with the hopes I might nudge people’s opinions in the same direction as mine. But I learned long, long ago that opinion pieces don’t actually do that. People never think, “Well gee, I don’t know what to think about this subject… so I guess I’ll go read a few articles by some strident partisans, and whoever’s got the best argument will win me over.” Never. Don’t kid yourself.

Generally they already have a trusted guru who tells them what to think. So they already unquestioningly think like she or he does, and anybody who says different is just plain wrong. Or they’re waiting for the guru to descend from the mountaintop with freshly-carved tablets, and refuse to make up their minds till then. Your average influencer dreams of being one of those gurus someday.

Or, on the other extreme, people don’t care. I’ve found that to be way more common. Pure, blistering apathy. They have other things they care about, like football. Or who’s winning Wrestlemania this year.

So why am I writing? Because I wanna talk about following Jesus better. I wanna be part of the support system for other people who wanna follow Jesus better. You can take my advice, or not; you can take other writers’ advice, or not. Either way, if you’re gonna follow anyone, follow Jesus. If you want to be influenced by anyone, let the Holy Spirit do it. Do what God wants you to do, as best you can figure out. The rest of us bloggers and podcasters and pundits?—either we help or hinder, either we produce good fruit or we’re just venting our spleens. And by all means, ignore the folks who hinder!

But you shouldn’t be elevating any one Christian, or even a team of Christians, to the status of guru. We have one guru. Or as Jesus puts it,

Matthew 23.1-12 (my paraphrase)
1 Then Jesus says to the crowds and his students:
2 “The ‘bible experts’ and the ‘devout Christians’ stand in the pulpit 3 hoping you do and observe whatever they might say. But don’t do as they do. They don’t practice as they preach.
4 “They strap heavy, hard-to-carry burdens on people’s shoulders. But they would never lift a finger to carry such things themselves. 5 All they do is for public spectacle. Obvious, showy Christian hats and T-shirts. Stylish Sunday-morning outfits. 6 They love being guests of honor at your dinners. They love to sit on the stage in your services. 7 They love to be greeted in public, and have people call them ‘the master.’
8 You should not be called masters, for one is the Master, and all of you are sister and brother students. 9 You should not call anyone in the world ‘my spiritual father,’ for one is the Father, in heaven. 10 You should not call anyone ‘my spiritual guru,’ for one is the Guru, the Messiah.
11 “The best of you will be your servant. 12 Whoever promotes themselves will be taken back down to earth. Whoever themselves stays down to earth, will be promoted!”

You wanna be an influencer? You’re on the wrong track.

The 13 tribes of Israel. (Yes, 13. I didn’t miscount.)

by K.W. Leslie, 05 May 2023

The Old Testament tends to focus on the history of Israel, by which it means the descendants of Jacob ben Isaac, whom a man—probably an angel—renamed Israel after their wrestling match. Ge 32.28 Jacob’s descendants are regularly called בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל/benéi Yišraél, “children of Israel” (KJV “sons of Israel”). Ex 1.1

Jacob had 12 sons through four different women, and all the “children of Israel” are descended from these sons. These sons are also known as “the 12 tribes of Israel,” each tribe named for each son. In English, the sons are

  • Sons of Leah: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun. Ge 35.23
  • Sons of Rachel: Joseph, Benjamin. Ge 35.24
  • Sons of Bilhah: Dan, Naphtali. Ge 35.25
  • Sons of Zilpah: Gad, Asher. Ge 35.26

They’re listed in various orders, but Reuben, the firstborn, tends to come first. However, Israel reassigned the birthright—the patriarchal obligations of the eldest son to care for the family after his father died, represented by a double portion of inheritance—to his favorite son, Rachel’s eldest son, Joseph.

Because of Joseph’s double protion, he’s represented by two tribes, named for Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim. They’re the tribes of Joseph. And you’ll notice Joseph is seldom called a tribe… unless you count that one time in Revelation, Rv 7.8 in which “Joseph” probably stands in for Ephraim, ’cause Manasseh got listed two verses before. Rv 7.6 Anyway. Manasseh is sometimes called a “half tribe,” Js 13.29 not because Manasseh is half of Joseph, but because half of Manasseh’s land was east of the Jordan river, and half west. And since Israel put Joseph’s younger son Ephraim first, Ge 48.17-20 precedence passed to that tribe. The Prophets regularly refer to northern Israel as “Ephraim” for this reason. Is 7.9, 11.13, Jr 31.20, Ho 5.3, 7.8, Zc 9.13

Twelve sons, but one of them is represented by two tribes, actually produces 13 tribes. Which I’ll list alphabetically:

  1. Asher.
  2. Benjamin.
  3. Dan.
  4. Ephraim.
  5. Gad.
  6. Issachar.
  7. Judah.
  8. Levi.
  9. Manasseh.
  10. Naphtali.
  11. Reuben.
  12. Simeon.
  13. Zebulun.

So why aren’t they called 13 tribes? Two reasons.

First and foremost: The writers of the bible, and probably God too, really like the number 12. The ancient Sumerians divided the year into 12 months, marked ’em with the zodiac (whatever constellation is highest in the sky at night), and throughout middle eastern culture 12 became the number of completeness, fulfillment, unity, and perfection. Thirteen? Not so much. Not that it’s unlucky; that superstition came from the Romans. But middle easterners liked 12 way better than 13 or 11.

Plus the LORD turned the entire tribe of Levi into a special priestly caste. He gave them “no inheritance”—that is, no land apart from 48 cities. Js 21 Instead of land, Moses explained, the LORD was their inheritance, Js 13.33 meaning whenever people brought food and animals to the LORD as offerings and ritual sacrifices, the Levites, in their capacity as the LORD’s priests, got to eat ’em. Dt 18.1 So they shouldn’t actually need any land for farming and ranching.

So geographically, there are only 12 tribes. Thirteen tracts of land (remember, Manasseh had land on either side of the river—yep, there’s a 13 again), designated for the 12 people-groups descended from Israel. The Levite cities were scattered all over these tribes, and really anybody could live in the cities, not just Levites. Particularly in the larger cities, like Hebron, Shechem, or Ramoth-Gilead.

Wanna become a prophet?

by K.W. Leslie, 04 May 2023

There are two really common misconceptions about the word “prophet.” One’s a minor problem; the other’s huge. Small problem first: What a prophet actually is.

Loads of people assume prophets are the same thing as prognosticators: People who know the future, or who can predict it really well. Pagans think this, which is why they treat prophecy like just another category of psychic phenomena. And cessationists think the very same way—to them, “prophecy” is future-telling, and it’s either bunk, like astrology or fortune-telling… or it’s the real thing, but it only has to do with the End Times. It’s why all their “prophecy conferences” consist of End Times goofiness instead of actual prophets talking shop.

True, God talks about the future a lot. Be fair; so do we all. “That’s on my schedule for tomorrow,” or “I’ll do that in the morning,” or “Can’t wait till Saturday.” Like us, God either talks about what he’s gonna do in the near future, or the soon-coming consequences of poor choices: “Stop doing that; you’ll go blind.” But since the future comes up so often in our discussions with him, people assume prophecy is mostly about foretelling the future.

In fact one of the ways we test prophets is by seeing whether any of their statements about the future come true. Dt 18.22 And by that metric, we should probably stone to death most of the people who hold those “prophecy conferences.” But I digress.

A prophet is not a prognosticator. A prophet is simply God’s mouthpiece: Someone who heard God, and is sharing with others what God told ’em. That’s all.

When you pray—you do pray, right?—and God speaks back to you, usually it’s information for you. And sometimes it’s information for others. “Remind your husband I love him.” Or “Warn your daughter her so-called friend is gossiping about her.” Or “See that guy at the bus stop? Wave hi.” Or “I have just one word for your father-in-law: Plastics.” Whatever messages God wants us to pass along to others, that’s a prophecy. When you pass ’em, you’re a prophet.

Thought you needed some Isaiah-style vision, with seraphs and thrones and God calling you to the job? Nah. It’s been known to happen. But it’s far more common God’ll just tell you something, and see how you do with it. And if you do well, he’ll do it more often. And if you don’t, he won’t.

Anti-theology: How’s it working for you?

by K.W. Leslie, 03 May 2023

If you’re the sort of person who groans inwardly whenever I write yet another one of these theology articles, you’re likely anti-theology: You consider theology to be useless speculation about who God is, and about how salvation works, and you wish Christians would just stop it with all the guesswork. Get to the practical stuff!

Which practical stuff? Depends on the Christian.

  • We got the sort who thinks Christianity is meant to soothe people. Agitated because you’re not sure God loves you?—relax; he does. Agitated because of some deficiency you think you have?—relax; God’ll fix that or cure you. Agitated because you’re not sure you’re going to heaven?—relax; you are. Agitated because the world is crap?—relax; Jesus is returning.
  • We got the sort who thinks Christianity’s primary job is to denounce sin. Loudly. Angrily. Because we gotta warn sinners away from hellfire! We gotta tell them hell is real, and they’re going there unless they repent! If we don’t do something about the sin, God’s gonna smite America with tornadoes and atmospheric rivers and plague and critical race theory! I forget which of the horseman that was, but it’s one of them.
  • We got the sort who thinks Christianity is meant to make us blessed and highly favored, and wealthy. Who thinks we learn the secrets of prayer, God will answer every request with yes and amen, and we’ll get everything we ever wished for, like Aladdin’s genie but with infinite wishes. Pity nobody seems to know the secrets of prayer but Pastor, whom God gave the mansion and the Gulfstream jets. Maybe if we give him money he’ll clue us in.
  • We got the sort who covet power, and heard the Holy Spirit grants supernatural gifts to Christians, so they want some. How do we activate these gifts? How can we become prophets, or faith-healers, or do mighty miracles? How can we get a revival started in our churches, and use it to boost our attendance, boost donations, and finally afford some of the things our churches have always wanted to buy? Let’s get a swimming pool!—we can use it for baptisms and youth group pool parties!
  • We got the sort who thinks Christianity is meant to take over our country like its Founders always intended, and the reason they go to church is to network with fellow party members. Shh, don’t tell the IRS that’s what we’re really up to. And don’t tell the FBI, lest they find the stash of guns in the basement. If the guns make you anxious, don’t be!—they’re for the End Times.
  • We got the sort who wants to know which current events are actually part of the End Times. They want our preachers to start interpreting the news this way. They wanna know whether the rapture’s coming, and how soon. They wanna know who the Beast is. (But don’t you dare tell ’em it’s Donald Trump. It’s not. Though yeah, he frequently acts beastlike.)
  • And we got the sort who just wants to be left alone. They just wanna go to church, sing nice songs, hear nice sermons, take holy communion, and be under no obligations whatsoever to do anything further. Don’t have to donate money; rich people can fund the church without ’em. Don’t have to share Jesus with their neighbors; they can mass-mail flyers. Don’t have to change their lives at all. Salvation’s a free gift, after all.

And so forth. I used to attend a church which regularly held self-improvement classes of all sorts: How to improve your marriage. How to handle your finances better. How to rein in your out-of-control kids. (More spanking, apparently.) How to deal with the Jehovah’s Witnesses when they came to your door. All these classes were supposedly based on “biblical principles”… and yeah, some of these principles were acquired in some very iffy ways. But people really appreciated these classes. Self-help books are really popular with just about everyone, y’know… and whenever you Christianize them, Christians just love them.

So yeah, many a Christian would much rather have that than theology. Certainly much rather I blog about that than theology.

But how do you know I’m even giving you good advice? How do you know I’m not just taking the same old philosophy you find among pagans, slapping Christian labels all over it, and pretending it’s biblical? You know, like Christian counselors who paste Christian stickers over Freudian psychology of the self, and tell people the id body, ego soul, and superego spirit are how God actually created us to think. Or like when John Eldredge took the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement, added a bunch of bible stories and verses, and tells men it’s right and biblical to indulge their fleshly human impulses to be sexist and bossy… and kinda toxic.

How do you know I’m not just leading you utterly astray with my “proper Christian worldview”?

Didja guess I was gonna answer “Theology”? Goody!

Fruitless theology.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 May 2023

If Christian theology doesn’t produce good fruit, it’s either worthless or wrong.

Felt I’d better not bury the lede. Because, sad to say, Christian theologians too often go the fruitless route. And that’s why so many Christians dismiss theology as irrelevant, as nothing but a bunch of philosophers trying to reduce the Christian life to a bunch of navel-gazing theories which have no practical use. In the hands of fleshly Christians, that’s precisely what it becomes.

I was reminded of this recently, ’cause I read a dialogue between two Christians debating politics. (If you really wanna suck all the Jesus out of Christianity, watch Christians debate politics sometime. Better yet, don’t.) These guys didn’t just condemn one another’s beliefs; they condemned one another. Full-on ad hominem attacks. Both accusing one another of being depraved, selfish individuals; the conservative claiming the liberal only wanted the freedom to sin, and the liberal accusing the conservative of lacking God’s love for humanity. As conservatives and liberals usually do.

I wrote on this same subject years ago for another blog; at the time it was a debate between a Calvinist and a Catholic. Again, personal attacks instead of substance. Both of them felt they were right, and it justified them punching away at one another.

It’s typical depraved human nature. But it drags Christianity, and Christian theology, through the mud.

“Mortal sins”: Sins which send you to hell?

by K.W. Leslie, 01 May 2023

Quoting from John’s first letter:

1 John 5.15-17 KJV
15 And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. 16 If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. 17 All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.

This passage has managed to confuse an awful lot of Christians. What’s John mean by ἁμαρτάνουσιν πρὸς θάνατον/amartánusin pros thánaton, “sinning unto death”? Or “a sin not unto death”?

Both Paul and James wrote that sin causes death. “The wages of sin is death” Ro 6.23 and “sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” Jm 1.15 and all that. They weren’t just speaking of those sins which obviously cause death, like murder and suicide and abortion; nor those sins which indirectly but still kinda obviously cause death, like gluttony or addictions or other lapses of self-control. Popular Christian thinking is that all our sins contribute to the decay, and eventual end, of our lives. Sin is a cancer which eats away at our lives until they finally but inevitably end. And even if we resist temptation—even if we could be as sinless as Christ Jesus—sin is so toxic other people’s sins will kill us, same as they did Jesus.

But when Christians read John’s passage about sinning to death (KJV “sin unto death”) what we tend to think of is the Roman Catholic idea of a peccatum mortale, mortal sin—a sin which is so offensive to God, committing it the same as apostasy: We effectively just told God “I’m not following Jesus; I prefer hell.

Now, Catholics believe—same as most Evangelicals, including me—God can and does forgive all. If you commit a mortal sin, you don’t have to end up in hell; you can repent. So do! Murder may be a mortal sin, but Moses murdered an Egyptian slaveowner, David murdered Uriah, and Paul probably murdered Christians before he became one; all of ’em repented. (Well, maybe Moses repented. Bible doesn’t say.) But if you never repent—if you murdered someone, and if you could redo everything, would totally murder ’em again—Catholics are entirely sure you’re going to hell. Because a real Christian would realize they were wrong, feel sorry for it, and be repentant.

How do Catholics determine what’s a mortal sin, and what’s a non-mortal (i.e. easily forgivable, dismissible, venial sin)? Usually it’s by degree. If popular Christian culture considers it especially bad, and enough Catholic leaders and theologians have denounced it as something that’d particularly get in the way of our relationship with God—if it’s a serious violation of his will—it’d be a mortal sin. It’s not that venial sins don’t degrade our relationship with God, especially when we continually commit ’em. But mortal sins are figured to have effectively broken it off immediately.

You want a list? Most people who ask me about this want a list. Here ya go.

  • APOSTASY, obviously. Quitting Jesus definitely won’t get you into his kingdom.
  • ADULTERY. Not as the Old Testament describes it, i.e. sex with women outside your patriarchal fiefdom, whereas any non-relatives within your fiefdom are fair game. Nope, Catholics define this as any non-marital sexual activity. Which includes divorce, homosexuality, incest, masturbation, polygamy, porn, prostitution, and rape.
  • ANGER, ENVY AND HATRED. Particularly to a degree where people take harmful action, like terrorism.
  • BLASPHEMY, by which they mean disrespecting God, not just slander against God. So this’d include using God’s name as a profanity, sacrilege, and skipping Mass.
  • CHEATING AND FRAUD. Unless we’re talking harmless frauds like pranks, this refers to anything which harms others, like unfair bets, stuff which endangers others’ lives, injustice, lying, perjury, unfair wages, unjust prices, or oppressive interest rates.
  • HERESY. Teaching other than, or sowing doubts in, what Christians oughta believe. This includes encouraging people to defy church leadership, church splits, idolatry, simony, sorcery, and trying to be simultaneously Catholic and another religion. Catholics also include Freemasonry—in part ’cause Masons have historically been anti-Catholic, and in part ’cause Masonic rituals like to dabble in pagan, magic, and Muslim iconography, which creeps Catholics out.
  • MURDER of various sorts; anything which intentionally kills another person. This’d include abortion, euthanasia, and suicide. Catholics also include contraception.
  • SUBORNATION, i.e. getting someone to sin for you, or otherwise encouraging another person’s sins and vices. Likewise gossip, scandal-mongering, or other such things which nudge others the wrong way.

All these things are forbidden, or implied to be forbidden, in the scriptures. You notice many of ’em are taken from the Ten Commandments. So obviously we should resist any temptation to slide into ’em.

Does sin undo our salvation?

The big problem with the idea of mortal sins, is its logical conclusion: If certain sins cut us off from God’s grace, and we never repent, nor have the chance or means to repent… it means if we die with a mortal sin on our souls, we’re not saved. We’re not forgiven, not getting into God’s kingdom, not getting eternal life. Sin unsaves us.

Is that how God’s grace works? No. But Catholics have a slightly different idea of how grace works.

As Evangelicals like me understand it, grace is God’s generous attitude towards his people. That’s why it’s unlimited, just like its giver. But lots of people treat grace as a substance, a liquid God pours out on us, a pixie dust he sprinkles upon us, or a blanket he covers us with; an object not an attitude. And if it’s a substance, it’s a finite substance: It’s not unlimited. There’s only so much of it God’s printed out, and gonna distribute to people. So don’t push him!—or he’ll favor someone else.

For Catholics, God gives people all sorts of grace, in all sorts of ways. But he particularly grants us grace through his sacraments. That’s why we gotta do them! Go to church and have holy communion every week—every day if possible—because you need to stay connected to Jesus, and that’s the easiest way to do it. And in response God will dole out more grace. So if you’re feeling low on grace, go to church!

Now yeah, if you go to church you’re certainly gonna notice God’s grace a lot more than in most places. But God’s grace isn’t something he only grants when people are religious. On the contrary: God’s grace is all the more for people who aren’t religious. Sinners can’t be saved unless God finds us, comes and gets us, forgives us, and brings us into his kingdom! And does God go and get ’em because they go to church and participate in sacraments? Nope; he went and got us because he loves us. Loved us before we made any effort to follow him; loved us before we repented of our awful, sinful behavior; loved us before we even knew we needed grace. Loves us in spite of many of us not entirely understanding what grace is.

Loves us in spite of those mortal sins. Wants to save us anyway. Isn’t giving up on us, but the Holy Spirit continues to prod us in the conscience so we’ll wise up and repent. That’s grace.

Romans 5.20-21 NABRE
20B …but, where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through justification for eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So does sin, any sin, cut us off from grace and salvation? Only apostasy. Only intentionally quitting Jesus. Properly that’s how blasphemy of the Holy Spirit works—we deliberately cut himself off from him and his guidance, and refuse to follow him further. Rejecting God is the only way we “lose” his salvation. Which means we gotta mean to do it. It’s not accidental! You’re never gonna stumble into losing your salvation; you can only willfully reject it.

(Or, as is the case with pagans who believe they’re Christian, never have it to begin with. They still need to repent, and actually follow Jesus instead of only following the trappings of Christianity which they like best. But they merit their own article.)

So what’s John talking about?

If John didn’t mean to create this whole designation of “mortal sin,” describing sins that’d send us to hell as opposed to venial sins God can easily forgive, what was he really writing about? For that, we gotta look at John’s culture, not ancient Christian culture nor medieval Roman Catholic culture. John grew up Pharisee.

The Pharisees identified two categories of sin in the Law—all of which God forgives, but all of which still had consequences. For most of ’em, like killing a neighbor’s animal, the consequence was restitution for the sin against one’s neighbor, and ritual sacrifice for the sin against God. And for many of ’em, like killing a neighbor, the consequence was death.

Yep. That’s what John meant by “sinning to death”: Violations of the Law which merited the death penalty.

The United States has such laws too. Largely we’ve limited them to murder, terrorism, and treason. The Law in the scriptures executed people for stuff we’d never execute people over, like breaking Sabbath. Its list of mortal sins is a lot larger than the Catholics’ list—and includes much different things. Anger’s not a mortal sin in the Law. But these things are:

  • Not properly penning an ox, so that it broke out and killed someone.
  • Interfering with temple ritual, or the Levites and priests who do it.
  • Priests being drunk on the job.
  • Going to temple while ritually unclean.
  • Kidnapping.
  • Hitting or cursing your parents.
  • Bestiality.
  • False prophecy, promoting other gods, or spiritualism.

Stuff American culture won’t kill you over—but ancient cultures would and did. Whether you repented or not.

Naturally, many ancient Christians didn’t bother to study the Law, had a lot of biases against the things they considered sinful, and decided it wasn’t too huge of a leap between stuff which got you capital punishment, and things which might endanger your eternal life. Plus threatening people with hellfire goes a lot further when you’re trying to get ’em to stop sinning.

But yeah, it’s wrong. John wasn’t writing about stuff that might put you in hell. Just sins people commit which, in context, are serious crimes. Read it again; I translated it with this idea in mind.

1 John 5.15-17 KWL
15 Once we’ve known God hears us about whatever we may ask,
we’ve known we have the requests we ask of him.
16 When anyone sees their fellow Christian sinning a non-felonious sin,
they’ll ask, and God’ll give life to that person—
to those who commit non-felonious sin.
There’s felonious sin.
I say this so you’d ask, but not about that.
17 Everything immoral is sin—
and includes non-felonious sin.

If the sins they commit are things they really oughta go to prison for, like fraud and thievery and molestation, or even treason and murder, we can’t only pray about it, and figure that’s that. We need to get authorities involved. John wasn’t writing about felonious behavior, but sins between us and God, stuff where authorities don’t need to be involved, and hopefully we have the sense to know the difference.

And regardless of the sins, God can and will forgive all. So relax.

Meeting Jesus on the Emmaus road.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 April 2023

Luke 24.13-27.

Jesus’s resurrection happened the day after Passover. The Law required every able-bodied Israeli to go to Jerusalem for Passover and celebrate it there. Dt 16.16 That done, they could all go home, and that seems to be what two of Jesus’s students were doing in the Emmaus Road story: Going home. Passover was over, Jesus was (as far as they knew) dead, and while they heard from the women he was alive, they didn’t know what to do with this information… and it didn’t matter; they had stuff to do at home. So they were going home.

Emmaus is probably Emmaus Nicopolis. A number of Christians insist it can’t be, because Luke says Emmaus was 60 stadia from Jerusalem (i.e. 7 miles, 11km), and Emmaus Nicopolis is 161 stadia (15½ miles, 25km) away. Never mind Luke describes Emmaus as ἀπέχουσαν/apéhusan, “far off,” and 7 miles is not far off; you could run that in an hour.

Me, I think it’s far more likely some overzealous bible copyist incorrectly wrote ἑξήκοντα/exíkonta, “sixty,” instead of ἑκατὸν ἑξήκοντα/ekatón exíkonta, “hundred sixty,” and that error snuck into all our bibles. None of the other archaeological discoveries 60 stadia away from Jerusalem have been satisfactory. Meanwhile Christians for centuries have been claiming Emmaus Nicopolis is the place. Ancient Christians even built a church there over St. Cleopas’s house, which was still standing in Eusebius Pamphili’s time. (He was the bishop of Caesarea, Judea, from 314 to 339. He knew the area.) It’s not unreasonable to figure these guys could cover 161 stadia (i.e. 15½ miles, 25km) in a spring afternoon. That’s a five-hour walk… and, as it’ll come up later, a two-hour run.

I mentioned Cleopas ’cause Luke identifies Cleopas as one of the students in this story. Κλεόπας/Kleópas is a Greek name, the male equivalent of Cleopatra, meaning “glory to the father,” or in a Jew’s case “glory to the Father.” Eusebius identifies him as Jesus’s uncle, the brother of Joseph, and the father of Jesus’s cousin Simon, who later became the head of the Jerusalem church after Jesus’s brother James was killed. Since the Emmaus Road story ends with the statement, “The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon,” Lk 24.34 KJV it may very well be that the other student in this story is this Simon—namely Jesus’s cousin Simon. Hey, they both lived in Emmaus.

So it’s kinda cool that Jesus’s uncle and cousin were both following him, and it makes sense that they’d be among the first people he appeared to. Let’s get to the first part of the story.

Luke 24.13-27 KWL
13 Look, two of the students, on the same day,
are going to a far-off village whose name is Emmaús,
60 stadia [7 miles, 11 km] from Jerusalem.
14 The students are talking with one another
about all the things which just happened.
15 It happens, during their animated conversation,
Jesus himself comes near, going with them.
16 The students’ eyesight isn’t strong;
they don’t know it’s Jesus.
17 Jesus tells them, “What are these words
you throw to one another as you’re walking?”
The students stand still, gloomy-looking.
18 In reply, one of the students, named Cleopas,
tells Jesus, “You alone visit Jerusalem,
and don’t know what happens in it these days?”
19 Jesus tells them, “What happened?”
The students tell him the events about Jesus the Nazarene.
How he’s a man—a prophet—
of mighty work and word before God and all the people.
20 How Jesus is betrayed to our head priests and rulers,
is sentenced to death, and they crucify him.
21 “And we were expecting that he’s Israel’s coming redeemer…
but regardless, it’s the third day after these things happened.
22 But certain women among us are confusing us:
Going to the sepulcher in the morning
23 and not finding Jesus’s body,
they come back speaking of seeing an angelic vision;
they say he’s alive.
24 Some who are with us, go to the sepulcher,
and find it’s just as the women say,
but we don’t see him.”
25 Jesus tells them, “Oh, you dummies.
Slow in your heart to trust all the prophets who speak.
26 Don’t these things have to be suffered by Messiah
to enter into his glory?”
27 And beginning with Moses and all the prophets,
Jesus expounds for them everything written about himself.

The first 12 apostles.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 April 2023

The word apostle means “one who’s been sent out.” We Christians use it to refer to anyone whom Jesus has sent to do something.

Really, anything. If Jesus sends you to Peets to go get him a coffee, that is—no foolin’—being his apostle. Now, once you’re done, are you still an apostle? Well, that’s debatable… and usually debated vigorously by all the people whom Jesus sent on one mission or another, who now include “apostle” among their titles, and even make it part of their screen names on social media. (He’s not just “Maximilián Bernardi” on Facebook; he’s “Apostle Maximilián Bernardi.” As far as Facebook knows, his full first name is “Apostle Maximilián.” Imagine if gas station attendants did this. But I digress.)

I know; some churches insist the only apostles are the 12 guys Jesus designated when he walked the earth—with a special exception made for Paul, ’cause Jesus appeared to him special. I’d point out Jesus still appears to people special, and can therefore send any one of us to do anything he chooses. So yeah, he still makes apostles. But the first 12 guys are special, ’cause they’re the guys Jesus used to start his church.

As for why he picked ’em, we have to read this bit first, which makes it kinda obvious:

Mark 3.7-12 NET
7 Then Jesus went away with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him. And from Judea, 8 Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan River, and around Tyre and Sidon a great multitude came to him when they heard about the things he had done. 9 Because of the crowd, he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him so the crowd would not press toward him. 10 For he had healed many, so that all who were afflicted with diseases pressed toward him in order to touch him. 11 And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.

For those who can’t see the obvious: Jesus was busy. This was a massive ministry he had undertaken. And though he’s Jesus, he’s still just one man; he needed help! He needed apprentices. So he picked 12 of his best students.

Mark 3.13-15 NET
13 Now Jesus went up the mountain and called for those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve so that they would be with him and he could send them to preach 15 and to have authority to cast out demons.

Matthew makes it sound like these were his only students, and maybe they were at the time.

Matthew 10.1 NET
Jesus called his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits so they could cast them out and heal every kind of disease and sickness.

But Luke indicates they were among his students.

Luke 6.12-13 NET
12 Now it was during this time that Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he spent all night in prayer to God. 13 When morning came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles…
Luke 9.1-2 NET
1 After Jesus called the twelve together, he gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

Jesus chose students to do this, and all his apostles—including present-day apostles—are still his students. Still gotta learn from the Master. But what makes ’em apostles is Jesus designated and sent them to do stuff.

Namely the very same things Jesus did. The same things the crowds were swarming Jesus to get: Cure diseases, drive out their demons, and tell ’em about God’s kingdom. Whenever someone barged into Jesus’s lessons because they had a sick relative, the idea was an apostle could handle it, and our Lord didn’t need to be interrupted unless this problem was simply too great for the apprentice to handle. Where previously Jesus went from town to town with the gospel, he could now send six teams to do the very same thing. (And later, 35 teams.)

It’s all part of Jesus’s ultimate goal: To multiply himself in every Christian. ’Cause we Christians are to do all the stuff he did, and then some.