Theological rants
of a liberal Christian

Deuteronomy 18:21, How To Know When God Is Speaking

Thursday, October 30, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Deuteronomy 18:21, How To Know When God Is Speaking

You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?”

//Here’s a practical concern. If someone claims to speak for God, how do we know whether or not to pay attention? Suppose a man of God tells you the world will end tomorrow? Do you put things in order, lock yourself in your closet and wait?

The answer given may be a little more practical than you wish. The verse continues:

If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

So the answer is, you don’t know. You can’t know. The only way to know whether it’s God speaking is to wait and see whether it comes true.

If it comes true, God said it. If it doesn’t, the man of God spoke out of turn.

Share
Got an opinion? 0 comments

Book Excerpt: The River of Life

Wednesday, October 29, 2014 in Book Excerpt | 0 comments

Book Excerpt: The River of Life

Some Christians today imagine the Kingdom of Heaven as a place that exists up above the clouds, but it is not. Only in the gospel of Matthew will you see this phrase used. Out of respect for the name of God this one Bible writer merely substituted the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” for “Kingdom of God.” But in every reference in the Bible, the Kingdom of God exists not up in the sky, but down here on earth. It refers to the age of God’s rule on earth—an age promised by the prophets of old, that was to be inaugurated by the arrival of the Messiah.

Christians in the first century believed that this Messiah was Jesus. Indeed, the most pointed difference between Christianity and other Judaic sects was merely this: Christians claimed the Messiah had come. Christians were Messianists. They were perceived as a messianic sect, venerating a messianic figure. You can see why the title “Christian” was at first considered derogatory; how laughable to think that the failed coup Jesus attempted could earn him the status of the Jewish Messiah!

But that is precisely what Christians were saying. Somehow, they insisted, in a manner quite unlike what traditional Judaism thought their Messiah would do, Jesus did set the world on the right course. The age of God’s rule did begin. Jesus, they insisted, began the transformation of the world from disorder and chaos into righteousness and justice.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray not that they would go to heaven, but that the Kingdom of God would come down from heaven and infiltrate the earth. The Kingdom of Heaven refers to the Kingdom of God from heaven. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” Jesus instructed them to pray.

–The River of Life, Energion Publications, 2014 by Lee Harmon

Share
Got an opinion? 0 comments

Exodus 20:4-5, One Calf Or Two? Part II of II

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Exodus 20:4-5, One Calf Or Two? Part II of II

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image .. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.

//Yesterday, I introduced two places in scripture where golden calves (young bulls) were set up for cultic worship in Israel. One was by the first Hebrew priest, Aaron, and the other was by king Jeroboam. Both announced that “these are the gods which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

Before continuing the story, let’s be clear about something. What Aaron did, and what Jeroboam did, is in direct conflict with the Ten Commandments. See today’s verse. Thou shalt not make golden calves and worship them.

After the northern kingdom of Israel split off from the southern kingdom of Judah, Jeroboam became the first northern king. It was then, in the tenth century BC, that he set up the golden bulls for worship. The reason he gave was that it’s inconvenient for northerners to travel down to Jerusalem to worship. So, he says, you can worship one of the bulls instead.

But all of this happened before the story of Moses and Aaron was written! The story of the golden calf created by Aaron was penned in response to Jeroboam’s cultic centers! E’s author, perceiving King Jeroboam as a threat, effectively defamed him by portraying his golden calves as a most grievous sin, by having Aaron do exactly the same thing, and then condemning Aaron for his action.

Share
Got an opinion? 0 comments

Exodus 32:4, One Calf Or Two? Part I of II

Monday, October 27, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Exodus 32:4, One Calf Or Two? Part I of II

And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

//Here’s a puzzle for you. While Moses was up on the mountain talking to God, the children of Israel grew impatient. They asked Aaron to make for them a golden calf. So he made a calf, and ordained it with this statement “These be thy gods.”

Huh? How did one golden calf become plural? A clue comes from the story of King Jeroboam much later in scripture. This king set up two religious centers, in Dan and in Bethel, and in each he placed a golden young bull for worship.

Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. -1 Kings 12:28

Sound familiar? The words Jeroboam used to dedicate his golden bulls are identical to the words Aaron used to introduce his golden calf. Could this be coincidence?

More tomorrow.

Share
Got an opinion? 0 comments

Book review: You Don’t Understand the Bible Because You Are Christian

Saturday, October 25, 2014 in Book Reviews | 0 comments

Book review: You Don’t Understand the Bible Because You Are Christian

by Richard Gist

★★★★★

Definitely a candidate for the Dubious Disciple top ten award this year. I can’t recall when I last enjoyed a book this much. Gist brings the Bible alive as ancient Hebrew storytelling, and though there’s sometimes a bit of speculation involved, the flavor of his interpretation is so fascinating that it must be spot on.

Gist describes himself as a “still growing, though retired, minister, who enjoys what he is continuously learning about the Bible.” He does not pretend to be a biblical scholar, yet he brings a common-sense approach to understanding Jewish literature. One fun example is his discussion of the difference between Hebrew prophecy and Christian prophecy. Hebrew prophets were never future-tellers the way we want to believe they were; they were actually more likely to go around playing music, falling into trances and stripping naked.

So why don’t we understand the Bible the way ancient Hebrews did? Because we’re Christian. Within two or three generations after Jesus, Greek-speaking gentiles took over the church. The early Christians did not understand Jewish literature, they began to distance themselves from Jews, and soon even became enemies. People began to read scripture literally, which buried the subtle messages within. The Jesus movement, instead of promoting the prophets’ dreams, somehow turned into a religion.

Nowhere is this more evident than in comparing two early Christianities, which Gist labels Pauline and Petrine. Pauline Christianity won the race–it’s what we all are familiar with today–but Petrine Christianity is more loyal to its Jewish roots, and thus surely more loyal to Jesus.

So if we’ve been wrong all along, is there hope for us to learn what the Bible really means? Yep, I think so, if we can outgrow this tendency to read scripture like a literal history book, and Gist is the person to help us! His approach is loads of fun, his writing is engaging, his research is fascinating, and most important of all, he simply makes sense.

Buy this one for sure.

FriesenPress, © 2014, 176 pages

ISBN: 978-1-4602-4272-8

Share
Got an opinion? 0 comments

Matthew 25:33, What’s Wrong With Goats?

Friday, October 24, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Matthew 25:33, What’s Wrong With Goats?

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

//What’s wrong with goats? Why do they get separated from the sheep? The sheep go on the right … “come, ye blessed” … and the goats go on the left … “depart from me, ye cursed.”

Is it because goats are stubborn? Naw. Goats have had a bad rap in scripture from the beginning. It’s interesting to note that anytime you have a goat and clothing in the same story in the Bible, it’s a tale of deceit.* Some examples:

  • Jacob fools his blind father and steals his brother’s birthright by wearing his brother’s clothes and putting goat hair on his arms, so he’ll be hairy like his brother

  • Joseph’s brothers smear Joseph’s coat-of-many-colors with goat’s blood to fool their father into believing Joseph was killed by wild animals

  • Tamar dresses up like a prostitute and fools her father-in-law into having sex with her, charging him a goat’s kid for her services.

Back, now, to today’s verse. The “goats” ask Jesus what they did to deserve everlasting fire, and Jesus answers “I was naked, and ye clothed me not.” There’s the theme again: goats and clothes, and this time, the goats finally get their comeuppance.

* Examples taken from Richard Gist’s new book, You Don’t Understand the Bible Because You Are Christian

Share
Got an opinion? 0 comments

Genesis 6:14, What Is An Ark?

Thursday, October 23, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Genesis 6:14, What Is An Ark?

Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.

//The word tevah, translated into the English word Ark, occurs in two stories in the Bible. Today’s verse is one of the two: Noah’s ark, in which all life on earth was saved from the flood.

Can you guess the second occurrence of the word? If you said the Ark of the Covenant, you’re…

Wrong. That’s an entirely different word in Hebrew. The other occurrence of tevah is the little basket that the baby Moses was placed in when his mother turned him loose in the Nile.

This is not a coincidence. We are meant to tie the two stories together. Recall that Moses’s mother, in a desperate attempt to keep him alive, carefully prepared her “ark”:

And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink.

Did you catch it? Both arks were waterproofed with pitch. They were named the same (tevah), waterproofed the same, and held a similar purpose … to protect their precious cargo from the raging waters. Any ancient listener of the story of Moses’s rescue would know it’s patterned after the rescue of Noah.

Just as Noah was the savior of the world, so is Moses heralded from his birth as a savior of his people.

Share
Got an opinion? 0 comments

Genesis 29:26, Jacob Gets His Just Desserts

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Genesis 29:26, Jacob Gets His Just Desserts

And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.

//Here’s the story. Jacob, the second-born child, sneakily cheats his brother Esau out of his birthright. Esau, as the first-born, deserved special privileges that Jacob stole through trickery.

The day comes when Jacob and Esau leave the nest and go in search of wives. Esau seems to have no trouble choosing a mate. Jacob, likewise, finds the perfect one. Her name is Rachel. But Laban, Rachel’s father, insists that Jacob serve him seven years before he can have her.

Jacob does the service, and after seven years he requests his wife. A feast is prepared in celebration, and that evening, Laban brings his daughter to Jacob, who is waiting for her in his bed.

Morning brings a shock. It’s not Rachel whom Jacob slept with, but her sister Leah. Furious, Jacob confronts Laban. “What have you done to me? Why have you beguiled me?”

Laban answers with today’s verse: The firstborn must marry first. You, Jacob, thought you could subvert the system, stealing the first-born’s privilege from Leah. Now you must serve me another seven years to get the wife you really want.

What goes around comes around I guess.

Share
Got an opinion? 0 comments

Matthew 28:19-20, The REAL Great Commission

Monday, October 20, 2014 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Matthew 28:19-20, The REAL Great Commission

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.

//Am I allowed another rant? I’m so tired of hearing people say they are following the Great Commission in spreading the Christian religion. Read the Bible, people!

Jesus never asked us to convert anybody to any religion. He does not ask us to share our theological doctrines. He probably couldn’t care less whether the religion we call Christianity grows or not. The “great commission” isn’t about converting people, nor is it about telling people they are sinners in need of God, or convincing them that their own religion is false, or calling down the judgment of God on them.

The “great commission” Jesus requests is that we teach others his commandments. He wants followers of his commands, not believers of your religion. If you need a reminder about what Jesus asks of his followers, see the Sermon on the Mount where he lays them out one-by-one.  Love your enemies, forgive one another, stop judging, give secretly to those who need, drop your hostilities, quit lusting after what belongs to another, let your candle shine, and meet aggression with non-aggression. There are more, but you get the point. The great commission is about changing this world for the better, “baptizing” others (literally or not) into a new way of life, a philosophical stance and practice where treating one another with respect and kindness is of primary importance.

Maybe if you witness to others in this manner, they’ll become curious about your religious beliefs. Then you can have an interesting and respectful discussion about God. If the conversation never turns in that direction, well, that’s not the important thing anyway, according to Jesus.

Share
Got an opinion? 0 comments

Book Excerpt: The River of Life

Saturday, October 18, 2014 in Book Excerpt | 0 comments

Book Excerpt: The River of Life

In our Bibles, there are four Greek words that are commonly translated into the word “hell”. These words are Sheol, Hades, Tartarus, and Gehenna, and each is described briefly in Lee Harmon’s new book, The River of Life. The following is an excerpt from this book describing one of the four.

Hades - This may be thought of as the Greek version of Sheol. By the time the New Testament was written, Sheol had morphed into Hades, which is much more colorful than its Hebrew counterpart. The Greeks had many legends about this land under the earth, and actually did imagine it to be a place of eternal existence after death. Portions of Hades were pleasant and portions were not so pleasant. The most famous reference to Hades in the Bible is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In this parable, told by Jesus, both descend to Hades after they die, but Lazarus gets stationed in a pleasant place across a chasm from the rich man, who is in torment. They call to one another across the uncrossable chasm.

Did Jesus really present this story as an accurate picture of life after death? Few Bible scholars think so anymore. The story bears an uncanny resemblance to Greek, Jewish and Egyptian stories known by all in Jesus’ day. Scholars have discovered many such similar parables. A doctoral dissertation at the University of Amsterdam identified seven versions of the parable circulating in the first century.

For example, stories of the dead “carried by angels” into “Abraham’s bosom” can be found in the Talmud, as can the idea of communicating across the gulf between Paradise and the place of torment. Jesus is not revealing any new secrets about hell, here. Bible scholar Craig Blomberg writes that “Jesus may have simply adopted well-known imagery but then adapted it in a new and surprising way.”* Jesus is merely drawing on a common legend to make a point about the justice of God in the age of God’s rule on earth. The poor and the rich trade places.

Hundreds of years ago, it was common to interpret this parable literally, but this line of thought has largely been abandoned by Bible scholars. Hades is not meant by Jesus to be a literal description of any form of an afterlife.


* Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 1987, p. 22-23

Share
Got an opinion? 0 comments