Friday, April 28, 2017

My very critical critical analysis of the English Standard Version

I lost my respect for the English Standard Version (ESV) real soon after its publication. My reasons for disrespect follow in this article. In sum, I believe it was hastily put together in order to support (usually subtly) certain doctrines promoted by its publisher, Crossway. In the examples below, I do not argue that overt translational bias is provable; but the evidence for bias is stronger than innuendo. They are subtle; but they are there.

I am writing this article because many have asked me, "What's your beef with the ESV?" My answer is always lengthy and somewhat rushed. Now, for people who want to know, I can point them to this article.

Quick disclaimer: This article is strongly opinionated.

Seed or seeds?
In my mind, ESV's treatment of the Hebrew in Psalm 89:4 is a hallmark example of Crossway's biased agenda. Keep in mind that the ESV is allegedly an update of the venerable Revised Standard Version (RSV). Note how the RSV reads in Psalm 89:4.
'I will establish your descendants for ever,
and build your throne for all generations.'" (RSV)
Realizing that the ESV is a revision of the RSV, I am perplexed over how the revision team chose to alter the RSV in this passage:
‘I will establish your offspring forever,
and build your throne for all generations.’” (ESV)
Why did the scholars over at Crossway decide to change RSV's "descendants" to "offspring" in the ESV? Possibly, since the Hebrew word there is singular, in a collective sense, maybe they believed RSV's "descendants" should be switched out for a singular word. Well, sure. Go with "seed" or "posterity." But they went with "offspring." I suggest that Crossway wanted to force the verse to apply directly to Jesus Christ and only Jesus Christ.

Now to be fair, rabbis of Jesus' day understood this passage to apply to the expected Messiah. It is nearly certain that the Jews were referring to Psalm 89:4 in the following passage from the Gospel of John.
The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” (John 12:34, NRSV)
Fine. Nevertheless, the Psalmist did not have in mind a particular person but rather a lineage. Indeed, the RSV reads in Psalm 89:29,
I will establish his line for ever
and his throne as the days of the heavens. (RSV)
while ESV modified it to say,
I will establish his offspring forever
and his throne as the days of the heavens. (ESV)
The RSV reads in Psalm 89:36,
His line shall endure for ever,
his throne as long as the sun before me. (RSV)
while ESV made a change.
His offspring shall endure forever,
his throne as long as the sun before me. (ESV)
This odd revision of the RSV seems to obscure the meaning of the psalm; however, the revisers may have been emboldened to go with the change because other venerable translations also have "offspring." The HCSB/CSB for example, use "offspring" in verse 4 and 36 but "line" in verse 24. Thus, the guys over at Holman (owners of the CSB) were not interested in forcing a single application of the psalm. They were comfortable applying it both to Jesus specifically and to David's lineage in general.

Crossway really seems to have pushed an agenda with Psalm 89; and one wonders where else the translation may have been modified in such a way to make it less clear.*

"Hebrew" in Acts 19:17
The ESV modifies John 19:17 in a way that betrays an agenda. The revisers changed RSV's "Hebrew" to "Aramaic."
and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. (ESV)
"Aramaic" is correct here, by the way. I applaud the change. The Greek word is Hebraisti which translates to "Hebrew" but scholars are certain that the word should be translated as "Hebrew dialect" or just "Aramaic." For one thing, "Golgotha" is an Aramaic word meaning "skull." Acts 1:19 says that the people of Jerusalem called the field "Hakeldama" which is an Aramaic word meaning "Field of Blood." Wonderful. Good for ESV for improving RSV in John 19:17!

So, why did the ESV choose to keep RSV's "Hebrew" in Acts 26:14 instead of also revising it to "Aramaic" as it does in John 19:17?
And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ (ESV)
I can only speculate. I will personally report that this verse has come up in some of my discussions with other Bible students. In discussion, I took the position that Jesus spoke Aramaic. No, said others, Jesus spoke Greek or Hebrew. I don't recall what is at stake with concluding that Jesus spoke Hebrew; but ESV totally confuses the study. What language Jesus spoke can affect how we interpret some passages. For example, there is Luke 4:17-19. Some readers may really want that language to be Hebrew.

Romans 16:7
The history of translating Romans 16:7 is fraught with church politics! N. T. Wright translates the verse this way:
Greed Andronicus and Junia, my relatives and fellow prisoners, who are well known among the apostles, and who were in the Messiah before I was.
There is a lot of scholarship that has gone into this verse. The manuscript evidence witnesses to many variations of it. Textual scrutiny has recently concluded that in this verse, Junia was an apostle. What we want to do with that information is up to us; but we must face up to what this verse says. Apparently, many ancient copyists had trouble with that notion too; so they made slight adjustments to the text. Either Junia (a woman) was really a man (Junias) and an apostle or Junia was a woman but not an apostle―and the apostles knew her.

Consider RSV:
Greet Androni′cus and Ju′nias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are men of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. (RSV)
Both Andronicus and Junias are apostles; but Junias is a man. NASB1995 and NIV1984 follow this "solution."

Way back in 1989, the NRSV revised the RSV. In agreement with the best scholarship, Junia is a woman and an apostle.
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. (NRSV)
Translations that follow this textual understanding include NIV2011, NCV, NABre, NKJV (1982!), REB, BBE, CEB, GW and MEV.
Check out NCV:
Greetings to Andronicus and Junia, my relatives, who were in prison with me. They are very important apostles. They were believers in Christ before I was.
How does the ESV handle the verse? ESV correctly revised RSV's "Junias" to "Junia." I am puzzled, however, why ESV revised RSV's good "among the apostles" to "to the apostles."
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. (ESV)
The evidence for "Junia" is stronger than that for "among the apostles." Evidentially, the men over at Crossway are not ready to let Junia be an apostle. They are in good company. Many venerable translations agree with ESV's solution, including CSB/HCSB, NET and CEV.

Even though ESV appears to be in pretty good company on this verse, the revision from RSV betrays a complimentarian bias. If it were the only such revision, I might overlook it; but it is not.

Deacons' wives
ESV revised RSV's 1 Timothy 3:11.
The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things.
That verse falls right in the middle of Paul's list of qualifications for deacons. Most translations permit an interpretation that Paul is giving a special qualification for women deacons. They also permit the view that this qualification is about deacons with respect to the kinds of wives they should have. The ESV modified the RSV language and thus forced the second interpretation.
Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.
CSB/HCSB follows the ESV in this interpretive translation. This translation along with CSB's translation of Romans 16:7 may betray a complimentarian slant in the CSB. Also in ESV's complimentarian corner on 1 Timothy 3:11 are NLT, MEV, NKJV and NET.

Interestingly, some translations swing the other way and force the "women deacons" view. Consider the REB:
Women in this office must likewise be dignified, not scandalmongers, but sober, and trustworthy in every way.
Calvinism
We have already seen a few places where ESV should have revised RSV yet chose not to. One glaring example is seen at Hebrews 2:8b. RSV has
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.
This verse does not directly teach Calvinism, not even in the ESV; but the phrase, "nothing outside his control" in contemporary usage is more loaded than it used to be. An emerging theology today is that God is handling everything. Want to prove it? Read Hebrews 2:8 out of the RSV or ESV! Here is the ESV.
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. (ESV)
Current theological conversation has placed new meaning on the phrase "in control." The term should have been revised in order to accommodate contemporary language. Instead, ESV kept the old language which now comes loaded with Calvinistic meaning.

Fascinatingly, NRSV kept RSV's "in control" but corrected the pronouns (contextually) to show that the text is about "human beings" and not Christ.

Final thoughts
I do not study out of the ESV anymore. If I did, I might have more examples. What I have seen in the ESV is a subtle bias to standard evangelicalism. I am not impressed by translations that read the way they do in order to support certain doctrines. Translators should be translating first and interpreting only when required to maintain readability.

My household reads a good variety of translations but I have never encouraged anybody to read ESV. I am happy to say that nobody in my house reads it except me―and then only for translational comparisons when I encounter something interesting in another translation.

Footnotes:
*Judges 5:30 comes to mind. While the ESV is more literal than the RSV, it is much less clear.
‘Have they not found and divided the spoil?—
A womb or two for every man;
spoil of dyed materials for Sisera,
spoil of dyed materials embroidered,
two pieces of dyed work embroidered for the neck as spoil?’ (ESV)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Jesus reveals the Father to anyone he chooses. Luke 10:22

Luke 10:22 says, "All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

The Reformation Study Bible notes (2015) say the following about the verse:
Only the Son can make the Father known, in accordance with His sovereign choice.
What I want to dispel in this article is the notion that Jesus chooses to reveal the Father to some but he refuses to reveal the Father to others.

Context straightens out the meaning of this Bible verse. Luke makes a point of telling the reader that Jesus had a large following. Not only did the Apostles leave all to follow Jesus; but there was a crowd of people who had left all to follow Jesus. Many of these people were, according to the scribes and Pharisees, unsuitable candidates for good disciples (Luke 5:29-30; 7:34; 15:1). Luke alone of the four Gospels reports for us the mission of the seventy. These seventy missionaries were given authority to cure the sick (Luke 10:9) and we learn later that they were able to subject demons in Jesus' name. They were given protection from demonic forces of evil (Luke 10:17-20). This is the context in which we find Luke 10:21-22.
21 At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."
The reference to children in verse 21 applies to the seventy missionaries. They are children in the sense of not measuring up to standards applicable to a good and righteous Jew.  They were the sort of folks that gave Jesus a bad name among the scribes and Pharisees. They were commoners. Jesus said these low-life sorts had more insight into godliness than did the clergy (Luke 9:48; 18:15-17). Clergy, by comparison, tend towards pride in their theological knowledge and they are not open to learning from "children" in the faith (James 3:1, 14-18). This feature of the righteousness of the children is evidenced in their role in the dethroning of Satan (see also Luke 7:21).

Verse 22 flows topically quite nicely. Jesus did not agree with the scribes and Pharisees that he should minister to more suitable disciples. He chose to minister to people whom the Jewish leadership called "tax collectors and sinners" but whom Jesus called "infants" (see also in Luke 10:38-42 that Jesus gave personal undivided teaching attention to a woman). Jesus was told they were not worth it but Jesus ministered to them and they had a role in the overthrow of Satan.

The point of verse 22 is not that Jesus chooses to reveal the Father to some individuals and not to others. The point is that Jesus chose to reveal the Father to a certain sort of people, a kind of people that the scribes and Pharisees deemed to be religiously inferior. These disciples were working out to be very effective workers in the kingdom while the Pharisees stood by and criticized.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Shipwreck in Acts 27 and a frequently altered prophecy

Biblical prophecy works a lot like regular predictions. As circumstances change, the certainty of the predictions are often affected. An example of a change of prophetic expectation appears in Acts 27. Paul, at that time, was a prisoner of the Roman government and he was on his way to Rome to appear before the emperor. At one point in the journey, he warned of danger.
Acts 27:9-12:
9 Since much time had been lost and sailing was now dangerous, because even the Fast had already gone by, Paul advised them, 10 saying, "Sirs, I can see that the voyage will be with danger and much heavy loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives." 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 Since the harbor was not suitable for spending the winter, the majority was in favor of putting to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, where they could spend the winter. It was a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest.
Paul coached the centurion to delay the next leg of the voyage; but the centurion ignored the advice and pressed forward with his travel plans. Note that Paul had insight, possibly miraculously, that the the ship's cargo would be lost and that people would die.

Well, the storm came. They threw the cargo and the ship tackle overboard. The sailors wore themselves out fighting the storm for "many days" (Acts 27:20). Paul encouraged them with a vision he received.
Acts 27:21-26:
21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, "Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss. 22 I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, "Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.' 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we will have to run aground on some island."
That announcement must have been encouraging. But note that the prediction changed a little bit. Paul's original prediction was that the cargo and [at least some] lives would be lost. Now, Paul was divinely informed that no lives would be lost. The storm went on for fourteen days and some of the sailors tried to escape in the lifeboat (Acts 17:30). Paul made an announcement that might be shocking to some readers.
Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, "Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved." (Acts 27:31)
Paul had earlier issued a prophecy that there would be no loss of life in this ordeal. Now, the fulfillment of that prophecy is threatened by the human action of these sailors! These cowardly sailors were about to undermine the prophesied survival of the whole crew! How could that be? The reason is that, as circumstances change, the expected outcome of an earlier prophecy can also change.

For another example of this phenomenon, see the book of Jonah. See also Jeremiah 18.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Does God create the wicked for trouble?

originally version written: 2013 04 08


A mistake some non-determinists make may be that of too much focus on "correcting" misunderstandings of common verses used to support determinism. While it is important to seek accurate meaning to these passages, it's also important to know why we must investigate non-determinist meanings. The reason is because determinst interpretations of these passages cause the Scriptures to contradict other Scriptures.

This article is about Proverbs 16:4.
The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble (RSV, NRSV, ESV, almost NASB).
This verse seems to teach the determinst doctrine that God created some people with the purpose of sending them to Hell (a logical corollary to Calvinism's Irresistible Grace and Unconditional Election). This interpretation contradicts several straightforward Biblical passages saying that God does not want anybody to be damned and he is grieved when somebody chooses that life destiny (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 18:30-32; 33:11; Lamentations 3:33). That's why we check for an alternative interpretation for Proverbs 16:4! or we need to accept the determinist explanation and wrestle mightily with the other passages (as many determinists do with 2 Peter 3:9).

My instant reaction to the "destined for Hell" view is a question. Why would you grab a verse out of the Wisdom literature of the Bible and apply it mathematically - like an axiom or theorem? Think of any proverb from Proverbs. Is it a rule that is true in every circumstance? The proverbs are true in a general sense; but there are [almost] always exceptions. Once we understand exactly what Proverbs 16:4 actually says, we will see that the usual method of applying proverbs applies here too. In fact, reading this verse in the determinist way is reading it in some way other than as a proverb. What life-lesson is being taught by stating that some people are created by God for Hell? None at all. People incorrectly interpret it as a statement of universal fact amidst a vast ocean of wisdom proverbs. Point: When you apply a Bible reading, be sure to acknowledgement the kind of literature the reading is.

What does Proverbs 16:4 actually say?

The Hebrew verb often translated "has made" (RSV, NRSV, ESV, NASB, KJV, ASV) can also be translated as "works out" (NIV, NCV, NET). The word translated as "purpose" can also be translated as "answer." Thus, the meaning of the verse is that God works things out so that the end of the wicked properly answers their wickedness. As a bonus, that reading appreciates Proverbs 16:4 as a proper proverb. The NIV has the best reading of this verse:
The LORD works out everything for his own ends―even the wicked for a day of disaster (NIV).
Let us not ignore the plain translation of the International Children's Bible:
The Lord makes everything work the way he wants it. He even has a day of disaster for evil people (ICB).
Best of all, this interpretation agrees with the full scope of Scripture, including Proverbs 22:8; Hosea 8:7 and this:
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:7-9, NRSV).
The determinist reading contradicts its own context.

In Scripture, the individual man's eternal state (reward or disaster / Heaven or Hell) is always a consequence - something that results from something else. In other words, the nature of a person's eternal state of affairs is the result of an antecedent.

Proverbs 16:3-7 follows the proverbial format of antecedent - consequence. Proverbs 16:3 says to "Commit your work to the LORD" (first/antecedent) "and your plans will be established" (second/consequence). Verse 5 says people who are arrogant (first) "are an abomination to the LORD" (consequence). Verse 6 says people who are loyal and faithful (first) find atonement for iniquity (consequence). Verse 7 says when people's ways please the LORD (first) they have peace with their enemies (consequence). God sees to it. Verse 4, in agreement with the context, says people who are evil (first) will find disaster (consequence). God sees to it. But determinists want to read verse 4 to say God created some people to be evil so he can give them disaster! What?! Proverbs 16:4 means no such thing.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Exegesis of 1 John 4:1-12, two views


The following comparison is kind of an editorial commentary on my part. People naturally resist letting go of what they have believed to be true for years. This article, then is a companion to my article on Resisting Change. When faced with an argument that cross examines a cherished view, people more naturally attack the person holding the other view than carefully listen to the supporting points of the other person's view. They are likely to collect data that affirms their view and reject data that challenges it. In matters of religious convictions, having our views challenged tends to disrupt the way we read the Bible.

1 John 4:1-12, an exegetical comparison
Bible Text (NRSV) Reasonable Exegesis Self Serving Exegesis
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. Test what people teach if it is presented as truth. Some teachers have an agenda that sabotages the nature of Christ (vss. 2-3). They claim divine inspiration but their teaching contradicts a particular apostolically established doctrine. Some preachers' teaching is influenced by the devil. We I will test them. See my comment on verse 6 below.
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, John has in mind a particular heresy that claims that Jesus was not human. We are able to detect false teachers. Here's how. If two teachers don't read a Scripture the same way, one of them is under the influence of the devil.
3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.
Confessing Jesus means confessing Jesus as Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3).
If a teacher is quoting Scripture to expose a belief that is unscriptural and is suggesting that the commonly accepted view needs review, he/she is teaching against God, Jesus and the church.
4 Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. A probable reference to 1 John 2:13. They conquered when they became Christians. John may also have in mind the Christians' confession that "Jesus is Lord" (1 Corinthians 12:3). It is impossible to say "Jesus is Lord" if you are teaching against the Lordship of Christ. What we have believed for decades is from God and anybody who reads the Bible and rethinks what we believe is the antichrist.
5 They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. Their teaching appeals to non-Christians. It only looks like they are reading the Bible. In reality, they are following an "-ism."
6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. John says, "We taught you correctly from the beginning when you were babes in Christ. If these teachers contradict what we taught you at first, then they are teaching error."
Thus, we can extend this Scripture to say that any teaching that cannot be argued from the Bible and furthermore contradicts apostolic teaching (= the New Testament) is error.
(On the relationship of error and deception, see 1 John 2:26; 2 John 1:7).
Listen to me.
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. A child of God is godly. If he loves, he is a child of God. We love them as brothers and sisters. We can both love them and censor them.
8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. The proper love act that Christians should exhibit is love for all persons, Christian and non-Christian alike. I love you; but this church really needs to kick you out.
9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 1 John 3:16; John 3:16; John 13:14. Well. Jesus also ran money changers off the temple grounds (Matthew 21:12; Mark 11:15; John 2:15).
10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 2:2. If God sacrificed for us... I'm sacrificing for you. I have put up with you for a really long time; and it is time for you to leave.
11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. ... we ought to sacrifice for one another. I do love you, brother; but I don't like you at all.
12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. Now, God loves through us. If we claim that we love but we do not act like we love, then we are resisting the work of God (1 John 2:5-6; 4:17-18). I have my own way of practicing brotherly love.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The politics of exclusion

John answered, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you." (Luke 9:49-50)

What is going on here? Did the disciples look down on non-itinerant disciples (those that have left their homes to follow Jesus)? Did they believe they merited some kind of apostolic privilege? Somehow in the minds of the disciples, the unknown exorcist did not deserve the authority to be casting out demons.

Do we practice the politics of exclusion in the church? We most obviously do.

Judging

Of course, Christians are never supposed to judge.
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. (Matthew 7:1)
See? Under no circumstance is a Christian to judge.

Right?

Wrong!

All we need to do is read a little context and we can see that it is a specific kind of judging that is condemned in Matthew 7:1.

1 "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.
2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.
These two verses begin a sermon subtopic on the subject of judging. The point here agrees with Luke 6:37-38: "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back." What is measured back is condemnation and/or forgiveness. What is to be avoided is assuming the posture of God as judge (elaborated below on Matthew 7:12). It is treating another person in a way that is contrary to love (see also James 4:11-12). If we are behaving harshly to one another and we have convinced ourselves that we are acting in love, compare our actions with those of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23-35. The kind of judging in Matthew 7:1 is straight-line condemning.
3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?
4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, "Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye?
5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye.
This little section is an example of hyperbole (like trying to put a camel through a needle, Matthew 19:24, or straining out a gnat, Matthew 23:24). My sin may not be worse; but I, too, am a sinner. The point here is mutual sanctification. We will help each other with our specks. Will you hold me accountable? If you want, I will hold you accountable as well.

See Galatians 6:1 and James 2:13 which promote proper and gentle judging.

Christians are not asked to be morally tolerant and indifferent. Followers of Jesus cannot turn a blind eye to sin. We have more than permission. We are commanded to help each other with our failings.

It is one thing to condemn (in violation of Matthew 7:1) but it is another to report that greed or sexual sins are wrong.

6 "Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.
There are many applications for this saying; but in context, it applies to saving your efforts at correction for those who are interested in growing closer to Jesus.
Proverbs 17:10
7 "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?
10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?
11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
There is a motivation (better than guilt) to pray. God hears and is eager to respond for our good. He is not distant or uncaring. He wants us to ask.

Sometimes our deepest and most emotional prayer go unanswered. It is difficult to accept the usefulness of prayer when circumstances turn out that way; but the point here is to continue to pray because of who God is; and he is good!

Prayer affects God. Remember when God was about to destroy Israel? Moses interceded and God chose to not destroy Israel (Exodus 32:14). Psalm 106:23 says God would have destroyed Israel if Moses had not "stood in the breach."

The relationship this section has to judging is this. Sometimes other Christians are happy to receive constructive judgment. We must not give stones and snakes when our brothers and sisters ask for bread and fish.
12 "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.It is important to know "others" well enough to know how they want to be treated (which may differ from the way I want to be treated). This application extends to how we encourage one another to greater sanctity. Those who are receptive to it appreciate it. Those who don't may trample your pearls or maul you. Thus, this verse is the perfect conclusion to Matthew 7:1-2.

We are commanded to judge (This section and also 1 Corinthians 5:1-7 ff); but we are charged also to do a lot more self-judging. Judge the yourself frequently. Judge others when you have to. See also 1 Corinthians 11:28;  2 Corinthians 13:5; John 7:24.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Resisting change

It is human nature to react defensively when a long-cherished belief is challenged. Jesus ran into that defensiveness and in the end it got him crucified.

Luke 5:18-25
18 Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus;
19 but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus.
20 When he saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven you."
21 Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, "Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
22 When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?
23 Which is easier, to say, "Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, "Stand up and walk'?
24 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—he said to the one who was paralyzed—"I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home."
25 Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God.
In this context, it was commonly understood that only God forgives sins (Psalm 130:4; Isaiah 43:25); but this understanding was an interpretation of the pertinent verses. It was a long-held understanding. Thus, the scribes and Pharisees reacted quite negatively to it. This reaction common among Christians when long-cherished beliefs are challenged. It is quite common in the wake of such a challenge to go to the Bible and seek out proof-texts that validate the cherished beliefs and refute the challenge. Sometimes, the challenge needed to be refuted; but sometimes it is a good challenge. When the "proof-texts" are offered, they fail to refute the challenge. Please understand, it is perfectly normal to try to refute challenges to long-held cherished beliefs. It is, however important to catch ourselves doing it and give ourselves time to properly consider the possible validity of the challenge. If we hold on too tightly to a suspect but cherished belief, we can cause a lot of damage to other people. In Jesus' case, he was crucified. In the Reformation, people were unjustly burned at the stake or put to death by other means. In the church, people are unjustly censored and spiritually crippled.

Another lesson from the above text is noted by the fact that there are some scriptures that seem to support the view that only God can forgive sins; but if they were to read them carefully, the verses don't really support their view. Many Christians cannot tell the difference between what they believe and what the Scripture says. They think the Bible and their belief system are the same; or, "I believe what the Bible says." If I say that, I need to be ready to modify my beliefs (after careful consideration) when the Bible is shown to say something different. Inability to tell the difference between one's own belief system and the Bible is a special kind of dysfunctional thinking for which I have no answer. Do any blog readers have suggestions?

Luke 6:7
The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him.
At this point, the scribes and Pharisees were no longer interested in debating or studying with Jesus. They wanted to catch him in a "got-cha." A natural response to a challenge to a long-held belief system is to accuse the challenger. Just because it is natural does not mean we should be doing it. These Jewish leaders did not care about real guilt. They just wanted something for which they could accuse him.

Luke 10:10-11
10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say,
11 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'
In this little snippet, Jesus is giving instructions to the 70 missionaries. If they encountered hostile resistance upon entering a town, the townspeople probably had good Biblical reasons to resist the teaching of the missionaries. It was pretty clear in their own minds (probably)―as clear as it would have been in most of our minds if we lived in one of those towns. Here is a Bible passage they could quote to justify throwing out of town a missionary that teaches about Jesus.

Deuteronomy 13:1-15
1 If prophets or those who divine by dreams appear among you and promise you omens or portents,
2 and the omens or the portents declared by them take place, and they say, "Let us follow other gods" (whom you have not known) "and let us serve them,"
3 you must not heed the words of those prophets or those who divine by dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you indeed love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.
4 The Lord your God you shall follow, him alone you shall fear, his commandments you shall keep, his voice you shall obey, him you shall serve, and to him you shall hold fast.
5 But those prophets or those who divine by dreams shall be put to death for having spoken treason against the Lord your God—who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery—to turn you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
6 If anyone secretly entices you—even if it is your brother, your father's son or your mother's son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend—saying, "Let us go worship other gods," whom neither you nor your ancestors have known,
7 any of the gods of the peoples that are around you, whether near you or far away from you, from one end of the earth to the other,
8 you must not yield to or heed any such persons. Show them no pity or compassion and do not shield them.
9 But you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them, and afterwards the hand of all the people.
10 Stone them to death for trying to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
11 Then all Israel shall hear and be afraid, and never again do any such wickedness.
12 If you hear it said about one of the towns that the Lord your God is giving you to live in,
13 that scoundrels from among you have gone out and led the inhabitants of the town astray, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods," whom you have not known,
14 then you shall inquire and make a thorough investigation. If the charge is established that such an abhorrent thing has been done among you,
15 you shall put the inhabitants of that town to the sword, utterly destroying it and everything in it—even putting its livestock to the sword.
In this text, prophets are able to do convincing signs; but if, after the signs they teach about a new or false god, they are supposed to be put to death. In Jesus' day, they may have believed the closest equivalent without attracting the Roman radar is to throw the false prophets out of town. The townspeople believed the missionaries were teaching about a new or false god; but what the missionaries were really teaching is something different from the townspeople's perceptions of God.

When we respond with hostility or ire when our cherished beliefs are challenged, we ought to recognize the naturally human reaction, take a few breaths and give ourselves a chance to honestly consider the merits of the challenge.

Appendix:
Myers & Briggs have identified two different character types for processing data. The processing types are sensing and intuition.
Sensors want lots of information and from that information they draw conclusions.
Intuitives draw conclusions and then collect data that supports those conclusions.

Neither type is a character strength or weakness. Knowing that there are two types ought to help us to try to cross the bridge to the other side in order to have reasonable conversations with people who are oriented the opposite way from ourselves. Read about the Myers-Briggs processing types.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Faith without works is dead

Have you ever heard someone cite James 2 and say, "Faith without works is dead?"

The citation is from the King James Version of James 2:20, 26.
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:26, KJV)
Do you remember what point was being made when the verse was quoted?

James 2:17, 20, 26 are often cited—especially within the churches of Christ—as proof that you have to be baptized to be saved. "Faith without works is dead," some folks frequently say. "That's proof that you have to be baptized."

Invoking James 2 to prove the necessity of baptism totally misses James' point and damages the meaning of the text. Just a simple read of the text in context shows that James, by the term "works," does not mean any kind of action that can even be extended to baptism.

So, what is James talking about?

James is troubled by the way some Christians of his day live their lives righteously only insofar as it suits them. He says that they need to apply their faith consistently, particularly in the act of loving your neighbor as yourself (James 2:8).

The best way to read James is all at once; but I think we can get the idea of James' meaning of dead faith by reading the following central section.
James 1:22-2:17:
22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. 26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. 2:1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Have a seat here, please," while to the one who is poor you say, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? 8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 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.
James is being critical of the a kind of piety that practices "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" to a rich person but not to a poor person. If Christians pick and choose how they will put the Golden Rule into practice, they are in complete violation of the rule. He says, acting kindly towards the poor is how we put into practice the Golden Rule. Piously telling someone that God takes care of the needs of the poor (James 2:16) but not being God's instrument in fulfilling those needs is the supreme failure of piety.

(Incidentally, James' mention of bridling the tongue in James 1:26 is elaborated in chapter 3, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness").

By "works," James means acts of charity. If your faith is not evident in your actions, you have dead faith. Charitable works is really what James is talking about. He is not comparing good works and ineffective works. He is comparing living faith and dead faith.

James is not talking about baptism. Not even close. Can we extend the passage to apply to baptism? No; and doing so damages a proper understanding of the doctrine of baptism. It concedes that baptism is a work, which it most definitely is NOT! not in the same sense as a work of charity. To yield as much concedes that baptism is meritorious for salvation.

Baptism is definitely not meritorious for salvation. Baptism is no more a meritorious work than is repentance, confession or belief. All are required by God but none merit salvation.

Some people say that baptism, if it is required by God, is a work and we are saved by Grace, not works. Then, many of us, like we have tourette's, lurch over to James 2, ignore the context, and start reading in verse 14. The biggest mistake in this conscription of Scripture is agreeing that baptism is a work earning salvation. Baptism is simply God's prescription for our response to the Gospel.