Thinking Out Loud

September 9, 2020

Making God’s “Plan A” Known

Filed under: bible, Christianity, Church, current events, social issues — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:49 am

The focus of my writing over the past six months has been Christianity 201, where I’ve been sharing more original content than in times past. This one is appearing later today; you’re seeing it first!

Acts 20:27
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (NIV)
For I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know. (NLT)

Many times in the church, the leadership is asked to comment on the social issues of the day; including things that simply never existed at the time the scriptures were written; but also including things which were the same in their day as they are in our own.

A pastor may feel pressed to comment on homosexuality, but I guaranty that a minister who is in the least compassionate will temper that message, or at the very least phrase things very gently, if he knows there are lesbian or gay people in the congregation, or people who are related to (by being parents or brothers or sisters) someone with that orientation. Even the most conservative sermon approach will, I hope, offer God’s “Plan A” in loving manner; and hopefully some will allow for the possibility of other interpretations where their theology and convictions permit.

When it comes to abortion, in a congregation of any measurable size, there is even more likelihood that someone listening to the pastor’s words have walked down that road. The sting of those memories is still strong, and dredging that up in a weekend worship service may seem like the last thing they needed.

This bring up the question of, ‘Why bother to address these things at all?’

There is some wisdom which must be credited to those who follow a Lectionary approach to preaching. Prescribed readings for each week offer a compendium of scriptures over a three year cycle. There aren’t “sermon series” topics running consecutive weeks, or room to maneuver the preaching focus to social issues or political ones.

That said though, the scriptures have application to so much of every day life. A pastor who goes off on a rant on abortion at least once a month runs the risk of appear obsessed on the topic, and as stated above, may be trampling on the sensitivities of individuals in the church. A pastor who ignores the possibility* that abortion grieves the heart of God runs the risk of making the Bible seem irrelevant to social issues and practical concerns.

[*Okay, more than possibility, but this is what I meant by speaking things gently. In fact, having presented some foundational scriptures, making the point in an interrogative form — “Do you think perhaps this grieves the heart of God?” — is probably closer to how Jesus would handle this.]

But on the off-chance your church doesn’t have people who are homosexual (or leaning in that direction) or have had an abortion (or are close to someone who did), it is entirely possible that you have people in your church who have been through divorce, or are even about to proceed in that direction. Statistically, it is far more likely.

The most cited phrase is “God hates divorce;” but notice the difference in two popular translations’ rendering of Malachi 2:16

“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful. NIV

“For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” NLT (NASB, NKJV, GNT, NET, are similar on the key phrase)

But even with the NIV rendering, it’s clear that God’s original “Plan A” was marriage for life.

“Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10:9 quoting Jesus

Some will ask, and the disciples did ask,

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

to which

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. (Matthew 19: 7 above, and 8, NIV)

Even there we see grace, and in similar fashion grace* should be at the center of our proclamation.

[*Sadly some pastors don’t read Jesus this way and prescribe that people should stay together even in the middle of a physically abusive situation. Hardliners, including some pastors and authors whose names you would recognize, would insist that saying otherwise is creating situation ethics. But that’s a topic for another article.]

I mention all these things not because today’s devotional has in any way been an attempt to cover the subject of divorce, although if you’re interested in an exhaustive 3-part research piece on the effects of divorce on children, I encourage to read the one we ran here, here and here.

Rather, I am to say here that in the course of the life of a church congregation, certain topics should eventually surface in its preaching and teaching ministry, and at that point, one cannot avoid lovingly declaring “the whole counsel of God.”

So I want to end where we began:

Acts 20:27:
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (NIV)

For I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know. (NLT)

 

August 14, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Mission

Most of my energies online are now spent with our other blog, Christianity 201. Last weekend, I was intrigued by the teaching passages in Matthew’s gospel, and ended up writing C201’s first 4-part series, which appeared Friday thru Monday. I decided the series was worth sharing here as well…


Ask someone to name a section of Christ’s teachings in the Gospel of Matthew and they will invariably answer “The Sermon on the Mount” or “Matthew, chapters five, six and seven.” But that’s only one of five possible answers.

Since I chose to read the Matthew title last, I’m almost finished the collection of the Biblical Imagination Series commentaries on the Gospels, by Matthew Card. He was the one who really drew my attention to the “The Five Discourses” in a way I hadn’t seen before.

But what is a discourse? Dictionary.com says,

  • communication of thought by words; talk; conversation: earnest and intelligent discourse.
  • a formal discussion of a subject in speech or writing, as a dissertation, treatise, sermon, etc.
  • Linguistics. any unit of connected speech or writing longer than a sentence.

But the one thing the dictionary website offers that’s most useful to us is a listing of related words, some of which include:

communication, discussion, conversation, monologue, huddle, homily, chat

Can you guess which one jumped out at me? Huddle. That’s what I see happening here. The coach calling in the key players who will be on the field to discuss the game plan. (I’m not a sports guy, so that last sentence is a bit of a minor miracle.)

I know some are loathe to get their theological points of reference from Wikipedia, but I’ve been finding it somewhat reliable lately, and on this point they begin,

In Christianity, the term Five Discourses of Matthew refers to five specific discourses by Jesus within the Gospel of Matthew.

The five discourses are listed as the following: the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

Each of the discourses has a shorter parallel in the Gospel of Mark or the Gospel of Luke.

A very small taste of what to expect when you visit Steve’s cartoon panels on The Five Discourses. Click image to link.

Better yet, in a world where visuals aids like The Gospel Project really sparks learning to life, I found a most interesting website where cartoonist Steve Thomason has illustrated all five discourses. (I don’t feel the liberty to copy/paste more than a very small section of one panel here, and can only encourage you to visit this one especially.) The expressions on the disciples faces as Jesus tells them a little about what they might face are priceless. And realistic.

Steve has the discourse/passage beginning at Matthew 9:35 and carrying through all of chapter 10. The first four verses of chapter 10 are the choosing or appointing of the twelve disciples. As we mentioned a few weeks ago, we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that there were only twelve. The followers were many.

The real meat of Christ’s instruction to the twelve however starts in verse 5 and continues to the end.

At this point, you need to read that entire section.

For those who don’t click, a few highlights would include:

7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

8b …Freely you have received; freely give.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.

28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (all NIV)

Back to Michael Card, he explains why this chapter is so very much worth reading:

Matthew 10 provides a good illustration of what is fundamentally different about this gospel as compared to the others. When Jesus sends the twelve apostles out on their first mission, Mark devotes only two verses to Jesus’ instructions to them (Mk 6:10-11). Luke provides only three verses (Lk 9:3-5). Matthew devotes an entire chapter of forty-two verses. While Matthew may be a selective minimalist in regard to the detail of the story, he is at the extreme opposite when it comes to the words of Jesus. Remember in Mark we have only twenty-two minutes of “face time” with Jesus. In Luke we have fifty-three minutes with Jesus speaking directly to us. In John we have only forty-four. But in Matthew, Jesus speaks to us for more than an hour…

Matthew: The Gospel of Identity, p98

If our devotion includes a desire to ‘spend time with Jesus’ then Matthew ought to rank highly in our list of New Testament books.

 

July 31, 2020

A Closer Look at the New BibleGateway.com

Filed under: bible, Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:33 am

Earlier this week, something about Clark Bunch’s review of the new Bible Gateway site really resonated, so with his permission, we’re sharing it here. You can also click the title which follows to read this at source. You might also want to visit the site, The Master’s Table.

Bible Gateway Update

by Clark Bunch

In addition to the occasional book review (I posted one earlier this week) I have reviewed a couple of Bibles in the last year at the request of Bible Gateway. Regular readers know about the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid and as a partner The Master’s Table posted reviews of The Illustrated Holy Bible for Kids and The Jesus Bible. A few weeks ago Bible Gateway asked Blogger Grid members to review the new website design at Bible Gateway. The new design has since rolled out so if you use that resource or follow our links from here then you have probably seen the changes.

New Design

According to Bible Gateway, the new design offers a cleaner, easier to read screen. To me, it looks like they took controls from the top and moved them to the left side of the screen. I don’t see anything that makes it easier to read. The difference was supposed to really shine when you start adding side-by-side parallel translations on the same screen. So let’s add NKJV next to the ESV text in each format and take a look:

Classic View

That’s a two translation parallel view on the classic layout. I have scrolled down the screen a bit, rolling the website banner and user controls off the top of the screen. The Bible text takes up nearly the full width of my laptop screen. Now look at the same text side-by-side in the new format:

New Design

The control panel to the left collapsed which makes the text field a little wider. But look at all that business to the right, and at how narrow the fields are that contain text. I could add three if not four translations side-by-side on the classic site before they get that narrow. This makes parallel study more difficult, not easier, in my humble opinion. Side by side translations, which is how I’ve been writing my sermons for years, was easier on the classic site than the redesign. Which is ironic considering the Bible Gateway claims.

Now, this next difference is going to be a picky little thing but it’s my picky little thing. On the left-hand sidebar of this blog (and if you’re reading this in an email or blog aggregator now would be a good time to pop in to the actual website) you see the Bible Gateway verse of the day. The text is in ESV followed by a reference and that reference is linked to that verse on the Bible Gateway website. Here is how the verse of the day for today’s date would appear on the classic site:

Classic View

And here is the landing page, the very first thing you see, when visiting Bible Gateway today:

New Design

In addition to the fact that the page just doesn’t look as good, the reference appears before the verse. Like I said, a picky little thing. But that’s how we normally display verses in print. If you share a verse on social media, make a graphic for a slideshow or write a verse at the bottom of a get well soon or birthday card, we write the verse and then add a reference. It would be the same if displaying a quote; first the words and then an attribution. If you click the link in the left-hand sidebar it will take you to the new Bible Gateway site not the classic site. The classic site is an option you can choose – at this time. When I visit the regular site, without getting technical, it recognizes me and displays the ESV text since that is my preference. If I click the link in the upper left of the screen for classic site those recognition protocols are no longer in place and the site defaults to NIV.

So, to copy and paste the verse of the day the way I like it and in ESV, I have to go to the website, click on classic, change the translation and then copy the verse and reference. I have discovered a work around but it still involves a few steps. I now go to the regular site, copy the reference and verse, paste it into my editor twice and then cut it so the verse comes before the reference. Like I said, I know it’s a picky little thing but it’s my picky little thing. And it’s not the only reason I prefer the classic view, namely that the side-by-side translation parallel was better before.

For the time being the new format of Bible Gateway and the classic site are both available. I don’t know if it will always be like that or just while users compare the two and get a feel for the new design. While I’m giving the new site design a negative review let me be clear: I have been using Bible Gateway for years and will continue to do. I will continue to include links on the sidebars and link scripture references I use when blogging to Bible Gateway. It has been and continues to be an excellent resource available anywhere I have my laptop or phone.

One final thought: since I mentioned my phone there at the end I was going to include a screenshot of the phone app. When I opened Bible Gateway on my Samsung (Android) smart phone, I noticed this little detail:

The reference for today’s verse shows two verses, Matthew 5:14 and 16. But on the website, new and classic formats, only verse 14 is displayed. The mobile app shows verses 14 and 16. I don’t know what that means but it is interesting. To me anyway.

July 20, 2020

A Bible Translation Update You May Have Missed

Filed under: bible, Christianity, cults — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:38 am

Every once in awhile I come in contact with someone who wants to get connected with a copy of the NIV-1984. Often it’s a replacement for a Bible they have used that’s falling apart. Or it’s based on some of the many bizarre rumors about the revised NIV circulating online.1

But for most people, an NIV is an NIV. The Bibles available for purchase today are technically called NIV-2011.

Similarly the NLTs sold today are Second Edition, or NLTSE. For Roman Catholics the NAB (New American Bible) editions on offer today are the Revised Edition, or NABRE.

For the most part, only Bible nerds and retailers use these terms. An NLT is an NLT, right?2

Last week, a series of unusual circumstances found me in a 40-minute discussion with a leader in the Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in my area. (No, they didn’t come to the door, in fact, I was trying to get them to come to my door for a very specific reason, but the meeting was deemed unnecessary. It’s a long story…3)

For the record, the full title of their Bible is New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, with the words “Holy Scriptures” always in a larger font. If someone ever asks you if you’ve heard of the “Holy Scriptures” Bible, they may be thinking NWT.

I then learned that their exclusive Bible translation, the New World Translation had undergone an update in 2013. Wikipedia called it “a significantly revised translation.” Not moving in those circles, I suppose I had no way of knowing. This leader explained to me how the English language is always changing and Bibles need to keep up with that change.

If only he knew who he was speaking to. I told him he was preaching to the choir on that one. (I hope they understand that expression!)

[For the record, they completely removed the longer ending to Mark’s last chapter, and the entire narrative of Jesus and the woman caught in the act of adultery. In fairness, even some Evangelicals wouldn’t argue with that edit, since the “oldest manuscripts” principle should be equally applied.4]

Later in the call he quoted John 3:16 NWT to me, and something about the phrasing got me curious to hear a few more.

So since the translation is on their website, I decided to try and see how it rendered a few of your favorite verses. Nothing too controversial, I promise. (Okay, we might do John 1:1 since you asked.) Some day you’ll thank me for this, as their online Bible server is as slow as molasses. (And the text has more embedded code than even BibleGateway.)

I’ve highlighted in bold face type the parts which stood out to me.

Also, I’m not necessarily being critical of these renderings, rather they give us something to consider, and some of them are quite good.

John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”

Romans 8:28 “We know that God makes all his works cooperate together for the good of those who love God, those who are the ones called according to his purpose.”

Phil. 4:13 “For all things I have the strength through the one who gives me power.”

John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” 5

Matthew 28:19 “Go, therefore, and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit,”

Ephesians 2:8 “By this undeserved kindness you have been saved through faith, and this is not of your own doing; rather, it is God’s gift.

Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the holy spirit comes upon you, and you will be witnesses of me in Jerusalem, in all Ju·deʹa and Sa·marʹi·a, and to the most distant part of the earth.”

2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness,”

Romans 10:9 “For if you publicly declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and exercise faith in your heart that God raised him up from the dead, you will be saved.”  

And then there’s this, for which I provide three examples of many.

Colossians 2: 13b-14 “He kindly forgave us all our trespasses and erased the handwritten document that consisted of decrees and was in opposition to us. He has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the torture stake. [i.e. instead of the word cross.]

Hebrews 12:2 “as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus. For the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Philippians 3:18 ” For there are many—I used to mention them often but now I mention them also with weeping—who are walking as enemies of the torture stake of the Christ. 6

Wikipedia7 documents many of the critiques of the (original) translation:

In 1963, theologian Anthony A. Hoekema wrote: “Their New World Translation of the Bible is by no means an objective rendering of the sacred text into modern English, but is a biased translation in which many of the peculiar teachings of the Watchtower Society are smuggled into the text of the Bible itself.”

Julius R. Mantey, co-author of A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament and A Hellenistic Greek Reader, said about the New Testament of the NWT that it’s “a distortion not a translation.”

In 1982, Robert H. Countess in his critical analysis The Jehovah’s Witness’ New Testament wrote that the NWT “must be viewed as a radically biased piece of work.”

Theologian William Barclay concluded that “the deliberate distortion of truth by this sect is seen in the New Testament translation. … It is abundantly clear that a sect which can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest.”

Theologian John Ankerberg accused the New World Translations translators of renderings that conform “to their own preconceived and unbiblical theology.” John Weldon and Ankerberg cite several examples wherein they consider the NWT to support theological views overriding appropriate translation.

And that wasn’t even half of them.

Even the Unitarians have a go at the whole “stake” thing. My goodness, if you can’t please them, I think you’re in trouble. (Though they seem to like it overall.)

In 1954, Unitarian theologian Charles F. Potter stated about the New World Translation: “Apart from a few semantic peculiarities like translating the Greek word stauros as “stake” instead of “cross”, and the often startling use of the colloquial and the vernacular, the anonymous translators have certainly rendered the best manuscript texts, both Greek and Hebrew, with scholarly ability and acumen.”

…I don’t want this to be a discussion about Jehovah’s Witness doctrine, but simply wanted you to be aware of the new translation and explore some of the wordings used. I’ll leave comments open (for now) but try to focus on the issue of translation, and not on JW teaching.


1 On close observation, the NIV rumors are unfounded; coming from the same spirit which produced the KJV-only movement. Conservative Christians love conspiracies, don’t they?
2 As true as this is, people have the right to remain loyal to the wording they’ve been using. The NLT’s predecessor, The Living Bible is kept in print — now in 7 different editions — for this very reason.
3 The mission we collect used books for received a donation of JW materials from the 1920s and 1930s. I know many readers here would tell me to destroy them, but I couldn’t help but think, ‘What if the shoe was on the other foot?’ Plus I figured it would be an excuse for contact and hence bridge-building. However, JW materials are often superseded by later writings and I was given the green light to put all the books in recycling.
4 For the record, I support including the John 8 passage as well as its placement following John 7 (no humor intended, it has to do with the content of that chapter) for a few reasons. It certainly fits the character of Jesus, doesn’t it?
5 I did warn you that one was coming. Lots of material about this online if you’re unfamiliar with the issue concerning the NWT’s addition of the indefinite article.
6 I’ve never understood the JW obsession with this terminology. It might create a better mapping with the bronze snake story in Numbers 21, but oddly enough the NWT doesn’t use that at verses 8 and 9 (“Moses at once made a serpent of copper and put it on the pole…”)
7 Yes, I twice provided the hyperlink to Wikipedia, so why not to the NWT Bible online? I figure you can find it if you need to. Their website branding is probably among the best out there. The version online is their study Bible edition with notes in a right side-column, at least in the desktop version of the site.

June 16, 2020

The Tomb of the Prophets

This was originally supposed to appear on Saturday at our devotional blog, Christianity 201, but due to a glitch in scheduling, it didn’t go out until I discovered the problem yesterday evening. Again, while I don’t want Thinking Out Loud to simply become a mirror site for C201, I put a lot of work in to this one, and furthermore it was a rare request, in this case from my oldest son. So you get to read it here today.

NIV.Luke.11v47 “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them.

Throughout scripture we find definite definite support for landmarks and memorials. We’ve covered this theme here at least three times previously:

So why do those who built tombs for the prophets show up among the list of “woes” proclaimed by Jesus? Is it suddenly wrong to remember those who have gone before? There must be something else going on.

The IVP Bible Commentary notes that:

The second woe for the scribes is for their support of the slaying of the prophets. Now this woe contains irony: “you build the tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them.” They built these tombs, no doubt, to show how they honored the prophets. But Jesus argues that in fact it shows their support for killing these divine agents! By building the tombs, he says, you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did. Here is one of Jesus’ fundamental critiques of the leadership: they have been disobedient as their ancestors were…

The Wikipedia reference for “tomb of the prophets” states,

The Tomb of the Prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi… is an ancient burial site located on the upper western slope of the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. According to a medieval Jewish tradition also adopted by Christians, the catacomb is believed to be the burial place of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the last three Hebrew Bible prophets who are believed to have lived during the 6th-5th centuries BC. Archaeologists have dated the three earliest burial chambers to the 1st century BC, thus contradicting the tradition.

Is that what’s referenced here?

As with all adventures in Biblical archeology, the journey is (pardon the pun) rather rocky. One article I read suggested that Haggai was buried near the tomb of the prophets. I think this is an example of a situation where we can get mired in the details — ‘Is this the right city?’ ‘Were they from the same family? ‘Was that the first cup or the third cup?’ — and miss what the passage is there to teach us. We shouldn’t get too caught up in what the Bible does teach us, especially when referenced to a 21st Century online encyclopedia in which many people (including me) have editing privileges.

Matthew’s version of this, in chapter 23, verses 29-32 is more detailed, but for greater context (and since it also mentions tombs) I’ve picked it up here starting two verses earlier:

NIV.Matthew.23v27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

On this Matthew passage, the website BibleStudyTools.com quotes John Gill,

Now our Lord must not be understood as blaming them for barely building the tombs of the prophets, and garnishing the sepulchres of the righteous, which they might have done without blame. But because they did all this, that they might be thought to be very innocent and holy men, and far from being guilty of the crimes their forefathers were; when they were of the very selfsame blood thirsty, persecuting spirit; and did, and would do the same things to the prophets and apostles of the New Testament, their fathers had done to the prophets of the Old.

What can we apply from this? The Wycliffe Bible Commentary has an interesting take:

The martyrs of one generation become the heroes of the next. It was easier for the children to build monuments to the prophets than for their fathers to obey them.

And perhaps the tombs were to ‘seal in’ those prophets as The Eerdman’s Bible Commentary suggests:

Although they built elaborate tombs for the prophets, they were really at one with their ancestors who had killed them by making sure they would stay dead. God in His wisdom had foreseen what they would do; their attitude to the prophets and apostles of the church would simply be the culmination of a long history of persecution of his messengers and judgment would follow. (emphasis added)

The International Bible Commentary echoes this,

The only prophets they honor are dead prophets.

This is the constant challenge of scripture and Christian teaching. If certain things are true — in their case it was the words of the prophets — then it may mean that I am going to need to make adjustments to my life.

I love how Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God Study Bible indicated these types of passages using a wrench as a symbol to represent adjustment. (The Bible is based on the author’s “7 Realities of Experiencing God” of which #6 is, “You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.”)

The Life Application Study Bible confirms this, noting in reference to Jesus that even as he is speaking, they are in fact doing the exact same thing. They are choosing not to answer the call for adjustment, response,

God’s prophets have been persecuted and murdered throughout history. But this generation was rejecting more than a human prophet — they were rejecting God himself.

There is always the danger of ourselves doing the same thing: Covering over a situation where our ancestors were complicit in something we would rather forget by appearing to be taking the opposite side. It appears noble, but not when we recognize that motivation is itself incorrect, and not until we realize that the heart attitudes are common to us today and require repentance.

 

April 9, 2020

Author Digs Deep Into Genesis 1-11

Filed under: bible, books, Christianity, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:57 am

After reviewing Darrell W. Johnson’s book The Beatitudes in August, Regent College Publishing was gracious enough to send me another, The Story of All Stories: Genesis 1-11 by the same author, and once again I was not disappointed.

Johnson is among scholars who argue that these eleven chapters constitute “the first half of the Bible” and that everything remaining is the second half. At first I was rather dismissive of this approach, but after re-reading a few chapters for the second time, he won me over.

I would also put it this way, that in terms of both the literary forms and the themes of grace of redemption, Genesis 1-11 is a microcosm of the Bible as a whole. Just as the Bible is one unified story consisting of many smaller parts, each with its own genre requiring its own approach; so also are these early chapters — stories concerning Adam, Cain, Noah, Babel — significant dramas each requiring their own unique type of study.

I know that some might be intimidated by a book sold under the imprint of an academic institution, but proficiency in Hebrew or Greek is not required, and just as I did with Johnson’s book on the parables, I found this material remarkably accessible. There are insights here that I’ve missed previously or hadn’t heard mentioned in preaching, even though the texts are familiar. (Tangentially, I was always soft on the idea of the Genesis flood being a global event; convicted that was manifested mostly in the known world; but the author provided a convincing reason I had not considered.)

The highest praise I can give a print resource is to say that upon completion, my first act was to turn back to chapter one and begin anew. That was definitely the case here. The learn more, click this link.


Thanks to Josh at Regent College Publishing for an opportunity to discover this book.

174 pages paperback | $19.99 US | 9781573835695

 

March 3, 2020

What’s Your Bible Memory Score?

Of all the major religions in the world, Christians are least acquainted with their own scriptures.

A faith community that does not impart its sacred writings to its young people is one generation away from extinction.

We’ve been surveyed to death lately. Barna, Gallup, Pew and major media outlets have a sudden interest in Christians because they feel there’s a story here, and the story they think they’re seeing is that Christianity is sinking faster than the Titanic.

While the astute know that isn’t true — a recently linked graphic is helpful — I wonder what the comparative stats would look like in terms of our knowledge of and our ability to recite major passages from our faith’s sacred book.

The problem is that gathering data on this would make for some complicated metrics. What would you include? That’s where I want to take this today. Here are some passages I think everyone should know… by heart. I’m taking John 3:16 as a given and I’m more focused on passages than individual verses such as in this list. I know some readers will want to add their own. How well do you fare against this list?

[ ] The Lord’s Prayer – Over a certain age and you probably had to recite it elementary school. And every Roman Catholic can tick this box, with or without “For Thine is the kingdom…”

[ ] Psalm 23 – Beloved for centuries and rich in imagery, I can do this one in two very different translations. If you think you know it, try right now.

[ ] The Ten Commandments – There actually are recent metrics for this one and I’m told some of us didn’t do very well.

[ ] John 14: 1-6 – “Let not your heart be troubled…” The promise of eternal life.

[ ] various “Romans Road” scriptures – Essential if you’ve ever taken a ‘soul-winning’ course, these would vary but must include 3:23 (“For all have sinned”) and 6:23 (“The wages of sin.”)

[ ] The Apostles/Nicene Creed – No, they are not in the Bible, but I toss it in here in case any of the above-named research people are actually reading this. Would be interesting to know the numbers.

[ ] The Fruit of the Spirit – People from previous generations would wonder, ‘How can you not know this.’ For me, compounded by the various translations, but I think I’ve got them all.

[ ] The Beatitudes – “Blessed are the meek…” In all honesty, this is one I might have trouble with.

[ ] “Think on These Things” – If you need a refresher, it’s probably on a wall at your grandmother’s house. Again, possible translation confusion, but easily memorized one way or another.

[ ] The Armor of God – I wouldn’t get this one and was told by my family it needs to be on the list. Is one of them The Laser Beam of Criticism?

[ ] Psalm 100 – Acting as stand-in for any Psalm which was ever set to music. (I’m thinking of the Maranatha classic Psalm 5; or any one of a gazillion songs based on Ps. 19.)

[ ] Psalm 1 – Wise advice.

[ ] The Philippians ‘Hymn’ – “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.” There are a number of clauses in this to remember.

[ ] Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart…” Only two verses; I shared this when I was baptized and the camp where we met is named IAWAH, In All Ways Acknowledge Him.

[ ] I Cor. 13 – “Love is patient, love is kind.” My wife mentioned this — maybe she was trying to tell me something — but I don’t see this one as strongly as the others.

[ ] I John 1: 1-4 – “That which we have heard and seen…” You knew John’s Gospel had a prologue but so does this epistle.

[ ] Deuteronomy 30 – “Choose life.” This a long passage, but if you’re committed to memorize some of it, you’d want to start at verse 15 and continue to the end of the chapter.

How would you do?

What would you add?

May 23, 2019

The Bible C3P0 Read

Filed under: bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:12 am

Someone mentioned this on Twitter this morning. I’d seen it at the time, but don’t know that we ever ran it here. Source unknown, but I’m willing to re-edit this if you can tell me.

 

May 2, 2019

Bible Translation: Parishioners May Be Easily Deceived

Increasingly, Twitter is becoming a long-form medium. It’s not just the 140 vs. 280 character thing, but with the use of threads, writers can present rather extensive essays.

Every once in awhile I find threads which I think are worthy of being preserved somewhere more permanent. The writer may have envisioned something temporary — a kind of Snapchat prose — but the words deserve greater attention. So as we’ve done before — Skye Jethani, Mark Clark, Sheila Wray Gregoire, Steve Bezner etc. — we want to introduce you to a voice which is new here.

Thomas Horrocks resides in Bloomington, Indiana where he serves as pastor of Stoneybrook Community Church of God and also as a chaplain in the Indiana Army National Guard. He’s co-host of the Sinnergists Podcast.

If you want to read this on Twitter, go to this link.


Okay, everybody. Time for a mini rant. As you may or may not know, I pastor a small church comprised of mostly older people, all of whom are wonderfully devout but basically none of whom have had any formal theological training. This probably describes most churches to be honest.

Today at my midweek Bible-study, one lady, who deeply loves the scriptures, brought to me a new translation of the New Testament that she obtained. It is called The Pure Word and bills itself as “an Unparalleled New Testament Translation From the Original Greek.”

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Naturally, having both an interest in Bible translations and the things my congregants want to show me, I asked if I could look at it a little closer. I started reading the preface and, folks, this thing is A. Train. Wreck.

Here’s the first paragraph

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“Never before has such a pure and genuine translation been completed.”

Are. You. Kidding. Me?

This is the kind of thing I would write if I was writing a parody. But wait, it gets worse.

They employ a methodology they call “monadic hermeneutics” in which each they assert that each word has “an accurate, single definition.” They, of course, base this in the Psalms that says “every word of God is pure.” They explain:

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“Each word…was intended to have a single specific meaning, never open to personal interpretation.” Somehow these translators, and no one else ever, were able to “bypass personal interjection and cultural influence” and determine these “unambiguous and clear meanings.”

It gets worse. They also capitalize any word “which pertain[s] to God’s Attributes and Characteristics, God’s Works, Works of the Holy Spirit in us, or Works of Angels (as opposed to works of man.)” This they determined, of course, without “personal interpretation.”

Pure Word Bible

“So,” you’re probably asking, “How does this work out in actual translation?” Great question.

Here is their translation of John 3:16, which they insist is “the original Greek to English translation,”

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These people claim they are “Unveiling the Original Meaning After Nearly 2000 Years” and that they are “re-implementing the full and original Greek…as it was understood during the first century” and that this “is commonly recognized as the most accurate…in the world.”

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Now, anyone who has received any kind of training in Greek or Biblical interpretation knows this is all absolute malarkey. But the good-hearted people in our pews may not know this.

These people are preying on our peoples’ desire for certitude and easy answers and using it to slip in genuinely debatable interpretation under the guise of The Original Word of God.™

We need to be teaching our people that the work of translation and interpretation is messy and that there things that debatable, things that are ambiguous, and things that are unclear, otherwise we end with this (below), but for real.

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March 16, 2019

The Language of the Humble

Filed under: bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:48 am

Guest post by Aaron Wilkinson

Nelson Mandela is often quoted on the internet as having said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” I don’t know if he actually said that but it’s a good quote. However, there may be exceptions.

At the beginning of the year I drafted a regimen by which I would read through the book of Psalms – 7 every week (one every day would inevitably fall apart and I’m a week behind as it is). But just reading through one translation is boring so I decided to make it more interesting. People often recommend reading two translations side by side to get the bigger picture of the translated text. If you can, you can expand on this by reading in two different languages. I got my hands on an Italian bible over Christmas, so off I went.

This exercise has lead to all sorts of fun discoveries, many of a sort that I anticipated, but others that were rather surprising.

When you hear the same words over and over again from birth, they can become stuck. You stop thinking about what they mean and they become just noise. In the best of cases, I find repeated texts always have something new to offer as I encounter them in different situations. Like a gem that rotates and refracts light in different ways, or a tree that always yields fruit. In the worst cases, the words get stuck and need a jump start.

When I read Psalm 10, I skimmed the words “O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted,” without really paying attention. I think I see the words “O, Lord” and think, Okay, whatever follows is going to be abstract theology language that doesn’t reflect how real people talk or think or feel. Then I compared the Italian, which says ‘the desires of the humble (umili).’

I was comparing afflicted and humble and suddenly the words became faces. Whenever I go through the downtown there are people asking for change. I don’t carry cash and have nothing to offer, so I apologize and move on if I don’t cross to the other side of the street. I often ignore the humble and afflicted, and that’s just when they ask for spare change. Who knows what their desires are for their relationships, housing situations, etc. Apparently God does.

And heck, if he can hear their desires, surely he can hear mine!

I hear this kind of language every day and it doesn’t go to my heart. It gets stuck and it needs some percussive maintenance to get it moving again. I’m sure that God both hears us and speaks to us in our own language, but sometimes it’s worth switching that language up so that we know we’re paying attention.


Aaron Wilkinson blogs when inspiration strikes at Vox Surrantis: Voice of One Whispering

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