30 October 2023

Miracles and the laws of nature.

Lemme start by pointing out the “laws of nature,” as scientists call them, aren’t actually laws. That’s just what we call them. Because, all things being equal, they’re how nature works.

  • Newton’s first law of motion is that a body remains at rest, or at a constant speed in a straight line, unless acted upon by some force.
  • The second law of thermodynamics is that heat spontaneously flows from hotter to colder regions of matter.
  • The law of conservation of energy, is that matter can neither be created nor destroyed; only turned into a different form, like energy.

There are dozens more. They describe how scientists observe the universe working; they’re how it’s always worked, and there’s no reason to assume they’ll stop working this way in future. They don’t work this way because they must, but because they just do. Laws of nature are very important to the way our daily life functions. Imagine how chaotic things would be if the gravity switched off!

Thing is, in the bible we have miracles which appear to ignore these laws. God creates something out of nothing. God makes things which shouldn’t float, float. God stops the earth from turning and moon from orbiting. Stuff which, by the laws of nature, doesn’t happen. Can’t happen.

Theologians simply have to ask the question: How attached is God to these laws? Since he created the universe—and the laws of nature appear to be the rules he’s built into his universe—are they there because they’re how he insists things must be? When he performs a miracle, does he respect the laws of nature, because they’re his laws? Or does he violate them because he only created them for our convenience?

Since God’s almighty, just how obligated is he to follow the laws of nature? Or does his almightiness mean he just plows right through them?

25 October 2023

Happy Halloween. Bought your candy yet?

For more than a decade I’ve ranted about the ridiculous Evangelical practice of shunning Halloween. I call it ridiculous ’cause it really is: It’s a fear-based, irrational, misinformed, slander-filled rejection of a holiday which is actually a legitimate part of the Christian calendar.

No I’m not kidding. It’s our holiday. Christians invented Halloween.

A perfect opportunity to show Christlike generosity—and give the best candy ever. But too many of us make a serious point of being grouchy, fear-addled spoilsports. Image swiped from a mommy blog.

I know; you’ve likely read an article which claims Halloween got its origin in pagan harvest festivals. That’s utter bunk. Some neo-Pagan, one of the capital-P Pagans who worship nature and its gods (whose religions date from the 1960s, even though they claim they’re revivals of ancient pre-Christian religions), started to claim we Christians swiped it from them, and Christianized it. There’s no historical evidence whatsoever for this claim, but they keep claiming it. And every year, gullible reporters repeat it whenever they write about the history of Halloween.

The story has always been hearsay, but it’s been passed around so long, people actually try to debunk me by quoting 20-year-old articles which claim Halloween was originally Samhain or some other pagan festival. But those old articles were poorly sourced. Incorrect then; incorrect now.

Samhain (pronounced 'saʊ.ən) is a contraction of sam fuin/“summer’s end.” It’s a Celtic harvest festival which dates back to pre-Christian times. It happens at the autumnal equinox, which took place last month, at 22 September. It’s totally unrelated to Halloween. It’s as if you claimed the Fourth of July was originally a celebration of the summer solstice… and the fact you barbecue and drink beer on that day, same as the ancients used to cook meat outdoors in the summer and likewise drink beer, proves it.

Oh, and neither neo-Pagan nor Christian holidays involve a celebration of creepy horror movie themes. That got added in the 20th century.

24 October 2023

Thoughts and prayers… and hypocrites.

Whenever disaster strikes—whether natural or manmade; usually manmade—one of the most common platitudes we hear thereafter is, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.”

Over the past 20 years, this expression has seen a backlash. Mainly because the people who regularly say it, tend to be politicians. Particularly politicians who are in a position to do something about the disaster: Send rescuers. Provide disaster relief. Provide shelter and food and water. Provide healthcare. Ban the sort of lax workplace practices which result in disaster, and jail the owners and executives of those workplaces for their oversight, especially if they knew disaster might be coming, but looked the other way. Ban the sort of dangerous weapons which, in the hands of a dangerous person, would cause calamity, and prohibit such people from ever touching such a weapon. In short, stop enabling evildoers.

But they don’t. They do nothing, or do something empty and meaningless. And by their actions, they demonstrate they’re not really thinking of disaster victims… and more than likely, not praying either. If they are praying, it’s something more like, “Lord, why should I be on the hook for this? Could you please confound my enemies?”

To be fair, some of the backlash comes from nontheists who are pretty sure prayer is bunk. It might make the petitioner feel good, ’cause now the buck’s been passed to God, so they need do nothing more. Or ’cause the petitioner thinks the prayer is the work, which is why they pray so fervently, and imagine themselves prayer warriors. But, figure the nontheists, they’re praying to no one; the invisible man in the sky isn’t real; it’s wasted time and effort.

Give you an example. Thanks to climate change, the United States is getting more and more extreme weather. Hotter days. Longer heat waves. Tornadoes and hurricanes in places where they previously didn’t happen; we had a hurricane pass over California, of all places, this summer. Crazy rainfall and floods where they previously didn’t happen. Rising oceans. Dying species.

But for various stupid reasons, many conservative Christians don’t believe in science, and refuse to believe the data about climate change. They have various harebrained theories about why extreme weather really happens, but in general, they think it’s a passing fluke; it’s nothing politicians intend to make longterm plans about. And nothing they can mitigate, or stop, or reverse, by fighting pollution; plus polluters are their biggest donors. But for the most part they deny it’s happening at all. And certainly won’t pass laws to help those who are suffering from it; namely the poor, who can’t afford to recover from it.

So what good are those politicians’ thoughts and prayers? Functionally they’re the very same as when the apostle James objected to “faith” which lacked works:

James 2.14-17 NRSVue
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Surely that faith cannot save, can it? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Regularly, our “thoughts and prayers” are no different from wishing the needy well, but doing absolutely nothing to make ’em less needy. Sometimes it’s out of our own laziness and apathy; sometimes our own ill will.

And the needy aren’t dense. They see the godlessness of it. They’re calling us on it. Rightly so. If our thoughts and prayers do nothing, our faith is dead, our religion is hypocrisy, and our God is a joke.

You do realize making our God out to be a joke is blasphemy, right? So don’t do that!

23 October 2023

Zechariah’s prophecy “about the Israel-Hamas War.”

Zechariah 12.

After the Israel-Hamas War began on 7 October 2023, this highlighted bit of Zechariah started making the rounds on social media, usually captioned, “This is going to happen very soon. Watch.”

Zechariah 12.2-5, Living Bible.
From the 1971 edition of The Living Bible.

Memes like this are very popular with people who worry about the End Times, who want to know when it’s time to start buying the food buckets and guns for their bunkers.

The way Darbyist “prophecy scholars” interpret the End Times, every time they come across a passage of scripture which appears to be about anything in their End Times Timeline, they immediately declare that’s precisely what it is. God said it, and his prophets recorded it, not for the people of their day; not for the ancient Israelis of millennia ago. Oh they might’ve thought it was for them, but they were just illiterate foreigners who lived in mud huts without electricity and science, and didn’t even speak English—it’s for us, for the people of our day, for God’s actual chosen people.

The actual context of the scripture doesn’t matter. It only means what we want it to mean. It shall accomplish that which we please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto we sent it. As for what God meant by it?… well surely he thinks like we do.

Yeah, it’s pretty darned arrogant of these interpreters. But they’re so desperate to find End Times puzzle pieces in the bible which fit into their timelines—however awkwardly—they’re often not even aware what they’re doing. It’s like a child who’s so intent on drawing the perfect picture of a unicorn… she doesn’t realize she’s using permanent markers on the penboard. Or, really, care. Rebuke her for it, and she’ll wonder what all the fuss is about—it’s such a good picture! Why should you want to erase it?

So, Zechariah 12. What’s it historically about? Glad you asked. Let’s take a look at it.

19 October 2023

Those accused of heresy for their End Times views.

That’d include me.

My view of the End Times is preterist—meaning most of the prophecies in Daniel, Revelation, and the Olivet Discourse were fulfilled by the second century of the Christian Era. Obviously Jesus has yet to return, the millennium hasn’t yet started, and New Heaven and New Earth have not yet replaced the current heavens and earth. So not everything has been fulfilled; duh. But just about everything else has.

And when I tell certain Christians this, they’re horrified. Horrified. It’s like I sprouted horns and a tail right in front of ’em, and suddenly I have a pitchfork in my hand, and the flames of hell burst forth behind me as I laugh evilly.

’Cause somehow it got in their heads that if you believe any differently than they about the End Times—or believe any variant other than “premillennial dispensationalism”—generally meaning the various Darbyist End Times timelines proposed by Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, John Hagee, or your favorite prognosticating TV and internet preachers—you don’t believe the bible. Because all their beliefs come from bible. True, they had to massage, finesse, tweak, ditch the historical context, overlay a whole new context, bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate it till it finally means what their favorite “prophecy scholars” insist it means.

Interpreting it in its actual interpretive context, like I do… well their “prophecy scholars” have regularly told them any systems of interpretation other than theirs, are flat-out wrong. They’ve never even heard of “apocalyptic literature,” or think “apocalypse” only means “the very End.” And if they haven’t heard of it, surely it must be wrong. Surely I must be wrong.

And if I’m teaching people wrongly about the End Times… well that’s just extra wrong, in their minds. Why, I might convince people to not watch out for evil. To ignore all the signs of the times. To dismiss the Beast when he finally appears; maybe even convince people to follow him! To not look for Jesus’s second coming, like we’re supposed to.

In short, they think I’m heretic. Worse—that I’m deliberately interpreting bible wrong, deliberately leading people astray, deliberately working for the devil. They think I’m going to hell. When I tell ’em I’m preterist, some of them physically back away, as if at any second the fire and sulfur will fall from heaven to consume me, and maybe scorch them a little if they’re too close.

Their favorite “prophecy scholars” don’t discourage this attitude and behavior at all. They kinda share it. They’re entirely sure they’re right and every non-Darbyist is wrong; they’re helping lead people to Jesus, and every non-Darbyist is hindering, and that’s as good as following Satan.

Okay. Lemme first of all remind you heretic is simply the opposite of “orthodox.” There are certain non-negotiable things every Christian oughta believe. We oughta believe in God; we oughta follow Jesus; we oughta believe he’s alive not dead; we oughta believe he’s returning. These basics are spelled out in the creeds. Some churches add to the creeds, but no churches should be taking doctrines away from them. And the creeds expect us to only believe the following five things about the End:

  • Jesus is coming again in glory.
  • There’s a bodily resurrection of the dead.
  • Jesus will judge the living and the dead.
  • There’s eternal life in the world to come.
  • Jesus’s kingdom will have no end.

Those are non-negotiable. Everything else is negotiable.

But, like I said, plenty of Darbyists are entirely sure their beliefs are just as non-negotiable as the creedal, orthodox stuff. And if you don’t believe as they do, you’re not Christian, and going to hell.

Yep, they think I’m going to hell. And if I convince you Darbyism is all wet, they think I’m dragging you to hell with me.

18 October 2023

Other English-language bibles in the 1600s and 1700s.

No doubt you’ve heard of the King James Version. But KJV fans and worshipers tend to be oblivious to the fact there were other English-language translations of the bible in that day. The KJV was one of many.

The KJV came out ahead of the pack, not because it was better than the rest—it was just as good as the rest—but because James Stuart, king of Scotland and England, suppressed the other existing translations… for political reasons. Y’see the Geneva Bible—the most popular translation of the day, the bible of William Shakespeare and the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock—flat-out said in its notes Christians should resist tyrants. Unwelcome words to Stuart, who grew up in France and kinda coveted the French kings’ absolute dictatorships. Stuart’s son Charles was later overthrown and beheaded by Parliament for trying to create that kind of monarchy.

The KJV is debatably an improvement on its predecessors—the Tyndale Bible, Matthew’s Bible, the Bishops Bible, and the Geneva Bible among them. But KJV fans take it as a given these were inferior bibles, and haven’t a clue how good and valuable a bible the Geneva Bible was in its day. Usually because they’ve never even heard of it. Many KJV fans like Jack T. Chick like to pretend it never existed. The KJV fans never looked into its history, never took a peek at the previous English translations, and just assumed newer must mean better… until we start talking about present-day translations, and then suddenly newer isn’t better.

Naturally KJV fans know nothing about the KJV’s English-language successors. At least not till the 1881 Revised Version (adapted for the United States as the 1901 American Standard Version), which again, fans dismiss as irrelevant because it doesn’t base the New Testament on the Textus Receptus; as if the KJV translators bothered to look at the Textus most of the time; and as if they actually know why the Textus would be better than current Greek bibles. (It’s not, though.)

Usually they also don’t know about the KJV’s own revisions. They all know it was published in 1611; they don’t know the translators made more than 300 corrections to the text before its second printing in 1613. And that doesn’t even count the spelling. Spelling wasn’t standardized yet, so anyone could spell anything any which way, so long that people understood what they meant. So silent letters got dropped (“owne” became “own,” or “diddest” became “didst,” or “goe” became “go”) and minor grammatical and verbal changes were made (“you” became “ye” 82 times, “lift” became “lifted” 51 times, and so forth; “cheweth cud” became “cheweth the cud,” Lv 11.3 or “reign therefore” became “therefore reign.” Ro 6.12).

Minor changes, but lots of people felt free to make minor changes thereafter. Noah Webster produced an edition of the KJV in 1833 which Americanized the spelling. C.I. Scofield’s 1909 reference bible replaces hundreds of words from the KJV with what Scofield felt were much better translations.

These changes kinda let us in on the biggest problem with the KJV: It’s written in old-timey English. Not just old-timey English from our point of view; it was old-timey for 1611. The KJV’s translators—as they say in their preface!—didn’t actually want to create a whole new translation; they only wanted to fix existing ones. They considered themselves part of the translation tradition which extended all the way back to William Tyndale in 1522. But they hadn’t adjusted for the way language evolved over that century. Only poets and Quakers were referring to one another as “thee” and “thou” anymore, yet the KJV is full of these out-of-date pronouns. Vocabulary and styles were changing. Bibles always need to be translated to fit the way people currently speak—not demand people first learn how people used to speak. That may be fine for literature classes, but sucks in evangelism.

The other issue back then was the discovery of new ancient manuscripts. The Textus Receptus, the Greek New Testament the early English translations were based on, is full of errors. (That’s on purpose. Its editors wanted to include every word found in every available Greek manuscript. So of course that’d include any errors which crept into any bibles over the past 15 centuries.) But in 1627, King Charles Stuart 1 was given the Codex Alexandrinus by St. Cyril Lucaris, patriarch of Alexandria—a near-complete parchment copy of the Septuagint and New Testament, dating from the 400s, although some traditions claim it was copied earlier. It went to the British Museum; it’s been there ever since; English and Scottish scholars had full access to it. Totally could fix all the errors the Textus had put in the KJV.

So when the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell took over England in 1649, Parliament eventually created a commission to work on updating the bible. Unfortunately nothing ever came of it. Why not? Cromwell expelled them in 1653 for not holding new elections. New bibles had to wait.

In the meanwhile, Puritans created paraphrases—bibles and New Testaments where they translated the KJV into present-day English. (With big long book titles, which is what people did back then.) Like John Dale’s Bible Explained in 1652. Or Henry Hammond’s A Paraphrase and Annotations upon All the Books of the New Testament, Briefly Explaining All the Difficult Places Thereof in 1675. Or Richard Baxter’s New Testament with Paraphrase and Notes in 1685. Or Daniel Whitby’s A Paraphrase and Commentary upon All the Epistles of the New Testament in 1700. Or the volumes of John Guyse’s The Practical Expositor, or an Exposition of the New Testament, in the Form of a Paraphrase, with Occasional Notes in 1739-52—which John Wesley later used for his 1755 Explanatory Notes on the New Testament.

I should point out these paraphrases aren’t like the Living Bible or The Voice, in which the writers take creative license with the text; nor like the 2015 Amplified Bible, in which they try to shoehorn popular Evangelical doctrines and beliefs into it. They weren’t really trying to create new bible versions. They were trying to interpret it for their readers. Like when an expositor is analyzing a new bible verse, and briefly puts it in her own words: She’s just trying to make it more understandable.

17 October 2023

Standing with Israel?

My views on Israel are not conventional. So, of course, they’re controversial.

For the average American Evangelical, the Jews are God’s chosen people. Ek 20.5 There might be more than a few antisemites among us, but for the most part we believe God established a relationship with Abraham ben Terah, and God chose Abraham’s and Israel’s descendants as his particular people. God graciously freed Israel’s descendants from Egyptian slavery. God set up a king over them whom they called Messiah (or as gentiles usually call him, Christ). Jesus of Nazareth is the final and greatest and eternal Messiah. Our religion is a descendant of the Hebrew religion. We even swiped their holidays.

Likewise the average American Evangelical also believes God promised the descendants of Israel a land on the Mediterranean Sea’s west coast, known as the Levant, or Canaan, or Palestine. The promise was conditional: If the Israelis kept covenant with the LORD and upheld his Law, they could live there and prosper. God encouraged the nations round about Israel to support it and ally themselves with it, if they knew what was good for them. Of course this is based on the presumption Israel followed God: When Israel followed God, it and its allies prospered. When it didn’t, not so much.

And because it didn’t, ancient Israel was destroyed by the Assyrian and neo-Babylonian empires. It was made a client state of them, and later of the subsequent Persian, Greek, Seleucid, and Roman empires. (With a tiny bout of independence between the Seleucid and Roman periods.) Then, in the year 70, the Romans destroyed Israel again. And it stayed destroyed. Stayed destroyed, most Evangelicals say, until the 20th century, when the Jews reestablished the modern state of Israel in 1948.

And here’s where they and I part company. The modern state of Israel is an entirely new state. It’s not the same state as ancient Israel.

It contains God’s chosen people, in that many Israelis are Jews. It consists of a lot of land which ancient Israel occupied. It’s ancient Israel’s successor state. But it’s not the same state. No more than Italy is the Roman Empire, Turkey is the Ottoman Empire, or Russia is the Soviet Union. It’s a new country, younger than the United States.

Despite what both Jews and Evangelicals claim, it’s a whole different country than the one founded by the LORD through Moses ben Amram in the 1400s BC. Therefore none of the bible’s prophecies and promises which have to do with the country of Israel, apply to present-day Israel. They were fulfilled by ancient Israel. They might look like they repeat themselves with present-day Israel… but that’s only because history repeats itself. That, and certain Evangelicals love to stretch those bible passages to suit their ideas, but they’re not at all what God means by them.

16 October 2023

Does God have the right to judge anyone?

Throughout the bible it’s taken for granted that God has every right to judge humanity for sin. He created us, created this planet for us to take care of, and set the terms and conditions for us to live by. Either we trust him, follow them, and be blessed by his aid and comfort… or we don’t, won’t, and fall subject to every natural disaster there is.

For that matter, as spelled out in God’s TOS, he also reserves the right to sic some of those disasters on us—triggering recessions, causing droughts, provoking invaders, starting fires, dropping meteors, blotting out the sun. And that’s not just Old Testament behavior either. Revelation tells of him doing that stuff during the Christian Era as well.

And pagans and nontheists find the very idea of this behavior really offensive. God judging humanity? God condemning humanity? God punishing humanity? How dare he?

To pagans, that’s not the behavior of a loving God. A loving God would never. He’d bail us out of all our problems and clean up all our messes. He’d never send a giant flood to wipe out sinners; he’d never dump burning sulfur on Sodom to destroy its rapists; he’d never kill all the firstborn Egyptians to convince their pharaoh to free Israel; he’d never task Israel with genocidally wiping out the Amorites to take their land; he’d never task Assyria and Babylon and Rome with near-genocidally wiping out the Israelis who’d gone pagan. A loving God would at the very most mitigate evil, or make it very very hard for humans to commit it. But he would never stop it cold in its tracks by smiting the evildoers.

Or he would… but they’d have to really be evildoers. Like murderous dictators and their soldiers. He’d strategically smite them. But the “collateral damage,” as our militaries call it, of civilians who lived near by, or innocent family members who somehow weren’t actively or quietly supporting them in their evildoing: God would somehow spare them. He’s God; he could figure out how to target them precisely, and spare innocents… and then somehow make sure those “innocents” never get radicalized against God and his people for taking away their loved ones.

As for nontheists, they insist there is no God judging humanity or mitigating evil. That’s just people murdering other people same as always, and using God to justify ourselves. The bible is merely a book of myths; Israelis conquered their neighbors, then inserted God into their stories and claimed it was all his idea. Then Jesus showed up centuries later and said no, God is love—which is a nice idea, but Jesus must be talking about a different God than the one his ancestors invented, ’cause that guy is all smitey.

Okay. There are gonna be various pagans and nontheists who come at this issue from other directions, but I think I’ve laid out the general idea here: The scriptures reveal God as someone who represses or stops evil, and doesn’t rule out destruction and death and war as ways of doing so. And the skeptics argue he can’t do it these ways, for that’d make him evil. Captain America can shoot bad guys and remain noble and virtuous and good… but God can’t.

02 October 2023

Are you experienced?

Every so often someone’ll ask me, “How do you know there’s a God?”

This isn’t a rhetorical question. They aren’t looking for Christian apologists’ various proofs for God’s existence, and would in fact be very annoyed if that’s what I gave them: “Well we know there’s a God because the universe works on cause-and-effect, and if we trace all the causes back to a first cause…” Yeah yeah, they’ve heardd the “unmoved mover” idea before. They don’t care about deducing God’s existence through reason.

And if that’s the only basis I have for believing in God, they’ll move on. They’re not looking for a logical argument. They’re looking for God Himself. Have I, me, K.W. Leslie, the guy who talks about God as if he’s met him personally, encountered God Himself?

Yep. Met him personally.

No, really.

No, really. Three decades ago I was attending a largely cessationist church. There were some Christians in that church who were exceptions, who believed God still does stuff; but there weren’t many, and they weren’t in leadership. I had heard God still does stuff through some of their testimonies, and sometimes missionaries would visit, preach, and share their God-experiences; and sometimes people would leave copies of Guideposts Magazine—which is pretty much all about God-experiences. So I knew some Christians had ’em. I just figured I didn’t; not really.

So I told God to either reveal himself, or I was giving up on Christianity. I didn’t give him a deadline; I just figured I’d gradually fade out of church attendance, much like my high school friends had. Maybe I’d try Buddhism or something. Meanwhile I’d pay attention, ’cause you never know; maybe he’d show up!

And he did. And no, that wasn’t the only time. He’s revealed himself in many different ways, many times since, on a frequent basis. No way I’m ever quitting now. I might, and have, quit an individual church if they go bad. But never Jesus.

Whereas the folks in that cessationist church weren’t entirely sure “met him personally” is even a valid option when we’re talking with people who have questions and doubts. Most have been taught the usual God-damned rubbish that God stopped personally intervening in the universe, stopped interacting with his kids once the bible was completed or science was invented; that the only way to encounter God anymore is through a near-death experience. Miracles have ceased, and any “miracles” you hear of today aren’t God-things; they’re Beelzebub-things.

And of course these folks insist they’ve never seen a miracle, and since they presume (sorta arrogantly) they’re the standard for what’s “normal” in our universe: If miracles never happened for them, they never happen for anyone.

So when I tell these unbelieving Christians I met God—and continue to meet God—they figure I have a screw loose. Because deep down that’s really what they believe about God: Believing in him is screwy. He’s a figment. He’s imaginary. He doesn’t interact with the real world, and isn’t remotely “real” in that sense. He’s a platonic ideal or an anthropomorphized abstract. He’s myth.

The very idea God’s substantively real… kinda scares them a little. ’Cause that’d mean they should take God a lot more seriously than they currently do. Right now the idea of an impossibly distant, remote, otherworldly, outside-our-universe and doesn’t-intervene God kinda works for them. They’re comfortable with the arrangement: God expects nothing more of us than that we intellectually accept his existence and Jesus’s kingship, and in exchange he’ll graciously let us into heaven. Done deal. Easy-peasy.

Only problem: That’s not who God is, nor all he expects of us. We know better. He wants us to take much, much bigger steps. But before we ever do that—before we get radical about our Christianity (and hopefully not in crazy legalistic ways), we wanna know our religion isn’t based on wishful thinking. We wanna know there’s a real live God behind it all.

There is. If you’re Christian, he lives inside you. You wanna see him? You wanna silence your doubts about his existence for good and all? Then you gotta put aside that imaginary-God manure and start treating him like he’s real. And you’re gonna discover that all this time, while you weren’t paying attention ’cause you were too busy playing church, God’s been here all along.

27 September 2023

Partisanship is a work of the flesh.

In Paul’s list of works of the flesh in Galatians, one of the words he used is ἐριθεῖαι/epitheíe. The King James Version translates it as “strife;” the ESV went with “rivalries,” and the NIV and NASB with “selfish ambition.” I translate it “partisanship.”

No, I didn’t translate it this way because I wanna rebuke partisanship, and needed a bible verse to back me up. I got it out of Greek dictionaries when I translated this Galatians passage years ago. I’ll quote ’em for you. My Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon has this:

ἘΡΙ̅ΘΕΊΑ epiθ'eɪ.ɑ noun. Labor for wages. Hesychius, “Lexicography”
2. Canvassing for public office. Intriguing. Aristotle, “Politics.”
3. Selfish or factious ambition. Jm 3.14, Pp 1.17 Intrigues, party squabbles. Ga 5.20

Joseph H. Thayer has this in his lexicon:

eritheias (eritheuō to spin wool, work in wool, Heliodorus 1.5 middle in the same sense; Tb 2.11 used of those who electioneer for office, courting popular applause by trickery and low arts; Aristotle, “Politics” 5.3 the verb is derived from erithos working for hire, a hireling; from the Maced. age down, a spinner or weaver, a worker in wool; Is 38.12 LXX a mean, sordid fellow), electioneering or intriguing for office; Aristotle 5.2-3 hence apparently in the New Testament a courting distinction, a desire to put oneself forward, a partisan and factious spirit which does not disdain low arts; partisanship, factiousness; Jm 3.14, 16, Pp 1.16, 2.3 Ignatius “Philadelphians” 8 equivalent to contending against God. Ro 2.8, 2Co 12.20, Ga 5.20

Lastly a contemporary Greek teacher, William D. Mounce:

the service of a party, party spirit; feud, faction; 2Co 12.20 contentious disposition, selfish ambition; Ga 5.20, Pp 1.17, 2.3, Jm 3.14 by impl. untowardness, disobedience. Ro 2.8, Jm 3.16

The word was originally used to describe weavers. At some point in the past, weavers began to use their guild to influence city politics—and were willing to do anything it took to gain political power. So the word evolved to mean that instead. It means partisanship.

Galatians 5.19-21 KWL
19 Fleshly works are obvious in anyone who practices the following:
Promiscuity. Uncleanness. Unethical behavior.
20 Idolatry. Addiction. Hatred. Rabble-rousing.
Too much zeal. Anger. Partisanship. Separatism. Heresy.
21 Envy. Intoxication. Constant partying.
And other people like these.
I warn you of them just like I warned you before:
Those who do such things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.

Of course partisans are gonna seriously be in denial about this. Which is why they tell me, “It only says partisanship because you made it say that,” and point to other translations they like much better. Translations which imply it’s totally okay for them to be partisan!

Okay… but in those other translations it says “strife,” “rivalries,” and “selfish ambition.” Don’t partisans regularly do that stuff too?